YOU WON'T FIND HEART AND SOUL IN THE STARS

Part 6

He actually says the words while he's inside of her.

She's already half-blanked out from reality as it is, which isn't uncommon given the present situation. But hearing, "I love you," mumbled into her ear almost makes her stop breathing altogether. It's not even shocking because she's already known it for awhile. It's just something they've never actually said, and she knows there are all kinds of rules about not saying it for the first time during sex and all of that, but she seriously cannot even think coherently enough to be offended.

Her eyes are closed, and she feels like she's completely removed from the universe or something. All she can focus on is the sound of his breathing in her ear and the fact that he's completely encompassing every one of her senses. He's going so slow that she's almost at the point of breaking down and begging him to go faster, but she doesn't. She just lets him do what he wants- set the pace, move her leg to the position he wants it, decide when she's had enough and needs to let go… She doesn't normally give him that much power, but sometimes it feels good to just give herself over like that.

When it's over, though, she doesn't let him move right away, and she presses a hand low on his back to keep him in place. It's like he can read her mind or something because he kisses her softly and whispers, "I love you," again in a voice she knows is just meant for her.

She believes him.

Jake hits three homeruns in one game and breaks some kind of local league record, and she misses it.

She makes it to most of the games, but on this particular day, she's caught up at work and can't leave until she finishes approximately 90 hours of work in one day. Luckily, though, one of the moms caught it on video, so she gets to see it via email. She can't really hide her smile when she sees Jake nearly miss touching home on the third run because Sam grabs him. It's apparently a very big deal, and she can't help how excited she gets even though her interest in baseball is less than major.

Still, she can't deny that Jake is really talented. He's definitely the best player on his team, which is saying something, since it's a 7-9 age bracket, and he's on the low end of that. No, it probably doesn't hurt that his dad is the coach, so he does kind of get a lot of extra help, but still, he's really good. And he loves playing, too, so that makes it even better.

She shoots back an email with the appropriate amount of excitement and suggests a celebration later when she (finally) gets to leave work.

She gets a little more than she bargained for when she finds herself at Chuck E. Cheese's with not one, but three, little boys. And Sam, who for all intents and purposes, might as well be a child in this kind of environment.

Jake's got two friends with him- one a little boy from his class named Miles who's also on the baseball team and Devin, the little boy from next door who's a year older than the other two. They seem to all be getting along fine, and they go through almost two whole pizzas, though Jake, true to his nature, pulls all the cheese off and leaves the crust untouched. They're all drinking pop, which for Jake at least is not the norm, so things are a little bit crazy.

They all fly through eating so that they can go play. Quinn isn't surprised at all when she can look at Sam and tell he wants to join them. She laughs and tells him to go on while she sits and saves the table. She can see them clearly from where she's sitting, and it's weird how she suddenly doesn't even remember being so stressed at work that she could barely stand it. She doesn't feel stressed at all right now. It's crazy that she's just as happy to be sitting at a kids' pizza place as she was a year ago to be sitting in a high end martini bar in Manhattan. But it's true.

It's definitely not the first time that she's just been amazed by how great Sam is with kids. He's been that way for as long as she's known him, but it's even cuter now- watching him play with his son and his friends. All three boys are looking at him like he's awesome, and it's not surprising at all that he'd be the "cool dad." He's young and nice, and he's always got time to play with them. So it's no wonder that they all love him. He's acting as interpreter between Devin and the other boys, and she wonders, not for the first time, how one person can be so good.

She's flipping through emails on her phone, trying to make sure her work's not continuing to pile up while she's not there, when Jake runs back up to the table. He slides into the booth beside her and reaches for his drink, gulping it down. He's out of breath, red-faced, and sweaty, and she knows he needs a break. He looks at her while he gulps his drink, and she pushes some damp hair away from his forehead. He's definitely been playing too hard, but she's not really surprised, given the fact that Chuck E. Cheese's is like a seven year old's utopia or something. He shows her his token cup, which is severely lacking in tokens but is overflowing with tickets, and then he starts pulling more out of his pockets, yanking tickets out by the fistful. She knows he wants her to count them, so she takes them and gives his hair one more sweep before he takes off again.

Sam shows up a little while later, looking exactly like his son. He's sweaty and almost out of breath, too, which is odd since he works out for hours every single day and sometimes barely even breaks a sweat. Apparently skee ball is much more strenuous.

"You know there's a machine that will do that for you?" He grabs his water and sucks it down after he sits down across from her.

