Well, it's almost a year later, but here's an update! There are a multitude of excuses I can give for the delay, but they're all ones I've given previously and they all still stand. That being said, I hope you enjoy this update, and what I can promise is that the next one won't be a year from now. Maybe a month at the latest. :)

Part Twenty One: The Heart of the Matter

There's an awkwardness that hangs in the air, but Quinn has to give credit to these party guests. Maybe it's because the reason anyone is here at all is a failed wedding reception but in comparison, attention to her in the aftermath of Santana's absence fades rather quickly. It's not long before the crowd begins to disperse and the music resumes. Strangers and friends alike slip off to dance or huddle in their own groups, siphoning off until the only person left by her side is Mercedes.

"It'll be fine." Mercedes' smile is soft as she squeezes Quinn's arm gently, keeping her close. "Santana will calm Brittany down and then she'll be back before you know it."

It's an absurdly optimistic view, but Quinn doesn't trust herself to contradict it. She swallows hard against the lump in her throat and nods unsteadily. "Right," she says, voice hollow as she gently extracts herself. "Thanks, Mercedes."

"You know how this goes." Mercedes clucks her tongue in recognition. "It's not like love triangles in the Glee Club are anything new."

No, definitely not for Quinn. And they've never exactly ended well for her, either.

The two glasses in her hands nearly filled with cheap wedding champagne taunt her. Staring at them makes her feel foolish, like a kid being stood up at her first big school dance.

"I'm gonna go and put these down." Her tone is rough, but she manages a smile for her friend as she lifts the glasses. "Want anything while I'm at the bar?"

Mercedes' dark eyes are clouded with concern, but to her credit, she only shakes her head and lets her go. Mercedes is one of the wisest friends she has, and understands that all Quinn needs is a moment to be alone to get better control of herself.

Those friends are few and far between, and Sam demonstrates that completely when he sidles up beside her as she arrives at the bar. Quinn does her best not to acknowledge him, instead focusing her attention on placing one of the champagne flutes on the bar. The other, she keeps in her hand, stem twirling with her fingertips. It gives her something to do.

"Buy you a shot?" he asks, brow furrowing as his elbow rubs up against hers on its journey to rest against the wood of the counter, accidentally putting his jacket on a wet spot and immediately jerking it away.

Quinn only rolls her eyes and hands him a napkin. "I'm good, thanks."

She's polite and curt, dismissive as soon as he plucks the napkin from her hand and fumbles with his wallet, handing his own (presumably fake) ID to the bartender. She keeps twirling the champagne glass, eyes on the way the bubbles travel up the rose-colored liquid.

Objectively, she knows Sam is attractive – everyone knows that, including Sam. He fixates on it, just like she has, and just like her, it's easily the focus of his own deepest insecurities. She wonders if that's why they initially bonded so quickly, mired in shallow self-image and so focused on their physical appeal, both alone and together. Ken and Barbie.

"You sure?" It's odd that she finds him so unappealing now. She stares at him, searching for the boy she once thought she loved, and finds only a young man who reminds her of a boy, as he requests a beer and blows out his breath in one long whoosh, smacking his hands together as he turns back to her. " 'Cause from where I'm standing, it didn't seem to take very long before you got left behind."

Quinn's fingers tighten automatically around the glass she's still carrying. "Don't," she warns.

He flinches, gaze darting from the Quinn and her icy glare, to the beer that's placed in front of him. "Sorry," he mumbles, immediately reaching forward to trace his fingers across the wet condensation of the bottle. "I just… look, I guess I know how it feels."

He wants her to engage him. He wants commiseration and sympathy. Sam's had his heart broken and he sees someone he thinks he understands. Quinn doesn't have patience to indulge him. "Sam, you have no idea what you're talking about."

"I just… I know you're into Santana, okay?"

Quinn rolls her eyes, cheeks flushing red. "Considering we're here on a date together, yes, it's obvious to the entire room, Sam."

Sam's fishy lips press tightly together. "And you know I care about you… I always have." Quinn can only huff in disbelief, lifting the glass to her lips and letting the liquid paint her tongue. "I don't want you to be like me… to fall in love and then find out you're just some stepping stone for someone on their way back to their soulmate."

The champagne tastes sour in her mouth, bubbling it's way down her throat. It takes effort to swallow it down. "My situation isn't like yours, Sam," she replies easily, shoulders straightening as she places the glass down and turns to face him completely. She stands tall, eyes clear. "So thank you for your concern, but there is no need."

He chuckles, a short, bitter harrumph that smacks of disbelief.

"Santana cares about me," she says, voice steady, strong.

