Author's Note: A quickly written fill for the Time Travel prompt for Faberry Week. Written in a day and unbetaed, so all mistakes are my own.
Disclaimer: I do not own Glee or the characters, I just like to play with them…strictly non-profit.
Away From the Present Moment
We are always getting away from the present moment. Our mental existence, which are immaterial and have no dimensions, are passing along the Time-Dimension with a uniform velocity from the cradle to the grave.
~H.G. Wells, The Time Machine
She shouldn't be here, but she simply can't resist. After all, The Phantom of the Opera is the longest running show on Broadway and it isn't everyday that someone who's not in the cast has the opportunity to be backstage. She's only here now because Santana is semi-dating one of the dancers in the ensemble who'd she'd met at the bar where she works, and Rachel had begged and cajoled and generally irritated Santana until she'd caved in and gotten her a backstage tour. They're technically still in the middle of that tour, but Santana and Aubrey had gotten—well—distracted in one of the quick change rooms, so Rachel decided to occupy herself by snooping—uh, finishing the tour on her own. Which is why she's currently alone in the prop room that houses the infamous mirror.
It's just a little bit creepy up close and personal, with its slightly demonic face staring down at her from the top of the intricate, antique frame. She feels a shiver race down her spine, and she takes an unconscious step backward, glancing around the deserted room as if the Phantom himself might be watching her. Then she laughs at how utterly ridiculous she's being and turns her gaze back to the mirror. While Christine Daaé isn't one of the roles that she'd kill to play, she certainly wouldn't say no to the opportunity, and she can't deny that she has a certain fascination with the stage tricks involved in the show—the mirror being one of them. Her own reflection stares back at her, and she shivers again at the odd play of light and shadow that makes it seem as though the Rachel in the mirror is someone else entirely.
Curiosity overwhelms her, and she reaches out a tentative hand to ghost a fleeting touch over the glass with her fingertips. It's cool and solid to the touch—just as glass should be—and she giggles at her flight of fancy. Emboldened, she steps closer and examines the frame, tracing her hand over the ornamental metal work. When she drags a nail over one of the gold leaves, she feels something akin to an electric shock travel up her arm, and she jerks back, squealing in pain as she grips her biceps.
The mirror seems to shimmer before her eyes, and she suddenly feels dizzy and a little bit nauseous. Her heart is racing, and her ears are buzzing, and she has the brief, insane thought of how much trouble she's going to be in for breaking the mirror as she stumbles forward and into the glass. She feels the odd weightlessness of falling into a void just before she finally loses consciousness.
The throbbing in her head wakes her up, and Rachel groans as she opens her eyes and blinks up at the ceiling. She sucks in a deep breath—the air tastes a little stale and musty—and sits up slowly, lifting a hand to her head and checking for blood as her eyes dart over to the mirror. She gasps when she sees it—whole and unbroken and covered in a layer of dust that absolutely was not there—she glances at her watch—three minutes ago.
"Okay, this is just weird," she mutters, carefully standing up. She takes in her surroundings with a frown because the prop room looks completely different than when she came in—dark and cluttered, with tarps thrown over objects here and there. "Really weird," she breathes, noticing the door on the opposite side of the room from where she'd been certain she'd entered.
She quickly stumbles out of the room, not wanting to be in there a moment longer, and decides that Santana must be trying to play some kind of trick on her. Well, Rachel certainly isn't going to give her the satisfaction of admitting that she's rattled, even if she is more than a little freaked out because this isn't the hallway that she was in before, and she really doesn't know where in the hell she is right now.
"Santana," she calls out. "Santana Lopez, I swear if you don't show yourself this instant, I am going to play every single Barbra Streisand album that I own on loop from now until you move out!" The only answer is the slight echo of her own voice, and she growls in frustration, reaching into her pocket for her cell phone—only to find that it's completely dead. "Just great," she seethes, shoving it back into her pocket. "This isn't at all amusing," she calls out again.
Rachel screams at the unexpected voice behind her and spins around, clutching at her chest. There's an elderly gentleman standing in front of her with a confused expression.
"You ain't supposed to be down here," he scolds.
Rachel puffs our a breath and nods guiltily. "I know. I..I'm terribly sorry, but I seem to have gotten lost."
Two bushy, white eyebrows furrow deeply. "You're always gettin' lost down here, but you best get back up to your dressing room now. It's almost show time."