"Your child asked me to count them." She shouldn't speak because she loses count somewhere in the 300s.

"Because he always thinks he has a lot more if he actually has hundreds of tickets instead of a slip of paper. He doesn't really get that they're exactly the same thing."

Quinn doesn't doubt this because, well, Jake's seven. And to a seven year old's brain, more is always better. Sam watches her start over with the counting and then messes her up again when he dumps his own pocketful of tickets into the pile.

"Shouldn't you share with all the kids?"

"Yeah, I should." He looks serious, too. "Not because I care, but because the last thing I need in my house is more tiny plastic crap to step on."

She laughs because it's true. The stuff they give away here isn't good for anything but making a mess and getting lost. She hasn't yet stepped on any of it, but she did have the pleasure of stepping on her first Lego a few weeks ago… Sometimes it's a really good thing Jake can't hear because stepping on a Lego doesn't incite the nicest language.

She gives up counting because it's pointless and also because Sam's right- there is a machine that does it for you. Instead, she kicks his ankle under the table and says, "So. How proud of you are of your little All-Star?"

Sam smiles even though she's halfway joking, and it's cute because she can tell he really is proud. "Did you know we still lost the game anyway?"

"Really?" She hadn't even thought to ask because everyone was too caught up in the homerun record, but it's ironic that they would still lose after that.

"Yeah, but it doesn't matter because my kid is badass." He smirks again, and she knows that he's being serious even if he is kidding around a little bit.

"Were you the Little League star that he is?"

Sam laughs and shakes his head. "Not even close. But I didn't have an awesome coach, either, so…"

Quinn rolls her eyes because he's an idiot. "Do you know the very first time I ever saw you?"

He looks a little bit confused. "Umm… probably the first day I showed up to glee and started rambling like a dumbass because I was too nervous to shut up?"

"That wasn't the first time I saw you. Maybe the first time I spoke to you…"

"You didn't speak to me that day."

"Whatever." He shuts up, and she smiles sweetly in thanks before she continues. "The first time I saw you was at football practice. I was spying."

"On me?"

She rolls her eyes again. "Why the hell would I be spying on you?" He shrugs, and she shakes her head. "No. Coach Sylvester sent us there to spy on Coach Beiste."

"Why was she so psycho?"

"Oh, my god, so not the point." He shuts his mouth and looks at her, even though she can completely tell he's trying not to laugh. She ignores him and goes back to her story. "Anyway, there wasn't just a new football coach, there was also a new quarterback."

"Me."

"Yes, genius." He smirks, and she's caught between wanting to slap him and kiss him (that kind of happens a lot). "You. And anyway, we were spying and watching, and Santana said thanks to the new guy, we might actually have a shot at winning something."

"Santana gave me a compliment?"

"It was before she knew you." He kind of gapes at her, but what? It's the truth. After that, Santana would probably have cut her own tongue out before she said anything even remotely nice to him. After insulting Finn and Rachel, insulting Sam was her favorite hobby- not a secret. "And anyway, she changed her mind like a second later because you tripped over your own feet and face-planted into the grass."

"This didn't happen."

"Uh, yes, it did. And that was the first time I saw you."

"Well," he shrugs one shoulder like he doesn't care at all, "even if it did happen- which it didn't- I obviously made a good first impression because you couldn't keep away after that."

She actually snorts. "Oh, that's what happened?"

He nods like he's totally serious, and she just shakes her head.

It's crazy how talking about being sixteen makes her feel sixteen.

She meets him at the gym one day for their regular workout, and she finds him beating the crap out of a punching bag.

Usually he waits for her before he actually starts working out, but he's apparently already gotten a head start. Either that, or he's just really angry and needs to hit something. After about ten seconds, she decides it's probably the second option.

"Bad day?"

He stops what he's doing and looks at her like he didn't realize she was standing there or something. He opens his mouth like he's going to say something, but then he closes it. She can tell something's seriously wrong, though, so she asks what it is.

"Can we skip this today?" is the response she gets, and she's barely even nodded before he's grabbing his stuff and heading for the exit.

They end up going to her place because Jake's at a sleepover at a friend's house, and neither of them have anywhere else to be until the next morning. Sam isn't talking much, but she orders Chinese food and lets him flip through the channels on her TV mindlessly. She gives him a good fifteen minutes before she brings it up again.

"Seriously, what's wrong?"

He still looks like he doesn't want to tell her, but then he does. "They're cutting financial aid at Jake's school next year."

"Completely?"

"No, but still." He stops flipping channels and looks at the floor. "It's already expensive."

