your father before you (when all waters still)
[an: this is the last installment with "mother please be proud (father be forgiving)" and "like a father to impress (like a mother’s mourning dress)". leroy’s rachel headcanon. faberry.
title from perfume genius. listen to "dark parts" because it’s sad and beautiful.]
your father before you (when all waters still)
but poems are not museums, they are machines made of words
— matthew zapruder, come on all you ghosts
one. one knock, i’m afraid; two knocks, don’t worry; three knocks, are you still awake; four, come quick
When Rachel is little, she frequently comes into their room in the middle of the night. Leroy hears her first, because he’s on the side of the bed closet to the door and because Hiram is a heavy sleeper.
Rachel sniffles and climbs up into bed, snuggling against Leroy’s chest, every time. She tells him about polar bears and people eating the last popsicle and getting lost in the grocery store and never being able to find her way out.
There’s a recurring nightmare, though, where Rachel says, “I just can’t sing. I can’t do it anymore,” and then she always gets very quiet when she tells Leroy, “I’d rather die than do that.”
He doesn’t chastise her, nor does he tell her to stop being dramatic, because he knows this is only a simple truth.
He comforts her, carries her back to her room, puts her in her bed, tucks her in.
Her little voice whispers, “Goodnight,” into the dark.
Leroy tells the voice, “Sweet dreams.”
The first time Rachel gets her feature roll—she’s eight, and it’s in a musical production of Matilda that her theater group puts on—she practices for hours ever night.
Granted, she’s really young and has so many lines, but she learns them, and she works on her tone and pitch and quality, and by 9 pm every night, she’s sound asleep, sometimes on the floor of her room, still dressed.
Leroy knows, though, the second he gives her a bouquet of a dozen red roses after her first show that she’s going to make it, that this will always be worth it to Rachel, because she’s crying a little and because her smile is huge even with a few missing teeth, and because she tells him, “I’ve never felt so happy!”
Leroy remembers state changes from chemistry, and knows that Rachel’s shift from gas to liquid to solid will always depend entirely on this—the lighter she is, the harder she will be to control.
Rachel does ballet and Rachel does tap and Rachel does jazz and Rachel even does hip hop. She’s a good dancer, not a great dancer, but she’s certainly talented, fit, and coordinated enough for it to only help her.
When she’s ten, on her way to a recital, she says, “I like dancers.”
Leroy smiles. “You’re a dancer.”
Rachel shakes her head. “No. I mean, dancer dancers. People who, you know, feel it in their bones.”
“That’s singing for me,” Rachel continues, “but I think maybe I’d pick dance if I could.”
Rachel leans back in her seat and closes her eyes. “I don’t know,” she says. “I’ll think about it.”
Rachel gets invited over to a friend’s birthday party when she’s twelve, for a sleepover. She’s excited about it, but a few hours after Leroy dropped her off, she calls him and says she feels sick.
Leroy comes and picks her up and Rachel goes straight to her room. Leroy hears Rachel crying and he goes inside, then sits on the edge of her bed.
“They were making fun of you and Daddy,” Rachel says.
Leroy rubs Rachel’s back. “Oh, honey, we’re—this isn’t something new for us. You know that, right?”
Rachel nods minutely into the pillow, her hair sticking to her face. “I still hate it, though.”
“That might never go away.”
Rachel sighs. Then she turns over, whispers into the dark, “One day, when I’m famous, I’m going to tell the whole world how proud I am of my whole family.”
Leroy fights back tears and kisses her forehead.
two. we sat as stiffly as temple gods except for the angry thump of my sister’s heart against my cheek
Rachel comes home from the second day of her freshman year of high school coated in sticky purple. She changes for ballet and doesn’t talk about, even when Leroy asks as gently as he can.
It keeps repeating, and on that Friday, Rachel finally shouts, “They throw slushies at me, okay?” before storming up to her room and slamming the door.
Leroy waits half an hour before he goes into Rachel’s room. She’s setting up for her nightly MySpace recording, and he asks, “Are you going to be okay? Do you want me to talk to someone about it?”
Rachel wipes a few tears, shakes her head, then smiles softly. “It’ll be great to write about in my memoir anyway.”
One day at the dinner table, Hiram asks, “So, Rachel, any crushes we should know about?”
