For the final time I shall redirect your attention to the warning posted in chapter 1. That said, read on.


For the first time in a long time I woke with a smile on my face. It had everything to do with the fact that Brittany was kissing me awake. My eyes opened and I was allowed almost a minute of bliss while kissing her back before I remembered why we were in each other's arms in the back seat of my dad's car. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and saw it was 5 a.m., way earlier than I thought it would be. I also saw that my mother and father had called me about a million times.

I looked up at Brittany; she was watching me carefully and I wanted to know what was on her mind, so I did what I'd refused to do for so long and just asked.

"What's up?"

"You look a little worried," she said softly, almost as if she hadn't wanted to tell me.

"Not worried. My parents are just flipping out 'cause I sort of ran out on them," I said as I put my phone away, "What about yours?"

She bit her lip and I could tell she really didn't want to answer that one, but she did anyway, "They already knew I was going to be gone tonight."

I didn't need to hear anymore.

I averted my eyes to the back of the driver's seat and fought to keep my mind from drifting back to the horror of last night. In the midst of my struggle, Brittany sat up, perching herself at the opposite end of the seat as if I'd banished her there.

Feeling a little bad for that, I tried to make her feel better even though the whole thing still made my heart feel like it was in a vice. "Don't blame yourself," I said, pushing her thigh lightly with my foot as I looked up at her. "I've been dealing with Quinn's manipulations for years and I know better than anyone how well she can get into your head and make anything make sense."

She looked at me, her vibrant smile from moments ago noticeably less bright, "Maybe, but you don't have to pretend that it doesn't make you sad."

I rubbed my eyes and sat up; out the window I could see the pinks and blues of dawn and somehow it was intimidating. There was so much waiting outside the car – I supposed anything would look ominous, even a bunny eating a marshmallow. I looked around the parking lot and saw that we were still alone, but I knew that wouldn't last too much longer. At the least Sylvester would be around shortly.

"Brittany, everything that's happened in the past couple of years has made me sad, but being with you isn't one of them. I'm not a fan of Quinn pawing all over you, but that's in the past, right?"

I asked, because I still wasn't confident enough to just outright believe she wanted me, but she nodded her head immediately and confidently, "Yes."

"Then so is me acting like a giant asshole when we're in front of people I know. We're starting over remember? None of the other stuff matters."

With a nod she climbed carefully into the front seat, "In that case we better get you home with a good excuse or your abuela won't let us go out anymore."

I followed her, trying not to look pained, "Uh, she didn't know about how I felt about you… or girls at all, and after she found out I don't think she's ever going to talk to me again, so I don't think we have to worry about that. My parents might try and ground me, though."

"Have you tried talking to her about it? Like sitting her down and explaining everything?"

I had to turn around and fish the keys off the floor of the back seat, but after I did I started the car and found the strength to answer the question, "Quinn told her yesterday. I haven't had the chance to try, but I bet if I did manage to get her to sit down, I doubt anything would be different. Quinn made sure she got the point and I think it made her even less receptive to the whole idea than she already was."

Brittany said nothing as I pulled out of the parking lot, but she did reach over and run her fingers through my ruffled hair. The feel of her fingers running along my scalp was a lot more comforting that I ever would have imagined. She simply sat there, offering tactile comfort on the short ride home, and as far as I'd come I still didn't think I deserved it.

The lights in her house were still off when we pulled up, and I wondered if it would be possible for her to sneak me in her room, so I could hide until I was ready to face the world.

But there had been enough hiding already, so instead I turned to Brittany and gave her a long kiss; partially because I loved kissing her, but mostly because it made me feel like I was strong enough to do anything.

She looked at me with those same timid eyes, "When will I see you again?"

That made me feel a little bad. She was still afraid I was going to disappear again. I understood that, though; fear in the face of constant reassurance.

Abuela had said she'd love me no matter what.

"Well, I don't know how mad my parents are going to be when I get home. I may be grounded for a day or two, or however long they plan to stay in town, but after that how about I take you to dinner?"

She thought about that, "How about I take you out and it's a date."

I nodded, "Fine, you take me out, and if you go a week without hearing from me, it's because Quinn went crazy and slit my throat in my sleep."

I was only half kidding.

"What…" I started and stopped. I wasn't sure if this was something I wanted to get into at the moment, but since it had to come up at some time, sooner was better than later, "What do your parents think about you dating girls?"

Once again she seemed reluctant to answer, "Er, they don't care."

"Do you know that or are you guessing?"

"I know," she said and when I continued to stare hard she went on, "The morning after we slept together I got a little ahead of myself and told them we were seeing each other; they kind of shrugged it off."

"They still think we're dating?"

She nodded, "I didn't want to admit that we were over that fast, at least not out loud."

"You won't have to anymore," I hoped that my sincerity reached her. I hadn't been that honest with many people.

I learned then how quickly her smile could alleviate my guilt faster and more powerfully than fight club ever could. With all that had happened and all that would happen, all I could think as she kissed me one final time and climbed out of the car was that I couldn't be happier.


The moment I stepped back into my house my mom was the first thing I saw. I expected yelling, accusations, and name calling. Instead she watched me carefully like I might run if she got too close and my dad just stood back by the door with a serious look on his face, and I could only assume he was resisting asking about his car.

"Where were you?" my mother finally asked.

"I came here to try to talk to abuela, and when that went to shit I just went for a drive."

It wasn't total honesty, but Brittany wasn't any of their business just yet.

My dad finally joined us and placed a hand on my head as if he didn't really know how to comfort someone.

I was pretty sure he didn't.

"You scared us. You could have at least answered your phone."

"I fell asleep and it was on vibrate, I'm home now though."

"I'm sorry about your abuela," dad said, looking off towards his mother's door which was still firmly shut.

I was a little sick of everyone apologizing for everyone else in this family. If abuela herself wasn't sorry for what happened, then I didn't really care.

"Is she just going to avoid me forever?"

"She's going to try," he sighed and rubbed his eyes, "She isn't even here anymore. As of last night, she's decided to stay in a hotel until she can find other living arrangements."

That hurt. A lot. She hardly had any money, but she was willing to spend every penny to get away from me.

Apparently my pain showed on my face, so my mother dared to step closer to clarify, "Don't think it was just you. We had some words with her as well when we got home. Everyone thought it would be best, so we paid for her hotel so she could take her opinion of you somewhere else."

That was just as upsetting. I wanted her to still be here. I wanted to fight with my last breath for an ounce of respect from her. I couldn't even tell if that was fight club or just me; if I was just that desperate for her love. However, I could also see how her leaving was probably in everyone's best interest.

"So when are you guys heading out?" I asked as I started for the stairs.

I hadn't planned to go to school, but I could easily pretend to go and find something else to do until Brittany was done with school and work.

"We aren't leaving."

Those words surprised me. It had been my father's voice, but somehow I couldn't even believe it.

"You aren't?"

My dad chuckled, "How could we? After all that talk about not wanting to leave you alone how could we after all that's happened?"

An irrational anger flooded me, "How could you in the first place?!"

I could feel myself doing it again. Once again I couldn't place the cause, but something inside me rejected the idea of us just deciding it was time to be a family.

"Santana, we know we've made mistakes, but we're here now," my mom started.

"No! Don't try and make this alright because you just realized you're both total fuckups! What, you're going to stay because you found out I'm gay?! Oh, Santana needs someone to hold her hand through this trying time?! News flash: There are other things going on in my life other than being a lesbian. That is one of, like, a billion things that's happened in the years since you started flying around the country to help every family but your own! So please, don't think you need to stop now on my account. I've gotten by without you most of my life and I can make it a few more years!"

I was yelling and I knew better. Everything was already so bad, yet I couldn't shut up and take what they were giving me. I wanted to, I actually wanted to, but I couldn't; the idea of falling back into being the same fake liar I had been made me more wildly defiant than the notion of telling abuela the truth about Brittany had.

They didn't respond right away, and I was enough of a kid to worry if they were going to leave me again. Even with all the rejection and rebellion swirling within me I wanted so much for them to genuinely care and that made me feel so awful I couldn't even stomach it. I didn't want to want their love.

We all sort of stared at each other until my dad spoke again, "You're right, we should have been here all along. We'll do everything we can to try and make up for what's happened even though there is nothing that can repair years of not only being alone but feeling alone. All we can do now is be here for you, but nothing we do will help even slightly if you won't let us. You can't fight like this every time we try and get close, Santana. So will you let us try?"