"Brittany said she loved me," he counters easily, shrugging in easy dismissal. "Brittany married me."

Her patience snaps. "Yeah, well we're not all idiots who need the end of the world in order to get laid, Sam."

Sam stares at her quietly, absorbing the insult. "No, some of us are just idiots holding their date's champagne while she runs after her ex."

He mock toasts her, and moves away.

Doubt, if given the opportunity, can fester. Quinn knows this. She has learned quite a bit from therapy, and Gold help her, even from David, who, it turns out, is a terrible person but not actually a terrible professor. What Sam is attempting is actually pretty transparent. On the surface, the similarities are clear, and misery loves company.

Or maybe he actually, truly, honestly believes that they're in the same situation, set up for the same heartbreak. Sam always did like to be the hero. And he's basing this belief on the Santana and Quinn he remembers, not the ones that exist now.

That's the problem with Lima. It's isolated… small. It's easy to pretend nothing exists but this little bubble of a world if you stay in it long enough.

And yes, Quinn's had her own doubts. Her heart has been beaten and battered over the last few months over Brittany and Santana, and yes, she feels bruised by it. Maybe a month ago, Sam's needling would have worked. Even now, it would be too easy to fall back into her old habits, run after Santana with glistening eyes and determination.

But Quinn's world lies beyond Lima, and she has memories that Sam doesn't know about. They include sitting side by side with a broken, crying girl on Christmas Eve. Waking up in the middle of the night and turning to find soft brown eyes shining at her through the darkness. A drunken first kiss followed up by a tender, passionate one a few days later.

Sharing a joint in Kurt and Rachel's loft, laughter mingling with mutual affection and lust. A New York skyline and the voice of Rachel Berry singing in her ear as Santana presses in behind her. Intimate whispers and naked emotion on New Year's Eve, as they're curled together in a hotel room in Chelsea.

She remembers the mistakes as well. Fear and uncertainty leading her to a med school party and a lot of liquor… lips pressed against a girl she barely remembers. Brittany's cold, hurt voice slicing into her ear in the aftermath.

She remembers honest conversation and the overwhelming feeling of fear when Rachel called to let her know Santana was missing, which turned immediately into relief when she discovered Santana in her hallway.

The familiar possession that grips her every time she holds Santana in her arms, determined to protect her from the world.

These are nothing but moments… moments outside of Lima, a tapestry of memories that serve as a reminder that the reason she's in this ballroom alone is not because she's anything like Sam.

Sam's reality is that he is a rebound – part of Brittany's journey to her own self-awareness. He is a casualty of Brittany's own fear and an attempt to move on that ultimately failed because Brittany has yet to deal with her own reality. Brittany has yet to discover that she isn't Peter Pan, but Wendy. Brittany and all her eccentricities will never be content with just Lima, with just puppy love. Still waters run deep within her, and a pregnancy scare served as a grim awakening that she needs more than what Sam and his sweet, dumb sincerity can offer her. Sam is sweet and simple, too simple to be anything but a patch for a complicated conundrum like Brittany Pierce.

Is Quinn a rebound? It doesn't feel like it. While Sam and Brittany made end-of-the-world promises to each other, called themselves soulmates – Quinn did everything she could to avoid promises she knew neither she or Santana were in any position to make or keep. This relationship isn't one forged on high school romance, but the reality that comes from discovering life isn't marshmallows and fluff, and maybe for some, it never will be.

Yes, in this room, it may look like Quinn Fabray has been left behind, an awkward hurdle to the inevitable perfect union of Brittany and Santana, but months of dealing with her own uncertainty and personal growth tells her that appearances are already deceiving, and no opinion matters but hers and Santana's.

So Quinn Fabray keeps her shoulders square and her head held high, ignores her trembling heart and lets herself forget the awkwardness as she shimmies with Mike Chang, fluffs Ryder's hair as he dances beside her, nearly tripping over his feet to copy Mike's much more fluid style.

It passes the time, and makes her thirsty enough to seek out the bartender for a glass of water.

"A pretty girl like you?" he asks, bored enough to flirt. "You sure you don't want more than that?"

Quinn arches a brow. "I'm good, thanks."

He sighs, staring at her as if she's a complicated equation he can't quite figure out, and hands her the glass. "Well, how about one for the road?" he asks, and gives her the champagne she didn't request, offering almost as a toast.

"Oh is that for me?"

The quiet tone that sounds like a viper's hiss comes out of nowhere. Quinn sucks in a surprised breath when a tan, slender arm reaches into her line of vision and smoothly steals the glass from the bartender.

