Title: Every Smile That's Unveiled
Author: somethingsdont / zerodetorres at livejournal
Characters: Rachel/Quinn, Brittany/Santana, Mercedes
Rating: NC-17
Length: 9,946
Timeline: 2.02, Britney/Brittany
Summary: Somewhere along the way, Quinn Fabray discovers that Rachel Berry is just a girl. Just a girl like her.

Quinn finds Rachel doing something so completely Emma Pillsbury that it almost makes her sick.

It's a deserted classroom. Well, deserted except for Rachel Berry hunched over the pencil sharpener at the front of the class, furiously turning the crank like it's nobody's business. A row of pencils line the nearest desk, all meticulously sharpened.

And really, Quinn should leave. She should call out a juvenile name and leave, because that's what Quinn Fabray, newly reappointed head bitch in charge, does.

But Rachel just looks so pathetic standing there, shoulders sagged and head down. And what the hell is she even doing with those pencils? Quinn's curiosity gets the best of her, and she approaches Rachel from behind. The navy polka dot dress hugging Rachel's body reveals smooth shoulders and half a bare back, and Quinn's eyes quickly trace the skin there.

Quinn crosses her arms over her chest. "Uh, what are you doing?" she asks the back of Rachel's head.

Immediately, Rachel pivots, and as soon as she notices Quinn standing there, she straightens up, pulling her shoulders back as she puffs out her chest, trying to look bigger than her five-foot-two frame. "Sharpening pencils." She glances toward the nearby desk. "Clearly."

Quinn quirks an eyebrow. "And why are you doing that?"

Instead of answering Quinn's question, she takes a step forward. "Quinn, can I ask you something?"

Quinn lifts her chin and stares Rachel down. "You just did."

"It's important," Rachel insists.

Quinn tilts her head in a small nod, dropping her arms to the sides of her body.

"It's about Finn."

Quinn's gut reaction is not one of disgust. It's jealousy. She doesn't even understand it herself, but she makes a face and says, "Not interested."

Rachel is undeterred. "I just—"


"Quinn, I understand your reluctance, given your history with Finn, but please hear me out. I'm just—I'm never going to be as pretty as you." Sadness fills Rachel's features, and Quinn fights the immediate urge to reassure. She still remembers what that's like, still feels it herself sometimes underneath the Cheerios uniform she's regained. Imperfect, inadequate, insecure. She sees her own fears reflected in Rachel. "I need to know," Rachel explains, "that he's over you."

Quinn swallows her sympathy. "How is any of this my problem?"

"Didn't you ever wish there'd been someone to reassure you that Finn wouldn't walk out on you when the two of you were together?"

Images of their broken relationship flash by in Quinn's mind. So many things left unsaid. So many apologies left unspoken. So many old feelings that linger, pressing down on Quinn like a heavy weight. She feels too young to carry those burdens.

She looks at Rachel now, sees a girl struggling in a world that's too large and too scary. For maybe the first time, Quinn sees just a girl. Not the annoying ankle-biter too wrapped up in her own dreams to care about anyone else's, not the irritating vocalist who stomps her foot petulantly and talks a mile a minute about nothing Quinn cares to hear about, but… a girl.

Rachel is just a girl. A girl who wants too much and gets too little.

Quinn nods her head slowly. "What do you want me to do?"

There's a part of her that wants to know. Wants to know if Finn still sees her as the head Cheerio she once was. Wants to know if people forgive as easily as they forget.

There's another part of her that already knows Finn's answer. That's probably the most messed up part; she just wants Rachel to feel secure with herself.

"I said what you wanted me to; he shot me down. So congrats. Looks like he really loves you."

Quinn rolls her eyes and tries to sound impassive. She tries not to care because she isn't supposed to. She genuinely doesn't want to be with Finn, and nobody will ever know about their little exchange. She argues to herself that she just wants the two of them to quit making Glee into one big soap opera. She gets enough of that at home.

But as she's walking away, Quinn can't help but glance one last time over her shoulder. She catches Rachel smiling in relief, and Quinn's heart unexpectedly twists in her chest.

Quinn doesn't expect to hurt as much as she does when Rachel sings The Only Exception and looks at Finn and cries.

Quinn finds Santana and Brittany seated together on the bleachers before Cheerios practice, laughing to themselves. As soon as Quinn approaches them, Santana sits up straighter and pulls on her bitch face. Brittany, apparently still high off her dentist visit, mimics Santana's actions.

This time last year, Quinn would have been seated between them, animatedly retelling the story of how Rachel Berry's insecurities spanned the width of the Atlantic Ocean, all while Brittany and Santana snarked about Rachel's attire making her look like a dwarf monkey.

But Santana wants nothing to do with her, this much she knows. At first, it'd felt like sweet revenge for every look of disapproval Santana had thrown her way during her pregnancy, but now she mostly wishes they could go back to being friends. Because Santana disapproves of everyone, and seeing her struggling at the bottom of the pyramid isn't as satisfying as Quinn had thought it'd be.

"What the hell do you want?" Santana asks bluntly, pulling no punches.

Quinn's hands find her hips. "Get to practice," she orders, instead of everything else she really wants to say.

Santana rolls her eyes as she rises from her seat. "You're such a stupid bitch," she fires in Quinn's direction as she leaves.

Brittany hangs around for a second. "Why are you angry, Quinn?"

Quinn stands firm. "Because if you're late for practice, Coach chews me out. Now go."

"That's not it." Brittany studies her for a moment. "Santana's not really mad at you, you know. Do you have a really high horse? Because she just wants you to get off it."

"She's not really mad at me?" Quinn asks before she can stop herself.

Brittany smiles. "Well, I mean, she wants to kick you in the stomach a few times, but—she doesn't hate you."

Quinn turns her head to look behind her. Santana is standing out of earshot, arms crossed over her chest as her foot taps impatiently against the grass. She flips Quinn the bird as soon as she notices her watching.

"Yeah," Quinn notes sarcastically. "That sure looks like love to me."

"I didn't say she loves you, Quinn," Brittany explains patiently. She shrugs her shoulders. "But I know Santana. She's not that hard to figure out."

Quinn briefly wonders how the girl who sometimes forgets her middle name can possibly claim that understanding Santana Lopez isn't that hard, but then Brittany smiles with startling clarity.

"When you find someone you understand like I understand Santana, maybe you won't be so sad all the time, Quinn."