"My dressing room," Rachel repeats stupidly.
The man shakes his head. "You been sipping the syrup again?"
"I beg your pardon?" She's beginning to think this poor gentlemen isn't quite all there in the head.
"Nothing to be done about it now, I guess," he mumbles, turning around and walking back the other way.
Rachel quickly follows after him. "Excuse me, sir, but if you could just show me the way," she trails off when he turns a corner and she sees a staircase. "Oh, thank God." She pushes past the strange man and takes the steps two at a time. "I am going to kill Santana," she hisses.
When she hits the top of the stairs, she freezes. The backstage area is buzzing with people that weren't here before, and Rachel ducks her head self-consciously as she glances around, thankful that she at least recognizes where she is now. If she remembers correctly, the quick change room where she'd left Santana and Aubrey is just down the hall, and she spins on her heel and power walks her way there. She finds it more than a little odd that no one stops her—in fact, everyone smiles and a few people even say hello to her by name—but what finally does stop her is the name on the door across the hall from the quick change room.
She sucks in a breath. Okay, so Santana has apparently gone to a great deal of trouble to set up this prank, and as angry and confused as she is right now, she can't deny that seeing her name on a dressing room door at the Majestic Theater does manage to give her a little thrill. She knows better—she really does—but she figures that she might as well take a peek inside and see whatever it is that Santana obviously wants her to see.
She opens the door cautiously, just barely poking her head inside. There's no instant slushy to the face, so she slowly pushes it the rest of the way open. She slips inside and closes the door behind her, taking in the small, nicely appointed dressing room. "Okay," she whispers. "What is going on?"
She wanders farther into the room, drawn to the vanity. She traces her fingers over the framed photograph of herself holding a Tony. "How in the hell?" She picks the frame up, studying it closer and trying to figure out how Santana had managed to photoshop such a realistic looking picture of her. The Rachel in the photograph even looks a little bit older, and her hair is shorter and lacking the bangs that she's been wearing for the last several years. She can't find a single flaw or out of place shadow to determine how it was forged.
The squeak of the doorknob behind her makes her jump, and she drops the frame on the table, spinning around. What she sees makes her breath catch and her mouth fall open in complete shock. Standing in front of her is her—a slightly older, somewhat haggard looking Rachel Berry—with her mouth open in shock and a face drained of all color. They both scream in perfect synchronization and perfect pitch before Rachel faints again.
When she wakes up this time, she's laying on something soft and incredibly comfortable. Rachel groans, scrubbing a hand over her eyes and hoping to shake off the horrible dream that she's just had, except that when she opens her eyes and looks around at her surroundings, she realizes that she's still in the dressing room from her dream, sprawled across a cream colored chaise, and her older doppelganger is sitting at the vanity staring at her with an inscrutable expression. Rachel scrambles into a sitting position, clutching at the cushions and stuttering out an inelegant, "Who...what...how...?" before she recovers her ability to form proper sentences and asks indignantly, "Could you kindly inform me what the hell is going on here?"
The other her chuckles darkly. "I was kind of hoping you could tell me that. After all, you are in my dressing room."
Rachel shakes her head. "I...I don't know," she admits. "I was taking a tour of the theater with my friend Santana..."
"Santana," the older her snaps. "Did she put you up to this? Are you some kind of celebrity impersonator?"
"Of course not," Rachel snaps back. "I'm Rachel Berry."
The other woman laughs before picking up a mug from her vanity table and taking a drink, still chuckling into it. "This is either a hell of a dream, or I'm having another one of those weird, imaginary conversations with my younger self."
Rachel notices the bottle of vodka sitting next to it, and she frowns. "Are you drunk?"
"Not yet, but I'm getting there," the other her mutters.
Rachel frowns and stands up, crossing over to the woman and snatching the mug from her hands. "I assure you that if this is a dream, then I'm the one who's having it." The woman reaches out and grips Rachel's wrist, digging in her nails hard enough to make Rachel hiss in pain before she grabs the mug back.
"That hurt," Rachel whines as she rubs at her wrist.
"So I guess that means you're not dreaming, and neither am I, apparently," she muses, taking another drink. "So, since I just had to tell my director to let my bitch of an understudy go on in my place, why don't you tell me again how you got here, Rachel Berry?"
"I told you, I was touring the theater."