She honestly doesn't know much about the financial aspect of the school because it's not really her business. Still, if he's talking about it, she can probably ask a few questions. "Why are they cutting it?"

He shrugs. "I don't know. I guess they lost funding or enrollment changed or something. I just got this letter stating that they were cutting all financial aid back by like thirty-five percent, so now I have to come up with an extra five grand that I seriously don't have."

She can tell he's embarrassed, probably because five thousand dollars isn't really that much. But on top of all his normal bills and whatever tuition he's already paying, she can see how that kind of money could be unattainable.

"Is there another school he could go to?"

Sam frowns. "There's a public school, but it's in Columbus. So we'd either have to move, or I'd have to send him there to board…" She already knows he won't do that. "Or drive him two hours there and back every day. But I love his school. And he loves his school..."

Quinn knows that's true. Jake's been attending that school since he was two, and it's obviously a really good place for him. Sam constantly brags about it, about the teachers and how small the classes are and how Jake gets so much one-on-one attention and help. Not to mention, of course, that it's a Catholic school, and while they may not actually be Catholic, the Bible classes and bi-weekly school Mass are basically the only real exposure to Christian teaching that he receives. Yes, they attend church on a regular weekly basis, but it's not exactly deaf friendly. Jake spends most of the time just sitting there looking at books or coloring worksheets from Sunday School, so the fact that he can get that sort of education in school is important.

"Do you think there's any way they'll get the funding back?"

He lifts one shoulder, and she can tell how honestly upset he is by this. A few seconds later, he says, "I hate money," in this really low voice that makes her a little uncomfortable.

She's always had money. She honestly can't really remember a time in her life where she wanted something she couldn't have, and it was very rare that her parents didn't just give her whatever she wanted. She knows she's lucky. She also knows Sam's familiar with both sides of that coin. He grew up relatively spoiled himself with an expensive private education and a nice house. When she first met him, both of his parents drove nice cars, and he had plenty of expendable income that he spent, more often than not, mostly on her. Of course, all of that went away very quickly, so he knows what it's like to have everything and turn around and have nothing. She can't personally relate to that, but she was there and saw it happen. She knows how hard it was on everyone involved, and while maybe his brother and sister were too young to really comprehend everything that was happening, Sam was definitely old enough to be aware of it all. Not to mention, of course, all of the responsibility that fell on him. He knew about serious money troubles too young. While other people their age worried that their parents wouldn't buy them a nice enough car for their sixteenth birthday, Sam was worrying about making sure his brother and sister had lunch money on a day to day basis. Looking back, it seems even worse now than it did back then- possibly because she was sixteen and refused to think of herself or any of her friends as kids. Now she's an adult, and she realizes that sixteen is still just a child, so remembering Sam skipping lunch for two or three days at a time to "study" in the library is much worse than it was while it was actually happening. When it was happening, she tried to ignore it. She couldn't bring much attention to it because she was the sole person keeping his secret, and if she opened her mouth to protest, somebody would have been suspicious. And it wasn't like she could ever just bring it up because Sam was always so defensive about the whole situation- it would have caused more problems than it solved. So she stayed quiet and tried to tell herself that maybe he really did just need to study, but it's a lot harder to pretend now that she's all grown up.

"Maybe your parents could help…" She says it carefully, unsure of how he'll react to a suggestion like that. His parents are financially stable now, but they're nowhere close to having everything they had before. They live in a relatively small house and live modestly but comfortably. They have all their basic needs, but they don't go too far above that. Stacy doesn't have a car, and Stevie's at a state school apparently living primarily off of student loans. They're doing alright, but Quinn doesn't really know how much extra they have to throw around.

Sam doesn't seem offended or bothered by her question, though. He just seems to dismiss it as an option. "I'll get it," he says. "I'll just have to take on more clients or something. It just sucks because I already feel like I barely get to see Jake as it is."

Quinn's a little surprised to hear that he feels that way. From what she can tell, Sam spends a ton of time with Jake. Or maybe her point of view is just skewed, since her own father rarely spent any time alone with her ever. He gave her whatever she wanted on a regular basis, but she can't remember him ever attending a single ballet recital or going to any of her cheer competitions. Even when he was around, he was far removed from her life. Sam, on the other hand, is involved in every single thing Jake does- from school, to sports, to church, he's always there. So she can't imagine that he has any reason whatsoever to feel even the slightest bit neglectful.

But trying to tell him that will inevitably be useless.

