It begins as most things do: with a kiss.

They're both drunk, stumbling in the door of a shared two-bedroom apartment in West Harlem. Quinn's hands are in Santana's hair, grip firm at the nape of her neck, pulling her up as Santana uses her considerable strength to guide Quinn up against the nearest wall. Her hand finds purchase on the back of Quinn's thigh and hikes it up over her hip, pressing her pelvis forward and feeling the moan as it slithers up from Quinn's gut to throat to mouth and finds its end at her own lips. It's a sobering moment, feeling the surge of hands in her hair, yanking backward so Quinn can look into her eyes as their hips grind together in rhythmic thrusts. Santana bites her lower lip, smirking to hide how incredibly bad she needs this. Desperation has never been a good look on her, and here, with Quinn's legs parted and willing, she isn't going to let it take over. She rushes in, connecting their lips once again and pressing her fingers roughly into Quinn's sides, pinning her and lifting until both her legs are around her waist, clinging and her body is wedged between Santana's overheating core and the wall.

"San…" she husks, her lips crushing against Santana's teeth. "Jesus…"

Santana doesn't ask if this is Quinn's first time with a girl. She just assumes it isn't, because she's doing everything right. Her hips are pressing up as Santana's press down, her hand not wound up tight in Santana's hair is palming her breast, tweaking the nipple through her Smitty's Bar-issue tank top. Santana feels the squeak she makes more than hears it as her hands grab her ass tightly and pulls them both from the wall.

She carries her to a bedroom—Quinn's, she realizes after she kicks the door open—and there's something in her gut that twists, in only for a moment. This might not be a good idea. The bed is getting nearer with every step, and she knows that once they're on that bed, there's no stopping this.

But she's drunk. They both are. She's not sure she really wants to stop it.

So she drops Quinn on her back on her bed, and listens as the prone girl let out the breath she's been holding and watch as Santana strips off that tank top that still reeks of beer and old men's hands, followed by her sports bra. Quinn is so caught off guard by the way Santana stands so confidently bare before her that she waits a moment before following suit, pulling her sundress over her head and then yanking on Santana's belt buckle, pulling her closer so she can undo it and push those ridiculously tight jeans down over her slender hips.

She's just as caught up in this as Santana is. Caught up and confused and drunkand my god, when did a pair of black cotton panties become the sexiest thing she's ever seen? Her eyes are cloudy, even in the dark of her own room, and her hands linger on the warm flesh of Santana's abdomen. She's always been a tactile drunk. She likes to touch things, feel them, figure out what they're made of with the pads of her fingers and the side of her face and a long, deep breath taken in through her nose. She leans in pressing her forehead to Santana's stomach, breathing deep, turning to press her cheek just above her belly button. Listening, touching, smelling, feeling, assessing.

Santana feels like something she's never experienced before. She's warm—hot, even—but her muscles make her hard, and her voice is soft above her head as her hand comes round to the back of her neck.

"Quinn…"

She takes another breath, lower and deeper, and there's the heat she feels radiating from Santana's center. The scent of her want for Quinn, and she groans, pulling Santana down on top of her. Then, before Santana can take over like she always does, Quinn flips them both.

"Wha—"

Santana's protest is met only by Quinn's lips pressed to hers, and a grind of their hips together once more. Her sure hand crawls down between Santana's legs, which spread so willingly one might think she'd spent a lot more time on the bottom than she'd like to let on.

There's a pang in Quinn's chest, but she pushes it down. Don't think about that now, she thinks. Not when Santana is beneath her and whining so desperately against her fingers as they sink beneath the elastic band of those panties that were so disarmingly sexy.

She slides her fingers over Santana's slick folds, biting that supple upper lip she's been trying so hard to resist since they moved in together months ago. It's not until Santana's whimpers become grunts that Quinn slips two fingers deep inside her, and they both let out inhuman moans of pleasure.

She has done this before. Santana's sure of it now, because her fingers move so deftly in and out and at a perfect pace, and her thumb is doing that thing where it circles her clit and Jesus Christ does that feel good.

