Author's Note: This is a two part story, broken for length. It's for a prompt from TS, which I don't normally do because my writing usually veers off course from the initial idea. I'm sure this isn't what she expected, but it's where the muse took me. I'm sure you'll be able to guess the prompt soon enough. It's only quickly edited, so as always, if you catch mistakes, please let me know so I can fix them.

Warning: There is a potential spoiler in Part II for season 4 episodes, based on unsubstantiated internet rumors.

Disclaimer: I do not own Glee or the characters, nor do I own Friendzone; I just like to play with them…strictly non-profit.


Love Less

If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more.
But you know what I am. You hear nothing but truth from me.
~Jane Austen, Emma


Part I: Application


It's late—well past midnight—and Quinn is sitting at her desk with bleary, weary eyes, squinting at the gray on black screen that's casting a soft glow in her darkened bedroom. She's already entered her name, and her address, and her current occupation of full-time college student. Her fingers hover over the keys as she watches the cursor blink mockingly under the text that says, name of the person you have a crush on. On a shaky breath, she presses down on the keys, rapidly typing in the letters that seal her fate, and quickly tabbing on to the next line before she gives herself too much time to think about what she's doing.

She really hasn't been thinking since she clicked into this page, and truthfully, she doesn't want to. She's spent too many years thinking, and over-thinking, and it hasn't gotten her anything but a headache. She's seven weeks away from a brand new start—another brand new start—and she's going to make this one count. It's a whim, a flight of fancy, a desperate last second Hail Mary (she wasn't just looking pretty while she was standing along the sidelines at all those football games.) This is definitely not something that anyone would expect Quinn Fabray to do.

She hesitates again when she's asked to classify her relationship with her crush; acquaintance, friend, best friend, or other. She resists the urge to click other, because she doesn't particularly want to type 'rival turned kind of friend with whom I always seem to share these deep meaningful moments in odd places' in the line requiring an explanation. So she toggles back and forth between friend and best friend for thirty-eight seconds before she finally settles on friend.

After that, things get complicated, because she does have to describe their relationship, and rationality settles in until she's pointing the mouse at the little red ex at the top of the page, ready to forget this whole insane notion, but then she thinks about moving to New Haven, and those Metro North passes, and having to silently watch some college guy breeze in and so easily take the chance that she's too afraid to take. Her finger moves away from the mouse, and she's typing again, pouring out all of their complicated history into the tiny spaces on the website. She doesn't allow herself to hesitate at all when she hits submit.

It's only when the confirmation screen appears that her stomach bottoms out completely, and her lungs constrict, and she experiences a desperate urge to undo what's she's done. Nervous laughter trickles into the quiet room, and she drops her head into her hands and presses the palms hard against her eyes.

They'll never pick me anyway, she reasons. She laughs again, this time feeling much calmer, and she powers down her computer.

She falls face first into her mattress and closes her eyes, forcing her mind into a pleasant, fuzzy blank. She doesn't consider that the six wine coolers she drank at Santana's house earlier might be responsible for her quick descent into sleep, and she certainly doesn't consider that they're to blame for her sudden bout of bravery.

xox

The phone call comes in early August, long after Quinn has mostly forgotten about her foolish flight of fancy. She's lounging on a chaise by Santana's swimming pool, rereading Emma for the twelfth time—possibly more, she's kind of lost count. She's making thin comparisons between her own life and the characters, only she's cast herself in the role of Mr. Knightley.

She picks up the phone, expecting it to be Rachel, and prepares to hear another mini-rant about the lack of quality performers in her summer theater group, or a semi-panicked speech about her inability to make any kind of positive contact with her Nyada roommate (who is apparently ignoring her existence, although Quinn suspects that the girl is just frightened for her life after Rachel's initial five-thousand word introductory email.)

These conversations have become a habit, and Quinn knows that they're mostly a coping mechanism for Rachel at this point. She came home from New York in the last week of June with a fake smile, dull eyes, and a naked ring finger after touring the campus, sightseeing, and generally trying to get over the fact that Finn Hudson had called off their wedding, broken her heart, and immediately put her on a train to New York without bothering to discuss any of it with her beforehand. Quinn was pissed on Rachel's behalf when she'd found out the extent of Finn's deceit, but more so once she'd actually mustered up the courage to call Rachel and ask how New York was treating her. They'd talked for two hours. Well, Rachel had cried for fifty-three minutes, and then they'd talked. They've talked every day since.

Quinn is trying to be a good friend, which isn't particularly easy when all she wants to do is remind Rachel that she was right about everything, and that Rachel should have listened to her back in January. It also isn't easy when she's recently fallen headfirst into the realization that she's slightly in love with her supposed friend.

