Then I Heard You
The summer after her sophomore year, Rachel Berry left town in a blaze of glory.
It was a result of many things, including how New Directions had made an appearance at the national competition, she's been short-listed for featured vocalist and shortly after been accepted into three of the four summer performance camps for which she'd applied. For some that would seem like a whole list of almost-but-not-quite, but as Rachel Berry was able to kiss Finn Hudson as much as she liked before she left, it was hard not to feel as if she was on top of the world.
After months of waiting, hurting and nearly giving up, all it had taken was the truth for Finn to be released from his obligations. Soon after he and Quinn Fabray were over, it was FinnandRachel, to the surprise of no one. He came to her house the day she left, kissed her before her parents came out of the house and hugged her tightly even after they did.
Finn stood on her driveway and waved as they pulled away, Rachel turning in her seat to blow him a kiss from the back window. The image was seared in her memory, his figure standing tall, broad shoulders lit up from behind by the sun. In that moment, she thought she couldn't have loved, or missed, him more.
It was strange that two and a half months later, when they saw each other again they would be standing in the exact same place as his words sent her back to square one, pulverizing her heart at the same time. It was stranger still when the realization came two weeks later that Finn hadn't just broken up with her, but he'd broken up with her so he could be with Tina Cohen-Chang.
On the first day of school, Rachel nearly reinstituted her former morning routine; she toyed with the idea of using the elliptical for an hour longer so as to totally empty her mind of anything Finn Hudson related. She instead was caught up in revamping her wardrobe choice for the day, exchanging one skirt for another, which necessitated changing her socks, which needed another shirt to match and so on and so forth.
At approximately 7:45 AM, Rachel realized that no matter what she wore, she was still going to be the ex-girlfriend and if Finn hadn't called in the two weeks left of summer break, her choice of accessories probably wasn't going to change that. So she returned to her first outfit and packed her bag and got on with her commute to school.
Her first two classes and the hallways in between were thankfully Finn-free. In the next change, however, she saw Quinn, looking subdued in a blouse and jeans, walking alongside a still-Cheerio'd Santana. The pregnancy weight was gone, just as the baby, who'd been adopted, but Quinn still looked as if she was carrying a heavy mass on her shoulders. Rachel could relate.
They said a short, amicable hello before Rachel moved on, briefly running across Matt and Mike, then skirting around Puck as he flirted with an unsuspecting freshman. Kurt and Mercedes came out of a classroom down the way, but didn't look in her direction. Mr. Schuester ran past them into a classroom, his tie askew and nearly dropping his papers. And then, just beyond him, Finn came into view.
He was putting his books into his locker, chatting animatedly with the person next to him, but it took a long moment for Rachel to recapture her breath before she could focus on anyone else. The streaks of red gave it away and Rachel was alternately thankful for a familiar face to ease the conversation and annoyed that it had to be the only person she knew who could stutter an H.
"Tina, hi." She tried to keep her pose relaxed, but couldn't keep her hands from clenching at the book in her arms. "Hello, Finn. How have you been?"
There was a flicker of a glance between them, the first sign she should have caught that said something wasn't right, but Rachel was too consumed in breathing, and standing, and generally not showing Finn how much she wanted to burst into tears at the sight of him, to notice anything else. She kept her eyes on his chin, knew it wouldn't take much to break her tentative calm and looking at him directly would be all that did it.
"It's good," Finn said haltingly. Tina only nodded and smiled weakly. The warning bell rang before any of them could say anything more. "I, uh, you know-"
"Class, of course," Rachel said tightly. "I've got Spanish next. You?"
Finn squirmed where he stood. "We do, too."
"Oh, well, that will be fun," Rachel replied, though the brightness in her voice was surely false to all their ears.
