Part IV: Determination

Note to self, sitting outside on the bleachers for an extended period of time in early March in Ohio without a coat is not actually conducive to your health. Quinn finds this out the hard way. Or maybe God decided to punish her for the little white lie she told to avoid dealing with the really big lie she's apparently been living for eighteen years. She can't help it if she still falls back on that automatic reflex—believing that she's being punished. That's part of why she's in therapy, after all. In any case, the twenty minutes that she spent shivering in the cold in an attempt to escape Santana and evade Rachel, result in a killer head cold. She ends up missing two days of school because she's legitimately ill, but not before she pretty much negates every little bit of progress she's made with Rachel since the start of the year.

Denial. Self-loathing. Hopelessness.

It sucks.

Quinn is currently buried underneath her sheets with a dehumidifier humming on her nightstand, and a box of Kleenex on the mattress next to her. It's Friday afternoon, and she's replaying Tuesday in her mind, and all the stupid mistakes she made—like even talking to Santana to begin with, like deciding to run outside into the cold like a moron, like skipping her first class with Rachel because she was afraid she'd somehow give something away in her emotionally fragile state, like pretty much acting like a cruel, heartless bitch when she finally did see her.

Rachel was only trying to be nice, asking after Quinn's health again after she'd disappeared the day before and hadn't shown up for their first shared class, and Quinn had gone and told her to stop stalking her every move, because what she did and where she went really wasn't any of Rachel's business. It was freshman year all over again, but so much worse, because Quinn had purposely destroyed months of friendship instead of mere weeks for no other reason than that she was suddenly aware that being close to Rachel was suddenly making her feel things that she didn't want to feel.

On Wednesday, Quinn had woken up with a scratchy throat and watery eyes, but she'd trudged to school anyway, stupidly thinking that she could forget all about the day before, and pretend it hadn't happened. And she could have, really, because for once, Rachel was the one avoiding Quinn. She'd purposely taken a seat across the room from Quinn in three of their four classes—it would have been all four except that they had assigned seats in World History that placed Quinn a row behind Rachel. She never turned around once, and it hurt more than Quinn ever expected. She hadn't realized how much she'd come to look forward to her daily interaction with Rachel until she'd thoughtlessly ruined it.

Stupid. Self-destructive. Bitch.

"Hey, bitch."

Quinn's heavy eyes fly open, and she manages to lift her head from the pillow, dragging the sheet down from under her red nose. She really hopes she's having a nightmare, and that Santana Lopez isn't standing in the middle of her bedroom. When a bag is carelessly tossed onto the bed, landing heavily on her leg, she knows that she isn't dreaming.

"Brought your assignments," Santana explains.

Quinn opens her mouth to ask her who the hell she thinks she is, just barging in like this, but a fit of coughing and wheezing replaces the words she'd rather be hurling. A grimace passes over Santana's features, and she takes a step back to put a little more distance between herself and the germs.

"Wow, you're, like, actually sick this time. I thought you were just hiding out 'cause you didn't want to deal with your lesbian drama." Santana pulls the chair away from Quinn's computer desk and drops into it, crossing her legs and getting comfortable like she doesn't plan to leave anytime soon. Quinn drags herself into a semi-sitting position on her bed, and plucks out another two Kleenex to wipe at her now dripping nose.

"If you're here to torment me some more," she croaks hoarsely, "you can just leave now."

"Nah…that's only fun when you can fight back."

"Go away," she tries again.

Santana regards her evenly, "You really didn't have a clue, did you?"

Quinn doesn't need to ask what she's referring to, and she shakes her head in the negative. "Did you?" she asks. "Before…?"

"Brittany?" Santana completes with an arch of a dark brow, and she sighs at Quinn's nod. "Yeah…I kinda did, but I didn't want to think about it, you know?" Quinn does, and she can see that this isn't especially easy for Santana, even now. "So I went all in with the guys, 'cause that was normal, right?" Santana shrugs, "Better to be a slut than a lesbian. I was fucking miserable, Quinn, but there was no way I was coming out, and getting drenched in slushies, and tossed into dumpsters everyday. I mean, come on, I am way too fine for that shit," she says, waving a hand in front of her toned body to make her point, and Quinn smiles a little at Santana being Santana.

"So, I get it, okay? The whole gay panic and self-hatred thing—I was you last year," Santana tells her honestly, and Quinn's fingers twist into the sheet draped over her lap. She doesn't know if she should feel better or worse about the comparison. "I freaked the hell out when Brittany tried to push me to deal with everything before I was ready, and…I kind of love her…so of course you're pissed at me. I did to you exactly what I hated having done to me. And I'm…you know," she rolls her eyes and turns her head away as she hurriedly mumbles, "sorry, or whatever."

Quinn feels the urge to look at the label on her cough medicine to see if hallucinations are a side-effect, because this is just too surreal. "Okay," she manages.

Santana nods, absently twisting the chair back and forth. "Yeah, so if you, like, need to talk, or something," she begins uncomfortably, and then she shakes herself out of it and grins wickedly, "or, we could just drive to Columbus and pick up chicks."

Quinn's incredulous laugh quickly turns into another coughing jag, and when she catches her breath, she chokes out, "You're worse than Puck."

"Oh, chica, I'm so much better than him, you have no idea," Santana drawls in sultry tones. "Seriously, though, Q. I know we haven't been close for awhile now, but I've been where you are, and I guess I just want you know that it actually does get better."

Quinn is glad that her cold gives her a convenient excuse to dab at her eyes and nose. She isn't crying. Not yet, but she's sort of on the verge, and this isn't something she wants to do in front of Santana. She still can't quite allow her walls to come down completely, but for the first time in a long time, she feels like she and Santana might actually have a shot at a real friendship. Maybe that's why the words come slipping out uncensored. "You only think it's better because you finally got the girl."

Santana huffs and rolls her eyes. "Okay, let's ignore the part where you could actually get the girl too, if you weren't such a head case," and when Quinn stiffens and opens her mouth to argue, Santana holds up a hand to stop her and adds, "because you're obviously not ready for that. You have to be comfortable with your own sexuality before you can be with someone else, or you'll just end up fucking everything up even more. I've been there and done that, okay? But you gotta stop making yourself sick over this shit, Q. Believe me, it's a hell of a lot easier to just accept who you are, and what you want, than spend every fucking minute of every day living a lie and worrying about how to keep up appearances. I guess I just thought you kind of figured that out already…you know, with this whole new Q that you've been working the last couple of months."

"I'm trying," she whispers, wiping at her eyes again (but just because of the cold.) "It's not exactly coming easily."

"Well, now you've got Auntie Tana to help you out…like literally." Santana jokes as she gracefully rises from the chair and plops onto the edge of Quinn's bed, reaching over and…

Quinn stifles a cough and scoots her body away, "Uh…Santana, I'm flattered but…"

"Oh, get over yourself," she admonishes, grabbing the book bag, opening the flap, and rooting around inside. "You wish you could have sex with me. I'm happily taken," she pulls out a couple of DVD cases and tosses them onto Quinn's lap. "You just need to loosen the hell up, stop over-thinking everything, and have a little fun."

Quinn picks up the two movies and her eyebrows rise skeptically as she reads the titles: But I'm a Cheerleader, and D.E.B.S. She feels the blood rushing to her head, and she knows she's probably turning a fairly deep shade of crimson. She's not completely oblivious, she knows what they're about, even if she's never actually watched them. She shakes her head in firm denial, and tries to shove them back into Santana's hands. "I can't have these here, Santana," she hisses. "If my mother finds them…"

"Tell her they're mine. It's not a lie. Anyway, they're just movies, Q. Something to make you laugh. God knows you need to."

"Who are you, and what have you done with Santana Lopez?" Quinn asks in wonder.

She shrugs uncomfortably, "Look, we're like, lesbian soul sisters, or something," she says, standing and pacing closer to the door. "I guess I just wish I'd had someone to talk to last year. I mean, Brittany was great, but she just doesn't process things the way I do. And Kurt…well, he's a guy, so it's just different, and anyway, I can only take so much of his sanctimonious bullshit, you know?"

"So this is you…being nice?"

Santana smirks and crosses her arms, "And this is me being a bitch—you need to talk to your midget, Quinn, because she's fucking driving me batty. Ever since you missed school yesterday, she's all: Have you talked to Quinn? Do you know how she's feeling? Can you please take her homework to her and make sure she's drinking plenty of fluids and taking care of herself? But don't tell her I told you to check up on her because I don't think she would appreciate my concern," Santana whines a few octaves higher than her normal speaking voice. It doesn't sound anything like Rachel, but Quinn gets the idea, and she swallows down the butterflies that are dancing with happiness because Rachel still cares.

"She asked you to come?"

Santana rolls her eyes. "You freaked out on her, didn't you? Otherwise she'd be here personally delivering your books, and probably force feeding you a big vat full of some weird vegan concoction to cure whatever ails you."

"I was having a bad day, thanks to you," she rasps with a weak glare at Santana.

