Moments like this are usually either the beginning or the end, not much in-between. That's what she thought to herself, anyway, leaning in on her elbows against the high concrete wall. She pressed her face between the long, rusted bars that stuck out from each cement-filled cinder block, like flag poles with long-gone banners, closing her eyes and inhaling the sharp bite of rust. Ten floors up, the wind whipped her short blonde hair in every direction, picking up the hem of her blouse and taunting her like gentle fingers, pushing her forward in whispered breaths. She opened her eyes and looked down, past the edge of the wall, so high that she had to push herself up on her toes to see the ground below. Late afternoon traffic looked like a scatter of Hot Wheels cars, people crawling around the busy intersection like ants. Everything was so small from up here. She couldn't decide how that made her feel.
"They make the walls that high on purpose," a voice stated matter-of-factly from behind her, shaking Quinn out of whatever half-formed thought she was lost in and turning her around. Santana stood near the door that exited onto the hospital roof, puffy black jacket wrapped around her slight frame, black hair billowing out behind her as she squinted against a particularly strong gust of wind. Her voice seemed mousy, even smaller than her body, carried away by the wind.
"How come?" Quinn asked, forgoing the pleasantries of hello, how are you, or how the hell did you find me here?
"Jumpers," Santana said, wandering up to Quinn as if she just happened to find her here, staying a solid three steps away from the ledge. She never liked heights, even as a flyer she hated being thrown. Quinn was the only one who knew that, besides for Brittany. Santana never would have made the top of the pyramid or cheer captain if Coach Sue knew she was afraid to fly—she saw fear as weakness, and admitting it was as good as turning in your uniform. But Quinn saw it in her jaw every time she mounted for a toss. It was the way she clenched her teeth now, eyeing the rusty projecting bars carefully, as if sizing them up for strength.
"The wall or the bars?" Quinn asked, turning her back to Santana and continuing to look outwards. The wind was bringing clouds in from the west, encroaching on Lima like a wild thing stalking its prey. It was the kind of thing you wouldn't notice from ground level, but had a privileged view of from ten flights up.
"Both," she explained. "Dad told me they started with the wall, to keep people from jumping, but they'd just climb over it. So they put up the bars. I guess sometimes people still figure it out, but it's harder."
"Is that how you knew I was here?" Quinn asked. She couldn't see Santana's face, but she felt that she was shaking her head.
"No," she said. "I came to get money for dinner, and I saw your car in the parking garage. Couldn't figure out what you were doing—I went to the cafeteria, physical therapy, the maternity ward…"
"Santana," Quinn said, voice rising, and she turned to see Santana smirking.
"I'm just kidding," she said. "But seriously, I ran the whole place down before I thought to look here. The elevator doesn't even go up this far. What's the deal?"
"I was doing steps," Quinn offered without conviction.
"You hate steps, stadiums are your least-favorite workout," Santana said dismissively. "And could you maybe back up a little? You're freaking me out."
"I'm not going to jump, Santana," Quinn sighed.
"I know you're not, but you could fall," she said.
"You're paranoid," Quinn said without concern.
"Yeah, and you're gonna get scraped up off the pavement if there's another strong breeze," she snapped, and Quinn sighed and turned around, stuffing her hands in her jacket pockets and taking two large steps towards her with a smirk on her face.
"There, do you feel better now?" she asked.
"Thank you," Santana huffed, brushing errant hairs out of her face. "So, what's the deal? Do I need to call the fifth floor?" Quinn let out a bark-like laugh, sweeping her hand up over her face and clearing away the flyaway fringe that blocked her view.
"No psych holds, thanks," she said. "I was just looking."
"Why?" Santana asked.
"After the accident mom used to take me up here to feed the birds, so I could get some air," Quinn explained, her low, rolling alto akin to the sound of the far-away shoreline. Something about it always made Santana think of Lake Michigan. Maybe thunder, but that was so trite, and besides that, Quinn was never as demanding of presence as thunder was. Demanding, yes, sometimes, but not in her presentation—that was Rachel, or Mercedes, or Santana herself. Quinn could slip in and out of a room without even being seen, if she wanted to. She could sit in the back of glee club with a book and you might forget she was there at all. That was why when she did come in like a lion, it seemed so demanding—because of the contrast.