He made a compelling argument, but I wasn't exactly in a forgiving mood.

"I don't want to be late to school," I said as I turned and resumed my walk up to my room.

"Santana."

It was my mother's voice and it was equal parts commanding and calm. This was certainly not the time for her bullshit, but in an attempt to keep the peace I turned around and looked at her.

"Every time we've come home you do this; you push us away until we're too tired to fight any more and leave. I don't want to do that anymore; I want to get to know my daughter, so I'm asking that you put aside all the problems you have with us, for a little bit and let us be a family. Maybe you could forget about school and cheerleading just for today and we can enjoy each other's company for the first time in I don't recall how long. You don't have to talk to us about anything you don't want to, but let's talk about something."

I considered throwing the offer back in her face, but the idea of seeing Quinn grinning and plotting next to me in class didn't appeal, so I nodded and came back down.

I did it offhandedly, to avoid having to face my nemesis and to kill time until I got to see Brittany, but instead I genuinely enjoyed spending the day with them. Mom made breakfast that didn't taste half as good as abuela's but solved the issue of hunger; dad was in charge of lunch, but instead of trying his hand at cooking he drove us the long way to the nearest Burger King so I could point out all the things that had changed since they'd last stayed in town more than a week. We talked a lot. My parents had plenty of stories to share, stories that were new to everyone but the person telling them since they hadn't talked to each other in a long time as well. I heard about some of the odd diseases my dad had treated and about the successes and failures of my mother's procedures. I told them about Rachel and her dying father, about how I thought Quinn was going through a tough time at home and how I had met some new people who were totally different from the normal group I hung with. I didn't mention fight club, or how I'd been struggling with a crippling fear of rejection that had only become worse after my worst fear was realized, but it was a start.

It was oddly relaxing to be with them. Without snarky comments or arguments they were decent people and I could see why they had gotten married in the first place. By late afternoon I couldn't claim to have forgiven them for everything, and I still felt an acute fear that all they'd said was just talk and they'd be gone again soon, but I did dare to mention Brittany.

I only did so because, since I wasn't grounded for my previous actions, I wanted to see her as soon as possible. I even told them we were dating. Neither of them seemed to want to let me wander off, but they did, and I could see my mother itching to warn me about staying out too late or getting into things she wouldn't want me to, but she didn't. The car keys were given into my care by my father, which surprised me since I assumed with abuela leaving my driving privileges would vanish also. They both hugged me goodbye and sent me on my way. Maybe they wanted to keep the truce we'd built up going, I didn't know. All I did know as I walked out the door was that I was unbelievably excited because it was the first time I'd left my house to meet my girlfriend. It was the first time that doing so didn't have to be a secret.

The moment I got into the car I texted Brittany to tell her I would pick her up from work, and when she sent back that she couldn't wait to see me, I felt the happiest I had in a very long time.


"I finished the village," Brittany said as we walked into her room.

There on her dresser was a newspaper city populated with the small people we had crafted. I still didn't know why exactly she needed to make it, probably only because she wanted to, and I didn't really need to know. She was proud of the thing we made together, so I was proud of it too.

"Looks good," was all I was able to say since my mind was still back downstairs.

After bringing her home I met her parents at the door. They didn't act any differently, but somehow them knowing that I wanted their daughter in that way sort of changed things. Especially with us heading up to her room after she'd just taken me out to eat an absurdly lavish dinner and I felt like repaying her in the best way I knew how.

"Artie says it's depressing, because most of the clippings are about sad things, but I didn't want to ruin the funny pages."

I chuckled, "You could have used the want ads or something."

"It wouldn't have mattered, he wouldn't have said anything nice anyway – he's still mad I got you."

My eyes widened in surprise, "What? He can't possibly be interested in me; he nearly bit my head off when he caught me talking to you."

"Yeah, but he's always kind of unnecessarily protective of me when we're out, but later I told him all about you and then when I told him we were dating, he was totally jealous that I'd got a hot, funny, smart, popular cheerleader for a girlfriend."

"When you put it that way, I sound like a catch," she seemed to have a boundless ability to flatter me.

"You are."

"So you already told your friends about us?"

"Yeah, about the same time I told my parents."

I was so glad I managed to get myself together, because the notion of her having to hang her head in shame and tell everyone she didn't actually have a girlfriend was just too tragic. Especially given how badly I'd been pining after her for the longest time.

"I was always under the impression that you homeschoolers thought us public school kids were idiots," I said to try and lighten the mood a little.

A sly smile slid over her lips, "That tends to be the thought process of most, but you're on the honor roll and I'm hardly one to try and dismiss someone because they aren't super smart. Besides, most of my friends think having to deal with that many other people every day is scary, and on top of that it isn't even the same group for each class and you get new classmates and teachers every year. I think you guys are all kinds of awesome for not freaking out from just hearing about it."

Again she was making me sound like more than I was, so in appreciation of that I leaned forward and gave her a kiss that was supposed to be short but ended with me in her arms, moaning into her mouth. Kissing her without worrying about who knew, or how badly it would end, was even more exhilarating than anything we'd done before and it made me want to do so much more.

"Speaking of misconceptions," I said, trying to get a hold of myself, "I always thought homeschool kids were all socially awkward with no working concept of kissing or sex, but you are quite skilled at both."

She didn't respond right away and I realized my statement had seemed more accusatory than complimentary.

"I didn't- I'd never been with anyone before you," she said quickly, guilt shining through her eyes, "I was only with Quinn because she was really sure you didn't want to be in a relationship and-"

I shook my head and kissed her again, "I didn't mean it like that. Let's forget about her and her lies and just enjoy what we have together now."

Her eyes suddenly seemed sad, "I was really scared I'd lost you," she said and her voice sounded strained, "When you found me with Quinn I thought you'd never want to talk to me again and I realized that you're all I've got. My family tries to care more, but they're still so far away, and all my friends have more important people and things in their lives. I just need you to know you're the most important thing in my life and I love you."

"So are you and I love you too," I said, simply, giving her my most reassuring smile.

My words seemed to console her and she kissed me back, "By the way, I only kind of knew what I was doing because I'd done, like, a ton of internet research before I was brave enough to call you over." Her face turned dark red with the admission.

I couldn't help but give a look of surprise, "Research, huh?"

"Yeah," she mumbled, hiding her face behind a curtain of hair.

I pushed it aside and found her eyes, "That sounds like something I'd want to see."

That made her smile, "You're talented enough without it."

That had us back to making out, but we were interrupted by a knock on the door shortly followed by Brittany's dad stepping in. Luckily, at the sound we had moved far enough apart to appear innocent, though Brittany was still bright red.

"Hey, girls, just checking in. Are either of you hungry?"

"No, dad," Brittany said quickly.

He looked between us as if he didn't quite buy how separate we were but nodded and left, and I couldn't help but note he did so without closing the door again.

"Sometimes them paying attention to me again has its drawbacks."

"I know that feeling," I grumbled before turning to sit on the bed in the hopes she would join me since it was at such a far angle from the door we could resume our previous activities.

Before she followed me she gave the door a small push, closing it a bit more, and as if reading my mind the moment she sat down we were back to where we left off except this time felt a bit more sexually charged since she had me pinned to her bed. That and that Brittany's hand made a home on my stomach and was tracing feather-light patterns from my belly button to the very edge of my jeans and it was making me nearly dizzy with arousal.

She seemed to be trying to push me to action, and I really did want to go beyond making out, because if just kissing was this much better now I could only imagine how the sex would be. The only thing that held me back was the slight worry that her parents might walk in at any moment, and no matter how chill they were about their daughter's sexuality I was pretty sure even they cared enough to get upset if they caught us like that.

Although after several minutes of that treatment I had to pull her hands away, because ten seconds more and I wasn't going to care who came through the door.

"Britt, we either need to slow down or block the door off and commit to this, because it's a little much for me to handle without going all the way."

She laughed and leaned back, giving me the time to breathe in air I didn't realize I needed so badly, "I'm sorry," she said and I knew she really wasn't, but that was fine. "I just want to touch you all the time. Besides, you make the cutest little noises when I do."

"I do not!" I protested indignantly.