Quinn swallows hard, surprised to find a lump firmly lodged in her throat. She wants to tell Brittany about asking Finn out, about the rejection that hadn't hurt, and about the relieved smile that had, more than anything. She wants to tell Brittany these things, but she's too afraid of Brittany's response. Too afraid of the knowing look Brittany carries when she's sure she's right even when she isn't. Too afraid of, just kiss her and see; that's what I did with Santana.

Brittany smiles up at the sky, eyes squinting against the sun. "You think Coach will let me sing at Nationals, like Kurt did last year? I'm better than Kurt at singing."

"Get to practice, Brittany," Quinn instructs, kinder than before.

She watches Brittany skip away, watches the way Santana smiles when Brittany jumps into her arms, watches joined pinkies and tilted heads as the two best friends make their way leisurely across the field, seemingly oblivious to their surroundings.

These days, Quinn often finds herself playing the role of spectator to other people's happiness.

"Girl, you are not serious."


"What you did to Santana was dumb," Mercedes remarks, shaking her head as she peers into her ice cream container, "but this is just asinine. Leave the pranks to Puck. You can be head Cheerio without being an ass, you know."

"I didn't make Santana get a boob job," Quinn huffs, twisting her spoon in her own container. "It was just a matter of time before it got around."

Mercedes gives Quinn a pointed look. "Remember when Santana told Coach Sylvester you were pregnant to kick you off the team? Oh wait." Mercedes pulls her lips into a straight line. "That never happened."

"I just wanted to get back on top," Quinn explains for what feels like the hundredth time.

"We've been through this, Quinn. I'm not going to agree with you about what you did. You're family, and I love you even when you're being an idiot, but that was not cool, even if Santana's kind of a bitch to everyone."

"Except Brittany," Quinn points out.

"Yeah, well, those two figured something out." Mercedes pauses thoughtfully as she brings a spoonful of ice cream to her mouth. "Could be the closest any of us have gotten to love."

Quinn frowns. "They sleep around."

Mercedes shrugs. "What they have works for them. I sure as hell wouldn't be able to handle an arrangement like that, but they look happy enough. They're not hurting each other, at least. In case you haven't noticed, that's more than can be said about most high school relationships."

Quinn thinks about her and Finn, her and Puck. She thinks about Rachel and Finn and Puck and Jesse and Finn again. Thinks about Tina and Artie. Thinks about people hurting other people and in the same breath talking about love like all it takes is two people with a reservation at Breadsticks.

Quinn puts down her ice cream. "You know I asked Finn if he wanted to get back together and he said no?"

Mercedes gapes at her. "Now why would you go do a stupid thing like that?"

Quinn shrugs. "Rachel asked me to."

"Rachel? Why would she—" Comprehension strikes Mercedes's features. "Oh. That's why she sang that song all doe-eyed at Glee."

Quinn lowers her eyes, fighting a loneliness in her chest that she hasn't known in a long time.

Mercedes leans closer in her seat. "Don't tell me you still have a thing for Finn."

Quinn stares down at her ice cream. "Not Finn," she pushes out through her teeth, and she only speaks the words because it's Mercedes, and somewhere along the way, they'd forged a friendship that Quinn thinks might be the first healthy one in her life.

Mercedes's eyes widen in realization. "Girl…"

"I don't know," Quinn groans, leaning her face into her open palms. "Mercedes, I don't even know."

And she doesn't. She doesn't know what she feels half of the time, and the other half she spends wondering if she did the right thing by giving Beth away to a woman incapable of loving her own flesh and blood. She wonders if she should've moved back in with a mother who didn't defend her, or returned to a church that had forsaken her choices.

Mercedes, shock unmistakable across her features, just reaches across the table, holds Quinn's hand, and tells her she's staying the night.

The McKinley Titans football team, as fully expected, is completely destroyed in their first home game.

The number of times Finn gets sacked is easily in the double digits, and using Artie as a battering ram mostly backfires. Coach Beiste looks angry but she also looks determined, which is more than Coach Tanaka ever gave them.

Santana had somehow convinced Coach Sylvester to let her climb one level higher on the pyramid, which means it's Brittany's knee digging into her back, and both girls seem much more comfortable with that. Quinn catches Brittany gently massaging Santana's neck a few times during the routine, and Quinn feels the tiny hairs at the back of her neck stand on end as she imagines what that'd be like with small, soft hands instead of strong, rough ones.

The game comes to an end and the Cheerios relocate to the locker rooms to change and shower. Sometime during Quinn's absence from the Cheerios, Santana and Brittany had apparently taken to showering together after matches and practices, and nobody on the squad utters a word. It makes Quinn uneasy, but there aren't any inappropriate noises coming from the stalls, and she's strangely curious about the concept, so even after she'd wrestled back the power to command them around, she leaves them alone.

She's watching Santana clasp Brittany's bra – not because Brittany can't, Santana had once informed her, but because Brittany likes it when Santana touches her back – when she asks, "Why do you do it?"

Quinn's question is directed at both of the girls, but only Brittany looks up. "Do what?"

"Shower together," Quinn clarifies.

Brittany grins. "'Cause Santana is smoking hot. Like, we don't have sex or anything. Obviously. Santana's really loud when we have sex, so that wouldn't work. We just—"

"Britt," Santana admonishes, her hands coming to rest at Brittany's sides.

"It's true," Brittany insists, smiling at Santana over her shoulder. "Anyway, I just like looking at her body, and she likes looking at mine. You should try it sometime, Quinn. Pick a girl you really want to see naked, and—"

"Don't tell her that," Santana cuts in. "She'll sic a bunch of bible-thumping automatons on you."

Brittany and Santana fall into their own conversation then, something about whether automatons are anything like Transformers, and Quinn turns back to her own clothes, a flush rising to the surface of her skin. She realizes then that she's never been fully naked in front of another person outside her immediate family, never loved anyone's body the way Brittany loves Santana's and vice versa. The thought makes her squirm. She's delivered a baby but never had her body worshipped.

Quinn dresses quickly, offers a quiet goodbye to the two girls, then slips out.

Quinn is so wrapped up in her own thoughts that she nearly walks straight into Rachel, who apparently had been pacing just outside the girls' locker room. Rachel's big brown eyes are red-rimmed and guarded, and a rush of tenderness rises in Quinn's chest at the sight.

"Quinn," Rachel addresses evenly.

Quinn hardens her stance, unwilling to give an inch. "I'm not doing you any more favors, Rachel."

Rachel shakes her head. "I'm not here to ask for a favor."

Quinn's lips tighten. "You're here for Finn."

Rachel's eyes dart away from Quinn's face. "I was, but he stormed off."

"Too bad," Quinn half-mocks.

Rachel recoils. "I—Never mind, this was a bad idea." She begins to retreat. "See you at school on Monday."

