Author's Note: I've been struggling with a wicked case of writer's block for some time now, and I've started and stopped three different stories because I can't write more than one hundred words at a time. Then Season Three of Glee began, and I had imagine up a whole new head-canon for Quinn. This story is the result of that. It's Quinn-centric, with a bit of Faberry sprinkled in. It starts at the end of Season Two, and contains spoilers through Season Three, episode three, possible spoilers and speculation on episodes four and five, and then will veer off into it's own alternate Season Three.

It's a different style for me - more a series of vignettes than continuous scenes, and it's my first foray into present tense. Actual dialogue from Glee has been included, and is notated as such. It's intended to be three parts (possibly four if I write an epilogue) but it can conceivably end after part one if there isn't any interest in the rest.

Disclaimer: I do not own Glee or the characters, I just like to play with them…strictly non-profit.


Devolution


devolution - (n) 1. a passing down or descent through successive stages of time or a process.


Part I: Degeneration

It's really just seven little words that set it all into motion.

Quinn is driving herself home from the McKinley High School parking lot after having spent over three hours on a bus from Cleveland—and that torturous affair was after a two-hour flight from New York, immediately followed by standing around baggage claim at the airport for an hour. She's been awake since the butt-crack of dawn, and she's exhausted, physically and emotionally—not only from the trip, but from everything that's gone wrong in her life over the last month. First she lost prom queen, then Finn dumped her (at a funeral, no less) to be with Rachel Berry (again), and then New Directions failed to even make the finals at Nationals, thanks to said Finn and Rachel and their epic fail at keeping their lips off of one another. And maybe Quinn had experienced about fifteen minutes of wanting to hurt Rachel more than she wanted to win Nationals, but she got over it before they went out on that stage, and now she's just disappointed, and a little pissed. Everyone is—well, Santana is more than just a little pissed.

Quinn really isn't all that surprised, though, because she's known all along that Rachel Berry would throw herself back into Finn's oversized arms the moment he crooked his finger. She's half-expecting Rachel to give up on New York all together now that she has Finn to focus on again, and Quinn reminds herself that she doesn't care. She's warned the girl, after all.

She is a little surprised that Rachel and Finn have been keeping their distance from one another since the results were announced. They both obviously feel guilty, and maybe they're regretting what they did. Maybe Rachel really did mean it when she told Finn nothing and no one would keep her from her dreams. Maybe, just maybe, they aren't going to be all sunshine and roses from now on. Not that Quinn cares anymore. She doesn't. At all.

She should be happy that New Directions even managed to place twelfth, because St. James (the smug, prick that he is) was right about their lack of preparation. They hadn't even written a song for God's sake, let alone rehearsed, until six hours before their performance. How can anyone win like that? Sue Sylvester would have never allowed her cheerios to set foot in a competition without having practiced and perfected at least twenty routines. The glee club is lucky they placed as high as they did, kiss or no kiss.

So when Quinn finally pulls into her driveway, she's mostly thinking that all she needs is to crawl into her bed and sleep for twelve or so hours, and life will go on tomorrow. There are two weeks of school left, and she has to make it through finals, but then it will be lounging by the pool and reading books all summer. Maybe she'll even invite Santana and Brittany over, and try to be friends again (or maybe become real friends for the first time.)

She walks through the door, tugging along her suitcase, and her mother is right there to greet her with a polite smile. She expects to be asked how her trip was, or about New York, but her mother stops and tilts her head curiously as her smile slips enough to make it sting when she says, "What have you done to your hair?"

Seven words.

Quinn doesn't remember how she got from the foyer to the sofa, but that's where she is when she finally realizes that she is sobbing so hard that she can barely breathe, and her mother is patting her shoulder awkwardly, and murmuring her name over and over again while asking repeatedly what's wrong. Quinn doesn't even know, and that only makes her cry harder.

The only thing she knows is that it hurts. Everything—just hurts. And then everything just sort of erupts into endless words and raging emotions as Lucy Quinn Fabray finally breaks.

xox

Judy doesn't really know what to do with an emotional Quinn. She just sort of sits on the sofa with a blank expression while Quinn cries and yells and spits hurtful words of blame. Judy timidly suggests therapy, but Quinn outright refuses. "Too little, too late," she mutters before she races up the stairs.

She collapses into bed and passes out cold, and when she wakes up the next morning, she forces her still roiling emotions down as deep as she can, and tells herself that she can go back to pretending that everything is okay. Just like she always does. She knows it's a lie when she can't meet her own eyes in the mirror, but that's never stopped her before. She ignores her mother and heads to school without a word, ghosting through her first two classes with a perfected indifference, and a stubborn refusal to think about anything outside of the repetitive lectures. When she sees Rachel Berry in the girls' bathroom between second and third period, she feels the tenuous hold on her façade begin to slip. Quinn takes a deep breath, grits her teeth, and bites back the frightening need to either scream at the girl, or break down sobbing in front of her.

Rachel looks less than chipper, though, and Quinn guesses that she's still upset about their loss at Nationals. The girl ducks her head and averts her eyes, and Quinn feels a tickle of annoyance at the submissive reaction. "It wasn't your fault," she hears herself impulsively saying, to her complete shock, but she suddenly realizes that she means it. She's spent so much time either blaming everything wrong in her own life on Rachel Berry, or feeling inexplicably jealous of the girl, and it's never made her any happier. Rachel is just a girl, like Quinn is just a girl, and they've both made mistakes.

Rachel's eyebrows arch in surprise as she meets Quinn's gaze in the mirror, and Quinn can clearly see the confusion and uncertainty shimmering there. She takes a moment to wonder at the fact that they keep having these weird moments in bathrooms. When Rachel fails to respond, Quinn feels the need to clarify. "Nationals. You're not the reason we didn't make the finals." Finn is, she thinks sourly, but doesn't say. Yeah, she might still be a little bit bitter about the whole Finn thing.

Rachel sucks her lower lip between her teeth and drops her gaze, but not before Quinn notices the telling shimmer of moisture. "Thank you for saying that, Quinn, but I know that everyone blames me for my stunning lack of professionalism."

It's mostly true, of course. They'd all experienced that initial moment of pinning their loss squarely on Rachel, but everyone, with the exception of Santana, had let it go pretty quickly. Quinn thinks again about how easy it has always been to blame Rachel for the bad things and ignore the good things that she's tried to do for all of them. "I don't blame you," she confesses quietly but firmly. She's not just talking about Nationals. She doesn't want to hold this permanent grudge against Rachel anymore—it's too exhausting.

Rachel looks up, obviously surprised that Quinn would say that. She smiles sadly and admits, "I kind of blame myself though. I shouldn't have allowed my feelings for Finn to distract me from a performance."

"Are the two of you back together?" The question spills out before Quinn can stop it, and she wants to kick herself for regressing so damn quickly. She's not supposed to care about this anymore. "Never mind," she rushes out, "it's really none of my business."

"It's more your business than anyone else's, I suppose, considering our rather tangled history. Finn and I…we haven't really talked about anything. I love him, but…" she trails off with a shrug. Quinn feels a little tickle of excitement at the qualifier, though she can't explain why. She doesn't really want Finn back again, because as much as she wants someone to love her, she finally realizes that going around in this endless circle with Finn and Rachel only ever makes her feel more like a failure.

"You'll be leaving for New York after graduation anyway," Quinn finishes the unvoiced thought. She attempts to smile, but her reflection in the mirror shows her that she doesn't quite succeed at being sincere. She's unsure why she feels the need to keep pushing the issue. Quinn is pretty certain that she doesn't want Finn back again, but the part of her that wants Rachel focused on her future and out of Quinn's romantic orbit just won't let it go.

