and so lying beneath those stormy skies,

she'd say "oh, i know the sun must set to rise."

this could be para, para, paradise.

"I know it's not much, I don't keep clothes out of my size." Rachel said, tentatively holding out a neatly folded pyjama set. "And I don't know if you - I mean, you don't have to if you don't want to..." She trailed off, a pair of equally tidy panties sitting atop the pile. "I just figured." Rachel finished with an encouraging smile as Quinn took the pile.

"Thank you." She manages, standing awkwardly in the centre of Rachel's en-suite bathroom. It's not much: a cramped shower, toilet, and basin, but it's clean. Immaculate. Everything has its place. The shampoo and conditioner are lined up side-by-side, and the body wash bottle is of the exact same size and colour. Probably intentional. "It's nice."

Rachel lights up a little at the praise. There are gold stars rimming the mirror - Quinn matches her smile with a bland smirk. "Thank you. You're free to use anything you like." She gestured wide at the matching bath products. "I'll be outside if you need help with anything, just call. And..." Rachel drops her eyes, scuffing the floorboards with her toe. "I'll get the first aid kit, okay? Did you want me to call anyone for you?"

There is nothing for Quinn to say. She nods to the first question, shakes her head to the second, and Rachel pulls the door shut behind her as she leaves.

The tap turns easily, and water flows from the faucet instantaneously. It heats up quickly, and Quinn has it set just a little hotter than normal. She strips out of her clothes, the fabric stained with blood in some places. Everything hurts - cuts and forming bruises litter her pale skin. Quinn avoids looking in the mirror, instead plunging her body under the warm spray.

The sting is good. It distracts Quinn from her thoughts. She's able to run the washcloth over her tender skin. Some cuts refuse to cease bleeding, and Quinn ignores them. The burn remains on her shoulder, healing slowly - picking at it had delayed that process. Quinn had done so on purpose. She'd wanted to keep it there. Once it had reminded her of her beauty and worth. Now it just made her nauseous.

The worst of her wounds is a long gash across her back. She'd fallen back onto the low, glass coffee table in the lounge. There was probably still shards embedded in her skin - Quinn didn't want to check. She didn't touch her back, knowing the pain that would flare up if she did.

Instead she cleaned what she could reach.

When she stepped out of the shower, she didn't feel any better. She didn't feel clean or refreshed. She still felt dirty.

–––

"Feeling better?" Quinn nodded just to keep Rachel happy. The girl had set out a complete first aid kit on her bed, neat and orderly. There was gauze and bandage and antiseptic creams, as well as a few items Quinn didn't know the purpose of - she just trusted in Rachel.

Right now, Rachel was the person helping her. Not her mother, not Finn, Puck, Sam, Matthew, Santana or Brittany. Rachel Berry, who she had tormented all through high school. Rachel Berry who she'd had slushied every morning after she'd noticed the girl's interest in her boyfriend. Rachel Berry who she'd laughed at and mocked at almost every Glee meeting without fail.

Rachel Berry who had pulled out the backless chair from her vanity, and was sitting Quinn down gently on it. "Where should I start?" Rachel asked, hands hovering over Quinn's skin - she didn't want to touch.

Quinn probably looked so bad no one would want to touch her. She dropped her head. "My back." She mumbled. It was the only place Rachel could really do anything. The rest of the cuts were minor, and bandaging wouldn't help. Bruises just needed time to heal. They'd darken over the next day, then fade to a sickly yellow-green before disappearing entirely.

Quinn was an expert on bruises now.

"Alright. Should I just...?" Rachel mimicked picking up the back of Quinn's borrowed singlet. The blonde nodded, and she felt Rachel's gentle fingers on her back.

And then her gasp. "Oh, Quinn, what happened?" She asked, probably without thinking. "I... does it go all the way?"

Quinn could feel the horror in her tone - the disgust. "Yeah." Quinn breathed, feeling her heart pounding in her chest. It shouldn't matter what Rachel thought of her - on any other day, Quinn would care less. But right now, having pity from Rachel was like being kicked in the stomach. Quinn was the queen bee of the school, and here was this... this Glee loser giving her sympathetic looks and helping her out.

She was crying again.

How far could one person fall? Would they keep kicking her down until she was nothing, just a part of the dirt?

And then there came guilt.

Here was Rachel, offering her a home - a safe haven. She was offering her clothes and a shower and a warm bed and help. And all Quinn could think of was how embarrassing it was to have someone like Rachel showing her charity?

"Quinn? Did I hurt you?" Rachel asked, yanking her fingers away as if Quinn's skin was on fire.

