A/N: This was started a year ago, after the first episode, so it's AU from there but doesn't differ all that much from standard pairings.
Belong to Me, Belong to You
Though the tickets weren't delivered to his mailbox, they ended up at his door all the same. And Finn Hudson knew what they were from the moment he saw them in Will Schuester's hand, looking eerily like the barrel of a gun. He wished he didn't.
"I've got two." Will told him very simply. The look on his face made it obvious that he wanted to say more, but was waiting for his former student, his friend, to reply.
Finn let out the breath he'd been holding and leaned against his doorjamb. Behind him the television blared out Saturday morning cartoons, the kind that had gotten progressively worse over the years, but still called for him to sit and watch with a bowl of cereal. A series of boinks, boings and the screech of tires filled the air between them as Finn thought of what to say back.
Finally, he asked, "What good would it do?"
"That's for you to decide," Will replied. Holding out one of the tickets, he added, "But we both know that you'll regret not seeing this for yourself."
His fingers hesitated just as the tips touched paper. "I don't even know if she wants me there."
"You don't know if she doesn't," Will countered. He placed the ticket in Finn's hand. "You've got three days."
Considering the promise and warning in the statement, Finn didn't say anything back until Will was nearly to the driveway. "Are you going to tell her I'm coming?"
"Do you want me to?"
"You probably should." Shrugging restlessly, Finn looked away. "Just in case she needs three days, too."
Will pressed his lips together and nodded. "I'll let her know."
Saying thanks with a wave of his free hand, Finn watched Will drive away before looking back to the ticket. It was hard to believe that a simple piece of paper was the pivot, what would bring Rachel Berry once more to front and center to his life. And though Finn hadn't seen her in seven years, he was already starting to worry that it was much too soon.
What a lot of people didn't get was that Finn had actually loved Quinn Fabray. He had. He hadn't been proud of hurting her, even if her actions hadn't given him much room to maneuver; still, it had killed him to see her crying in the school parking lot the morning after they broke up. Though a lot of their relationship had been a tug-of-war over emotions and power, she was the first girl he'd let in beside his mom. It was a juvenile love, but there had been a time where Quinn made his heart leap and stomach churn. So, yeah, he'd loved her.
In the end, it just turned out that he loved Rachel more.
It had been series of little things that led him to Rachel. There was a time where she didn't even make a blip on his radar and it was the same for her. Then Will - Mr. Schuester at the time - started New Directions and brought them all together, Rachel formed her crush and Finn began dodging it as best he could. They would laugh about it later, Rachel laying her head on Finn's chest and recounting how she used to record their practices under the pretense of studying choruses and whatnot, when really she just listened to their duets over and over and wrote terrible poetry.
She'd placed her hands over her blushing face, but Finn was so charmed, he'd peeled back her fingers and kissed her on the nose. Then he asked if he could read the poems and together they burned them all.
A little thing was when they actually sang together, the way Rachel's voice matched so well with his. Finn noticed that first. Then he noticed how blustery she got when Kurt would purposefully antagonize her during practice. Rachel was so intent on poise and perfection, it was when she was so imperfect and human that he paid attention.
Finn didn't realize any of those things at the time. He was getting to know everyone else all the while, forming friendships with Artie and Tina that would turn out to be lifelong, butting heads with Mercedes because that's how Mercedes decided if you were worth the effort, and trying to get the football team off Kurt's back because the kid was actually pretty cool. As long as he wasn't trying to make him buy some insanely ugly and expensive clothes, that is.
They formed their own private world, the glee club. From the beginning when it was only six of them, squeezing in practices around other commitments, Mr. Schuester begging local the local Kiwanis club and the like to let them perform as preparation for competitions. No matter how many people they would later add, there was always something a little more special between them, the original group. It shouldn't have surprised him to start feeling something special for someone who, much to his puzzlement, already thought so much of him in return.
Rachel never let him rest. Ever. And if he ever complained, she would only point out all the ways he wasn't reaching his potential. If he had any time to simply breathe, she was on him about getting ahead on his work so he could give any free time to glee, or running scales, or learning to read music. Even on the bus to one of those early, rare performances, she would make him wear one of her iPod ear buds, listening to their songs over and over, so each treble and crescendo was driven into his subconscious. And even when he finally proved that he was ready, she'd take the seat behind him, humming along to whatever was playing next.