Rachel frowns slightly, but she doesn't start babbling about the epic and endless love she shares with Finn and how time and distance won't separate them, so Quinn counts this as a victory and actually lets herself hope that she won't have to watch them fawn over one another next year.

Her hopes die a quiet death just four hours later when Finn and Rachel walk into glee arm in arm with sappy, love-struck smiles on their stupid faces. Quinn refuses to let them see how much witnessing their happy reunion physically hurts her, so she plasters her biggest, phoniest cheerio's smile on her face and greets them with false affability.

That afternoon, Quinn drives home, calmly walks up to her room and shatters her mirror with an old cheerleading trophy.

xox

School is done for the summer, and Quinn is officially a senior. She has one year left before she has to face the endless disappointment of adulthood, but she's beginning to think it can't be much worse than high school. She's still thinking that getting a real estate license is probably the most she can hope for, but now, instead of envisioning Finn Hudson lounging on the sofa while a couple of oversized, slightly dim offspring tugging at her skirt, her picture of the future is depressingly void of a husband or children.

Quinn spends the first week of summer sequestered in her bedroom reading. She's loved books for as long as she can remember, and has spent countless hours getting lost in imaginary worlds where she's braver, or stronger, or smarter, or prettier. She's been Alice and Emma and Elizabeth and even Tom and Huckleberry. She's been Lucy, too, slipping into the wardrobe and leaving the real world far behind. That one is far more literal than she cares to admit, even now.

The only friends Lucy Fabray had ever known had been the characters in her books. The only friends Quinn Fabray has ever known have been bitchy cheerleaders eager to stab her in the back the minute it was turned. She honestly doesn't know which is worse.

Quinn has no one. No true friends, no lover, no father, no chil…no one to love her. Her mother barely talks to her, and when she does, it's only to remind Quinn what a disappointment she's become. Oh, Judy doesn't say it outright, of course. She wounds her daughter slowly with little words, like you were so much prettier before you cut your hair, Quinnie, or, you should rejoin the cheerios, dear, then you'll be a shoe-in for prom queen next year. Quinn doesn't want any of those things anymore. She's tried again and again to be the perfect Fabray daughter, and she's failed spectacularly every time.

She doesn't know what she's supposed to do now, but she knows she's done with trying to make her insane prom queen dream into a reality. She just wants to forget about the last two years and everyone who's stood by and watched her fall again and again.

It's depressingly easy to avoid contact with everyone from school when the only person who even bothers to try to get in touch with her is Rachel freaking Berry. She deletes Rachel's voice mail message after the excessively long, rambling hello, and doesn't feel guilty at all. Rachel doesn't call again.

For the most part, Quinn is content to just go on existing in her own private void until schools starts in the fall, but as usual, things don't go according to her plans. The second week of summer brings an unwanted obstacle to Quinn's illusion of tranquility in the form of Russell Fabray. She's completely blindsided when he shows up for brunch on Saturday morning. He acts contrite, spouting out words of apology and regret. His tattooed floozy is gone, off to younger, richer pastures, and he's one hundred and eighty-three days sober. He's joined a new church that teaches forgiveness and tolerance, and he wants to make amends with his family. Judy is smiling and hopeful, full of promises to Quinn that Russell isn't moving back in (the 'right now' is implied) and pleas for Quinn to give her father a second chance. Quinn wants to throw up.

She runs.

She can't even look at her father without suffocating with the remembered despair of being disowned. She hates him. She hates the unattainable expectations he had for his children, the demand for perfection and image above everything. She hates that he turned his back on his own child for making one mistake. She hates that her mother let him, and only came begging forgiveness from Quinn to avoid being left alone. She hates what she and her mother were like with her father in the house. But mostly, she hates that she wants to believe him, to believe that he's really changed. She can't let herself give in, so she slams out of the house in a rage, and just walks.

She's not really paying attention to where she's going, just watching her feet move against the pavement as the distance between her and her parents grows larger. Every step is another crack in the wall she's been building since she was eleven years old, and Billy Coleman knocked her books onto the floor, broke her glasses, and coined the name Lucy Caboosey. She'd gone home and told her parents, and instead of supporting her and telling her that she was beautiful just the way she was, her mother had started talking about diets because she'd be so much prettier if she lost a little weight, and her father had told her to toughen up because Fabrays were winners, and being a winner meant never showing weakness. Everything she's done, every change she's made to make her parents proud, has only ended in disappointment and misery.

When Quinn finally registers the ache in her legs, she's standing in the middle of Faurot Park. She can see the children's fountain in the distance, and hear the laughter of happy families. Her chest aches with sudden pressure, and she can't make her feet move forward. She pushes down the hazy memory of baby soft skin and fine blonde hair, and turns left toward the skate ramps instead.

Dropping onto a bench, she blindly watches a couple of skateboarders throw tricks off the ramps. One of them gets some serious height, spinning in a one-eighty. For just a minute, it looks like he's floating, or flying, and Quinn remembers feeling those beautiful moments of weightlessness as she'd jumped from the top of the pyramid, trusting that her fellow cheerios would catch her. She wishes she could be that free again.

"Quinn, right?"

She jerks a little at the unexpected interruption, slamming her shoulder blades against the back of the bench as her head turns to the left. Sitting next to her is a vaguely familiar, brown-eyed brunette clad in ripped cutoffs and a black tank top. Quinn nods absentmindedly as she tries to place the girl. The brunette smirks and takes a drag of her cigarette, nodding back, "Thought so. We were knocked up at the same time," she says with a careless grin. "Gave my brat up, too."

Quinn stiffens immediately at the mention of her pregnancy, and she feels her jaw clench as she pushes down the unwanted memory. McKinley is a fairly small high school, and Quinn had been painfully aware of the handful of other girls in her situation. The name of the one sitting next to her clicks into place. "Mackenzie," she mumbles under her breath as she recalls passing the girl in the halls, and exchanging embarrassed glances as they maneuvered their swollen bellies through the crowd.

"They call me the Mack, now," she corrects, offering her pack of cigarettes. "Want one?"

Quinn shakes her head and turns her attention back to the skaters. She doesn't want to talk to this girl. She doesn't want any reminders of Sophomore year or Be—the baby.

"No offense or nothin', but you Barbie doll types don't usually hang in this part of the park."

"No offense, but you don't know me at all," Quinn snaps.

"Ooh, bitch got some bite," Mack comments with an approving nod. "Like the hair, by the way. Suits you."

Quinn doesn't know why the offhanded compliment actually pleases her, but she feels some of the tension ease out of her rigid body. She looks Mack over again, noting how drastically different the girl looks from two years ago. Gone are the Capri pants, pastel sweaters and soft make-up. This girl is dirty and messy and just a little terrifying. Her entire posture screams that she doesn't give a fuck what anyone thinks of her, and Quinn feels a strange pang of envy.

Her eyes land on the glow of the cigarette as Mack inhales another lungful, and slowly exhales the smoke through her nose. Curiosity takes root, along with a sick desire to do something that her parents would absolutely loathe—something that the perfect, prom queen Quinn Fabray would never think of doing. "On second thought, I think I will bum a smoke."

Mack scoffs at her phrasing, but holds out the pack again, and Quinn pulls a cigarette free and places it between her lips. A flame dances to life in front of her as Mack flicks her lighter, and Quinn leans forward, taking her first taste of something wicked.

xox

Afternoons at the skate park become a reoccurring habit, along with the cigarettes. After that first puff, (and the minute she spent nearly hacking up a lung while Mack laughed her ass off) Quinn learned how to inhale without asphyxiating. Of course, then she'd employed a bit of Google-Fu and discovered menthol cigarettes. Mack's unfiltered Camels were disgusting.

