A/N FaberryCon Fundraiser fic for , who prompted: "Quinn Fabray was nineteen when she realized she couldn't die, twenty-four when she figured out that she'd stopped aging completely. Rachel Berry was twenty-six when she learned she only had one year left to live; the next day, she met Quinn. One's life is painfully limited, the other is virtually limitless-how will this affect the time they have together?"
You never know when you're going to find out which type you are.
Most people don't get a clue until they're twenty or so, either way, and the less fortunate… well. They're gone by thirty. It's different for everyone, they say, and there's no way to test for it. The government has a reward for anyone smart enough to figure out how.
Quinn was nineteen when she figured out she couldn't die; it took until twenty-four for her to realize she'd stopped aging completely.
She'd pretty much expected to be an Eternal; her mother is, and her sister, too. She's not sure about her father, but then, he left a long time ago. And she kind of hopes that he's dead, after everything he put her through. (She tries not to think about Beth, and how much time she may or may not have. It's not Quinn's forever to count, anymore. She made her peace with that years ago, and she has the rest of time to get over it. She'll get over it. She will.)
No two people have the same process. Some don't freeze until well into their fifties; others do the same year they find the Mark. Quinn's glad she made it a little further into her twenties before pausing—one hears stories, you know, about people stuck with pimples or baby fat or whatever else. There's always surgery, but so many do it with no sense of permanency. It's much easier to cut than it is to put something back, her mother always said, and the idea of being stuck with any of her choices for forever is terrifying. Maybe someday she'll look into modification within moderation, but she's in no hurry. (As far as she's concerned, she'll never have to be in a hurry again.)
She's still new to this, is what she's saying. Everyone has to be at one time or another.
If you make it to twenty-five without a sign, you tend to assume you're Eternal. It's nothing against the Ephemerals, it's just—well. By their nature, they tend not to last so long. Which is why everything's set up to try and provide structure around that imbalance, nowadays. The old system, where people didn't even get out of school until twenty-two and then had only a few months, sometimes, to scrape together a life… it wasn't fair. Everyone could see it.
Sure, there's always the vocal minority of Eternals who want to hoard all the power—bigots who throw around slurs like "mayfly" or worse—but for the most part, people agree that it's only fair to give those with expiration dates the first pick at everything. Detractors call it welfare, but it's not, really. Life Acceleration Placement Programs are there to ensure that everything is equal in time.
Rachel Berry is twenty-six when she finds out she only has a year left to live.
She meets Quinn Fabray the very next day.
Quinn likes working with LAPP. It keeps her humble and appreciative, which are both things she knows need her constant attention, lest they wither, but also… she likes the people. Ephemerals just tend to be so much more interesting than all the Eternals she knows. She's not sure why.
But more than that, it's honestly just… fun. Having people walk into her office and getting to make their dreams come true. She started in the Requests Receipt department, but she's worked her way up to Acceleration Manager, which means she gets to personally oversee the placement and accommodations of her charges. She has yet to stay with one a full year, but she thinks her next client might be the one.
(It also means she's had to lose a few people, but… she's getting better about that, too. She still thinks about Mercedes Jones every day, though. People tell her you never forget your first loss.)
But nothing could have prepared her for Rachel Berry.
Rachel found the Mark in the shower, after her six AM workout. At first glance, she'd been elated—finally, confirmation that she was here to stay, and she could move on with her life.
But then she'd taken a closer look, and the raised, darkened skin on her stomach hadn't been an infinity symbol at all. It had been a circle, a great big zero. It meant death, just as it had meant death for her Daddy. (Her Dad had taken her in, and she never thought about how much that meant until this moment. God, how can she tell him this?)
She'd had herself a good cry, gotten out, dried herself off, and sent a photo of her Mark to her local LAPP office for processing. Acceptance into the program is automatic, but she'd still needed to tell them she existed.
They'd sent her back a time and an address for placement the next day, and here she is.
But she hadn't expected that her Acceleration Manager would be… not only a woman, but the prettiest woman she's ever met.