She had amazingly perfect pitch, but the one time Finn complimented her, she'd tried to make him join in, shoving an ear bud at his face again. From then on, he'd just listened. Listened to the girl who gave every impression of being a Broadway snob hum away to Michael Jackson, Simon & Garfunkel and, on one very weird occasion, AC/DC (though he always figured that was more for him than anything else).
When he realized that every song that was on his play list was also on hers, and started to be able to match B's to B's and C's to C's when singing (and, incidentally, raise his grades from C's to B's), Finn began to see the parts of Rachel that she didn't show off. The little things, like how she accepted people from all walks of life; she didn't always like them, but she accepted them. It was so unlike Quinn, who's knee jerk reaction was to judge. Rachel cared about her looks, but took no issue with putting her hair in a sloppy ponytail when the choreography got tough and sweated it out just like the rest of them. She stayed late at practices, patiently helping Finn get his steps just right. Quinn would lose her temper far before doing any of that. Rachel faced daily ridicule with a defiant chin; Quinn was the one laughing at her.
It took him a long time to see that he was measuring them against one another. It shouldn't have taken so long for him to see who was coming out ahead.
"I don't know, man, are you sure you're ready?"
"Looks like I have to be," Finn replied lightly. He tried to support the cavalier attitude by taking a sip from his beer bottle before looking back at Artie. Smiling, he said, "How hard can it be?"
"If it were me seeing the girl I walked out on, so to speak," Artie said with a motion to his chair that would usually make Finn laugh, "a decade ago, yeah, I'd be nervous."
But Finn wasn't laughing. In fact, his stomach gripped painfully, making him regret the drink in his hand. After putting it down carefully, he replied, "Seven years isn't a decade. Stop rounding up, you always round up."
"Well, it's still a while." Artie moved his chair to the grill and took off the steaks he'd set to cook before Finn arrived. Finn made a show of wiping off his plate and then handing it over to get his portion. It was when they were both at the patio table about to dig in that Artie said anything else. "It's like you're returning to the scene of the crime. That was the last time you were in New York, wasn't it?"
Pausing for a moment, Finn chose to take a big bite before mumbling, "No."
Artie gave him a surprised look. "What?"
Finn made a show of chewing before he answered. After not saying a word for so long, it felt lousy to admit it now, but he'd already said too much. Swallowing, he confessed, "I was there a few years ago, after Julie and I broke up."
"When… Julie? Why am I barely hearing about this?"
"Because it was stupid," Finn shot back, suddenly angry, more at himself than anything else. "It was the night she dumped me and, I don't know, I just got in my car and started driving. Somehow I ended up on 80 and was halfway there before knowing where I was headed."
"Wow." Artie shook his head. "I didn't know you and Julie were that serious."
"We weren't," Finn replied. "We just had a huge argument that night, and some of the stuff she said made me think that there were some things I had to take care of. Rachel-wise, obviously."
"So did you see her?"
"No. By the time I got the guts to check at the old apartment, it turned out she didn't live there anymore. And I had my head back together enough that I didn't call her parents to find out where she was. I just got in the car and came back home."
"Yeah, pretty much."
Artie stayed still, fork and knife grasped in his hands as he stared at Finn. On his part, Finn studied his plate closely, cutting precise pieces of steak and swirling them around in some sauce, trying his best not to look up.
"What do you think you would have said?"
"Would you have apologized? Yelled at her? What?"
He shrugged again.
"I don't know!" Finn burst out. His utensils dropped with a clatter on the plate. "I haven't known for years, so it's a good thing I didn't see her because I probably would have blown the whole thing to hell. Just leave it, okay?"
"All right, all right," Artie said reasonably. His expression remained perfectly placid, the way it always did. He was one of the most level-headed people Finn knew and the fact only embarrassed him further as he considered his outburst.
Finn dropped his head into one of his hands. "Seven years and she still makes me absolutely insane."
Artie took time to reply, and the silence was filled with the sounds of sipped beers and clinking silverware.
"I remember you were pretty wrecked when you came home that first time. I didn't think you were still there, Finn."
"I wasn't. I haven't been," Finn said, though he wasn't certain of it. He was remembering those early days a lot more easily now, unearthing all of the things he thought he'd buried for good. There had always been the assumption, at least, that he'd appeared all together to his friends, but the look on Artie's face was telling him different. "Was I wrecked?"