The smell of smoke clinging to her clothes gives her mother some nice new frown lines, as does Quinn's general bitchiness whenever her bastard of a father is so much as mentioned. Mack isn't exactly her new best friend, but she hates her own bastard of a father even more than Quinn hates Russell, and in no time at all, Quinn finds herself spewing all her pent up anger while Mack cheers her on. By the end of June, Quinn has shoved all of her dresses into the back of her closet and is living in cut offs and worn t-shirts.

Mack hangs out with two other girls, Ronnie and Sheila, and they call themselves the skanks. Quinn is accepted into their little group without question. They don't expect anything from her, or care what she wears or how she looks or even what brand of cigarettes she smokes. Actually, they don't really care about her at all, but they don't tell her to fuck off either, and that's enough for Quinn right now. They spend most of their time at the skate park smoking and working hard on a bad attitude and general hatred of everyone and everything.

Her relationship with her mother is only getting worse, partly because of the cigarettes and new wardrobe, and partly because Judy keeps pushing Quinn to make amends with her father. At least Russell hasn't shown up at the house again while Quinn's been there. She keeps deluding herself that he's never coming back.

One July morning, Quinn is walking through the park on her way to meet the skanks when she sees someone she really doesn't want to see. Rachel Berry is heading straight for her in a pair of too-short shorts and a tight, blue tank top, walking the biggest, meanest looking German Shepherd that Quinn has ever seen. She hesitates just a moment too long before turning around, and Rachel catches sight of her. The girl's eyes light up with happy recognition, and Rachel increases her already brisk pace to bring her into Quinn's personal space just that much faster.

"Hello, Quinn. I hope you're enjoying your summer," Rachel chirps with a giant smile. The dog growls softly at her side, and glares up at Quinn in challenge, and she takes an instinctive step back. Rachel notices the movement, and she gives the leash a little tug, quietly commanding (in German, of course) "Gershwin, platz," and the dog immediately drops down onto the grass. Rachel looks back up at Quinn with a sheepish smile, "Sorry, he can be a little protective."

"I didn't know you had a dog," Quinn mutters, a little impressed at how effortlessly Rachel handles the beast.

"Technically, he belongs to my daddy. We've only had him for eight months, but I'm finding that he's a wonderful walking companion." She bends over and lovingly scratches behind the dog's ear, and a pink tongue immediately lolls out the side of the animal's mouth as his tail begins to swish back and forth across the grass. Quinn smiles despite herself. "You can pet him if you want."

"Thanks, but I think I'll pass." He may look all fluffy and harmless right now, but Quinn can't shake the feeling that he somehow knows all the nasty things she's said and done to Rachel over the years, and she likes her fingers just fine where they are, thank you very much.

"I haven't seen you around much. We all missed you at Noah's Fourth of July party."

Quinn shrugs, "I was busy."

Rachel purses her lips, and Quinn knows that she's not really buying her lame excuse. Rachel has always had the annoying ability to see through Quinn's self-protective bullshit, and aim straight for all her insecurities, and the worst part is that she never even seems to realize what she's doing. It's one of the reasons that Quinn can never let them be friends. If Rachel is this skilled at pushing her buttons now, how much worse will it be if Quinn actually opens up to her?

"I'm attempting to get everyone together for semi-weekly glee meetings. Not that I don't trust Mr. Schuester to adequately prepare us to take Nationals next year, but, frankly, we shouldn't rely so heavily on his leadership abilities, especially when he has proven to be easily distracted in the past. I strongly feel that engaging in team bonding activities over the summer can only help improve our chances. I did try to contact you a few weeks ago, but you must not have gotten my message."

Quinn shakes her head at the classic Rachel Berry ramble and chooses not to remind her that her own inability to resist practically mounting Finn Hudson on stage was the biggest reason they lost in New York. That brief attempt to forgive and forget she was working on last month is pretty much dead and buried, but she's done and over glee and all the unnecessary drama. "Yeah, I'm really not interested."

"But, Quinn," Rachel begins with a frown.

"Just drop it, okay," she cuts in irritably. "I'm doing my own thing this summer."

Rachel eyes her intently, and Quinn can tell she's gearing up for another lecture, but the swooshing of wheels against concrete from the nearby pathway keeps Rachel silent, and Quinn turns to see a craggy-faced skateboarder with shaggy brown hair and an unshaven jaw skid to a stop a few feet away from them. "Yo, cutie. Heading my way?" he asks with a wink.

Quinn notices Rachel stiffen beside her and hears a low growl rumble up from Gershwin. "Just a second, Tommy," she warns him quickly, not at all eager to have Rachel sic her dog on the guy.

He glances at Rachel and smirks in what he believes is a roguish way. Kicking his colorful skateboard up and tucking it under his arm, he decides to sidle over to Quinn and sling his free arm casually over her shoulder, regardless of the suddenly alert German Shepherd tensed and ready to attack. "Hey. You a friend of my girl, here?"

Rachel's eyebrows disappear under the fringe of her bangs. "Y-yes."

"S'cool," Tommy says with a smile, and then gives Quinn a little squeeze. "C'mon, babe. Come cheer your man on. I'm working some serious tricks today."

Quinn watches Rachel's expressive face clearly display every thought that's undoubtedly racing through her overactive mind, and she sighs, "See you at school, Rachel." The girl's mouth falls open, but she doesn't say a word as Quinn lets Tommy lead her away. When they turn a corner toward the skate park, Quinn throws one curious glance over her shoulder to make sure Rachel is out of sight before she shrugs out of Tommy's grip. "Don't get any ideas," she mutters, digging in her pocket for her pack of cigarettes.

"You know you want me, Q-Tip. Just a matter of time," he laughs as he slams his board onto the pavement and jumps on, rolling ahead of her and popping the wheels up into the air beneath his feet.

xox

Seeing Rachel in the park sets Quinn off into another angry spiral. She keeps thinking about New York and Finn and getting dumped and Rachel's stupid, wide-eyed school girl fantasies of true love and fate and getting everything she wants. Quinn hasn't ever gotten one damn thing she wanted. Resentment breaks free from that little box that Quinn tried so hard to shove it into, and she can't tame it down again. She stares at her own face in her cracked mirror for twenty minutes. Rachel's voice won't get out of her head.

You're a very pretty girl Quinn the prettiest girl I've ever met, but you're a lot more than that.

Whatever she is, it isn't ever going to be enough.

She buys a bottle of hair-dye the next day, and her mother nearly has a coronary when Quinn struts down the stairs with pink hair. The skanks love it. They go shopping for clothes to better suite the new Quinn, and, thanks to her mother's pilfered credit card, she leaves the Lima mall with a shit load of black t-shirts, pleather, and a brand new nose ring. She expects to be kicked out of the house as soon as her mother gets a good look at her, but Judy just shakes her head sadly and pours a glass of wine.

The first time her father sees her makeover, it's mid-July and Quinn isn't expecting to see him sitting in her kitchen when she comes down to grab a quick breakfast. She stops short at the sight of him sitting stoically at the table. "Shit," she mutters under hear breath and immediately turns to leave, but his quiet, calm voice stops her at the door.

"I know you don't consider me your father any longer, Quinn, and I can't blame you for that. I had certain expectations that you failed to live up to," and Quinn seriously wants to punch him before he adds, "just as I failed to live up to yours. I know that saying I'm sorry won't magically fix everything. But I am—sorry. I'm only asking you for the chance to prove to you that I have changed."

"Yeah, well, so have I," she sneers, "and I really don't give a damn what you want."

"Your foul language and unfortunate appearance won't discourage me, Quinn. I understand that you're only acting out of your own pain."