She placed a kiss on my forehead, "You do and I love it." I huffed in response, but couldn't help the smile that crept on my face.

I never would have imagined that there would be a point where the pretty waitress at the Burger Shack would in fact be my girl, but here it was. And I was aware that all this positive change was due to Quinn, but I was still furious with her and refused to actively acknowledge her interference as help. I was still proud of myself, because I could have lied to abuela and my parents and just said Quinn was crazy and I could have just walked away from what I saw in Satan's bedroom and written Brittany off as a lost cause, but I hadn't. That was me, not Quinn, and I wouldn't forget that.

"So when can I take you out on an official date?" I asked, trying to distract myself from how badly I wanted to taste her lips again.

"Well, I didn't expect to see you for a while, so I cleared up next Monday afternoon, thinking that would be the soonest I would be allowed to take you out." She seemed just as magnetized to me as I was to her, because her hand was on my stomach again and I was sure I caught the tail end of a soft whimper escape me.

How did I not notice I did that?

She smiled knowingly as she resumed that maddening pattern, "How did that go by the way? You and your parents? You didn't argue with them or anything, did you?" she asked.

"A little, but they seemed set on letting the past go," all my bravado slipped a bit as I confessed, "I told them about us – they even know I'm here now."

She smiled widely, "You did? What did they say?"

I shrugged, "Nothing really, they just sent me on my way. I guess they didn't want to rock the boat by reminding me of my curfew."

"Boats don't rock because you talk on them; they must not have said anything because they trusted you to come home on time," she said, stopping the hypnotizing swirl of her fingers and looking at the clock.

"Maybe you should head home. It's getting late."

I frowned, "What? They let me out of the house on a free pass and you want to send me back?"

"I don't want you abusing their trust over me. I want to meet them and I want them to like me when I do."

Her explanation had me baffled, yet it made perfect sense. "I want you to meet them too. I think they might be turning into the kind of people I wouldn't mind introducing."

She smiled down at me and gave me another kiss before pulling me up, "You better go then."

"Britt, I don't have to be home until ten, that's a half hour from now."

"You getting back a few minutes early might buy me some extra affection."

I realized offhandedly that her concern was based off the fact that her own parents were still a lost cause. Pulling her back down on the bed, I placed my hand on her jaw, keeping her eyes on mine and rubbed my thumb along her neck.

"They will love you, even if I show up an hour late." With that I tried to sneak in some extra time by replacing my thumb with my lips, but she didn't fall for that for long.

"But they'll love me more if you're early; now go," she said eagerly, and I could tell she wanted to send me back as a message of good will.

If that was what she truly wanted, I would give it to her, but not without letting her know the consequences of such actions. I sat up and yawned, stretching while doing so and enjoying the way my muscles flexed. The only thing I enjoyed more was watching Brittany's eyes follow my every motion.

"Okay, I'll go then, but not before I get a goodnight kiss."

I leaned over her, purposefully laying down between her legs, and gave her a deep kiss before deliberately grinding against the delicate fabric of her shorts that separated her clit from the rough feel of my jeans. I knew the sensation affected her because she was the one to deepen the kiss and I could feel her legs open a little wider for me, so I took hold of her hips and did it again, pressing into her a little harder, earning myself a heady groan. I bit at her lips and did it again, and when her whole body shuddered in pleasure, I leapt up.

"Better get going then, wouldn't want to be late. See you tomorrow?"

She just looked at me through dilated eyes, her mind still lost in the position we had just been in. When she finally caught up, an adorable look of fury spread across her face, "You are horrible!" I leaned over for a final, final kiss goodbye and got a pillow to the face instead, "Lord Tubbington is my new number one best friend!"

"Please, Tubbs can't rock your world like I just did."

Even she couldn't argue that so she stood and pulled me close, "Next time we meet you'd better finish what you started."

I couldn't keep the cocky smirk off my face, "Yes, ma'am."


I had a good day that turned into a good week.

To my utter astonishment, when I returned to school, sulky and ready to face whatever bullshit Quinn had prepared, I found there was none. In fact, Quinn didn't show up to school or fight club for over two weeks. I was sure she had the connections to make that okay and it did worry me a little, but I refused to dwell on her. It was especially easy to forget her crap when Brittany convinced her parents to allow her to have a nature walk as part of her science curriculum which was ultimately her walking to McKinley where I would meet her for lunch. Sometimes we'd eat and talk and other times we'd find an unoccupied room and occupy the hell out of it. I saw her almost every day and it made me so happy I could hardly believe that I wasn't in an alternate reality. Not everything was perfect, though; my abuela hadn't said a word to me since the night I confronted her. I'd even stopped by her hotel and left a note and tried calling repeatedly only to get no answer. That part of my life still hurt a great deal, but when Brittany was at my side at dinner with my parents and we were all getting along, it was impossible to let that stop me from enjoying my life.

There was also the fact that now that my parents knew Brittany was my girlfriend they had a completely new set of rules regarding my room and how long we could go undisturbed in it. Which was why it was way more awesome that my dad finally got me my own car. It was used because he wanted me to learn a lesson about responsibility or some nonsense, but ultimately what it meant was that school and the back seat of my car was where we spent most of our intimate moments. And it was fine, because it wasn't about me hiding her or who I was.

I was pretty sure most of my classmates figured out that the girl who kept bringing me lunches was more than a friend, but no one dared say anything, because with Quinn gone I was the Head Bitch In Charge and acting captain of the Cheerios. No one dared question me and I didn't offer any answers, though I still would have told anyone brave enough to try the truth.

Rachel eventually returned with a bit of good news: her father was still quite ill and probably still going to die, but his quality and length of life had greatly improved once my dad made a few phone calls to an oncologist who owed him a favor.

After school Brittany and I would sometimes hang with our ex-club members and it was surprisingly the first group of friends I'd ever been with that I would actually call friends. I found out that Lauren won the state wrestling championship and Tina finally broke up with Mike and hit it off with some other guy named Matt, who apparently made her so much happier. According to them our fight club still went on, but it was less of an angst fest and more of a friendly spar. The other offshoots were still out there and we didn't feel the need to bother with them.

Three weeks of no Quinn and I found the courage to introduce Brittany to Tina, Lauren, and Rachel as my girlfriend, though no one seemed particularly surprised.

Everything was going so well.

It was all perfect.

And I was fucking stupid to think it would stay that way.


In the middle of class, Tuesday afternoon, I got a text from Quinn.

The only thing written was an address, from the looks of it, to the middle of nowhere.

I ignored it.

An hour later I got another text from her. It said: Meet me or regret it.

I glared at my phone and sent back: Then make me regret it bitch

I knew I shouldn't have done it; I knew I should have just ignored her and gone on about my day, pretending to have seen nothing, but I was still angry about the needless heartache she put me through.

Another twenty minutes passed before I got a text that said: Fine, I have Brittany here tied up comic book style so if you aren't here real soon I'm going to start cutting things off her

I stared at it for a long time, feeling a cold sweat break out as my imagination went wild. She wouldn't, would she? No, there was no evidence to say she would not in fact cut Brittany up just to agitate me.

There was the off chance she was bluffing, so as I raced down the hall, away from cheer practice and towards my car I called Brittany. All I got was her voicemail and it made my heart drop. I tried the Burger Shack and only found that she hadn't come in to work. That made me break into a run.

I didn't have her parents' cell numbers and they didn't have a land line, so my options were to go to Quinn or go to Brittany's house.

Determined, I leapt in my Kia to hightail it to the address I'd been sent. Brittany could be simply sitting in her room, looking up new ways to keep our sex life interesting or she could be being slowly murdered by a teenage psychopath. I couldn't take a chance and waste time checking her house if it was the latter.

It was difficult to drive at top speed on a barely visible dirt road while trying to hold and read my phone's GPS and fight off a panic attack. I managed and soon saw the only building standing within a hundred miles inch closer in the distance. I tossed my phone aside and floored it to get to the building, my anxiety only increasing when I saw Quinn's car parked outside.

I'd barely put the car in park before I dashed out and raced to the rickety door of the ominously tall, and apparently abandoned building. The inside was dark despite the many windows that streamed the fading light of day in, and the entire thing was filled with concrete, rebar, and steel support beams, making me think it had been some sort of storage spot for such things at one point. Now everything was tossed all over the place, criss crossing and intertwining, giving it an M. C. Escher-esque look.