Quinn knows that Rachel isn't over Finn. She even knows that Rachel doesn't really consider the relationship completely over, claiming that nothing is really decided. Quinn thinks that the fact that Finn is already at Fort Benning and hasn't bothered to call Rachel since he canceled their wedding is a pretty obvious indication that they're broken up. Everyone but Rachel agrees.

Still, in the past two months, one thing has become clear. The mention of New York never fails to brighten Rachel's eyes, and turn her smile blinding. In those moments that she talks about the city, Finn Hudson is nowhere in her thoughts. Kurt thinks it's just a matter of time before she'll get over him. Santana thinks she needs to find a real man, and once she does, she won't remember what the hell she ever saw in Finncompetent.

It's that notion that drove Quinn to drown her sorrows in wine coolers on a sweltering, July afternoon, ignoring Santana and Brittany as they'd made out on the sofa, and focusing instead on the marathon of pseudo-hip reality show reruns playing that day on MTV. And it's that notion that had her clicking into the web page in the dark of the night. And it's ultimately that notion that leads to her holding her phone, listening to some man introduce himself as Josh Allouche, and congratulate her for being chosen for season three of Friendzone.

Quinn nearly drops the phone. She sucks in a breath and holds it, shifting in the chaise until her back is turned to Santana as Josh Allouche starts talking about schedules and camera tests and contacting Rachel Berry. Quinn whimpers, and Josh pauses on the other end of the call, asking if she's okay. When she fails to answer immediately, he asks if she's still interested in participating. Quinn forces herself to breathe again, and she has to fight against her basic self-preservation instinct to say no, hang up the phone, and pretend none of this ever happened.

But then she remembers that she has less than a month before Rachel leaves for New York and starts meeting new people, and making new friends, and dating again; all while Quinn is eighty miles away in New Haven. She remembers that she still hasn't told Rachel how she really feels about her. She remembers that she hasn't managed to come out to her mother or any of her friends. And then she remembers that she really, really wants to start fresh at Yale, and give herself a real, fighting chance at happiness, and that means finally being honest—with everyone—even if it takes one more little deception to get there.

So Quinn clears her throat, and manages to squeak out, "Yes. Yes. I'm interested. Thank you. I didn't…I wasn't expecting," she trails off, shaking her head. "Thank you," she says again, and Josh chuckles.

"It's okay, Quinn. I'm used to hearing just about every reaction you can imagine when I make these phone calls. It's actually one of my favorite parts of the job." He goes on to inform her that he'll send a follow up email with all the details, and that the crew is tentatively scheduled to arrive in Lima at the end of next week.

"So soon?" she asks, mouth dry and hands shaking.

"Well, you did indicate on your application that you'd both be starting college at the end of the month, so we put you first on our schedule. Is that a problem?"

"No. No problem," she whispers, and then thanks him again. When the call disconnects, she clutches the phone to her racing heart and closes her eyes, excited and terrified and hopeful and dismayed, all at the same time.

She finally turns around to find Santana studying her with that same contemplative look that used to signal a pending attempt to stab Quinn in the back and steal her position on the top of the pyramid. Again, Quinn's instinct is to evade and defend, but she's just agreed to go on National television and confess that she's in love with Rachel Berry, so it really doesn't make much difference if Santana finds out about it now, or after the camera crew shows up and starts following Quinn around Lima.

So when Santana quirks an eyebrow and asks, "What's up with the mysterious caller routine," Quinn takes a breath and meets her eyes unblinkingly.

"Do you remember that afternoon we spent watching Friendzone?"

xox

Santana thinks that Quinn has lost her mind. She gapes at her for five solid minutes before she manages to speak, and then it's, "what the hell are you thinking?"

She reminds Quinn how she was outed in a television campaign ad, and how much it sucked. She reminds Quinn that no one even knows she's into girls, except Santana and Brittany because they actually pay attention to the shit Quinn thinks she's being sneaky about. She reminds Quinn that her big lesbian crush on Rachel Berry, obvious as it has been, is going to completely blindside Rachel because she's an idiot. And she reminds Quinn that Rachel isn't exactly over Finn yet, or exactly into girls.

None of this is any big revelation to Quinn.

"I have to do this, Santana," she quietly insists. "I'm so tired of lying, and pretending. I can't spend the rest of my life being Rachel's friend and acting like it doesn't tear my heart to pieces every single time she talks about some new guy that she's met, or how much Finn wants her back for the hundredth time," she spits, cutting an agitated hand through the air before she slaps it against the seat of her chaise, curling her fingers into the material. She shakes her head and takes an unsteady breath, "At least this way, I'll know if there's even a chance, and if there isn't, then Rachel will know why I can't hear about any new romances until I've had enough time to get over her."

"And eight million people watch you crash and burn," Santana reminds her far more gently than Quinn expects.

