A/N Written for KelseyO, as a balm to her no good very bad day. Title and epigraph from "Life Left to Go" by SafetySuit.
And the failures you see don't seem failures to me here at all.
Quinn wakes up from her mid-evening nap to three missed calls and about a dozen text messages from Finn and Kurt. They all say a variation of the same thing: We can't find Rachel. Is she with you?
Panic slices through her chest, and Quinn struggles to keep an even air flow. She's been out of school for the last few days because the doctors at her last physical found that her lungs still weren't expanding to their full capacity, and they suspected atelectasis. The last thing she needs is a panic attack when breathing is already so difficult, and she wheezes desperately as she goes to call Kurt back. What do they mean, they can't find Rachel? Today is her NYADA audition. Quinn texted her a few hours ago about it. Did she not even show up? It's not like Rachel to get cold feet, but it's the only thing Quinn can think of as she waits for Kurt to pick up.
Her hands won't stop shaking.
"Quinn? Oh thank God. Please tell me you have her."
"No, I don't; I've been asleep for hours. Kurt, what's going on? What happened?"
The first thing Quinn thinks of is that Rachel literally got something lodged in her throat—that she was kept from auditioning because something had happened—but if that were the case she'd obviously be in the hospital, and therefore not missing, which means that…
"Do I sound like I'm kidding, Quinn?" Kurt asks, voice strained, and it occurs to her vaguely that he must've had his audition, too. She can't find it in her to wonder how it went. "She never even made it to the first chorus. Once she got over the shock of it she ran out, and we can't find her anywhere. Her dads are beside themselves."
"I'm—" on my way almost makes its way past her lips, but she can't say it, not even months later. "I'll find her. I'll figure it out."
"What? Quinn, no. We were just hoping she was with you, but no one expects you to go out looking for her. You have to focus on your health right now. Not to mention the fact that you can't even walk, let alone drive, and—" Kurt cuts himself off once he realizes what he's just said. "I'm sorry. That was insensitive. I don't even know what I'm saying half the time right now; everyone's freaking out. But please don't be irresponsible."
"Where are you guys now?" she asks, mouth and throat parched.
"I'm at Rachel's; Finn and her dads are out looking for her, but I stayed here in case she came home. Just let me know if she contacts you, okay?"
Quinn swallows. "Okay."
Kurt hangs up without a goodbye, but she doesn't blame him. She wants him to be focusing on the search, rather than her.
She immediately texts Rachel herself, opting for a simple Are you okay? Maybe it's stupid for her to think she'll be the exception and Rachel will respond, but she gives it a ten minute window anyway. Hoping.
She doesn't get anything back.
Slowly but surely, anxious thoughts that Rachel might've done something more drastic than just run away or turned her phone off are starting to creep in. Quinn tries to block them out. She needs her head to be clear, and Rachel wouldn't—she wouldn't—
But she'd been upset, and maybe one of Finn's or Kurt's initial texts had distracted her at a crucial moment and maybe she'd been driving and—
She can't breathe.
Quinn squeezes her eyes shut and focuses on her lungs; focuses on inhaling and exhaling, on calming her thudding heart. Kurt was right about one thing: she isn't of any use to anyone if she hurts herself while trying to help. Her mind races. If she were Rachel, where would she go?
She has a hunch, but she needs a car. Sam doesn't have a car of his own, and she knows Finn and Kurt are already out. She considers calling Puck, but he has his own relationship with Rachel, and she knows how overprotective he can get. He'd be too upset to follow any orders, and—well, maybe it's horrible of her, but she kind of wants to be the one who finds Rachel. She wants some time alone with her, and Puck would never allow that.
She calls Joe.
"Are you sure you don't want me to wait here?" Joe asks when he drops her off in front of the school. "To give you a ride back after you've picked up your homework?"
So she didn't tell him what's going on. If that makes her selfish, let her be selfish.
"Thank you, but no. I think I'm going to use the library for a little while, and then my mom can pick me up."
"Um, okay." He sets up her chair and then helps her out of the car, before giving her shoulder a squeeze. "See you around, Quinn."
"Yeah. Thanks for the lift," she says distractedly, already wheeling away.
She starts by checking every single girls' bathroom meticulously, hall by hall, floor by floor. She'd taken a look at the football field as Joe had driven past it, but the bleachers had been empty, and it's not like she could have navigated them if they weren't; she's saving it for a last resort.
Maybe this is pointless. Finn and Kurt must have looked here first, but that was hours ago now, and she just can't get past the hunch that Rachel can't have gone far. The choir room is empty, and that leaves just one place left.
Quinn makes sure to use the backstage entrance, not wanting to get stuck in the orchestra pit and then need to be helped from her chair. At first glance, the stage is empty, and Quinn's about to turn back when she hears it: the slightest sniffle of someone trying not to cry.
