A/N: Hi friends. I really enjoyed writing this chapter, and it holds a special place in my heart. There is an in-depth and loving look into Quinn and Rachel's close friendship (from Santana's point of view, of course) that I think is truly a beautiful scene, and I hope that you will all enjoy it.

Please continue to review. They help more than you know and always put a smile on my face. Thank you all for your continued support. Enjoy! XO-Chrmdpoet

Chapter Twenty-Three: The Scars We Wear

I couldn't help the smile that practically exploded across my face when I heard Rachel's adorable giggle echo through the loft, and I just felt so thankful for Quinn in that moment. I knew that Rachel had been missing her and I also knew that Quinn had been terribly worried about the diva ever since the attack, so I was glad that they were finally getting to spend some time together; not to mention that I was pretty stoked about spending some time with Q, myself. The bitch was my best friend after all. Plus, Quinn had always had this special way of cheering Rachel up no matter the circumstances. I guess it was beyond my understanding, but there was just this…I don't know, this ease between them, this incredibly affectionate and lighthearted ease that kind of echoed my own friendship with Quinn, except that it was gentler than ours. It was like Quinn just knew how to handle Rachel and Rachel had always known that Quinn was so much more than the bitch persona she used as a defense mechanism.

I guess that considering my continuously growing feelings for Rachel, I should've been jealous of how close they were, but it just wasn't like that. I'd always been incredibly perceptive, and though there was definitely no question about the affection that existed between them, I could tell it didn't extend beyond friendship. Quinn and Rachel loved each other. They loved each other profoundly, like the way that Quinn and I loved each other, though of course we had different ways of showing it, and while I think a lot of people might normally be jealous, I could only feel happy that they had each other like that, and that I had both of them as well.

You just never really realize how much friendship matters, how much you should cherish your connections with other people, until reality slaps you so fucking hard in the face that it makes your teeth chatter in your skull. That's what it had been like with the attack. Reality had beaten the living hell out of us, and it only made us, all of us, realize just how much we needed each other and how much we would always love each other.

"You cannot be serious, Quinn," I heard Rachel say, and though she laughed, she also sounded a bit self-conscious, and that made me a little nervous. It's not like I was actually nervous for Rachel, because I knew she was safe and happy with Quinn, but it was like I just couldn't help myself, couldn't help my feelings. Every time I heard even the slightest bit of trepidation in Rachel's voice or detected the tiniest hint of fear in her features, it was like something just snapped inside me. It was like something would just latch onto me and yank me toward her, like there was nowhere else in the world that I could be until she was smiling or laughing. That responsibility was mine, and I carried it proudly.

"Totally serious, Rach, come on," I heard Quinn answer, and that was pretty much all I could take. I needed to be in on whatever they were talking about; plus…well, I really needed some humor and comfort after everything that had happened the day before. I really needed to the friendship, to be surrounded by it.

I abandoned Quinn's luggage halfway through unpacking her ten tons of crap and darted back through the loft to the room that I shared with Rachel. The smile instantly returned to my face as I quietly stepped just inside the frame and neither of the other two had noticed me yet. I leaned against the frame and let the scene in front of me make my heart swell like a massive balloon in my chest and fill me up so that I felt like I was floating. Quinn was up on her knees in the bed just to Rachel's right and she had the goofiest grin on her face as she yanked her shirt up and tucked it into her bra so that her pale, toned stomach was bare and visible. Rachel was just laughing adorably and her face showed both her trepidation as well as her affection as she watched Quinn trace a pale finger over a long, gnarly scar that curved over her hipbone and almost up to her belly-button.

"See, this one is totally badass," Quinn said, cocking her eyebrow at Rachel who only laughed and shook her head in disbelief. "There is no way you have anything that is beating that."

"I assure you I do," Rachel told her quietly and her big, brown eyes just looked so distant and so sorrowed as she spoke, but Quinn didn't let her linger on the sadness. Q quickly shook her head and exclaimed, "No way, Berry! Keep dreaming."

I seriously just wanted to wrap my arms around Quinn in that moment and thank her. Rachel had been so self-conscious about her scars, the evidence of the terrible things she'd been through. They made her feel ugly and dirty and used, but Quinn…well, she had some pretty terrible scars of her own from her car accident senior year, and she wasn't about to let Rachel feel alone or ugly or any of that pointless shit. We both knew Rachel was beyond beautiful, and with this…with these scars…Quinn was perhaps the only person who could help Rachel learn to accept them and see them as evidence of her strength and survival rather than her assault and near-death, and for that, I was beyond grateful.