Quinn's heart clenches at the thought, but she's gotten pretty used to disappointment by now, so she sighs and shrugs, "And my mother disowns me, and have to get a job to supplement the scholarship I managed to get for graduating despite being knocked up, and maybe I'll meet a girl at Yale who saw me get crushed on Friendzone, and offers to mend my broken heart," she finishes with a sad smile. "Or maybe none of that happens, and I just go on with my life. Either way, I'll be out, and I won't have keep living in fear of the moment when everyone finds out the truth about me."

Santana remains silent, but Quinn can tell by the look on her face that she understands. "I just want to live my life honestly, Santana," she confesses, voice breaking against her will, "otherwise I…I'll never really be happy."

"Leave it to Quinn Fabray to go big, or go home," Santana half-heartedly jokes, slipping into the space beside her and wrapping her into a one armed hug. "You never can do anything unless it's completely over-the-top."

Quinn huffs out a soundless laugh, because she knows it's true. She didn't just lose her virginity; she got pregnant in the process. She didn't just cheat on one boyfriend, but two, and lied outrageously to both of them. She didn't just lose out on Prom Queen once, but twice—the first time to a gay guy, and the second time, she secretly gifted it to Rachel. She didn't just change her image; she annihilated it with pink hair and a tattoo. And she didn't just wreck her car on the way to Rachel's wedding; she wrecked it spectacularly and nearly died in the process. Why shouldn't her coming out be every bit as epic?

"Well, Rachel should appreciate the drama of it all," she whispers, closing her eyes and leaning her head on Santana's shoulder. Go big or go home. She's sure she must be due to win for a change.

xox

Two days later, Quinn is thinking that she should have gone home. The email that Josh sent included a release form that Rachel needs to sign before the shoot can be finalized. The premise is simple; tell Rachel that she's agreed to go on a televised dream date, and ask if Rachel will agree to let them film her as Quinn's supportive friend. Quinn is banking on Rachel's inherent need for stardom and self-promotion to win out over any concerns she might have. She isn't counting on how protective Rachel has suddenly become of Quinn.

"I simply can't believe that you, of all people, would agree to this kind of…of…exploitation, Quinn."

Quinn's eyebrow lifts unconsciously as she watches Rachel's hands fly around to emphasize her concerns. "It's just a dating show," she mutters defensively, thinking that her big chance is circling the drain.

"But you don't need to resort to this sort of…reality television drivel," and Quinn flinches at Rachel's opinion, because she kind of likes Friendzone—although Rachel doesn't realize that's the real name of the show that they're talking about. "You…you're…well, you're you," Rachel stutters inelegantly, holding out her hands in supplication. "Anyone would be so honored to have you, Quinn," and her dark eyes take on that soft look of admiration that Quinn both loathes and adores. This is why she needs to do this, because Rachel doesn't comprehend that each and every one of her innocent compliments is sweet torture to Quinn's aching heart.

Quinn honestly doesn't know how Rachel feels about her. At times, she's so certain that all Rachel wants is friendship, born of admiration for the former, popular head cheerleader. Other times, she'll look at Quinn so intensely, or say something that seems far too intimate for simple, platonic friendship, and Quinn will let herself believe that maybe this isn't all one sided. Rachel sends out so many frustratingly mixed signals that Quinn just wants to shake her and beg her to stop—stop calling her beautiful, and stop telling her how good she is, and how much she means to her, and God, please stop hugging her like she never wants to let go.

"I just don't understand," Rachel exclaims, throwing her hands up in the air. "Whom are you so interested in that you'd agree to some awful date for an equally awful television show?" Rachel wants to know, crossing her arms under her breasts.

"You've never even seen the show, Rach. It could be really good," Quinn reasons, side-stepping the question.

"It's on MTV," she scoffs, rolling her eyes. "How good can it really be? And anyway, you deserve so much better than any boy who needs some dream date on a cheap dating show to impress him," Rachel insists, and her eyes are sparkling with endearing sincerity in that way that they always do in moments like this. "You're going to Yale in a few weeks, and," Rachel pauses, offering a small smile that seems just a little bit sad to Quinn, "and you'll meet new people, and you said that you didn't want any anchors from your past weighing you down," she reminds Quinn in an adamant tone. "What changed?"

Quinn sighs, "I changed. Life is too short," she reasons, thinking of her accident, and regretting that she mentioned it the moment that she sees the pain flash in Rachel's eyes.

Rachel swallows heavily, glancing away. "I just think you should wait," she admits quietly.

"I'm tired of waiting," Quinn says honestly, and she squashes the urge to remind Rachel that she failed to take Quinn's advice to wait on more than one occasion. "I want to do this, Rachel, and I'd really love it if you would support me."

Rachel stares at Quinn for a long moment, pursing her lips thoughtfully. "Why exactly do you need me to be involved in this again?" she asks warily.