"Whatever. You obviously care about her, so just…be her friend if that's what you want. Or don't. Just figure it out and stick with it, because, frankly, watching the two of you keep dancing around one another is making me fucking dizzy," Santana complains. She lingers in the doorway for another few seconds and gifts Quinn with one final grin. "Enjoy the movies, Q. If you like those, I have another one I think you'll really appreciate—about a girl named Luce who falls in love with a married woman named…Rachel," she finishes with a wink, and then she's out the door.

Quinn drags in a rattling breath and runs her fingers through her messy hair. She stares forlornly at the cover of D.E.B.S., and her eyes trail over the girls in their tiny, little plaid skirts, and…God, is this a lesbian fetish, or something? Or is it just her? She's pretty sure that Rachel used to have a skirt exactly like that, and she thinks that she really liked it.

She replays everything that Santana said, and feels her heart swell a little at the open invitation to talk. Maybe Santana really does care about her. Maybe it's been Quinn who's been the bad friend all along. Maybe it will be good to talk to someone who knows exactly what she's going through right now.

This time, when she dabs at her watering eyes, she knows it's not just the cold. Her body suddenly feels heavy with exhaustion, and she shoves the book bag to the floor, and slips the DVDs under her mattress, just in case. Quinn sinks back down into her bed, and burrows underneath her sheets, allowing her mind to drift wherever it wanted. Unsurprisingly, she falls asleep to visions of girls in Catholic school uniforms dancing in her head.

xox

Quinn is feeling well-enough by Sunday to attend church with her mother—and Russell. They (mostly Judy) invite him to brunch at the house, and he asks Quinn if she's heard back from any of the colleges that she applied to. She hasn't, but it's still early. They eat together without any drama, and talk about normal, everyday things like the weather, and Russell's job, and Judy's bridge club. Quinn imagines that this is what normal families do.

She hasn't seen Beth in a week, and she doesn't plan to until she's completely recovered, because she won't risk her daughter's health for anything. Instead, she works on her school assignments. She waits until her mother (and her father) head out to their weekly AA meeting to watch one of the movies that Santana brought her, and it's kind of a revelation because there are parts that ring so painfully true to Quinn's thoughts and experiences. Someone actually wrote this and filmed it and, yeah it's a comedy, and kind of ridiculous, but it's proof that everything that Quinn is experiencing is something that other people—other girls just like her—are going through, and she knows that she isn't alone.

First thing Monday morning, Quinn is waiting at Rachel's locker. She still isn't planning to act on her reluctant attraction, or her newly discovered sexuality, but Santana was right. She cares about Rachel, and she likes spending time with her, and she doesn't want to go back to the way things were before she and Rachel were friends. Quinn knows that it will be a little awkward now, on her part at least, but she thinks that she can handle it. After all, she spent three years working hard at tormenting Rachel Berry with these urges buried deep inside; being nice to her is so much easier on both of them. Quinn feels like she probably deserves to have it hurt just a little, after the way she's hurt Rachel in the past.

When she first spots Rachel, the girl is buried underneath Finn's oversized arm, and Quinn finally acknowledges that familiar twisting in her belly as jealousy. They just look so wrong together. She watches them walk side-by-side, Rachel's graceful, purposeful strides next to Finn's clumsy, casual gait, and tries to imagine them walking a red carpet someday. She can envision Rachel, all flashy smiles and infectious laugh, charming the multitude of fans and reporters, but try as she might, she can only see Finn lingering somewhere in the background, and holding Rachel's purse.

Quinn can pinpoint the exact moment that Rachel notices her, because her steps falter and her shoulders tense under Finn's touch. Quinn drags in a breath and offers a hesitant smile. Finn frowns as they come to a stop next to her, and she breathes out a soft, "Hi, Rachel." Her eyes dart up quickly, and she acknowledges him with a terse, "Finn," and he nods back.

"Good morning, Quinn. I'm glad to see that your health has improved significantly," Rachel offers a little coolly, and Quinn figures it's justified.

"Yeah…I'm feeling better. C-can I talk to you for a minute," she glances at Finn again, "privately?"

Rachel's eyes search hers for something, and Quinn guesses that she finds whatever she's looking for when she briefly turns to Finn, and places a hand on his chest, "I'll see you later, okay?"

His eyes cut over to Quinn and he shrugs, "Sure," and he bends down (way, way down) and presses a chaste kiss to Rachel's cheek. "See you at lunch. Bye, Quinn," he calls back politely as he ambles away.

Rachel doesn't really watch him go, she just turns back to her locker, and spins the combination. "What did you wish to discuss, Quinn?"

"Look, Rach," she sighs, "I…I'm sorry about last week," and Rachel's attention is suddenly fully on her. "I didn't mean what I said, okay? I'm just dealing with a lot of things in my life right now," which is a huge understatement, "and I…I know it's not an excuse, but I was feeling really overwhelmed that day. I shouldn't have taken it out on you," she says sincerely, crossing her arms self-consciously over her stomach, "but I guess lashing out is still my first instinct."

Rachel smiles thinly, "At least you refrained from slapping me this time." Quinn feels the comment like a physical blow, which is especially fitting, and she tightens her arms around herself and hunches forward imperceptibly. Rachel's eyes grow wide and regretful, and she stutters, "I…I'm so sorry, Quinn. I shouldn't have said that. I didn't mean…"

Quinn jerks her head and barks out a harsh, "Don't!" effectively stopping Rachel cold. "Don't apologize," she repeats more gently. "I more than deserve it. I'm sosorry, Rachel…for everything, but especially for that," she stresses. "I never should have touched you."

Rachel's dark eyes travel over Quinn's face, and she feels as if Rachel is seeing everything. "I forgave you as soon as it happened."

"Why?" Quinn asks incredulously. "I've been awful. I don't know why you even care about me at all."

Rachel sucks her lower lip between her teeth, and worries it for a moment. "I…I just do," she finally says with a shake of her head. "And anyway, I'm not exactly a saint, Quinn. We've both made mistakes, and ended up hurting people," she points out, "but I've always known that you're more than what you pretend to be. I'm just glad I'm finally getting to know the real you," she says sincerely.

"I don't even know who the real me is, Rachel. How can you?"

Rachel smiles and shrugs, "Call it my sixth sense."

"Be serious," Quinn urges, because she still feels like she's making all of this up as she goes along, and she really doesn't understand why Rachel is always—always—so positive that Quinn isn't just a selfish bitch who deserves to be miserable.

"What makes you think I'm not? Look, I…I guess I just understand why you acted the way you did," Rachel says casually, and Quinn swallows down the momentary panic at the thought that Rachel might have figured out everything as easily as Santana had. She sags in relief when Rachel says, "You needed to maintain your position at the top of the high school food chain. I can't say that I wouldn't have been tempted to do the same thing if I'd been given the opportunity. I'm certain you've noticed that I can be thoughtlessly self-serving at times," Rachel adds with practiced self-depreciation.

Quinn smiles, because it's true, "Well, yeah, but you're a genuinely good person, Rach. I'm not always so certain that I am."

"I think you are," Rachel insists, reaching out and taking one of Quinn's hands in her own. Quinn feels a rush of warmth at the contact and inhales sharply. She was right, it does hurt a little to experience these friendly touches, and know that they don't really mean anything to Rachel. She must really be a masochist, because she'll take them over nothing every time. "Look at what you're doing for Beth, what you've already done for her. Not to mention what you did for Sam and his family last year, and the way you supported Mercedes when she was a cheerio. And I know you're the reason that glee club got a full page in the yearbook sophomore year."

Quinn's eyes widen is surprise, "How did you find out about that?"

Rachel's lips curl into a mischievous smile, and her eyes start to twinkle—no, sparkle, yeah—and Quinn feels a little breathless. "I'm afraid that I can't reveal my sources," Rachel whispers teasingly, "but needless to say, I know that you, Lucy Quinn Fabray, are secretly a really good person."

She doesn't even think about it, really, she just tugs on the hand that's still holding onto hers, and wraps Rachel into a hug, completely unconcerned that they're standing in the middle of the hallway for anyone to see. There's nothing sexual in it, at least not at first, but it feels so damn good, and Quinn lets herself really enjoy the contact. She can sense Rachel's surprise, and she completely understands, because Quinn is never the one who initiates any of the physical contact between them, but Rachel relaxes into her arms fairly quickly, and Quinn just squeezes her tighter. "Thank you for being my friend, Rach," she murmurs into dark, silky hair, breathing in deeply to savor the smell of her shampoo. That's when Quinn realizes that she's feeling more than she should for a friendly hug, and finally loosens her arms, and steps away.

Rachel is smiling softly and her eyes are still sparkling, and she murmurs, "I really like it when you call me that."

The corner of Quinn's mouth quirks up, "Friend?"

"No," Rachel shakes her head. "Rach. It's…nice."

Quinn chuckles a little, because she honestly didn't even notice she'd done it. "Doesn't Finn call you that?"