Her sister calls her out of the blue one Tuesday and pretends like they didn't have a huge fight and haven't spoken for months.

Quinn plays along because that's what she's been trained to do in her family. If you don't talk about something, it never happened. It's dumb, but that's what they do. And right now, she really can't think of a reason not to follow that lead.

Then Frannie says, "So, are you seeing anyone?"

And she says, "I'm still with Sam."

"Who?"

"Sam," she repeats, and her sister fucking knows who she's talking about.

When Frannie says, "Oh, the gym guy? You're not over that yet?" Quinn honestly wants to crawl through the phone and strangle her.

Instead, she says, "I love him," and hangs up.

She makes a promise to herself to not pick up the phone the next time her sister calls.

Despite the cut in funding, Jake's school still holds its annual summer carnival.

Apparently it's a really big deal and is responsible for most of the financial aid that the school's able to award. So obviously, the more successful, the better. Especially right now. Sam has to volunteer for it, and it doesn't take much convincing to get her to join him. It might be fun, and even if it's not, it's at least for a good cause.

She expects some rinky dink carnival like her elementary school used to have, which was basically some homemade pies, cornhole, and a duck pond. One year they had a petting zoo, which had exactly one goat and two sheep. But this is basically the exact opposite of that. This looks like a real fair with actual rides, tons of vendors, and all kinds of carnival food that smells delicious but is good for no one. It's also incredibly crowded and is apparently a pretty big deal here. She's shocked by just about every aspect of it.

She ends up at an auction booth with Sam, and she spends a few hours taking down bids and people's information. It's the middle of July, and it's very hot, but there's a little fan blowing on them, so she's not too miserable. Besides, she just keeps telling herself to think of Jake whenever she starts getting irritated at the crowd and the heat.

Sam pokes her at one point, and when she looks at him, he just smiles and says, "Thanks," and she doesn't have to ask for clarification.

Luckily they don't have to work the whole night, and when their replacements show up, they head off to find his family. His parents and Stacy are there with Jake, and they're supposed to be doing a trade off because Stacy has plans with a couple of her friends. Sam calls his dad, so it's relatively easy to track them down, and Jake hugs his grandparents goodbye and even hugs Stacy in what is obviously one of those rare moments where they're actually getting along and not trying to kill each other.

Jake's super hyper, which isn't surprising at all considering the fact that his fingers are sticky with the remnants of cotton candy, and he's on a typical kid's carnival high. He grabs Sam's hand and immediately starts dragging him toward some ride that looks way too dangerous for a seven year old. Or a twenty-seven year old for that matter. She follows them because she refuses to believe that Sam is actually going to let his child get on that thing.

She's wrong.

They get in line, and Sam looks at her expectantly when she doesn't join them. "You coming?"

"No way in hell."

He starts to laugh at her, but Jake interrupts and starts telling her to come on. She tells him that she's not, and he rolls his eyes like she's the crazy person for not wanting to get into what essentially amounts to a closed in wire basket that rotates on its own axis while turning over and over again on a larger axis. She has enough common sense to realize that that is not smart.

She wants to drag them both out of line and tell them how stupid they are to get on that thing and then maybe smack them both a little. But she doesn't. She just leans against a picnic table and waits for them to be finished. They're both laughing when they get off the ride, which she supposes is better than vomiting. But still. They're crazy. Jake rushes up and grabs her hand this time, and she basically has no choice but to follow him to his next ride of choice. Sam's counting tickets behind them, making sure that they have enough, and Jake is on his toes trying to get a better view of the ride.

A little girl and her parents walk by, and the girl stops and runs back over to Jake. She's smiling and super cute when she waves and starts signing to him. Jake looks happy, too, until Sam nudges Quinn and says, "That's Kaley. His girlfriend." Jake somehow notices this, and the glare he shoots is enough to make both Sam and Quinn laugh, which obviously doesn't help the situation at all. Jake's pissed and looks at both of them like he wants to kill them. Kaley looks at them, too, clearly confused, and they both do their best to get the laughing under control and appear serious.

It works well enough. Jake goes back to talking to Kaley, and Sam smiles at her parents who are waiting patiently a few feet away. Quinn has no idea whether this is actually his girlfriend or not, and she's not really sure what being a seven year old girlfriend entails, but regardless, he could do worse. She's absolutely adorable, and they're both so excited and animated talking to each other.

She thinks it might be the cutest thing she's ever seen.

Jake comes in the door one day bleeding from the lip and obviously trying very hard not to be noticed.