Quinn shrugs, "The show wants me to have a friend to talk to on camera before the date. I guess it's easy exposition for them, and I honestly don't trust anyone else not to make me look bad," and that part is the absolute truth. Santana ended up being far more supportive than Quinn had imagined she'd be, but she'd also made it pretty clear that she expects Quinn to humiliate herself on national television. Quinn can only imagine the colorful insults and anecdotes that she'll be all too happy to say on camera if given the opportunity.

"You're not doing this for Joe, are you?" Rachel demands sharply.

Quinn laughs at that, shaking her head. "No. I promise you, it's not for any silly boy that we went to high school with."

Rachel drops her eyes to the floor, briefly chewing on her lip before she finally sighs, "If you're really determined to go through with this ill-advised venture, then I suppose I'll have to agree."

Quinn smiles in relief, unable to resist the urge to close the distance between them and wrap Rachel up in a grateful hug. She loves the way Rachel feels in her arms, but she doesn't let herself linger. "Thank you so much, Rachel. You won't regret this," Quinn says, hoping with everything in her that it will be true.

A genuinely interested smile curves Rachel's lips, "So, how much screen time do you think I'll have?"

xox

The camera crew arrives right on schedule, and Quinn meets the director, Lucas Mertes, who's in his mid-thirties and has surprisingly kind eyes. He asks her about Lima, and if there are any places that she and Rachel typically spend a lot of time. Quinn worries her lip, embarrassed to admit that they've spent the majority of the friendship in high school bathrooms and hallways. She shrugs and mentions the Lima Bean, because they have spent more than a few summer mornings grabbing coffee and bagels, and sitting around and chatting like normal teenage girls.

Lucas scopes out the town, and if he's less than impressed with what Lima has to offer, he doesn't say a word. He briefly meets with Rachel and gives her the basics, and Quinn is grateful that Rachel is attempting to behave in a mostly professional manner. She asks a few questions about what's expected of her, but mostly she's obsessing over whether or not this 'mockery of a television show' will treat Quinn respectfully. Lucas raises an eyebrow at that, but he assures her that they'll be very fair to Quinn. Rachel seems appeased by this, and she leaves with a call time of ten o'clock the next morning.

Quinn's call time is significantly earlier.

"We're going to start with your interview, and then we'll get some background footage of you and Rachel hanging out today," Lucas explains the next morning when he, his assistant, two camera men, a boom operator, and a makeup artist arrive on her doorstep. "We'll interview Rachel privately, tomorrow you'll have your moment of truth, and then we'll interview the both of you again after."

Quinn nods, because she pretty much knows how all of this is going to play out. That last interview is either going to be full of happy laughter, or miserable tears. She figures that she's such an expert at crying by now, it won't be so hard to do it on camera. Maybe the experience can be something that she'll be able to draw on when she lands her first big, tragic role.

The crew sets up in the corner of Quinn's living room, and she whispers a prayer of thanks to God that she managed to convince her mother to take some vacation time to visit Frannie in Philadelphia. It had been a hard sell, as Judy Fabray had been extra attentive ever since Quinn's punk rock makeover last summer. Quinn had to swear on her financial aid to Yale that she was going to stay away from hair dye and tattoo parlors in her mother's absence.

She nervously fiddles with the hem of her dress as she watches the crew work, glancing in the antique mirror behind the sofa every few minutes to make sure that her hair and makeup are perfect. She looks flawless, except for the sickly pallor of her skin. Her stomach is a hurricane of nerves, and she thinks that she may actually have to make a mad dash for the bathroom to be sick. It's so much worse than the nausea that would catch her unaware during her pregnancy, because she knows that it isn't going away until she confesses everything to Rachel, and maybe not even then. Maybe this will be a permanent condition that occurs every time she thinks of this experience.

"We're ready whenever you are, Quinn" Lucas tells her kindly, and she freezes. She's trembling so violently that she doesn't know if she'll be able to stand.

This is such a huge mistake. Why is she doing this? Maybe she can still get out of it. She can call Rachel and tell her not to bother coming to the Lima Bean. She'll tell Lucas that she's sick and can't possibly do this today, which isn't far from the truth. She wonders if they'll just pack everything up and go away quietly, or if the network will sue her for breach of contract. She'll have to confess everything to her mother if that happens, and she'll definitely have to say goodbye to any financial support from her parents. Can MTV go after her scholarship money if they go to court? Is this really worth risking Yale over?

She'll be stuck in Lima, and those Metro North passes will go to waste because Rachel won't have anyone to visit in New Haven, so she'll spend every weekend in New York with her new friends, and she still won't know how Quinn feels about her, so she'll throw herself at the first guy who smiles at her, and…

No. Damn it, no. She's not backing out of this. She's Quinn Fabray, and she's damn well going to get out of the friend zone today, for better or worse

Quinn squares her shoulders and stands, grateful for the fact that her legs hold her up, even if her knees are a little weak. Lucas smiles encouragingly, and guides her to the stool that they've set up in front of a black backdrop. He positions her to shoot at the best possible angle, laughingly telling her, "you don't actually have a bad side," while his assistant does a quick lighting test. The vain part of her puffs up with pleasure, and she thinks that this can only be a good omen for her future acting career. Then the red light on the camera flashes on and Lucas is nodding, "Okay, Quinn, honey, keep your eyes up on me, and not the camera, and just take your time and speak from the heart."