I considered being subtle, but I worried there was no time, so instead I just screamed out, "Hello?! I'm here!"

In response I heard an amused titter that let me know Quinn was somewhere nearby.

"Up here!" she called, and when I looked up, I could see her in the rafters a couple of stories above my head.

"Where's Brittany?!" I shouted immediately.

She shrugged, "You'll have to come up. There's a ladder to your right."

I looked over and sure enough there was a ladder, but I didn't trust it, or her for that matter.

"Quinn, what do you want?!"

"For you to come up!" she called before she stood and vanished into the jumble of wires and beams above.

Knowing this would end in a tetanus shot at the very least, I climbed the rickety, rusty ladder high up to where the third floor would be if this building bothered with things like that. Instead of an actual floor there was a plank of wood that was about ten by twenty in size that seemed to have been carefully rigged to sit steadily on the rafters.

I looked around and was about to call for Quinn again when I heard a loud thump behind me, and before I could turn I was shoved out into the center of the platform. I turned and wasn't surprised to see Quinn standing there with a smug look on her face. She was wearing a white tee shirt tucked into black spanks. It wasn't anything special, but it was unusual attire for her which made me feel like she was going to do something unusual.

I gulped as I watched her kick the ladder hard, and a weird sort of dread filled me as it clattered to the ground. I was left adrift in the air with the world's craziest cheerleader.

"Where's Brittany?" I asked again, trying to mask how scared I was getting.

"I killed her already," she said simply.

My mouth fell open and the horror of it made my anger burn white hot, "You're lying!"

She laughed, "I am. Brittany's probably at Baskin-Robbins with her phone turned off, waiting for you to show up and give her a surprise like you told her to in your text."

"Wha-" I hadn't sent her a text, but I had left my phone unattended at points during the day, and with Quinn's fight club drones willing to do anything for her I was willing to bet if I checked my text log to Brittany I'd see just that.

I was still afraid of whatever the hell this was, but knowing the girl I loved was safe made me a little more brave.

"What the fuck is this?!"

She spread her arms, "Our final fight."

The word fight sent me into a rage, "I'm done fighting with you, Quinn! The club was stupid and I was stupid for letting you talk me into it! And what makes you think I'd want to do anything with you after the shit you pulled?!"

"You're mad at me for outing you? I'm sorry, did it all turn out poorly? Did Brittany break up with you? Did your parents fly away?"

The fact that she knew everything was okay made me even angrier somehow, "You know they didn't! But you hurt me, Quinn. You knew how I felt about Brittany and you lied to her just to get to me! You knew my abuela wouldn't accept who I am and you still showed her your damned dildo! And I don't care how it all turned out, it wasn't your right to tell anyone about me!"

"True, but I did it and it's done, and now this is happening."

"Quinn, I won't fight you," I said quietly, intent on stay calm.

"Won't you? After everything I did? You know I fucked Brittany more than once, right?" I did know, and I didn't open my mouth to respond to her jibe, "And I don't mean that week I mean that night. I didn't know when you'd arrive, so I kind of had to keep her busy until you showed up." My eyes darted around looking for another way to the ground, but there wasn't a single one that didn't look like certain death. "What if I told you Mercedes was my fault?"

I pinched my eyes closed, "It was your and Rachel's fault, and mine for not fucking stopping you."

She shook her head, "No, I mean it was directly my fault. I followed her out of the school and offered her a ride home, only I picked on her the whole way back. I laughed about what happened. I called her fat and I promised that no one would love someone as ugly as her, especially after what happened. I even followed her into her house and kept it up, but she didn't say anything back. When she went to take a shower, I waited to keep on going since she was just letting me, but after about an hour I realized she wasn't coming out. I found her in the bathroom, still dressed, slumped in the tub with the shower running and a bottle of pills on the floor. After that I got the hell out of there."

I could only gape at her, "Why?"

"Does it matter? Could there ever actually be a real reason? How about you come over here and punish me for it."

"No."

"If you don't, the same could happen to Brittany, and her parents are not likely to find her the same way Mercedes' did."

"No!" I snapped, "Stop it! Stop this! Why did you trap me up here?! Ask Karofsky, he hates you enough! Why me?! Why are you so set on hurting me?!"

I hadn't cried since the last time I saw abuela, but I was crying now. I felt miserable and powerless and I needed to at least know why it was happening.

"Because you're the only one left who can judge me, and I think you're the only one left who will. Rachel ran, Brittany's too stubborn, and Lauren and Tina don't have the stomach. I thought Mercedes might, but I was wrong."

"What do you mean judge you?! You're a selfish, bitchy, two-faced asshole! There! Happy?!"

She smiled, "And what's my sentence?"

"Getting the fuck away from me and Brittany!"

She walked closer and knelt next to me on the floor, "Ah, see, now who's selfish? That solves your problem but not mine or anyone else's I encounter. The only sentence for me is death and you're the one to carry it out."

"What?" I asked, my mouth dry.

"You are the one who will save me from myself. You will save the world from me-"

"Quinn, I'm not going to kill you."

"I worried you might take that stance, hence why we are here." She stood again and pointed to the opposite side of our platform. "There is another ladder over there. It's hard to reach, but if you take it slow you can shimmy down to it and make it to safety. However," she grabbed my arm and pulled me forcibly to the edge. I tried to resist, but she was stronger than I remembered, "should you fall, there is no safe place to land."

I looked down to see that the platform was above a pit of carefully arranged rebar wire and jagged pieces of metal coating the floor, as if the sheer height of the fall wasn't enough.

I crawled back to relative safety, "Why not just do it yourself?!" I yelled, again trying to mask my mounting terror.

"I told you, I'm not strong enough for that. I've tried, trust me, but I always back out. I thought Mercedes might turn and kill me once I had the audacity to follow her to her room," she sighed wistfully, "I don't think I'd ever been so jealous, seeing her lying there."

I took her moment of calm as a possible window to her sanity, "Why, Quinn? Why do you think you deserve death? What's so wrong? Can't you let someone try to help you before you resort to this?"

When she looked at me again, I realized there was no demon in her eyes, the demon was her and she was not in a discussing mood any longer.

"If you want to make it to that ladder, you're going to have to push me off the edge, otherwise I'm going to kill you."

I opened my mouth to protest, but she punched and I dodged. She missed my eye by an inch, "No head shots!" I snapped.

"Normal rules don't apply here. This is a fight to the death, only one of us leaves here alive, so get up and survive."

"I don't want to do this," I pleaded again, but she kicked me in the stomach so hard I collapsed to the floor in agony.

"You don't do this and you won't see Brittany again, and after I kill you I'll go to her. And you just know she'll be broken up and cling to the first person who reaches out and it'll be me. I'm not a dyke, but I would gladly make a living fucking her mentally and physically just to make you spin in your grave."

I knew she was trying to make me angry. It was working. And as far as killing her went at this point it was self-defense.

But I still didn't want to do it.

After everything, as much as I hated her, I didn't want her dead and I certainly didn't want to do the deed. However, I did also believe every word she said and there was no way I could leave Brittany at her mercy.

She marched closer and yanked me to my feet before shoving me hard towards the edge, "Fucking fight, coward!" she shouted before she swung.

I knew when I saw her fist come that it would kill me; I was off balance, on the edge and there was nothing to hold on to. So I ducked, and instinct made me launch at her in a shoulder tackle before I pinned her to the ground and slugged her across the face. That made her smile and the next thing I knew she'd hammered me back in the throat and I fell off her, sputtering.

"That's more like it. If you'd had that spunk when you banged Brittany the first time, maybe it wouldn't have been so easy for me to make her come over and over."

My temper finally overtook my fear, "Fuck you, Quinn!" I yelled as I jumped up and let my fist make solid contact with the underside of her jaw. When she stumbled back, I kicked her right in the kidney with all I had. I heard her cry out in pain and didn't care as I continued to kick her while she was down. She grabbed my leg and spun, making me fall forward, dangerously close to the edge of our arena. I tried to scramble back, unfortunately she had a solid hold on me and stood up dragging me around the platform like a mop. I kicked at her with my other foot, but she caught it and, like Brittany had done to her, began to swing my body around a couple of times before she let go.

I'd never felt terror like the kind I got from sailing helplessly through the air towards my death. Luckily I crashed to the ground a second before flying over and was able to claw the upper half of my body back to safety.

