Author's Note: My muse is more or less being uncooperative with the sequel for Devolution, and the current Glee character arcs really haven't been helping. This is just a short, one-shot to help me vent a little frustration.
Disclaimer: I do not own Glee or the characters, I just like to play with them…strictly non-profit.
For all sad words of tongue and pen,
the saddest are these,
'it might have been.'
~John Greenleaf Whittier
The first time it happens, Rachel is twenty-one. She knows that she will always remember the moment exactly, sitting on the sofa in her fathers' house—her fathers', because they can't quite afford a place of their own just yet. It's one of those balmy summer nights that sneak up on a person after the late afternoon heat finally dissipates, and the sound of children's laughter wafts in through the window along with the scent of barbecue still lingering from the neighbors grill.
She's overly warm and a little sticky with Finn's arm slung casually over her shoulder, and the television is flickering reds and golds on the pale walls. He's been working full-time at Burt Hummel's garage for the last two years—a job he's had since senior year of high school, but now it's a career. He'd managed to complete two years of technical school and get an associates degree—who knew you could get a degree in automotive repair?—and Burt feels confident enough to turn the business over to him one day.
Rachel's hands are twisted together on her lap, and she's staring down at the diamond ring that she's been wearing for the last four years—the one Finn gave her their senior year of high school with a hopeful smile and the promise that he'd buy her a bigger diamond as soon as he had a little more money saved up. Instead, a plain gold band had joined that same diamond three years ago last month.
Surprisingly, she hadn't really cared about the size or the price tag at the time. She'd only cared that she'd been on the cusp of having that perfect fairytale ending with her perfect leading man that she'd wanted since she was fifteen—she'd chosen not to think about the multiple break-ups and reunions that they'd suffered through in the meantime, or the disappointment of failing to get into her dream school in New York. At the time, she'd pushed it all aside—the sacrifice that she'd made to help Kurt (who'd abandoned her for the Fashion Institute in New York the next spring) and stay with Finn (who'd passed on enlisting in the army and was so eager to bind his life to hers.) It was only a year, she'd told herself at the time, just twelve more months, and then she'd reapply to NYADA and every other school in New York City, and she and Finn would go there together.
So she'd swallowed down the bitter taste of bile as she'd watched her fellow graduates pack up their belongings and head off to college, some nearby and others a continent away. Only one year. It was nothing to be ashamed of, she'd said to anyone who would listen. She would be on Broadway in no time. It was just a tiny, character building delay. God knows she's built enough character over the years. So she'd swallowed down her pride and enrolled for a year in Rhodes State College. They didn't have a drama department, obviously, but she'd studied the Arts and planned to carry those credits to her school of choice in New York—in just one year.
Except, one year somehow turned into four—with Finn taking on more responsibility at the shop and making such a good argument about staying in Ohio for their education and saving money before the move to New York—and now she's Rachel Berry-Hudson, newly graduated from OSU with a degree in theater and a teaching certificate (just in case.) Funny how life has a way of detouring even the best laid plans. They haven't talked about New York in a while, or at least Finn hasn't, but Rachel is still making silent plans.
She puts up a little fuss when Finn tunes the television to that station, but it's mostly for show. Truthfully, she's looking forward to watching just as much as he is—just for a different reason. They catch a glimpse when the camera pans the audience, but the image is there and gone in the blink of an eye. It isn't until the category comes around that they really see her—Quinn Fabray, nominee for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. Finn draws in an appreciative breath, and Rachel tries not to be annoyed, because Quinn is in Los Angeles making her own dreams come true and those dreams no longer include their shared high school sweetheart.
If Rachel was just a little bit more self-aware, she would recognize when her own breath catches the same way her husband's does—because Quinn looks amazing. Of course, she always has, but she's still the prettiest girl that Rachel has ever seen. Her long-again, blonde hair is slicked back into a stylish ponytail at the nape of her neck, revealing her gorgeous face and the slender column of her throat. Her makeup is near perfection, drawing attention to her high cheekbones and pouty lips, while the smoky accents around her eyes make them sparkle greener that Rachel can ever remember. Her dress is royal blue with a plunging neckline that lovingly hugs the curves of her breasts. Teenage Quinn had never been quite so daring in her wardrobe, but the stunning woman on their screen now is a mixture of grace and sex-appeal that's impossible to look away from.