She drags in a heavy breath, swallowing down her anxiety. She runs her tongue across her teeth, taking a few seconds to find her center and compose her thoughts. "Hi, my name is Quinn," she begins a little self-consciously, feeling too much like she's about to embark on some twelve-step program. Maybe she is—after all, she's about to admit that she's powerless to her feelings for Rachel Berry. She smiles softly, confessing, "and I'm in love with my friend, Rachel."

xox

Quinn never realized how incredibly staged these kind of shows really are. They look so organic when you watch them on television, like these people are just going about their business and don't even realize that there's a camera pointed in their faces. She quickly finds out that isn't the case at all. She watches Lucas debrief the staff at the Lima Bean, and force releases and non-disclosure contracts in front of the few patrons who are (un)lucky enough to be there. A few of them refuse, and hastily leave the establishment.

Rachel meets them there at ten o'clock on the dot, dressed to the nines with her hair falling in perfect waves and a big, cheesy show smile plastered on her face. It takes Lucas twenty minutes to talk her down from her super, Berry-diva mode, and he cuts Quinn a few incredulous looks that are clearly meant to ask her if she knows what she's doing. She rolls her eyes and nods every time.

"Rachel, I really need you to ignore the camera," Lucas pleads, "Just focus on Quinn and act...normal."

Rachel huffs, crossing her arms, "I am acting perfectly normal," she insists, and Quinn stifles a laugh. She wants to tell Lucas that Rachel is actually being frighteningly close to normal right now, but he probably wouldn't believe her anyway. "I would simply prefer it if you would shoot me from my right side." Rachel explains as she tips her head up, presenting her best side to the director as an example.

"I'm not re-blocking the shot," Lucas growls, turning a peculiar shade of purple.

Rachel scowls, looking ready to launch into another argument. All the extra tension only tightens the knots in Quinn's stomach, so she steps closer to Rachel, breaching her personal space as much as she dares, and ghosts her fingertips over Rachel's forearm. She can feel the muscles jump under her touch, and Rachel turns to look at Quinn in confusion. Something in her expression must convey how unsettled she feels, because Rachel's eyes widen before they go soft with unspoken apologies. Sighing, Rachel relaxes her confrontational posture, and backs down with a slightly insincere, "Of course. You're the director, after all."

His "thank you" is equally insincere, and then he instructs everyone back to their marks.

Quinn turns for the table, but Rachel catches her hand and squeezes. "I'm sorry, Quinn," she offers regretfully, "I wasn't thinking about how nervous you must be. I promise, from this moment on, I'll be the perfect scene partner."

Her reassuring smile doesn't really do much to ease Quinn's distress. She swallows down the bitter lump in her throat at how easily Rachel can dismiss all of this as an acting exercise, and then she berates herself for thinking that way, because Rachel has no reason to think that it's anything else.

Quinn manages a weak smile of her own before she makes her way back to the table, steeling her nerves for the next attempt to film. She watches Rachel disappear through the door, and when the cameras roll again, she breezes in with a friendly smile and all of her attention focused on Quinn. She gracefully slips into the empty seat with a quiet, "hi, sorry to keep you waiting," like there aren't two cameras surrounding them and a boom microphone hanging over their table. "So tell me about this big date," she says with muted excitement. It's exactly what they're supposed to do—exactly what Lucas has been trying to get Rachel to do for thirty minutes—and now Quinn is faced with her own internal struggle to act natural when all she's really doing is wondering if this is Rachel being Quinn's supportive friend, or Rachel acting like her supportive friend.

When Lucas clears his throat and raises a bushy eyebrow, Quinn realizes that she's just been sitting here staring at Rachel for far too long. She mumbles out an embarrassed apology.

"We can keep rolling and fix it in editing," he assures her, waving his hand to indicate that she should just pick up the conversation.

Quinn drags in an unsteady breath and forces a nervous smile, "I thought we could go to ArtSpace," she says, watching Rachel's face in hopes of seeing her true reaction. Recognition sparks in her eyes, and a genuine smile curves her lips. At least, Quinn is almost certain it's genuine when Rachel leans forward in her chair, gushing, "Oh, this is the Pops, isn't it? Libbi Pennington has an exhibit there. I love her acrylics."

