Author's Note: Eighth addition to the Don't Blink series - following The Taste I'm Touching.
I've wanted to tackle this scene for a long time now, ever since I wrote This Kiss, but it never seemed to fit. So here it finally is, just in time for Mother's Day. Feedback is love.
Disclaimer: I do not own Glee or the characters, I just like to play with them…strictly non-profit.
Under Every Scar
Tear me down, they can't take you out of my thoughts
Under every scar there's a battle I've lost
Will they stop when they see us again?
I can't stop now I know who I am
~Eclipse (All Yours), Metric
Quinn Fabray stopped expecting a happy ending the moment that she'd seen the plus sign appear on the pregnancy test that she'd stolen from a little drug store in Findlay. Before that, it really had seemed like Lucy was on her way to having the fairytale. After all, she'd transformed herself from the overweight, friendless little girl into the queen of William McKinley High School, complete with a handsome (if a little dumb) prince on her arm. It would have been the perfect Cinderella story, even if she actually had been channeling the wicked stepsisters. The thing that Quinn forgot about Cinderella is that—deep down beneath all the flash and packaging—she's still just a poor girl with calloused fingers, staring up at the palace in awe until the clock strikes midnight and the magic disappears.
A positive pregnancy test will surely push a girl back down into the ashes, but Quinn had locked her shoulders in place and kept her head held high during that awful year—or she'd made everyone think so at least. Inside, she'd been struggling to breathe through lungs blackening with despair. Giving up her daughter had cut away pieces of her heart and soul that she will never fully get back.
Sometimes she imagines the path that her life would have taken had she never made that single mistake with Noah Puckerman. She pictures four National Championship titles as captain of the cheerios, homecoming queen and prom queen, virgin Celibacy Club president, and Finn Hudson permanently tethered to her side while she'd crushed the glee club and Rachel Berry under the heel of her pristine white sneaker. That's usually where the fantasy shatters, because she doesn't even want to think about what her life would be like right now without Rachel—without everyone in glee really but mostly Rachel.
Quinn is not a good person. Not really. She knows that she can still be selfish and vindictive and temperamental. Seven years ago, she'd recognized those tendencies in herself and known that she wasn't ready to be a mother. She'd given Beth up to what she'd hoped was a better life, and by some karmic twist or divine retribution, it just happened to be with the woman who'd been responsible for bringing Rachel Berry into the world.
She's still hard-pressed to verbalize exactly why she'd thought that was a good idea—part desperation, part convenience, and part familiarity, she supposes. She'd given birth to Beth before she'd had a workable plan in place and had simply run out of time to make a decision. Shelby had been there at the hospital, and she was Rachel's biological mother, and they'd looked so much alike that it just felt—safe, somehow. Quinn couldn't have begun to fathom the long lasting ramifications that her spur of the moment decision would have on all of them.
Seven years later, and it's all so convoluted and fucked up. Her biological daughter is being raised by the biological mother of her best (recently turned girl)friend, who'd briefly dated her daughter's father, who'd had sex with the woman who'd adopted his daughter and given birth to one of his ex-girlfriends. Quinn's head hurts just thinking about it.
She'd spent the entire first year of Beth's life ignoring her tumultuous emotions and trying to pretend that none of it had ever happened, causing her to spiral down into a pit of self-loathing and unrelenting misery—just in time for Shelby Corcoran to return to Lima and dangle her daughter in front of her like some kind of prize. Quinn hadn't handled that very well at all. She cringes at the memory and feels a fresh wave of pain when she thinks about how she'd nearly ruined her daughter's life for her own selfish need to be loved. Nearly ruined, because Shelby had eventually given Quinn a second (third?) chance. It hadn't come quickly or easily, but she'd finally been able to start a healthy relationship with her little girl.