"Oh, yeah," Artie said with a nod. "It was a while before you started acting like you again. And it was like you were trying to figure out who you were on your own. I mean, we expected you guys to come back engaged, not split up"
Finn cringed. A sharp ache had hit him in the middle of his chest. He'd thought so, too.
It didn't matter that he played on the football field on a weekly basis, or that they'd practiced so much that he knew their routine backwards and forwards, up and down. Shortly before the school assembly that would officially introduce New Directions to all of their classmates, Finn got violently sick.
Stumbling out of the bathroom, he found Rachel waiting in the hall outside, a single eyebrow cocked and arms across her chest. Finn felt another sweep of embarrassment and mumbled his apologies, but she only huffed at him, grabbed his elbow and led him to the stage.
Rachel didn't waste time with nerves before a show. Another time, she would explain that she saved all of her uncertainty and fear for everyday life, but the stage? That was her home, that was her sanctuary and it was the one place she didn't let anyone abuse her. He wished he could be that self-possessed. Instead, Finn was shuffled off to the side as she ran through last minute directions behind the curtain, moving an exasperated Mercedes a few inches to the left, Tina a little back to match Kurt. Rachel was brisk, straightforward and didn't put up with nonsense when it came to performances; no one argued back. Finn could only force oxygen into his lungs and take his place next to her.
All the same, in that last moment, just as the curtain rose, he felt her hand reach out to him. Her cool fingers wrapped around only his thumb in a soft squeeze, a gentle reassurance, a little I'm here. Then it was gone and then they sang.
The first true wave of apprehension hit when Quinn decided to join the glee club after that performance. He should have questioned it, but instead Finn fixed a smile on his face and told her how great it was, not quite able to get the false note of his voice. She didn't notice and he was glad for it, then.
She brought with her Santana, one of her fellow Cheerios and someone who helped round out their sound pretty well. They brought the group that much closer to competing status and he could tell that Rachel was caught between discomfort and gratefulness. Still, he saw how she looked at the two girls, when no one else was paying attention. Finn wasn't the most emotionally intuitive guy, but he caught the hurt and frustration on her expression when Quinn said something subtly cutting or Santana helped rearrange the choreography so Rachel constantly was pushed to the outside. It led to some pretty remarkable arguments, but Mr. Schuester tried hard to diffuse the tension so it didn't get that far most of the time.
Finn tried putting Quinn off, but at that point, he was more interested in keeping the peace than anything else. A few times of Quinn laughing away his requests and distracting him in other ways, and he left it alone.
There were other ways he could help Rachel, though. When Santana tried rearranging, he put in his ideas and used Tina and Artie as backup. He stayed closer to Rachel during practice because he figured out that Quinn didn't say as much if she thought he would overhear. When Rachel posted a MySpace video, he made sure to put one of the first comments to set the tone.
It led to a friendship, as much as it could be when one person had confessed to stronger feelings than the other. Rachel knew he was sticking it through with Quinn and he did her the favor of overlooking the times she slipped up. They both knew it wouldn't work for the long-term, but it at least looked peaceful on the surface.
As the time for Regionals grew closer, so did the excitement grow among them, the more smiles they exchanged; he hugged her during their last practice, quickly turning her in a circle and letting go before Quinn could see. After, he could still feel where her cheek had burned against his ear, the way her palms had briefly gripped his shoulder blades. Kurt's giddy yells at the end of a near pitch-perfect rehearsal distracted everyone else from catching Rachel's startled expression and Finn's red face. He ended up playing it off as excitement over the competition and it was easy to blame that. New Directions didn't have the flash or costumes of other teams in the state, but there was plenty of passion in the team and it showed when they worked together. No one could have named it as such at the time, but they rode the high.
Coach Sylvester tried to bring them down, of course. It was her way, constantly demanding that she needed her Cheerios for practice when the glee club was already meeting, mocking Mr. Schuester and making comments to the students that she tried to pass as jokes, though they all knew better. It didn't help that there was already a cheerleading competition scheduled the same day as Regionals, but Mr. Schuester and Emma Pillsbury had bent over backwards to work it out. It would require some quick changes in a speeding car (Miss Pillsbury was not happy about that), but if all went according to plan, they'd be just fine.
