DISCLAIMER: The characters herein are used without permission. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Companion piece to Emperor of Maladies
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To rsietz[at]gmail.com
Maladies of Her Empress
She remembers what it's like to turn into a different person.
She knows what it's like to betray yourself, to betray your body.
(Lucy can attest to that.)
What Quinn doesn't know is what it's like to have your body betray you.
So in Glee club when Rachel Berry sings "Laughing With" and looks like her heart is breaking in half, Quinn knows something big is up. She feels it tingle on the back of her neck.
It isn't until afterwards when Rachel announces she won't be able to make the next few weeks of practice due to impending medical issues that Quinn realizes everything is going to change.
There's a hum of chatter for a moment before Tina focuses everyone and asks softly, "Are you okay, Rachel?" Tears well in her eyes and there's a broken pause before Rachel shakes her head and says, "no."
Weeks later, Quinn hears Puck's going to throw a party and she almost slaps him. But he looks down at her angrily, "I don't know what else to do, ok? She won't let me help and-" he runs his arm over his head and deflates. "I just don't want her to be alone before, ok? I don't know what else to do." There's a look of such sadness in his eyes that it shakes Quinn. If she's being honest with herself, she admits she doesn't know what else to do, either.
So when she saw Rachel quietly breaking down against Puck's sink at the party, something snaps. Quinn doesn't even know what she's doing when she pulls Rachel to her, but it happens desperately. And when her fingers sink into brown hair, Quinn grips tightly, wishing with everything in her that she could prevent it from falling out.
Quinn was grateful for how loud the party was; words would have ruined the moment. She didn't have any words anyway, nothing that would take away the ones that the doctors said to Rachel all those weeks ago. So she says it with her mouth instead. Quinn feels so lost and found at the same time, like coming home to an empty house.
They end up spooning for the rest of the night in Puck's guestroom, Rachel curled into Quinn, sleeping deeply (after having sobbed for the better part of an hour). Quinn, lips still tingling, revels in the feeling of her arms surrounding Rachel, not quite understanding why it took her so long to get there.
They should have been more surprised at how easy it was. But there didn't really seem to be a point in not understanding each other anymore. No one else gave it much thought.
Rachel has an appointment and Quinn wanted to bring flowers, but knows how some smells make Rachel nauseous. So she spends three nights cutting magazines and gets a key from her dads. When Rachel comes back from her treatment, there are bouquets taped everywhere, covering the walls. A sob breaks from Rachel, but Quinn is there in the doorway to catch it.
More often than not, they're able to forget. Even if it's just for moments, strung together to make time out of instants.
The cancer seeps through cracks though, no matter how hard they try. But Rachel grips Quinn more tightly than the trash can, and its thoughts like that, when she feels her fingers clutching her wrist, that that keep Quinn from losing it altogether.
Rachel enjoys doing certain things by herself. Laundry and cooking were out of the question, but she liked grocery shopping and folding the clothes because they smelled clean but not sterile.
Some days were worse than others, Quinn knew, especially after the surgery. It didn't get any easier to see the breast form sitting on top of the dresser while Rachel was in the shower. All she could do was climb in behind her and hold Rachel in her arms. Quinn's head in Rachel's shoulder groove, Rachel hanging onto Quinn's arms, neither one much noticing the water grow colder.
And on the nights where she could feel Rachel slipping away, Quinn tries to find her. Find Rachel Berry and bring her back. "Where are you, Rachel," she asks with her hands, her tongue, and her heart. Quinn knows that sometimes Rachel feels like her skin doesn't fit. Like it isn't the same body as before. And it's not.
Cells are different.
Parts are missing.
She's staring at it in the face.
Quinn stills, and lightly traces the scar with her fingertips. Rachel arches against her before looking down.
She feels the heartbeat under her palm. It's racing but steady.
And it's all that goddamn fucking matters.
Quinn can feel Rachel start to cry. "Don't," she says fiercely. Quinn waits for her meet her eyes.
"Don't." There isn't a place for that here, she tries to say. "Don't." It doesn't matter anymore.
Quinn watches Rachel whimper, throw her head back and swallow everything down and knows it's enough for now. Maybe they'll cry later. Right now, she lets herself sink into the moment. It's calm when she wraps her arms to hug the body beneath her tightly, and she surrounds herself with Rachel.
It's easy to be bitter.
It's harder to be grateful.
But all Quinn wants to feel is Rachel, so she lays herself down and surrenders to the thump thump of a heartbeat that's keeping time with her own.
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