Beth is seven now, and Shelby has told her all about her bio-mom. Quinn gets frequent emails and phone calls, and she actually spends time with her every month or two. It's awkward and wonderful and painful and cathartic all at the same time. She loves her daughter—so much—and Shelby is a good mother to her, even if she still isn't much of anything to Rachel.
It's a delicate subject—these tangled strings that tie them together outside of their own complicated personal relationship. They've revisited the conversation at every stage, with varying degrees of angst—as rivals-turned-teammates, as kind-of friends, as best friends, and now as lovers. This is the one that hurts the most.
"I don't understand why you feel the need to tell Shelby anything," Rachel complains petulantly. She's standing with her hip cocked, arms crossed, and a deep frown marring her features. They had been cuddled together on Quinn's sofa only moments ago, until Quinn had mentioned wanting to tell Shelby about them, and Rachel had immediately gone on the defensive, disengaging herself from Quinn's arms and pacing across the room.
"Are you being serious right now?" Quinn asks incredulously, staring up at Rachel. She can feel her irritation rising, and she tries to keep her voice from taking on that tone—the one that reminds Rachel too much of their antagonistic past—but she can hear it coloring her words anyway. "We're in a relationship, Rachel…or at least, I thought we were. You can't expect me to keep this part of my life separate from my daughter and Shelby forever."
Rachel huffs out a frustrated breath. "I know that, Quinn. I just don't feel that it's necessary to reveal our fledgling romance to Shelby so soon."
"Why? What's the point in waiting?" Quinn asks testily—and what does Rachel even mean by it being so soon? They've been together for almost three months, and it isn't like Shelby doesn't know that they've been a permanent part of each other's lives for years. She watches Rachel glance to a spot on the floor and lick her lips in a nervous habit that she's had since they were teens, and Quinn's stomach begins to churn with the doubt that creeps into her mind. "Unless…do you…are you having second thoughts about us?" she stammers, hating the way her voice wavers.
Rachel's eyes widen. "No! No, of course I'm not," she assures, rushing back to the sofa and sinking down onto the cushion. She takes Quinn's left hand and cups it between her own. "Baby, I love you. I do. It's just," her brow furrows. "Shelby!" she finally growls in exasperation.
Quinn instantly understands. Shelby had breezed into Rachel's life when she was sixteen, teasing her with the promise of knowing her mother, only to rip it away when she'd changed her mind. Quinn wishes that they'd been closer then so she could have known just how deeply Shelby's rejection had hurt Rachel, but they'd still been keeping each other at arm's length. She'd only gotten a small glimpse of Rachel's pain after the adoption, and Quinn hadn't been nearly as caring as she could have been because she'd been going through her own emotional ordeal at the time.
Shelby's return two years later had really just made it all worse, because for all her talk about wanting to make things right, she still hadn't offered Rachel more than a few empty compliments and her signature on a letter of recommendation before she'd eventually been on her way out of Lima once again. Since then, Shelby's been more of a presence in Quinn's life than in Rachel's, having sought her out midway through her second year at Yale in an attempt to reintroduce Beth to her birth mother. Shelby's tentative relationship with Rachel is still overflowing with blame and disappointment.
"I know," Quinn sighs, taking in the angry pout on Rachel's face. "I know, and I'm sorry, but sweetheart, she's Beth's mom." And it's so hard for her to make that distinction when the difference between a mother and a mom causes them both so much pain.
"And you need to have a relationship with your daughter," Rachel finishes sympathetically. "Do you think I don't realize that, Quinn? I know how much you love her, and I'm so happy you get to be a part of her life. It's just the idea of telling Shelby anything intimate about my life…about us," she trails off with a frown, releasing Quinn's hand and pushing her fingers through her hair.
"She's going to find out eventually. I mean, we're not…hiding this," Quinn points between them. They aren't exactly shouting their love from the top of a mountain for the sake of Rachel's Broadway career, but they aren't going to lock themselves away behind a closet door either. "We told Santana."
"You told Santana," Rachel reminds her with a half-smile teasing at her lips.