Things did not go according to plan.
Quinn came eventually, Finn had to give her credit for that. But only that. As the minutes ticked down and neither she nor Santana showed, the suspicion had spread between them without anyone having to say a word. Miss Pillsbury stood off to one side, trying to give quiet encouragement to Mr. Schuester, who just looked devastated for all of them.
Less than ten minutes before they were supposed to take position, Quinn rushed in through the side doors, her costume half glee, half Cheerio. She gave a rushed explanation, nearly in tears, of the way they'd only been trying to please their coach, who in turn had promised them a better chance of captainship during their senior years. Santana had grabbed for the brass ring, but in a late moment of redemption, Quinn had gotten in the car anyway.
She looked at Finn, waiting for him to say something, anything. He couldn't.
Though they'd prepared themselves for the reality of the situation, hearing about the semester-long subterfuge straight from Quinn was a huge blow. They didn't know then that Coach Sylvester would get suspended for her manipulations and lose major privileges for the Cheerios, or that Santana would get kicked off the squad by Principal Figgins, or that Quinn would quit on her own and devote herself to New Directions. All they knew in that moment was that they were defeated before they'd even started.
Rachel was the one who finally spoke, her voice dull. It was incomprehensible to her that they would even attempt to perform without a full team. In that dead voice that made Finn hurt to hear, she counted all the things that would be wrong, their choreography, their harmony, the instant disqualification for even taking position on the stage with an incomplete group.
Maybe it was because he couldn't bear to listen to her sound that way, but Finn immediately rejected everything Rachel had said. Using his best quarterback voice, he urged them, pleaded with them, really, to go anyway. Who cared if they were missing someone? They were better off. So what if they didn't have a chance at winning? It mattered more that they at least tried instead of giving up first thing. Those were the things he believed in.
He'd stopped in front of Rachel and, for a moment, held her shoulders and said just one thing: Please. Slowly, she had nodded and led them out. And shortly before the music started, because he needed her to know, Finn touched the back of Rachel's hand with his own, lingered until they hit the first note.
But even that couldn't make everything right and on the bus ride home all he heard behind him were quiet, muffled sobs.
Tina called him up the afternoon after he'd had dinner with Artie and talked him into shooting some skeet on her parent's land. It didn't take much convincing, mainly as Finn knew from experience that it would ease all the tension that had been building within him. So when his afternoon appointment was done, he headed over and found Tina ready with the rifles.
They'd blown several clay discs to smithereens and Finn was starting to feel mildly better when Tina asked, "She know you're going?"
Finn cocked the gun first, shot into the air and grimaced as he missed completely. "Probably does by now, Will said he was going to tell her."
"Hmm," Tina motioned with her head for him to pull the lever and she followed the skeet for what seemed a long while before shooting and smiling at the shattering noise. There were a pair of yellow-tinted glasses on her face, her hair cropped short around her ears; she had a plain short-sleeved shirt, but huge, baggy camo pants. The gun on her hip completed the picture and Finn had to laugh at her. "What?"
"You're such a dude," Finn said with a chuckle.
"Could prove you're wrong," Tina said with a flirtatious smile. This, of course, was a joke between them. Only once had Finn ever kissed her, about two months after he'd left Rachel in New York; he'd been drunk off his ass after a night out with her and Artie when he figured if he was going to move on, it might as well be with someone he already cared about, and it wasn't going to be Artie. Tina had responded by socking him in the stomach and that was that.
"Yeah, and have Artie run me over in his car? I don't think so." Finn began reloading and tried turning the tables on her. "When are you going to give that guy a break already?"
"Oh, no you don't," Tina said with a laugh. "This isn't about me or Artie or anyone else. If we're getting girly, it's all about you."
"I'm not the girl here," Finn replied.
"You know what I mean." Tina set down her gun and leaned her hands against the rail in front of them, looked at him over her shoulder. "I talked to her a few months ago."
Finn nearly dropped the cartridge box still in his hands. Gripping his fingers around it, he tightly asked, "And?"
"She was good, I think. Busy."
"Makes sense, if she was already rehearsing." No matter how much he tried, he couldn't get the note of bitterness out of his voice. "You know Rachel and Broadway."
"I knew Rachel and you first."