His hand spread widely toward the nearby door, Finn motioned for Rachel to lead them in. A few other students went between them and Mr. Schuester's pleased greeting was a balm on her raw feelings. Rachel stopped to warmly reply, assuring Mr. Schue of her great summer (barring her beloved boyfriend dropping her like a bad habit, of course) and excitement for the new school year. The second bell was ringing when she turned and saw only one seat remaining, next to Brittany in the third row. Finn sat down the way on the fourth and Rachel kept her eyes from him as she took her seat.
"Hey," Brittany stage whispered to her.
Rachel dredged up her widest smile and said hello back before noting Brittany's t-shirt and capri pants. Brittany followed her line of sight and laughed softly, "Yeah, I quit this summer. Coach Sylvester made some really random rules for all the blonde Cheerios after Quinn tried coming back, so we both walked out."
"Sounds like a lot of drama," Rachel replied, a smile quirking at the corners of her mouth.
"Yeah, but it's nothing like yours," Brittany said with her traditional bluntness. "I can't believe you could talk to them so calmly, I would have been too busy deciding whether to scratch her eyes out or kick him in the balls first."
Giving her a blank look, Rachel asked, "What are you talking about?"
"Well, you know…" Brittany gave her a searching look and then something different lit in her gaze. "You don't know, do you?"
Her stomach began its slow descent, sinking from her midsection to the floor, her neck, arms and legs feeling stiff even before Brittany said it. The other girl must have known it, known she had gone too far and would have to deal the killing blow. Leaning her head in, she whispered lowly, "Finn… he's dating Tina now."
Rachel stared at her.
"I'm really sorry, Rachel, I thought you knew. I thought he would have at least told you."
Moving her eyes slowly from the girl before her, Rachel felt her heart thud heavily as she finally caught Finn's eye. Beside him, Tina took an obvious breath. And in that moment, they knew that she knew.
"No," Rachel finally said, looking at them both even though they wouldn't look back at her now, "he didn't."
The water-proof mascara had been a wise choice, as was the concealer she'd put in her bag, but Brittany was the one who brought facial tissues out of her backpack, voicing that school toilet paper wasn't kind to a broken hearted girl's complexion. It was only because the other girl had stayed by her in class, called her back to attention before Mr. Schue saw the female wreckage in the third row for himself. As soon as the release bell rang, Brittany swept her out, taken her into the bathroom and made sure no one could enter as Rachel finally cried.
It went on long, so much that they would be late for fourth period, but Brittany didn't care and Rachel didn't notice. Finally, when Rachel's sobs had faded into hiccups and she'd emerged from a stall, she sat on the counter and asked what had been preying on her mind since the beginning of Spanish class. "When did it start?"
Brittany propped her hip on the counter and crossed her arms. "I really don't know. I just kind of picked up on a vibe between them when we were all in summer school together, but I didn't see them together-together until about a week ago. Saw them at the mall."
Rachel nodded and blew her nose. Inwardly, she damned Finn's weak grades that had made summer school necessary. How different would it have been if he'd gone to camp with her like she'd planned instead of staying behind? "That was after we broke up."
"Yeah, but he made pretty quick work of it," Brittany said sourly.
"I suppose he did." Stung, Rachel handed back the half-empty packet of tissues. "Did they say anything to you?"
"Me? No. I don't think they've told anyone, we just kind of figured it out." Brittany put the tissues away in her bag and sighed. "Artie is, like, super upset."
"And no one thought to tell me?"
"We thought you knew. I mean, you're Rachel Berry, you know everything."
Rachel cringed. "Right."
Brittany rolled her eyes. "Sorry, but you know what I mean. You're always on top of this stuff."
"Apparently that's one fallacy that can be safely put to rest." At Brittany's confused look, Rachel said, "This should prove I don't know everything."
"Yeah, right?" Brittany sighed. "Sorry for telling you like that."
"It's not your fault." Rachel sniffled again and gave her a weak smile. "Thank you for being so nice. You have no idea how much I appreciate it."