Rachel shrugs, "Sometimes, but it," she drops her eyes, and her brow furrows slightly, "it isn't the same." Quinn doesn't really have the chance to ask her what she means, because the first bell is ringing, and Rachel is turning to back to her locker and grabbing up her books. "I'm glad we're friends, Quinn. I've always wanted us to be." Quinn can't really say the same, but she nods anyway, because she does want it now. She'll take every friend she can get. "I'll see you in class?"

"Yeah…I don't think I can afford to miss any more."

Rachel frowns slightly, "Santana did bring you your assignments, didn't she? I swear if she didn't…"

"She did. Thanks for that, by the way. I know you're the one who thought to get them to me."

She shrugs and smiles, "Well, that's what friends do, right?"

Quinn sighs and nods in agreement. Friends. "Yeah."

xox

The next couple of weeks pass uneventfully. Quinn is actually calming down and learning to accept her new identity. She's nowhere near ready to take Santana up on her offer to drive to Columbus to meet women, but she's getting used to how often she notices girls, and she doesn't feel the need to pray her gay away so much anymore. It's something. Santana is actually proving to be a pretty good friend, which is admittedly a little weird, considering their overly competitive past, but it's nice to have someone to talk to, even if Santana is still a little too fond of the sexual innuendos and dropping really unsubtle hints about Rachel.

Quinn is spending more time with Rachel, too, both inside and outside of school because…well, because she wants to. She thinks maybe it's her new favorite form of self-punishment, now that she's no longer torturing herself over Beth. They're not having sleepovers or anything—because really?—there's no way she's at all prepared for being alone in bed with a girl—any girl—and especially not one that she might be attracted to. She blames Santana for this, too, because she's the one who planted all these thoughts in Quinn's head about Rachel's mouth, and her legs, and her ass…ets.

They've watched a few movies, not all of them musicals, and had lunch at the new Thai restaurant once (because Finn doesn't like eating food he can't pronounce.) They discuss books that they've both read, and how they like to spend lazy summer days. Quinn's opening up a little about Russell being back in her life, and Rachel's revealing more about her relationship with Shelby, and how it's affecting her dads. They're talking a little about their college plans, too. Rachel is fairly settled on Tisch, and although Quinn can tell that she's still a little put out that she didn't get into NYADA, she's more upset that Kurt is starting to lean more toward staying in Ohio and attending OSU than going to New York with her. Part of his uncertainty has to do with his dad winning the election, and Kurt feeling like he should stay and be somehow included in Burt Hummel's chance to make a real difference, and part is because Kurt doesn't really want to leave Blaine.

"I mean, Finn is probably staying here," Rachel complains, "and it just really shouldn't matter, should it? If your relationship is strong enough, the distance won't matter," but her voice lacks the conviction that Quinn is expecting, and she won't allow herself to ask what that means. Rachel shrugs, "I guess I'd just like it if I had a friend with me in New York. Obviously, I'm quite capable of going it alone, I've had years of practice, after all, but it's been nice lately…to not have to do that," and she smiles softly at Quinn, letting her know that Rachel is thinking of her as much as Finn or Kurt. "Of course, you could still decide on a college in New York and save me from my impending solitude," Rachel urges again, and Quinn just smiles. She's still leaning toward OSU to be closer to Beth, and she's finally gotten her acceptance letter in the mail. Russell's actually hoping for Columbia to come through since Quinn didn't even apply to Northwestern, but Quinn…well, she's thinking more and more about majoring in psychology, thanks to her own screwed up psych and her time spent with Reverend Ellis. Columbia may be the Ivy League, but it's primarily geared to a degree in research or teaching. If anything, she'd want NYU, and it doesn't even have anything to do with the fact that Rachel will be there. The Steinhardt School of Psychology is ranked twelfth in the nation. She knows that she'll be more than tempted if she gets accepted there.

At school, all of the seniors are starting to freak over the college letters that are rolling in, and more so over the ones that aren't. Finn still hasn't heard back from OSU, and he's getting kind of depressed. It's starting to affect his performances in glee…well, more than before. He and Rachel are still struggling to find the perfect duet for Regionals. They gave up weeks ago on their attempt to sing Rachel's arrangement of Faith Hill's Breathe, and thank God for that. Mr. Schuester's suggestion of Bad English's When I See You Smile was just painful, and Quinn still can't figure out why that man is so obsessed with eighties' power ballads. The latest chemistry free performance is Don't You Wanna Stay, and nobody is feeling it, not even Rachel. Quinn can see how frustrated she's getting by the whole ordeal, but she refuses to ask Rachel about her relationship with Finn. It's the one subject that they've both silently agreed to avoid as much as possible, and Quinn doesn't plan to change that just because she thinks Rachel can do better. She's not even thinking of herself, because she knows that even if she was ready explore her attraction girls, or God, be in a relationship with one, she still wouldn't be good enough for Rachel.

xox

The last weekend of March, Santana throws a party to celebrate her acceptance into UCLA. She doesn't know what she's going to study yet, she just knows it's as far away from Lima, Ohio as she can get and still be in the continental United States. Brittany's looking into dance studios in the area, because she isn't planning on college at all, and she can dance anywhere. Quinn hopes they make it, but secretly, she has her doubts. Los Angeles is a very big city with a lot of people, and a lot of opportunities that neither Santana nor Brittany has ever had before.

Santana's parents are away for the weekend, so the party is fully stocked with alcohol, and Quinn has been nursing the same drink that Puck shoved into her hand an hour ago. The whole glee club is here, along with a couple of the less offensive cheerios that Santana took a (platonic) liking to, one of whom has been attached to Puck's lips (and God only knows what other parts of him) all night. It's really odd to see them partying so effortlessly with the gleeks, but Quinn suspects the copious amounts of alcohol have a lot to do with that. She's just sitting back and watching her friends—because most of them really are her friends now—having fun, and she's trying not to spend too much of her time staring at Rachel, but she suspects that she's failing miserably.

Rachel looks kind of beautiful tonight. She's wearing a (short) blue sleeveless dress that hugs her tightly in the bodice, and it shows off her curves and her legs to perfection. Her hair is softly curled, and her bangs swept to the side, and Quinn really wants to run her fingers through it and find out if it's as silky as it looks. But Finn is the one who gets to do those things, and he has been since they arrived. Quinn can't really blame him, especially when he's riding a natural buzz from finally receiving his own acceptance letter to OSU that afternoon, complete with the inconceivable offer of a partial football scholarship. Quinn suspects that Coach Beiste pulled some strings with the recruiter. They were looking awfully cozy there for awhile.

When they start slow-dancing together, and Finn's oversized frame bends nearly in half so he can wrap Rachel up in his arms, Quinn can't bear to watch anymore. She grips her glass a little tighter, and drains the last of the liquid inside in one swallow. She heads to the kitchen to grab another drink, and before she's done pouring, Santana appears at her side.

"Hey, Q. Enjoying the party?"

"Yeah, it's a blast," she deadpans.

Santana chuckles and reaches past her to refill her own drink, emptying out the bottle of tequila. "C'mon," she says as she playfully pokes an elbow into Quinn's side, "we can play spin the bottle and maybe you'll get lucky and land on the hobbit."

"Please don't call her that," Quinn automatically responds. For the most part, Santana has been better about the whole Rachel thing, but she's still Santana, and she still likes to push.

"Fine, Rachel," she stresses, "You can lay one on her and live out your fantasy without ever having to fess up to your secret obsession," she says, slinging an arm around Quinn's shoulder.

"No. Please Santana," she begs weakly, even though a part of her wants nothing more than to take Santana up on the offer, and to maybe have just one kiss to remember without having to deal with any of the consequences, but "I…I'm not ready, okay?"

Santana sighs and lets Quinn go, "Whatevs," she shrugs dismissively, "I was just trying to help out your closeted ass."

"I appreciate the sentiment," Quinn tells her honestly, and Santana grins and grabs her hand, dragging her back out to the party.

She lets go of Quinn and stands in the middle of the room, "Listen up, people, we are playing a game of truth or dare, so drop your asses into a circle and lets get our naughty on."

"Santana," Quinn hisses anxiously.

"Oh, chill out, Q. I promise not to ask you anything about your deep, dark secret. Just don't pick a dare," she warns with an evil grin before moving to sit next to Brittany. Quinn takes another drink, and claims a chair opposite of them, and diagonal from Rachel and Finn, who sit together on the couch.

Santana gives the empty bottle a spin to start the game, and it lands on Mike. "Truth or dare, Chang?"

Mike swallows and glances over at Tina, who pats his hand. "Truth," he answers, obviously not feeling brave in the face of Santana's wicked nature.

She rolls her eyes, "Fine, who'd you lose the big V to and when?"

His back straightens and he glances between Tina and Santana, "Ah…B-Brittany, freshman year," he admits with a blush. Tina doesn't look surprised, and Brittany beams proudly.