As I hung there Quinn walked up slowly, her eyes dark and haunting. She sat down next to me Indian style as my legs kicked, desperately trying to find purchase. Of all the ways I could die, alone with Quinn, in my Cheerios uniform, was probably the least optimal.

She watched me struggle and pant for a moment before she said, "My dad fucks me. Almost every night."

If I hadn't been fighting for my life, I might have gone completely still with surprise. I'd worried it would be something like that, but I'd never imagined it was something ongoing.

"And y'know, it wouldn't be so bad if I could react normally," she went on as if I weren't seconds from death, or maybe that was the reason she was confessing at all, "but a few months ago he was there banging away and," she laughed in a weird, strangled way, "I came. Like, legit orgasm came. What the shit is that about?" I grunted as I tried to hoist my lower half up on the platform and Quinn seemed to take that as a response, "Yeah, that's why I wanted you to pound me with a dildo. I just didn't want to associate dicks and orgasms with my dad anymore." She looked down at her hands and I took a deep breath to try and steady myself to try and make it back up again. "The most fucked up part about all this is I still love my dad; I still want his approval; I still want to make him proud of me. Seriously, who does that?" she asked with a laugh, though she was crying now. "My mom just lets it happen while she gets drunk in another room. She let it happen to Fran and she let it happen to me. I mean, that's bad, but why is she the only one I hate?"

I finally managed to get a foot on the edge, but she nonchalantly pushed it off, making me claw at the wood as my weight pulled me down. I had to start to consider I could really die here, and that prompted me to decided to try another method.

My arms were getting tired, and my tormentor was my only ticket out, "Quinn, we can get you help. You aren't the only one who's been abused."

She snorted, "No, thanks. Fran got help. She left the second she could and she left me in that house to move on to a new life complete with a shrink and a husband." She looked at me, her eyes reflecting nothing but misery, "I went to stay with her over the summer. She's strung out on drugs. She fights with her husband constantly when he's not off with some skank and all she can do is go to her shitty job as a desk clerk so she can make enough money to pay for the doctor that isn't helping. I don't want to be her."

"Then don't," I grunted, wanting to help, but wanting solid ground more, "You can be better than her."

"I don't even want to be. I don't want to live with everything I've seen running around in my head. I'm done with life – totally done. What kind of person comes when their dad fucks them? Who lets their dad get them pregnant and then debates over whether to keep the damn thing or not? I'm not normal; I'm not a good person and you of all people know that. I don't want some doctor trying to convince me that what happened is okay, or that it isn't my fault-"

"But it isn't," I said quietly, since every ounce of effort was in keeping my arms strong, "Please let me up."

She only looked at me for a moment and I slipped a little, then she turned her eyes to the warehouse, "I already have a suicide note for the police to find so you won't have to worry about being found out, so if I help you, will you help me?"

I nodded, willing to agree to anything to get her to get me out of this. She watched me for a moment and finally grabbed me by the collar and helped me up. I collapsed in front of her and quickly moved away in case she decided to change her mind about letting me live. But she only sat there looking tired before she stood once more waiting for me to do something.

My heart was pounding and my fingers were bleeding from having scratched at the wood for so long, "This isn't the only answer, we… we could call the cops or child services or we could get you out of that house, away from him and once you are I promise you'll feel better."

"You said you'd help me," she said, looking at me with hard eyes that seemed content to toss me off the edge again.

"I am!"

"I'm not going to have everyone in Ohio pity me as the poor girl whose dad raped her. I couldn't possibly live through high school like that. I can barely stand to be known as the friend of a lesbian."

I pinched my nose in frustration, "No one will tease you! And if they try, I'll deal with them; fight club will deal with them. This isn't a hopeless situation! You're a victim whether you believe it or not!"

"Am I? What about everything I did to you? And Brittany? And Rachel, and Mercedes-"

"Yeah, you've done some fucked up things, but I don't think death is the answer."

"You and I don't see eye to eye on that point," she sighed. "Santana, I'm tired, and I'm sick of going to bed knowing what's coming and waking up remembering it. I don't want to fix this – I want it over. And I am still willing to toss you over the edge if that's what it'll take to make you fight back. I wish I could just let you do it, but I have this self-preservation and acute fear of death and what comes after that won't just let me end it, so you're really going to have to fight me."

I swallowed heavily and approached her. As always I could see her logic, and I could completely understand her not wanting to have to face another day of her life. She had made up her mind, and letting her live meant leaving everyone at the mercy of her suicidal madness. It would subject my family and Brittany to it, and it would only get worse as she got older.

That's what I had to tell myself anyway as I took a swing at her. She dodged, but there was a pleased light in her eyes as we started our dance. I struck out and she ducked me and for once I could read her as easily as Brittany had. She was happy; this was the end, the last dance she'd have to do. There was no more pretending or torment left, she could finally get what she wanted. She could finally have what she'd been afraid to obtain for herself.

This whole time she had been just as scared as me, afraid of someone knowing her secrets, afraid of the future she'd have carrying them. Afraid of the drones she commanded turning on her, judging her for the company she kept and the things that had happened to her. She'd even told me at Puck's party, but I hadn't realized that summary included her.

I finally landed a blow to her stomach and followed it up with another to her face. Her nose bloomed into blood and I remembered how this started; I remembered how broken she was then and my heart clenched. She caught me by the throat and dropped an elbow on my clavicle hard enough to break it, but the bone just held and I managed to twist away. Her laugh echoed through the empty building and the reddish, gold light of sunset streamed in, making the whole scene surreal.

We traded blows until neither of us could stand without feeling searing pain, neither gaining any real ground, but eventually she slipped up and lunged for me when I expected it. I landed a punch to her temple that sent her tumbling down and almost completely off the platform. She lay there, like a wounded animal, unable to get her bearings and I approached, trying to think of a way to not have to do what I was about to do.

A victim should have the choice whether they wanted to live or not, right?

It was an ethical debate I didn't have the brains for.

Her eyes were still unfocused as I pushed her towards the edge, sobbing like an idiot, crying even though adrenaline was now numbing all my wounds. I couldn't even pinpoint what had me so upset, Quinn's predicament, my role in her impending death or my sorrow over losing someone I still thought of as a friend somehow.

"Just do it," she coughed through the blood that was filling her mouth. "This isn't murder – it's mercy."

I could do it; all I would have to do was shove a little and let gravity do the rest, but then I thought of Brittany.

She'd been hurt that way too, and though it wasn't to the same extent something in me crumbled at the thought that one day this could be her. That what happened could eat at her until she didn't want to live anymore. I didn't think she would. Brittany was a happy person who seemed to have put her past behind her, but up until recently Quinn had seemed like an average, bitchy cheerleader, and then came fight club.

The circumstances were completely different and there was no reason to think Brittany would end up like Quinn, but that selfish part of me needed assurance. I needed Quinn to be okay, because if she could pull through, Brittany would be fine. The logic was flawed and desperate, and deep down I knew one person's pain would do nothing to help gauge another's, but it was something I needed all the same. I didn't want to be in a world where I'd put a friend down like a stray dog. I didn't want to worry that one day it might happen again to someone I love. It felt too much like giving up and letting the truly sick people win.

On the other hand she needed more help than I thought it possible for any person to give.

I dug my hands into the fabric of her shirt, wanting to give her what she wanted; I wanted to set her free. I focused on all she'd been through. I summoned my anger at all she'd done to me and pushed. Her body started to fall and it was moments from being over. Then my hands clinched and I yanked her back at the last second.

I thought I could, but I was wrong. I couldn't kill her.

"You're going to have to kill yourself on your own time, because I won't do it!" I shouted at her, angry at the world for being shit and angry with her for putting me in this position. "You have to pull it together and I know you can!"

With a great heave I pulled her away from the edge and hoisted her up on my back as I went to find the ladder.

"Don't," she mumbled in my ear, still dazed from the strike, "Please, don't," but I ignored her and positioned her properly so I could carry her down.

She was heavy, but I managed to get her piggyback and somehow juggle her and keep my balance as I carefully maneuvered down to our escape. By the time we touched the ground my limbs were on fire and when I finally dragged her out to her car it was night time. I propped her against the front of her car and lay down on the hood drinking in the cool night air.

"Is this because I outed you?" she asked, still a little off.

