Bookends @mickeydubs
Chapter 22

Bookends

Chapter 22: A Duet, a Dream, a Daydream

Quinn curled tightly into herself at the base of a stairwell in one of the school's many hallways. McKinley High was nearly empty and the halls were quiet. Hot tears leaked from her eyes, and she wiped at them haphazardly with the back of her hand. Despite the fact that she had made sure to get herself to a part of the school where people were unlikely to happen upon her, she made a conscious effort to keep the sounds of her cries and sniffles to a minimum.

She felt like a dump truck of confusion had just run her over and dropped all its contents on her head.

What the hell was going on?

Quinn couldn't begin to imagine what Finn had been thinking. Was he out of his mind? Neither his words nor his actions in the hallway had made even a grain of sense. His overreaction was mind boggling.

Anger at him bubbled in her veins and forced her tear ducts into overdrive. She shook her head in frustration.

It could not have been clearer that Sam had been joking around. Finn's anger was completely unprovoked and unjustifiable. Even if Sam had been being crude in actuality, who did Finn think he was to be trying to defend her honor like that?

They had broken up so long ago. Quinn was finally feeling like they could start to be friends again lately, but that display of overt brutality...

It was a showcase of possessive, bordering on puritanical thinking that was shockingly and distressingly similar to her dad's. It was a huge shock to the system to see a boy she had once been fond of behave in a way that went so against her own manner of approaching the world. Sure, Quinn had seen red and wanted to fly off the handle at certain points in her life, but she would never, ever follow through with such destructive impulsivity.

When it had gone down, she had clung to Rachel instinctively.

The fear and tumultuous confusion she'd felt when Finn started swinging fists had rocked her to her core, but Rachel, despite being upset herself, had provided a steadying presence. Rachel was her go-to, her safety net in a time when her sense of physical and emotional safety was threatened. Her best friend, every day.

Quinn had heard the pain in Rachel's voice the moment they had all realized that Nationals was off the table. Her disappointment at the situation in general and the betrayal that Finn would be so cavalier as to throw that dream away had radiated off of her skin. That had been Quinn's breaking point.

She knew without question that performing was everything to Rachel, and Nationals was the biggest opportunity to sing on stage she was likely to get while they were still in high school. Everybody knew that Rachel deserved to live her dream, and Quinn was positively livid that the chance to take a concrete step toward that dream had been dangled in front of Rachel's face and then yanked away like that.

Hell, Quinn was excited to go herself, too. There was no denying the rush that came with being on stage in front of an adoring audience, and doing so with a group of her closest friends would have only made it all the better. Glee had quickly become the best part of her week, and she had started to really look forward to traveling and taking on that competition with this little family. Singing and dancing and collaborating with the New Directions, it made life in high school bearable. Laughing and joking and hanging out with them, well, that made life in high school fun.

Not to mention the fact that she was supposed to sing with Rachel when they went. That would have been like something out of a weirdly niche, incredible, beautiful dream.

Quin sobbed even harder.

After some time, she heard footsteps coming down the hall. Quinn momentarily panicked about being seen in such a vulnerable state and tried to hide that she was crying. She swiped at her eyes and nose and did her best to appear put together.

She didn't lift her eyes until the footsteps halted just in front of her.

She looked up to find Rachel standing over her with slightly stooped shoulders and hands clasped together. Quinn couldn't help but notice that Rachel's eyes were looking distinctly red and puffy as well.

Quinn watched silently as Rachel took a seat on the stairs next to her, still looking heartbroken. Her heart ached to see Rachel looking so defeated. Quinn reached over and took her hand without a word. A moment passed, their palms pressed together.

With an increasing heart rate, Quinn shifted her hand to lace their fingers together. She licked her lips, not daring to peek at Rachel's reaction.

Another moment passed, then Quinn's breath caught in her throat when Rachel scooted a bit closer and rested her head on Quinn's shoulder.

They sat like that for a minute.

Eventually, the silence got to be too much for Quinn, and she croaked through the baseball-sized lump in her throat, "I'm so sorry, Rachel."

Rachel jerked back upright. "For what?"

Quinn gestured vaguely, not knowing where to start. Guilt weighed heavily in her chest. "This whole… thing. Finn. Nationals. All of it."

Rachel's mouth dropped open. "Quinn, none of this is your fault. You didn't do anything wrong."

Quinn dropped her head into her hands. Her tears started anew. "Finn just went full on Godzilla on Sam because of me-"

"Did you ask him to do that?" Rachel cut her off, not allowing Quinn to take the blame.

Quinn met her eye briefly then shook her head.

Rachel continued, "That fight may have been about you, for whatever convoluted reason Finn has gotten into his head, but you did not cause it."

"But-"

"Stop." Rachel took Quinn's face between her hands with an expression on her face that said she would not be swayed on the issue. "You are not responsible for the actions anyone else chooses to take, no matter how unconscionable. Finn's motivations do not implicate you in how he handled himself. That is on him, and him alone. You have no business feeling culpable for circumstances you obviously had no control over. Not a single person who witnessed Finn's inappropriate, violent outburst would dream of holding you accountable, and I'll be damned if I let you do it to yourself."

Quinn sighed and gave Rachel a small, appreciative smile. "You're really good at pep talks, you know that?"

Rachel lifted herself up a bit. "Well I should be. I give one to myself more often than most of our peers practice basic hygiene."

Quinn shook her head with a poorly contained giggle. "I don't know if that says more about you and your ego or the fact that the guys obviously need to shower more."

They were both quiet for a minute, then Quinn uttered, "I was really excited to sing with you at Nationals."

Rachel took a beat to digest what Quinn said, then she stood up and held out a hand to help Quinn to her feet. "Come on."

