Chapter 19: Circumstances Uncertain
Author's Note: Hello! Just wanted to say a quick thank you to everyone who has stuck by this story, with all my random hiatuses and the fact that I take so long between updates. Hope it's worth the wait!
Rachel strolled unhurriedly down the street as a warm breeze swept loftily over her. Her buzz had begun to wear off, which she appreciated, as she was more and more able to walk in a straight line without having to think too hard about it. She dragged her feet a bit as she made her way, glad to have left the awkwardness of the party but not wanting to get home just yet.
The sky was cloudless. It spread out above her as if someone had painted it on. Deep, navy blue, purple, and black blended in every direction with white dots of stars splattered across its surface.
Every now and then, Rachel liked to watch the stars just to make herself feel smaller. The vastness of space, the possibility of all the infinite life and activity and movement served as a reminder that she, a single person on Earth, was smaller than a speck of dust or a single grain of sand when put in the context of the universe at large.
Yet simultaneously, she was comforted by the innate assurance she felt that, one day, she was sure to shine as big and bright as the stars that sparkled over her head. She was a collection of molecules that, in time, would amass into one collective and unmistakable entity of glowing heat.
She was going to grow into a star. Rachel felt it in every cell of her body. She burned constantly, destined to bring light into people's lives.
As she gazed up through the darkness, she allowed herself to wonder at how impossibly far away those stars must be. In a surprising show of random knowledge, Puck had told her once that many of the stars she would look at were such a distance from Earth that by the time the light reached her eyes, the star she saw was likely already dead. Even in relation to other stars, there were billions, trillions of miles that separated them.
Rachel had to admit to herself, at times, focusing so intensely on her dreams of stardom did feel as though it put distance between her and those she wanted to be close to.
Loneliness sunk into her shoulders, and she wrapped her arms around herself despite the warmth of the late spring air. Rachel had been hit with a lot of conflicting emotions recently, and she couldn't deny that the confusion had made her pull away somewhat from her relationships with everyone she had spent the past two years becoming friends with.
Part of her wanted to reach out to Quinn. There had been an unnamed but certain weirdness between them since Regionals, on both their parts, but Rachel had really begun to miss their friendship in the days that had passed since the competition.
A part of her had been starting to wonder if there was something else there, if the fondness she felt for Quinn went beyond the platonic. If she was honest, Rachel had never been one to overthink her sexuality. She had grown up imagining herself ending up with a leading man who would whisk her off into the sunset, but she had been raised to prioritize open mindedness and saw no reason why the person who swept her off her feet at the end of the story couldn't be a woman.
Spending time with Quinn had become one of Rachel's favorite things to do, right up there with performing for a crowd and singing along to movie musicals with her dads. Even with their rocky beginnings, there was something about their dynamic that let Rachel feel comfortable when they were together and excited to see her when they were apart. They understood each other in a way that Rachel had never experienced with her other friends.
The real trouble stemmed from the fact that she had little concrete evidence that Quinn was interested in return, and the last thing Rachel wanted to do was to jeopardize the friendship they had come so far in without being absolutely sure.
She was pulled from her thoughts when her phone vibrated in her skirt pocket. Rachel slowed to a halt, then took a moment to sigh and shake her head. The notification on her screen told her it was from the very person who had made her decide to make an early exit from the party.
Puck: hey rach, i know i said some things but pls come back to the party. i really want to keep talking about this, even if you dont feel the same way you mean the world to me
Rachel felt heavy as a single tear rolled down her cheek. This situation, rolls reversed, was exactly the reason she was so hesitant to explore her feelings for Quinn.
Noah's friendship had always been something she could count on. She loved him fiercely but never romantically. He was her best friend, he was even like a brother at times, and shifting their dynamic into something romantic wasn't a change she was interested in making. She didn't want to hurt him, and she knew that if she were to make herself vulnerable in the same way with Quinn, she would be opening herself up to the same potential for pain and rejection, not to mention completely throwing a wrench in the natural, easy nature of the relationship they had cultivated.