Quinn shook her head. "I'm sorry, Rachel." She mumbled, face pressed into her palms. "I'm so sorry."

This was Rachel Berry, not the Glee loser consoling her, but the girl who had tried to save her. The girl who had wanted to save her voice, her body, her beauty. The one girl who had told her she was beautiful. The one girl who had followed her from Glee, kept her things safe and delivered them back to her side.

Quinn's shoulders quivered. "Quinn, it's fine." Rachel was crouching in front of her now, fingers gently coaxing Quinn's chin up. "I don't know why you're apologising, but it's fine. If you let me help you now, we can go to bed, and everything will be fine in the morning - okay?" Her voice was calm and low, placating.

Though the tears didn't stop, Quinn nodded. She let Rachel lift the shirt off her body, ignoring the concerned gasps when the brunette saw the bite marks on her breasts reflected in the mirror. She tuned out, telling Rachel only what she needed to know. With skill Rachel checked over each cut with the tweezers, retrieving chunks of glass and setting them on a spare bandage by her side.

On the seat, Quinn was falling asleep. The pain was a background thing to her - white noise that she could easily ignore. "All done." Rachel said, laying the final, securing piece of tape over the bandage. Her hand trailed up to rest on Quinn's shoulder. "Bed time?" She tilted her head to the side in question.

"Yeah." Quinn breathed, blinking herself back to the present. "Please." She added as an afterthought. Rachel's smile widened.

"You can have my bed tonight. I'll take the spare bed, alright?" Rachel let her go, touch lingering feather-light over the cigarette burn for a moment too long. Then she was packing up the first aid kit, placing the bloodied shards of glass in the small bin by her desk, and grabbing her own pyjamas.

Quinn stood up, and was sure she wavered in place. She'd never felt so tired. Not only was she physically exhausted, but she was emotionally drained. "Please don't go." Quinn said, watching Rachel prepare to leave.

The brunette froze in place, mouth open but no words coming.

"I just... would rather not be alone." Quinn said, having long since given up on maintaining her image before Rachel.

The seconds stretched out before Rachel found the right words. "If you want to, Quinn, of course." She agreed. "I'll just go get changed." She stood there, awkwardly pointing at the tiny bathroom, before returning to herself and ducking behind the door.

Quinn crawled into bed. It was hard to find a comfortable position - every part of her body protested, no matter how she lay. The best way she found was on her side, facing the far wall of Rachel's room. There were images all over it - Broadway stars, scripts (Quinn didn't know if Rachel had written them herself or not, but would have to check in the morning), souvenir books from plays, and the pictures of them in Glee. There were group shots and candids, a collage with gold stars stuck all around them.

There was one picture towards the lower-left of the both of them. Quinn was in her Cheerios uniform, Rachel in whatever vintage piece she'd chosen to wear that day. Rachel had her arm up in the air, belting out the last few notes of a song Quinn couldn't quite remember. She herself was laughing, and her fingers were linked with Rachel's, held up high and proud.

The memory, not entirely specific, was nice. Quinn smiled sleepily, even as Rachel crawled into bed beside her. The brunette kept her distance - out of respect for Quinn's pride or her injuries, or both, she didn't know. Quinn reached out one hand, loosely resting it on one of Rachel's. She didn't catch the shocked look in the dark, but she felt Rachel's fingers curl around her own.

–––

When Quinn woke up, Rachel was already gone.

A sudden loneliness stirred in her core, and she pushed herself into an upright position.

"Good morning." Rachel smiled, sitting at the vanity, reading a novel. "You slept well." There was still a hint of caution in her expression, but it felt honest - friendly.

"Yeah." Quinn croaked, voice dry. Her back hurt more than it had last night. Everything did, in fact. Last night she'd been either fueled by adrenaline, or so exhausted she couldn't focus on anything. Now she felt better - awake, but hurt.

Rachel took a minute to finish her page, or chapter, before setting the book down. "I told my Dad's you'd be staying this weekend. Obviously you don't have to stay tonight, but... you're welcome to if you want." She stood up, stretching, in a lazy Saturday dress. It was something easy to wear, but comfortable. Not out to impress anyone. Quinn was still in borrowed pyjamas - her own clothes were... well, she would like to burn them if she were being completely honest.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, Rachel passed Quinn two small tablets and a glass of water.

Quinn took them, gratefully swallowing down the painkillers and then the water.

"Would you like some breakfast?" Rachel asked, and then checked her watch. "Or possibly lunch? Brunch?"