I sat up with great effort and slid down to the ground to sit next to her, " I need you to be okay."

She scoffed, "But I'm not and I never will be."

"I'm sorry I can't be your savior, but please don't give up," I was whining and feeling drained and lost.

She sobbed and tears ran streaks through the blood covering her face, "Part of me doesn't want to, but I can't fight forever."

I could easily see all the fear she'd hidden behind bold words and conflicting actions, I'd always thought of myself as a fake; a liar and a coward, but she was the same. What she let everyone see wasn't at all who she actually was.

"Don't give up, Quinn, please. You've been horrible to me, but I see how in your weird, twisted way you were trying to push me in the right direction, so please let me do the same for you. This," I waved a hand at the warehouse, "isn't the answer."

Quinn didn't look at me; she only observed the crimson stains on the front of her shirt like they held the solutions to her problems.

"I can't go home," she mumbled.

"And you won't; we'll figure something out."

She gave me an odd look before laughing that hollow laugh of hers, "Really? After everything I did in the interest of making you angry, you want to help me?"

I nodded, "I guess I'm a bigger idiot than you anticipated."

Her head thumped loudly on the car as she threw it back, "You should have let me fall. Now my life is your fault. I'm your responsibility. Can you handle that?"

"I will," I said, determined. "All I know is that if you're going to give up, you're going to have to do it on your own. I'll help you live, not die."

"What if I said I'd sleep with Brittany the next chance I get?"

"She isn't as simple as you think. She wouldn't cheat on me and especially not with you."

A bitter smile came over her face, "I know. You have no idea how hard it was to convince her you didn't care in the first place, even with you acting like an ass and leaving her without so much as a phone call."

"Are you sure you aren't gay?" I asked, "You sure go out of your way to sleep with girls."

"I wish," she said despondently. "For a while, when I first figured out you were gay, I thought maybe we could be together. It would have made my life easier to just prefer women and hate everything about guys, but apparently it doesn't work like that. I still like men. Just one more reason I know I'm totally fucked."

We sat in the dark for a while, neither of us moving, and a short ways away I could hear my phone going off in my car, but I was still too busted from our fight to go for it.

"Why did you do it? Why did you sleep with Brittany?" I finally asked.

"I figured it'd make you mad enough to stab me or something. You hear all the time about someone catching the person they love with someone else and killing that person. I figured, 'why not me?', but apparently with your abuela and all it was too much."

"It was."

"Part of my motive was getting back at you a little... I was upset that you'd ditched me for her. I know that's childish," she said before I could, "Honestly, I figured you'd talk to her way before then and find out about us. That it took you being furious with me to stumble on the truth was a little sad."

She might have been trying to make me angry again, but it was true so I only said, "Yeah."

Silence fell again before I asked, "But why? You know how much I loved her, so why do that?"

Her first genuine smile appeared, "I already said you two'd be together no matter what. Nothing I did was going to keep you two from ending up together."

"There's no way you could know that," I growled.

"And yet I did."

I tried to soothe the throbbing pain in my clavicle, but all it did was send shooting pains everywhere. I stopped and turned to her, "We need to get out of here. You mind if we leave your car here?"

"I kind of want it to explode into flames, so no, I don't."

I stood gingerly and pulled her to her feet before helping her into the car. I worried that she might do something like try and make us crash, but then I realized if she had it in her to do that, her whole elaborate plot wouldn't have been necessary.

"How long were you planning this?" I asked we sped away from the abandoned building.

"Not long; it was a last ditch effort," she said as she curled against the passenger side window. "It was mostly already set up, but I took a few days off school to make it perfect."

"And I messed up your plans," I sighed.

"You did."

"Quinn?"

"Hmm?" she responded sleepily.

"You really will be okay. I promise."

She gave me a look that told me she knew as well as I did there was no way I could reliably promise such a thing, but appreciated it anyway.


By the time I got home it was just late enough for my parents to be worried, and when Quinn and I limped in looking like we'd been mugged the situation escalated. I managed to lay her down in the guest room before I went back out to the living room to keep anyone from calling the police. I didn't tell them everything, only that Quinn really was having a hard time at home and she needed to stay for a while. I explained that we'd gotten into a fight, but not about it being a life or death situation, only that it had stemmed from my heartfelt efforts to make her see that her life at home was no good for her. It took some additional convincing and my father examining the both of us before they backed off making a federal case out of the issue.

When I went back to the guest room to check on her I felt a weird sense of loss, though once I sat on the edge of the bed I recognized that, even though she'd left and taken all her things, I could still smell abuela in the room.

I missed her so much.

"So now what?" Quinn asked stuffily, her nose still bleeding slightly. My dad had given her a cold compress to hold on face and she was having a hard time talking around it.

"I don't know, I guess you stay here for a while."

She scoffed, "Maybe your parents will adopt me."

"You could stay at Ms. Hall's hotel, you're still blackmailing her aren't you?"

A sly grin spread over her face, "Is this Santana The Saint Lopez telling me to use my questionable connections to get something I want?"

I rolled my eyes, "At least it's for a good cause this time. You can't go home, and if your dad dared to try and make you, just blackmail him."

"With what?"

"With the fact that he rapes his underage daughter!" I whispered fiercely in disbelief.

Her eyes left mine and went to the sheets, "I was kidding about that."

I was about to argue because she hadn't been kidding, sure I had a hard time telling truth from lies with her, but what she'd said was not a lie.

Then again she said she never wanted anyone to know.

She only told me because she thought one of us was going to die.

Respecting her wish I nodded, "Oh, well I'm sure you can find something. He won't bother you if you Photoshop some evidence."

"Maybe."

We were interrupted by my phone and I only answered because it was Brittany's ring tone. Since I hadn't answered any of her calls she was angry at first, worried when I explained I hadn't sent the text, then furious when I said Quinn had. It took a lot of talking to get her to calm down and let me explain the gist of the situation, but the result was her insisting she come over. When I hung up Quinn was giving me a bemused look.

"She's going to be a handful when you're living together."

"Don't even," I shot back.

With everything finally calm I was able to easily feel how angry I still was at her over what happened, so the less she spoke of Brittany the better.

A sigh left her as she rolled her neck, "I wasn't going to kill you, that wasn't the point."

"The point was to make me think you were," she looked at me again a smile on her face, "Yeah I get there eventually."

Quinn shifted the pack in her hands and set it on the nightstand, "I still don't know what to do, even if I don't go home. I really hadn't planned to be alive this long."

"Ninety percent of the seniors don't know what they want to do with their lives. You have plenty of time," when she didn't respond to that I added, "I know you aren't really into shrinks but my mom knows a lot of good ones, I'm sure there's at least one you'll like."

She growled in irritation and turned away from me, "I already told you-"

"The alternative is to live in your own head for the rest of your life. Let's try my way before you say it won't help."

A glare was my response, "And what makes you think any friend of hers would do a favor for me?"

I waved my hand, "Are you kidding? Their friends are all about helping just to help. My dad knows a cancer doctor who owes him a favor and only heard that Rachel's dad was sick before he called the guy up and cashed in."

"And what does your twelve step reform plan say about relapse?"

"About you being the monster you seem intent on being? I dunno, I was just thinking I'd just kick your ass." That made her laugh and even I couldn't resist a chuckle.

"I don't know about that."

"We'll figure it out," I didn't want her poking holes in that flimsy theory so I left to make us a couple of plates of whatever mom had decided to cook for dinner.

It was unfortunately meatloaf, but I heated it up and brought some to Quinn, we ate and she was thankfully too hungry to continue to question my plans for her. I honestly had no idea what I was going to do, and part of me was still bitter, angry and wishing I'd just given her what she wanted.

When we finished I was ready to discuss options again, but that was when I heard my mom answer a knock at the door and shortly after Brittany burst in. I opened my mouth to greet her, but she blazed past me and went right up to Quinn who was just setting down her plate next to her cold pack.

"Stay away from us!" she shouted before punching Quinn in the nose.

I jumped up in alarm and yanked Brittany back before she could do more damage, her eyes were hard, unforgiving, and wouldn't come off Quinn, even when I tried to turn her face to me.

"Shhh, Britt, calm down, it's okay now," if she heard me there was no sign, "Sweetheart, look at me." When I punctuated my insistence with a kiss she finally did. "I know how you feel, but things are different now."

"How?!" she snapped.