"And you told Kurt," she counters with smirk, "and your dads, and the entire cast of West Side Story."
Rachel sits up straight, crossing her arms and tipping up her chin in a classic picture of affronted indignation. "That simply isn't true. I told a few select individuals. I can't help it if backstage gossip flows more easily than Mr. Schuester's hair gel."
Quinn tries to stifle her laughter, sliding closer to Rachel and wrapping a possessive arm around her waist, delighted when Rachel relaxes against her. "My point is that we're not keeping our relationship a secret, and I," she pauses, feeling unexpectedly nervous. "I'd really like for us to be able to spend time together with Beth." The warm weight against her side abruptly disappears as Rachel shifts a few inches away. Her hands are palm down against the cushions next to her thighs, and she's looking resolutely at the hardwood floor. Quinn swallows thickly. "Rachel?"
"I'm not sure I'm ready for that," she admits softly.
Ready for—? Oh. Quinn gets it. She does. She just can't help feeling disappointed.
"Wow," she mutters, standing up and pacing over to the window because she needs a little distance right now. She takes a breath and turns around to face Rachel. "You know, it's not like she'd be calling you Mommy or anything. She doesn't even call me that," Quinn bites out. She doesn't know why she's getting defensive; she only knows it sucks that the woman she's in love with clearly doesn't want to be involved with her kid—and Quinn isn't even a full-time mother! "And anyway, you didn't seem to have a problem last November when you spent the afternoon with us at the zoo," she accuses, horrified to feel tears pooling in her eyes.
It's been one of Quinn's fondest memories—introducing Beth to Rachel. Granted, Shelby had been there too in an attempt to make her own inroads on her relationship with Rachel, and maybe Rachel had paid more attention to Beth in an effort to avoid talking to Shelby about anything important, but it had still been one of the best days that Quinn had ever experienced. They'd walked through the Central Park Zoo, watching Beth's delighted face as she'd looked at the animals while Quinn had cut off a dozen of Rachel's mini-rants about the inhumane nature of zoos.
Later, after Shelby and Beth had caught a train back to their home in New Jersey, Rachel had told Quinn how beautiful her daughter is and how much she reminds her of Quinn. Is it so wrong to want to share a day like that with Rachel again?
"That was different," Rachel argues, shaking her head.
"Because we weren't together then, Quinn," she cries, slapping her hands against the sofa cushions. "I was just your weird friend Rachel who looks an awful lot like her mom. I didn't need her to like me."
Quinn's mouth falls open as she gazes down at Rachel's wide, fearful eyes. Her heart turns to mush at the realization that Rachel is hesitating, not because she doesn't want to be involved and not because she doesn't trust in their future together, but because her relationship with Beth (and Shelby) from this point forward will really matter. She's afraid to screw it up, and that thought has Quinn standing over Rachel, reaching down for her hands and dragging her up from the sofa. She sighs in relief when she feels Rachel's arms slip around her waist.
"She does, though," Quinn whispers after a moment, and Rachel lifts her head to meet Quinn's eyes, brows quirked in confusion. "Like you," Quinn clarifies with a soft smile, thinking of the way Beth had hung on Rachel's words and giggled at her dramatics. "Anyway, you're wrong. You've never been just my weird friend," she brushes a strand of dark hair away from a tan cheek and tenderly strokes her fingers across the skin. "And Beth knows exactly who you are and why you look like Shelby."
Rachel nods in acknowledgment, sighing. "You know that this," she squeezes Quinn tighter to indicate their intimate embrace, "is just going to confuse the issue even more."
Well, yeah. Obviously. But, "I don't care. I'm in love with you. I want to share my life with you, Rach. All of it, including the part with Beth."