"Yes way, Fabray," Rachel then countered, regaining some confidence, and a smile began to break out over her features as that ease she always had with Quinn began to take hold and comfort her. It was beautiful to witness and meant more to me than I could even process in the moment, but when Quinn said, "Prove it," my heart just exploded in my chest. Q was every bit as anxious as I was. I could sense it even though she masked it well, and we both held our breaths as we waited to see if Rachel would actually rise to the challenge.

I was beyond thankful that neither Quinn nor Rachel was aware of my presence in the doorway, because the second that Rachel's fingertips timidly dropped to the hem of her shirt and began to slide it upwards, the breath I'd been holding slammed through my lips and tears spilled from my eyes and down my cheeks. Happiness flooded my heart as I watched her lift her shirt to expose her stomach and ribs. The skin over her ribs was still slightly yellowed from faded bruising, but it looked so much better than the terrible images that still danced in my head sometimes. She traced her index finger over one of the large, jagged scars on her stomach and nervously whispered, "See?"

"See what?" Quinn asked playfully, but not without having to subtly clear her throat first and even then, I could hear that her voice was thick with her own tears. She knew, just as well as I did, that this was a huge moment for Rachel and it meant so much to the both of us that we could hardly contain our emotions. Q teasingly squinted her eyes as she stared at Rachel's stomach before loudly exclaiming, "OHHHH! Okay, I think I see it." She reached over and slid her fingertip down the scar and teased her by asking, "Are you talking about this dinky little white line here?"

I had to place a hand over my mouth to keep from laughing and alerting them to my presence. God, I loved Quinn so much in that moment that I was practically overflowing with my respect and affection for her. I knew damn well that she was exaggerating, because Rachel's scars from the stabbing were extensive, and she knew it, but she was trying to help Rachel see that they weren't a big deal. They were just evidence of something she'd been through and something she had overcome. They were nothing but lines, and Rachel didn't need to obsess over them or let them make her feel like anything less than the stunning creature she was.

Rachel giggled adorably as Quinn shook her head and said, "Uh uh, no way, Rach. That is a pathetic scar. Neither one of those scars can even hold a candle to this baby." She pointed back to the scar on her hipbone where the buckle and edge of her seatbelt had quite literally sliced right through her flesh when she was crushed against it in the car accident that had not only nearly taken her life, but had nearly robbed her of the ability to ever walk again. Quinn, like Rachel, was a living, breathing miracle.

My little diva's eyes narrowed as her jaw set rigidly, and I knew that Quinn had successfully baited her into the playful competition. If nothing else, Rachel Berry absolutely loved to win. It was seriously almost stupid how adorable I found her in that moment, and I actually had to roll my eyes at myself. Fuck, Quinn was right. I had it so bad for Rachel.

"Fine," Rachel snapped, smirking at Quinn before she moved to pull her shirt up even higher. She hissed a bit in pain as she moved her shoulder too quickly. The stab wound to her right shoulder had been extremely deep and she still had some pain when moving her arm too high or rolling onto her shoulder a certain way. My protective instincts kicked in instantly and I was just barely able to stop myself from practically sprinting to the bed to make sure that she was okay, but I managed to hold back, taking comfort in the fact that Quinn was immediately there.

She didn't say anything or even ask if Rachel was okay, probably because she'd only just gotten her to the point of feeling more badass than anything else about her scars, and she didn't want to push Rachel to reverting back to feeling like a victim. So, instead of saying anything, she simply leaned over and silently helped Rachel lift her shirt the rest of the way up and over her arms until she was completely free of it. Once Rachel was free of her shirt, she pushed down the bottom of the tiny tank-top she'd had on under her t-shirt, because she wanted to cover herself up a bit more, the small moment of pain making her feel the slightest bit apprehensive again. She bit the bullet though, and locked gazes with Quinn as she pointed to her right shoulder and raggedly said, "There," and I could tell by the sound of her voice that she was fighting back tears.

There was silence for another long moment before Quinn reached forward and ran her fingers over the deep, wide scar on Rachel's shoulder. It was a bad one, I knew. I'd seen it more times than I could count, and every time I did, it made my heart fucking ache like someone was squeezing the hell out of it. The scar was terribly jagged and really wide, like the guy had wiggled it around or something once he'd gotten it in her, or like maybe he'd had trouble jerking it back out. Fuck…my stomach flipped uncomfortably at that thought and I had to swallow thickly just to keep from spilling its contents on the floor. I wiped at my cheeks as fresh tears fell, and I just tried to keep quiet while the two people who mattered most to me in my life continued to share a moment that I knew was more important than any words could say.

