A/N: I'm backkkkkkkk! haha actually I never really left, but you know...

So, here's my latest endeavor. For those of you who read the A/N in chapter 3 of "Silent Promises", you know this is gonna be a pretty long story. It's extremely AU, and just a warning: it's gonna be starting out a tad bit slow. This chapter's more of a prologue, but hopefully it will spark some interest in the story. I can't guarantee updates will come that quickly - unfortunately, my boring life beckons. But I'm trying to always be a chapter ahead, just to make sure I don't leave this hanging for too long. It's rated M for later chapters and probably some language. I'm gonna try out a bit of a riskier style in this one, so any requests/advice are most DEFINITELY welcome!

Alrighty, I guess this is it. Hope you enjoy, and remember! This is kind of an introductory chapter, so bear with it please :)

Disclaimer: I do not own Glee or any of its affiliates. Unfortunately, I only own my hopelessly romantic dreams. *sigh*

"Love unlocks doors and opens windows that weren't even there before." - Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic's Notebook

"Daddy, I already told you I'm not going!"

Rachel Berry had been called a lot of things in her lifetime – cocky, self-centered, annoying, high maintenance; once she had even been given the title of "an insufferable diva prone to infantile outbursts, with an impossible flare for the dramatics". (Despite the harsh critique, Rachel was more than a little impressed with the obvious effort to use such advanced vocabulary.) She has never though – and with her help, never will – be considered a pushover.

And Rachel Barbara Berry was sure as hell not spending her summer cooped up in some smelly little barn in the middle of Lima freaking Ohio.

"Rachel, for the last time, you are going. And that's final!"

Rachel scowled, throwing her hands up for effect. Her father looked unconvinced. "How do you expect my Broadway career to flourish if you're dropping me in the middle of a cornfield all summer?"

"Rachel, Lima is not–"

"No, Daddy!" she yelled, not caring one bit if their neighbors complained yet again. "This is totally unfair!"

She heard her other father chuckle from the table, sneaking a glance over the edge of his newspaper, and it was not helping her blazing temper. She turned on him, glaring daggers.

"Dad, I don't know what you find laughable in this situation, but I do not appreciate the lack of concern for your daughter's well being! There is no way–"

"Rachel," her dad, Leroy, interrupted, not even attempting to hide his chuckle. "You're overreacting. We used to visit Lima every year for winter break and you never minded then."

"That's because we stopped going when I was ten! And I didn't have my budding career to focus on! I'm seventeen – I'm practically ancient for this business!"

She could see her father set his paper down and remove his reading glasses, a sure sign that he was attempting to form a compromise. Well, Rachel would have none of it.

"Rachel, honey, please," Leroy begged, rubbing his suddenly pounding temples. "You've lived in New York your whole life, and all you've ever wanted was to be a star. You will be, but we would like you to experience what it is to have a normal life, too." Leroy continued just as Rachel opened her mouth to protest. "We know you love it here, with all your friends and your goals, but can't you just take a break from all that before you start your 'career'? You have your whole life for this. We don't want you to have any regrets."

Darn it, Rachel sighed. He had a point. Leave it to her Dad to give her a heartfelt speech and weaken her resolve. Still, Rachel Berry was nothing if not persistent.

"I can be a normal teenager here, Dad," she argued, her voice octaves lower than before. "This is one of the most crucial years of my life, and I don't want to spend it milking cows on Aunt Ruth's dairy farm! Please," she begged. She was pleading now, and when she looked back toward Hiram, searching his heartbroken and torn frown, she realized she'd been bargaining with the wrong father. "Daddy," she whined, fully equipped with her pouting bottom lip and glistening doe eyes. "Please…"

Hiram looked between his partner and his daughter, a droplet of sweat running right down between the glasses perched on his nose, and cleared his throat uneasily. "Rachel, can you go to your room, please? Your father and I need to have a talk."

Hah. Smiling sweetly, Rachel glided over to her Daddy, placing a big, sloppy kiss upon his cheek before skipping away toward her room. She knew she'd won now, so she placed her ear against the door to hear the results.