They're kissing, and thrusting, and canting and god, who made that noise? Sure, it's the first time she's gotten laid since… It doesn't matter. What matters is that this girl is doing everything she loves, and her blonde hair is falling around her face and she's glowing and—

"Brittany…"

Santana comes with a name that isn't Quinn's on her lips, and maybe Quinn should have known better. Maybe she shouldn't have gotten mixed up in Santana's fucked up relationship, and maybe she shouldn't have gotten drunk with her and thought that this was a good idea.

Because Santana came, and she said Brittany's name. Months later, and there it is. That thing she didn't want to think about.

She's kind enough to let Santana ride out her orgasm before pulling her hand from between her legs and wiping it on the sheets. But she's sober now, and didn't that certainly kill the mood. So she gets up and reaches for her robe, pulling it around her shoulders to hide herself from Santana as her friend sits up, panting and ashamed.

"Quinn, I—"

"Don't." Quinn cuts her off with a wave of her hand. "I get it. You miss her. I was a warm body."

"That's not—"

"I said don't," Quinn repeats, and stands by the door, giving Santana her cue to leave. "It's okay, Santana. Let's just forget this ever happened."

Santana picks up her tank top from the floor and pulls it to her bare chest as she stands and, hesitantly, walks up to her roommate.

"But what if I don't want to forget?" she asks, and Quinn can see, even in the dark, that there's something sincere in her face. Maybe it was an accident. Maybe in the dark, after all those drinks, Santana lost herself for a minute. But the sound of Santana's voice crying out Brittany's name is still echoing off the walls, and she shivers.

"It's already forgotten. Goodnight, San."

Santana doesn't move, her mouth open to protest, but there's really nothing she can say, and she knows it. She fucked up, and big. And worse, she fucked up with Quinn, the one person who's been nothing but good to her since all that shit happened with Britt. Her best friend. Her only friend, really.

At least she's consistent. Fucking everything up is about the only thing she does well.

So she says, "Goodnight, Quinn," and holds the shirt tighter around her chest as she leaves Quinn's bedroom. Her own is down the hall, and she stops halfway between them when she hears Quinn's door click shut. She presses her hand against the wall, dejected and dizzy and knees still wobbly from the force of her orgasm and the weight of her guilt.

"I'm sorry," she says, loud enough that she thinks Quinn might be able to hear it, and trudges to her room.

On the other side of the wall, Quinn wipes her tears from the corners of her eyes and shakes her head when the faint apology floats in through the thin drywall.

"Yeah," she whispers. "Me too."

/

Six months. It's been six months since that night when Santana got off a plane from California and Quinn met her at baggage claim. Six months since she let her best friend cry in the cab all the way back to Manhattan, and keep crying long after they'd collapsed on her couch. She didn't ask questions, she was just there. That's the best friend's job. Be there.

And it's been two months since that second night, where both of them cried alone, in separate rooms, over something neither of them expected to ever be crying about: each other.

It's not like they talk about it. After that first time, they didn't even look at each other for a week, until Santana showed up at the Columbia Law library with a sandwich and a Diet Coke as a peace offering, and suddenly things were just back to the way they'd been before.

And a week after that, boom. Quinn showed up at Smitty's while Santana was slinging beers during the Giant's game on a Sunday. The fact that they'd actually made it back to the apartment before articles of clothing were removed was something of a miracle. To Quinn, at least. Hey, at least Santana hadn't said Brittany's name again.

Maybe she's a masochist, getting off on being used. Maybe she's just a horny drunk and Santana is there, and she's got needs too, right?

So it's two months later and she's sitting up in her bed with Santana passed out next to her, the scent of sex lingering in the air. San's arm is draped over her waist and she's snuffling in her sleep, and Quinn would call it cute if she didn't despise herself with a visceral hatred that she reserved mostly for her father.

She sighs and pulls a cigarette from the pack in her nightstand that she usually reserves for the week before a big test or finals and lights it. She blows the smoke away from Santana's face, knowing that she's trying to quit. She takes a drag and stares out her bedroom window and tries to picture how this—whatever this is—will end.