Of course, he is noticed, and Sam grabs his arm and stops him when he tries to escape to his bedroom. Jake stops, but it's obvious that he's trying very hard to show no emotion whatsoever. He sucks on his lip in what's obviously an attempt to cover up the fact that it's split, and he's also got a large scrape across his chin. Sam asks him what happened, without signing, and even though Jake can obviously read his lips, he plays dumb and stares at him blankly. Quinn can already predict where this is headed, but Sam doesn't immediately get irritated.

Instead, he asks again with signs, "What happened to your lip?"

Jake gives a quick answer back that Quinn can't understand. Sam, though, is apparently less than amused by it given the way his features sharpen. He asks the same question again, this time with a more serious expression, and Jake turns his head and looks to the left. Quinn's seen this before and knows that Sam can't stand it. Jake doesn't do it a lot, but she's seen him do it often enough to know that it's his way of not listening. He does it on purpose, and looking away is basically the equivalent of putting his hands over his ears and going, "La, la, la, I can't hear you." It drives Sam crazy, and the times that she's seen him actually get truly angry with Jake have involved this very action more often than not. He's not having it today, though, and he takes Jake's chin in his hand and forces him to look. Only it doesn't work because Jake just looks at the ground instead.

Things are about to go from bad to worse, but then the doorbell rings and the lights flash quickly. Sam gives Jake a look that obviously says he's not happy, but he lets him go anyway. As Sam gets up to answer the door, Jake leaves and goes to his room like he first intended.

Devin's at the door, and Quinn hears him ask, "Can Jake play?" before Sam opens the door and lets him in. He stops him, though, before he sends him off to Jake's room and asks what happened.

"Do you know what happened to Jake?"

Devin immediately looks nervous and says, "I didn't do it."

"Didn't do what? Why is his lip bleeding?"

It's obvious that Devin doesn't want to be put on the spot and even more obvious that he knows exactly what happened. He pops his fingers against his thighs and looks down at the carpet. For a second, Quinn's convinced that he's going to play Jake's game and not answer, but apparently he's more intimidated by Sam because answers. "He got in a fight."

Sam's face doesn't change, almost like he expected this answer. Quinn's surprised, though, because she can't imagine Jake fighting with anyone. Sam, though, just keeps asking questions. "With who?"

"With those boys." Devin looks like he's scared he's going to be in trouble, and Quinn feels a little bad for him because Sam is not exactly at his friendliest.

"What boys?"

"Nicky. And Benjamin and Alex." Devin's frowning, and it's clear that he's worried about saying too much and getting anyone in trouble. "They were being mean to him, so Jake hit Nicky…"

"How were they mean?"

Quinn's honestly afraid that Devin's actually going to start crying. She can tell that he's afraid that this is all going to end with him in trouble, and she thinks Sam could probably realize that and be a little less snappy and demanding. He doesn't, though, and she's not sure she can really blame him because this is probably the first time his son's been in an actual fight.

"They said he couldn't play with us…" Devin's looking back at the carpet, and it's obvious where all of this is headed, but Sam obviously can't keep himself from asking anyway.

"Why can't he play with you?"

"He can play with me!" And Devin looks up immediately with this face that shows he's being entirely sincere.

"Why did they say he couldn't play? They don't like him?"

"Sam…" Quinn steps in then, mostly because she feels sorry for Devin but also because she already knows what's going on, and she's sure Sam does as well. She can't see the point in demanding answers when it's just going to make him more upset. He looks at her when she says his name, and she tries to give him a look that says all of that, but Devin's obviously too scared to not answer because he's already talking.

"They said he's stupid…" He's frowning and looks sad at just the memory. "And they said he's weird."

"Why?"

"Because he can't hear…" Devin's looking at Sam, obviously still worried that he's going to be in trouble. Sam, for what it's worth, somehow softens his tone a little bit despite being hit with the harsh reality of the situation. He might have known it was coming, but it's still not easy to hear that your son's being picked on- especially for a disability he has no control over.

"So Jake hit him?"

Devin nods. "Yeah, but it didn't hurt him because Nicky's big. Then Nicky pushed Jake and made him fall down and hit his face on that yellow thing you park by. So then Jake got up and left. And then I left because I wanted to play with him more than them anyway."

Quinn's mostly concerned with the fact that they were playing so close to the street in the first place. Sam, though, has a weird look on his face and just nods. There are a few seconds of silence, and then he says, "Jake's in his room," and Devin takes off in that direction without waiting around for anything else.

"Sam."