"I just like the feeling of being far away," she continued. "It's like taking a long drive at night, after everyone else goes to sleep. Don't you ever do that?"
The lines between Santana's furrowed brows told Quinn that no, she did not. Quinn sighed—it was this feeling, this being-outside feeling, that pushed her onto rooftops and down long, quiet, winding rural roads after midnight. Like she was looking for a place that understood her. Like that kind of place existed.
"Never mind," Quinn said, turning her eyes away from Santana and out somewhere else. She could never tell what the blonde was looking at, but it always seemed to be a thousand miles away. Santana sometimes wondered if Quinn could see something she did not, but never wanted to ask.
"I'm sorry," Santana said, suddenly feeling awkward, as if she had interrupted something. "I want to get it, Q. I do. I just don't know how."
"I know," Quinn said, still looking away. "And I don't know how to make you." Santana shivered in her jacket but Quinn was unmoving, stoic. She always was. It was so hard to tell what was going on behind her eyes, because you only ever saw what she wanted you to. Maybe, thanks to her slightly-demented socialite upbringing, it was all she knew how to show. She could tell Santana was afraid before Santana even knew she was afraid, but Quinn? Unreadable. If Santana was an open book, Quinn was a Dead Sea Scroll.
They stood in that silence for a while—long enough to watch the sun drop behind the business district a few blocks west, jagged mismatched teeth jutting out against the ominous slate-grey clouds that filled the previously empty expanse overhead. The air felt charged and dense, making the cold sink even deeper into their skin. Santana's stomach growled, but neither of them acknowledged it. Their breath began to appear as weightless clouds of vapor in front of their faces, growing colder and more humid as time ticked by. Santana trembled visibly in the cold, but did not move from her friend's side. She was beginning to wonder just how long Quinn could stand quietly and stare into the storm, when—
"Have you ever thought about it?" she asked. Her voice was throaty, from emotion or lack of use. She cleared it and Santana paused for a moment before answering.
"About what?" she asked, for clarity's sake. Quinn pressed her lips together.
"Jumping." She showed no emotion, but Santana felt a lump rise in her own throat. She reached out and rested the crook of her arm around Quinn's, pulling them closer together, both watching a silent flash of lightning illuminate the clouds beyond them.
"Once," Santana admitted. "After Abuela disowned me. I don't think I really meant it, though. It was just a thought."
"How did you feel?" Quinn asked. Santana ran the tip of her tongue across her lower lip and thought about the answer.
"Alone," she said. "Like nobody understood. Which was stupid…"
"No it wasn't," Quinn interjected, quiet but firm.
"Is that how you feel?" Santana asked.
"Sometimes," she sighed. "But it's not… it's not just about being alone. I feel alone by myself. I feel alone in a group of people. At glee rehearsal, at Cheerios, at dinner, in the middle of the night, in the middle of class… sometimes being around people makes me feel even more alone, because they all look… connected." Quinn's face relaxed and her chin dropped when she found the right word, as if something had fallen into place. "I just don't feel connected. I feel like everyone's on one side of the glass, and I'm on the other, and I can't get through. And nobody else knows."
Santana let Quinn conjure her words uninterrupted, as this was one of the only times Quinn had ever been so forthright with her, and she did not want to cut her off prematurely or spook her back into silence. But Quinn seemed to run out of steam there, and fell silent again. They watched the clouds disappear into the growing blackness, now only visible in the aftermath of slow-rising peals of thunder. The tar-pitch roof rumbled beneath their feet after a particularly bright flash, and Santana spoke again.
"Do you ever think about it?" she asked, though she was quite sure she already knew the answer to her question. Quinn swallowed and nodded, only offering her face in profile.
"A lot," she might have said, or Santana might have simply heard it on the wind, she couldn't be sure. Santana loosened the hold of her elbow around Quinn's arm and ran her hand down the inside of her wrist, until she found her frozen fingers and intertwined their hands together.
"I'm sorry," Santana said, without knowing why. She was sorry. Not because she did anything, but because Quinn felt like jumping off a building, and that made her feel immensely sad, and more than a little guilty that she had not known this until just now. A flood of questions rose to her consciousness, but she didn't ask any of them. She just held Quinn's hand and waited. With her, it was always waiting. Maybe that was why nobody ever knew what Quinn was thinking—it took her so long to say it, most people simply do not have the patience to watch the sun go down waiting for an answer.