"With Santana," the other her repeats.
"Yes. She was...well, she got distracted, and I wandered into the prop room and was looking at the mirror."
"Wait," the other woman stops her with a frown, setting down her mug. "The mirror?"
"Yes. You know, the one from Phantom."
"The one in the basement?"
Rachel shrugs. "I suppose that's where I woke up."
The older her frowns, shaking her head. "No. No, that's impossible."
The woman studies her intently, reaching up to cup her cheek and lean in closer. "Hey!" Rachel protests.
"What year is it, Mini Me?"
"Excuse me? What did you call me?"
The woman arches a brow. "Just tell me what year it is."
"It's 2013," Rachel answer slowly.
The woman stumbles back a step, shaking her head in disbelief. "November, right?" she asks. "Santana was screwing that dancer from Phantom, and I was still at NYADA after losing out on Funny Girl." Rachel cringes at the reminder, but nods slightly, and the older woman shakes her head again. "I remember wandering off and finding that prop room, and then that damned mirror shocked me, and I passed out."
"Y-yeah," Rachel stutters, watching the woman worry her lip. "And I woke up, and here I am."
The other woman shakes her head. "No, I woke up and went to find Santana."
"So, what are you trying to say?" Rachel asks fearfully.
The other her shrugs. "Damned if I know, but I can tell you one thing...it isn't 2013 anymore."
"Welcome to 2024."
It's Rachel's turn to stumble back, hitting a wall and sagging against it. The woman—the older her—rushes after her and grips her shoulders, holding her up. "Are you going to faint again?"
Rachel drags in a few deeps breaths. "I...I don't know."
"Okay, come on, kid. Let's sit you down," she says, leading her back to the chaise with more tenderness than she's shown since Rachel woke up.
"I don't understand," Rachel mumbles, still trying to regulate her breathing to stave off the pending panic attack.
The older Rachel shrugs. "Neither do I, but some people do claim that old mirror is haunted or something." Rachel snaps her gaze up, and the older her smiles reassuringly. "Don't worry. We'll figure it out. I mean, I don't claim to be an expert on time travel, but I know enough to be fairly confident that I wouldn't be here now if you fail to get back to where you belong."
"I...I suppose that's true," Rachel agrees, feeling slightly calmer. "Perhaps I should find the mirror again and try to," she trails off with a sigh, not even knowing what she did to make this happen, and still not entirely convinced that it isn't some elaborate dream. "To do whatever I did to make it send me here."
The older her nods in agreement. "Couldn't hurt," she says, standing from the chaise and holding out a hand to help Rachel up, which she accepts with a smile of gratitude.
She takes a step toward the door, then stops, suddenly realizing something. "Wait," she breathes, spinning around and stepping back to the vanity to pick up the photograph again. "First, tell me if this is real? Do we really win a Tony?" she asks excitedly.
The older her chuckles and nods. "Yeah, two actually. And an Emmy for a guest role on a television show."
Rachel squeals delightedly, bouncing over to give her older self a crushing hug. "I knew we would do it!"
"Yeah," the older Rachel agrees evenly.
Rachel lets her go, biting her lip. "Is our life amazing?" The older her glances away with a sigh, and Rachel frowns. "It is, isn't it? I...I'm happy?"
The older Rachel looks at her blankly for a long, silent moment. Then her eyes flash with something—and Rachel knows herself well enough to recognize the spark of an idea, and it isn't necessarily a good omen. She's seen that look in her own mirror more than once before she'd embarked on some scheme that had come to an unfortunate end. "You know," older Rachel drawls slowly, "maybe I should take you back to my apartment for the night. This place will be crawling with people until after eleven, and knowing Frank, he has that vault downstairs locked up tight by now."
Rachel frowns. "I really would rather try to get home now."
The older her smiles and wraps an arm around her shoulder. "First thing tomorrow, I promise. Besides, don't you want to know more about your future?"
Rachel does—she really, really does—but at the same time, "I wonder if that might not be such a good idea."
Older her dismisses her concerns with a wave of her hand. "You probably won't remember a thing about this encounter. I sure as hell don't," she grumbles, and to Rachel, it sounds tinged with something akin to bitterness.
"O-okay," she agrees, once again allowing her curiosity to get the better of her.