Quinn smiled lightly. "Whatever you want."

–––

They had to talk that afternoon. After their meal (they couldn't decide on what they'd call it, so a meal it was), Rachel's mood went from chipper to concerned. "I think we should call Miss Pillsbury." She said, watching Quinn intently for her reaction.

Quinn stiffened.

"You think you can get me fucking arrested? Lock me up, and I'll fucking kill you. Just think about it."

"No." She said, too fast, heart stuttering suddenly in her chest.

"Quinn." Rachel began, confusion knitting her brow down. "He hurt you. We have to do something. Miss Pillsbury can help - since we're minors she can arrange these things. I'm sure you won't even have to appear in court, if that's what you're worried about."

It was evident Rachel had thought about this in great depth before bringing it up. Quinn shook her head. "He'll be mad." She said, weakly defecting to Matthew's will even after he was gone.

Rachel reached across the table, placing her hand on Quinn's. "So? That's what police are for. He won't hurt you any more." At that point, Rachel squeezed. "I won't let him hurt you."

Quinn's hand twitched, but she didn't move it. Instead she stared out the window at Rachel's manicured garden. "He said he'd kill me if he went to jail." Her answer was quiet, and Quinn closed her eyes in an attempt to ignore Rachel's surprised gasp.

"That's why we have to do something!" She said, standing up and lunging for her phone. "If he's threatening to kill you, Quinn, you have to say something!" Already Rachel was flicking through contacts on her phone - Quinn wondered who she was looking for. Did she have teachers on that thing?

Even now, Quinn couldn't bring herself to go against Matthew's words. So, instead, she got up and left the room without saying something. In the background, she heard Rachel talking rapidly into the phone.

–––

Quinn didn't pay attention

Rachel kept casting her imploring looks across the table. She did what she had to - she signed the forms Miss Pillsbury put in front of her. Mr Schuester had come, too, though Quinn wasn't sure what for.

It took an hour or so for them to go through everything. Miss Pillsbury had promised her that she wouldn't have to go give evidence in the court - at worst, she'd be asked to record an anonymous testimony. He'd know it was her - Quinn could only hope that he'd plead guilty and there would be no trial.

It was a relief once they left.

Quinn could try and go on living - even if there was a hole there, big and gaping right in her chest where her heart used to be. In the bathroom she would still touch the bruises with reverence, silhouette encircled with gold stars.

Rachel tried to fill that hole with an entire night of musical dvds. Quinn couldn't bring herself to say no.

She fell asleep on Rachel's shoulder halfway through Chicago.

–––

The weekend was like a dream.

Rachel didn't stare at her bruises like everyone at school did. She didn't make sarcastic comments whilst she was within earshot. Rachel would make jokes and show her around her house excitedly, as if she hadn't had a friend over in years, whilst the Cheerio's ignored her.

Quinn wore her uniform but stood out anyway.

No amount of concealer in the world would hide all those bruises, not fully, and her back stung with almost every movement. Quinn couldn't practice that day, but the uniform was her safety net. It was meant to help her fit in, but it didn't.

As she always had, Quinn Fabray kept her head up. It was the only thing she could do. She'd come so far, she was not going to let this bring her down.

"Where were you this weekend?" Santana asked, appearing in front of Quinn with Brittany linked on her pinkie. Santana looked curious - Brittany more concerned.

Brittany gave a vague smile. "Yeah, we were gonna invite you over but you didn't reply to our texts."

Quinn had gotten them in the morning, but figured it was too late to respond. "I charged your phone for you. We have the same brand so the charger worked. Didn't look, though, promise." Rachel said, offering up the small device with a proud look. "I was out." Quinn said, concise.

"Yeah, but where?" Santana pressed, leaning against the lockers whilst Quinn gathered her Spanish supplies.

Quinn heaved a sigh. "I was at Rachel's place." She said, holding her books to her chest.

The pair didn't leave. "Why?" Santana and Brittany pressed, in sync.

Quinn tried to ignore them, she really did, but they sat together in Spanish. They'd all noticed the bruises on her arms - everyone in the damn school did, so why wouldn't they? Mr Schue rested a hand on her desk, the best way he could show sympathy without actually touching her. Quinn bristled at the gesture, but tried to smile at him.

"Come on, Q, tell us." Santana said once they'd started doing group work on Spanish verb conjugation.

Quinn doodled on the corner of her sheet. "I just had some problems. Rachel's house was closer than yours." And you'd tell the whole damn school within minutes of me showing up. Quinn didn't speak the last part, but it rested heavy on her mind. Santana would look out for her, she'd help, but she couldn't keep a secret to save her life - not unless the secret was Brittany-centric.