"It's not your fault," Quinn said. "It's not… it's not anybody's fault. I thought it was dad's fault, Finn's fault, Puck's fault… Rachel… Shelby… I thought it was everyone else's fault. But it's not. There's just something wrong with me." Her voice broke on the last two words and the tears came. She bit her lip in an effort to stymie the flow, but to no effect. Santana pulled her into a hug which she did not have it within her to return, arms hanging limp at her sides.
"Shhh, don't say that…" she began, but that was clearly the wrong thing to say, because Quinn snapped away from her like she'd been shocked.
"No, don't tell me not to say that!" she said angrily, nearly yelling. "There is something wrong with me. And if I don't say it, then what? You know what happens to people who feel like fucking shit and don't say it? Karofsky. Tyler Clementi. The people they put those bars up for," she said, gesturing aggressively towards the edge of the rooftop. "So don't fucking tell me not to say it."
"Okay, okay," Santana said hurriedly, stomach caught in her throat. "I'm sorry, you're right. I'm sorry." She reached out and hesitantly rubbed her hand up and down Quinn's arm, which she allowed, wiping fresh tears on her jacket sleeve and more distressed and agitated than Santana had ever seen her. It did not help that the air was filled with static and they were on an open rooftop at the precipice of a major thunderstorm. There was something primal about it that crawled into her skin. She very much wanted to be off the roof.
"I don't want to feel this way anymore," Quinn coughed as she tried to catch her breath. "I don't know what to do, but I can't keep doing this. I can't keep pretending I'm okay, Santana. I can't." The severity of her raw, gritty voice startled Santana in a way she could not quite pin. Once she had seen Brittany slip while slicing an apple and cut the inside of her palm, and the sudden spring of blood had made Santana feel both anxious and ill. She felt the same way now.
"Okay," was all Santana could manage. Fortunately Quinn was now broken enough to allow herself to be held. In lieu of comforting words Santana simply reached forward and hugged Quinn tight as she wept fiercely, back shaking as she buried her face in Santana's chest, and Santana felt like she could barely hold onto her.
"I'm sorry," Santana murmured, over and over again. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I should have known. I should have noticed. I'm sorry." She felt like throwing up. The mood swings, the pink haired stint with the Skanks, the whole thing with Shelby and Beth… she should have known something was really, seriously wrong. Quinn was smart and self-possessed, people don't just act like that for no good reason. She should've known. But she was too obsessed with her own issues, they were all too self-involved to even notice. Quinn could have thrown herself off the top of a building before anyone even realized something was seriously wrong with her. The idea of it made Santana so sick that her knees felt ready to give, and she wondered who was holding onto whom.
The sky let go first, and the rain came in like a lion—not in a whisper, but in a wail. A deluge. A beginning.
A/N: Firstly, this was the product of a simultaneously specific and ambiguous prompt I gave my dear friend Mar (willowtreemuse): to write about feeding birds on the roof, and let the tone of her story be informed by the song "Rooftops" by Melissa McClelland. As usual, I wrote on the same prompt. (I diverged greatly from the bird-feeding prompt, but it's in there!) You can check hers out on her tumblr, beneaththewillowtree.
Secondly, Glee has pissed me off in many ways, but none so great as to completely ignore what could have been a fantastic storyline regarding Quinn's mental health. Glee could have turned 3 seasons of increasingly bizarre storylines into one cohesive, long-arcing saga about bipolar disorder and addressing the stigma surrounding mental illness. Instead, they shipped her off to New Haven to make even more poor life choices, and made multiple off-hand jokes about the illness, without ever addressing it directly. Well done, Glee. (Try not to get stuck in the tar pit of embittered sarcasm seeping from my pores at the moment.)
Thirdly, if you are having thoughts about hurting yourself or ending your life, please talk to someone. You're not alone. I've been there, and lots of other people have too. You can talk to a phone counselor at 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-273-TALK. If you can't talk on the phone, you can IM with a counselor live at the website IMAlive dot org. If you're in immediate danger, call 911. You are not alone. You are not alone. You are not alone.