Rachel holds her breath as the envelope is opened and her ears buzz with the rush of her own blood as Quinn's name is announced. Next to her, she feels Finn's oversized body jump slightly and hears him gush out some unintelligible cheer as his arm around her shoulder tightens and drags her closer. His eyes remain locked on the television—on Quinn—but Rachel barely pays any attention to his reaction or the wistful look on his face as he undoubtedly recalls the countless chances he was given and then threw away with Quinn Fabray. No, she doesn't pay him any attention because her own is completely captivated by the blonde on the screen.
Quinn's face remains frozen in a polite smile, as if she's expecting to lose and is already attempting to appear gracious and unaffected. A twenty-two year old in her first television role—literally plucked out of a coffee shop while visiting Santana Lopez in Los Angeles the summer after her freshmen year of college—shouldn't beat out more experienced actresses for an Emmy, especially not when her first nomination came completely out of the blue and surprised the entire industry, but Quinn Fabray always has managed to come out on top. The man sitting next to her—an attractive blonde with shaggy hair that reminds Rachel a little too much of Sam Evans—wraps an arm around Quinn's shoulder and leans over to kiss her cheek, and only then does the woman seem to realize that she's actually won. Her smile slips into open-mouthed shock and tears well in her eyes. Shaking hands momentarily cover her face as she composes herself, but a wide smile unlike any Rachel has ever before had the privilege to see on Quinn's lips is in place by the time she stands and carefully makes her way down the aisle and onto the stage amidst a theater full of applause.
Quinn grips the envelope and the statuette tightly to her chest as she stands behind the podium, and she draws in a deep breath and flashes a watery smile before she begins her speech. There are more tears streaming over her pale cheeks, and she opens by mentioning that she never expected any of this, and that five years ago she couldn't even manage to win prom queen—the audience clearly thinks that she's joking and laugh accordingly, but Rachel is acutely aware of just how serious Quinn is being.
"I really don't deserve this. I didn't even consider becoming an actress until...until just a few years ago really, and I know I've been so, so lucky to have been given this opportunity. Every woman nominated tonight deserves this award more than I ever could, but I'm not giving it back," she says with a grin and a hint of the haughty bitch that Rachel remembers. The audience laughs. "I'm so grateful and honored to be given this award just for doing something that I love, and I want to thank Christopher for taking a chance and casting me as Lily. And David for supporting me and always pushing me to be a better person. I love you, sweetie."
Rachel feels Finn tense beside her, and her own stomach begins to churn with the old familiar jealousies that she believed she'd conquered years ago. On the television, Quinn is still speaking, going on to thank her cast, but Rachel watches her without really hearing. What is it about the woman that is so captivating? Why is she so hard to forget? Rachel's jealousy is back with a vengeance.
And then it happens.
Rachel's full attention is arrested by Quinn's final words, and for a moment she forgets to breathe. "And finally, I want to thank Rachel Berry for making me realize that I am so much more than just another pretty face. I finally got it right."
She is only vaguely aware of Finn turning to her with a frown and muttering, "What the hell, Rachel?" She can't respond. Her hand—the one wearing the wedding ring—comes up to rest over her fluttering heart while her mind goes a little fuzzy from the rush. Quinn Fabray just said her name on National television for millions of viewers to hear. Do millions even tune in to the Emmy Awards? Even though she knows her (insignificant) role in Quinn's success isn't really much of anything—just help with an application to Yale and an audition video—and she's outrageously jealous that Quinn has achieved one of the dreams that Rachel still desperately wants for herself, she can't help smiling at the knowledge that Quinn Fabray still remembers her.
The second time it happens, Rachel is twenty-four and she is now the William McKinley High School drama teacher and glee club adviser. She's already taken the (new) New Directions to Nationals two years in a row, and they're the two-time defending National Show Choir Champions. She'd always known that her ideas were better than anything Will Schuester could write on his whiteboard. He'd resigned three years ago under mysterious circumstances, but Rachel has heard rumors that some of the parents expressed concerns about how involved Mr. Schue had been in their children's lives. Rachel wasn't really surprised. Despite her success with the club, the only reason the drama and music programs still exist at McKinley amidst the ever-increasing budget cuts is because of the generous donations of a few successful alumi.