Quinn continued to trace the scar before she let out a forced, breathy chuckle, one in which I could practically hear her heartache and tears, and said, "Damn, you got me with that one. That one definitely trumps this one. It's way more badass. It might even be more badass than the one on my back, and that is seriously saying something."

Rachel laughed a bit at that, but she didn't even try to hide the tears that had started to stream down her cheeks as she suddenly shot forth a hand and latched it onto one of Quinn's. She clutched Q's hand tightly as she locked gazes with her and raggedly whispered, "Thank you, Quinn."

I could just barely make out the tears that had finally started to fall down Quinn's own cheeks as she nodded before whispering, "These scars are evidence that you survived, Rach. You are so strong. And you are—"

"Beautiful," I finally spoke, finishing Q's sentence, and making my presence known to the two of them. They both smiled brightly at me as they turned to face me, and Quinn immediately lifted her hands to wipe away her tears. She hated crying, and worse, she hated crying in front of other people. She always had to be the strong one. I locked gazes with her and quietly asked, "Quinn, could I talk to you for a minute?"

Her brow furrowed for a moment before she simply nodded her head in answer. She squeezed Rachel's hand and then climbed out of the bed and darted past me and into the kitchen. I looked at Rachel, our gazes lingering on each other for just a second, before I winked at her and said, "Be right back, you."

"Okay," she whispered as she smiled at me and wiped at her cheeks.

When I stepped out of the room and over into the kitchen, Quinn was leaning against the counter waiting for me. She looked up as I stopped a few feet from her with my arms crossed tightly over my chest and my heart continuing to swell against my ribcage, and her brow furrowed again. "Is everything okay, Santana?" she asked quietly.

I started to say something, but my voice failed me in that moment as my emotions just fucking boiled over and completely flooded my system, and instead of words, all that escaped me was a strangled whimper like someone was squeezing the hell out of my vocal chords. And it was then that I just broke down. Tears spilled down my cheeks as I quickly closed the distance between myself and Quinn and wrapped my arms fiercely around her. She didn't even hesitate or seem surprised, because she instantly responded. Her arms locked tightly around me as I cried into her neck and squeezed her like my damn life depended on it.

"Thank you," I choked out as she rubbed comforting circles into my back, and I would've given anything in that moment to have better words to tell her how much what she'd just done for Rachel meant to me. Those were the only two words that came to me, though, and while they weren't much, I knew that sometimes…sometimes the simplest things could be larger than life.

A few minutes later, Quinn and I both made our way back into the bedroom. I instantly flopped onto the bed and crawled playfully up the length of Rachel's body, making sure not to put any of my weight on her or jostle her around. She laughed beautifully as I dropped loud, wet kisses all over her cheeks and forehead before shifting over and falling just to the side of her, pressed between her and the wall. Quinn smirked knowingly at me, to which I could only roll my eyes, before she practically skipped over to the bed and crawled in on Rachel's other side.

Rachel sighed contentedly and rested her head against my shoulder as she slipped her hand into Quinn's and laced their fingers together. "I love you both so much," she whispered and her voice sounded so sincere and so beautiful in that moment that I could have just drowned in it. I pressed my lips to her temple at almost the same time that Quinn cuddled gently into Rachel's other side, and we just laid there like that for a long time, the burdens that always dragged us down floating away in that moment so that for what felt like the first time in years, we could each breathe easily. It felt good. It felt perfect. It felt free.

"Santana, I don't think anyone could have ever guessed that," Rachel said, trying her best not to laugh at me, but Quinn didn't even try to hold her laughter in. She cracked up loudly from where they sat together on the couch, Q's head resting in Rachel's lap as she pointed at me mockingly and asked, "Seriously, what the hell was that hopping you were doing?"

I rolled my eyes at her and snapped, "It was a horse, Q!"

"A HORSE?!" Quinn exclaimed, laughing even louder, her words slurring from her obvious intoxication. We'd busted out the wine a few hours ago since Rachel could have some now that she wasn't on the heavy pain meds anymore, just the regular over-the-counter crap. I was feeling a little hot and dizzy myself after a few glasses, but Quinn was basically trashed, and it was simultaneously hilarious and annoying. Rachel, on the other hand, was freaking adorable. Her cheeks were all flushed and she giggled uncontrollably every few minutes; not to mention the way she was looking at me. It just made my whole body sing, but never louder than my heart.

"I thought it was like a giant rabbit or something," Quinn continued. "That's why I kept shouting Donnie Darko. I thought you were the creepy evil bunny thing from that movie."