Leroy was now sporting his daughter's scowl, glaring venomously at Hiram.

Hiram gulped. "Maybe…maybe she's right?" His nervousness was making his statement a question. "We only have one more year with our little angel before she goes off and leaves us behind. Maybe we should let her stay."

Rachel grinned, already whipping out her phone to tell her friends of her new summer plans. She always knew she loved her Daddy.

"No," Leroy roared, hoisting himself from his seat. "We've given her everything she's ever wanted, done everything we ever could to make her dreams a reality. And now we're asking this one thing of her. She needs to live a normal life for once. I want her to meet average kids her age, not all of these theatre fanatics with their futures already mapped out." Leroy's mind was set, and he was very much like Rachel when he put his mind to something. He was begging with his eyes, willing his partner to know that this was what she needed. "Don't you want her to know what that's like? Don't you want her to experience her first love, her first heartache? Don't you want her to entertain some other dream than just this longing to become a star? I do, and I think it's what's best."

Damn it, damn it all. Rachel couldn't believe it. Why did her father have to be a damn lawyer, with his ridiculously firm speeches and his stupid ability to control everything her Daddy did? She knew now – she was doomed. She could already hear the vague "yes, dear's" and "of course, honey's" slipping from her Daddy's deceiving lips.

Trader, she thought miserably.

Looking down at her phone, she groaned seeing an awaiting message – her best friend asking the outcome of her planned performance. Growling menacingly, her fingers ruthlessly typed out her sickening reality for the next two and a half months.

Sarah, it's a no go. I'm officially headed to Farmville, USA."

"Great job, guys!" Finn yelled excitedly. "Next week's our first game, so I want everyone outside practicing over the weekend!"

"Mr. Hudson," one particularly polite little boy asked. "Can we run the bases one more time?"

Finn smiled at the sudden cheers from his little ballplayers and put his hands up in forfeit. "Okay, okay. You better hurry though, you don't want your old coach to beat you…" he exclaimed, setting off toward first base while the rest of his team charged after him.

Finn Hudson was a small town boy at heart – simple, easy to please, and oblivious to most everything else outside of the little tiny bubble deemed "Lima, Ohio". He really didn't mind his hometown; in fact, he couldn't imagine growing up anywhere else. Everyone in this town knew everyone, and consequently, everyone knew Finn. He been called "nice" and "sweet" and "good-looking" by the nice old ladies at the store; "mysterious" and "charming" by those ever-annoying Cheerios flocking toward him; oh, and his favorite, a "big, brainless giant" by his pleasant best friend Noah Puckerman. But Finn didn't really care. He liked his life, and he wouldn't let some harmless little names change that. Besides, everyone dealt with criticism, right?

Maybe it was because he was an only child, or perhaps it was due to his ardent love of sports, but Finn just loved these kids. Something about their innocence and their enthusiasm ignited this fire inside of him that he'd been missing. It gave some meaning to his life, and it made him feel like he was needed. No one ever depended on him, or needed him for anything, but these kids…he was these kids' hero. And it couldn't make him any more proud.

"Okay!" he yelled, chuckling as he hit the ground and felt two dozen bony arms and knees digging into stomach. "Okay, you win, you win! Get out of here, you little rascals," he laughed, hearing the excited yells of the children as they ran to their parents in the stands.

"I'm not getting up 'til you get me that ice cream cone I won from our bet this morning."

Peeking one eye open, Finn met the firm fixed glare of his team's only female player – his little cousin, Katie. Her big blue eyes glinted with mischief and her freckled cheeks smiled back at him cunningly. Her wide smile held such wit that he was sure no seven-year old could ever possess. Finn knew it was sad when a little girl was smarter than him, but he'd been called "pathetic" all his life, so it really didn't bother him all that much.

In one swift motion, Finn lifted Katie off his stomach and plopped her on the ground, batting her miniature punches away when she tried to pin him back down. "Hey, watch it, runt," he warned, ruffling the mess of dirty blonde hair atop her head. She whacked his hand away furiously. "At this rate you might just get yourself benched for harassing your coach!"