"So, Rachel Berry," Quinn says with a smile much more real than she normally uses for her first meeting with a charge, but—look at how cute she is—"What can I do for you?"
Rachel's eyes are determined. "I want to sing."
"Okay, so you want… voice lessons?"
Rachel scoffs, and Quinn finds it charming, though it probably wasn't meant to be. She waves her hand, and Rachel takes a seat. "I've been in voice lessons since I could walk. I want to sing professionally. Not just a recording contract, but live. On stage. Broadway, if possible."
That's a tall order to complete in one year, even for Quinn. LAPP isn't perfect; too many people want the same things.
"You'll have to work for it," she says instead.
"Oh, I plan to. I was going to anyway, if I hadn't—if I'd been…" Rachel slows down and swallows, and Quinn gives her best reassuring nod. Most people struggle after they get their Mark. You never think it'll be you. "Anyway. Eternals get on stage, too, if they work hard enough. Just because LAPP can fast-track me doesn't mean I'm going to work any less hard than my competitors. I assure you, I am prepared to do whatever it takes."
"Glad to hear it," Quinn says. "I'll look into getting you auditions, but in the meantime—why don't we go into one of the conference rooms and you can sing for me a little? Just so I know what I'm working with."
Rachel frowns at her. "Why can't we do that in here?"
"Because the acoustics in this office are terrible. I want to hear the real deal."
The smile Rachel gives her at that is nothing short of stunning.
Quinn thinks she's just impressed her.
The first time Quinn hears Rachel sing, she suddenly understands all those old clichés she's heard her whole life about how nobody acts or sings or cross-stitches or whatever like an Ephemeral, because only they truly understand… pick your buzzword. Love, or life, or loss. She's always found those sayings kind of demeaning and fetishizing—Ephemerals have enough to deal with without being romanticized—but that was before.
God does she get it now, if the people who started saying those things did so because they heard people like Rachel Berry sing.
She instantly gives up on the idea of her impressing Rachel ever again.
When Rachel moves out to New York City, Quinn moves with her. It's just a part of the job; she'll be back to Lima in a year.
Putting that timeline on it is already starting to eat at her. People warned her about her first loss, but no one ever said anything about her fifth. But try though she might, it's getting harder and harder every day not to get attached, especially when she sees the tireless way Rachel throws herself at auditions.
Eventually, Rachel gets cast as Eponine in Les Miserables, a role she's coveted her entire life. Within a month, she's taken over for the Eternal who'd been filling in since the last Ephemeral Eponine died.
She is living her dream, and she has six and a half months left to enjoy it.
When she's not working, she takes Quinn on tours of the city, hitting up all of the major landmarks—and most of the minor ones, too. Quinn's never been to New York before, and Rachel doesn't want her to miss out on any of it. (Rachel's never been to New York before, either, but she's spent so long waiting for it she knows it like the back of her hand. She'd prepared, just in case she had to get it all in quick.) Even when she is working, though, Quinn is there. Sitting in the audience, watching with pride.
They talk about everything except the one thing that's on both of their minds.
On a rainy day in April, Rachel kisses Quinn, and Quinn lets her, though she doesn't return it. It seems fitting, though. Rain, after all, makes the flowers grow.
There aren't any rules against Acceleration Managers getting involved with their charges. Quinn's starting to think maybe there should be.
Regardless, Quinn learns to kiss back, though it comes at a price. She stops attending Rachel's shows, choosing instead to stay in their shared apartment, catching up on paperwork or preparing meals. Sometimes, when the weather's nice, she goes out and wanders the city—avoiding all the landmarks and tourist traps she and Rachel had come to know.
It's just too hard, having to watch Rachel die eight times a week.
When they make love for the first time, Quinn obsesses over Rachel's Mark, tracing over the circle in an insistent figure eight—with her fingertips, her tongue. Trying to make something out of nothing. Rachel thinks it's sweet.
"How old are you?" she asks Quinn quietly, afterwards. Quinn is resting in the crook of her arm, ear against her heartbeat. Rachel tangles her fingers in Quinn's hair.