One of the knots in Quinn's stomach unfurls, and she relaxes a little into her chair. "So you think it's a good idea," she prompts, conscious of everything that she's supposed to say for the filming, but really just so happy that she chose something Rachel seems interested in. There aren't a lot of acceptable choices for dream dates in Lima. She'd considered karaoke at Murph's Place, but ultimately decided it was too much of a cliché for Rachel.

"I think it's a wonderful idea, Quinn," she nods approvingly. "You'll be able to talk as you walk through the galleries, and if you find yourselves struggling for conversation, you can simply choose some God awful piece of art to analyze."

"You mean mock," Quinn corrects with a sly grin.

"Critique," Rachel clarifies.

"Ridicule."

"Judge," Rachel insists, "and I would recommend that you don't initiate any verbal spars with your date. Most boys don't like girls who are obviously smarter than them."

Quinn laughs lightly, "So that's been my problem," she jokes, pushing aside the tiny tingle of guilt that she feels for allowing Rachel to believe that she's going on a date with some nameless, faceless guy. She realizes that Rachel is going to be blindsided by more than one revelation when this is all said and done.

She's asked Quinn a few times who her mystery date is, but surprisingly, she hasn't pushed as hard as she could have. As far as Rachel knows, Quinn met someone at church over the summer that she'd like to date. Quinn has been careful to use gender-neutral pronouns, but Rachel is still under the impression that it must be a man. Never a woman.

Rachel purses her lips in consternation. "No, it's their problem," Rachel insists. "Just be yourself, Quinn, but you know...more open," she qualifies.

Quinn's eyebrow arches, "In other words, don't be myself at all," she quips dryly.

Rachel flushes in embarrassment. "You do have a tendency to be a little...ah," she stutters, shifting uneasily in her chair, "standoffish. Maybe just...don't do that."

Quinn should probably be offended, but she can't help laughing, "Wow, you really suck at this, Rach," she accuses good-naturedly.

Dark cheeks grow even ruddier, and Rachel lets out a little hiss of displeasure. Her mouth opens, and Quinn braces herself for a Rachel Berry rant, but then she seems to remember the cameras pointing at them, and Quinn watches her mask her annoyance with a pleasant smile. "You're the one who asked for my advice," she reminds Quinn in an overly saccharine tone, "Don't worry. You'll be amazing," she assures Quinn with real feeling, "Who wouldn't fall in love with you?"

Quinn's smile slips, and she nearly chokes on her next breath. Thankfully, Lucas seems to think they've gotten what they need, and calls cut.

xox

The next two hours are both wonderful and horrible. The cameras follow them around Lima for background shots, and Quinn hates the attention it brings her more than she imagined she would—enough that she honestly starts to question her decision to pursue acting at Yale. She never wants to be stalked by paparazzi, or stared at by countless people as she walks down the street. In addition to her general discomfort with the exposure, the knots in her stomach are back in force as she edges ever closer to the big reveal.

The only thing making any of this bearable is the fact that Rachel is standing right beside her. They browse in the little shops scattered along Main Street, pointing out items in the windows and discussing whether anyone would actually buy some of those things, and what a person would do with them. Then Rachel drags her into Alter Ego Comics, and once Quinn recovers from her shock that Rachel isn't just doing this for the show, but actually wants to buy the latest Avengers, she forgets all about the camera hovering over her shoulder and laughs for a good two minutes before she's finally able to catch her breath.

Quinn wipes the mirthful tears from her eyes, noticing that Rachel's expression is caught somewhere between a glare and a pout as she clutches her prized comic book to her chest.

"I just can't believe you're a closet comic book geek," Quinn manages to choke out between her renewed giggles.

"They are graphic novels, Quinn," Rachel defends hotly.

Quinn reaches over and picks up a comic book from the adjacent rack, wrinkling her nose in disgust as she glances down at the cover decorated with a scantily clad woman covered in blood who's standing in front of an upside-down cross under the title Punk Rock Jesus. She turns it around and shows it to Rachel, "This doesn't exactly meet my standards for great literature."

Rachel grimaces, reaching out and gently removing the book from Quinn's hand, and replacing it on the shelf. "Some of them are better than others," she reluctantly concedes.

Quinn chuckles again, "What is with me and comic book nerds?" she muses aloud.

"Graphic novels," Rachel automatically reiterates, then furrows her brow adorably, "What do you mean?"

Quinn blushes, glancing away, "Just...you know...first I dated Sam. Now I'm friends with you," she laughs nervously. "I should hook you guys up so you can geek out to your hearts' content." Rachel bites into her lip, and her cheeks absolutely flame as she begins to fidget uncomfortably. Quinn's eyes widen, and her heart drops. "Oh my God! You and Sam?"

"No," Rachel barks hastily, "we never," she shakes her head, squaring her shoulders until her posture is screaming proud and unaffected. "Samuel and I bonded over our mutual love of graphic novels," she stresses, "when he came back to Lima last year." Her eyes dart away from Quinn's incredulous gaze. "And we may have a tentative plan to attend the Comic Con in Columbus next month," she grudgingly admits.