Santana now stands beside her, eyes cold as she glares at the man, lifting the glass she's pilfered in sarcastic thanks. "Appreciate it. Maybe next time though, you stick to doing your actual job instead of hitting on women who are obviously not interested."

A small smile curls on Quinn's lips. She turns to the bartender, currently doing his best impression of a gaping fish, and drops a two dollar tip on the counter. "Thank you for the champagne. Me and my date appreciate it."

With that, she dismisses him.

Quinn wants to believe she has matured as a person, and yes, every bit of confidence, hard earned through both therapy and introspection, has helped immensely in this waiting game. But the sight of Santana tangible… real… and standing in front of her causes her hear to tremble in immediate relief. "Hi," she says breathlessly. "You're back."

She's stating the obvious, but Santana doesn't seem to mind. A tight, sincere smirk floats across her lips as she reaches up to softly swipe the back of her fingers against Quinn's cheekbone. "Don't look so shocked," she teases. "Someone has to save you from overconfident bar toads. Besides," she adds, softer than before. "I told you I was coming back."

Yes… yes she did.

From what? Curiosity is a terrible beast, and Quinn, like her inner Alice, cannot help but stare into the rabbit hole and wonder exactly what went on inside of it. Yes, Santana is smiling, but her make up is freshly applied, and the whites of her eyes are stained with hints of red… puffiness surrounds them that Santana's best makeup cannot conceal.

"What happened?" Her fingers lift instinctively, and Santana immediately ducks back, avoiding the touch as she winces.

The moment is jarring.

"Nothing. It's fine." The snap is too fast, too chipper. Quinn's fingers hang in the air uncertainly, before her chest constricts.

"Right," she manages, head lowering as she turns away. "Okay. Sorry."

Is she that fragile, that this one rejection is all it takes for every doubt to come shifting back in?

She keeps her attention on the dancefloor as she lifts the glass to her lips and takes another sip. "Quinn." The water glass is lifted from her fingers. Digits curl over her wrists and turn her back, until there is no place to look but a vulnerable, wide-eyed woman with remorse on her face. Santana's mouth trembles, and then her breath comes out in one long rush, and possessive palms slide against her waist and pull her in close. Santana whispers, "I'm sorry," but the words are muffled, Santana's face hidden against her collarbone.

She holds Quinn tight. Her body shakes slightly.

Quinn has no room left for self-doubt. What comes instead is that same protective instinct that comes so easily around Santana. She holds Santana closely, in so tight she wonders if Santana can hear the way her heart trips with affection.

"Okay," she whispers back, and presses soft lips against Santana's temple, feeling the sigh Santana gives in reaction. "So I'm assuming you don't want to talk about it, then."

After a moment, Santana's head lifts, expression obscured by the bangs that float into her face. Quinn easily brushes the strands away, revealing those beautiful dark eyes clouded with unshed emotion.

It's a tender moment that Santana allows, almost keens into, before her head shakes ever so slightly.

Quinn nods.

The music changes. Quinn glances to the stage to see Mercedes in the center of it, beginning a hauntingly beautiful ballad cover of 'The Heart of the Matter'. The lyrics, Quinn realizes, in the simple naked away they are sung, are more beautiful than she ever realized.

"An old true friend of ours was talkin' on the phone," Mercedes croons in her pitch perfect tone. "She said you found someone…"

Also, they're incredibly sad.

"That's a completely inappropriate song choice considering the situation," Quinn finds herself uttering, earning herself a harsh laugh from Santana and a grateful squeeze.

"Yeah, but she's killing it."

Quinn hums her agreement. She's tender, fingers grazing Santana's naked biceps, keeping her close as they watch Mercedes serenade the couples who sway together on the dance floor.

"What are these voices outside love's open door, make us throw off our contentment," Mercedes eyes close, inhabiting the song with pure emotion. "And beg for something more?"

"Brittany went home."

Santana's expression is carefully closed. Her throat bobs with a hard swallow.


Brown eyes meet her own, and a trembling smile forms that seems to grow steadier the longer Santana can hold it. "She's okay…" she says haltingly. "It's… okay."

Quinn isn't sure if the reassurance is meant for Santana or herself.

"I'm learning to live without you now… but I miss you sometimes."

Her lover is shaken. Quinn is anxious… awkward… torn between her instincts as a best friend to press into the matter and the reality that as the third spoke in this love triangle, it's no longer her place.

Her world has shifted… there is no map to this journey.

"The more I know, the less I understand… all the things I thought I knew, I'm learning again."

Santana's expression shifts… her eyes darken as she lingers on Quinn. Another step forward and Santana's lips are pressed softly against her mouth, a soft kiss that lingers. Santana inhales against her, soft and fragile.