Brittany and Santana shared a knowing look. "Your arms?" Brittany asked in a stage whisper.

Quinn hummed an affirmative, then began her work.

–––

So the whole school came to find out.

Worse than them all theorising about what had happened behind her back was them all talking about her problems as if they actually cared. None of them did. They were glad to see Quinn Fabray knocked around a bit.

She didn't wear her Cheerio's uniform for the rest of the week.

She sat on the bleachers during practice, drawing in her notebook. She wasn't a good drawer, and there wasn't any specific subject - there were circles and swirls and small flowers. Most of it got scribbled out. Not good enough. Never good enough.

Nothing she did ever was.

"Hey, Quinn."

Quinn looked up at the voice that had become so familiar the past few days. "Hey." Her lips quirked once, but Quinn didn't have the energy to put up a smile. She knew Rachel didn't care.

"What are you doing?" Rachel asked, good-naturedly, sitting at Quinn's side.

Quinn sighed, then shrugged one shoulder. "Just drawing."

"What are you drawing?"

"Just stuff." Quinn was not being purposefully vague - she truly didn't have direction.

She felt as if she didn't have anything any more. She'd lost her boyfriend and her reputation. When she went back to practice, she'd still be top of the pyramid, but she didn't know if she could trust her weight in the hands of anyone else again. At Glee she'd be thrown into the midst of people who acted like they knew what it was like to be in her position, and wouldn't leave her alone. There'd be suggestions to get over it and offers to hang out and, worst of all, people who spoke about seeing domestic abuse on television or hearing someone they knew go through it and thought they were experts.

Quinn didn't even think of it as domestic abuse.

It made her feel like a victim.

Quinn wasn't a victim. She'd rise again. She just needed time.

"You're looking exceptionally pretty today, Quinn." Rachel said, a warm smile on her face.

Quinn looked up at her face. There was something about the way Rachel said her name - delicate, as if it was something to be kept safe, but not fragile.

–––

Quinn couldn't tell what Rachel was playing at. Throughout the coming week, she found the brunette approaching her mysteriously to compliment her and then leave. One day it was a text about how her hair looked, the next it was a note in math about that dress really bringing out her eyes. Was Rachel just doing this for her self-esteem? Quinn had to say, it was working, if only a little. After all the horror she'd put Rachel through, the brunette was still telling her she was pretty and lovely.

Want to hang out tonight?

It was the first message in so many days that wasn't about Quinn's looks. It was so strange that Quinn actually had to read the message twice. They sat in Glee, though apart from each other - which was also coming to be a rarity these days.

Sure. What time?

Quinn replied with deft fingers whilst Mr Schuester discussed their new assignment.

Nine, my house. I'll see you then.

Rachel's message held such certainty that Quinn felt she couldn't argue with the time or location.

–––

Her mother had noticed the bruises but believed that they were just from a rough Cheerio's practice. Now they had almost faded entirely. The cut on her back had scabbed over and was sensitive, but it was healing. The burn on her shoulder was nearly completely gone. Matthew had gotten a year for battery.

"Even if he gets out early on good behaviour, there's still a restraining order to keep him from coming near you or your property." Miss Pillsbury said, satisfied, resting her hands on the paperwork.

Quinn didn't believe that a piece of paper would keep her safe, and there was always that fear that Matthew would be out there again. The only thing that offered her comfort was that Quinn would be out of Ohio and in college by the time that year was up. She hadn't decided where, yet, but far away was looking good.

Being free of Matthew was hard.

Quinn kept all the gifts he gave her. They sat at the foot of her bed, teddies and chocolates piled high. She didn't want to touch them - not even to throw them all out. Quinn just kept her eyes on the wall as she dressed, ignoring their presence entirely.

–––

She knocked on Rachel's door at five to nine.

Quinn hadn't seen Rachel's fathers around before, but tonight one of them opened the door. Quinn was taken off-guard. She licked her lips, a small smile growing. "Hi." Quinn said, not sure what else to say.

Rachel ran into view behind her dad, grasping a wall to stop herself. "Quinn!" She chimed, shoving past the man to reach her. "We're going out, we'll be back later!" She said, words coming so fast that both Quinn and her father looked stunned.

The door was shut before Quinn had a chance to say goodbye, or thank you, or anything to Rachel's father.

"I've got something to show you." Rachel said, voice slowing only a little, taking Quinn's hand in her own and leading her down the street.