Quinn gapes at Rachel, completely speechless. "You're going to be in New York next month," she reminds her.

"Well yes, but Comic Con is a three day event over the weekend. I'm sure that I'll be able to get away, and Quinn," Rachel gushes, grabbing her arm excitedly, "Eliza Dushku is going to be there!"

Quinn's mouth opens, but no sound comes out. She obviously knows who Eliza Dushku is—Bring It On was required viewing at her first cheerios' camp with Santana and Brittany. She just can't believe that Rachel Berry knows who the actress is. "I think I've fallen into some alternate reality," Quinn mutters.

"Really, Quinn," Rachel chastises. "My interests are not strictly limited to Broadway musicals and Barbra Streisand, goddess that she is. I do actually watch television. Joss Whedon is a genius."

"Who?"

Rachel gasps, jumping back in horror. "Tell me you're joking."

Quinn shrugs, feeling very self-conscious, especially with the cameras still rolling on them. She sincerely hopes that most of this conversation ends up on the editing room floor. "I don't really watch a lot of television," she reluctantly admits, except for cheesy reality shows on MTV, apparently.

"Well, neither do I, but some things are worth making time for," Rachel insists. "Of course, the fact that daddy had huge crushes on Anthony Stewart Head and Nathan Fillion might have had something to do with our television viewing habits."

Quinn merely nods, not daring to ask who they are. Rachel's eyes narrow, and then she shakes her head in pity, "We are going to have Whedon marathon before I leave for New York," she decides, and Quinn smiles, because spending more time with Rachel is exactly what all of this is about.

Rachel shuffles off to buy her comic book—or graphic novel, whatever—and Quinn notices Lucas grinning at her fondly. He gives her a thumbs up sign, and she ducks her head bashfully.

xox

The next morning, Quinn paces her living room, watching the clock tick down toward her moment of truth. They'd wrapped yesterday at around four thirty, and Quinn had watched Lucas lead Rachel off to film her one-on-one interview. She doesn't have any idea what Rachel said, and despite some nice moments that they'd shared yesterday, she's still no closer to guessing how Rachel will react today.

She wipes at her eyes, glancing at her reflection in the mirror. She barely slept last night, and it shows. Her mind had refused to shut off, alternating between the memories of her day with Rachel, and visions of their fledgling friendship disintegrating into ashes with the knowledge that she'll be the one who lights the flame. She'd finally given up on attempting to sleep in favor of sorting through her closet for the perfect outfit to wear, which quickly morphed into sorting out the wardrobe she planned to pack for college.

It's just after ten o'clock when Lucas and his crew shows up again, and Quinn is hustled back in front of a camera to spew out her nervous predate ramblings. She rubs her sweaty palms on her skirt as she stares at some undefined spot over the lens, and quietly admits her fear that this is going to ruin her friendship with Rachel.

She doesn't know when this friendship became quite so important to her. Rachel has just always been there. It seemed like every time Quinn turned around, she'd have to face ugly animal sweaters, and over-enthusiastic smiles, and know-it-all speeches, and compassionate glances as Rachel silently begged her for a friendship that she didn't particularly want. Then one day, when Quinn was feeling especially awful, she realized that she was looking for Rachel to be there, waiting for the compassionate smile and supportive words. It's why she broke down and bought those Metro North passes; even knowing that Rachel likely would soon be Mrs. Finn Hudson. Quinn never wants to turn around and not see Rachel there, waiting for her.

She doesn't believe that Rachel is the kind of person who would be upset with her for having feelings that she can't control. No, what she really worries about is the suffocating awkwardness that will follow if Rachel has to let her down gently. They've really only just gotten comfortable with one another, to that point where they can laugh together, and tease one another. If Rachel has absolutely no romantic feelings for her, then Quinn isn't sure if they'll ever be able to get back to where they are now.

It's eleven fifteen when Rachel's Prius pulls into the driveway. Quinn's stomach bottoms out, and her heart starts to pound like a jackhammer. She moves toward the door, but Lucas stops her. "Just wait in here for a few minutes," he instructs before he's out the door.

Quinn frowns and peeks through the blinds, watching as Lucas catches Rachel on the driveway and prevents her from coming any closer to the house. She looks confused as he talks to her, and Quinn notices his assistant ducking into Rachel's car with a little camera. She sighs, lets go of the blinds, and leans back heavily against the wall. Nothing about this 'date' is a dream, or romantic, or even enjoyable. She scrubs a weary hand over her face and wonders why she ever thought this would be a good idea.