"It was awesome," she announces, and his blush deepens. Santana growls at him, and he hurriedly leans forward and gives the bottle a spin. It lands on Blaine, who picks a dare. Mike shrugs and, after Tina whispers in his ear, he dares Blaine to let Kurt pluck his eyebrows. Blaine blanches, and everyone laughs.

The game continues on, with Sam being dared to spend the rest of the party shirtless, which he does, and Quinn having to admit that 'yes,' he was actually a better kisser than Finn (and she's a little pissed that he asked her that,) and Puck being dared to kiss Kurt, which he gamely does (and Quinn's a little sorry for that one on Kurt's behalf, but she's always been bad at thinking up dares.) Finn has to attempt break dancing, which results in laughter and a broken coffee table, much to Santana's chagrin. Brittany has to perform a striptease, which she happily does, also to Santana's chagrin. And then Brittany's spin lands on Rachel.

"Truth," Rachel chooses after a moment of deliberation.

Santana snorts and shakes her head, "Figures you're too afraid to go for a dare."

"Leave her alone, Santana," Quinn warns reflexively.

Artie leans over to Puck. "Am I really drunk, or did Quinn just defend Rachel?"

"End of the world, dude," Puck mutters with a grin, and Quinn glares at him because he knows that she and Rachel are friends now. They all do, really, but she supposes it's still odd for them to witness.

Rachel ignores the comment completely, focusing her attention on Santana instead. "I'm not afraid," she insists, "I'll take a dare instead, Brittany."

Brittany grins, "Awesome. I dare you to kiss, Santana."

Quinn's breath catches, and her stomach turns as her eyes dart back and forth between Rachel, Brittany and Santana. Brittany has a huge, happy smile on her face, and Santana is gaping incredulously at her girlfriend. Rachel's eyes are wide, and she stammers, "W-what? Why would you…?"

"You're, like, a super fantastic kisser," Brittany announces, "and I want San to see for herself. Besides, it'll be so hot watching you."

"I love you, Brittany," Puck murmurs, and Quinn blindly reaches across and slaps the back of his head. "Hey," he grumbles resentfully, rubbing at his Mohawk, but she's not paying attention to him. Her focus is still on Rachel and her slightly horrified expression.

"Wait," Finn interrupts, staring down at Rachel with a deep frown. "How does Brittany know that you're a fantastic kisser?"

"Because we totally made out once," Brittany answers for Rachel. It's not new information to Quinn, thanks to Santana, but it certainly is to everyone else in the room, and their faces range from disgust (Kurt) to shock (Finn, Mercedes, Sam and Blaine) to awe (Tina, Artie and Mike) and arousal (ew, Puck again.).

"Rachel?" Finn prompts again.

She sighs, and turns to look at him, "It was sophomore year, Finn. We weren't even together then," she explains unnecessarily.

"She was really sad," Brittany adds with a mock-pout, and then she smiles, "Then she was really turned on."

"Oh, fuck, yeah," Puck moans.

Finn crosses his arms and leans back against the cushions to sulk, "I can't believe you never told me."

"It was just a kiss," Rachel huffs in exasperation.

"More like a lot of kisses, and some grinding," Brittany corrects happily, and Quinn bites into her lip to keep from growling. She notices Santana watching her closely.

"But you're not even into girls," Finn complains.

Rachel rolls her eyes and huffs, "Actually, Finn, I happen to believe that sexuality is fluid, and I've always been open to the possibility of falling in love with any gender. If I felt a particular connection with a woman," and Rachel's gaze drifts away from her boyfriend, and fixes on a captivated Quinn for just a moment before she drags her eyes away, "and she returned the feelings, of course," she qualifies quickly, "I wouldn't hesitate to pursue a relationship. I just happened to fall in love with you instead," she tells Finn in an attempt to soothe his bruised ego.

Quinn hears that last part, of course, but it doesn't stop her heart from racing out of her chest at Rachel's admission. Her own eyes pull away from Rachel long enough to glance at Santana, who smiles slightly, nodding imperceptibly. Apparently, her gaydar is spot-on after all.

"Wow, dude. Like, three of the four girls you've dated are kind of gay," Puck laughingly informs Finn, who flips him off. Quinn feels her face getting really hot, because she knows Finn is actually four for four.

"Ah, you do realize that you dated them too, right?" Sam asks.

"Yeah, and I'm kinda pissed none of them have ever let me watch."

Quinn smacks him again, and Rachel crosses her arms defensively, "It was two years ago!" she reminds them all. "And I'm not gay, Noah. I just don't define my sexuality with restrictive labels."

"Okay, I'm getting bored here," Santana snaps impatiently. "Are we doing this or not?"

Rachel stares her down, "What are the consequences if I don't?"

Brittany opens her mouth to answer, but Santana beats her to it, "You and Finnept have to give up your duet at Regionals."

Rachel gasps, "That's…that's blackmail!"

"That's the deal. We've got witnesses," Santana points out with a sweep of her hand around the room. The recent Finchel duets have been bad enough that no one is going to challenge Santana's decision.

Rachel scowls, but glances back at her still pouting boyfriend. "Finn?"

"Whatever," he mutters unhappily. "It's just a game, right?"

Rachel brushes her hand along his arm to calm him, then stands and approaches Santana, who's been watching Quinn for the last thirty seconds with something almost like regret in her eyes. Quinn wants to slap her, even if she's fairly sure that Santana actually had nothing to do with the dare. Santana shrugs and stands up, and Quinn realizes that she's going to have a front row view for this. She really needs to get up and walk away so she won't have to watch them, but she thinks that might actually end up being more obvious than just gritting her teeth and powering through.

"No biting," Rachel warns.

Santana smirks, "From what I've heard, I should be saying that to you."

Rachel narrows her eyes. "I really don't like you very much."

"I like you even less," Santana says with mock sweetness, before pressing her lips to Rachel's. Quinn's fingers tighten around the edge of her chair as she watches the tentative kiss. It's not so bad. They're not even really touching one another. Then Santana's hand twitches, and she moves it to rest lightly on Rachel's waist. She angles her head a bit, and…and…Quinn digs her nails hard into the underside of the chair because they're suddenly kissing for real—and Jesus, was that a tongue?—and she has to fight the urge to jump up and push them apart. It isn't fucking fair. She shouldn't have to watch Santana kiss the girl she lo…the girl she likes.

"Oh," Tina whispers.

"My," Kurt squeaks, pressing a hand to his mouth.

Mercedes gasps, "God."

"So hot," Puck murmurs in appreciation.

"I knew they would be," Brittany says proudly, and Rachel and Santana finally break apart, both a little breathless.

Rachel takes a quick step backward while Santana licks her lips, "Damn. Not bad, Berry," she compliments with a grin.

"I need some air," Finn mumbles, standing quickly and striding out of the room.

Rachel frowns, "Finn?" she calls out as she rushes after him. She's always chasing Finn Hudson. Quinn should be used to it by now.

Santana glances down at Quinn, and her slight smile falls away. She sighs and shrugs a silent apology, before spinning around. "Turn up the music, Wheels, I wanna dance with my girl," and she turns to Brittany, grabbing her hand and pulling her up and into a kiss of their own.

The awkward tension dissipates, and everyone drifts back into the party, dancing and drinking and laughing, but Quinn can't be here anymore. She lays her glass aside and slips away, finding her coat and stepping out into the chilly night air. She only really had the one drink, so she heads for her car without any guilt. She can vaguely hear the raised voices of Finn and Rachel drifting from around the side of the house, but she doesn't want to hear them arguing over the kiss with Santana. She just wants to go home and forget the fact that Rachel Berry will never be hers.

xox

Quinn doesn't talk to Rachel for the rest of the weekend, but Santana shows up at her house on Saturday and apologizes for the kiss. "I honestly didn't know Britts was gonna do that, Q. She just thought it'd be hot to watch us, you know?"

"You have a really fucked up relationship," Quinn snaps "Who wants to see their partner kiss someone else?"

"B's cool like that. She knows it didn't really mean anything. It didn't, Quinn," Santana assures her, laying a hand on her shoulder and giving it a gentle squeeze. "I'm in love with Brittany. And yeah, maybe Britt knows I had a little thing for Rachel, and wanted to let me have some fun with it, but honestly, Quinn, I'm not into your girl that way."

"She's not my girl," Quinn bites out in frustration, pacing away and staring unseeingly down at the foot of her bed.

"Yeah, yeah. Not revisiting that argument, okay? Are we cool, or what?" Santana asks cautiously.

Quinn closes her eyes and nods, puffing out a frustrated breath and swallowing heavily, "Is she…was it a good kiss?"

Santana gapes at her. "Did you seriously just ask me that?"

"As much as I hate it, you're probably as close as I'll ever get to kissing her, Santana. The least you can do is tell me if…if I really need to regret that it wasn't me last night," Quinn whispers brokenly.

Santana is quiet for a long minute, then smiles sadly. "You kind of do."