Quinn reaches out, catching Rachel's wrist. "Rachel, wait. My mom is never home Saturday nights; you want to come over?"

She asks because Rachel's visibly upset, because Finn probably did something dumb even though he doesn't mean it and will be sorry in the morning, because out of everyone in Quinn's life, it's Rachel standing here, asking to be accepted and extending the same offer.

Rachel's eyes snap to Quinn's, as though searching for sincerity. She's waiting, Quinn thinks, for the punch line. The butt of another joke. Even as Rachel holds her head high, her shoulders are tense, and she's waiting.

Quinn gives Rachel's wrist a tight squeeze. "Come on."

"I compliment your mother's taste in décor."

Quinn smiles a little. "I'll be sure to tell her."

They're lying on opposite ends of the large couch in the Fabray living room, staring up at the high ceiling. Rachel's socked feet are crossed next to Quinn's hip, and Quinn's toes reach somewhere near the bottom of Rachel's ribcage.

Quinn's leg twitches. "What happened tonight?" she asks, slanting her head to look at Rachel on the other side.

"Finn was upset after his football game," Rachel explains, eyes unmoving from their spot on the ceiling. "I tried to comfort him, but he wanted no part of it."

An unfamiliar urge to protect flares in Quinn's chest. "He's an ass."

Finally, Rachel's eyes meet hers. "You dated him for nearly half a year," she points out.

Quinn nods her head against the armrest. "So I would know."

"You joined Glee Club for him," Rachel continues.

"I joined Glee because I thought he'd run off with you," Quinn retorts, more sharply than she'd intended.

"I didn't—" Rachel trails off, then changes direction. "I feel insecure with him. All the time, I just—I need to be constantly reassured, and I don't like who that makes me."

"Do you trust him?"

Rachel, for once in her life, falls silent. Quinn's leg presses against Rachel's hip, sharing warmth, and Rachel stirs. "Trust takes time," she finally says. "I don't expect to enter into a relationship wholly trusting someone. That's what the courtship is for."

Quinn lets the silence fill the air for a few moments as she mentally scrolls through what trust has meant in each of her previous relationships. She comes up with 'absolutely nothing'.

"I heard about your fight with Santana." Rachel is staring at the ceiling again. "We're not so different."

"You sent the new exchange student to a crackhouse," Quinn emphasizes, mildly indignant. "I just told Coach something everyone knew already."

"The intention in both cases," Rachel explains calmly, "was to eliminate someone we felt was a threat."

Quinn swallows hard. "Are you staying the night?"

Rachel shifts against the couch, her knee socks rubbing against Quinn's thigh. "Are you offering?"

"If you want to." Inexplicable anxiety creeps into the pit of Quinn's stomach. "My mom won't be home until tomorrow afternoon."

"Okay." Rachel's lips upturn. "But I hope you have a spare toothbrush. After my visit to the dentist last week, I revised my oral hygiene routine to include extensive tooth-by-tooth cleansing. I've also vastly improved my brushing technique. Genetics will not stop me from having a flawless smile."

Quinn just rolls her eyes and gets up to find Rachel a spare toothbrush, a pack of floss, and some mouthwash.

Finn apologizes for being a shitty boyfriend, and by Monday afternoon, he and Rachel are back together.

Which is okay. It's not like Quinn wants to date Rachel. She's just looking out for her. She has experience where Finn is concerned, is all. Besides, Rachel not moping around? Benefits everyone.

Except Rachel still mopes around sometimes, because Finn is a sixteen-year-old boy with his own insecurities and hormones and as Quinn knows well, a temper. He's a sweetheart most of the time, but then something'll set him off and he'll kick over a chair and storm out of the room.

Okay, well, that one was because he found out his girlfriend was carrying his best friend's baby, Quinn thinks wryly, so maybe not the best example. But still. Her point stands. Sixteen-year-old boys make terrible boyfriends.

Not that Rachel is miserable or anything, but Quinn has spent enough time playing an observer to know she isn't entirely happy, either. Not as happy as she deserves to be anyway, and Quinn briefly wonders when she started caring about that.

Brittany, of all people, is the first to notice.

It's the end of an especially-grueling Cheerios practice, and they're walking back to the lockers when Brittany tilts her head and asks, "Do you love Rachel?"

Quinn plays it off, because most of the time, when Brittany asks about love, she means it the same way she loves unicorns and ponies and cotton candy. Beside Brittany, Santana suddenly looks simultaneously interested and disgusted.

"What? No, Britt, of course I don't."

Brittany bites her lip. "Well because every time she hangs around Finn, you kind of get really sad. You don't even look at either of them when they sing to each other."

Santana is smirking at her. "Q, something you wanna share with the class?"

Quinn scowls at them. "I'm not gay for Rachel Berry."

"You should kiss her and see," Brittany says, eyes wide and serious. "That's what I did with Santana."

Instead of looking embarrassed, Santana smiles proudly and pulls Brittany toward her, pressing their mouths together with fierce intensity. Quinn rolls her eyes and turns away, trying to hide the flush creeping up her neck.

The football team keeps losing, and every Saturday, Rachel starts the night as the quarterback's enthusiastic girlfriend and ends it as the head Cheerio's confidante.

Because there are things Quinn's never talked about but has always wanted to. Her mother's therapy consists of reading the Bible and praying, which is great except sometimes Quinn really just wants her mother to hold her while she cries about missing baby Beth. But some things never change, and even without her father around to bully them, her mother still brushes the bad feelings under the rug and pretends that Quinn skipped straight to seventeen from fifteen. A year of her life wasted, is her mother's message to her.

Rachel though. Rachel, surprisingly, listens as much as she talks, which should speak for itself.

So Quinn talks. She talks about all the relationships she's lost in the past year – friendships and family ties and what barely passes as lovers. She talks about her struggles with forgiving herself, with loving herself and accepting her mistakes. All the things she doesn't dare bring up with anyone else, sometimes not even with herself. She talks about giving up Beth, about missing Beth, about being too afraid to visit even though the offer has been extended.

They'll always be connected, Quinn realizes, when Rachel's features harden at the mention of Beth's adoptive mother.

In return, Rachel opens up about Shelby not wanting her, about Jesse using her, about her workaholic fathers. She explains about the pencils being a stress-relieving technique she'd picked up at some new-age yoga retreat during the summer.

Sometimes, Rachel talks about Finn. Quinn's chest feels heavy every time, but they're friends now and this is what she's supposed to do. So she listens to Rachel as she talks about the inane stuff – Finn not liking the pie she baked him – but also the serious stuff – Finn thinking they should start having sex.