Finn is making a decent living at the garage, and he and Rachel have built up a nice little nest egg. They've been trying to start a family for almost a year with no luck. Rachel cries alone in the bathroom every time the test comes up negative and tries not to remember the one time two years ago when she'd unexpectedly seen the opposite result. She can never forget the blood and pain that had followed a month later and torn her world (and nearly her marriage) apart. She tells herself that God isn't punishing her now any more than he did then and that some things just aren't meant to be, but the accusation in Finn's eyes is growing a little more noticeable every month and the words of blame and resentment are flowing more freely between them.
Finn is working overtime at the garage, trying to finish up a new transmission on the mayor's car before Monday morning, so it's just Rachel on the sofa in front of the television watching the red carpet on E. Tonight is the Golden Globes, and her eyes are searching every dress in the background behind Ryan Seacrest for a familiar head of blonde hair. Quinn Fabray is the talk of Hollywood these days, and she's nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role—rather ironically—as the daughter of a gay man whose sexuality tears his family apart. Rachel has seen the movie three times, twice by herself because Finn's incessant complaining about being bored ruined her first viewing.
Her breath catches when she sees a red dress perfectly molded to a lithe, elegant figure, and she watches Quinn gracefully climb the stairs with a wide smile. Rachel hangs on every word as Ryan asks her the standard inane questions about who she's wearing (Marchesa) and if she's really dating her former costar (she claims they're just good friends.) She listens to Quinn talk about how proud she is of her film, and Rachel smiles softly, feeling equally proud of Quinn. She's not ashamed to admit that she's been following Quinn's career, and she knows that her former classmate (frienemy, romantic rival) has become a strong supporter of the LGBTQ community.
Rachel watches the ceremony, and her heart races just a little faster every time she catches a glimpse of Quinn at her table. She's sitting next to the same attractive, blonde man that Rachel remembers from the Emmys, only now she knows (from a tiny bit of internet stalking) that he's an artist in Los Angeles and that he's apparently very gay, but he's almost always Quinn Fabray's plus one at events. Quinn's even more mysterious now than she was in high school, and she keeps her personal life very private.
Rachel isn't surprised when Quinn wins the Golden Globe, and she knows it means that she's probably on her way to an Oscar next month. Rachel feels her stomach churn with jealousy, but it isn't nearly as bitter as she expects it to be. She's made her own bed and lies awake in it every night thinking about what might have been. It's hardly Quinn's fault that Rachel has made a few bad decisions. She'd always believed that she'd get another chance to have it all, but she hadn't understood how easily moments can slip away, and every decision seems to lead her further away from where she wants to go.
The blonde man stands and hugs Quinn fiercely, kissing her on the cheek, and Matt Damon, who'd played her father, does the same. Tears are tracking down Quinn's cheeks, and her hands are shaking a little as she carefully takes the award and moves to stand in front of the podium. She brushes at her cheeks, grins, and shakes her head in disbelief.
"As if you all haven't seen me cry enough," she jokes, and a tinkling of laughter fills the room. Quinn glances down at the Golden Globe gripped in her hands with an expression of quiet wonder. "When I was fifteen," she begins, "my life was a lot like Kylie's," she explains, referencing the role that has won her such acclaim. "I had what seemed like the perfect family on the surface, but in private, there were so many secrets that I was...that we all...were keeping, and eventually, those secrets tore us apart. So this is a role that I could identify with from the beginning for that reason, and also because I am blessed to have so many wonderful people in my life who have gone through their own coming out experiences or have had to deal with the prejudice and bigotry of those that can't understand that love is the most precious gift, regardless of what form it comes in."
Rachel feels her smile blossom as she listens to Quinn's hauntingly familiar voice speak so eloquently, and she can't help but remember how they'd all watched Kurt suffer through the taunts and bullying and Santana Lopez struggle to accept her sexuality.
There is a round of applause that follows Quinn's words, and Quinn licks her lips nervously before she begins reciting her brief list of people to thank. Rachel watches Quinn's eyes sparkle under the spotlight and feels her own heart flutter oddly in sympathetic happiness. And then she feels her heart trip over itself once again as Quinn finishes her speech with, "finally, I want to thank Rachel Berry for inspiring me to take on this particular role. She taught me what pride in an unconventional family was supposed to look like."
Rachel's fingers clench into the cushions of her sofa, and she swallows around the lump in her throat. If she's being completely honest, she has to admit that Quinn's performance had struck a particularly personal chord with her, and she'd wondered if Quinn had thought of her at all as she'd transformed herself into Kylie. Still, Rachel doesn't understand why Quinn is thanking her again when they haven't seen or spoken to one another in seven years.