Quinn sinks down onto her mattress and buries her face in her hands. She doesn't know what she was expecting. She could see how… enthusiastic that kiss started to turn before everyone's stunned commentary broke it up. That could have been her kiss, if only she'd agreed to play spin the bottle instead. She feels Santana sit next to her and wrap an arm around her shoulder, and Quinn leans into her friend and cries for another missed opportunity in her life.

xox

She and Puck spend a few hours with Beth on Sunday afternoon, and Quinn mostly succeeds in not thinking about her pathetic personal life, but she still ends up asking Puck if he's talked to Finn at all since the party. He shrugs and says, "No. After the way he and Rachel took off Friday night, I'm steering clear of both of them for awhile."

Quinn nods and ignores the nervous fluttering in her stomach. It doesn't matter, anyway. They're probably kissing and making up like they always do, and even if they aren't, Quinn isn't delusional enough to think that she really has a chance with Rachel. She isn't even ready for that miniscule possibility. Quinn turns her face into her daughter's soft cheek, and plants a tiny kiss there. This is who she is. It's all she needs…for now.

Her college plans get a little monkey wrench thrown into them when Shelby informs them that she isn't certain yet if she's going to stay on at Carmel next year.

"Truth is, I forgot how time-consuming coaching Vocal Adrenaline really is, and I definitely forgot how frustrating it is dealing with their insane sponsors," she tells them. "There's a school in Long Island that's offering me a position for next year, and I'm seriously considering it. It'll give me plenty of time with Beth, and it certainly doesn't hurt that Rachel will be close by, too. Our relationship is in a pretty good place right now, and I'd like it to continue. I know you applied to some colleges in New York, Quinn. You might want to really consider them."

Quinn feels her chest tighten at the possibility, but she breathes through her unruly hope because she still hasn't gotten any letters from the New York schools. Puck has only recently started thinking about his own plans for the future, and he's talking more about applying to the police academy lately, which is probably the career that Quinn least expected him to be interested in. "Chicks dig the uniform," he'd joked. He can't apply until he's twenty, so he's also looking at two-year degrees until then. He's going to start doing a little research on the New York academy, but he's pretty much resigning himself to semi-monthly visits with Beth for a couple of years.

xox

On Monday, Rachel and Finn are still together, standing at her locker exchanging light, familiar touches, and Quinn realizes just how much she was hoping that they would finally break up. It's completely selfish, and kind of bitchy, because she isn't ready to come out, let alone pursue Rachel, but she'd still rather see Rachel single than with Finn.

They don't talk about Santana's party. They don't talk about Finn. They actually don't talk much at all, but Quinn notices that Rachel isn't really talking to anyone else either. She's quiet and distracted, and Quinn wonders if she's still having problems with Finn. The couple doesn't really interact much in glee on Tuesday, and they don't practice their duet. Mr. Schuester isn't happy, because Regionals is two weeks away and they're not ready, but Rachel tells him that they're working it out.

At their after school rehearsal on Thursday, Finn and Rachel finally click with their duet, and it's a revelation for everyone. They're all expecting another attempt atDon't You Wanna Stay, but that isn't what the band starts to play. Quinn sits and watches, completely spellbound, as Rachel faces Finn and pours all of her emotion into the words spilling in perfect pitch from her lips.

Remember all the things we wanted,
Now all our memories they're haunted.
We were always meant to say goodbye.

Even with our fists held high,
It never would've worked out right, yeah.
We were never meant for do or die,

Rachel reaches out and takes Finn's hands with her own.

I didn't want us to burn out.
I didn't come here to hurt you, now I can't stop.

I want you to know that it doesn't matter
Where we take this road someone's gotta go,
And I want you to know you couldn't have loved me better,
But I want you to move on, so I'm already gone.

Rachel's eyes are glistening when she finally lets go of Finn's hands and turns away. He's been swallowing thickly and holding back tears from the moment that Rachel started to sing, but he begins the next verse in a surprisingly strong voice.

Looking at you makes it harder,
But I know that you'll find another
That doesn't always make you want to cry.

Started with a perfect kiss then
we could feel the poison set in.
Perfect couldn't keep this love alive.

You know that I love you so,
I love you enough to let you go.

Then their voices join together in the harmony that everyone has come to expect from them, and it's painfully ironic that they've recaptured their magic in what is, so obviously, their break-up song.

I want you to know that it doesn't matter
Where we take this road someone's gotta go,
And I want you to know you couldn't have loved me better,
But I want you to move on, so I'm already gone.

I'm already gone, already gone.
You can't make it feel right when you know that it's wrong.
I'm already gone, already gone.
There's no moving on, so I'm already gone.

When the music finally fades, no one knows what to do. The performance was so raw and powerful, and Quinn knows that they can win Regionals with it, but…it doesn't feel right to applaud when they're both brushing away real tears—even if the tiny, selfish, evil part of Quinn that still lives inside of her wants to stand up and jump for joy at what she's certain this all means.

Rachel saves them all from having to worry about what to say or do when she mutters a quiet, choked, "Excuse me," and runs out of the choir room. Finn releases a shuddering breath and wipes his eyes, grunting, "Yeah," following her out. Except, Quinn notices he doesn't actually follow Rachel. He turns to the right, and Rachel had run to the left. That divergence actually seems to sum up their entire relationship.

Quinn stands at the precise moment that Kurt does, and when they look at one another, a silent understanding passes between them. She's going to check on Rachel, and he'll go after his stepbrother. She finds Rachel, expectedly, in the nearest girls' bathroom, leaning over the sink and dabbing at her eyes with a paper towel. Quinn's gaze darts all around the familiar scenery, and she shakes her head, oddy amused. Always with the bathrooms.

Rachel glances over at her, closes her eyes and says, ""Finn and I broke up."

"I kind of figured," Quinn drawls, leaning her hip against the sink next to Rachel. "What happened? I thought you were, like, supposed to be in love forever or something." Quinn is very proud that she manages to keep the sarcasm out of her voice.

"I still love him," Rachel confesses easily. "I think I always will. I mean, he's my first love and…and my first time," she reminds Quinn with a sad smile, "and I won't ever regret being with him. I guess I've just finally grown up enough to admit that we want different things in our lives."

"Wow, I honestly never thought I'd hear those words come out of your mouth," Quinn admits. She knows that this Rachel is different from the girl that chased after Finn Hudson for two years, but she really expected that they'd have to make it out of high school, and probably through a year or two of college, whether in the same city or separated by hundreds of miles, before they would finally let go of each other.

"Finn was the first boy who ever really…liked me. He's popular, and cute, and…a really good singer. He was the perfect leading man," Rachel adds with a fond smile, "and I suppose that I built up this fantasy around him…around our relationship. But you know that already," she tells Quinn pointedly. "You tried to make me realize it last year."

Quinn grimaces, because it's not really one of her favorite memories. Actually, she'd rather forget most of her interactions with Rachel prior to this year. "I was trying to get you to give up on him because I wanted him for myself, or I thought I did," she corrects, knowing now that it wasn't Finn that she'd wanted. At all. "I was a total bitch, Rachel."

"Well, yeah, you were," Rachel agrees with a little grin, "but you were also right. I just didn't want to see it. I couldn't give up on him…on the fantasy. And then New York happened, and I knew that I wanted the stage more than anything or anyone, but I wanted Finn, too, and he wanted me back," she halts her rambling with a rueful shake of her head, "and I just wanted it all to work out, you know? And it did, for awhile."

Rachel sighs and shifts around, leaning against the sink, and mirroring Quinn's position. "It was actually really good for the first six months. We finally figured out how to be together without constantly hurting one another or…or trying to change each other, and I started to think that I didn't have to choose between Finn and my dreams…that I could have both. Then he got into OSU, and I can't ask him to give it up, but God, Quinn, I just can't stay here," Rachel exclaims.

"So you broke up because you're going to different colleges?" Quinn asks slowly, trying to make sense of what she's hearing. It's not that she hasn't known that the New York issue has been a huge sticking point in their relationship for the last several months, she just really didn't think Rachel would break up with Finn over it.

Rachel shakes her head, "No. We broke up because," she pauses and ducks her head, her cheeks tinting pink, "as it turns out, we make much better friends than we do lovers."

Huh? Better friends than…oh. "O-oh," Quinn stammers, fighting down her own blush at the revelation.

"I thought that when Finn and I finally made love, it would bring us closer, make our relationship stronger," Rachel explains, and Quinn really wishes that she wouldn't. These are private things that she doesn't want to hear about—ever—but she's powerless to stop Rachel from speaking. "But it kind of had the opposite effect. I mean, it wasn't…horrible or anything," she stresses embarrassedly, "we'd gotten him over his …well…um," she trails off awkwardly, and both of their blushes deepen.

"Yeah, I get it," Quinn supplies, internally shuddering at the memory of Finn's little problem, and all the times he'd had to chant mailman with her. Come to think of it, he was a bit better about that the last time they'd dated. She wonders if that was Rachel's handiwork, because she knows that Santana wouldn't have been very helpful.