That arrow hits home, and Quinn drags a hand through her messy pink hair in agitation. "A couple of AA meetings and a few feel good sermons on Sundays don't make you a new man, Russell. You don't know me. You never did. And you don't get to pretend like you care now."

She spins on her heel and tears out of the house without waiting for a response. Judy's silently crying in the living room, but she doesn't try to stop Quinn. It's always the same with her mother. She's a weak woman who lets Russell make every decision, and it's probably only a matter of time before he moves back in, but Quinn is never going to be his daughter again. She doesn't care what she has to do to keep that man out of her life.

xox

Quinn reacts by getting drunk—very, very drunk. She's at Mack's house, which is really just a glorified trailer, and Mack is in the bedroom having sex with some trucker she picked up that afternoon. Shelia and Ronnie are passing a bottle of tequila back and forth and supplying filthy commentary to a rerun of some lame high school sitcom. Quinn's hanging sideways off the armchair with her very own bottle of vodka, half-paying attention to her fellow skanks, and half-pushing away Tommy, who keeps trying put his hand under her shirt.

"If you don stop fuckin' 'round, m'gonna break your fingers," she slurs, jerking her leg and kicking him in the side. Tommy winces and rubs at the bruised rib.

"You should let me fuck around with you, cutie. I'd rock your world."

Quinn snorts, "In your dreams, moron. Not doin' that again." One drunken hook-up with an immature man-child was more than enough. Next time, she at least wants to be sober.

Tommy's not really a bad guy, per se. He's just a twenty-eight year old, horny, ex-junkie, burn-out who looks ten years older than he is, thanks to his wasted youth, but he's Mack's brother, and Quinn's kind of stuck putting up with him for as long as she's hanging with the skanks.

Tilting her head, she squints at the television and the couple on screen, noticing how ridiculous they look standing next to one another because the girl is, like, half the dude's size. The volume is on mute, and Ronnie's dropped her voice deep and she's saying, "come ride my giant cock, my little pygmy dwarf, because every girl wants me even though I'm a brainless jackass and you're lucky I'm even talking to you because you're supposed to be a loser even though you're hotter than every other girl on this stupid show," and Shelia whines in a high pitched, nasally voice, "but it would be wrong because I'm an uptight little virgin and we have to wait until November sweeps to get the ratings up, but kiss me anyway so the crazy-ass, tween fangirls can cream their panties because they're in love with you and are living vicariously through our boring, passionless relationship," and sure enough, the two characters come together in an awkward, chemistry-free kiss. Quinn starts laughing hysterically and she just can't seem to stop. Then suddenly, she's crying hysterically and she has no idea why.

Ronnie rolls her eyes and Sheila grunts in a half-hearted attempt at sympathy. Tommy just grumbles, "aw, fuck," and disappears outside for awhile.

An hour later, Quinn's long over whatever that little emotional hiccup was, and Mack's kicked out her fuck buddy and has joined them in the living room, sprawled across the couch with a cigarette in her mouth. "I'm fucking bored," she complains. "Let's go do something illegal."

"Stealing the street signs?" Sheila offers.

"Did it yesterday."

"Could go beat up the little kids at the arcade and steal their money," Ronnie says.

"Nah, they only got small change."

Tommy smirks deviously, "Q-Tip's totally wasted. We could probably get her to walk through the park naked."

"In your dreams, asshole," Quinn growls, her eyes still on the television. They're watching LA Ink now and Quinn can't take her eyes off Kat's tattoos. They're so colorful, and kind of mesmerizing, and fuck that woman has really nice eyes, and lips. Quinn really likes lips. She misses them. And she thinks she should probably stop thinking about them or she might do something stupid like give in to Tommy just so she can have somebody to kiss again. She wonders if that's what happened to her bastard father. Was he mesmerized by his tattooed freak's pretty body art to the point where he just couldn't keep from touching? Maybe if Quinn had gotten some ink instead of pregnant her father would have shown her a little affection, too. "I want a tattoo," she mumbles around her last sip of vodka, and she misses the evil smile that Mack shares with the other skanks.

"That can be arranged."

She's not exactly proud of the tramp stamp. Actually, she's kind of completely horrified by it. The tattoo had seemed like such a good idea at the time, and she'd even had her own fucked-up, insane reason for picking Ryan fucking Seacrest that made sense to her alcohol soaked mind. She can't even fully remember getting it, which is probably a good thing because she doesn't remember feeling any pain, she just knows that Tommy had a friend who owned a tattoo parlor and hadn't asked any questions about Quinn being underage. Still, she's stuck with it now and she has to own it, because she refuses let the skanks see any sign of weakness. Maybe it can be a good thing—the final fuck you to her old life.

Well, almost.

xox

Quinn quits glee club on the first day of senior year. It's the only day she plans to show up for school early, and it's purely to tell Schuester that she's done. His eyes nearly pop out of his over-gelled head when he sees her new look, and she stifles her laughter as he stutters through one of his lame-ass speeches about family and teamwork and acceptance. She tells him again that she quits, and walks out. It feels good. It feels like freedom.

It also feels like a piece of her stays in the choir room, but Quinn is ignoring that like a boss.

Not one of her so called glee family tried to track her down over the summer. Well, except for Rachel. She hadn't tried to call Quinn again, or showed up on her doorstep demanding answers, but they'd caught sight of one another more than a few times in passing as Quinn was on her way to the skate park, and Rachel was out walking her beast of a dog. Quinn had gotten a perverse thrill the first time Rachel had seen the pink hair. They'd been less than a yard from one another before Rachel had even recognized her, and the brief look of horror on her overly expressive face had amused Quinn to no end. Rachel had recovered quickly enough, though, and offered a nice, big, fake smile and a friendly hello that Quinn had ignored. Every time after that, Rachel would raise a hand and offer a meek wave, and Quinn would only nod and be on her way. They never actually spoke again all summer.

Quinn doesn't speak to her mother anymore either, and definitely not to her bastard of a father, who now shows up every other Saturday in an attempt to reach out to his wayward daughter. Judy is spending more time out of the house, and Quinn can guess exactly where she's going, but she won't ask. She doesn't want to know. She still has a roof over her head, and money left on the table, and food in the refrigerator, so she's not about to start anything else that will make that go away. One more fucking year until graduation, and she's done with it all. She doesn't stop to think about what she'll do then.

Quinn struts down the hall with her head held high, and every step drives a sense of power into her blood that rivals anything she felt wearing cheerios' red and white. She laughs at the expressions of shock and disbelief and even disdain painted on naïve faces. She doesn't care what they think.

She has time to kill before classes start, if she even decides to attend, so she heads outside in the direction of the football stadium. She used to make this trek every morning for cheerleading practice, and it feels good to see the girls on the field being put through the wringer when she knows that she doesn't have to be a part of that pointless torture anymore. She lights up a cigarette as she walks towards the bleachers, and pauses by the fence for just a moment to witness the conformist hell that she isn't missing at all. Santana and Brittany catch sight of her and break away from their coach's watchful eyes. They pitch their lame campaign to woo her back into the fold under the guise of friendship, but Quinn isn't even tempted.

Santana looks her over with a shake of her head. "Quinn, look, this is our senior year, and frankly, being on cheerios isn't the same without you.¹"

"You guys are such suckers for going back to Coach Sylvester.¹"

"Come on, screw her," Santana growls. "This is for us. We could win two national championships this year. We joined cheerios together. We joined the glee club together. We all slept with Puckerman the same year," and Brittany hums in agreement. Quinn feels her jaw tense at the unpleasant reminder. Santana really needs to work on her approach, especially when she has the nerve to coo, "We're like, besties for life.¹"

Quinn wonders at Santana's definition of besties, because the way Quinn remembers it, her best friend Santana spent freshman year riding her coattails and using Quinn as an excuse to be a grade-A bitch, only to abandon her the minute she got pregnant, leaving her alone and homeless without so much as a word of sympathy or concern. Brittany makes some inane comment about candy, which is about all she's ever offered by the way of friendship, and Quinn shakes her head in disgust. "You guys never understood the pressure I was under. It sucked. I'm not interested in the boys or the make-up or the polyester outfits.¹" She'll be damned if she's wasting another year pretending to be the Barbie doll cheerleader just to make everyone else happy.