She wheels forward, and then she spots her—sitting on the edge of the stage, legs dangling off. The piano had blocked Quinn's view, but now she sees everything: the hunch in Rachel's shoulders, the pale ends of her fingers where she'd picked the nail polish off. They'd been a pristine, bright gold last night; she knows because she'd done the manicure herself, wanting to feel as though she'd contributed even the tiniest bit to Rachel's success.
So much for that.
"I thought I might find you here," Quinn says quietly, not wanting to startle her. It's pointless; Rachel flinches anyway, but doesn't turn around. Quinn reaches for her phone, to tell Kurt that Rachel's safe, but then—
"They told you, didn't they." Rachel's voice is a scratchy monotone, hoarse from crying. "What I did."
"Kurt told me a bit of what happened," Quinn allows, carefully rephrasing to shift the blame away from Rachel, "but I don't have the whole story. But that's not—everyone's worried sick about you. Where have you been?"
"I hid in the janitor's closet until they left. I didn't want to… if you'd seen the looks on their faces…" Rachel sniffles again. "I just needed some time before I had to deal with their disappointment." She twists, and Quinn is taken aback by the red rims of her eyes, the tear tracks on her cheeks. "What am I going to tell my dads?" Rachel asks helplessly, her voice cracking on the last word.
Quinn wheels forward, hating that there isn't more she can do. "Rachel…"
"It's so silly, but this was the only place I could think to go. Being on stage—being on this stage—it's always been one of the only places where I felt like I belonged. But I guess I was wrong."
"Don't say that—"
"You weren't there," Rachel interrupts, though she can't look Quinn in the eye. "You didn't hear it. I forgot the words, Quinn. I forgot the words to a song I had memorized before I knew the pledge of allegiance. What kind of a performer does that? So I came back here because… obviously once I graduate, I won't be spending any time on stage anymore. I might as well savor it while I can."
It may not be the smartest thing to say, but it's out of her mouth before she can think better of it. "Who are you, and what have you done with Rachel Berry?"
Rachel laughs dryly, and wipes at her eyes. "I've been asking myself that, too. That girl doesn't exist, Quinn. I was just lying to myself."
"Bullshit!" Quinn cries, and she takes her anger and holds onto it for dear life. She needs the anger to get her through this conversation, because if she doesn't get mad she'll only end up terrified. She's never heard Rachel sound like this before. "Rachel, look at me. Look." She waits until glassy brown eyes reluctantly meet her own before she continues. "You are Rachel Barbra Berry, and I have never known you to ever let rejection stand in your way. Turning your biggest detractors into your biggest fans… that's just what you do. Want an example? She's right in front of you."
Rachel tries to smile, but she can't quite manage it. "I had four years to win you over, and it took three and a half to get you to tolerate me. Carmen Tibideaux gave me sixteen measures when most people only get eight, and I still couldn't get it right. I've missed my chance."
"You've missed a chance. In what universe is there only one way to Broadway?"
"No, I'm serious. This is nothing, Rachel. It's sad, and you're allowed to be sad about it, but do not for one second let this make you doubt your worth, or your talent. There is nothing stopping you from moving to New York right now and auditioning for actual productions. And if you're set on college first, then you still have options. You always have options. Lots of places have mid-year admissions, or you can just wait and apply next fall. To more than just one school, this time. I don't know when you got it in your head that NYADA is the end all and be all of your future, Rachel, but it's not."
"It is if I can't perform when I know important people are watching," Rachel protests. "You can't just gloss over my failure and pretend it didn't happen, Quinn. It did. I stood on this stage and I—you know, forgetting the words wasn't even the worst part. The worst part is that I let it get to me. Even the greatest of talents can have moments of forgetfulness, that's just the truth of live theater, but… you're always told not to let 'em see you sweat. That most people in the audience won't notice if you just seem confident. You plaster on a show smile and you power through, only I didn't do that. I drew attention to my mistake by stopping, and when I started again I was so flustered I blew a note. Do you know when the last time I blew a note was?" Quinn opens her mouth, but Rachel doesn't let her guess. "Sophomore year! And the only reason I went flat was because I had tonsillitis!"
"I remember. It was only a few months after you became a hero for—what was it? Oh, right. Singing Don't Rain on my Parade in front of a crowd full of people, including judges, on no notice and without rehearsing. And you blew them away. We won, thanks to you. They stole our set list and we won anyway, riding on your talent. What happened today was a fluke, Rachel. It's only as important as you make it be."
Rachel sighs, staring at the scuffed stage. "I just don't know how I'm supposed to believe that."
"Then I'll show you," Quinn says softly, before reaching for her knees and lifting her legs, one by one, to rest her feet on the floor.