Rachel blushes into her vegetables. “They don’t even know I exist.”
“It took seven months for your father to notice me,” Leroy says, then pats Rachel’s hand.
Rachel goes to a football game one Friday night, and Leroy and Hiram go with her, although they don’t sit together.
Afterward, as they walk back to the car, Rachel says excitedly, “Did you see when he threw that pass? His name is Finn Hudson. He’s a freshman too.”
Even though this Finn Hudson—number 5—was only in for a few plays, Leroy smiles. “He looks promising.”
Rachel’s face sours when three cheerleaders walk by. They don’t glance in her direction at all. Rachel tugs on Leroy’s arm and points towards them.
“See that blond girl in the middle? Finn likes her.”
Leroy watches the blond girl turn around and smile at something one of the others says. She’s beautiful.
“She’s in my Honors English class,” Rachel says, getting into the car and then slamming the door. “She’s read Romeo and Juliet before but won’t admit it.”
Leroy and Hiram stay silent.
“She is,” Hiram says. “But so are you, Rachel.”
Rachel only sighs and closes her eyes.
During the summer Rachel turns fifteen, one night she knocks on the door of Leroy’s study and sits down softly in her favourite chair.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Anything,” Leroy says.
“When did you know you were gay?”
“Probably forever, but definitely when I went through puberty. The first time I kissed Danny Blake—he was the captain of the lacrosse team—I knew for sure.”
“Did you like girls too?”
Leroy smiles slightly. “I wanted to like them. I liked them as friends, but never more. But that’s different for everyone,” he adds.
“Are you—it’ll always be okay with your father and I, no matter who you date, you know,” Leroy says, “as long as they make you happy.”
Rachel shoots up from the chair. “No, no. I just—” Rachel takes a deep breath— “Thank you, Dad.”
“You’re welcome,” Leroy says, and, as Rachel leaves, he takes in the slight tremble of her fingers and the hitch in her breath.
Leroy thinks of sublimation.
At the beginning of sophomore year, William Shuester takes over Glee Club. Rachel has friends for the first time in her life—real friends, Leroy thinks—and then, one day, Rachel comes home from school, beaming.
“Finn joined Glee!” she says. “And you both know how easy it is to fall in love with a leading lady who shows such immense talent.”
Two weeks later, she comes home looking deflated, once again coated in sticky substance. It’s red this time.
“Finn’s girlfriend and two of her friends joined Glee,” she tells Leroy, tugging her backpack up the stairs.
One night at dinner, Rachel says, “Finn’s girlfriend is pregnant, and she’s not getting an abortion.” She continues to talk about how big a scandal this is going to be, and about how now she’s never going to get a chance to see if she and Finn could actually date or fall in love, but then she surprises Leroy by saying, “But the worst part is that Quinn’s life is going to go to hell.”
It’s not only that she curses, but that she realizes that, and also that he finally learns Quinn’s name.
Finn, as it turns out, is not the father. This time, when Rachel comes home crying from school, Leroy believes her when she says it is because she feels so guilty for telling everyone about Quinn and a boy named Puck.
“But then Quinn just sat there, and she was crying, and I just—her parents threw her out and—she doesn’t deserve this either.”
Leroy is amazed at Rachel’s level of compassion, and proud, and he kisses her forehead and promises that everything will be okay.
Rachel and Finn start to date, for real this time. The first time Finn comes over for dinner, he seems nervous but polite.
He has never seen Funny Girl, though, and he doesn’t know what auspicious means.
Rachel is patient with him, but a part of Leroy wishes she wasn’t.
They date through that summer and then on-again-off-again throughout the rest of the year. Rachel is striving and intense and often exhausting, even though she’s sixteen now.
When she talks about Finn, sometimes she mentions Quinn, and then there’s a brief period of time when Rachel wants Quinn’s nose—which is horrifying and meaningful on so many levels that Leroy has trouble keeping track of them all—and then they’re fighting again, because Quinn is mean to Rachel at school while they’re writing songs together.
Rachel cries, but then Rachel comes home from prom and says, “Finn got in a fight with Jesse and they got kicked out and then Quinn slapped me in the bathroom.”
Leroy is angry, and this shows because his hands ball into fists.