She feels Rachel's breath hitch against her and sees those dark, serious eyes sparkle with emotion. Sharing Beth and all of the crazy, turbulent emotions that the mention of her name evokes has always been difficult for Quinn, but she wants to with Rachel. She needs to. It's ingrained in her very being—this compulsion to drop all of her defenses and open herself up completely to the woman in her arms. Sometimes it bites her in the ass and leaves her broken and hurting, but other times, it gives her such a sense of peace, making her believe that she'll never be alone again.
Quinn watches a tender smile slowly bloom over lush lips in the seconds before she's able to feel and taste that same smile. Every kiss from Rachel—no matter how brief or how chaste—always makes Quinn feel like she's coming home, and she suspects that won't ever change.
Rachel leans back, still wearing that pretty smile that's just for Quinn, and whispers, "Okay. We'll tell Shelby."
It's Quinn's breath that hitches this time. "Really?"
"Yeah," Rachel nods.
Rachel rolls her eyes. "Don't thank me yet. I doubt that this will be a particularly pleasant experience."
She's probably right, but Quinn isn't going to think about the negatives right now. All that matters is that Rachel is in her arms and they're both looking forward to building their future together. It feels amazing. She has to believe that Shelby will see how happy they are and be happy for them.
Quinn slides her hands down Rachel's back until she's cupping her delectable ass and grins down at her. "I can think of something that is a pleasant experience. Very pleasant," she purrs suggestively, squeezing the perfect, round globes beneath her palms.
Rachel's smile turns sexy. "Hmm…care to elucidate, Ms. Fabray?"
"I'd rather demonstrate," she murmurs against Rachel's lips, claiming a kiss that is neither chaste nor brief that makes Rachel surrender so beautifully.
With a moan, Quinn adjusts her hold on Rachel until she can lift her off of her feet. Rachel squeals in surprised delight and clutches at Quinn's shoulders, laughing against her mouth as Quinn inelegantly carries her into the bedroom where she proceeds with the demonstration in intimate detail. It's so much more than pleasant.
Ten days later, Quinn is sitting next to a fidgeting Rachel at a Starbucks in Penn Plaza. It's not her favorite coffee shop and certainly not Rachel's, but it's neutral ground that's convenient for Shelby, and meeting for coffee seems like the safest plan of action. Well, except for the part where Rachel is hyped up on extra caffeine. As much as Quinn loves her, she still has the occasional moment when she wants to tie Rachel to her chair and tape her mouth shut—and not in the kinky, might-be-fun-to-try-it-once kind of way.
She makes a valiant effort to keep her mind from drifting to inappropriate places because they're not only in public but waiting for the woman who gave birth to Rachel. Quinn had been the one to call and offer this invitation, admittedly sidestepping her true motive by implying that she wanted to help Shelby strengthen her relationship with Rachel. It wasn't exactly a lie. She does want that—for Rachel's sake. Okay, for her own sake too. They're one big, dysfunctional, extended family after all.
Quinn knows the exact moment that Shelby enters the building from the way Rachel stills—her nervous energy transforming into silent watchfulness. The woman still carries that same air of confidence and sophistication that she'd had the first time Quinn had seen her, commanding a stage at Carmel High. The physical resemblance between Shelby and Rachel has only grown more pronounced as Rachel has matured. They're both beautiful women, and when Quinn looks at Shelby now, she can perfectly envision what Rachel will look like in twenty years. She's certainly not disappointed.
Shelby smiles (and maybe it's a little forced around the edges) when she reaches them. "Hello, Quinn. Rachel," she adds with a nod, dragging out the chair that is opposite of Quinn. It's telling that she'd rather meet Quinn's eyes than Rachel's.
"Hello, Shelby," Rachel responds evenly.
"It's so good to see you. It's been awhile."
"Nearly nine months," Rachel coolly informs her, dropping her voice as she mutters, "which is particularly ironic, if you ask me."
Quinn sighs. "Rach…"
"I've seen your show," Shelby says, ignoring Rachel's belligerent comment. "You make a wonderful Maria."