"It just wasn't what I expected it would be," Rachel acknowledges regretfully. "Santana was right. There wasn't really any…passion there. We already had so few things in common outside of glee," she admits sadly, "and lately, it seemed like we've been… going through the motions just because neither of us wanted to be the one to end it this time." Rachel sighs again and shrugs, "It seemed pointless to keep hanging on to something that we both know is never going to last beyond graduation."

Quinn processes this, feeling her emotions flying all over the place—she's sad for Rachel, but so, so inappropriately happy for herself. She bites back the smile that wants to spread across her lips and nods thoughtfully instead. Then something occurs to her, and she's frowning. "You didn't just break up today, did you?"

Rachel sighs and shakes her head, "Sunday night."

"But you've been together at school."

"Not really," Rachel reveals. "We…we're trying to stay friends, and neither of us want the end of our romantic relationship to affect the glee club or our chances at Regionals. This isn't some horribly bitter break up, Quinn," she promises. "We just…fizzled out."

"So, this doesn't have anything to do with what happened Friday night?" Quinn wants to make sure, because she might have to hurt someone if Rachel suddenly has feelings for Santana. Rachel has been known to fixate on people with less incentive in the past. Quinn remembers her insane little crush on Mr. Schuester sophomore year thanks to a duet, and her aborted attempt to romance Blaine last year after their spin the bottle kiss.

Rachel flushes, "If you're referring to my unfortunate kiss with Santana, then no, at least not the way you're probably thinking."

"What way, then?" Quinn prompts, crossing her fisted hands under her breasts in an attempt to hold in her growing discomfort with the conversation. She should just drop it, but she needs to know.

"I'm not…attracted to Santana," she assures Quinn, meeting her eyes without hesitation, "but I can't exactly deny that I…enjoyed kissing her. She's very skilled," Rachel admits with a careless shrug, and Quinn digs her nails into her palms in jealousy. "Finn wasn't upset because he thought I might have feelings for Santana, but…well, I haven't really kissed him that way in months, and we both knew it. It forced us to talk about everything we'd been ignoring."

Quinn breathes out a sigh of relief, licking her lips and nodding again. "Are you okay?"

Rachel offers another sad smile, "I will be. It's for the best, really. We both know that. I think singing together today just made us both really emotional."

Quinn chuckles lightly, and shakes her head, "You kind of amaze me, Rach," she murmurs. "I mean, only you would transform something so…personal into a such an incredible performance."

"Incredible, huh?" Rachel asks with a shy grin. "You wouldn't rather say extraordinary, or breathtaking?"

Quinn laughs and gives her a playful shove. "God, ego, much? You know exactly how good you were. Finn, too," she adds grudgingly.

"It's still nice to hear, especially from one of my toughest critics."

Quinn feels her cheeks heat again, because Rachel is so wrong and she doesn't have a clue. Quinn is probably one of her biggest fans. Maybe someday she'll even be brave enough to tell her. But not today—today Quinn is just happy to bask in the tiny little ember of hope that just got fanned a little brighter, because Rachel Berry is single.

xox

Quinn would like to say that she doesn't have any doubt that New Directions will win Regionals, but unlike last year, they're once again pitted against Vocal Adrenaline. They're all feeling more than a little nervous when they get to the competition, like this could really be the last time they'll all perform together. Fate places them last so they have to sit through the all of the other performances, and it feels like it's taking forever. It immediately becomes clear that a few months under Shelby Corcoran was really all it took for Vocal Adrenaline to turn back into the technically perfect monster that it's been in the past. Quinn feels Rachel sink down into the seat next to her, and she reaches out and grabs her hand, squeezing it reassuringly. Rachel squeezes back, shooting Quinn a grateful little smile before she readjusts their hands so that their fingers are linked together. Quinn loses her breath. She knows it doesn't mean anything. It's just Rachel being Rachel, but she doesn't even care. She never wants to let go of her hand.

When they make their way backstage to take their places, Shelby is there, and Rachel goes over to offer her congratulations for Vocal Adrenaline's performance. Shelby smiles and wishes her luck, laying her hands lightly on her daughter's shoulders. They both hesitate for a moment before Rachel steps into Shelby's arms. Quinn feels her eyes swim as she watches the woman embrace her daughter like she never wants to let go, and when they finally do, they are both smiling and discreetly wiping at their tears.

New Directions take their places, and the curtains open, and everything goes perfectly. Blaine's solo has the audience dancing in their seats, and then Finn and Rachel have them all in tears, and by the end of the group number, the audience is standing and delivering deafening applause. Fifteen minutes later, they are all waiting breathless for the judges' results, and Quinn is standing between Rachel and Santana, each hand securely held by the girls who have become her closest friends over the last few months. When New Directions actually takes first place, she finds herself wrapped up in Rachel's arms, with Santana still clutching her left hand, pulling Quinn's arm awkwardly when Brittany picks her up. Rachel pulls away and graces Quinn with a wide, happy smile before she turns and gets pulled into a hug by Kurt. Quinn is immediately surrounded by Brittany and Santana, and they're both squeezing her tightly and pressing kisses to her cheeks, and she's just so happy that they all get to have a little more time together in this crazy little family.

xox

Three days after Regionals, Quinn finally receives the envelope from NYU. The one from Columbia came last Friday, bearing the welcome to the class of 2016message. Russell has made it clear what his preference is, but Quinn has made it equally clear that it isn't actually hers. Her relationship with her father is getting better, and he and her mother are starting to talk about him moving back in. Quinn doesn't hate the idea as much as she used to. She found out in therapy that Russell's rock bottom was waking up alone on the floor of a hotel shower stall with an empty bottle of Jack Daniels shattered all around him, and shards of glass embedded into his skin. He'd needed stitches for the gash across his forehead where he hit the faucet on the way down. He could have died. Quinn might not always like her father, but he's still her father, and the idea of never having the chance to make amends just doesn't feel right to her. He's trying, and she's trying, too, but she's never going allow him to dictate her life again.

She eyes the envelope in her hands nervously, and finally takes a deep breath and rips into it, reading the first two sentences. As soon as she sees thecongratulations, a wide smile splits her face. She can do this. She can have New York, and she can have Beth in her life, and she can have…she can have more time with Rachel. And maybe someday…when she's not quite so terrified and uncertain…maybe they can actually have a chance at…something.

She slips the letter under Rachel's nose in glee the next day while she's engrossed in whatever sheet music she's studying. Dark brows furrow in annoyance for about six seconds before her eyes widen and she's jumping up and pulling Quinn into a hug, "Oh, my God, you got in! This is fantastic," and Quinn is smiling, and laughing, and just enjoying having Rachel in her arms. "You have to enroll, Quinn. Oh, please say you're enrolling," Rachel begs with wide, hopeful eyes. "It would be unusually cruel to tease me with this letter unless you've already decided on NYU. I might never forgive you."

"I'm going to NYU, Rach," she confirms. She's already talked to both of her parents and Shelby about it. Vocal Adrenaline's loss at Regionals and the fallout from it pushed Shelby into a firm decision to accept the offer in Long Island. Rachel squeals and jumps back into Quinn's arms.

"I'm so happy! We can study together, and go for coffee, and walks in the park, and to see Broadway shows, and oh," Rachel steps back with an excited glint in her eyes, "we can room together, Quinn. It will be perfect," she claps and bounces up and down.

Quinn's smile slips and her eyes widen, "I…uh…I'm not sure that's such a good idea," she tries, because it's so far from a good idea that it isn't even funny. Sharing a room with Rachel? Sleeping a few feet away from her every night? Seeing her in next to nothing? Oh, lord. Quinn licks her lips as her eyes rake over Rachel's body. That would be so, so…so bad.

Rachel visibly deflates, "Oh, of course. I suppose our friendship is still in the early, fragile stages, and I know I can be…difficult to live with under the best of circumstances." She attempts a careless smile, but Quinn can see that she's a little hurt, and she wants to kick herself. "Even Kurt didn't want to share an apartment," Rachel admits with a shrug.

Okay, now Quinn wants to kick Kurt Hummel, too, even if he has finally decided on Fordham University. "It's not so much you as me, Rachel. I…I'm not exactly a ray of sunshine," she warns.

"That's the understatement of the century," Santana's voice cuts in as she and Brittany stroll into the choir room.

"Be nice, San. Quinn's totally a rainbow, but, like, the sad kind, you know, when you sort of see the colors but they're still all hazy 'cause the sun isn't really shining yet."

They all stare at Brittany, and Quinn feels herself blush a little at how true that description actually is. "That's beautiful, B," Santana tells her after a moment.

"I know, right?"

"So why are you a sad rainbow, Q?" Santana asks her with smirk.

"She isn't sad at all," Rachel argues, "She got into NYU," she announces with a wide grin, and Quinn feels herself smiling in response.

"That's so awesome," Brittany squeals, and skips over to give Quinn a bear hug.