Part of her wonders if Quinn is doing this on purpose, twisting the knife of her success into Rachel's heart, but mostly she thinks that Quinn is being completely sincere. They were more than 'kind of' friends by graduation, and even though Quinn (and Kurt and Mercedes and everyone else) thought that Rachel was making a mistake by accepting Finn's proposal, she'd wished Rachel well, saying only, "Please, don't let this keep you from New York. I expect to share a stage with you someday."
Rachel had assured Quinn that she would. Another promise she's failed to keep.
Being thanked once in an acceptance speech by a young television actress is hardly worth mentioning, but being thanked a second time when that actress wins a Golden Globe raises a question or two. The first one comes in a post-show interview from a pretty-but-bland entertainment reporter. "Now, I have to ask you something. Tonight is the second time you've thanked Rachel Berry. Who is she and why did you say that she inspired you to take on this amazing role?"
A splash of pink, slightly darker than her shade of rouge, paints Quinn's cheeks. Her eyes drops and she sucks on her lower lip as her fingers nervously twist in her lap before she takes a quick breath and straightens her posture, effortlessly slipping into the comfortable indifference that Rachel still remembers so well from high school. "Rachel is another one of those wonderful people that I had the privilege of knowing when I was younger," Quinn explains vaguely, poised and aloof once again. "And I drew on some of my memories of her to help mold the Kylie that you see towards the end of the film."
"So, she's, like, the real life Kylie?"
"No," Quinn answers evenly. "Just one little piece of a really complex character."
Quinn changes the focus so smoothly that the subject of Rachel is completely dropped, but not forgotten—at least not by Rachel, who spends another hour frozen to her seat in stunned silence. Wonderful. Privilege. Memories.
Quinn's memory of her is Rachel's only claim to fame. She feels such an acute sense of loss—a longing for what might have been—that she can barely look at Finn when he finally comes home. He's tired and greasy and asking for food, and he doesn't notice his wife's distress. He kicks off his shoes and leaves them in the middle of the floor before instantly commandeering the television to watch a football game that he'd recorded on the DVR.
Rachel slinks into the kitchen to heat up some leftover lasagna for her husband and collapses back against the counter with a sob. This is her life now.
The third time it happens, Rachel is twenty-six and curled up under a blanket on a well-worn recliner in a tiny, one-bedroom apartment in New York. It's the last Sunday of February, and the heat is on the fritz, so Rachel is wearing three sweaters and her warmest pair of sweatpants over leggings. She rubs her hands together under the blanket to generate a little more heat and thinks about how odd it still seems not to feel the scratch and catch of the rings that once adorned the finger of her left hand.
She's been officially divorced for five months now, and the wound is still a little raw—more her pride than her heart at this point. She'd failed to get out of Lima at seventeen, failed to get into a good musical theater program in New York, failed at becoming a mother, and she'd failed as a wife. The spark that she'd once felt so strongly with Finn had slowly been extinguished under the weight of too many regrets turned into resentment. Childish expectations of happily ever after had disappeared once the bills had started rolling in, and they'd had to learn to compromise and sacrifice, change and rearrange priorities, chipping away little pieces of themselves until they were hardly more than two strangers sharing meals and a bed.
Rachel sleeps alone now, but she's doing it in New York City. And she'll wake up tomorrow and head uptown to teach twenty-three eager young performers about the joys of music before taking a subway to a little theater off Broadway to rehearse for a swiftly approaching opening night. It's a small role, only twelve lines and one featured verse in an ensemble song, but she's thrilled to have it. In a strange way, she has Quinn Fabray to thank.
Quinn's Golden Globe win was just a moment in time, and Rachel Berry was barely even a blip on the media radar—a mere curiosity. Quinn had gotten the honor of being nominated but not the Oscar. Rachel had gotten dozens of questions from her students about Quinn Fabray—that was hardly new since they'd already known that their teacher had graduated with a now famous movie star—but she never could bear to tell them the real reason why Quinn had made it out of Lima when Rachel hadn't. Love sounds like the best reason in the world when you're seventeen but not so much when you're twenty-four and struggling to remember just why you'd fallen in love in the first place.