Rachel purses her lips, and her eyes flash. Quinn feels herself tense, because she can already hear the words that Rachel is about to say before they even leave her mouth. "Thank you, but it might have meant more had you bothered to come and tell me in person."
Against her better judgment, Rachel had sent two tickets to Shelby for opening night, only to see those seats remain empty. She'd sworn it would be the absolute last time she would ever reach out to Shelby Corcoran.
A look of remorse passes over Shelby's features, but instead of an apology, she only says, "I'm telling you now."
Rachel huffs in annoyance, leaning forward across the table before firing back, "Because Quinn invited you for coffee, otherwise you wouldn't have bothered."
"Rachel, please?" Quinn begs, gripping the edge of the table to keep from grabbing Rachel's hand. As much as she wants to be supportive of her girlfriend's mother issues, her own temper is sparking at how argumentative Rachel is being. This is not how today is supposed to go.
"This was a bad idea," Shelby murmurs, shaking her head and grabbing her purse. "Maybe I should just leave."
"No," Quinn insists, pressing her right hand flat to the table in front of Shelby. "Please stay," she asks as nicely as she's able before she turns to Rachel and growls her name in a clear warning. Quinn doesn't think she's been this irritated with her attitude since those early days of high school.
Rachel sighs, slumping back in her chair. "Fine. I apologize," she says, refusing to meet Shelby's eyes as she stares at her coffee cup and picks at the plastic of the lid with her fingernail. "I'm being unnecessarily antagonistic. You don't owe me any maternal attention. We aren't here to rehash any of our longstanding personal issues."
"Then why exactly are we here?" Shelby asks in confusion. "You're obviously not any more willing to have a relationship with me than you were the last time that we attempted this. I'm not sure what you're hoping to accomplish."
That gets Rachel's attention, and her head snaps up. "What I'm hoping to accomplish? You can hardly blame me for not jumping at the opportunity to finally be acknowledged as your daughter when you're the one who'd spent years thinking that we should admire one another from a distance."
"I've apologized for that, Rachel. I...didn't know how to be a part of your life when you were already so grown up."
"Well, now I don't need you to be, so I suppose it worked out for the best."
Shelby visibly recoils, dropping her eyes to the table before she slowly nods. "I guess I deserve that," she admits, finally turning her attention back to Quinn, who is taking shallow breaths through a clenched jaw as her entire plan for this meeting gets flushed down the fucking toilet. "Quinn, I appreciate your attempt to," Shelby pauses, shaking her head and shrugging, "well, whatever you're trying to do."
"Rachel and I are together," she blurts out, stopping Shelby before she can leave.
"And I'm supposed to be the tactless one," Rachel mutters into the uncomfortable silence that follows. Quinn bites back her retort because—hello? This entire trainwreck of a meeting was derailed entirely by one Miss Rachel Barbra Berry, but this isn't the time to address that—not while Shelby is sitting across from them with a shocked expression on her face.
"Excuse me?" she finally manages.
Quinn drags in an unsteady breath and tries to swallow around the sudden tightness of her throat. "We're together," she repeats. "In a relationship," she clarifies, barely hearing her own words over the pounding of her heart. She nervously runs her tongue over her lips, feeling Rachel gently coax her fingers from their death grip on the edge of the table to tangle them with her own—right there in full view on the tabletop—and Quinn instantly calms. "I'm in love with Rachel, and she's in love with me, and we thought that you should know, because I'd like…we'd like…to be able to tell Beth eventually and…"
"No," Shelby interrupts, staring blankly at their joined hands.
"No?" Quinn echoes.
Shelby's eyes snap up and lock onto Rachel. "Is this a joke?" she demands.
"I assure you that it isn't. I'm very much in love with Quinn." Despite the tension surrounding them, Quinn can't help the familiar flutter that comes with Rachel's declaration.
Dark eyebrows furrow as Shelby stares at her daughter. "But you've only dated men."