"I'm a virgin," Rachel whispers to Quinn one night when it's dark and a single blanket lies over their bodies on the couch. "Finn thinks I've had intercourse with Jesse."

Quinn doesn't have the heart to tell Rachel about Finn and Santana. "You should be honest with him," she says instead, the irony there not lost on her.

Rachel pauses for a moment, then reveals, "I know about him and Santana."

Quinn swallows hard, unsure why she feels the ache in her chest. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be," Rachel replies. "I am aware it meant nothing."

Puck's palm still burns a path down Quinn's thigh, and she shuts her eyes against the memory. "Don't have sex with him, Rachel." She squeezes her eyelids together tighter until moisture builds up on her eyelashes. "Unless you know he'll take good care of you. Trust me; been there, done that."

Quinn remembers Brittany and Santana and their mutual appreciation of each other's bodies. She knows it's none of her business, but she doesn't want Rachel's first time to be with someone who can't even hold it together in a hot tub make-out session. She wants Rachel to feel everything she herself missed out on with Puck.

Rachel's foot brushes Quinn's hipbone in acknowledgement. "Goodnight, Quinn."

"'Night, Rachel."

They have nothing in common except Glee and the same desperation to be noticed and wanted and loved. They give each other all those things, and maybe, Quinn thinks, maybe that's really all anyone strives for.

But then Sunday morning always rolls around and Rachel smiles, touches her wrist and leaves.

Quinn doesn't feel empty though. She doesn't know if she'd even be able to handle Rachel Berry more than biweekly.

What does make her feel empty is having to watch Finn and Rachel together five days a week.

Mercedes sprawls out across Quinn's bed and asks how Quinn's dealing, like her dog died or something.

"I don't have a crush on Rachel Berry," Quinn snipes, the words acrid on her tongue, "if that's what you're insinuating."

Mercedes rolls her eyes. "Well you sure as hell have something."

"I'm not a home wrecker," Quinn insists, "and I don't like girls."

"You know what I think about labels," Mercedes shrugs. "I'm just looking out for you. Sometimes, Quinn, you just need someone to slap you upside the head."

Quinn exaggerates an eye-roll. "Thanks so much for being that person, Mercedes," she replies dryly, but really, she kind of genuinely means it.

There's a bag of toiletries in Quinn's bathroom that aren't hers and a pink nightie in one of her drawers. An argyle sweater is draped over the back of her chair. Quinn doesn't even know how that'd gotten here, considering they never sleep anywhere except on that gigantic couch downstairs.

But if Mercedes notices – which, let's face it, nobody else they know wears those sweaters – she doesn't say anything about it.

By mid-October, Santana has worked her way back up to Quinn's left side. Because fake boobs or not, Santana can flip better than anyone on the squad except Brittany, and even Coach realizes that talent should not be wasted with bruised knees and a sore back.

Quinn remains captain, which doesn't seem to bother Santana as much now that she has her old position back. Actually, she's pretty sure they're all friends again. Brittany is the one who keeps them together.

Halloween rolls around, and Quinn finds herself talking about intimacy with a Powerpuff Girl.

To clarify, all three of them are Powerpuff Girls. Brittany's idea. It hadn't taken much to convince Santana – Quinn does not want to know – and once Santana got on board, Quinn found herself roped in as well. Whatever. The costumes actually turn out to be pretty hot, and even though the big red bow in her hair weighs a metric ton, she's nicely buzzed and pretty happy about life.

Santana is lying down on Puck's couch, and she has her feet propped up on Quinn's lap. Brittany is across the room, making out with some linebacker.

Quinn turns briefly to Santana. "I don't understand you and Brittany." She tilts her chin toward Brittany and the football player. "I thought you loved her or whatever."

Santana watches them for a moment. "I do."

Quinn shakes her head. "Then I don't—"

"Look at her," Santana cuts in with a shrug. "She's happy. Not like I don't hook up with other people too."

Quinn thinks about Rachel, about the way she feels when Rachel kisses Finn. "Wouldn't you rather she, you know, not?"

"Exclusivity is overrated. Look where that got you." Santana lets out a breath toward the ceiling. "Brittany's not dumb, okay? She knows what she's doing. She doesn't even like sex that much, unless it's with me. Her lips are super sensitive though, and she likes to be cuddled and all that crap."

Quinn crosses her ankles. "You're never jealous?"

"You know the only reason I'm answering your asinine questions is because that joint Puck just passed around was some good shit, right?" Santana looks at her a little hazily. "This thing we do; it's not for everyone. People call me a slut 'cause they don't get it. Puck never gets shit for fucking anything that walks on two shaved legs, but the moment a chick bangs more than one dude? Burn in hell, whore. Whatever. I'm over that. Sex is too good to give up. What me and Britt have works for us. Haters to the left."

"So does that make you bisexual?" Quinn asks, squirming against her seat.

Santana stares at her. "Did you skip sex ed in the fourth grade or something? Bet your parents wouldn't sign that permission slip; is that it? Anyway, it's not even about being gay or bisexual or whatever. Britt's the only girl I have sex with. She's the only one I want to have sex with."

"But you sleep with guys too, and Brittany…" Quinn trails off and glances across the room again.

Santana folds her arms over her chest. "Yeah, well. I mean, I have hormones and I act on them. So what? Better than being a repressed little prude." She shoots Quinn a pointed look. "Brittany makes me happy, all right? Everyone thinks we fuck around to get boys hot but I couldn't give a shit about that. Kissing her and touching her makes her happy, and that's all I want. Nothing else matters."

Quinn thinks that maybe, minus the sex and the making out, Santana's just summarized her relationship with Rachel.

The only thing that's confusing about it is that she thinks she might want those parts, too.

The Titans win their first match of the year at the end of November. It's their second-to-last game of the season, and Artie – Artie – scores the winning touchdown. Finn and Puck lift him from his wheelchair and march him across the field. Rachel cheers louder than the entire Cheerios squad, pointing and clapping and laughing.

Quinn focuses on her own practiced cheers and pretends she isn't bothered.

Rachel isn't outside the Cheerios locker room when Quinn leaves, and Quinn's immediate disappointment quickly turns to irritation. Of course. Of course she'd been a placeholder in Rachel's life while Coach Beiste turns the football team into a winning squad and makes Finn feel like he's worth something again.

She's angry. Angry and upset that she was inserting herself and Rachel into Brittany and Santana's relationship when Rachel was only waiting for her prized quarterback to blossom.