Older Rachel smiles widely. "That's the spirit." She grabs a coat and wide brimmed hat from the rack and shoves it Rachel. "Now put these on and keep you head down. We don't want anyone to see two of me, no matter how magnificent we are."
Rachel giggles and accepts the items, bracing herself for a glimpse into her future.
When they leave the theater, Rachel notices the marquee and casts a questioning glance at her older self. "The Time Machine?"
"Kind of a big coincidence, huh?" the older her says. "We just opened two months ago."
Rachel nods and turns her attention out the window. Strangely enough, New York doesn't look all that different. The cars on the streets are certainly sleeker, and some of the buildings are positively futuristic—except this is the future, so Rachel supposes they're actually quite modern. The one that houses her future self's apartment is a more familiar design, although the elevator that takes them to the twelfth floor is incredibly fast and smooth. "Magnetic track," older Rachel explains with a shrug.
The apartment is gorgeous—spacious and bright with an amazing view of Central Park. It's sparsely decorated, and Rachel immediately wanders the room, looking at the minimal collection of photographs. There's one of her dads, and another with Kurt, and one with, "Oh, my gosh," she squeals. "Barbra?"
Older Rachel nods with a bored smile. "You'll meet her in 2018 when you star in the musical adaptation of What's Up, Doc?"
Well, it's not Funny Girl, but Rachel supposes it will do. She continues perusing the pictures curiously, finding a similar picture to the one in the dressing room of her with a Tony and another with the Emmy. She smiles at the picture of her standing between Quinn and Santana, so glad that they're all still friends, but her smile slips as she realizes that there really aren't any other personal pictures. She glances around the rest of the apartment with a mild frown while her older self watches her.
"Can I get you anything?" she asks. "Something to eat? A glass of water? Something stronger?" she mumbles, turning to the decanter on the table and twisting off the cap.
Rachel crosses her arms and glares at her older self taking another drink. "Are we an alcoholic?" she demands.
Older Rachel snorts. "I occasionally imbibe, but I assure that it's not excessive. Well, usually," she amends, lifting her glass in a toast. "Today is a special occasion. It's not everyday that you get confronted with your younger self as a reminder of all the mistakes you've made."
Rachel flinches at the bitterness in her voice and rubs at her biceps. "Mistakes?" she asks uncertainly.
Older Rachel sighs and sets the glass down, raising her hands to sweep them around the apartment with a self-deprecating smile. "Do you see any signs that anyone else lives here?"
"N-no," Rachel stutters.
"Signs of husband? Children?"
"No," Rachel whispers meekly.
"Well, there you go," she says, letting her arms fall and her hands slap against her thigh. "This amazing life that you were so certain we'd achieve has all of the professional success that you dreamed of and none of the personal satisfaction or happiness that you so desperately craved."
"But I...I thought..."
"Let me guess," her older self says with an acrimonious grin. "You thought you'd be married to Finn Hudson, right? A kid or two?"
Rachel's shoulders stiffen, and she tips her chin up. "Well, yes, if you must know. We're actually getting along very well right now, and..."
"Blah, blah, blah," older Rachel cuts her off. "Let me save you the suspense," she says, circling around to the sofa and sitting down before she pats the cushion next to her. Rachel isn't entirely certain that she wants to sit down. This entire experience is taking a sour turn, and she really just wants to go back to the theater and bang her fists against that damned mirror until it takes her home. Instead, she finds herself taking wary steps forward and sinking onto the edge of the sofa. The older her smiles, and it's a little bit more sympathetic.
"You and Finn get back together," she announces, and Rachel starts to smile until her older self adds, "and then you break up." She grins ruefully. "And then you get back together again, and then you break up again."
"Swore you'd end up together. God, he even said we were endgame once, didn't he?" she recalls with a laugh. "What does that even mean?" She shakes her head. "And you think it's so romantic," she drawls sarcastically. "Just wait until he costs you two roles, a friendship, and," she trails off, shaking her head. "God, I was so, so stupid," she mutters.
"I don't understand. I...I love Finn."
"Yeah," her older self whispers. "You do, but you're so toxic together. You just don't see it because you're young and overly romantic, and you've never had a healthy relationship to compare it to."
"No, you...you're wrong."
Older Rachel laughs again, placing a hand on her shoulder. "Kid, I'm you. I think I know best in this situation. I'll spare you the bitter details, but just know that, as soon as you got back together, you turned right back into that Rachel who was so focused on Finn and making him happy that you were willing to give up Broadway for him."