"Yes," Rachel says very slowly, "but now I'm in love with a woman, and we're together in every definition of the word."
Shelby narrows her eyes on Rachel before turning on Quinn, "And just how in the hell do you expect me to explain this to Beth?"
It takes everything in Quinn not to react to Shelby's tone, because maintaining her relationship with Beth is the most important thing, and she's learned the hard way not to cross Shelby if she wants to be involved with her daughter. "Obviously, we don't have to explain everything right away," Quinn reasons. "She already knows that I'm gay, so I don't see why she wouldn't understand…"
"Of course you don't see!" Shelby snaps, glancing away and huffing in agitation before she composes herself and lowers her voice to an angry hiss. "What were you even thinking, Quinn? Out of all the women you could have pursued, you pick my daughter!"
The accusation knocks the breath out of Quinn. The way Shelby is looking at her—like she's some kind of—of— "Wait a minute," she starts, but her voice is shaky and weak, and her words are lost in Rachel's outrage.
"You have some nerve, claiming me as your daughter now!"
"You are my daughter, Rachel," Shelby reminds her sharply. "And so is Beth. And this is," she looks back and forth between them, shaking her head in disgust. "This is just…"
"Consider very carefully what you're about to say, Shelby," Rachel warns darkly.
Her hand tightens around Quinn's, but Quinn barely feels it, because that look on Shelby's face is one she's seen before—right before Shelby had cut her off from Beth for two years. For the first time, Quinn considers just how badly this could end for her. She'd known that Shelby would be shocked like she had been when Quinn had come out to her three years ago, but she didn't expect to be looked at like she's some predatory bitch out to corrupt Shelby's firstborn.
How could she have been so naïve? So complacent? Did she really think that finally being loved by Rachel would make her invincible?
Shelby closes her eyes and lifts her hands to her head, rubbing at her temples and taking a few deep breaths before she finally looks at Quinn again. "I don't want Beth to be confused by this," she says calmly. "I have to consider what's best for her."
Quinn's heart is racing, and she feels like she's going to throw up. "What are you saying?"
"Quinn, I've trusted you...allowed you to be involved in Beth's life, but I can't," she pauses, shaking her head. "This is just too much."
"Are you telling me that I can't see her anymore?" she asks in a small voice, tears stinging her eyes.
"I don't know what I'm telling you, Quinn. I need to think about this. I can't just tell my daughter that her biological mother and my biological daughter are," Shelby dismissively waves a hand between them, unable or unwilling to finish her thought, "whatever it is you are."
"Lovers, Shelby," Rachel informs her without hesitation. "Partners. A couple. However you care to phrase it."
Shelby frowns. "You know, Rachel, I went through a similar phase when I first came to New York. It's natural to be curious, and you and Quinn were already friends..."
Shelby's voice is a viscous buzz in Quinn's ears, and she squeezes her eyes closed and grips Rachel's hand as tightly as she can in a desperate attempt to make this all just stop. The idea of being just a phase to Rachel is her deepest fear, and listening to Shelby talk about it so casually is killing her. She can feel the burn of tears over her cheeks, and she can't stop the pathetic whimper that slips from her lips.
"This is not a phase," Rachel growls, and Quinn immediately feels a warm, insistent hand cupping her cheek to gently coax her head to the side. She opens her eyes to see Rachel staring at her intensely, every line of her face drawn into an expression of love and affection that moves her more effectively than any words. "It's not a phase, baby," she repeats earnestly. "You know that."
She does—she feels it every time Rachel touches her, hears it in every sigh, sees it in every smile, and tastes it in every kiss. Her fear melts away, and she finds her center in those expressive brown eyes, nodding to let Rachel know that she's okay. Rachel smiles softly and wipes away Quinn's tears with her thumb.