Santana's eyes widen. "So, wait, you're going to school with Berry?"

"Yes," Rachel gushes, bouncing on her toes again.

"I'm going to Steinhardt. She's going to Tisch," Quinn qualifies. "I'm not actually going with her."

"Same difference," Santana smirks. "I'm just glad you decided to get your ass out of Ohio," and she gives Quinn a quick hug of her own, whispering in her ear, "and go after your girl."

Quinn blanches and whips her head around to see if Rachel heard, but she's talking to Brittany about New York. "Not yet," she murmurs back.

Santana winks, "Congratulations, Quinn. You deserve something good for a change."

Quinn feels her eyes filling again, and she manages a hoarse, "Thanks."

The rest of the club starts to filter in, and Quinn happily settles into her chair and listens to Mercedes and Rachel argue over the solo at Nationals, and Santana complain about the lame song choices, and Puck suggest that the girls' costumes consist of booty shorts. Quinn is really going to miss all of this when it's over. For now, she just wants to enjoy the moment, surrounded by her friends and really looking forward to her future for the first time in a long time.

xox

"Wait…Rachel seriously wants you two to be roommates?" Santana manages around her laughter. They're sitting in a booth at Breadstix because Santana offered to take her out for a congratulatory dinner, but really she wants to pump Quinn for information on NYU because Quinn never even told her that she'd applied there.

"It's not funny, Santana," Quinn growls. "I know she's going to keep asking, and I can't share a room with her."

"Afraid you'll jump her sexy little ass in the middle of the night?"

Quinn leans across the booth and hisses, "Would you be quiet!"

"Sorry," Santana snickers. "So is Russell still offering to pay your way, or what?" she asks, snapping a breadstick in half.

Quinn pushes around the salad on her plate. "Yeah, even though I'm picking NYU over Columbia."

"Why are doing that, anyway. No way I'd turn down a free ride to Columbia," Santana says, shoving another piece of the breadstick in her mouth.

"One, it's not exactly free," Quinn reminds her, "I'll kind of be dependant on Russell for the next four years, and at least I can maybe swing NYU on my own if I have to. And two, Columbia doesn't have the major I want."

"Which is?" Santana prompts.

"Applied psychology."

Santana pauses with a forkful of pasta halfway to her mouth. "You serious?"

"Yep."

Santana grins, "Well, that's irony at its best."

"Funny."

"I try," Santana shrugs, shoving her fork in her mouth. Quinn goes back to playing with her cherry tomato as Santana packs her food away. A few minutes later, she asks, "So is Russell still a conservative asshole? 'Cause if he is, I can't see him being okay with you shacking up with the daughter of two gay men."

Quinn shrugs, "He seems okay with Rachel, oddly enough. He was very polite when I introduced them."

Santana frowns, "Does he actually know who she is?"

Quinn chuckles, "Yeah. The thing is, he was always conservative before the divorce, but he never did quote Leviticus, or anything. He left that up to our pastor and my grandmother. He'd always just kind of shake his head whenever he saw the Berrys around town and say what a shame it was that they were choosing to raise a child in that lifestyle."

"Huh," Santana grunts, leaning back in the booth. "Well, that ought to be an interesting conversation when you finally tell him about your recent sexual awakening."

Quinn blanches, and drops her forehead into her hand. "That's not happening for a really long time, Santana. And I'd rather not even think about it right now."

"Okay, so think about this instead," Santana offers, "Maybe living with Berry could be a good thing. Proximity makes the heart grow fonder, and all that."

Quinn chuckles and lifts her head. "You've got your idioms mixed up, Santana."

"Oh, whatever. You're focusing too much on your own hang-ups when you need to be thinking about it as a chance to get Rachel all hot and bothered over you."

Quinn sighs, "I'm not read…"

"Not ready," Santana recites along with Quinn. "Yeah, I know. Jesus, a glacier moves faster than you, Quinn," she complains, tossing some money on the table. "Come on, lets roll out of here. Some of us actually have a hot girlfriend to sex tonight."

"You suck," Quinn tells her.

"I bite and lick, too," Santana teases with a smirk. Quinn laughs, and it feels good. It feels like acceptance.

xox

Beth's second birthday hits Quinn hard. Last year, she'd curled into a little ball and refused to get out of her bed. She'd cried all day and refused to talk to her mother, lost in a swirling vortex of questions and regrets, wondering where her baby girl was, and what she looked like, and if she was happy and healthy. This year, she only stays in bed for an extra half hour, because she knows exactly where Beth is, and she'll be able to see her and hold her, and wish her a happy birthday, and tell her how much she loves her, and how lucky she is to be her mother.

Judy makes her breakfast, and they talk about Beth before Quinn goes to school. Puck shows up at her locker as soon as she gets there and wraps an arm around her, greeting her with a gentle smile and a, "Hey, baby mama." She doesn't even feel the urge to slap him for it today. They're both too happy to be able to celebrate this day with their daughter. They arrive at Shelby's after school with gifts, and she lets them spend an hour alone with Beth before they welcome a few more guests—Judy and Russell, and Mrs. Puckerman and Sara, and Rachel. Quinn knows that Rachel has been here before, and has already met Beth on her own, but it's the first time they've all been here together, and it's the first time that Quinn sees Rachel holding her daughter. It affects her in a way she really wasn't prepared for, and her heart swells in her chest at the sight of Rachel laughing and talking sweetly to Beth. She won't let herself examine the unexpected ache too closely. Quinn isn't thinking about their convoluted relationships either. She's just enjoying the moment. No matter what happens in the future, Rachel is always going to be a part of Quinn's life through their connection with Beth and Shelby, but she's beginning to hope for so much more than that.

xox

The night of Senior Prom, Quinn is sitting on the edge of her bed worrying the cross around her neck as she waits to be picked up. She's wondering how she got here. Oh, she knows how, of course. Rachel pushed and cajoled and convinced her until she agreed to go. "It's our senior prom, Quinn. You can't really intend to skip it. It's the grand culmination of our high school experience." Quinn informed her that she certainly did intend to skip it, especially after the disaster of last year, but Rachel wouldn't take no for an answer, and Quinn has never been particularly good at refusing her anyway. She doesn't technically have a date, but she's kind of going with Puck and Rachel and Finn, and it should absolutely be the most awkward, uncomfortable arrangement in the history of William McKinley High School, but Rachel insists that it's going to work. She apparently has all three of them wrapped around her finger. Quinn finds this completely hilarious.

The doorbell rings, and Quinn drags in a breath, presses a hand to her racing heart, and starts down the stairs. Puck is standing in the foyer clutching a corsage in his hands, and Finn and Rachel are hovering behind him, attempting small talk with Quinn's parents. Neither her mother nor her father is particularly fond of Finn Hudson after everything that's happened, and Puck is only tolerated because of how amazing he is with Beth. The moment Quinn makes her grand entrance—because, damn it, lesbian or not, she can still work an entrance like nobody else—all eyes are on her. Even (and most importantly) Rachel's. It makes Quinn giddy to see the blatant appreciation in the other girl's eyes, even if it doesn't mean what she wishes it would.

Puck grins, "Wow, you look beautiful." Quinn smiles, because, yeah, she does. She's wearing green this year because Rachel said it would make her eyes look amazing. They'd gone shopping for their dresses together, along with Santana and Brittany—and boy, that had been an experience that she isn't in any hurry to repeat—but Quinn hadn't let anyone (well, she hadn't let Rachel) see her in her dress until now. Her mother had helped her style her short hair into an elegant up-do, and she feels like a princess. It's so much better than last year, because all of this is just for her to enjoy.

Puck hands over the corsage, and Quinn's eyes widen. "A gardenia," she whispers, staring down at the perfect blossom garnished with a light green ribbon—the same as last year. Puck couldn't have known, and her gaze darts to Finn at first, but he's just standing there with a polite smile, and his hands shoved casually in his pockets. Either he doesn't remember, or he never even had a clue. Her eyes move to Rachel…and Quinn just knows. Like she should have known last year. Finn never paid this much attention to important details, not like Rachel. She smiles shyly, and Rachel smiles back. Quinn carefully puts on the corsage, feeling little tingles of happiness warm her entire body.

Their weird four-way date actually does end up working. Quinn dances with Puck, and she dances with Finn. She dances with Sam, and Kurt, and Blaine. She sits on Artie's lap, and lets him spin her around the floor for a song. Santana even drags her into a ridiculous tango that they laugh the whole way through. She wants nothing more than to dance with Rachel, but she's still not brave enough, and so she settles for dancing next to Rachel in a group of their friends.

Quinn is sitting at table nursing her punch when the time comes to crown prom king and queen. She's not running this year, so she's not really paying attention to the announcements. She's fingering her corsage again (she's been doing it all night) while she absently listens to Rachel chastise Puck for attempting to spike the punch. So when Santana suddenly gives her shoulder a shove, and tells her to get up, Quinn just glares and says, "What the hell, S?"