Quinn watched Rachel's face in a half-hearted attempt to suss out what Rachel was thinking before giving in and taking the outstretched hand. She couldn't help but grin at the determined quality of Rachel's march.

She let Rachel lead her back down the hall and rolled her eyes at herself for not realizing their destination sooner when Rachel pulled her into the auditorium.

Inside, Brad was at the piano off to one side of the stage, running scales. Quinn was hesitant to interrupt him, but Rachel pressed on purposefully toward him, and she knew better than to try to stop Rachel when she was on a mission.

Rachel walked them right up onto the stage and only let go of Quinn's hand when she strode over to Brad to whisper something in his ear.

He looked at her skeptically, then glanced over at Quinn, sighed, and nodded his acquiescence.

Quinn hung back and observed the exchange with a mixture of apprehension and curiosity. With a pat on Brad's shoulder, Rachel skipped back toward her.

"Okay," Rachel looked up at Quinn, who allowed herself to be guided to the center of the stage, "I know there's no one else competing against us, and no audience to give us a standing ovation when we're done, but we've got the stage. The spotlight is on the two of us. Now, it's not the song we decided on earlier for Nationals, but…" she gestured to Brad, who brought his hands to the keys at the cue.

Quinn burst into laughter when she recognized the first few notes. Of course Rachel would come up with this. "We can't go to Nationals, so we're singing a song by The National?"

Rachel shrugged with a gleam in her eye. "As far as consolation prizes go, I think this is the especially appropriate." She beamed and started in on the first verse.

"Stay out super late tonight,

Picking apples, making pies."

Quinn picked up where she left off, wondering if Rachel knew that this was one of her favorite songs.

"Put a little something in our lemonade and take it with us."

Quinn locked eyes with Rachel. Singing a duet with her was even more enthralling and fulfilling than she had imagined. They shared the lines that gave the song its name.

"We're half awake, in our fake empire.

We're half awake, in our fake empire."

Almost as if they had planned it, both Quinn and Rachel hopped into motion and paced around each other, still maintaining eye contact. They were perfectly in step with each other.

Quinn took the first part of the second verse.

"Tiptoe through our shiny city,

With our diamond slippers on."

Her mind flashed to a vision of the future: her and Rachel, running merrily through the streets of New York, dark pavement and neon lights, their laughter echoing between skyscrapers, Rachel's hand in hers. She was filled with a sense of pure, uninhibited joy.

She hoped, with every ounce of energy that her body contained, that she might get to live that daydream someday.

Rachel took over and gave a whimsical twirl as the music fell beautifully from her lips.

"Do our gay ballet on ice, bluebirds on our shoulders."

Quinn's mood lifted further as she watched her and let her voice join Rachel's again.

"We're half awake, in our fake empire.

We're half awake, in our fake empire."

Quinn surreptitiously moved closer, and her grin split her face all the way to her ears when Rachel followed suit and wrapped an arm around her waist, swinging the both of them across the stage.

When Rachel began the last verse, Quinn nearly convinced herself that Rachel was singing to her.

"Turn the light out, say goodnight.

No thinking for a little while."

Quinn's heart swelled even as it pounded out of control. Her eyes softened when she realized how applicable the last couple of lines were to her feelings about the girl she was spinning around with.

She sang to Rachel with more meaning than she could explain.

"Let's not try to figure out everything at once.

It's hard to keep track of you, falling through the sky."

Her heart thrummed at the sight of Rachel's blush at the indirect reference to her goals of stardom. They came together once more, and their voices blended exquisitely.

"We're half awake, in our fake empire.

We're half awake, in our fake empire."

They ended softly, eyes trailed on each other as they slowed their circular motion and came to a stop. By the end of the song, some unyielding kind of gravity had drawn her closer and closer to Rachel, and now they stood mere inches apart.

Brad let the piano fade out, then stood and exited without breaking the moment between the girls.

They remained where they were, and Quinn felt an unspoken tension rising in her throat. Quinn and Rachel's chests rose and fell in sync.

Quinn couldn't seem to catch her breath.

Her arm was still curled around Rachel's waist, her hand pressed firmly into the small of her back. She could feel Rachel's hand resting on her shoulder blade. She had to stop herself from shivering at the touch.

Quinn's eyes widened when Rachel's tongue poked out to wet her lips. She swallowed thickly.

Her gaze was locked on the warm, woodsy brown of Rachel's irises. The pink that had colored Rachel's cheeks was still in full bloom.

Quinn's whole body tingled. Rachel was looking at her with wide eyes and wider pupils.

Quinn licked her own lips and felt like she might faint when she saw Rachel's gaze dip momentarily to track the movement.

She opened her mouth to speak, but no words could come close to encompassing the things she so desperately wanted to say. She doubted her voice would work in that moment anyway.

Quinn brought her other hand uncertainly to Rachel's hip. Both of their breathing faltered.

She didn't know what she was doing, but she was doing it.

She tilted her head and started to lean down, centimeter by centimeter.

Rachel's lips parted. Quinn couldn't believe this was happening. She flattened her hands against the curve of Rachel's waist.

Rachel brought her free hand to Quinn's upper arm. They both let their eyes flutter closed.

Quinn ducked her head to close the distance.

The banging of a door opening backstage caused the both of their eyes to fly open and their bodies to spring apart.

Red in the face, they looked over to the cause of the disruption to find Mr. Schuester in a janitor's uniform, toting a trash can and various cleaning supplies.

Quinn darted her eyes to Rachel, who did the same. Neither of them said a word.

The girls scrambled to make a graceful exit. Fortunately, Mr. Schuester was oblivious to how spectacularly they failed in their attempts at subtlety. He lifted a hand in a puzzled wave when they rushed from the stage in opposite directions.

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