"How old do you think I am?" Quinn counters.
"That's not a fair question. I mean, you look… twenty-four, maybe?"
Quinn's eyebrows rise. "You're freakishly astute. I am twenty-four."
"Yeah, but for how long, now?"
"What do you mean?" Quinn asks, shifting upwards onto her elbow.
Rachel stares her down. "How old are you, really?"
"I told you: twenty-four. I only paused this past year."
Suddenly, Rachel's smile is watery and her expression overcome. "I'm older than you," Rachel laughs, though tears are in her eyes. "Imagine that. Me living longer than you."
Something twists inside Quinn's chest. "Hey, you earned that year, fair and square," she says, because how do you respond to that? What is there left to say?
Rachel turns away from her, eyes scanning the room. Quinn doesn't know what she's looking for. At long last, she speaks.
"We didn't miss your birthday, did we?"
"Twenty-five is a big deal. It's a quarter of a century. Promise me you'll tell me, okay? We'll celebrate."
She wipes away the tears Rachel's pretending not to see. "I promise."
With two months left, Rachel's director offers her the chance to switch roles. "You'd be a wonderful Cosette," he says, and she knows how big a deal it is to be asked. Ephemerals almost never play Cosette—she's supposed to feel everlasting, Eponine is supposed to feel tragic, and they're not yet living in a society where people can look past who the actor is long enough to just enjoy a performance. It's a testament to her abilities, and a sign of affection.
And it means Quinn would watch her again, maybe.
She says yes.
Quinn attends one performance of Rachel's run as Cosette. She makes it as far as "You will live, Papa, you're going to live—it's too soon, too soon to say goodbye" before she loses it, but lose it she does, right in the front row.
She gives Rachel a standing ovation, but leaves before the cast can make it to the stage door.
Though they often spend days apart, now, their nights are only for each other. They stay up for hours, exploring every inch, engaging in a simple worship. And the conversation never ends. Both still avoid discussing the weight of what's between them, but everything else is fair game—Rachel's rejection by her Eternal mother, Quinn's encounter with Noah Puckerman when she was convinced she was going to die and that she might as well get in her living when she could.
They have so many regrets, between them.
"You won't forget me, will you?" Rachel whispers into the darkness one night, curled up in Quinn's bed. Tonight, she's the big spoon.
Quinn stiffens in her arms, but doesn't turn around. "How can you ask me that?"
"It's just…" Rachel tightens her hold the tiniest bit. "I know that you've had to do this before."
At that, Quinn pulls away from her. "Rachel. I have never done this before," she insists, waving a hand between them. As if a gesture could capture their intimacy.
"No, I know. I'm sorry, I didn't mean… what I'm trying to say is that this is your job. You'll have to—"
"Do not ask me how I'm going to grieve you, Rachel. Please don't ask me that."
Quinn gets out of bed. "Come with me."
"Get dressed. We're going out."
The nice thing about living in New York is that nothing ever closes. Quinn's done enough restless searching of their neighborhood to know exactly where she needs to take them to get what she wants, and at this hour, there isn't much of a wait.
"You sure about this?" the tattoo artist asks as he fires up the needle.
"Positive," Quinn assures him.
Rachel watches in fascination as the infinity mark on Quinn's left shoulder blade becomes the B in a swooping, cursive Rachel Berry. She's holding Quinn's hand, but Quinn doesn't seem fazed by the pain.
"There, see?" Quinn says when it's over. "You're not going anywhere."
Rachel's Dad flies out for her last performance, and Quinn wouldn't be able to live with herself if she skipped it. It's apparent to Quinn that the whole cast is upset, even from the very first song, but she doesn't realize why until much later in the first act.
Rachel has chosen to play Eponine tonight.
Mr. Berry holds tight to Quinn for the whole show.
It's raining the day they bury Rachel—in New York, because LeRoy insisted it's where she always wanted to be. It seems fitting, though, considering the inscription on her gravestone:
You would live 100 years if I could show you how.