"Well, after Mike and I broke up this summer, it helped to have my girlfriends there. And seeing as Tina's the one screwing you over, maybe you need a couple new ones," Brittany said with a shrug.
Confused, Rachel asked, "Mike? Mike Chang?"
"Well, yeah, what other Mike was I dating last year?"
"Last year?" Rachel searched her mind to see if she'd known of it and came up with nothing. "I didn't know."
"Wow, two in one day. Do I get a prize?"
Acutely aware she'd offended the other girl, though unable to quite pin the exact reason why, Rachel hurriedly said, "I'm sorry, I just tend to get a little… focused. Besides, neither of us can claim we've ever been all that close."
"Focused probably isn't the best word for it." Brittany's smile softened the sarcasm, however, and Rachel found herself deeply grateful for her easy nature. "It doesn't matter anyway, we broke up, I got over it, I've moved on. For your information, I'm still single."
"I'll file that away for future use," Rachel joked weakly. And without meaning for it to happen, her eyes began to well up once more. Embarrassed, she turned her face away.
The tissues appeared under her nose again. "I had to cry a lot first. It's okay if you do, too."
Rachel did just that. And before the end of it, Brittany had put her arms around her shoulders and hugged her and, somehow, made it just a little easier to bear.
She finally saw Artie at lunch, seated at the lone handicapped table, the legs set slightly higher and with an unsightly blue sticker at the end. Funny how it was the world that reminded everyone of his wheelchair and hardly ever Artie himself. He didn't look up until she'd set her lunch bag down and started unpacking her Tupperware.
They exchanged short greetings and Rachel chose to shove the elephant out of the room by saying, "You and I are now both aware of what is going on and, I for one, do not care to discuss it at the present. I've already had to reapply my makeup twice and have no compunction to repeat the process today."
"I have no makeup, but I agree," Artie said with a small smile.
And that was that.
Of course, that was not all that the following afternoon at the first New Directions practice. The past thirty hours, though they'd included climbing into her dad's lap and indulging in another cry, trading emails with a camp friend and getting a call from Brittany, weren't quite enough to get her into the practice room straight away. She'd needed to gird herself in an empty classroom first, take deep breaths and setting a neutral expression on her face.
It was with half-surprise when she entered to find Finn and Tina sitting apart, one behind the other and a seat in between. In retrospect, she should have given Finn some credit for not being a complete ass, though she had some pretty good reasons to question it. She tore her eyes away from them, trying not to be obvious in her interest and walked over to Brittany and Quinn instead. Quinn eyed her in silent pity, much to Rachel's chagrin, but it was better than approaching Tina or Mercedes and Kurt who sat beside her.
Kurt rose his hand high in the air, however, and wiggled his fingers. "Hello over there!"
"Hi, Kurt," Rachel called back, easing down into a chair. "How was your summer?"
"I was able to visit New York for Fashion Week. If I died now, I wouldn't regret a thing," Kurt waited a beat and then said, "It's good to see you."
No reason to ask how her summer had been, though Kurt had a subtle expression on his face that indicated they'd be talking about it later. Rachel took another breath gave her consent with, "You, too."
Artie came in then, followed by Mr. Schue and soon everyone had arrived. Mr. Schue exclaimed obliviously at the line dividing the separate groups, Rachel with Brittany, Quinn, Artie, Matt and Puck on one side, while the rest were on the other. He laughingly encouraged them to fill the space in between and though they all complied, Rachel couldn't help but notice the two people who kept drawing her attention seemed to be the most intent on remaining apart.
It should have made her feel better. It didn't at all. And when Finn tried to approach her after practice, Rachel escaped quicker than one could say Stage Left.
"Do you know what I consider the worst part?" Rachel dug into the dish of double chocolate chunk Kurt had ordered for them and used the full spoon to punctuate her side of the conversation, "They don't even act as if they're romantically involved. If Brittany hadn't told me, I have no idea when I would have figured it out."