It's almost magnetic, this thing that's happening. She's tried to stop it, because it's stressing her out and finals are coming up, and she can't be worrying about this her-and-Santana thing when she's only in her second year at law school.

But she's Quinn, and worrying and overthinking is what she does best.

So she's sitting there, smoking a stale cigarette to the filter, putting it out in the glass of water on the nightstand. Santana snuffles again and presses her face into Quinn's side, nuzzling closer.

Yeah, okay, it's cute. Even if she does hate herself.

/

u and san huh?

The text appears on her phone and Quinn realizes she shouldn't be surprised. Brittany isn't exactly subtle.

It's a Saturday, so Santana is training. She thinks maybe Brittany knows this, and that's why she's picked now, after nearly eight months of radio silence, to send Quinn a message. And this isn't exactly something she wants to try and explain in a text message.

What did she tell you?

There's no one else who knows, so it had to be Santana. Quinn's been ashamed to say anything to her friends at school, because for all they know, she's straight, conservative, Christian Quinn Fabray.

u guys have been bumpin uglies and u dont talk about it

Quinn sighs and shakes her head, admiring how Brittany can break down a problem and make it sound simple. It's not. It's so not that simple.

Something like that. She shouldn't have been talking to you about it.

Her phone rings almost immediately after she shoots off the text, and the last thing Quinn wants to do is answer. But she does, because yeah, she's a masochist.

"What, Britt?"

Eight months, and that's the first thing she says to a girl who used to be her closest friend. She mentally slaps herself, wishing she could be a better person.

"I know you're mad at me, Quinn, but you don't need to sound so mean." Another mental slap. "Look, San and I broke up. Yeah, it was my fault, but you were supposed to be my friend, too. She's forgiven me. Why can't you?"

It's news to Quinn. She didn't even know they were talking again, let alone mending fences and talking about whom they're sleeping with.

"You broke her heart, Britt. She wanted to do something to better herself and you broke her heart."

"Bettering herself by killing innocent people?"

"She joined the Army Reserve, Britt. She's not a fucking mercenary."

She hasn't even had this conversation with Santana, and now she feels the rage of it bubbling up to the surface. No, they don't talk about this kind of stuff. They don't consult one another or tell each other when they're worried about something. It's probably why Santana never told Quinn she was talking to Brittany again, or why Quinn never told Santana that she hates herself every time they have sex.

Not because of Santana, of course, but that's just another thing on her laundry list of emotional problems that she's incapable of dealing with. Thus all that self-loathing. It's complicated, really.

"She's firing a gun, being trained to kill living things, and she thinks that's the only thing she can do with her life." Brittany presses the point angrily, and although Quinn agrees with her on that last bit, Quinn isn't exactly a stranger to guns. Her father was in the NRA, for Christ's sake.

"Britt, she followed you to LA so you could dance, and she got lost. She didn't have a life of her own. She had yours and yourdream. Maybe she didn't make the right call, but doesn't she deserve to try to be happy?"

There's a sigh on the other end of the line and then silence. Quinn waits, and even from thousands of miles away she can just see the way Brittany's face is contorting. First in confusion, then in sadness, then in resignation, because Quinn's right, and they both know it.

"We're all messed up, Quinn," Brittany says, and Quinn can't help but let out a snort.

"You're a little late getting that memo, Britt," she returns, and again there's silence as Brittany tries to remember if there was an actual memo sent out regarding their respective states of fucked-up-ness.

"I know you love her," Brittany says after a beat, and it catches Quinn off guard. "Just don't mess her up any more than she already is. Keep her safe for me, okay?"

It's not really a threat. Coming from anyone else, it might have sounded that way. But this is Brittany, and god knows Brittany couldn't threaten her way out of a paper bag with a flashlight and a pair of scissors. No, when Brittany says it, it's a nudge in the right direction, and a subtle reminder that Santana doesn't really belong to Quinn. Not fully, not while this thing with Brittany is happening. Yeah, maybe the broke up, but that doesn't just dissolve a seven-year relationship or the love she knows they both still have.