He looks at her when they're alone, and she frowns because she doesn't know what else to say. He looks half-hurt and half-angry, and she doesn't know what to do about it.

"Kids are such jerks," he says finally, and she can tell this really bothers him. She's not surprised because it bothers her, too, but it must be worse for him.

"Are you going to talk to their parents?" It's the only thing she can think of that might somehow help the situation, but Sam just shakes his head.

"I will, but they won't care. They're all idiots. Nicky's like ten!" She doesn't know any of the kids or their parents, but obviously Sam does and is pretty confident that bringing attention to it won't do much good. He looks so pissed, though. "My parents would literally have beaten my ass if I did that kind of crap. Literally. I wouldn't have been able to sit down for like a week."

She believes it. Even before they had a deaf child in the family, she can't imagine that his parents were too receptive to the idea of teasing anyone, much less a special needs child. She also can't imagine Sam would ever have done it, either, so it's easy to see how he can't relate to the fact that some people could just overlook their kids doing it.

"I used to get bullied a lot. When I was little." He drops onto the sofa, and she sits down next to him. "Kids were really mean. They used to call me dumb and say I was slow because I couldn't read." It's been a long time since she's heard him even mention dyslexia, so she's kind of surprised to hear it now. It's not something she thinks about a lot because she doesn't see it on a day to day basis anymore. When they were in school, though, he struggled a lot and always took a lot longer to do homework than most people she knew. "When I was in first grade, before I was diagnosed, my teacher used to make everybody read out loud, and I could never do it. Like I would try, but I just couldn't… I would just sit there, and then she would make me pull a card for not following directions. And everybody would laugh, but she wouldn't do anything about it. I used to try to fake sick every day so I wouldn't have to go to school." He's quiet for a second, and then he says, "I just don't understand why kids do that."

Quinn says nothing. She stares at a spot on the sofa and just thinks for a little while. There's total silence except for a little bit of noise coming from Jake's room. Then she very quietly says, "It gives them power," and she kind of hates herself a little bit in that moment. "It's addicting."

Sam looks at her, and she expects him to judge her or look down on her. She used to be a bully, even if she didn't think of it that way while it was happening. To her, it was just a way to stay on top. She was very concerned with her social status, and being the head cheerleader automatically made her the most popular girl in school. It was intoxicating in a way, to have that much power. But it was also a way to get back at all of the kids who used to bully her. She didn't have an easy childhood, either, and she remembers going home in tears plenty of times. But when she switched school and was allowed a fresh start, it was a little to easy to fall from the role of the bullied into the bully. She felt, on some level, that it was owed to her. She felt like being able to torture others was her vindication for all the years she spent being tortured. Even though she was at a different school, her newfound popularity and power felt like a giant fuck you to all the assholes who made her life miserable before.

She realizes now how very stupid all of that was.

"I don't want Jake to do that." He sounds almost nervous, probably because yes, Jake was getting picked on, but he's the one who actually turned it physical. It probably doesn't mean anything, but it's his first fight.

"He won't be." And she's honestly sure of that. "You won't let him."

She had no one to tell her not to do the things she did. She had no one to comfort her when she was getting bullied, and she had no one to notice and tell her to stop when the tables turned. Her parents always overlooked everything that wasn't exactly perfect. Jake won't ever have to worry about any of that. If he's doing something wrong, it will be stopped, or he will be in trouble. That's one of the things she admires most about the whole situation- Jake isn't mollycoddled just because he's deaf. He has the same rules and consequences as any other seven year old, and he doesn't get by with things just because he can't hear.

"I don't want him to be bullied, either."

He seems more scared of this, and she can see why. Jake might be a very normal seven year old boy on most levels, but he's got something big that sets him apart from other kids. Kids pick on anything that's different, and Jake's difference is pretty obvious and not one that's ever going to be well-hidden. He might fit in just fine at school, but he lives in a neighborhood with, goes to church with, and plays sports with a bunch of hearing kids. As far as Quinn can tell, he plays just fine with those kids for the most part. She hasn't really seen them treat him too differently or seen him be too confused to keep up with whatever is going on. He can probably adapt well based on the fact that his whole family is hearing, which has turned him into a very good lip-reader. But bullying doesn't get better as kids get older- it usually gets worse.

"Jake will be okay. He's lucky."

"Why?"

She curls up a little closer to him. "Because he's got the best dad in the world."

It doesn't even surprise her to realize she means every word.

Sam goes to an early morning appointment one Saturday, so Quinn takes care of getting Jake up and getting him fed and getting his teeth brushed and all that.