Quinn didn't pull away. She didn't know how she was meant to react. Rachel had taken her hand plenty of times the past few days - to lead her somewhere, to offer her comfort, and just... because. It was strange. Quinn went along with it, loathe to lose the one true friend she felt she'd made from the whole incident.

Even if Rachel's idea of friendship was extremely strange, Quinn didn't mind that.

She daydreamed on the walk, letting Rachel lead her by the hand out to a park by her house. It was long deserted when they arrived - the young children of Lima were already in bed. It was a nice enough place. The sand in the playground glowed white in the moonlight, the man-made lake a glassy mirror in the center of all the grass.

"We're here." Rachel said, waving her arms out to encompass the whole park in her action, expression suggested she expected Quinn to be impressed.

Quinn gave the whole place a blank stare. "Why are we here?" She asked, turning to face Rachel.

Apparently this was as far as her forethought extended. Rachel looked away, sheepish, and shrugged. "I just thought it was a pretty place to go. Don't you like it?"

"No, no, I do like it." Quinn said, holding up her one free hand in soothing gesture. "I'm just... confused."

Rachel huffed. "Well, it's such a pretty place. I thought maybe... I'd take you somewhere nice, and you'd remember how pretty you are." In the light, Rachel's tanned skin glowed a shade of grey - Quinn was sure she spotted a blush there, though.

Quinn pulled her hand away. "You're always talking about how pretty I am." The old Quinn would have been smug about this - the new Quinn, this broken and probably not yet put back together one, was confused. "Why? It's not like you're obligated to do so." It was confusing, and Quinn still couldn't quell the fear Rachel was setting her up for another fall.

She didn't know if she could get back up again from that.

"I'm doing it because I want to!" Rachel replied, obviously taking offense from the obligation comment. Quinn again held her hands up, suspicious of the way Rachel was acting. Sure, normally she was weird, but now she seemed to be overreacting at the smallest things. "I just... you used to look so happy, and I figured you were happy because people told you you were beautiful. Right?" Rachel was fidgeting with her now free hands, running them over and over each other.

That cleared nothing up. "You shouldn't just say things to make me happy, Rachel." Quinn said, tugging at her bottom lip with her teeth.

"I want to see you happy, Quinn." Rachel argued, hands falling now to her sides and clenching into fists. "If I have to say you're beautiful everyday for the rest of my life, I will."

Quinn laughed, the sound bubbling up the pale column of her throat. "What?" She smiled, but it was tinged with confusion.

"You don't get it!" Rachel said, throwing her hands up in the air and turning around.

Laughter ceased, and Quinn reached forward to place a hand on Rachel's shoulder. "What do you mean?" She asked, still smiling, unable to stop now that she'd started. It'd been so long since she smiled. It felt nice. "If you explain it to me, Rachel, I'll get it."

Rachel stopped, and all was silent. Quinn could hear their breathing, undisturbed in the dead night. "I want to tell you you're beautiful everyday of my life so that you'll smile." Rachel's shoulders dropped, and her head hung forward. "But if you don't want that, I'll tell you that you're pretty or you're smart, or you're an exceptional gymnast and cheerleader, or perhaps that your vocals are good - I mean, your range could obviously use some work and you might need to work on losing the breathy quality, but some people like that, I mean I like it..."

Quinn had started laughing again, and now she was pretty sure it was a defense mechanism - same as Rachel's rambling was. "Rachel, stop." Quinn instructed, the confused look in her eyes betraying the smile on her face. "What is this about?"

"I just..." Rachel turned around, refusing to lift her head. "I really want to see you smile." She practically whispered, sounding lost. "And if... if embarrassing myself in a park will make you smile like this, we can do it forever. If you want to." Despite the fact that she was speaking to the ground, Rachel was resolute.

Quinn's smile faded from her face, and understanding rose slowly to replace it. "You want to see me smile?" Quinn went carefully with her words, treating each one as if it were glass.

Rachel nodded. "When you like someone, you want to see them smile, right?" Rachel stopped, swallowed, and then reluctantly lifted her head.

Reaching out, Rachel took Quinn's hand in her own. She squeezed it, and there was a revelation. Quinn felt her heart skip a beat, a mixture of fear and excitement bubbling in the pit of her stomach. "Rachel?" She asked, certain that her face was starting to glow light pink beneath her foundation.

Rachel kissed her. It was brief and chaste. "Now smile." She commanded.

Quinn did.

–––

author's notes: there you have it, three parts, three days. this idea struck me and wouldn't let me go until i'd finished it. thank you so much for all the faves and reviews. please let me know what you think!