Grounded once again, Quinn replays Shelby's words in her mind and allows her hurt to give way to anger. Shelby Corcoran has no right pass judgment on her—not when so many of her own life choices have been so fucking selfish and irresponsible. Taking a fortifying breath, she levels a hard glare on the woman, but not before she watches Rachel's eyes widen in recognition. "You know what, Shelby? You're a bitch."
She ignores Rachel, taking pleasure from the surprise on Shelby's face. "You've always been a bitch. You were a bitch to Rachel when you barged into her life seven years ago, and you were a bitch to me when you brought Beth back into mine and tried to blackmail me into behaving the way you wanted me to. And you've got absolutely no room to judge my relationship with Rachel after what you did with Puck."
Shelby blinks, mouth falling open in shock. "That was a one-time mistake."
"But this isn't," Quinn vows passionately, pressing a hand to her heart. "I've been in love with Rachel since I was seventeen, Shelby. It isn't a mistake...or a phase. It's my life. Our life," she stresses, glancing at Rachel to find her nodding in encouragement. "Beth is going to find out about Rachel and me sooner or later, because our relationship isn't going to disappear just because you'd rather ignore it. And if you try to stop me from seeing Beth now, you're going to have to explain why, and I'll be damned if I let you put the blame on me. I won't stop emailing her or sending her letters and gifts for her birthday and Christmas, and unless you stop Puck from seeing her too, she's always going to know that I love her, and that you're the reason that she can't see me anymore."
"Oh, and I will certainly not be speaking to you any longer," Rachel adds haughtily. "Not that it will make much difference to you."
Quinn collapses back against her chair and waits. Shelby is staring at them with an unreadable expression, but she certainly doesn't look at all happy. "I'm sorry, but I need time to process all of this," she finally says. "Surely you can both understand that."
Quinn's stomach rolls unpleasantly, and she sighs shakily. "Yeah, I understand perfectly. Once again, it's about what you want, and what you think is best."
"Quinn, baby, don't," Rachel pleads softly before she addresses her mother. "Shelby, I understand that your first concern is for your...for Beth, but Quinn's relationship with me, no matter how inconvenient you may find it, doesn't actually affect you or Beth in a negative way. I'm not her sister, and I'm not your daughter in any way that really matters. Don't make me the reason that Quinn loses her connection with Beth. I will never forgive you if you do that to me. To us."
There's a subtle shift in Shelby's expression as she looks at Rachel, and her voice has the tiniest trace of wonderment when she says, "You really are in love with her."
It isn't a question, but Rachel answers anyway with a simple. "Yes."
Shelby nods. "I'm not going to keep you from Beth, Quinn. She...she loves you…and Noah...and I don't want to disappoint her. But I will be the one to decide when...or if...she's exposed to your...relationship."
Relief is instantly smothered by aggravation. "So I can still see Beth as long I don't include Rachel. That's bullsh..."
"Fine," Rachel rushes out over her, nodding in agreement. "Perfectly acceptable."
No, it isn't. "Rachel?"
"Baby steps, Quinn. Shelby asked for time, and we need to give that to her."
Quinn knows she's right. She knows that keeping the status quo is all she can hope for right now, especially after how close she came to being cut off again, but she doesn't have to like it. "Whatever."
"I should probably go," Shelby says. "I think we've all had enough drama for the day. We'll talk soon, Quinn," she promises as she stands. "Rachel, regardless of what you believe, I do love you, and I want you to be happy."
"I am happy, Shelby," she tells her without any hesitation, and Shelby nods in acceptance before she turns and makes her way out of the Starbucks.
Quinn watches her walk away. The adrenaline in her system begins to rapidly fade, leaving her body trembling in the aftermath of too many emotions in too short a time. "Baby?" Rachel queries uncertainly.
"Can we go now?" she asks listlessly.
Rachel frowns and lets go of Quinn's hand. "O-of course."