He doesn't feel his best, and he complains of a stomach ache when she tries to make him eat more of his cereal. She feels his forehead, and he's a little warm, but nothing too bad. She tells him to eat three more bites and then he can go play. He concedes and eats three (very small) bites, but he doesn't run off to play. Instead, he tails her everywhere as she straightens up, and he sits in the bathroom with her while she brushes her own teeth and fixes her hair. She's glad she's already dressed because she's not sure she could get away for even five minutes to change with the way he's stuck to her this morning.

She goes back to the living room, and he follows her, laying down in her lap when she sits down and turns the TV on. It's not uncommon for him to be lazy in the mornings, but he usually wakes up after about a half hour at the longest. He tells her again that his stomach hurts, so she instinctively starts rubbing it a little bit and isn't surprised when his eyes close again within minutes. He's so little and precious. She wishes she'd been around when he was a baby and a toddler, just because she feels like she's missed so much coming in so late. She's never been this close with any other child, so it's all a little new for her. But she loves that he's still little enough so that she didn't completely miss out on the time when he still wants to give hugs and hold hands. She has a feeling all of that will be ending very soon, so she's glad that she at least got to be around for a little of it.

Sam gets home just in time because she's got to be at a meeting in an hour. He comes in and finds them on the sofa, and she tells him that Jake's stomach is upset. He lifts Jake off of the sofa so Quinn can get up, but Jake wakes up immediately and starts whining. Sam puts him down, and Jake immediately goes back to Quinn and starts hugging her. He stays like that all the way until she gets to the door to leave. She tells him that she has to go to work, but he just shakes his head like he doesn't want her to. So she bends down to give him a real hug and tell him she'll be back later. She's not fluent in ASL by any means, but her signing and comprehension is getting much better. Jake looks sad but concedes and nods. She hugs him and kisses his cheek, noticing that his face is much warmer now than it was this morning.

"I think he has a fever," she tells Sam when she stands back up. He puts a hand to Jake's forehead and grimaces a little bit.

"I hope it's just a bug."

"I'll come back after work. Call me if you need me." He nods, and she leans over to kiss him. Without thinking, she adds an, "I love you," and doesn't even realize she's said it until she catches the way he's staring at her.

It's the first time she's actually said the words, though she's sure he's known for awhile. Still, he gives her this really adorable smile that's almost on the shy side, and she can't help but smile back.

She's happy the whole day.

By the end of summer, she's practically moved in.

She still has her condo, but she mostly just goes there to get clothes and check the mail. She spends nearly every night at Sam's except for the occasional night that they might spend at her place if Jake's not home. She likes it, though. She likes being around them because she feels like a part of the family. She works a lot of hours, so it's nice to not be alone when she gets home. It's just comfortable.

They're washing dishes in the kitchen one night after Jake's asleep, and they get distracted because she kisses him. It doesn't take much to get his attention, and kissing is one definite way to accomplish that. She doesn't honestly mean for it to turn into a make-out session against his counter, but it kind of does. She's not complaining, though, because she seriously thinks he's an awesome kisser. It gets pretty heated pretty quickly, though, and she's kind of not surprised when he's got the bottom of her dress in his fists and is pushing it up over her hips.

He kisses her some more and then pulls back and says, "We need to go to bed."

She nods because they do. They get delayed again, though, because he kisses her again, and she obviously can't help but to kiss him back. She also can't find much reason to protest when his hands slide behind her thighs, and he effectively lifts her off the ground. They don't normally let it ever get to this point anywhere besides closed doors, but she's having a difficult time remembering that because she can feel how hard he already is from this angle. She really kind of just wants to unbuckle his pants and let him do her right here against his kitchen counter. She can't, though, and she knows it.

"Sam."

He nods and says, "Okay." But then he kisses her again, so she has to physically lower herself back to two feet and adjust her dress. She doesn't really want to, but the last thing they need is Jake walking in because nobody's ready to explain all of that yet.

Sam turns off the faucet and the light, and they go to his bedroom. It's still his room even though she spends nearly every night in it. It's strange, though, how comfortable she's come to be here. She's got things here- clothes in the closet, her glasses and a book on the nightstand. It feels like hers, even though it's still technically his.

He lays her down slowly and climbs on top of her while they're both still fully clothed. The urgency from the kitchen is gone, replaced instead with that devastatingly gentleness that is all him. She moves underneath him, obviously indicating a desire to go faster, but he just kisses her and says, "I just want to go slow, okay?"