Quinn slides into her car and slams the door. She grips her steering wheel, digging her nails into the soft plastic. She's Quinn Fabray, for fuck's sake, not some love-sick puppy-dog, especially not for one Rachel Berry.

Rachel, who talks too much. Rachel, who is bossy and overbearing and stubborn. Rachel, who isn't beyond manipulation and lies to get what she wants.

That's the Rachel most people see. That's the Rachel that Quinn saw and despised and bullied.

But then there's this. This girl that Quinn had caught a glimpse of, sharpening a row of pencils to perfection because it was the only ounce of control she had in her life. Just a girl who wants everything Quinn does.

Rachel, who walks with purpose and direction and a fierce determination to succeed. Rachel, who sings her damn heart out every time she opens her mouth. Rachel, who puts herself out there over and over only to be faced with derisive laughter. It's not courage, Rachel had told her once. It's fear. Fear that she won't be a star. Fear that she'll let a bunch of Lima losers convince her to give up on something she loves and believes in. It might be strength, she'd explained, but it's not courage.

Rachel, who lies there on Quinn's couch every other Saturday night and talks about dreams and ambitions that have nothing to do with performing. About finding love, and starting a family. About friends, because hell, she just needs one friend who will love her for her.

That's the Rachel that Quinn has grown to know.

It's also the Rachel who is currently with her boyfriend, star quarterback Finn Hudson.

Quinn doesn't need this shit, she decides. She's head cheerleader again. She can get any guy she wants, and probably any chick, too, if this town wasn't such an uptight hellhole.

She drives home alone and blares the radio to fill the silence where Rachel's yammering used to be.

Quinn's doorbell rings a little past midnight, and her heart starts pounding painfully in her chest. She waits for a second ring, then a third, before getting up from the couch and answering.

It's Rachel, of course, but what Quinn doesn't expect are set jaws and thick lashes, like she's been trying not to cry. Quinn fights the ache in her chest.

"I broke up with Finn," Rachel says quietly, eyes pleading for something.

Quinn tries to remain unmoved, even as her first instinct is to pull Rachel inside and squeeze the sadness out of her.

Rachel's eyes are still searching. "Can I come in?"

Quinn hardens her features. "He won the game, and—you left with him." She hurts, but she isn't even hurting for herself anymore. "Why did you break up with him?"

Rachel's eyes flash. "My boyfriend only wanted to be with me when he felt good about himself," she explains, sounding guarded. "Quinn…"

Quinn presses her hip against the doorframe. "This isn't my problem." She doesn't say it maliciously, just… truthfully.

Rachel deflates. "We—you're the one I talk to about these things. I don't understand what's suddenly changed."

What's changed is that Rachel is standing here, newly single, and Quinn has no more excuses. She panics.

"Go sharpen some pencils and leave me alone." Quinn winces the same moment Rachel does. "I—don't know why I said that. I didn't mean that. You don't have to… sharpen any pencils." That earns a tiny smile.

Quinn reaches out and wraps her hand around Rachel's wrist, tugging her inside. She closes the door behind them and draws in Rachel's small frame. Rachel's breath is hot against Quinn's neck as Rachel's head settles there, cheek pressing against her shoulder. Quinn's hands come to rest against the small of Rachel's back.

"I'm sorry about Finn," Quinn mumbles against Rachel's hair.

Rachel sighs. "I know."

"And the pencils, I just—"

Rachel laughs against Quinn's shoulder. "I know, Quinn. I know. It's okay."

And it feels like Rachel is talking about more than the stupid pencils that somehow became a metaphor for everything Quinn can't express. But the moment passes and it's too late to ask, so Quinn lets the weight of Rachel's words press down against her ribcage.

Quinn pulls Rachel to the couch and sneaks her under the blanket.

"I have to brush my teeth," Rachel protests.

Quinn nudges Rachel to her side and climbs in after her, curling up behind her tiny frame. Quinn rests one hand on her own hip while her other arm bends under her own head like a makeshift pillow. Rachel's back bleeds warmth into Quinn's chest, her abdomen, her pelvis.

Quinn presses her forehead against the back of Rachel's head and breathes in the scent vanilla and sadness.

Neither says a word until morning.

Nothing really changes all that drastically.

At school, Finn looks kind of depressed for a few days, sings an emo song or two for Glee, but then he gets over it, as high school boys do.

Rachel goes to the last football game of the season, except she doesn't cheer so loudly for the actual plays, which is nice. After the game, another win for the Titans, Quinn retreats into the Cheerios locker room and is halfway through a shower when she hears cruel laughter coming from outside her stall.

"Who invited you in here, Man-Hands?"

Quinn's blood turns to ice. She quickly shuts off the water, wraps her towel around her body, and steps out into her flip-flops. Rachel is standing there, surrounded by a group of Cheerios.

"What the hell is going on here?" Quinn demands, though she's already got a pretty clear idea. It makes her see red, but more than that, it makes her remember every ugly thing she's spread around herself, and that pisses her off more than anything.

"Oh hey, Quinn," one of the girls in the circle says, turning to her. "You wanna decide how to punish this fug for not knowing anything about boundaries?"

"Yeah," another one joins in, pushing her face real close to Rachel's. "This place is off-limits. No fatties or uglies, got it?"

Quinn's face burns with fury as she steps up to the two Cheerios. "Both of you need to back off right now."

"The hell, Quinn? You got cataracts or something?"

"I said," Quinn seethes, "back the fuck off and leave her alone or I am going to make your life on this squad a living hell. Got it?"

One of the Cheerios mutters something obscene under her breath, but the crowd disperses, because she's captain and most of them still remember what she can do.

Quinn crosses her arms over her chest, feeling uncomfortable covered in just a towel. "You shouldn't have come in here, Rachel," she says gently.

Rachel nods. "I probably could've planned this better. A little foresight about the cruelty I would undoubtedly face could've helped as well."

Quinn sighs, her hand momentarily lingering on Rachel's wrist. "Stay there." She points around a corner. "I need to finish showering and get dressed."

Rachel nods and follows Quinn's instructions. Quinn tugs uneasily at her towel, then returns to her stall. She's mostly done, so she just wipes herself dry and slips into her clothes. Brittany and Santana may be comfortable prancing around the locker room buck naked, but Quinn isn't. She briefly wonders what Rachel would've done if she'd just… dropped her towel. Her heart beats a little faster at the thought.

It's not that Quinn doesn't know she's got a great body, because yeah, she does. She takes care of herself, or at least Coach makes damn sure she does, and even a pregnancy hasn't stopped her from staying in shape. It's just that she's been told by everyone in her life that good girls don't take their clothes off. A whole lot of good that did her, she thinks to herself as she walks back to Rachel.