"Get up on the fucking stage, Q. They just called your name for prom queen."

Her heart skips a beat, and her head whips around. Finn is already standing awkwardly under a spotlight with a crown sitting crookedly on his head, and Principal Figgins is holding a cue card and a microphone, and looking around the gymnasium. "Quinn Fabray," he calls out again.

She doesn't understand. She wasn't even campaigning, but then, neither was Finn. Rachel is cupping her elbow and standing, pulling Quinn up with her, "Go on, Quinn. Go claim your crown."

"But…"

"Just go," Santana gives her a little push, and she's moving forward, and everyone around is clapping, and God, okay, so she's still vain enough to absolutely want that crown.

She climbs the steps and stands next to Finn, smiling dazedly as Figgins places the crown on her head. She's supposed to make a little speech. She had one prepared last year, but she can't remember a word of it, and anyway, it wouldn't mean anything anymore. She's a different person now. But maybe not so different—she doesn't understand how she won, but she isn't going to question it.

Quinn steps to the microphone, and looks out over all of her classmates. She picks out a few familiar faces. Kurt is smiling up at her from the circle of Blaine's arms, Mercedes and Sam are still clapping, and Puck is giving her a thumbs-up. She clears her throat and says, "I'm not sure how this happened, but…thank you. All of you," she repeats, her eyes finally falling on a grinning Rachel, who's standing next to Santana in front of the stage. Then Finn is taking her hand and leading her down the steps, and she misses the brief little handshake that Santana and Rachel exchange.

Finn sweeps her into the required dance, and she smiles up at him. He grins and chuckles, "Wow, who'd have thought we'd end up here, huh?"

"It's kind of unreal," she murmurs.

"You look really pretty tonight, Quinn," he tells her. "I don't know if I actually told you that yet."

"Thanks, Finn. You look handsome, too," she says, because he really does. "I don't think I've really asked you how you've been, since…" she trails off, suddenly realizing that she really hasn't spoken to him much all year.

He shrugs, "Okay, I guess. It's weird, you know? I mean, I still love Rachel, but it's kind of like…I'm happy as long as she's happy. I'm just glad we can still be friends, because she's kind of a great one to have."

"Yeah, she really is," Quinn agrees.

"It's really weird that you guys are friends now," and when she quirks her eyebrow, Finn rushes to add, "Good weird, though. Like, I always thought you'd really like each other if you just got over all that…stuff."

Quinn laughs, because Finn was pretty much the majority of the stuff. "You're a really good guy, Finn. Someday you're going to make some girl really happy."

"You think?"

She nods emphatically, "I know." Just not Rachel. And not Quinn. Not anymore. If she's really lucky, maybe she'll make some girl really happy someday, too. Maybe it will even be Rachel.

The music changes, and Puck and Rachel both cut in on their dates. Puck kisses Quinn's cheek in congratulations, and Rachel gives her a too brief hug. "I still don't understand how we won," Quinn says laughingly, "but I'm not giving my crown back."

"Are you kidding?" Puck asks with a grin. "Rachel and Santana totally stuffed the ballot box."

Rachel elbows him hard in the stomach, "We did not stuff the box, Noah," she hisses. "We didn't stuff the box, Quinn," she repeats more calmly. Quinn is gaping at her incredulously, because honestly? She can totally imagine Santana and Rachel doing something like that. "We merely asked everyone to vote for you."

"Asked? Try bribed and threatened. My girls made me proud," Puck brags, draping an arm over Rachel's shoulder.

"We didn't threaten anyone," Rachel insists, adding thoughtfully, "although, I'd never realized exactly how much dirt Santana has collected on just about everyone in this school."

Puck snorts, "Yeah, and you're so innocent."

Rachel shrugs and grins, "Well, I can be very persuasive when I want to be."

God, isn't that the truth? Quinn is feeling so fantastic right now that she doesn't even care if her election was rigged. She's still not giving back her crown. She hugs Rachel again, laughing joyfully. She's never going to forget this night.

xox

Two weeks later, Quinn is standing on another stage surrounded by New Directions, waiting to hear the results of Nationals. They'd made it into the top ten after the first round, and they'd bounced around the venue lobby, screaming and hugging and acting like complete loons because they'd actually made the finals. As far as Quinn is concerned, it doesn't matter if they win or not, getting this far is enough for her, but she knows everyone else wants that title. She's once again holding Rachel's hand, but this time Puck is on her other side and she actually thinks it's fitting. This is her family, after all.

In the end, they don't win, but their third place trophy is nothing to be ashamed of. After all of the drama, and fighting, and hook-ups, and break-ups, and storm outs, and last minute set lists, they never should have even made it this far. The fact that they did says so much about the sheer talent in the club, and the determination of a few people who never gave up. Quinn can admit she's mostly just been along for the ride, but God, what a ride it's been.

Graduation sneaks up on all of them, and there are tears, and hugs, and promises to spend one last amazing summer together before they go their separate ways. Shelby is at the ceremony with Beth, and Rachel takes a picture of Puck and Quinn in their caps and gowns with their daughter smiling happily between them. Then Puck snaps one of Shelby and Rachel. The mister Berrys are there, too, and Quinn thinks it's actually the first time that she's seen them all together. She holds her breath when the inevitable happens, and Russell and Judy officially meet Hiram and Leroy Berry. Russell nods politely, shakes both of their hands, and compliments them on raising such a talented and thoughtful young woman. Quinn exhales audibly. She doesn't even care if he's being completely sincere, she's just so damned grateful that he's trying to be respectful. Rachel smiles at her, and she feels like everything will be okay.

xox

Two days later, the entire club is lounging around Santana's pool to celebrate their long awaited freedom. It will be the first of many summer days spent together before the college bound graduates start packing up and leaving Lima behind. Artie, Tina and Blaine are sequestered on a picnic table, commiserating on having to endure another year of hell. Puck and Finn are playing a game of volleyball against Mike and Sam. Mercedes and Kurt are gossiping about…something or other, and Santana and Brittany are lazing in the sun and working on their tans. Rachel is scrolling through the songs on her iPod, and Quinn has a book in her lap that she's been pretending to read for fifteen minutes. She's really sneaking peaks at Rachel's legs on tantalizing display in the teeny, tiny cut-off shorts that she's wearing over her bathing suit. It's a discreet black one-piece, but it still shows off every curve. Quinn is finding that she's a lot more comfortable with her appreciation of girls these days. She also may have appreciated Santana and Brittany, and Tina, too.

"Do you still want to room with me next year, Rach?" she asks out of the blue. Well, not really out of the blue, because she's been thinking about it a lot the past couple of weeks. She's getting used to the particular brand of torture that being close to Rachel brings her, and she's thinking that maybe she can handle being a little bit closer. She has to room with someone in the dorms, and it might as well be Rachel. Quinn doesn't know if she has the patience to deal with some stranger, and frankly, she doesn't know that anyone else would be able to put up with her half as well as Rachel Berry.

And anyway, Santana might be right about that proximity thing, if the way Rachel's eyes seem to rake over Quinn's bikini clad body is any indication. She knows that she's not just imagining those looks anymore. There's something between them, she can feel it, and living together could prove to be…fun.

Rachel abandons her iPod immediately, and glances at Quinn with a hopeful grin. "Of course, I do. Have you changed your mind?"

Quinn shrugs in practiced nonchalance, "Do you think that you can handle me?"

"H-handle you?" Rachel repeats dumbly, biting her lip and…yep, there go those eyes again.

Quinn smiles slyly, enjoying the visual caress. "Yeah…you know…I'm kind of a bitch."

Rachel swallows, "I…I think I can handle yo…it," she squeaks quickly. "I can handle it," she promises with smile of her own. "If you think you can handle all of my crazy."

"I think maybe I can," Quinn muses as her smile grows impossibly wider. She's starting to believe that Rachel's brand of crazy could be exactly what she's needed all along. She laughs as Rachel bounces happily in her seat, and starts rambling about contacting the housing authority and placing a request, and then scheduling a shopping trip for all the things they're going to need for their room. Quinn knows that she's just sealed her fate, and it's either going to be the best decision she's ever made, or the biggest mistake of her life. She's still processing her sexuality, and she still has a long way to go, even if she is feeling brave enough to try a little flirting. She hasn't even told Rachel that she's gay, and she'll have to soon if they're going to be roommates, but for now, Quinn just wants to enjoy the summer—enjoy Rachel and all of the possibilities that are opening up in front of her.

She feels like all of the broken and scattered pieces of Lucy Quinn Fabray are finally falling into place, and she likes the person that she's becoming. She can't wait to see where her new life will take her.


Song:
Already Gone, by Kelly Clarkson


A/N: Well, that's it for now. I know, you're probably all wanting to throw things because I left it open ended, but Quinn is just not ready for romance yet, and frankly, neither is Rachel at this point.

Again, thank you to everyone who took the time to comment. You don't know how much I enjoy reading them. I hope this part doesn't disappoint anyone too much.