The moment had been forgotten, as moments tend to be, and life continued on, until the New Directions took Nationals for the third consecutive year, and one savvy New York reporter made the connection between Rachel Berry-Hudson and Quinn Fabray. He'd written an innocuous little story on a corner of page seven in the New York Times about the Show Choir Championships and the winning director who inspired Quinn Fabray. It didn't make Rachel famous, but it did make her a hot commodity on the Show Choir Circuit, and it got her a few job offers—one of which happened to be at a high school in Manhattan. It wasn't the dream she'd dreamed as a little girl, but it was closer than she'd been in six years.
She'd wanted to accept the offer right away, jump on her chance to finally move to New York, but Finn didn't want to leave Lima, not after so many years, not when they were so comfortably settled. Something inside of Rachel had just snapped. She'd spent years clinging to the hope of someday, all the while watching Finn settle into his comfortable lack of ambition. But she wasn't settled, and she wasn't happy, and she wasn't letting one more someday slip away, so she'd packed her bags and hopped on a plane to New York without her husband.
There had been crying and screaming and attempts to bargain and more empty promises and too little too late. It had taken more than a year for Finn to sign the divorce papers, but now they were both free to finally move forward. Rachel was on track to take her new choir to Nationals and continue her winning streak. She'd auditioned when she could, allowing the little ember of her dream to reawaken, and now she is, at long last, on the cusp of her off-Broadway debut. It won't win her a Tony, but it's enough—for now.
Rachel snaps out of her memories when she hears that familiar voice on the television screen. It's the biggest award night in Hollywood, and Quinn has her second chance at an Oscar, this time for Best Actress. Gorgeous as always in an elegant black dress, Quinn stands regally on the red carpet and talks a little about her film and how proud she is to be a part of it.
It's not a role that Rachel had ever expected Quinn to take—a lesbian teacher forcibly outed and fired from her job. Rachel knows that Quinn supports the community, but this film has a portion of her fans speculating that she's more than just a straight ally. Rachel laughs at the rumors, because she knows better than anyone how much Quinn loves men. They'd once loved the same one, after all.
Rachel is nervous when Quinn's category is announced, and she imagines that this is what Finn used to feel like when he was watching whatever sports team he was rooting for try to win the big game in the last two minutes. It's completely ridiculous to be so invested in something that has absolutely no effect on her life, but honestly—Quinn was robbed at the Golden Globes this year. Sarah fucking Hyland is so overrated.
Quinn's name is announced, loud and clear, to a theater full of applause, and Rachel squeals a little in her chair. She's (mostly) over the envy, and now she's just proud of Quinn and sad that she'd lost touch—not just with Quinn but with nearly everyone.
Rachel doesn't really expect to hear her name in Quinn's speech for a third time. She's never fully escaped the idea that the first two times were a subtle way of gloating—after all, Quinn had once warned her what a life with Finn would be like. Rachel had just been too blinded by love to see Quinn's words for the warning that they were intended to be. Still, she'll be lying if she says a part of her isn't hoping that Quinn keeps her streak alive, even if it is meant as a taunt.
Quinn is positively glowing as she cradles the Academy Award, and she starts and stops her attempt at a speech three times before she admits, "I don't remember a single thing I wanted to say." She manages to recover enough to recite a list of names, her co-stars, the writer and director, her friend, David, whom she thanks every time as well. And then it happens, her parting words as she hold up the statuette, "I'm halfway there, Rachel."
The applause follows Quinn off the stage, and Rachel feels her heart constrict. Halfway there? An Emmy, an Oscar—halfway to the EGOT that Rachel covets so dearly. She feels a little sick, wishing now that Quinn Fabray had just forgotten about her entirely. Rachel swipes at the traitorous tears making their way over her cheeks and turns off the television and tosses the remote, spitefully reminding herself that Quinn will never complete that EGOT because there's no way she'll ever win a Grammy with her tremulous, occasionally sharp alto. It doesn't make her feel any better.
And it doesn't quiet the whisper of what might have been.
AN: Reviews are appreciated but never demanded. The first part of this has been sitting on my hard drive since season two, just after the piano scene, but I never got around to finishing the story. Originally, it was meant to be Quinn stuck in Lima with Finn while Rachel won her Tony, Emmy and Grammy, and being repeatedly thanked for sending Rachel on her way. It's a very sad state of things when canon Glee made it so easy to just swap their names, change a few minor details, and finish the story.