"Look, I've got a bar of soap and a bottle of peroxide with your name on it in my locker. Come on, Quinn," Santana urges, "you can't break up the unholy trinity.¹"

Quinn laughs, because Santana and Brittany were happy enough as a duo all summer, and she's not buying their sudden desire to make it a threesome again. Quinn is still not that into that. "People grow apart, deal with it. I've got new friends now, and they accept me for who I am.¹"

The 'friends' part isn't exactly true, but it means something to Quinn that the skanks already know more about her, and her issues, and her fucked-up family than Santana and Brittany ever cared to ask. They may not be 'besties for life,' but at least they know that a damned haircut doesn't magically fix every problem. Nothing does.

Quinn hangs out smoking under the bleachers for awhile, but then she decides that she might as well actually go to some classes. It is the first day, after all, and she figures putting in the initial appearance will probably make it easier to skip out the rest of the year. Quinn's not worried about her grades. She's still enrolled in AP courses, and she knows she's smart. She's never really needed to make much of an effort to keep her average up, and she's sure that she can coast through to graduation. Maybe it's not very skank-like, but Quinn really does want to graduate. She just doesn't see the point in being valedictorian anymore.

She sees Rachel in four of her classes, and it's not a surprise. They've both spent the last three years in the top two percentile, and their schedules have always been woefully in sync. What is a surprise is Rachel's silence on Quinn's absence from glee. She's certain Rachel is aware that she quit, and she's been expecting to be hit with a Rachel Berry guilt trip. When it doesn't happen, Quinn is oddly disappointed.

xox

The disappointment doesn't last long. The next morning, Rachel appears under the bleachers during homeroom. Quinn doesn't notice her at first because her back is turned, but she feels an odd little tingle on the nape of her neck, and when Mack's eyes spark with annoyance, and her mouth twists into a bemused smirk, Quinn sighs and turns around.

Her eyes roam over Rachel's dress and sweater combination, and her first thought is that Kurt must have purged her closet of its plaid and argyle infection over the summer, because this is the second day in a row that Rachel's wardrobe is actually half-decent. Actually, the shorts and tank tops Rachel seemed to favor over the summer weren't exactly hard on the eyes either.

"Your friend stinks of soap, Quinn,¹" Sheila complains, but Quinn secretly loves the fresh scent of Rachel's body spray. Her sinuses have been suffering from the rancid stench of smoke, and Febreze has become her new best friend in the privacy of her bedroom.

"What are you doing here?" Because Rachel in her cute sundress, with her shiny, sweet-smelling hair, and wide, earnest eyes, most definitely doesn't belong.

"We were friends once," Rachel reasons, even though Quinn knows that's a gross exaggeration. They've never been friends. "Maybe when you cut off all your hair last year and thought it would solve all your problems, I should have spoken up. Maybe when you dropped out of society this summer, and started dating that forty-year old skateboarder, I should have said…¹"

"I'm not coming back to glee club,¹" Quinn interrupts, because she knew this was coming. Rachel Berry will do whatever it takes to get what she wants, and she wants to lead New Directions to Nationals again and actually fucking place this time. Quinn is just a body to sway in the background, and make them eligible to compete.

"We need you," Rachel says, proving Quinn's point, but before she can dismiss her completely, Rachel's eyes flash with hopeful desperation and she starts to ramble. "O-okay, have you seen those purple pianos around school? We're planning this big, you know, recruiting number, and it's going to be a tribute to the GoGo's. I mean, who doesn't love the GoGo's?¹"

"I prefer the Bangles,¹" Sheila announces in a don't-fuck-with-me tone.

Rachel's nervous bravado wilts, and Quinn smiles, biting back a very un-cool giggle before it slips out. She might be just a little bit impressed that the Rachel has the nerve to even be down here. Everyone else at McKinley cuts the skanks a very wide berth.

"Okay," Rachel pushes on, "We need your…your tremulous alto, and Belinda Carlisle glamour.¹"

"I'll give you ten bucks if you let me beat her up for you, Quinn.¹"

Had Santana uttered those words, Quinn would probably laugh, because Santana would be (mostly) joking, but Mack most definitely isn't, and as much as Rachel still gets under her skin, she doesn't actually want to see her get hurt. Okay, and maybe she might actually feel a little happy that she's getting the first ever sincere compliment on her singing voice from Rachel. The happiness fades pretty quickly when Rachel starts talking again.

"I'm sorry you're so sad, Quinn, and maybe you're not going to believe me because we were never really close, but I'm sad not seeing you in the choir room. We've all been through so much together. We're a family, and this is our year to get it right," and damn it—doesn't anyone understand that Quinn is so tired of trying to get it right? "We would love to have you back in the glee club. Whenever you're ready, okay?¹"

Quinn wants to get the last word in, but Rachel is already turning to leave, and Quinn can't seem to speak past the sudden lump in her throat. She runs her eyes over the girl's retreating figure as her parting words echo in Quinn's consciousness. She doesn't want to be affected by Rachel's little speech, but as always, she finds that she doesn't have a choice.

xox

She's not sure what pulls her into the auditorium. Or maybe she is. New Directions is practicing a new song, and Quinn experiences a certain sense of déjà vu as she watches them from the wings. She's on the outside looking in, but it's not all that much different from being part of the club. She never really felt like she belonged with those people. She doesn't feel like she belongs anywhere.

If she goes back to glee club, everyone will expect her to smile, and go back to being the pretty piece of eye-candy, pretending to be happy as she stands around and watches all of them reach for their dreams while hers keep slipping from her grasp. It hurts too fucking much.

So she's done with that. She has to be.

She has to be, but she isn't.

Twenty minutes later, she's still hanging around outside the school. She's got nowhere else to be, and she sure as hell doesn't want to go home and deal with her mother's thinly veiled disgust. The nearby double doors slam open and a familiar figure hurries past her toward the parking lot.

"I wasn't dating him," Quinn mutters without really thinking.

She watches Rachel stumble over her own feet, and press her right hand over her heart. Brown hair whips back over her shoulder as she turns and takes in the owner of the smoky voice that startled her out of her self-absorbed revelry. Quinn is leaning back against the wall of the school, left knee jutting out and booted foot propped flat against the brick, with a cigarette dangling from her black painted fingertips.

"You really shouldn't sneak up on people like that," Rachel reprimands irritably. Hazel eyes flash with amusement as Quinn straightens from the wall and takes a drag of her half-smoked American Spirit menthol before flicking it away.

"I was here first," she drawls with a quirk of her lips.

Rachel scoffs, "I believe that loitering in a secluded corner constitutes 'sneaking.'" Quinn raises an eyebrow and places a hand on her cocked hip. She sees Rachel's brows rise in response, and Quinn quickly changes her posture, hooking her thumbs into the pockets of her blue jean vest. She hates it when her former head bitch persona rears up and sneaks out without her permission.

"I seriously worry for your safety when you get to New York if you keep walking around oblivious to anyone or anything but yourself." Quinn intends it to be an insult (or at least she thinks she does) but she knows that Rachel doesn't really take it as such when she sees the pleased little smile curl on those glistening lips.

"I don't suppose you're lurking around to tell me that you've changed your mind and plan to return to glee club."