Rachel's stomach turns, and she frowns. "But I didn't. I...you won two Tonys."
Older Rachel's lips twist into a rueful smile. "After I went back to Lima for six months to be Finn's dutiful girlfriend while he finished college. That was when we turned down Evita, by the way."
Rachel gasps, pressing a hand to her heart. "I would never!"
"Oh, you would, and you did. Santana and...and Q-Quinn," she stutters, licking her lip. "They both told you that you were an idiot, and Quinn wouldn't even talk to you the whole time you were gone. Kurt was kinder, but he still thought that you were making a mistake."
"But you came back to New York."
"I was miserable in Lima, and I resented Finn so much for that," she spits, then rolls her eyes. "And yet I still took him back again."
She shrugs. "All the dirty details don't really matter. All you need to know is that the fantasy of a life with Finn is much better than the reality."
Rachel feels a sick. She doesn't want to believe that it's true, but looking into her own older, sadder eyes, she can't deny that her older self isn't lying to her.
"Meanwhile," she continues sadly, "our single-minded determination to make things work with Finn cost us a chance at real happiness with someone who," she cuts herself off with a sharp shake of her head. "Well, that doesn't matter. What matters it that you'll get to spend the next eleven years bouncing back and forth between your doomed high school romance with Finn Hudson and a string of completely unfulfilling affairs with various men and women who ultimately leave you feeling terrible about yourself." She grins mockingly. "Do you want that drink now?"
Rachel wipes at the tears escaping from the corners of her eyes, and then her hand freezes. "W-women?"
Older her rolls her eyes. "Oh, don't even pretend to be surprised by that," she scolds. "You know you've thought about it."
"Well, y-yes, but I would never..."
"Again, would and did," older Rachel smirks, "and will again." She waves her hand to stop Rachel from saying anything else. "Please, I've lived through the panic phase of not wanting to be a statistic. You can do that on your own time. Just know that the only thing you'll end up regretting are the opportunities that you didn't take," she says a little wistfully. "Although, you will eventually get a second chance with Cassie."
"Ms. July?" Rachel squeaks, feeling her face heat.
"Oh, yeah," older Rachel hums fondly, then smirks at her. "Don't claim that you weren't thinking about it every time you watched her do those stretches."
Rachel blushes harder and looks away, and her older self sighs and squeezes her shoulder reassuringly. "Come on, kid. I think that's enough for one day. Let's get some sleep, and we'll try to get you home tomorrow."
"Why are you telling me all of this?" Rachel asks her brokenly.
Weary brown eyes meet hers. "I don't actually believe that you'll remember any of this, otherwise I'm certain that I would have made different choices, but still...I...I couldn't pass up the chance that maybe...just maybe...something of this will stay with you so that...you could change things. Even just a little bit," she says sadly.
As Rachel is led to a very well appointed guest room, she thinks that there has to be a reason that she's here and seeing this future. She has to be able to change it, although she really doesn't know how or what she's supposed to do. Her older self seems so certain that being with Finn is a mistake, but if that's the thing that she's supposed to change—if she's supposed to let Finn Hudson go—then who is she supposed to be with that will make her happy? Why does the older her think that she would have had a better life without him?
When Rachel wakes up in the morning, she's really hoping that everything that happened the night before was a dream, but upon opening her eyes, she discovers that she's in a strange bed, wearing a strange pair of pajamas, and yesterday was very real. She drags herself up and makes use of the attached bathroom. If nothing else, at least the future her has an amazing home. When she's finished with her shower, she gets dressed in her clothes that are freshly laundered and neatly folded and sends up a silent prayer that she'll be able to get home today.
The older her is up and dressed already, offering her a cup of coffee before they go. Rachel declines, and her older self chuckles. "I can't function without it now. You should probably try to avoid this habit if you can, among others," she adds lowly.
There's a knock at the door, and older Rachel frowns, setting down her cup. A second knock follows, and a muffled, "Rach, are you in there?"
Both Rachels gasp simultaneously as they recognize the voice.
"Seriously, Rachel. I know you skipped your show last night. I swear, if you're hungover again," an irritated Quinn Fabray trails off from the other side of the door.
"Shit," older Rachel hisses.
"We are an alcoholic," Rachel whispers harshly.
