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Caged Bird

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She says the sun is in her eyes when you ask her to smile. It's night, and she sits on the grass hugging her knees, and you stand not far away.

You don't say anything after that.

Your back starts to hurt, standing, but sitting down would mean you're giving up so you focus on the compliant way her fingers stroke the grass; like to actually feel the blades is a privilege for happy girls, and. Well.

It's night. The sun is in her eyes like a hangover from the day she's had, only it hasn't just been a day; it's been weeks and months and a little over three years since anyone can last remember seeing her anything but empty. She's so empty.

Your heart wants to say something to her.

Your bones want to rest beside her; want to sleep for a bit.

Your fingers want to catch her before she slips away.

Your lips want to brush against hers.

She startles herself by making a soft noise in the back of her throat and you think how sad it is, that she's grown so accustomed to her own silence.

"It's a good thing we don't live near the ocean," she murmurs.

She's staring at the edge of the lawn like it's a bridge from which she can jump and the sidewalk glimmers like the unbreakable promise of a welcoming sea, and you can almost see a splash in her glassy eyes as she turns to you, lips struggling to form that smile you asked for.

"I'm so sorry," she says in a broken whisper. "I'm so sorry, Rachel… I never meant to hurt anyone, I…"

You shake your head and try not to turn away but her gaze burns straight to your soul and awakens that deep ache that only exists when you think of her, so you turn to face the monstrous shadow of her house and she shrinks back in her flimsy shell.

A thousand times over you've tried to find apologies in everyone who's ever hurt her, like it might bring back the girl you once saw for a fleeting moment in a hospital bed with a baby in her arms. But anyone who's ever known Quinn Fabray has either excused it away with a "she's not my problem" or denied her existence completely.

"I could tell you you're beautiful, but that wouldn't help, would it?" you say quietly.

She runs her palm across the tips of the blades of grass and gives you the slightest of shrugs. The effort seems like too much for her tiny, tiny frame.

Someone once asked you to describe her and all that came to mind was a trembling child in the darkest corner of an empty room. There was a chain dangling from a lightbulb, but you know, somehow, that the child fears what creeps in the light more than the cold shadows that hold her.

"I'm so tired," she admits.

You wonder how she's made it this long, carrying all these demons in her empty womb. She wears her struggles like a cloak and some mistake it for evil, but she's so far from it that you could almost laugh.

"We could sleep for a bit," you offer. "I have a big bed… it's comfortable."

"I don't want to wake up, Rachel."

If they could see her now, you think… everyone who ever spat words in her face or spread venom about her when they thought she wasn't listening.

You want to sit with her.

You want to curl your body around her and protect her and take the ocean out of her eyes so she won't feel like she's drowning anymore; you want to show her someone cares. God, how you care.

You stay standing because to join her means you're letting her stay rooted to the spot like how she's been for the past three hours, in the middle of the night. Had you not gone walking to clear your head… You're terrified that if you even dare shift your weight, she'll jump off that cliff in her mind and that'll be the last you ever see of her.

"I'm not giving up on you, Quinn."

You swear you can hear her tired bones creaking as she twists around to look at you and the stark lack of warmth in her eyes freezes you to the core.

"Why?" she asks. "Everyone else already has."

"Because I believe in you," you tell her carefully. "I just want you to be okay. I just… I want to see you smile."

Her lips start struggling again and tears form in your eyes as you realize she's really making an effort; truly trying to smile for you, but she can't… She has nothing left.

"It's okay," you manage to get out past the tears.

She knots her eyebrows together and continues to try and force that smile and you can see the pain behind the glass of her gaze and God, if you could give her your own smile, just for a moment, so the sun in her eyes could actually warm her heart…

"I'm so sorry, Rachel. I'm so sorry."

It's in this moment, as the image of her blurs from your tears, that you realize you've lost her. She's already gone. Deep down, you've known this for awhile.

You sink to your knees in the grass beside her; take her bone-cold hands in yours and pull them into your lap. She's as soft as the first snowfall at 3am, like you always imagined she'd be. Her shoulders drop and her head follows but you catch her lips in a gentle kiss to say goodbye.

She disappears that night.

You see her ghost in your dreams for years after.

She's smiling.