Rachel places a hand on his forearm gently, though, and she says, “But then I told her that’s she’s important and so much more than what people see her as, you know, the things you’ve always told me.”
Leroy hugs Rachel.
Rachel cries a little when she whispers, “I don’t think anyone’s ever told her that before.”
It’s frustrating when Leroy learns that Rachel kissed Finn on stage and that that cost them so many points at Nationals, but what is even more frustrating is that Rachel seems happy when she comes home.
It’s sunny, and she is no longer solid. Evaporation.
three. a vw no more than a bubble of hashish fumes, captained by a college student
The summer before senior year is spent with Rachel going over to Finn’s house more and more and less and less practicing of her scales.
When Rachel comes home from the second day of school and says, “Dads, you will never believe that Quinn dyed her hair pink. And she has a tattoo! And—” Rachel gets quiet— “I think she’s really, really sad.”
“Have you talked to her?” Leroy asks.
“Finn said that she’s probably just—”
“—What do you think, Rachel?”
Rachel bites a hangnail. “I think she’s been messed up since she gave Beth up for adoption. Probably forever, actually.”
Leroy nods. “Well, remember that.”
Rachel sighs. “I want to be her friend.”
Leroy pats her shoulder. At this moment, it feels thin. “I know.”
The days progress and it’s the most painful thing Leroy knows to watch her daughter disappear in front of him, morphing away from Rachel, electrons spinning to different orbitals, and into some different element entirely.
Finn proposes and the new Rachel holds out for as long as she can. No matter how hard Leroy tries to talk her out of it, she accepts.
Leroy learns that Quinn also protests Rachel and Finn getting married, and Rachel seems to genuinely care about this more than almost anyone else’s opinion on the matter.
But Leroy can sense that it doesn’t matter, because no matter how strong Quinn Fabray may be, holding onto a ghost is an insurmountable task.
Nothing works, and then they’re in the hallway.
Rachel is waiting for Quinn, and this floors Leroy, and it almost makes absolutely no sense, but there is still a slight moment of his Rachel that shows through.
And when Santana Lopez gets a call from her father that Quinn’s car was hit by a truck, Rachel just stands there.
“I was texting her,” she whispers, and Leroy witnesses Rachel go from gas to liquid, nearly solid again. Condensation.
The first time Leroy sees Quinn after the accident is a week later in the hospital.
It’s sobering, but he watches Rachel run her fingers through Quinn’s hair in such a way that he’s never seen her do with anyone before, and he sees most real part of Rachel again as Quinn cries.
Finn spends a lot of time at their house, whining about Rachel’s constant need to practice for her NYADA auditions. Finn still has no idea what he’s going to do after graduation besides maybe go to New York with Rachel.
Rachel, during these months, is reaching her critical point, blasting through phase changes and spinning ever-further out of control.
Rachel messes up and Rachel does not get in and she exists as super critical fluid, broken and no longer resembling anything she’s ever been before.
Leroy is painfully aware that Finn Hudson doesn’t understand chemistry at all.
Rachel’s gathering of atoms goes hand in hand with her reports of Quinn’s progress and Finn’s slow interjections of what he might want to do after graduation.
Rachel wins prom queen.
Rachel tells them, “I’m Quinn’s friend, and I’m Finn’s fiance, and I’m going to get into NYADA. I can do it.”
Leroy almost believes in miracles, then, because Quinn—Rachel tells him excitedly—is walking again, but mostly because Rachel is reassembling herself. Quinn managed to gather particles from nowhere, and Leroy is sure she only knows this from experience.
Rachel gets into NYADA.
Leroy goes over to the Hudson-Hummel’s and tells Finn, “If you really love my daughter, you’ll let her go to New York. You’ll stop being selfish.”
Finn breaks up with Rachel and then Rachel meets them in New York.
Although she is sad, Leroy knows that she is also a new form of Rachel, a different, older, more solid, real form. Vapour, now, but he trusts, finally, that she can become liquid again.
four. it will knock you down, you know, but soon there will be no more vests, no more fears
Leroy watches Rachel grow gradually more certain of herself again. She is no longer a phantom. She is compressible liquid by August.