Rachel giggled again at that and poked Q's sides, saying, "Stop teasing her, Quinn. It was a nice attempt at Zorro, Santana."

"Eh, no it wasn't," I told her, grinning. "I suck at charades. Well, no that's not true. It's just this lame charades app on my phone picks the dumbest shit. Like Zorro, seriously? That's what you give me?" I shouted that last bit at my phone before reaching for my wine and downing another large drink, loving the way it fizzled when it hit my stomach.

"Nah, I vote that you just suck at charades," Q slurred, and I shot her the best glare I could manage given my growing state of intoxication. Rachel tried pretty hard to not to laugh at Q's smartass reply, but when she snorted from trying to hold it in, Quinn only lost it harder, laughing so loudly that it echoed throughout the entire loft and sent Rachel tumbling into laughter as well.

I grabbed a pillow off the sofa and chunked it hard at her face. "Listen, Quinnifer Anniston!" I snapped as the pillow smacked into her head before rolling off to the floor. Both she and Rachel died laughing at me calling her that, which almost made me lose it, myself, but I kept it together as I bit out, "Just because you're a big-time drama nerd at Yale now, it doesn't make you the almighty queen of charades. It's not like you can do any better."

"S, Rachel has guessed all but one of mine so far and she's missed all but two of yours," Q argued before glancing up at Rachel from her lap and asking, "Right, Rach?"

Rachel quickly swallowed down the large gulp of wine she'd only just poured into her mouth before grabbing for the score-pad she had sitting on the arm of the couch and double-checking it. "Yes," she slurred as she cast a guilty, sheepish look in my direction. "She has a point. Sorry babe."

The room went completely silent as that term of endearment slipped across Rachel lips, and my heart like just completely fizzled into a blissful oblivion in that moment. I didn't even freaking care that it was the alcohol talking, because Rachel Barbra Berry had just called me "babe." Her cheeks turned completely pink as she gasped in surprise at her own unconscious choice of words, but a smile quickly touched her features as she locked timid gazes with me and saw my own grin. And damn was I grinning. I mean, I couldn't actually see myself, but I was fucking feeling like the cheshire cat in that moment, all teeth and confidence.

I glanced down to Q who was pretty much grinning in the same way and that only made the moment that much more real for me, and just like that, I was on my game again. I clapped my hands together and said, "Alright Q, let's do this then. I'm about to brings the Lima-Heights heat, blondie. Think you can handle it?"

Quinn lifted up onto her elbows and arched that famous eyebrow at me even as Rachel giggled animatedly next to her. "Don't give me the brow, Quinnt Eastwood, because I AM feelin' lucky and I WILLS make your day!" I snapped, and both Rachel and Q just stared at me for a long moment before both of them completely crumbled into a raucous fit of laughter.

"Quinnt Eastwood!" Q exclaimed, slapping at Rachel's arm as she roared her laughter. "Oh my god, that was freaking hilarious!"

"So much better than Quinnifer Anniston," Rachel laughed out.

"Ah hell, you guys are way too drunk for this shit," I told them, joining in the laughter. "Hell, I'm way too drunk for this shit."

I plopped down on the couch with them, practically sitting on top of Quinn so that I could be close to Rachel, but Q didn't seem to care, so whatever. She just smacked my ass and shifted to make herself more comfortable as I settled in and Rachel said, "Even though you lost, Santana, you were still quite entertaining."

I grinned at her before leaning over and pressing a soft kiss to her cheek and whispering quietly in her ear. "Thanks…babe." She blushed profusely at my teasing her with the pet name she'd used on me earlier, and I found it completely adorable; that is, until Q butted in and ruined the moment.

"How the hell do you manage to still speak so properly when you're drunk?" she asked, looking up at Rachel with a genuinely confused expression. I couldn't help but chuckle at that, because Q apparently didn't even realize that she was pretty much the exact same way. I just rolled my eyes though and threw out a thought of my own.

"Yeah, Rach, you've come a long way from that drunken Glee house party you threw in high school," I said, chuckling as I brushed soft chocolate locks out of her face, "with you shouting about drinks tasting like pink and singing weirdly hetero duets with gay Blaine."

There was a moment of silence before all three of us dissolved into laughter again and Quinn smartly quipped, "I seem to recall someone shouting that she wanted Rachel during that duet."

"Nevermind, new topic," I blurted, and just like that, we were laughing again.

I'd had a lot of fun times in my life, and a lot of hardship too, but I swear in that moment, I was the happiest I'd ever been.