"Hide in the bedroom," she commands, gripping Rachel's arm none to gently and pushing her toward the nearest door.
"I will not," Rachel protests.
Her older self glares at her. "Really? How do you propose we explain this to Quinn?"
Rachel ducks her head, nodding. "Okay, but you don't have to manhandle me."
"Just go," she snaps, giving Rachel a last little push before she smooths her blouse and her hair and turns for the door.
Rachel does as she's told, slipping inside the bedroom and closing the door—leaving it open just far enough to peek out. She shuffles around slightly to get comfortable, glancing around the master bedroom briefly before intending to turn back to the door, but her eyes catch on a painting over the California King—a stylistic white gardenia surrounded by a green ribbon. Her brows furrow, and she has a flash of memory that she doesn't have time to fully process because Quinn's annoyed voice is once again carrying through the apartment. "Rachel Berry, open this door right now."
Rachel tears her gaze away from the painting and turns to watch her older self take a breath, plaster a wide smile on her face, and open the door. "Hi, Quinn," she greets cheerfully.
When Quinn glides into the apartment, Rachel loses her breath. Quinn Fabray is even more beautiful than she remembers. Her hair is cut short again, though not quite as short as she'd worn it at the end of junior year, and her face is flushed with a familiar irritation that's only ever made her more attractive in Rachel's opinion.
"Well, you don't look hungover," Quinn observes.
"I'm not," she insists indignantly.
Quinn sighs, relaxing her posture. "I just worry about you, Rach. After what happened last year..."
In the bedroom, Rachel frowns, wondering what Quinn is talking about, even as her older self waves it off with bright—very fake—smile. "That was an unfortunate lapse in judgment exacerbated by extreme exhaustion."
Quinn 's lips quirk up the corners. "Can you add anymore alliteration in there?"
"Only if you can," Rachel fires back, making Quinn giggle musically.
"Are you ready to go?" Quinn asks.
Rachel bites her lip, glancing nervously toward the bedroom. "I...um...well, actually, not quite."
"Did you forget about our plans?" Quinn asks suspiciously.
"Of course not," Rachel lies.
"Because you promised to do this with me today, Rach. We only have three more weeks, and you keep making excuses," Quinn complains, pacing closer to the bedroom and forcing younger Rachel to duck away from the door. "If you don't want to be my maid of honor, just tell me."
In the bedroom, Rachel stumbles forward at the revelation of Quinn's engagement, slamming her knee against the door.
"What was that?" Quinn demands.
"Nothing," older Rachel insists.
Quinn stares at the bedroom. "Do you have someone in there? Is that why you skipped your show last night?"
"No, no," Rachel insists, stepping forward and guiding Quinn back away from the door. "I was merely attempting to hang a new Broadway poster. It must have fallen off the hook."
Quinn relaxes, glancing back at the bedroom. "Do you need my help?"
"Don't be silly. I'll get it later. We should probably go. Dress fittings. Yay!"
"Don't sound so enthused," Quinn scolds, heading for the door.
Older Rachel stares desperately at the bedroom. She spins around and takes two steps to follow Quinn before she drags to a stop. "Oh, shoot. I forgot that I was supposed get the set list for the reception to the print shop so they can get the programs finished up."
Quinn eyes widen in horror. "Rachel, that should have been done three days ago."
"I know, I know. I'm so sorry," she apologizes. "I can do it right now. Danny owes me a favor. I can get them to rush it."
"But the fittings," Quinn counters worriedly.
"You go ahead to the dress shop and get started. I'll swing by the print shop on my way. It will only take me a hour tops."
"I just don't want anything to go wrong," Quinn murmurs.
Rachel sighs. "Don't worry, Quinn. Your wedding day will be perfect. I'll make sure of it," she promises. "It's the least that I can do for my...my best friend."
Quinn releases a relieved breath. "Your best friends, you mean?" she corrects with a blissful expression. "Don't forget about Santana."
Rachel's eyes dart away. "As if I ever could," she replies with a pained smile.
"You're the best," Quinn tells her, wrapping her up in a hug. From the bedroom, a shocked Rachel watches her older self melt into the embrace, settling her chin onto Quinn's shoulder and closing her eyes in pleasure. She presses a trembling hand to her own lips because she knows that look, and she jerks her gaze back to the painting.