"That kind of seems like how they're playing it," Artie said glumly from beside them. He had a spoon in front of him, but hadn't touched the community dish. "It took me a while to catch on."
"Well, I saw it coming," Kurt said with conviction. "Finn Hudson has some very obvious tells when it comes to the girls he likes."
Both Rachel and Artie stared dully at him and he shrugged listlessly. "What? You didn't come to me for my kind words and soft-spoken support. You want fast and dirty details, I've got them."
"Won't it bother Tina that you're passing on information on her?" Artie asked worriedly. Rachel felt a stab of pity for him; despite how much it obviously hurt that the girl he wanted was dating one of his friends, he hadn't quite been able to form the shell Rachel had rapidly and haphazardly constructed after the first couple of days. It was held shakily in place by her steadfast refusal to speak with Finn or Tina since the few words they'd exchanged before their first Spanish class. Artie's wounded feelings, however, were still blatantly on display more than a week into the school year.
"Tina is well aware that I have allegiance to no one but myself, and perhaps Mercedes," Kurt studied his nails for a moment and then looked back at them. "I'd advise you to be aware of the same."
"Just spill it already," Rachel said acidly.
"Nothing happened until after he broke up with you," Kurt said flatly.
She couldn't help that the wall briefly fell, her relief was so great to hear it. Kurt seemed to see it and turned purposefully toward Artie. "And she got sick of waiting for you to make a move."
Artie swallowed hard.
"Personally, I believe it's very simply a case of two people needing something different and insofar stumbling on one another." Kurt continued. "Maybe there was some previous attraction, but nothing they likely would have acted on without a catalyst of some sort."
"Do you mean to say that I gave him catalyst? That I made Finn break up with me?" Rachel asked heatedly.
Kurt gave her a cool look. "Who's David?"
Rachel's mind went blank with surprise, so much that for a second she couldn't even recall knowing a David at all. Then her mind jolted into gear and she found herself saying, "No one. I mean, he's someone, but…"
Kurt's raised eyebrow moved her to speak more clearly. "David's a friend. We just happened to be in the go to two of the same camps this summer and we were the leads in the end of summer performance. Which, for your information, Finn was invited to attend."
"So my inaction was an action?" Artie, completely bewildered, interjected.
"Yes," Kurt said shortly before returning to Rachel. "Truth time: Are you or are you not currently trading emails with this so-called friend of yours?"
She cursed Brittany inwardly and said, "Yes, but that doesn't mean anything-"
"And did you or did you not, often rave about his talent and how wonderful of a time you were having when Finn called you to talk about what was going on back in Lima?"
"I wouldn't say rave-"
"And did you or did you not choose to skip visiting Lima in favor of going to New York to take in some shows between camps even though there were very good reasons to come home?"
Rachel shrank in her seat. "Perhaps."
"Perhaps my finally toned ass, you know it's true." Kurt looked at her sternly. "Maybe you didn't make Finn break up with you, but you didn't give him a lot of reasons not to."
"I was scared," Artie's voice broke in.
Rachel and Kurt turned at this. Artie stared down at the table, but spoke clearly. "I couldn't… I didn't think she'd say yes. I was scared. That doesn't mean I didn't…"
When he looked up, the mirror image of her heartache stared straight back at Rachel. She wished she knew him well enough to put her hand out over his, maybe hug him like Brittany had been so kind to on several occasions, even when Rachel was practically a stranger. All this time, she knew Artie had been hurting, but had never suspected, possibly never given him the credit that it was as much as her own.
Instead of reaching out physically, she said, "I cry. All the time. I've cried so much since we broke up, Dad's had to replenish our tissue supply twice."
Artie dipped his head. "I keep wanting to call her. We talked almost everyday, it was… it was like the best part."
If it took them a long time to catch on that Finn and Tina were dating, then it took even longer to realize they had broken up.