"You're unbelievable. Don't you ever get tired of selling the happy family crap?"

"You know, I saw you hiding in the rafters, Quinn. I know you miss glee just as much as we miss you."

"Don't flatter yourself. I just needed a reminder of how lame you all are. Mission accomplished." Quinn is lying, of course. She knows it, and she knows that Rachel does, too, but she won't give either one of them the satisfaction of admitting it. She needs to be done with glee, and she needs to be done with this conversation. Moving forward, the cool, bare skin of her arm brushes against Rachel's shoulder as she pushes past her. She ignores the odd little static shock that burns beneath her flesh, and heads resolutely toward her car.

"What do you mean you weren't dating him?"

Quinn's forward motion stops, and her shoulders rise and fall in a silent chuckle. She knew Rachel's curiosity would get the better of her. She just doesn't know why she feels such a strong need keep up this weird push and pull that they have going on. Quinn turns around, a wicked smirk tilting her lips up at the edges. "You think you know everything, but you don't. You saw me for, like, two minutes over the summer, and you assume you know what I'm feeling or how I'm spending my time. But you don't get to imagine up some drama to write me off with, Rachel. I'm not playing a part in your little fantasy anymore, so go play at happily-ever-after with your boyfriend, and leave me out of it."

She turns to go, but she isn't fast enough to outrun Rachel's words. "My concern for you isn't an act, Quinn. I really do care about you."

"Well, stop," she growls back over her shoulder. She ignores that weird warm feeling in her stomach and keeps moving.

xox

Not much changes over the next two weeks. Quinn spends her days smoking and skipping out on half her classes, letting the skanks do their thing while she follows along unenthusiastically. She doesn't enjoy the physical bullying. Quinn has always been more about the psychological games, but name-calling and pornographic drawings just don't impress her new friends very much. Well, they actually do seem to appreciate her artistic talents, although she's not sure why Mack was quite so amused to find out that Quinn was responsible for some of the more explicit graffiti in the girls' bathrooms.

When Coach Sylvester tracks her down in one of those same bathrooms, Quinn is the one who's amused. "Sorry, Coach, you have no power over me anymore. I've got nothing left to lose,²" and that's exactly why she agrees to go along with the woman's insane plan to rile up Schuester, because she holds the cheerios and the glee club and both their petty, unsympathetic coaches equally responsible for her fall from grace. All those unreasonable expectations piled on top of the ones she already had at home? It's not surprising that she crumbled under the weight. What does she care anymore if those two supposed role models tear one another to pieces? They deserve each other.

The next day, Puckerman is the one who tracks her down and tells her she needs to come with him. She tries to shrug him off, but he tells her it's important in his most sincere voice, and she finds herself agreeing. Puck still has the power to make Quinn feel guilty for giving their—the baby away. It's one of the reasons they don't talk much anymore. That, and he's still an immature asshole most of the time.

Or maybe she just doesn't want to remember the one thing they've ever had in common.

Forgetting isn't an option anymore, though, because Shelby Corcoran is standing in front of her. "You're back,²" Quinn breathes out, chest tightening with the effort to do even that much.

Shelby starts talking, and Quinn really wishes she'd just shut the fuck up, because the words are buzzing in her ears and making her head pound and her stomach turn with nausea. Then she hears the name—Beth. And everything sharpens into focus.

"I get it,²" Quinn snaps, not wanting to hear anymore about all the damn firsts that Shelby doesn't want to miss with the child that Quinn gave birth to. Quinn has already missed every first, and she'll never get any of them back, and God, why does she even care? This is what she wanted. This is what she chose. Except that she never had a choice, and she never wanted any of this, and everything just keeps going wrong over and over, and she can't control anything. And Shelby is still fucking talking.

"…so when I got this job offer I couldn't refuse. I've missed so many firsts in Rachel's life. I was not about to do that with Beth.²"

"Neat story. I'm late for a meeting on the roof,²" Quinn has to get away, but Puck steps into her path and traps her in that room that feels too fucking small for the three of them.

"Look. Since the day that I gave Rachel up for adoption, I have been walking through life searching for her face everywhere I go. Imagining what she's doing, what she may be like. I don't want you to go through what I went through. Part of me is back here because I want you to get to know Beth. I want you to be a part of her life.²"

Quinn's first instinct is to run and pretend this isn't happening, but she's been doing that for two years and it isn't working.

She hasn't ever let herself want this. Quinn had been sixteen and pregnant and homeless and scared out of her mind, and she never let herself think about the bab—Beth—as a real person. The pregnancy was just a problem to get past, and then forget about. That's all she could allow it be. Everything she did for the first four months, every lie she told and scheme she plotted, was a desperate attempt to get herself out of the mess she was in. Finn was reliable (and gullible) and would help her pay her medical bills, and Mrs. Schuester was offering a home and a family and just enough craziness for Quinn to fool herself into believing she'd be able to keep everything from her own parents, and still watch her daughter grow up with a mom and dad who would love her. Once those lies came crashing down, Quinn had nothing left. She was so lost and alone and miserable. She put off making any plans or decisions for eight months, until she ran out of time completely, and was left standing in front of the nursery window wondering how she could live with walking away and never knowing what happened to her baby. The very idea had torn her apart inside.

So, of course, when Shelby Corcoran appeared with a sympathetic smile, and saying all the right words, Quinn had felt like she could finally breathe again. She hardly knew the woman at all, but what little she did know made her believe that Shelby was smart, and compassionate, and responsible, with the means to support a child and enough love to offer the daughter she'd wanted so badly.

Perfect.

Except it wasn't.

Quinn still feels the weight of her daughter in her arms, and the aching emptiness. She still closes her eyes and sees that perfect, angelic little face staring back at her, trusting her to make everything okay. She wants to believe that she did the right thing, but it's been feeling less and less right everyday.

Maybe she doesn't talk about Beth, but not a day passes that she doesn't think about her, and now Shelby's giving her the chance to see her daughter. To hold her…

To make things right.

"When do I get to see her?²"

Shelby pauses and looks at Quinn, disapproving eyes raking over her clothes and hair. "Are you okay? What's wrong with you? Are you even in glee anymore?²"

Of fucking course! So much for making things right. Just like everyone else, Shelby wants that other Quinn. The perfect, pretty, wholesome cheerleader. "Did you come here just to torment me with the idea of seeing my child?²"

"Look. I want you to be a part of Beth's life, but not like this. If you're really serious about Beth, clean up your act.²"

This time, it only takes four words to break her.

Clean up your act.

Anger takes over. "You think you can tell me what to do? Just because you signed a couple of papers? You're not her mom. I'm her mom," Quinn rages, and when Puck tries to calm her, she silences him with an angry swipe of her hand, "Me," she reiterates, "so you can pretend all you want, but that is something you are never going to be.²"

Puck doesn't dare stop her from leaving this time.

xox

Quinn is still shaking with anger from her encounter with Shelby. Every repressed feeling about her daughter that she's refused to face for the last two years is bubbling over and she doesn't know what to do with any of them. She ends up in the auditorium again, and she doesn't want to ask herself why. Deep down she knows.

She'd seen the audition sheet for West Side Story on the bulletin board, and it's no surprise to find Rachel warming up for a rehearsal. Quinn didn't come here to see her. She didn't, but she's not leaving either.

The thing is, she actually likes listening to Rachel Berry sing. It's a guilty pleasure that she buries deep and covers over with feigned indifference and occasional insults. Quinn will never admit out loud to anyone that sometimes, when she's feeling particularly frustrated with the general suckitude of her life, she logs onto Rachel's YouTube account (because even Rachel has finally gotten over her MySpace infatuation) and just lets that voice carry her away from her problems for a few minutes.