"It's okay," she repeats.

Quinn's eyes grow moist. Not trusting herself to speak, she can only nod. Santana takes her by the hand and leads her to the center of the ballroom. They have to maneuver the dancefloor like an obstacle course, ducking under a drunk and gropey Rachel and Finn, Santana pushing aside Artie's flashing wheels with her heel as he rolls around with Ms. Pillsbury's niece, ducking to avoid being smacked by an overenthusiastic body roll by Sam.

They find a spot near the stage. As Santana slips again back into Quinn's arms, Quinn finds herself glancing up to catch Mercedes' smile, eyes glassy with emotion as she winks down at her before she's lost again in her powerful, haunting words.

"Hi," she hears, and looks down to meet the gaze of the beautiful woman, who stares at her with her lingering sadness and tempered hope. She stares at Quinn as if she's in love, and Quinn, besotted, who can usually find a thousand reasons to hold back, cannot think of one.

Tenderly, she drops her forehead against Santana's temple and keeps her close. "Hi."

Quinn's never slow-danced with a woman before.

There's a soft exhale against her neck, a tantalizing brush against her jaw, and a warm kiss pressed just under her ear.

She likes it.

Beautiful ballads are traded for standard cheesy wedding songs, and when Quinn's foot gets trampled for the second time during an over enthusiastic rendition of "YMCA", they give up and take shelter in the foyer just outside the ballroom.

Fingers tangled loosely together, Quinn and Santana sit on carpeted stairs and joke about the guests that filter in and out, now drunk and foolish as the party nears it's close.

In an attempt to cheer up Santana, Quinn's encouraged them falling back into their old high school bitchy selves, comfortably snide as they quip about Tina's obvious obsession with Blaine, and Kurt's clear relapse with the twink twin as the pair attempt to sneak past them.

"Ladies," Blaine says, hands digging in his pockets. "Have a good night!"

"You first," Quinn drawls. Kurt blushes furiously but drags Blaine by the hand, skipping up the stairs that lead to their assigned block of rooms.

"Be safe, Blaine!" Santana calls after them. "And Kurt, show him that thing I taught you with the banana."

"Shut up, Santana!" he bellows back.

Twenty minutes later, they've counted at least three more Glee couples who have made the trip up the stairs. Well technically two. Artie and Ms. Pillsbury's niece, understandably, went for the elevator. Interestingly enough, Rachel and Finn were among them.

"Aren't you supposed to be stopping that?" Quinn asks her date, bemused when Santana says nothing as Finn and Rachel move past them.

Santana quietly shakes her head. "And miss the opportunity to throw this in her face for the next six months? I've been saving a few 'Humpty Dumpty sat on a beak' jokes so…"

The answer is classic Santana… and it's one that Quinn would normally take at face value, were it not paired with a somber expression and twitching fingers.

Quinn thinks she understands. There was a wide smile on Rachel's face… on the arm of a man she once considered her true love. Maybe this is nostalgia, confusing lingering affection for true love… maybe Rachel just wanted a night to forget and be happy.

In the end… that's up to her.

"Well it is a wedding…" she sighs, and then corrects herself. "At least it was one. And on Valentines Day."

Clichés exist for a reason, and Quinn isn't innocent of that. She has her own hotel keycard in her purse, her own hopes for how this night - a first date with a woman she was incredibly infatuated with on the most romantic day of the year, at least according to capitalism – would end.

She imagined this night ending with mutual laugher and deep, wet kisses, the kind she's come to crave and expect when she spends time alone with Santana.

She and Santana certainly have enjoyed each other.

Instead they sit on luxuriously carpeted stairs, sipping water and tangling fingers, low intimate murmurs that smack of the friends they once were.

Santana leans her head back against the wall, studying Quinn with an expression that seems both intensely focused and somehow far away. "She's just really sad, Quinn."

Brittany. Brittany, who is never far away from them. Who is away from this wedding, alone and sad and probably drowning in her own regret.

Quinn's smile fades. "I shouldn't have lost my temper."

Fingers squeeze her own immediately. "Stop," Santana hushes, gruff and matter of fact. "Shit happens. And no one knows Brittany better than I do." Her mouth twists into a sad, crooked smile. "If you slapped her, it's because she deserved it."

Quinn exhales slowly, turning Santana's long fingers in her hand to spread her palm wide, tracing the lines she finds there. "How do you know that?"

"Because every time you slapped me, I sure as hell deserved it."

Quinn smiles morosely. "I think part of me thinks you liked it…" she teases.

Santana smirks at the taunt, teeth digging into her lower lip as she contemplates that. "Maybe…" she muses. "Maybe you liked it when I slapped you right back."