Girls like Quinn…you don't want to do anything that's going to distract from their face so ask for a gardenia with a light green ribbon wrapped around it to match her eyes.
Out in the living room, Quinn releases Rachel from her arms and heads for the door. "If you're more than an hour late, I swear I'll come find you," she warns.
"I'll be there, Quinn," Rachel promises with a tremulous smile. "I want to support you. And Santana."
Quinn grins back at her. "Love you," she says flippantly.
"I love you, too," older Rachel murmurs tightly, and eighteen year old Rachel can hear the waiver in her voice.
Rachel flops against the wall while she waits for the apartment door to click shut as she processes the scene that she just witnessed. A few moments pass before she finally steps out of the bedroom to find her older self standing by the door with her arms crossed, gazing off into a far corner.
"It's...it's Quinn, isn't it?" Rachel asks timidly. "The...the person you were talking about when you said you could have found real happiness?"
Older Rachel sighs, still focused on some unknown spot. "She was in love with you, you know?" she asks distantly. "In high school and for a while in college." A beat of silence goes by before she answers, "Of course, you know. You weren't quite that oblivious," she chastises, pulling her gaze back to Rachel. "You wondered if you were seeing what you thought you were seeing, but you pushed it away because you were all about Finn. He was your sure thing, after all. Wasn't he?"
"I loved him," Rachel repeats, not fully realizing that she used the past tense.
"You could have had her," older Rachel tells her sadly. "If you'd been braver. Smarter. You could have had Quinn, but you waited until it was too late, and she'd long gotten over you and fallen in love with someone else."
Rachel drops her gaze to the floor, unable to meet the agony in her older self's eyes. "S-Santana?" she questions disbelievingly. "How is that even possible? Q-Quinn isn't..."
"Gay?" the older her snaps. "She's actually about to come out to you. She's supposed to spend Thanksgiving with you and Santana," she spits bitterly, "and Kurt, isn't she? But Santana already kind of knows about Quinn," she reveals. "You'll find out all about that at Thanksgiving, too. That's when it starts...well, I guess it actually started in Lima at that pathetic wedding where you let Finn talk you out of your panties by comparing your love to a garden," she scoffs, and Rachel feels her stomach clench at the memory of Santana and Quinn dancing. She hadn't really paid much attention to them, but she's thinking that she should have.
"While you were lying under him with the lights off and your eyes shut, Quinn was letting Santana enlighten her to the joys of lesbian sex," older Rachel mutters, crossing her arms and squeezing her eyes shut as if to stave off the memory. "They'll hookup again at Thanksgiving, and you'll hear everything. It will turn into friends with benefits for a few years until Quinn moves to New York after college, and they'll eventually realize that they've fallen in love." She opens her teary eyes and looks directly at Rachel. "And you'll be maid of honor at their wedding, because you...you love Quinn enough that you just want he to be happy," she chokes brokenly. "Because one of you should be."
Rachel swallows heavily, hardly able to breath past the lump in her throat. "Did you...does she know?"
The older her laughs bitterly. "What would that accomplish? She's in love with Santana." She shakes her head and paces away. "She's my best friend. And Santana is my friend, too. I blew all of my chances with Quinn by chasing after Finn. When she wanted me, I didn't want her, and when I wanted her, she...she'd already moved on. She's happy now, and I can't ruin this for her."
"I'm sorry," Rachel whispers, not knowing what else to say. The older her is right—she did have an inkling of an idea that Quinn had feelings for her in high school, and it had scared her to death because Quinn Fabray wasn't easy, or safe, or sure. And she wasn't Finn. And Rachel wasn't—she isn't—quite ready to fully process her sexual attraction to other women because she's always been romantically attracted to men. But maybe, just maybe, if she looks into the murky mirror of time evident in her older face, she can be honest enough—just for now—to admit that Quinn Fabray could have been her exception.
The older Rachel puffs out a breath and laughs sadly at her own state, wiping her wet eyes. "Come on, kid. Let's get you home, okay?"
Rachel only nods.
They stand in front of the old mirror, gazing at their dust covered reflections. The theater is deserted again, and her older self had led her unerringly to the basement vault that houses some of the old props for the now closed Phantom of the Opera production. "I like to come down here sometimes and think about the past," older Rachel admits. "Not just the show that ran for so long," she gestures to the mirror, "but me." Her mouth quirks into a half-smile. "You, I guess," and Rachel smiles back. "I was down here yesterday," she admits. "I didn't see you, or like, do anything weird," she promises, looking back at the mirror with a furrowed brow. "So I don't know what you did to make it work."