It doesn't take long for Quinn to realize that her usual balm isn't going to soothe her today. Rachel is Shelby's daughter, after all.

Funny how that fact once made her feel somehow better about letting that woman take her baby—like Rachel's inherent decency (despite the general annoyingness of her personality) must be as genetic as her voice and her smile. Shelby's just proved that to be complete and utter bullshit. Rachel would let her see Beth without any fucking ultimatums attached.

But then, the whole Shelby situation is a sore subject for both of them.

Quinn remembers seeing the pain in Rachel's eyes when she'd first found out about the adoption. She might be a decent actress on stage, but in real life, she wore her heart out there on full display like those atrocious sweaters she'd once favored. Quinn hadn't exactly been in a good place at the time, (she still isn't) but the brief conversation she'd had with Rachel at the end of sophomore year had stayed with her. Rachel had said something about understanding why Shelby would want a baby to bond with from the very beginning in a tone of voice that clearly implied that she didn't understand at all. Until that moment, Rachel had brushed aside meeting Shelby as a right of passage, free of expectations beyond satisfying her curiosity about her birth mother, but those few words had changed Quinn's perspective and introduced the spark of a doubt that had been growing into a raging inferno for the last sixteen months. And Shelby's sudden reappearance and talk of fixing mistakes had just caused it all to explode.

She thinks if she can just talk to Rachel now, maybe she'll be able to pull herself back together again. Rachel had told her that she believed Quinn had given her daughter the chance at a better life. Quinn really needs to hear those words again, but she can wait until after Rachel is done practicing. She knows how much she wants to play Maria.

Rachel's warm-up scales trail off, and Brad's fingers still on the piano. Quinn frowns at the sudden silence, but her hackles rise when Shelby's voice echoes through the auditorium. "Your range is better. It was impressive a year and a half ago, but it's even better now.²"

"This is a private rehearsal,²" and Quinn can tell from Rachel's body language that she's unsettled. Shelby is asking about her audition piece, and Quinn knows that she shouldn't be here to witness this mother-daughter reunion, especially when her own emotions are stripped bare. She's just about to leave when she registers what Rachel is saying, "My loyalty is to the New Directions. They're my family and family means something. At least to me.²"

Shelby sighs, "Rachel, like we talked about before, I'm your birth mother…²"

"But not my mother. I know, okay? I almost had to go to therapy because of you,²" and Quinn is frozen to her spot, and her heart is in her throat, because—what the hell?

Rachel is shuffling pages on the piano and looking like a whipped puppy, and Quinn wants to scream when Rachel continues to try and placate that woman. "Look, I'll be polite if I see you in the halls. I'll make eye contact, and I'll nod. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to my rehearsal.²"

Shelby doesn't budge. "Somewhere there's a place for us.²"

"I just said that there wasn't!²" Other than a couple of diva tantrums that were, frankly, little more than laughable, Quinn has never seen Rachel really lose her cool, and seeing it happen because of Shelby only fans the flames of Quinn's own anger.

She has to get out of there before she runs onto that stage and slaps the woman, who is selfishly going on about her own damn stage experiences, like she has a right to give Rachel any form of advice. Quinn barely registers the rest of the conversation playing out as she silently slips out of the auditorium—although she hears enough to hope that Rachel sticks to her guns and sings I Feel Pretty, because she really is amazing at it. Quinn knows this first hand.

She thought she knew a lot of things, but apparently everything has been based on lies.

Shelby lied to her in that hospital when she cried about missing her chance to be a mom to Rachel, because as it turns out, she knowingly threw the chance away. And Rachel fucking lied to her, too, by letting her believe that her estrangement from Shelby was a mutual decision.

Had she known…

Oh, God, if only she'd known.

Quinn ducks into the first empty classroom she sees and collapses into the farthest corner, sliding down the wall and burying her face into her drawn-up knees in a useless attempt to quiet her gut-wrenching sobs. Turns out she had something left to lose after all—her last little peace of mind.

xox

Quinn spends the night alone in her bedroom, silently staring at the one picture of her daughter that she keeps hidden in the bottom of a drawer. Mercedes had taken it in the hospital and given it to Quinn, thinking that it was a good thing, but it's mostly a form of self-flagellation. Quinn tries to imagine what her life would be like if she'd kept her baby. For one short second, she sees herself happily holding her baby girl while her mother smiles proudly at having such a beautiful granddaughter. The perfect picture shatters immediately when she envisions the wine glass in her mother's hand. She can't even imagine Puck in the picture at all, even though she tries her best to insert him (because he is Beth's father and Quinn knows she can't just erase him.) Reality settles back in and she sees herself run ragged, exhausted and in tears because the baby won't stop crying, and Judy barely tolerating the chaos and on the verge of kicking them both out. She sees Puck swearing he'll take Beth for the night so Quinn can study for finals, but canceling out for a chance to bed his latest floozy. She sees herself stuck in Lima, a single mom with a dead-end job at the local Wal-Mart, and dating losers who just leave her the minute they find out she has a kid.

She knows that she still isn't ready or able to take care of her daughter, but that doesn't stop her from wishing that she was, and it sure as hell doesn't stop her from thinking that she made a mistake trusting Shelby Corcoran with the most precious person in her life.

xox

Quinn tries to pretend she still doesn't give a fuck when she shows up at school the next day, but it gets more difficult to bury her emotions every time she tries, and she's not sure she can control them anymore. She goes along with Coach Sylvester's crazy campaign, and it actually feels good to vent some of her frustration on Mr. Schuester, but when he tells her she doesn't care about anybody but herself, she loses it. She doesn't need him telling her to grow up. She's been forced to grow up too fucking fast. She never had the chance to be a normal kid. Quinn wants to believe that Beth will have the chance she never did, and she almost manages to make it happen until Puck barges into the girls' bathroom and demands that she get her act together.

"I saw Beth.²" Quinn is blindsided for the second (or maybe third) time in two days. She plays it off the best she can, but Puckerman keeps pushing, "She's perfect. She looks just like you. Well, the old you,²" and Quinn wants to ask which 'old' her he means, because by now there have been so many.

"Yeah, well it doesn't matter. We're not parent material.²"

"We can be,²" he insists, but she's heard it all before.

"We're never going to be together.²"

"I don't care about you, I care about her," and Quinn believes him, because after all, no one has ever really cared about Quinn. "I don't want her having questions, or being messed up. She needs you in her life.²"

Quinn doesn't know how to respond, because what he's saying cuts right to the heart of Quinn's biggest fear. The one she's left unvoiced until now. The one that's all wrapped up in her own fucked-up childhood, and not knowing who she is, (even though she knows exactly who she comes from) or why she's not worthy of being loved. She doesn't want that for Beth. She doesn't want to live the scene she watched Rachel live with Shelby, or to ever have her daughter ask her what was so wrong with her that her own mother didn't want her.

And goddamn, how far has she really fallen if Noah Puckerman is proving to be the more responsible one of them?

xox

Quinn can't get Puck's words out of her head, and she can't stop thinking about Beth, so, against her better judgment, she seeks out Shelby again. She's so tired of running. As much as she isn't Lucy anymore, and as much as she isn't the head cheerio or the prom queen, she knows deep down that she isn't this punk that she's been pretending to be either. The only thing she's sure of is that she's Beth's mother, and maybe if she finally accepts that, the rest will fall into place.

She finds Shelby in the midst of a singing lesson with the owner of the most God-awful voice she's ever heard. Quinn can hear Shelby's frustration bleeding through, and she has to give the woman credit, because anyone else would have slapped the girl down awhile ago.