I looked worriedly towards the door, hoping my parents wouldn't come in to see if we were fighting again. When I looked back to Quinn I saw her curled up in a ball holding her nose that was once more bleeding profusely.

"They just are, can you trust me?"

The request seemed to irritate her because she clearly wanted to, but wanted to be angry at Quinn just as much, "I can trust you," she grumbled.

I smiled and kissed her again, "I'll explain later," I said quietly in her ear. I knew Quinn wouldn't appreciate me telling her anything, but Brittany was one person that deserved the truth on the matter.

Quinn grabbed the ice pack off the night stand and pressed it to her face again, "I don't think this will ever heal correctly."

"My dad knows plastic surgeons too so it'll be fine," I said, hoping to diffuse the situation.

"Why are you here?" Brittany asked her, the stern look on her face just as unyielding as ever.

"I wanted a final quickie from Santana," she joked.

Brittany didn't laugh and neither did I, "Quinn, stop," I warned.

She sighed, "I got in some trouble and Santana's helping me out."

My girlfriend then surprised me by sitting on the bed, her features less harsh, "It's about your dad right?"

That shocked us both, Quinn was obviously caught between asking how she knew and denying the whole thing, "What about my dad?"

"I know he hurts you, I don't know how, but he does," the room was silent and she must have somehow heard our disbelief. "Whenever we talked you never mentioned him or got really mad when I tried to," she explained.

"Why didn't you say anything?" I asked quietly.

"It's kind of obvious that she doesn't want to talk about it, and it wasn't my place to share, especially since I only suspected. It's the same reason I didn't just tell you I knew you were gay, if you wanted to share with me you would have… I couldn't keep myself from hitting on you though."

"If you think my dad is hurting me then why punch me in the nose?" Quinn grumbled.

Her blue eyes turned to ice again, "It doesn't give you an excuse to be a bitch. What you did to Santana and me was mean, and you did it for no reason. Nothing gives you the right to do what you did, I don't care how upset you were."

Quinn nodded, "It doesn't. I was trying to convince your girlfriend here to just get rid of me, but she brought me home instead."

"Get rid of you?"

She nodded again, "It was supposed to be an act of mercy, like what you did for my baby."

Brittany looked at me then back to Quinn, "You tried to get her to kill you?" when I nodded she turned back to the chastised girl on the bed, "I fought you because you needed a fight and nothing would make you keep it. Am I wrong?"

Her response was a grudging, "No."

"Then what does that have to do with anything? You made your choice with your baby just like you made your choice about your life. If you're going to live or die there is nothing we can do to change your mind."

Quinn sat up and tossed the compress away again since it seemed to be doing nothing for her nose, "This was more about penance than anything."

"Penance?"

"Yes."

They stared at each other until I leaned over and whispered in Brittany's ear, "A way to make up for being bad."

Her eyes narrowed, "How is that penance? You want to make up for everything then say you're sorry to everyone you've hurt starting with Santana! Dying won't do anything!"

I squeezed her hand to try and get her to calm down.

"I don't see myself getting any better in the future, this is the best I could think of," she shrugged sadly, "I don't feel I'm worth much more effort than that."

"Clearly you do or you would have killed yourself a long time ago. You know you're worth more than what's happened to you," Brittany said, barely keeping her temper.

With a huff Quinn flopped back on the pillow, not caring that she got blood all over the place, "I'm tired of my subconscious being the only thing that feels that way."

"I feel that way," I said, Quinn looked over at me, as did Brittany, "If I didn't think so I would have just pushed you off the platform, if I didn't think you were more than the crazy person trying to reenact a Saw movie I wouldn't have bothered to save you."

No one moved until Brittany sighed, "And I do too, even though you made me really mad."

"That's at least two of us, two and a half if we count your subconscious," I offered quietly.

Brittany released my hand and crawled on the bed next to Quinn, "We care about you, so be someone who's earned it," before she could give a smart ass answer Brittany went on, "You won't fail, because you aren't a failure. I know your captain of your cheer team and you make better grades than Santana, even with fight club you tried your hardest even though you never planned to see it all the way through. You won't fail, I don't even think you have it in you to disappoint us if you really don't want to."

Quinn didn't say anything after that and neither did we, instead Brittany went into the bathroom to get something to help clean Quinn's face and I went to find her a change of clothes. While I was out I was able to bargain a mass weekday sleepover with my parents by abusing the somewhat loose house rules that coming home with a bloody friend had provided. Though I had to really sell how important Brittany was to Quinn's comforting process, and after that last talk it wasn't a stretch of the truth.

After I got back I'd had to go back out and find something for Brittany to sleep in, not so much because she was spending the night and would need it, but because she was jealous that Quinn got to wear my clothes while she didn't. I found it endearing and got her exactly what she wanted.

As the last to actually get ready I was the last to bed, however when I walked into the room and found Brittany laying down with Quinn fast asleep at her side I concluded that I was decidedly more jealous than Brittany had been. But she extended her hand to me and I climbed into bed behind Quinn, Brittany reached over and brushed her fingers gently across my bruised jaw. She looked at me like I was her hero, and though I didn't know why I warranted the look, I felt heroic all the same.

"She'll be okay," she said quietly, "So will we right?"

I took her hand and kissed it gently, "Better than that."

She smiled and her eyes began to droop slightly, I put my hand on hers and the warmth and light pressure made the throbbing pain go away.

In the dark I thought I'd never go to sleep with Brittany so close and my mind racing with all that had happened, but before I knew it I was just as asleep as everyone else.


The next day marked the birth of a completely different Quinn.

Mostly in that her first order of business wasn't to give me shit.

That morning I got us up and dressed for school, I'd had to lend Quinn, and a somehow still jealous Brittany, my spare Cheerios uniforms. The three of us left looking like we all belonged to the same school, and for the brief ride to Brittany's it was actually pleasant to be in the car with both of them at the same time. I worried about nothing, I wasn't afraid of Quinn even though she was just as frightening as she had always been. Nothing was different from the previous morning, yet somehow with a little bravery and trust on all our parts everything had changed.

When we arrived at the Peirce household, it turned out their daughter hadn't exactly asked if she could stay out the night and had conveniently left her phone at home so they couldn't tell her otherwise, but they, like my parents, seemed eager to not upset the child they knew they'd wronged. A mild reprimand was her punishment, she didn't seem to much care as she waved to me looking damn sexy in my cheerleading outfit that was more so because it was a little small for her.

For the first time ever I drove Quinn to school, as if it were the official marker on our new era.

We were far too hurt for cheer practice, liberal amounts of makeup were all that kept everyone from seeing how painful it actually was to walk. Instead we smoked behind the school and talked about simple things, like movies we wanted to see and new bands we liked, and eventually got up to go to our morning classes.

However, before we went back inside she turned to me, placing her hands on either side of my jaw in a way that made me nervous. Her eyes met mine and she said, "Thank you, for everything."

Her intensity and proximity made me squirm, but I nodded as much as I could in her grasp, "No problem."

"Tell Brittany thank you, too, for me."

"You can tell her yourself."

She only smiled and gave me a quick kiss on the forehead that was too sudden for me to reject, and walked off.

I expected her to be weird after that moment, but I didn't see her for the rest of the day. In light of that I figured I'd see her again when it was time for her to get a ride home, but she wasn't there after school.

As a matter of fact she wasn't there ever; for the rest of the year I heard nothing from Quinn.

For the next few years.

She just vanished.

Of course rumors exploded all over the place once her family reported her missing. Some thought she'd been kidnapped, others said she'd been killed by the people she had tormented over the years. The official word was that she was dead since all the police had was a suicide note and a missing person. But on the back of that news her sister eventually stepped forward about what she believed had happened to Quinn based on what had happened while she was still living at home.

The scandal was huge, it rocked the town and shamed every person who'd ever done business with Russell Fabray. It started with a media frenzy and ended with jail time, luckily Quinn missed it all, yet once it all died down she still didn't reappear.

The only reason I didn't write her off as dead like everyone else was because Brittany was so sure she wasn't, and I'd learned to trust her instincts.

Fight club became little more than a memory without Quinn, though we were all more than aware the other branches still existed, Lauren, Tina, Brittany and I had graduated. We learned new ways to deal and it made life easier than beating each other senseless.