She didn't think at all, she ruefully admits. She'd watched a few lucky people get their friends to see them as potential lovers, and thought it looked easy enough. Never mind that she'd watched so many more get shot down. Quinn has never taken the direct path to anything. No, she always has to find some angle, some lie or scheme to force things to go her way, except they never do. She recognizes this now. She wanted to come out of the closet, and confess her feelings for Rachel all in one convenient step; all while putting Rachel on the spot so she'd be forced to be gentle with her rejection, or maybe even feel some obligation to refrain from publicly embarrassing Quinn. For all appearances of bravado, Quinn suspects that she's actually taking the coward's way out, but there's nothing she can do to change it now.

Her door swinging open startles her out of her thoughts, and she turns to find Lucas hurrying in. "We're ready to roll," he announces, barking out a few more orders to his crew. "Rachel's going to drive around the block once, and come back," he tells Quinn. "We've installed the remote cameras in her car, so you're good to go. Dylan will let us know when he sees her pull up, and you can go out and meet her. We'll follow in the van, watching the feed. If something goes wrong, we'll stop you."

Quinn puffs out a breath and nods. Yeah, really not romantic at all.

Three minutes later, Lucas gives her the go ahead. Quinn squares her shoulders, plasters on a smile, and opens the door. Rachel is out of her car and heading up the driveway, and she smiles back at Quinn, looking slightly amused by the whole production. They meet in the middle, and Quinn opens her arms and wrap Rachel up in a hug. This may be the last one for a while, and she's taking full advantage.

"Hi," she murmurs softly into dark hair, "thank you for doing this with me."

Rachel giggles a bit, "You don't have to thank me," she whispers back. "I love that I can do things for you."

Quinn squeezes her eyes shut, praying that Rachel will always feel that way. Pulling back, she flashes a smile that doesn't tremble, and fakes the confidence that she doesn't feel. "Let's go."

xox

Rachel drives them to ArtSpace. Quinn isn't the best passenger these days. It had taken her two months to even be able to get back in a car without having to take an Ativan tablet first. She hasn't driven since the accident. The first time she'd tried had been a week after graduation. She'd slid in behind the wheel, ignoring the nausea swirling in her belly, but the moment she'd closed the door, she'd had a panic attack and could barely breathe. Her mother had to physically drag her out of the car, and they'd ended up curled into one another on the driveway in tears.

Quinn reasoned that it had simply been too soon, so she tried again at the end of July. That time, she'd managed to close the door, and turn the key in the ignition, but her hand had frozen on the gear shift, and she couldn't make herself put the car into drive. Once again, Judy Fabray needed to pull her crying, trembling daughter out of the car.

Quinn is so tired of relying on other people to taxi her from place to place, and she wants to be completely independent again, but she knows that it's going to take some time to get there.

Rachel is a very careful driver—or maybe she's just extra careful with Quinn in the car. Both of her hands are on the steering wheel, placed precisely at ten o'clock and two o'clock, and the needle on the speedometer never rises above the speed limit. Rachel's eyes never once leave the road, despite the fact that she's conscious of the cameras, and making conversation to lead into Quinn's 'date.'

"So, if this goes well today, are you planning to try a long distance relationship?" she asks.

Quinn sighs, thinking about those train passes again. "I plan to try a relationship," she stresses. "If it's really meant to be, we can deal with the distance."

Rachel's hands tighten on the wheel, turning her knuckles white, and Quinn belatedly realizes what she's said. She wants to apologize, and reassure Rachel that Finn really did want what was best for her, but that's not a conversation she wants to have on camera. Rachel obviously feels the same way, because she forces a fake smile, and says, "I'm sure everything will work out for you, Quinn."

"I hope so," she murmurs, but she isn't so that sure that it can now. Rachel's carefree mood has shifted into sadness, and Quinn feels the ghost of Finn Hudson squeezed into the space between them, keeping Rachel just out of her reach.

All too soon, Rachel is easing the car into a parking space, and Quinn struggles to regulate her breathing in an attempt to calm her heart. Her skin feels like it's on fire, and she has the unpleasant notion that she's probably sweating. She sucks in a lungful of air, holds it for a second, and then releases it slowly.

Rachel turns to her with a smile that's still a little sad around the edges, but encouraging all the same. "Are you nervous?"

"Terrified," Quinn admits in a raspy voice, stripped raw by the dryness of her mouth.

Rachel reaches over the gear shift and lightly places her hand on top of Quinn's, where it's been twisting into her skirt and wrinkling the fabric. "You shouldn't be. You're everyone's dream date, Quinn," Rachel tells her earnestly, "Just go in there, and smile, and refrain from calling him a moron at any point," she jokes lightly, inspiring a tiny grin to form on Quinn's lips, "and he'll love you."

But will you love me? Quinn wonders.

She sinks into the velvet brown of Rachel's eyes, comforted by the warmth she sees there, and she knows that it's now or never. "Rachel," she sighs, "there's something I have to tell you."


A/N: Feedback is always appreciated.