They gather their purses and walk out in silence. Quinn is glad to be outside of the building, and she sucks in lungfuls of fresh air the moment they hit the sidewalk. Rachel flags down a taxi without even asking, and she gives the driver her address. Quinn stares out the window, twisting the straps of her purse between her fingers while she mentally goes over every second of their meeting with Shelby and tries to figure out if there was a way to change the outcome. She knows there wouldn't have been.
Even if Rachel had never said a word when Shelby first sat down, the woman still would have reacted the same way. In her mind, Quinn's relationship with Rachel is wrong and somehow incestuous—that had been made perfectly clear—even though Quinn doesn't share one common drop of blood or legal tie with Rachel. Quinn suspects that even if Beth wasn't a factor, Shelby still wouldn't approve, because she obviously finds something about Quinn lacking. It hurts like hell.
She can feel Rachel's eyes on her, but she stays blessedly silent for the entire ride uptown. When they're alone behind a locked door, Quinn tosses her purse and collapses onto Rachel's sofa, kicking away her shoes and dropping her head back against the cushion in defeat. She refuses to cry again, even if she wants to. She feels the shift of the sofa beside her and the warmth of Rachel's body presses into her side.
"You were right," Quinn admits sadly. "We never should have told Shelby."
"No, you were right, Quinn. We needed to be honest with her."
She lifts her head and stares at Rachel, frowning. "And what did that accomplish? Other than giving her yet another reason to consider keeping me from Beth."
"She said she wouldn't."
"But she wanted to. I could hear it in her voice. She thinks that I...that I seduced you," Quinn chokes out, shaking her head. "That I'm just some passing fancy of yours, because the idea of you actually loving someone like me is just ridiculous."
Rachel scrambles closer, draping a leg across Quinn's lap until she's straddling her, and cups her cheeks with both palms so that she can gaze down into her eyes with fierce determination. "None of that is true, Quinn. You know how much I love you. Shelby was just...reacting. You're not going to lose Beth, and you're not going to lose me."
Quinn sighs, wrapping her arms around Rachel's waist. "I just can't have both of you together, apparently."
"Shelby will most likely come around eventually, but even if she doesn't, Beth is your daughter, Quinn. I'll never begrudge you time spent alone with her. She's the only girl in the world that I don't mind sharing you with," Rachel says with a grin, dipping down to brush a kiss across Quinn's lips.
It's amazing how such a simple thing can quiet her discontent so easily. "Thank you," she whispers against Rachel's mouth.
Rachel laughs, her smile growing wider. "Baby, that doesn't really take any effort on my part. You might as well be thanking me for breathing."
"Well, I'm grateful for that too," Quinn drawls with a purposely arched brow, eyes raking down over the body on top of her and lingering on the pert breasts that are rising and falling with every breath Rachel takes.
Rachel grins wryly, rolling her eyes. "I appreciate the sentiment, but I'd rather you stop beating yourself up over what happened today."
"I'm not," Quinn lies.
"You are. I can actually see your demons chasing you behind those beautiful eyes."
She laughs humorlessly. "Yeah, well...self-flagellation is kind of my thing, Rach."
"I know," she nods, tenderly brushing back the hair from Quinn's forehead. "But it's kind of my job now to make sure no one hurts you...including you."
"Your job, huh?" Quinn asks with a soft smile.
Rachel nods. "Yeah. It's a pretty sweet gig too," she says, shifting in Quinn's lap and pressing their bodies closer as she plants a lingering kiss to the corner of Quinn's mouth. "Really amazing benefits," she purrs.
"God, I love you," Quinn growls, tangling her fingers into dark hair and feasting on full, luscious lips. The details of their lousy afternoon grow fuzzy and distant, and Quinn forgets everything but Rachel.
"See," Rachel breathes when their lips part, "job perk."
Quinn gazes up at her through hooded eyes, a lazy smile curving her mouth. "Rachel?"
"Shut up and get back to work."
Rachel laughingly does just that, and somewhere in the haze of passion that follows, Quinn realizes that happy endings aren't really that important at all—it's the happy middles that count.