Rachel is seated obediently on the bench in front of Quinn's locker, tapping her foot rhythmically against the floor. Quinn slides onto the bench beside her.

"Ready to go?" Quinn asks.

Before Rachel has a chance to reply, Brittany and Santana come into view wrapped only in towels. Actually, Brittany's is mostly draped over her arm, and Quinn looks away. Rachel doesn't seem to be bothered.

Santana makes a face as she approaches. "What's she doing here?"

Brittany just smiles and claps. "Did you become a Cheerio, Rachel?"

"I think she's here for Quinn," Santana comments, narrowing her eyes. "What's going on, Q?"

Quinn doesn't know how neither of them could've heard the commotion earlier, but then Brittany spends the majority of her day in her own head and Santana has ignoring what she doesn't want to hear down to an art form, so maybe Quinn shouldn't be so surprised.

"Quinn and I have fostered a strong bond over the past few months," Rachel answers proudly.

Santana continues to grimace at Rachel. "Uh, is that code for something? You know what, never mind. I don't want to know."

"I told Quinn to kiss you, Rachel," Brittany pipes up. "Is that what changed your mind?"

Quinn flushes, because no. Also, stop talking, but it's Brittany and she's asking because she's genuinely curious, so Quinn can't exactly be mad. A smirk appears across Santana's lips as she observes the exchange. Quinn hazards a glance at Rachel, who is watching Brittany with wide eyes.

Rachel straightens in her seat. "I can assure you that no kissing has occurred," she says evenly as though announcing the weather, "though now that it's been brought to light in this conversation, I have come to the conclusion that I would not be entirely opposed to the idea."

Quinn's eyes snap to Rachel, but Rachel is still looking at Brittany.

Santana laughs. "Now's your chance, hot stuff. Go for the kill."

But there is no way in hell Quinn is about to kiss Rachel in front of Brittany and Santana, especially when Santana's acting like this is one big joke perpetuated for her amusement and Brittany would probably start calling out instruction in the middle. Quinn grabs Rachel's arm, pulls her up, and drags her out of the locker room.

Just before she leaves, she hears Santana taking bets on how long it'll take before she bones Rachel.

When they get to Quinn's though, Rachel settles against one end of the couch and Quinn lie back down on the other end, and it's just like every other time. They talk about their own lives, and the lives of the people around them, and the connections that tie them together. It's comfortable, and familiar, and good. Before Rachel, it'd been too long since Quinn's had something good in her life.

That night, Rachel falls asleep with her head tucked under Quinn's chin, hand on her hip, ribcage to ribcage.

"I need an update," Mercedes announces, pushing aside the essay she'd been writing. "Go."

Quinn looks up from her own homework. "About what?"

Mercedes stares back at her. "Don't play me for a fool. You and Rachel."

Quinn rolls her eyes and looks back down at her history assignment. "There's nothing to update you about."

"News around this school? Travels fast." Mercedes pauses, then reaches across the table and prods Quinn on the arm. "Let's start with you defending Rachel in the Cheerios locker room."

"What about it?" Quinn asks, tapping her pen against the table.

This time, Mercedes rolls her eyes. "Quinn, come on. Who do you think you're talking to?"

Quinn sighs and puts her pen down. "Mercedes, I don't know what you want me to say."

"How about you admitting to me you felt something for her, and then her dumping Finn, and then you defending her against your own Cheerios squad."

"I'm captain," Quinn shrugs. "They won't do anything to me. Rachel gets enough crap."

"You were captain at the beginning of last year," Mercedes points out, "and all you did was rag on her."

Quinn holds her head up high. "Well, things change. People change."

"You know I'm down with this, right?" Mercedes purses her lips. "I mean, Kurt's about the end of that rainbow spectrum and I still love him to death."

The comment makes Quinn anxious. "I thought you hated labels."

"Why are you forcing me to get all sappy on you?" Mercedes asks with a tiny smile. "Quinn, look. You haven't been happy for a long time. Don't argue that. It's true. I've been in your life long enough to know. And now, whatever you and Rachel's got… you smile at her, you know that? Like it lights up your whole face."

Quinn shakes her head. "You make me sound like some hopeless romantic with a schoolgirl crush."

Mercedes just grins at her. Quinn reaches across the table and tugs Mercedes's hat down over her eyes, and Mercedes laughs.

Football season is over, but Rachel doesn't stop sleeping over at Quinn's every second week.

It's a Saturday afternoon in mid-December, and they're outside, lying on a thin sheet of snow that blankets the grass. Quinn's jacket is hooded, and Rachel is wearing a pink knit hat with earflaps. Quinn's jeans are soaked through, and her ass is really damn cold, but Rachel's gloved hand is clasped around hers between their bodies and Quinn doesn't want to disturb the moment.

"Winters in New York City are colder than winters here," Rachel comments, staring up at the clear sky. "I wonder how I'd cope when I inevitably star on Broadway."

"You'd buy the thickest faux-fur jacket and walk around modeling it for the paps," Quinn replies easily.

Rachel grins. "You know me too well."

Quinn shuts her eyes then, because yes, she does. Sometimes it feels like she knows too much, because Rachel has dreams of the big city bright lights, and Quinn doesn't know what her own future holds.

"You should come with me, Quinn," Rachel says then, cutting into the silence. "It'd be nice to have a friend."

"I have my own dreams," Quinn says, instead of okay.

"I know." Rachel's voice is impassive. "I just meant that—I mean, we'll still see each other after graduation, won't we?"

There's only a year and a half left, and… "Yeah, Rach."

Rachel rolls over, her upper body pressing down against Quinn's chest. Rachel leans down, and Quinn feels the soft press of tentative lips against hers. There's a moment of pressure, and then it's gone. Quinn opens her eyes. Rachel's face is an inch away, her breath mingling with Quinn's in the slice of air between them.

Quinn's hand slides to the back of Rachel's neck, gently touching, and a sigh escapes Rachel's throat as she leans down again. They kiss softly for a few moments, just learning what they each like. Quinn's hand tightens around the back of Rachel's neck, and Rachel parts her lips. Quinn dips in, tasting mint and fair trade coffee and quiet desperation.

Rachel's lips are warm, and softer than any Quinn's known. Heat radiates across her face, down her neck and chest, settling at the pit of her stomach. Her limbs feel light.

Rachel lifts her head, breathless, and brushes her lips across Quinn's jaw before pressing her cheek against Quinn's collar. The pompom resting atop Rachel's hat tickles Quinn's neck as Rachel adjusts herself against Quinn's body.