Less than three weeks into the school year, as they gathered for another excruciating practice (Mr. Schuester was thrilled they could sing Bleeding Love with "So much passion! Amazing!"), Mercedes walked up to where Finn and Tina were sitting beside one another and said, "Don't you start thinking I'm next, Hudson. Count me out."
Finn rolled his eyes and Tina groaned, but Rachel's eyes were frozen on Kurt behind them as he held up to fists together and mimed breaking them apart. Artie looked back at her with uncertainty and she heard Brittany lowly say, "Well, that must be new."
But it wasn't. Kurt called her that evening and dropped the bomb that it had been over a week and Mercedes had only found out when Tina had asked for a ride home the previous day. There was no further information and Kurt swore he'd get to the bottom of it, but Rachel wasn't sure she was up to the task of hearing it.
After hanging up, she opened her laptop to find a new email from David, more flirtatious than the last. Looking over the inbox, she had to grudgingly admit to herself the trend had started well before Finn had decided to called it quits. And after opening her sent mail, Rachel was ashamed to admit she hadn't exactly tried to put a stop to it.
Ego pampering aside, Rachel wondered how much truth there was to what Kurt had talked about. Well, more thrown at her, but still. For once, she considered going past the day she'd always considered the starting point of the whole debacle, where Finn had shown up on her front step with hunched shoulders and his hands in his pockets and squashed her unsuspecting heart. He'd said they'd grown apart. He'd said they wanted different things. All the clichés she hadn't been prepared for. She wondered if she shouldn't have been so unsuspecting, if she hadn't, in a way, had it coming.
When it came down to it, there was only one person who could give her an answer to that.
She perched herself on the hood of his car, in a fashion that was meant to be equally comfortable, alluring and would make it impossible for him to avoid her. Rachel had to ignore the catcalls and jeers from the other football players as they left the field house and passed by her. The noise visibly distracted Finn from his conversation with Matt as they came out of the building, but his immediate discomfort upon seeing her was clear. She guessed he'd gotten used to her avoiding him at all costs.
But Rachel didn't move.
Soon enough, Finn waved Matt away and walked toward her. A memory flashed through her mind as he approached, sitting in his car, both of them singing at the top of their lungs, somehow kissing and laughing at the same time and her insides twisted. She wondered if he thought of the same as he threw his bag in the backseat and then sat on the opposite side of the hood, his heels propped up on the bumper.
By unspoken agreement, they waited until the cars had cleared on either side of them, the noises fading in the distance until they could speak in normal tones without being easily heard. Though she'd prepared several things to say, the last thing she'd been willing to mention first came to her lips. "It was because of your mom, wasn't it?"
Finn didn't answer right away and so Rachel barreled ahead. "I thought at first it was because I'd made friends at camp that you were threatened by, or you got lonely and Tina was close at hand, but when it came down to it, all I could reasonably surmise was that it had to do with your mom almost getting sick."
He stared at his shoes and nodded.
"But she was okay, Finn. I know they found the lump and it was scary for a couple of days, but it was benign. It was okay. She was all right. I thought we were, too."
"I wasn't all right," Finn said roughly. "Nothing was all right, Rachel."
The look he gave her was so hard, she couldn't speak at first. Instead he said, "I missed you. I missed you so damn much. And I needed you here."
"There was no way-"
"Yes, there was. You're Rachel Berry, you make a way where nobody else can," Finn interrupted. "Admit it, it was inconvenient when you were getting ready for your important rehearsals and important performances, everything out there was more important to you than what was going on back here."
"Nothing about your mother or her health was inconvenient. Don't you dare accuse me of that," Rachel said fiercely.
"What am I supposed to think, Rachel?' Finn jumped off the hood. "My mom is all I have, she's all I have. What if it hadn't been benign, what if it had been cancer? What if it's cancer next time? I don't have grandparents, my dad's gone, and I was scared to death and all I wanted was for you to come home and you went to freaking New York instead!"