Quinn isn't sure that's necessarily accurate, but she's self-aware enough to understand that Santana's passion is a major source of sexual attraction.

There are a thousand words that need to be said between them, labels and messiness and the complication of Brittany S. Pierce, who still haunts them as the third of their Unholy Trinity.

But here they sit, together on Valentine's Day, fingers tangled loosely, friends and lovers and a mishmash of whatever else is in between.

Maybe right now the labels don't matter.

Quinn lifts tan fingers to her mouth and presses a gentle kiss to the skin she finds there, nibbling softly enough to drag teeth against fingertips that she once remembers drunkenly tasting.

Santana's breath goes unsteady. Her mouth opens slightly and her chests heaves. "God," she whispers. "You drive me insane, you know that?"

The feeling's completely mutual.

Quinn uses the keycard.

The instant she does, she's pushed on the bed and straddled, lips brushing against hers before the kiss is deepened. Santana's mouth is firm… her tongue is wet… open palms hold Quinn's head in place as they exchange hungry, languid kisses.

Santana hums against her, a guttural reaction to Quinn's taste that grows louder still when dresses are unzipped by wandering hands, and sheets become rumpled with exertion and shifting bodies.

Santana's eyes are moist… her lips are swollen with Quinn's kisses… and when presses Quinn back against the bed and lowers herself until her mouth is opening enthusiastically against Quinn's wet folds, it's only when Quinn's hands are tangled in hers and she's whispering Quinn's name against her clit, that she allows Quinn to come.

Later, much later, Santana is splayed naked against her, heavy with sleep. Their limbs are so tangled that Quinn finds herself wide awake, but she doesn't mind it. Instead, she considers a moment months ago in a choir room… honest words laced with venom exchanged between two young women lost to expectations and a wide open world they didn't quite understand.

The world has shifted for them both. There is no venom… when Santana's open palm slaps her skin… it's her ass, and it's in the throes of passion.

And yes, they've made love, but this is no Harlequin novel. Santana's nails stung her skin as she arched beneath her and Quinn's teeth have left marks on Santana's inner thighs.

It will never be marshmallows and fluff for them.

Quinn wonders how it ever could… why she would ever want it… when it began with a slap.

"If Puck came up to you right now…" Santana's voice is thick, words slurred as her lips press against Quinn's chest, just above her left breast, keeping her close. "And he told you that you were soulmates… everything you've ever wanted to hear. What would you do?"

Quinn's body is sated, drugged with her orgasm. Bones heavy, she's sunken into a luxurious bed with a naked woman on top of her. She takes in the question and keeps her eyes on the ceiling, watching the moonlight shimmer in through the open window.

"Probably try and get him tested," she responds dryly. "Because he'd obviously be high."

Santana stays quiet above her, chin digging into her skin as she absorbs the comment.

Curiously outside of herself, Quinn finds herself asking, "Is that what Brittany told you?"

It's long moment before Santana shifts, readjusting herself until breasts pillow against her own and dark eyes shine frankly at her. "Yes."

Quinn's eyes water, because yes, of course she did. Her heart trembles and she digs fingers into dark locks, watching helplessly as Santana leans into her touch.

"She said what you and I have doesn't compare to what we had."

Frank and to the point… confident and probably correct. What Brittany and Santana had was unique and different… marshmallows and fluff.

But her fingers keep moving, sliding soft messy strands back against Santana's scalp, unable to stop even as the tears glisten in her eyes.

The bulldog charm rests against Quinn's chest, buried between them both as the silver chain glimmers against moonlight.

"It scared the hell out of me, Quinn."

"Why?" she manages, voice gruff and shaky.

A tear drifts down Santana's cheek, leaving a trail of moisture that Quinn quickly thumbs away. "Because I realized she was right… all those months ago… I did leave her behind."

Santana's hand lifts until it's covered Quinn's, keeping her palm pressed up against her cheek.

"Do you love me, Quinn?"

The question cuts through the stillness.

"Yes," Quinn admits, broken and on a precipice. "I love you."

Santana inhales… a choked, heavy sob that follows immediately by a rush of words. "I love you."

Quinn's heart is precariously intact, and this time, when her world shifts, it feels only like it's been waiting for this exact moment to shift into place.

"Okay…" she breathes, soft as she pulls Santana's chin down and exhales against her lips, wet cheeks smearing moisture against Santana's lids. "Okay."

Santana's laugh is fragile beauty. "Bitch," she whispers brokenly.

They're in love.

Santana kisses her, lips soft and firm, and suddenly it's easy to believe.