She went to put her phone back in her pocket when it buzzed again. Rachel was hit with a surge of annoyance. Reiterating to Puck that she didn't want to be more than friends with him was the last thing she wanted to have to do, especially over text.
She muttered to herself, "Noah Puckerman, I swear," but when she opened the message, it turned out to be from another of her friends.
Mercedes: hey gurl, did you leave? nobody can find you, it's weird havnig karaoke goin without you lowkey/highkey showing everyone up. anywayyyy i could tell somethin weird happened w you and ppuckerman but you should come back and have osome more of these drinks adn hang out w the rest of us bc we lovee you. also i'm a lil tipsy shh hahaah
Rachel shook her head and suppressed an amused snort at her friend's inebriation. She bit her lip as she glanced back and forth between the direction she had been meandering and the way she had come. After a short deliberation, she ultimately decided that spending her night brooding alone in her room was less enticing than the alternative and ultimately elected to follow Mercedes' advice and return to the party. She turned briskly on her heel and strode back toward Puck's house.
A few moments into her return trip, Rachel spotted a figure down the road. The person appeared to be jogging, rather unsteadily, in her direction.
Rachel felt a momentary stab of fear as she imagined herself the subject of an episode of Dateline.
That fear subsided rather quickly, however, when the figure slowly swerved, stumbled, and eventually toppled over into some shrubbery.
She only realized that the figure was someone she knew when she got a little closer and recognized the voice that cursed in pain.
Rachel gave herself a moment to laugh as she closed the distance between herself and her fallen friend.
She stepped up the hedge with her hands on her hips and a poorly restrained smirk on her face. "Fancy meeting you here," she quipped as she took hold of Quinn's arm and pulled her to her feet. She plucked a twig from Quinn's hair with a small giggle.
Quinn's cheeks, which were already slightly flushed from alcohol, burned an even brighter pink. She glanced around, clearly hoping to mask her embarrassment. "Who, me? I'm a regular at this here… bush." They both chuckled and looked at their feet. After a moment, Quinn continued, "Actually, I was looking for you."
Rachel's eyes shot up in hopeful surprise, but she hastily attempted to regain her cool with a bit of sarcasm. "In the bush?"
Quinn laughed and rubbed at the back of her neck. "Yeah, not the most obvious place to search, but, you know, you're pretty small. You could have been anywhere."
Rachel feigned offense and nudged Quinn with her elbow.
They gazed at each other for a moment with amusement in their eyes, then Quinn blinked rapidly and seemed instantly more sober. She took Rachel's wrist gently in her hand and visibly swallowed. "I really was looking for you though, Rachel. I-"
"Oh my god."
Quinn froze mid-sentence, eyes wide.
Rachel's eyes, meanwhile, were locked in horror on a trail of red that was slithering down Quinn's leg. "Quinn, you're bleeding!"
Quinn seemed to shake herself from her stupor and looked down at herself. "Oh."
They both stared at a gnarly gash that had been carved into her thigh, just above her knee. It was bleeding somewhat profusely.
When Rachel's initial shock subsided, a sense of panic set in to take its place. She began searching frantically, and admittedly uselessly, for something to use as a bandage.
Eventually, she came to the conclusion that because they were outside and on the literal street, there was slim to no chance of a first aid kit showing up in their vicinity. Frazzled, she ran her hands through her hair, dislodging her cloth headband. She peered at the accessory in her hand for a beat then jolted. "Ah! This! Tie this around your cut."
Despite her injury and the pain that was likely setting in more severely by the second, Quinn seemed unfazed and all but waved Rachel off.
"No, no. I don't want to get blood on it."
"Rachel." She shot Rachel an expression of faux superiority. "Seriously, I don't want to ruin something that looks so good on you."
She then proceeded to - far too casually, in Rachel's opinion - use her teeth to rip a sleeve off of her t-shirt and use that to secure her wound. Rachel's jaw hung open at the show of raw strength, and her body became inexplicably tingly.