She wants to tell him no because she really just wants to get off. But she can't because he's kissing her in that way that kind of makes her whole brain shut down. And regardless, he's honestly the only person she's ever been with who legitimately knows how to make love. It sounds sappy and stupid, but it's the truth. He's not even close to being the most experienced or the most inventive man she's been with, but he's the only one who has ever been able to actually pull this off. And while it may feel like torture on the build, he always makes it a hundred percent about her while they're doing this.

So she just nods.

He's just kissing her for what feels like forever, and she's kind of surprised that he hasn't even made a move to do anything else. She can feel how much he wants her- it's kind of obvious- but he seems totally content on just kissing her right now.

"You were the first girl I ever loved." She doesn't know why he's talking, but his lips have moved from her mouth and down to her neck. His tongue drags this slow, crazy trail from her ear down to her collarbone, and she lets her eyes close naturally. She wants to point out that they were kids and that there's a difference between love and infatuation, but she doesn't because there's a part of her that believes he really did love her. He's always been that fall hard and fall fast type, so if there was one boy in high school who actually felt real love for her, it was probably Sam Evans.

But she does her best to separate that time from now because she was a different person back then, and he was young and inexperienced and always nervous an awkward around her. They're different people now, matured and grown up, and there's nothing about what they're doing right now that even remotely compares to what they were doing as kids.

He's grinding into her a little bit, which is completely unfair because while it's probably making him feel good, it's making her feel like she might die if he doesn't actually do something. By the time he actually touches her, he's already gotten her completely naked and driven her crazy kissing way too much skin. She's already so turned on by the time he finally touches her that she's coming within minutes. He kisses her through it and keeps mumbling about how beautiful she is. He always does that, always tells her- she's finally starting to believe him.

She can't even think straight when he's finally inside of her, mostly because he's pushing in so slowly that she's almost positive she's going to die before this is all over. He groans when he can't go any further, and he stays there for a few seconds, not moving, with his forehead dropped to her shoulder. Finally, he lifts his head and looks at her.

His eyes are locked on hers when he says, "I've never felt anything close to what it feels like inside you," in this really deep voice that forces her to make some strange noise at the back of her throat that she doesn't mean to make. He moves a little bit, kissing her again, and she loves the way he makes her feel so many things at once. But when he puts his mouth by her ear and asks, "What do you feel? Right now?" she can only come up with a single word answer.

"Full…"

The slowness goes away after that. He's been holding out for way too long, and she knows he can't take much more. She's still barely come down from her last orgasm, but he makes sure she gets there again, just like he always does- or at least always tries to do- and then he's following right after her.

She really wants to sleep because she's inexplicably tired beyond reason. So she closes her eyes when he moves off of her, and they just lie there in total silence for a few minutes. She can hear him breathing, and then she finally feels his hand on her hip as he pulls her closer and rolls them so that she's completely on top of him. There's a lot of stickiness between them, sex and sweat and more, but she can't be disturbed by it right now. She's straddling his hips with her head on his shoulder and her face pressed into his neck. She likes the way this feels.

"I'm in love with you." He's stupid after he comes, all men are. But she doesn't care because she loves the way his voice sounds right now, and the hand he's got on her lower back is moving just easily enough to make her shiver a little bit. "I really did pray for someone… I'm so glad it was you."

She could stay like this forever probably, and she'd be okay. She's never felt like this before, either, and she's not dumb enough to push it away.

They stay like that for what feels like a really long time. His other hand is dragging slowly through her hair, and it feels so nice that she almost falls asleep. But then he's talking again, really quietly like he's nervous or something. "You're so good with Jake."

She's sleepy, but she mumbles, "I love him," because it's true.

"I want you to be his mom."

She wakes up at that and immediately lifts her head. She's almost mad at him for saying something like that, especially right now. But when she looks at him, she can tell it's not just typical post-sex dumbness talking. He's being totally serious, and she can tell just by the look on his face that it's something he's been bracing himself to say for awhile.

"I want you to be all my kids' mom…"

He's so quiet, so sincere. She can't do anything but kiss him because it's literally the only thing in her brain that makes sense right now. She can feel it all there when he kisses her back. He's not proposing to her or anything like that, but he's making a promise. And opening himself up to her in a way no one else ever has.

So she kisses him. Because she's pretty sure he can keep his promises forever.

And that's okay with her.

End

A/N: This is actually the end! Thanks again to everyone who reviewed. I'm glad you all enjoyed the story- it was really so much fun to write!