The oncologist my father recommended was able to buy Rachel's dad an extra year or two on the planet making her almost frantic as she planned various things for him to do before he couldn't leave the house any longer. It would have been sad if she hadn't been so happy to have more time with him. Tina learned that, instead of trying to funnel her rage over what various boys did or didn't do for her, she should learn to respect herself more and the boys would too. That nugget of wisdom came from Lauren who surprisingly gave up on wrestling after winning state and looked into being a audio technician, something she said she'd been putting off doing for a long time.

And for me personally Brittany's mere existence in my life did more for me than fight club ever could. She was there when my parents told me abuela moved back to San Juan, deciding to just tough it out rather than deal with our side of the family. I couldn't feel abandoned, not with her at my side, and I have to grudgingly admit my own parent's presence was a comfort as well.

Like my abuela her parents never really came around to actually talk to her and deal with what happened, but I was for her what she was for me. I never let her feel anything less than the most important person on the planet, because it was true.

The only other new development was my dogged determination to make friends with Mercedes. After her suicide attempt no one much bothered her and she went well out of her way to be as unnoticeable as possible. Rachel agreed with my efforts, and though we never mentioned the part we had played in the night that had gone so wrong, we invited her into our tight knit group of friends. Each and every one of us felt like we needed to earn her friendship rather than the other way around. In time she was more like the girl she had once been, but she never tried out for another singing part, no matter how we all encouraged her.

It was about that time that I found the courage to finally tell Brittany absolutely everything. I had told her about the events in the warehouse almost immediately, but I had never had a reason to tell the story of Mercedes. The truth cost me a week long silent treatment so she could fully impress upon me the displeasure she felt about my involvement in the whole thing. Though in the end we kissed and made up all while I told stories of my many efforts to build a meaningful friendship with the girl I'd helped to hurt. It also meant that the friendly banter Mercedes and I shared always had to be put on hold when my girlfriend was around since an unkind word said even as a joke earned me Brittany's frostiest glare.

The end of senior year was on us in little to no time and everyone had their plans. Mine were to move to Columbus with Brittany since moving anywhere without her was absurd. Neither of our parents believed our high school romance would survive the test of time, but little did they know that we'd survived worse. And as long as they didn't attempt to stop us, we let them have that opinion.

On graduation day I was the most excited I think I'd ever been, I sat wiggling, waiting my turn to hear my name called, and almost leapt out of my skin when it was. I felt my heart soar when I could hear Brittany's cheers for me over everyone else's, and I was silly with joy when I was finally able to kiss my girlfriend as a high school graduate. Sure I was confirming every suspicion my classmates had about me since she started showing up at school, but I couldn't have possibly cared less.

My parents congratulated me before going over to talk with Rachel's dads, Leroy Berry had made it to his daughter's graduation and was eager to tell anyone who would listen how proud he was. I waited around with Brittany for Rachel, Mercedes, Tina and Lauren to show up, I'd made other friends since, yet somehow they were the only two people in school I cared to hang around with. While we waited some Cheerios came by to throw out a 'congrats' and some couldn't resist telling me they knew 'I was a fag all along,' but none of it phased me. As a matter of fact it was Brittany who seemed upset by their rejection on my behalf, my only response to that was to kiss her again.

While we waited I spotted something off in the distance, back behind the bleachers near the woods where fight club was once held. Mercedes, was there talking with someone I recognized through feeling more than anything else. Something within me knew what I was looking at before my eyes did, and when my brain finally caught up I gasped.

It was Quinn.

Her hair was cut short and she was wearing a white blouse and a light yellow skirt that made her look far more bright and innocent than I'd ever been able to think of her.

My surprise was lost in the wave of fear I felt as I finally recalled what had happened the last time Quinn had talked with Mercedes alone. I rushed up, my heart racing, worrying that she'd concocted some super villain revenge plan that would end in everyone being electrocuted, but when she saw me she only smiled and held up a finger to keep me from exclaiming her name.

"Hi," she said softly.

I only stared back, I didn't know what to say.

She seemed to know that and only nodded to Mercedes, "I was just having a chat with Ms. Jones here. I've owed her an apology for a while now."

"Seems a bit much to come back from the dead to give it," Mercedes' tone was more wary than angry, yet anger didn't seem far away.

"It was actually that important," she replied with a light laugh, "I also wanted to say that you've always been the best singer at the school. Actually you're the best singer I've ever heard, you have more than enough beauty, talent and charisma to do whatever you want with that voice."

Once we'd become friends I'd always told her that, she never seemed to believed me, but from Quinn the words seemed to mean something different. However, like me Mercedes wasn't one to merely accept atonement, "Is that why you hounded me down and told me, with absolute certainty, the exact opposite?"

"In great part yes," she replied instantly, "I assumed you knew how great you were and would tire of my taunts and turn on me in anger."

Mercedes thought that over for a moment, "What?"

Quinn shrugged, "It's confusing, but true. Anyway I just want to tell you again how sorry I am about what happened. I can't make it up to you, but I owe it to you to try just the same."

"You're right, you can't," turning on her heel to leave she added, "Brave of you to try."

That was as close to an acceptance as Quinn was going to get and she seemed to know it. I found myself still there staring at her like a lost lamb, scared of what the wolf I'd stumbled upon might do. Her hazel eyes turned to mine and it was a comfort not to see a winged beast roaring in them.

"I missed you," she said softly.

"Where have you been?"

"Around."

Same old elusive Quinn.

"Are you back to stay?"

"No, I just wanted to see how everyone is, I have a few more apologies to pass out. Speaking of which, I'm sorry I tried to drag you down into my own personal hell. I had planned everything up until my death, so I didn't consider the fact that you likely wouldn't have been able to live with yourself if you'd killed me, even if I was the worst sort of person. I'm sorry for that and I'm sorry for everything that led up to it. I knew you'd heal, and I can see you have, but I still shouldn't have done it."

I don't know why her words made me want to hug her and cry, so to avoid making a scene I just rubbed my arm.

"Britt and I are moving to Columbus together."

"I figured you'd do something like that."

"Are you okay?" I couldn't help but asking.

"Do I look okay?"

I gave her a scrutinizing stare before answering, "Yes."

"Good, because I like to think I am."

"Quinn?" said another voice.

Brittany had found us, or more likely found me and only realized last minute who I was talking to.

That same content smile appeared on her face, "We were just talking about you."

Just like me she had no idea what to say, but settled on, "Where have you been?"

"Around," I answered for her, Quinn's smile widened and she nodded.

"You aren't going to stay are you?"

"Nope," I answered again.

Quinn reached into her pocket and pulled out a small piece of paper, "I'm just passing through town at the moment, but if you ever want to keep in touch maybe we can talk more later, when I'm more in a sharing mood."

Brittany took the paper and twirled it in her hands, "What kind of mood are you in now?"

"An apologetic one. Speaking of, I'm sorry for interfering between you two and for giving you bad advice," Brittany frowned in confusion, "I once told you that you needed to forget your parents and move on, but you can't forget them. It's not in you to forget people, you should love them as much as you can and one day they'll earn what they don't deserve. Your parents aren't mine and I let that blind me. Besides, as someone who wasn't worthy of the care she was given, I am far more in favor of second chances these days."

We were both shocked by that, she used that opportunity to turn and walk away, but Brittany found her voice, "And you've already apologized to the others?"

I knew she was thinking of Mercedes more than anyone else.

She turned as she continued to slowly walk away, "Yes, and they all agreed to forget they saw me like I hope you will."

"Who could forget you?" I laughed.

She chuckled and turned to leave for the last time.


I never did find out where she went during her time away, not even during the prolonged phone conversations Brittany and I had with her in the years after. All I knew was that she currently moved from place to place and had a job she seemed to enjoy. We never spoke of fight club, over the phone or the rare times we'd meet face to face, not even in private. It had been one of the rules after all.

Though I knew a bit about her she rarely talked about herself, but was endlessly interested in our lives and the lives of those she knew that we still kept in touch with. Though after Mercedes signed her first label there was no need for us to say anything about her. I thought she called because she just missed us, but Brittany said it was more than that. She said it was because she still needed someone who knew all about her to tell her she was alright, that she was a person who deserved to live, that she wasn't her sister. I was prone to believe that since she'd always had a better understanding of Quinn than me.

I just made sure we were always there to give her that assurance.

END


A/N: Thanks for sticking with me.

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