"She's hopeless, you know.²"

Shelby smiles at her, "nobody's hopeless," and Quinn knows they aren't talking about Sugar. "What happened to you, Quinn?²"

She can't suppress the reflexive eye roll. Why is everyone always so obsessed with the way she looks? Why won't anyone ever look beneath the image she projects and find anything of value in her? Even as she asks, she knows there is one person who has done that in the past, but their relationship is too complicated for Quinn to understand, and she just doesn't have the energy to try right now.

It isn't helping that Shelby is trying to bond with her by sharing her own experience after giving up Rachel. All Quinn can think about is Rachel's dejected face in the auditorium a few days ago, and the fact that Shelby is putting in more effort to reach out to Quinn than she did with her own daughter.

"Eventually, I realized that, no matter how much it hurt me, I did right by my daughter,²" Shelby tells her pointedly, and Quinn feels sick because she doesn't feel that way at all—not about herself with Beth, and not about Shelby with Rachel. Nothing about any of this feels right. "That's the real measure of motherhood. How much of yourself will you give up for them? King Solomon and all that.²"

Quinn has given up every part of herself, too many times. "I'm not going back to being that girl. Little miss blonde, perfect...²"

Shelby cuts her off with a self-satisfied smirk, "Quinn, were you ever really that girl? I mean, would that kind of girl ever even get pregnant in the first place?²" and Quinn wants to tell Shelby to go to hell, because she doesn't know anything about her pregnancy or how it happened or what kind of a person Quinn was before Puck convinced her to trust him. "Do you seriously expect me to think that this is the real you?²"

Quinn is still struggling to understand what the fuck Shelby is trying to prove, so she mumbles an unconvincing, "Yeah, sure. Something like this…²"

But the self-righteous advice just keeps coming, "This is the time you should find yourself. First step to becoming an adult; stop punishing yourself for things you did when you were a child.²"

Things like getting pregnant?

Things like giving her baby up to this woman?

"Can I see her? I know Puck got to.²"

Shelby shakes her head, "Not yet," and it burns. For all her talk, Shelby is just another person telling her to grow up—telling her to get over this little phase and go back to being the Quinn that makes everyone else happy. The good, upstanding, straight-A student that's actually worthy of Shelby's pity and being allowed to meet her own fucking daughter. Quinn barely manages to push down her anger, because she knows that it will only make Shelby dig her heels in harder, but she can't push down the desperation that pulled her into this room to begin with.

"How about a photo? Please,²" she begs brokenly, and her heart stops when Shelby hands over her phone, because this…this is her daughter. Her baby. Her Beth.

"You wanna know who you really are? Look at that sweet, special little face. She looks just like you," and oh, God, she does. Quinn's eyes desperately trace her little girl's beautiful face, and she feels her heart swelling with a love she's never known. "You can be a part of this family too, Quinn. I really want you to be. It's all up to you.²"

Shelby leaves her there, staring at that photo of Puck holding their little girl, and Quinn's world falls to pieces around her. This could have been hers. Beth, and even Puck, if she'd wanted him. It hurts so fucking much, knowing that she had the chance to have something so precious, so amazing and beautiful, in her life, and she'd just thrown it away. Beth is the one right thing she's ever done.

Beth is hersher family. Not Shelby's.

Rachel is Shelby's family.

Beth is Quinn's.

She has to make this right.

xox

Shelby allowed her to print the photo of Beth and Puck from her phone, and Quinn spends the evening staring it. This time, when she imagines keeping her daughter, it's shockingly easy. Puck looks so natural holding Beth, and Quinn knows she's been unfair to him. He'd be a good dad. Yeah, his pool-cleaning business isn't much, but he's kept it going for four years. He can be responsible when he needs to be—she just needs to forget about his habit of bedding the women who hire him.

And it's not like Quinn is really planning on college anymore. She doesn't have the money, and neither does Judy since the divorce. Maybe if she sucks up to Russell and pretends to forgive him, she might bleed some funding from him, but why even bother? Her father's monetary support has always had strings attached, and she doesn't want to go to Northwestern and study business like he did. He'd never let her go to New York or Los Angeles.

Quinn has never gotten any of the things she's really wanted. For the first time, she's realizing that she's been wanting the wrong thing.

She dyes her hair back to sunshine blonde that night. The black mini-skirts and torn tees are shoved in the bottom of her dresser, and the sundresses brought out, front and center, in her closet. She takes out the nose-ring and throws away every pack of cigarettes.

Judy is thrilled.

Quinn makes a quick detour to the bleachers the next morning to let the skanks know that she's done. Mack gives her a disdainful once-over, growling, "Fuck, Fabray. I thought you were cooler than this."

"I don't have to answer to you…any of you," she points out with a wave to Ronnie and Shelia, "but you let me hang with you when I needed to, and you never asked any questions, and I'm grateful for that. I just need to get back something I lost, and this is the only way I can do it."

Mack stares her down with an unwavering gaze for a long minute before she finally nods. "Whatever. It's been real." She leans back against the post and lights up another cigarette, but as Quinn turns to leave, Mack calls out, "Good luck," and Quinn knows that underneath the tough image, Mack really does understand.

Quinn sits in homeroom for only the second time this year, and she's bored out of her mind. She takes to doodling in her notebook as she runs over her plans. She sees Rachel in her first class, and receives a genuinely happy smile from the girl. Sighing, she slides into the seat next to Rachel and pre-empts the questions she knows is coming. "I'm ready," she tells Rachel simply, smiling serenely at the truth in those words.

"Oh, Quinn, I'm so glad. I…we really have missed you." A few moments of silence pass before Rachel turns slightly in her chair, "You know, you didn't need to…well, go to such extremes to come back to glee club. We'll accept you, no matter what clothes you choose to wear or what color your hair is, although I must confess, I do prefer you as a blonde," Rachel drops her gaze and blushes slightly, and Quinn's breath catches just a bit, because once again, Rachel is cutting through the bullshit and accepting her in a way that no one else does. Quinn doesn't understand why this keeps happening.

"I didn't do it for glee club," she mutters.

"Oh, of course" Rachel whispers. "Noah told me about…well, I'm happy for you, Quinn. I'm glad Shelby is giving you both the chance to be involved in Beth's life."

"What about you? Is Shelby giving you a chance to be part of her family, too?" she demands. She's sorry the moment she asks because the bite in her voice and the way Rachel flinches makes Quinn feel like a bitch.

Rachel's voice is small and timid when she says, "It's complicated," and Quinn hates it. She hates seeing Rachel cower, especially since she's not certain if she's the cause, or Shelby is.

"It shouldn't be."

She and Rachel don't talk for the rest of the day. Quinn is actually relieved when she crashes Schuester's booty camp and doesn't see Rachel in attendance. Despite their awkward moment earlier, she knows Rachel would be the first to advocate her return, and she doesn't want anyone to speak for her. Quinn wants to know if the others will welcome her back now that she's all sweet and wholesome again. They do. Mercedes even hugs her, as if she hadn't avoided Quinn like the plague for three weeks and gossip about her behind her back. They're all such hypocrites.

Puck looks over at her with a smile and tells her, "I'm proud of you.²"

Quinn wants to laugh at how pathetic he's being for buying into the act she's selling, just like everyone else. She looks him over and contemplates leaving him in the dark, but she's going to need him if she wants her plan to work.

"I have to get her back. If that takes dying my hair blonde and pretending that I think I'm special, that's something I'm willing to do. We're going to get full custody,²" she promises him with a satisfied smile, because for the first time in two years, she's doing something that feels right. Something she wants for herself. Maybe she hasn't worked out all the details yet, but it doesn't matter.

Quinn is finally going to have one person in her life who loves her unconditionally.


¹Glee, 3:01, The Purple Piano Project

²Glee, 3:02, I Am Unicorn