Katie scowled and ran after Finn toward the dugout, watching as he gathered the gear in his duffle bag. "Yeah, right," she snorted. "I'm your best player, not to mention your only third baseman. You really think Sammy can get the ball halfway to first base? I don't think so," she finished, settling her hands on her hips in protest.

"Yeah, whatever," he smiled, hoisting up three bags over his shoulder and heading toward the main road, Katie in tow.

If he was being honest, Finn would consider Katie his best friend. Puck would chop off his dick if he ever heard him utter the words – and since he rather enjoyed that part of his anatomy, and wasn't keen on the idea of parting with it – he kept this truth to himself.

But it was most definitely a truth.

Despite being incredibly nosy and somewhat of a pest at times, Katie was the most sincere person he knew. At times it appeared she was more mature than Finn, and her vocabulary showed him up on multiple occasions. But she was honest, a good listener, and most importantly, she considered Finn to be her hero. And that meant more to him than anything.

If only she wasn't so damn smart… How she got to be so sensible and wise he would never know; it definitely wasn't from hanging out with him so much. She was constantly schooling him on his grades and his love life – or, lack thereof – and she never resisted the urge to make him into a fool in front of a girl. For payback though, Finn could always just invite Puck over and watch her cringe when he told her it was past her bedtime – in her words, Puck was "such a babe".

"Wow, you need any help with that?" Finn asked, sarcasm thick in his voice. He briefly motioned toward the single baseball tee she was dragging along the ground, while he had three heavy bags hoisted over his back.

"No, I'm okay," she answered distractedly, not at all sensing his joke.

Finn noticed her lack of attention and nudged her side with his hip. "What's up, munchkin?"

Just as Katie was about to open her mouth to speak though, Finn heard a car slowing down behind them, quickly followed by a high-pitched squeal calling his name.

Blinking tiredly, he turned around to meet Lima's very own beauty queen, beaming at him as she lowered her car window. "Hi, Quinn," he muttered, avoiding her too-bright grin.

"I didn't hear from you last weekend," she started, her voice sugar sweet.

Finn ignored the nudge from Katie and scratched his ear nervously. "Yeah, I, uh, I had to help Katie with, uh, some homework," he said quickly, hearing Katie suppress a snort behind her hands. He bumped her shoulder with his side and glared.

Quinn frowned slightly, but otherwise appeared unaffected. "Well, that's okay," she amended. "You can always make it up to me."

Finn laughed nervously. Katie coughed next to him suggestively, and he bit his lip to keep his returning comment appropriate. "Yeah, I guess so."

"Like, maybe the town picnic this Saturday?"

"Uh," Finn hesitated. He wished he were better with words; his rejections would come so much easier. Sadly, his brain wouldn't work fast enough, and Katie beat him to the punch.

"He would love to!" Katie announced, patting Finn's arms appraisingly. "Once he remembers how to form some words, he'll call you to set everything up!"

He couldn't believe it; his little cousin just set him up on a date. She peeked up at him with big, innocent blue eyes, and he shot her a hard glare, mouthing "you're dead" as she smiled.

"Sounds perfect," Quinn grinned, looking much happier about the prospect of a date than Finn did at the moment. She offered a big wave and then sped off, leaving Finn to openly gape behind. What just happened?

"You're welcome," Katie smirked, picking up pace again.

Finn took two big strides to catch up. "'You're welcome'?" he seethed. "Why did you do that? You know I don't want to date Quinn Fabray!"

"Why not?" Katie rebuked, scowling right back. "What's wrong with you anyway? She's pretty, she's popular, she's head cheerleader! And she obviously likes you. I don't see what the problem is!"

Frustrated, Finn rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand. He didn't like talking about this stuff with her, but when Katie wanted something, boy would she get it. "I don't know," he muttered, hoping he could get this out with as few words as possible. "I'm just not interested."