Quinn holds Rachel until tiny snowflakes drift down and melt against warm cheeks.

It's not easy. Nothing worthwhile ever really is.

Quinn takes some flak from the rest of the Cheerios, but then Brittany and Santana practically mount each other in the middle of the locker room right there in front of everyone, and Santana threatens to do exactly the same thing after every practice until they leave Quinn and her 'caveman' girlfriend alone. Brittany winks at Quinn as they walk past, against the backdrop of twenty cheerleaders with their jaws on the floor.

Finn is pissed and confused, because yeah, when his two ex-girlfriends start hooking up, it's not too good for his rep. Rachel bakes him a batch of apology cookies, but Quinn's pretty sure Finn just throws them out because Rachel had gone and doodled the letters R and Q all over the surface, along with little pink hearts and stars.

Quinn finds Puck with a mouthful of one later that day though, so—she doesn't really want to know.

For his part, Puck spends most of his time smirking at them, like he knows what's up. He doesn't, and she's pretty sure the only reason he doesn't actually verbalize all the lewd thoughts going through his head is because the baby thing still sits uncomfortably between them.

Nobody really gets it. Nobody gets why two people so different on the surface can possibly make each other happy. Because Rachel's old MySpace videos are still riddled with Quinn's nasty comments about how she should get sterilized, and the pornographic pictures on the bathroom walls never really scrub clean. Sometimes, Quinn doesn't even get it herself.

They are different. They're so different.

They disagree about Quinn eating bacon, and Rachel wrinkles her nose and goes on a tirade about factory farming. But Quinn loves her bacon way too much to give up, so Rachel calls her selfish, and Quinn retorts with a caustic comment about Rachel being annoying that hits too close to home and reminds both of them of the years of torment.

Or they disagree about the way Rachel handles losing a solo to Mercedes, and Quinn goes off about Rachel's inability to share the spotlight. Rachel accuses Quinn of picking her best friend's side, and Quinn says something about there only being the right side and the wrong side, and it just blows up in their faces.

But apologies come quickly, and compromises are made. They're both too young to have perfected the art of navigating a relationship, but at the end of the day, they respect each other's differences.

Not everything is bad though. Most of it isn't.

There's Rachel sitting on Quinn's lap as they wait for Glee to start, fidgeting around like a hyperactive toddler because she's so excited about the song she's prepared. She only calms down when Quinn presses a pacifying kiss to the base of her neck, her nose gently nuzzling the soft skin there.

There's Rachel curling up to Quinn on the couch as they watch The Notebook for the tenth time. There are breathy kisses and experimental fingertips under Quinn's shirt that shoot white hot heat to Quinn's core as the movie goes ignored.

There's Rachel holding Quinn's hand as Quinn dials Shelby Corcoran's number and sets up a date to visit Beth. There's Rachel accompanying her, tense for a different reason as they ring Shelby's doorbell and wait to be let in. There's Rachel holding Beth and smiling at Quinn, implicitly accepting the ties that have brought them here.

There's Rachel, loving Quinn despite everything, and Quinn loving her back.

Their first time happens on a Saturday, which is fitting.

It's Christmas Eve, and Rachel spends the night at Quinn's. Quinn's mother is visiting Quinn's sister's family for the holidays. The relationship there is still strained, so nobody makes a fuss when Quinn refuses to tag along.

They're lounging around on the couch, bodies pressed together, and Quinn has her hand up the back of Rachel's shirt, just lazily stroking her thumb against smooth skin.

"What I'm saying is," Rachel rambles, "Christmas was originally a pagan celebration and is now mostly a vessel of capitalist consumerism."

"Mmhmm," Quinn hums noncommittally, pushing Rachel's shirt a little higher against her back.

Rachel lifts her head off Quinn's chest. "You're not listening to me."

"I am," Quinn insists, reaching up to tuck Rachel's hair behind her ear, "and I think your rants are cute, but we're not even celebrating Christmas tonight, so—"

Rachel slides higher against the length of Quinn's body and presses her lips to Quinn's, effectively shutting her up. Quinn eases into the kiss, feeling the heady rush of blood as Rachel sighs into her mouth. Her hand against Rachel's back instinctively pulls Rachel closer.

Rachel slants her lips down to Quinn's neck, pressing kisses to her throat, down to her collar. Warm hands glide under the hem of Quinn's top, pushing up until fingers span Quinn's ribcage. Rachel's leg nestles between Quinn's, and she pushes down. The friction makes Quinn arch as pleasure sears through her.

"Rachel," Quinn croaks out.

Rachel's lips brush against Quinn's collarbone. Her hands slide away. "Sorry, I wasn't certain if you wanted to discuss this beforehand or if spontaneity was a turn-on for you."

Quinn chuckles, cheeks flushing. "It—Keep going."

Rachel's palms skirt up Quinn's sides, riding Quinn's top up. Rachel's hands are soft, gentle, a little tentative, and Quinn lifts herself to tug her shirt over her head. Rachel leans closer and wraps her arms around Quinn's back, fingers finding and unclasping Quinn's bra. Rachel slides it down Quinn's arms as Quinn lies back down.

"Hey," Quinn says gently, reaching for Rachel's dress.

But Rachel leans down, leaving a trail of kisses down and across Quinn's chest. Heat coils tightly between Quinn's thighs when Rachel flicks her tongue over the soft flesh around Quinn's nipple.

Quinn inhales sharply. "Rachel…"

Rachel palms Quinn's other breast tenderly as her mouth works Quinn's nipple until Quinn is letting out throaty moans and arching up to meet Rachel's tongue. Rachel bucks her hips, and Quinn bites back a cry as she pushes back.

"Get undressed," Quinn commands, hands tugging at Rachel's dress. It bunches around her waist.

Rachel laughs against Quinn's skin. "This isn't Cheerios practice, Quinn," she teases. "You can't order me around."

"I'm serious, Rachel," Quinn warns, squirming under Rachel's weight. "Take it off or I will."

Rachel reaches behind herself to unzip her dress, then lets Quinn push the whole thing up over her head. Quinn's hands are immediately at Rachel's sides, gliding across warm flesh and firm muscle. Rachel leans back down to lavish attention to Quinn's chest, and Quinn reaches behind Rachel to unclasp her strapless bra. It falls away easily. Quinn's palms curve over Rachel's breasts, the pads of her thumbs rolling over the tips and feeling them pearl under her touch.