"Everything was cleared by then!"
"I wasn't! I wasn't anywhere near being clear of anything!" Finn stopped short and seemed to finally take in Rachel's stricken face. She saw him visibly dial back on his anger, what he only let out on the rarest occasions and she felt her sadness grow as she realized that too many unspoken things on both their parts had led them to this. Quieter, Finn finally said, "I missed you so much it hurt, Rachel, and I needed you, but it took all that for me to see what was always wrong with us."
Heartbroken, Rachel weakly said, "There was nothing wrong with us."
"Everything was wrong with us," Finn replied. His voice was kinder now, both toward her and himself. "I'll never be able to want the bigger things like you do. The way you focus on conquering the world, being out there when I just need to focus on what's right in front of me for a while. I need to be here, with my mom, with my friends, not chasing after someone who doesn't want to be here, too."
Rachel drew close, her fear nearly stopping her, but she put her hands on his chest. "I wanted to be here. I want to be here. That never changed."
"Neither did the fact that you never planned to stick around here, whether I was with you or not." Finn put his hands over hers. "Ask yourself and be honest, Rachel, did you really think you'd end up settling down with the guy you dated when you were sixteen? When has that ever worked out for anyone we know?"
She couldn't answer. But when he pulled his hands away from her and stepped back, she realized her heart was able to be shattered just a little more.
He ran his hand over his head and looked away. "The thing with Tina, that was just stupid. I just really needed someone to talk to and she's a really good listener and it just felt like it'd been so long since someone actually just listened to me without trying to make me any different. Quinn did that all the time and, honestly, so did you. Plus, she needed to talk about how Artie never sacked up and we just… it was easy for once. Too easy. That's when we figured out we just liked to hang out together, we didn't need to be dating."
"So… that was it? You just spent time together?" Rachel asked, unable to mask her the hope in her voice, but Finn's expression dashed that away. Of course. Who wouldn't take advantage of having Finn Hudson's willing mouth in proximity? Even Kurt would jump at the chance. "I guess that's a stupid question."
"I'm sorry about it, Rachel, for a lot of reasons and to a lot of people. It just… I wasn't thinking right for a while. I didn't think about revenge or hurting anyone, and neither did Tina. We just-"
"Needed something different?" Rachel asked, remembering Kurt's unsympathetic words.
Finn shrugged. "I guess so. And we ended it as soon as we figured out how stupid we were being, how much it was messing with everyone."
"It did make practices rather uncomfortable."
"Yeah, pretty soon Mr. Schue was going to figure it out. He'd probably make us do team building exercises or something, you know, rebuild the trust." He gave her a crooked smile.
She tried to smile in return, but it faded fast. So did his.
"So what do we do now?"
"I have no earthly idea." Rachel turned her face up to the sky, as if hoping she would find the answer there. "I can't deny that I miss you, Finn. I won't deny it. The question is, do you miss me?'
His feet scraped across the gravel, scattering pebbles. "The question is, would it change anything?"
Lowering her head, Rachel didn't bother trying to catch his gaze. She answered by moving forward and wrapping her arms around his waist, settling her cheek against his chest. A part of her mind taunted her, told her that this was the way things should have been when she came home, not the weeks of distance and painful truths. All the same, she had to wonder if it was necessary, when she couldn't even fathom how painful it would have been if they'd waited two more years for this.
Finn hesitated, his arms still at his sides and then his hands at her elbows until he finally enveloped completely, just like he used to.
"I don't know how to be just friends. And I can't stand losing you anymore than I already have," Rachel said at last.
Swallowing down the lump in her throat and the logical thought that she should say it, Rachel did anyway. "I loved you, Finn. I still do. I will for a long time."
He held her tighter and made her cry all over again when he said, "I will, too."
"But it's not enough, is it?"
"It almost was."
Almost. But not quite.
A/N: Reviews are greatly appreciated.