Leroy also witnesses Quinn Fabray’s subtle pursuit of his daughter, through Metro passes and what Rachel tells him is called indie music. It’s strange, because he never saw Rachel with another woman, but the moment Rachel sends him a picture of she and Quinn at a Yankees game, smiling, Quinn’s eyes bright and Rachel’s hand grasped around Quinn’s waist, Leroy almost can’t picture Rachel with anyone else.
In September Rachel comes home for the weekend and tells them that she and Quinn have feelings for each other.
She seems nervous, but she also seems remarkably solid, and Leroy knows it has less to do with Quinn loving Rachel and more to do with Rachel loving Rachel instead.
It’s called freezing, the change from liquid to solid, and Rachel’s clear eyes when he tells her that he loves her—and Quinn, as long as she makes Rachel happy—are the most beautiful things he’s ever seen.
Over Thanksgiving break, Quinn comes over on Saturday, wearing jeans and an oversized sweater, a pretty scarf. Leroy watches as Quinn coughs painfully and Rachel looks concerned, and then he watches as Rachel puts in Casablanca, which makes Quinn smile.
They way they fit together on the couch breaks Leroy’s heart, because it’s natural and easy. Quinn falls asleep quickly, her head in Rachel’s lap, and Rachel smiles gently, pulling a blanket closer over Quinn’s legs as she runs her fingers through Quinn’s bright hair.
“She has pneumonia,” Rachel whispers when she catches Leroy watching them.
Leroy understands then that they’re saving each other—that Rachel connects Quinn’s atoms just as importantly, and Quinn is a dancer, fluid and strong—and that is maybe the most reassuring thing of all.
Finn comes back from Basic Training that December, and Rachel agrees to see him for coffee, which makes Leroy nervous, even though Rachel loved her first semester in New York and her relationship with Quinn—while blessedly shy and tentative, which Leroy thinks is precious—is healthy and full.
Rachel stays out late and this makes Leroy even more worried.
But the next morning, Quinn comes down the stairs first, in sweat pants and one of Rachel’s NYADA t-shirts. She’s wearing glasses and her hair is a mess, and she’s holding Rachel’s hand.
Rachel’s eyes are slightly puffy, and her nose looks red, but she smiles brightly at Quinn and then tells Quinn, “Sit down,” while she pours them coffee.
Quinn sits next to Hiram and glances at the crossword puzzle he’s doing. Rachel starts to hum a song that Leroy doesn’t know—but Quinn smiles softly and joins in—and then announces an answer to 15 across that can only be because she’s actually listened to Rachel’s rambles about everything.
When she says as much, and Rachel laughs, Hiram says, “She’s a keeper, Rach,” and Leroy can immediately see Rachel’s future.
It’s no longer full of apparitions, but instead of the very real blond girl sitting across from him, who knows French and has scars everywhere and writes some of the most beautiful things Leroy has ever read.
Quinn—Leroy has sure—has done her fair share of disappearing, but Quinn is solid now. Quinn is certain.
Rachel is too, and this is probably the most important thing Leroy can remember about elemental bonds.
At the first show Rachel has the lead in, the spring of her first year at NYADA, Hiram and Leroy have front row tickets. They’re in their seats for a few minutes and then they see Quinn walking towards them, holding a bouquet of gardenias.
Hiram hugs her first, then Leroy, and Quinn sits down next to Leroy.
“A year ago today was my accident,” she says.
Leroy wants to hug her again.
But then Quinn motions to the stage. “I honestly couldn’t think of a better way of celebrating not dying.”
Rachel is incredible—solid and breathtaking—and Leroy is certain that Quinn doesn’t look away once.
Afterward, Rachel hugs Santana, who is also there, with a bright smile. She kisses Quinn softly, and they don’t say anything, but Rachel puts her hand against the small of Quinn’s back and then presses their foreheads together.
Rachel hugs Hiram.
Rachel hugs Leroy, and she says, “None of my dreams ever seemed so real.”
“They’re not dreams anymore,” Leroy says.
Rachel beams. “They aren’t, are they?”
references. (some of my favourite short stories.)
one. judy orringer, “pilgrims”
two. lan samantha chang, “the eve of the spirit festival”
three. denis johnson, “car crash while hitchhiking”
four. adam johnson, “trauma plate”