"Quinn, what are you—"
"Walking," she says resolutely, bracing herself against the arms of her chair and pushing until she can stand. Rachel's only three feet away from her. She can do this.
She makes it a step and a half before crashing to the floor.
"Quinn!" Rachel cries, scrambling closer and checking Quinn for injuries. It's bizarre, how parts of her can hurt so acutely from the fall when other parts are still totally numb, but there's sensation where there wasn't, before, and feeling the pressure of Rachel's hands waver in and out like reception on a distant radio station depending on where she touches leaves Quinn breathlessly dizzy. She coughs, which serves as a too-late reminder that her lungs aren't in the best state at the moment. "What is wrong with you?"
She gives Rachel a weak smile. "Okay, so it was hardly the most graceful landing I've ever made, but to my credit, I was actually aiming for the floor."
"Don't joke!" Rachel chastises, slapping her lightly on the hip, and Quinn can't help but smile a little wider when she feels it. "You could have been seriously hurt! What were you thinking?"
"Um. That it would be inspirational."
"To watch you fall?" Rachel shrieks.
Quinn reaches out, and cups Rachel's cheek to catch her gaze. "To watch me walk."
It's enthralling, to see the emotions that pass over Rachel's face at her correction. How anger melts into shock, then twists into understanding which grows into pride, until Rachel gets so overwhelmed that she bursts into tears all over again. "Oh, Quinn."
Rachel wraps her arms around her, pulling her into a sitting position, and then sobs uncontrollably into the crook of Quinn's neck. It's unclear who's holding whom, at this point—they just hold each other up, giving and taking. Supporting each other.
"Rachel, I'm going to dance at Nationals. And one day—not to long from now—you're going to see your name in lights. And by the time that happens… well, suddenly how hard it was to get there won't matter so much anymore," she murmurs. "It's going to be okay."
Quinn goes over her words again and again as she rubs Rachel's back soothingly, trying to get her to calm down. It's so strange, how different she becomes when Rachel's around. She's never been an optimist by nature; quite the opposite. Her attitude when she falls in physical therapy is always frustration and disappointment—always focusing on the failures, instead of the progress. But now it seems so easy to say that she walked, even if it was only for a moment. To say she'll be dancing in a few months. Rachel always makes it easier for Quinn to see the best in herself.
The only thing she wants, right now, is to have even the slightest bit of success at returning the favor.
She doesn't know how many minutes have ticked by when she hears Rachel tearfully ask "Why can't I ever do anything without you anymore?" into her clavicle.
Quinn doesn't have a word for the emotion that suddenly floods her chest at that question; all she knows is it makes her heart beat faster. "What?" she whispers.
Rachel pulls away a little, so they can look at each other. "I—I couldn't go through with the wedding without you there. And today, it was… Finn gave me flowers, and it was so wonderful to have people supporting me in the audience, but I just—I wished you were there. I missed you. And a part of me feels like… I don't know. Like I wouldn't have messed up if I'd… if you'd…"
Quinn doesn't know what to say. "I'm sorry, Rach. I wanted to be, I just—"
"No, don't be sorry. I'm just being superstitious, and… it's easier to think of excuses than to face what actually happened, I guess."
Quinn nods, and rubs Rachel's shoulder blade gently with her thumb. "I know it feels like the end of the world right now, but I promise that—" She's interrupted by her own phone, the unexpected tones of Barbra herself belting out the intro to Don't Rain on my Parade startling both of them. Quinn flushes. "That's probably Kurt, updating me on the fact that they still haven't found you."
Rachel's expression is inscrutable. "Since when is that your ring tone?"
She can feel herself becoming more and more red. "Um. Since this morning. I changed it, for luck. Though I guess it didn't really…" She doesn't know how to talk about this. "Sorry," she says again.
Rachel just shakes her head before launching herself back into Quinn's embrace, her own arms squeezing tightly as she buries her face in Quinn's chest. "You don't even know how much it means to me that you'd… thank you, Quinn." Her voice is muffled by the fabric of Quinn's shirt, but Quinn hears her all the same: "I'm so glad you're the one that found me."
She can't stop herself from dropping the lightest of kisses onto the crown of Rachel's head at that declaration. "Me too," she vows. "Any time."
"And just so you know… when I make it, you'll have free tickets for life."
It's good that Rachel can't see the look of pride that passes over her face. Quinn did that. If has become when once more, and Quinn breathes easier than she has in days as relief floods her system. "Front row?" she teases, trying to lighten the moment.
Rachel scoffs a little. "Please. You even have to ask? I'm appalled you think I'd settle for any less for you."
Quinn presses her nose into Rachel's hair, savoring the hug while it lasts. "I'll be there."
It's a promise she ends up keeping quite spectacularly.