"But why?" Katie whined. "You know every boy at school wants to 'tap that'."

Finn stopped mid-stride, gaping dreadfully at this seven-year old like she'd just admitted to having boobs. True, but still – he didn't need to hear it! "Katie!" he gaped. "Where the he– Where did you hear that?"

"What?" she appeared untouched. "You know it's true. Plus, I listen to you and Noah talk about this stuff all the time. You're not the quietest people I know…"

Groaning, Finn made a mental note to not discuss anything PG-13 anywhere within twenty feet of Katie. Apparently this little twerp was an expert at eavesdropping too. "You still shouldn't repeat it. You're only seven years old." Finn warned, giving his best effort to sound authoritative.

"I'm seven and a half!" Katie argued, narrowing her eyes severely. "You still didn't answer my question."

Finn sighed, briefly considering how much she would whine if he bypassed the ice cream shop and just took her home. Probably a lot, he thought miserably. "I don't know, Kat. I guess she's just not my type. There aren't many girls in this town worth wasting my time on."

Katie seemed to be processing that information, her tiny face scrunched up in thought. Then finally, a tiny smile made its way to her lips and she looked up at him with big, glistening blue eyes. "Except for me, right Finn?"

Finn grinned. "Yeah, dork, except for you."

The rest of their walk was fairly typical – random conversation and bickering, always ending when Katie flashed her million-dollar grin and Finn caved in to whatever she wanted. Katie always called him a "big softie", and Finn guessed that couldn't be too bad…as long as she didn't say stuff like that in front of his friends.

The two made their way back from the ice cream shop, cones in hand and chocolate smeared all over their faces, occasionally talking about nothing at all. They were just stepping off the curb when the sound of tires screeching sounded right around the corner. Finn looked up to see a dark car come barreling toward them.

"Katie!" he called, reaching for her hand just before the black Benz zoomed past. "Watch out, you almost gave me a heart attack!" he scolded, hating that he sounded like his mother but, damn it, she almost got run over!

When he didn't hear some sarcastic response, he looked down to see Katie's awe-stricken face. She took a slight step forward, toward the quickly disappearing car, and quickly turned back to Finn with a glint in her eyes. "Did you see that car?" she marveled, checking once again for the vehicle. "That thing was gorgeous!"

Finn chuckled. "Yeah, must be nice, right? It's probably headed up to the Berry's place. Those people got more money than God," he laughed, hoping not to sound too bitter.

It was true – the Berry's were known to be snooty, stuck up jerks. He and Puck took care of Ruth Berry's landscaping about once a week, mainly because she paid them each eight bucks an hour, but from what Finn knew, the Berry's were better left untouched. The only one he liked was old Mr. Berry, but he was hardly around. If he had a pestering, high-maintenance wife like Ruth though, Finn was sure he wouldn't be around much either.

"Can you imagine ridin' in something like that, Finn?" Katie asked, bringing him out of his thoughts. She looked shell-shocked, and Finn had to admit it was kind of funny.

"Yeah," he started, ignoring her question entirely. "Maybe those American Idol people heard you singing in the car last week, and they've come to offer you a record deal. You know, I think that's how the Miley got her start…"

"Shut up!" Katie barked, laughing when she bumped Finn and his ice cream splattered on his shirt. "That's what you get for comparing me to that tone-deaf bimbo…"

Despite the huge chocolate stain now dribbling down his chest, Finn couldn't refrain from laughing like an idiot. When Katie started pounding her little fists into his leg though, he let up and smiled. "Alright, kid, I was just kidding. Geez, PMS much?"

Katie groaned. "Finn, how many times have I told you this? PMS is not something all girls are born with!" She huffed, like she'd told him this everyday of her modest existence. "I won't be gettin' it anytime soon, either. I'm seven, for Pete's sake!"

Finn grinned, licking some chocolate from his fingers. "Seven and a half," he smiled.

Katie rolled her eyes. "You're such a loser." But when she smiled back up at him, a happy chuckle bubbled from his lips.

Maybe so, he thought. But he didn't really mind.