When she recovered her ability to move, which had left her momentarily, Rachel slipped an arm around Quinn's waist. "Okay, She-Hulk, let me help you home."
With a quick, appreciative smile, Quinn agreed and leaned into Rachel's support.
They moved slowly, Quinn hobbling through a slight limp.
As they made their way, Rachel felt a rush of déjà vu. They walked in silence, and she watched Quinn out of the corner of her eye for a while, noting to herself how nice it felt to have Quinn's arm around her shoulders, though the circumstances were less than ideal.
A few minutes later, they had nearly completed their journey, and Quinn's house was in sight at the other end of the street. Rachel caught her with a tightened grip around her back when Quinn tripped over an uneven square of the sidewalk. She only loosened her grip again after the wince from the strain on her wound dissolved from her face.
Quinn met her eyes with a look that Rachel was almost tempted to label as bashful. "You know what this reminds me of?" Quinn's voice was low and sweet. Rachel raised her eyebrows to indicate that she should answer her own question. "That time we ran into each other on the bike path and I totally wiped out."
Rachel remembered it well. She smiled softly. "The day you stopped hating my guts. Honestly, I was just thinking the same thing."
Quinn stopped walking abruptly, throwing Rachel off balance for a moment as she struggled to maintain her own footing and still brace some of Quinn's weight.
"Wait, hold on a second. I know we're friends now and all of that rivalry or whatever is in the past, but I want to make sure you know: I never hated you." Rachel dropped her gaze, partially in uncertainty and partially because she was sure that the warmth flooding her heart must also show on her face. Almost instantly, however, Quinn lifted her chin with a finger and established deliberate eye contact. "I mean it. I hated some things about my life back then, yeah, and I definitely projected some of that onto who I thought you were to me at that point, but I never, ever hated you." Then in a more hushed voice, "I like you."
Rachel searched Quinn's eyes, suddenly intensely aware of the fact that her arm was still hooked securely around Quinn's waist. This knowledge led her to the other various aspects of their semi-embrace. Quinn's arm was settled comfortably around her shoulders, the tips of her fingers trailed delicately on Rachel's collarbone. She was still, at least in stature, helping Quinn to stand, so their upper bodies were pressed together. Quinn's face was close enough to hers that she could feel the faintest whisper of Quinn's breath on her cheek.
"I like you, too."
Her eyes widened just a bit as Quinn almost imperceptibly licked her lips. Her whole body went hot.
Rachel felt herself lean in just a couple of centimeters. Quinn leaned in return, their chests pressing together. Rachel's breath halted in her lungs. She closed her eyes.
They snapped back open when Quinn's weight shifted and she lurched in her arms.
Rachel's heart beat in overdrive as she hoisted Quinn back into a proper standing position. "Are you okay?" Her mind and body struggled to catch up to each other in comprehending what had just happened.
Quinn mumbled an apology about putting her weight on her bad leg.
Rachel took a deep, stuttering breath and tried to center herself. Quinn was still at least a little bit drunk. And injured.
And if what Rachel thought was about to happen were going to happen, these were not the right circumstances. She took a step back, both mentally and physically.
Rachel forced herself to give a soft chuckle. "Steady, girl. Think you can make it the rest of the way?"
Quinn nodded, and they continued on their travels the rest of the way down the street. They finished the walk in silence, not uncomfortable, but with an unnamed heaviness hanging over them until they finally reached Quinn's front door.
Before she entered, Quinn rubbed at the back of her neck and concurrently gave Rachel's hand a gentle squeeze. "Thanks for helping me home. Again."
Rachel squeezed back before delicately releasing Quinn's palm from her grip. "My pleasure."
She turned to leave but whipped back around with an ounce too much eagerness when Quinn called out to her. "Hey Rach, do you have any plans tomorrow?"
Rachel felt a fluttering erupt in her chest at the twinkle she found in Quinn's eye.
"What did you have in mind?"