It just means she has to tamp hers down. Because when it comes to Santana, no one can compete with Brittany. And she doesn't want to be the first to try. Or the first to fail.

/

She's used to seeing three pairs of army-issue fatigues in the hall closet when she goes for her coat every morning. There's always a pair of khaki boots by the door, laces tight and tucked into the opening. The duffel with "Lopez" stitched in Camo Green on the side usually catches her eye when she's searching under the bed for her favorite pair of ballet flats.

These things disappear for a weekend every month when Santana goes to base for training, and Quinn always knows when to expect it. There's a calendar on the fridge with the date circled, but it's even more obvious than that. As those three days approach each month, Santana gets more and more excited. She talks about her drill sergeant, and how he's a massive brick wall of a man. She works out harder, adding extra reps of sit ups and push ups to her routine. She runs two more miles every day, starts getting up earlier, drinking less at Smitty's.

It also means better sex and more nights spent in Quinn's bed, but neither of them are talking about that. Eight months of sleeping together on an at-least-once-a-week basis and they're still dancing around an actual conversation. Not that either of them are keen on having it, but hey. It's not like they're dating or anything.

It's Wednesday, and Quinn is accustomed to getting up early for her eight o'clock seminar. So when her alarm goes off at six and Santana isn't there to grumble into a pillow, her first instinct is to check the room at the end of the hall. When that's empty too, she starts to see the missing items around their apartment.

Two sets of fatigues, gone.

The boots, gone.

The bag, gone.

She checks the calendar, and sees that Santana isn't scheduled to be on base for two more weeks. And it's Wednesday. Wednesday, for chrissake.

She wanders from one end of the apartment to the other, looking for Santana in closets or the freezer or under the couch. It's not until she finds a post-it on the bathroom mirror that she stops and realizes Santana really isn't there.

Got called up. Rioting in Albany. Might be gone a while. Tell Smitty he's a dick if he fires me for this. I'll wire you cash for rent. Don't freak out. –S

Quinn can't tell if she means, "Don't freak out about me not being here to help you pay for shit," or "Don't freak out because I've been called up to active duty for the first time since I signed up for this a year ago," or "Don't freak out because my life is in serious danger and I know you're realizing for the first time that this Army Reserve thing isn't all building FEMA trailers and piling sandbags on riverbanks."

Maybe it's all of the above, because Quinn is pretty sure that, yeah, she's freaking out for exactly those reasons, and certainly not in that order.

The morning news gives her the rundown on what's going on in Albany: protesters are ransacking the capital after the state senate passed a bill restricting access to public health, and all those protestors that she remembered making jokes about a few years back during the Occupy Wallstreet movement have taken over the city with a little more fervor than they had before. There are panned shots of fires set in trash cans and cars overturned on side streets. She sees the Albany police in riot gear and the ticker at the bottom of the screen flashes that the state has called in the National Guard—Santana—to help control the situation.

Her stomach flops violently in her gut and she crumples up the post-it in her fist while she searches for her phone. Maybe a few strategically placed phone calls from a near-lawyer in Manhattan can get Santana out of this mess. Maybe she can call her professors at Columbia who have pull at the capital. Maybe she can stop this before Santana is out there in full riot gear, coming up against people who are angry at their government and no seeming respect for the fact that the people they're lobbing Molotov cocktails at are just people doing their jobs.

She finds her cell under her Criminal Case Law text book and the first thing she sees on her screen is a text message notification from Santana.

Calm your tits, Fabray. I'm fine. Don't call the mayor or some shit.

She wants to laugh, because it was sent three hours ago, before she'd even woken up, before Santana had probably left the apartment. Santana, it seems, knows her better then she thought.

I'll call when shit calms down. But they can hold me here for as long as they need to.

The second message came in a minute after the first, and she's rereading them, trying to take some kind of comfort in the fact that Santana isn't worried about this, so she shouldn't be either. But then she reads the third and final message, sent nearly five minutes after the first two, and something worse than worry creeps up into her throat.

Love you.

Something, she realizes, that reminds her a lot of love.