Rachel shrugs. "I just...touched it," she says.
"So go ahead."
Rachel shakes her head, suddenly sniffling back the tears that have sprung to her eyes. "I...I don't want you to end up unhappy," she says.
The older her wipes away a stray tear of her own. "So make better choices."
"But I won't remember," she whimpers. "You said that you don't, and time is immutable, isn't it?"
"Who knows?" the other her says with a shrug. "Look, if you can remember just one thing...just...trust yourself, Rachel Berry. Don't be afraid of your ambition. It isn't a bad thing," she says adamantly, putting one hand on Rachel's shoulder and squeezing. "And for God's sake, let your backup plans stay backup plans until you've exhausted every other option. Don't ever give up, okay?"
Rachel takes that in, silently conceding that she has, in fact, been thinking of her ambition as a negative that needs to be tempered. She takes a breath and nods determinedly. "Okay."
The older her smiles and wraps her up in a crushing hug. "Good luck, kid."
Once free from the embrace, Rachel wipes her tears away and stares at the mirror again, touching the glass and again finding it cool—and dusty. Very, very dusty. She coughs a little. Then she steps closer and runs her hands over the frame, letting her nail catch on that same golden leaf as before, and groaning when a familiar shock races up her arm.
"Are you okay?" the older her asks, but she sounds so far away, and Rachel is swaying forward again, but this time she smiles in relief because it means that she's going home.
She wakes up in the prop room, rubbing her head. She sits up slowly and looks around for her older self, but there's no one else in the room. The mirror looks as fresh and polished as it did when she first saw it, and Rachel scrambles away from it, not daring to touch it again. She reaches into her pocket and pulls out her phone, grateful to see the time and date flashing on the screen. She hasn't even lost an hour.
"Oh, thank God," she whispers, pushing to her feet and running from the room in search of Santana. She's never going to believe what happened, Rachel thinks before sliding to a stop and nearly tumbling over her own two feet. "I remember," she says. "I remember everything. Oh, my God." She doesn't know whether to laugh or cry.
"There you are, Berry," Santana says irritably, appearing from around the corner in front of her. "Where did you wander off to?"
She stares at Santana—slightly disheveled and dragging an equally ravished Aubrey behind her. "You," she mutters. "You're not marrying her," she says unthinkingly.
Santana's eyes widen comically, and she drops Aubrey's hand, stepping away. "Woah, woah...who's getting married?"
Rachel presses her hand to her mouth, her own eyes widening before she laughs self-consciously. "No one," she says. "No one at all."
Quinn was still at Yale, and she's supposed to come to New York in two weeks for Thanksgiving. Rachel doesn't know exactly what that means for her—for them—but she's suddenly open to possibilities that she hadn't imagined before—or at least, admitted to imagining—and the idea of Finn Hudson has lost almost all of its appeal. The one thing that she's absolutely certain of is that she will not be allowing Quinn to be alone with Santana for even one minute.
"Let's go home," she breathes, suddenly eager to start fresh with a brand new plan for tomorrow.
Eleven years in the future, Rachel Berry cautiously steps into a dress shop to see a disgruntled brunette wearing a Fushia dress. The woman quirks an eyebrow in Rachel's direction. "There you are, Berry. Can you please rein in Bridezilla," Santana begs.
Quinn Fabray spins around with around with a gasp that quickly morphs into a delighted smile as she crosses the room and wraps Rachel up in an intimate embrace. "You're not supposed to be here, Rach," she scolds, playing with the ends of Rachel's dark hair. "It's bad luck to see the bride in her dress before the wedding."
"But you're not in your dress yet," she points out, reverently slipping her own arms around Quinn's waist. "And anyway, today I feel like the luckiest girl in the world," she breathes.
"Just today?" Quinn teases.
"And all my tomorrows," Rachel answers seriously, basking in the memories of the last eleven years with Quinn. "I love you," she says with all of her heart and soul.
"I love you, too, baby," Quinn murmurs before dipping her head to capture Rachel's waiting lips in a passionate kiss.
Way to go, Rachel Berry, she thinks as she happily embraces her future.