Rachel moans as she slides back up to kiss Quinn's lips, their naked bodies pressing together. Quinn's hands slide lower, fingertips slipping under Rachel's panties to rest against her bare ass. Rachel grinds down on Quinn's thigh in response, and Quinn groans into her mouth.

Rachel lifts her hips just enough to be able to push her own underwear down the length of her legs, then trails a path of messy kisses down Quinn's body until she reaches Quinn's waist. With nimble fingers, she unbuttons and unzips Quinn's jeans, and Quinn's hips rise off the couch momentarily to allow Rachel to tug everything down. Quinn kicks away her pants and underwear, leaving her completely naked. She squirms under Rachel's scrutiny.

Rachel rests a hand against Quinn's hipbone. "Quinn."

Quinn's arms instinctively cross over her chest. "What, Rach?"

"Relax, and—" Rachel nudges Quinn's arms away. "While beauty is entirely subjective, you're the prettiest girl I know."

Quinn's entire body flushes at the compliment. "You're gorgeous," she returns, and she doesn't know why it'd taken her so long to notice that Rachel Berry is breathtaking, but now it's all she sees.

Rachel smiles as she spreads Quinn's legs, pushing an ankle over the back of the couch. She presses a kiss to Quinn's abdomen, right below her navel, then scrapes her lips down until they're flush against Quinn's clit. Rachel's tongue darts out to swipe against the sensitive flesh, and Quinn arches up, a pleased grunt tearing from her throat.

Rachel takes that as an invitation to continue. Her tongue licks and strokes gently before thrusting in, and Quinn cries out, hips bucking against Rachel's mouth. Rachel's hands move to anchor Quinn's hips as she keeps working Quinn up.

It doesn't take long before Quinn's murmuring Rachel's name and her whole body is tensing and she's never felt anything this good before. Quinn looks down and sees Rachel watching her, cheeks mostly hidden but flushed, and Quinn feels Rachel's lips curving into a smile as her tongue curls, and Quinn quakes as she's sent over the edge, a pleasure she's never known raking through her body.

Rachel keeps her mouth latched on for a few more moments as she helps Quinn ride out her orgasm, and when Quinn's muscles finally slacken, Rachel pulls away, licking her lips and using the back of her hand to wipe away what her tongue can't reach.

Rachel climbs back up the length of Quinn's body and collapses against Quinn's chest. "How was my technique?"

Quinn laughs and gently flips them over, pinning Rachel against the couch as she lowers herself to eye-level. She presses a kiss to Rachel's lips, tasting herself there and surprised that it doesn't freak her out. She does it again, tongue darting out as Rachel parts her lips. They kiss slowly, securely, and Quinn's hand slides down the plane of Rachel's abdomen, fingers sliding to the apex of her thighs.

Quinn's mouth moves down to Rachel's neck. "Perfect," she murmurs, finally answering Rachel's question. "That was incredible."

There are words about how attractive Rachel makes her feel, about how her insecurities melt away when they're kissing or touching or just existing in each other's space. There are words about how comfortable she is with her own naked body, for maybe the first time in her life. Rachel makes her feel happy with who she is, and maybe that's all she's ever really wanted.

Quinn's fingertips glide over slick heat, her skin rubbing against Rachel's clit. Rachel arches, her hands gripping Quinn's back as she gasps in pleasure.

"I'm sorry," Quinn murmurs, the words tumbling out before she can stop them. "I'm sorry I was so horrible to you. I—"

Rachel's palm presses gently against Quinn's lips, silencing her. "Stop, Quinn. We've been through this. I've forgiven you."

"I know, I know," Quinn mumbles against Rachel's hand.

Rachel smiles as she drops her hand, brushing lightly against Quinn's jaw as she does. "Now do me a favor and forgive yourself, then get back to pleasuring me because that was working out rather fantastically."

Quinn laughs, dropping a kiss to Rachel's throat as she moves her fingertips around, pressing experimentally against soft skin, dewy with moisture. Rachel moans as Quinn enters her with one finger, and she pushes it in and out a few times before preparing to add a second.

Rachel tenses. "I've never—"

"I know," Quinn replies, shifting herself up to press a kiss to Rachel's lips. "I'll be careful. Okay?"

Rachel nods, trust in her eyes as her hand comes to rest against the back of Quinn's neck. Quinn shivers as Rachel pulls her down to meet her lips again, and she's sucking lightly on Rachel's tongue when she works a second finger in. She feels Rachel's body tensing momentarily under her, but then Rachel's hips are pushing off the couch and Quinn's fingers pick up an even pace, her thumb working Rachel's clit to distract from any lingering pain.

Rachel's body tightens, and Quinn is still kissing her when she comes, surprisingly quietly, her hands gripping the back of Quinn's neck as she shudders around Quinn's fingers. Quinn thrusts a few more times, eventually slowing down to a stop as her thumb presses gentle circles around Rachel's clit.

"I propose we have intercourse at least once a day," Rachel breathes out, the words catching against Quinn's lips.

Quinn laughs, pulling away just enough to lock eyes with Rachel. "I've created a monster," she teases as she pulls out.

Rachel hums happily in acknowledgment. "You love it."

Quinn brushes her lips against Rachel's cheek. "I love you," and she means it.

Rachel beams. "I love… your fingers. They're magic."

Quinn rolls her eyes and swipes her fingertips over Rachel's clit one last time, watching Rachel squirm. And really, Quinn doesn't need the confirmation, because she knows it by the way Rachel looks at her and smiles at her and—

"I love you too." Rachel punctuates it with a kiss. "Merry Christmas, Quinn."

There are things that don't change.

Santana still makes bitchy comments about the way Rachel dresses, even though Rachel's been raiding Quinn's closet for a month now. It's not like Quinn wears anything other than her Cheerios uniform five days a week anyway.

Brittany still forgets sometimes that Quinn and Rachel are together, so she'll scrunch up her nose and look confused when Quinn holds Rachel's hand or palms Rachel's thigh. Sometimes she'll go and try to do those things to Rachel, until Santana gently explains that 'they're not like us, babe' and Brittany will wander off in search of Mike.

Mercedes has to do a lot less head-smacking to keep Quinn in check, but she's still the anchor that keeps Quinn grounded, and she's still the first person Quinn calls when she needs someone to talk to.

Unless it's about Shelby, or Beth, or the insecurities that every teenage girl struggles with. That call goes to Rachel. Because Rachel gets it better than anyone. Just a girl, just a girl.

Once in a while, Quinn still finds Rachel furiously sharpening pencils at the front of an abandoned classroom, but now she knows to wrap her arms tightly around Rachel's midsection, brush a kiss to Rachel's shoulder, and ask whose ass she has to kick.