Finn gave her a stern look he normally reserved for his students, but Tina stared back undaunted. When he finally looked down, Tina asked, "Want to know why I really keep putting Artie off?"
Interested in her sudden reversal, Finn glanced back in question.
"Because we watched you guys crash and burn and couldn't do anything to help you." Tina took a deep breath and held up a hand when Finn moved to speak. "You two were good in high school and a little after, but when it came to growing up, it didn't work. It made me think that we've all needed some time and space to… change if we needed to."
"I didn't change," Finn said tersely.
"You didn't want to change."
Finn reeled a little. He opened his mouth to say something back, but couldn't find the words.
"You're a good guy, Finn. You go with the flow and that worked for you and Rachel. She made the decisions and you were okay with that, and that's all right. But it was the growing up that did it, when you didn't know what to do with those big life choices."
"She made a choice. Damn it, Tina, she chose herself."
"So did you, Finn."
The day after the heartbreak at Regionals, Finn found himself at Rachel's front door. It was a cool, cloudy Sunday afternoon and when she came out, they moved in tandem to sit on the porch steps. He gave her the songbook she'd left behind in the bus, what he'd used as an excuse to come over.
They sat quietly for a long time. He wanted to ask her why she wouldn't answer the phone the night before, or what she thought would happen at school the next day, anything to get her to speak. A silent Rachel just didn't fit with his understanding of the world and it was barely a comfort that she stayed outside with him.
At one point, he watched as his right hand crept over and entwined with her left. Rachel startled next to him, but didn't pull away. In fact, she leaned in closer, dropping her head on his shoulder. In a soft voice, he promised her that they would get there again and when they won, they'd tell all their enemies to collectively shove it. He felt her smile against his bicep and in that very second Finn knew that if he didn't kiss Rachel Berry, he would regret it for the rest of his life.
Instead of giving into the strongest temptation he'd encountered in his young life, Finn reluctantly pulled away. He hated to leave her sitting on the steps, but if they were going to start something, he needed to start it the right way. So he got back into his car after swearing he'd be right back and even though Rachel hadn't said a thing, she knew exactly what he meant.
Minutes later, he stood at Quinn's door. The dark humor struck him in the seconds before she appeared, that though he'd tried contacting Rachel over and over the night before, he'd purposefully missed all of Quinn's calls. That was probably what had prepared her because Quinn answered with steadied shoulders and a knowing look in her eye.
It was quick and clean. It didn't matter that she'd come back, it didn't matter that she felt true remorse. Finn couldn't be with someone who would work for months to undermine people who depended on her. Finn couldn't be with someone who was so needlessly cruel to those she didn't understand. Finn just couldn't be with someone who wasn't Rachel.
Dusk had settled when he turned back into Rachel's drive. In the dim light, he saw the empty porch and his heart sank. But he got out of the car anyway and as he did, the front door opened and there she was, her figure outlined by the light behind her.
Their first kiss came as close to perfection as Finn could ever imagine. It helped that she stayed on one of the steps as he approached, so he didn't have to bend down so far. But mainly, it was perfect because he knew right there and then that this was the kind of love that could last a lifetime.
It was supposed to, at least.
Standing in the junk food aisle of the grocery store, Finn was in deep contemplation of pizza-flavored Pringles versus original when his arm was suddenly nudged. He had a moment of surprise before he decided that it figured he'd run into Rachel's parents before he left. It was like a law of the universe at this point.
"Stuart, hey," Finn shook hands with the older man and looked over his shoulder. "Where's Andrew?"
"At home, of course. We run out of milk, but does he go for a grocery run?" Stuart rolled his eyes. "No, he waits until I'm in the mood for some fettuccine alfredo to let me know."
Finn gave him a crooked smile. "I usually just buy the jar kind."
"Oh, goodness, that terrible stuff? Finn, how do you keep yourself fed well if you only buy trash?" Stuart grabbed the Pringles out of hands and studied it before making a face. "See? Terrible nutritional value."
"Just car snacks," Finn said, prying the canister out of the other man's hand and tossing it into the basket at his feet. "Long trip tomorrow."
A light of understanding came to Stuart's eyes. "So I heard."
"From who?" Finn asked before he could stop himself.
"A couple of places," Stuart replied noncommittally.
Finn nodded. It'd taken a long time to face Stuart and Andrew after he'd come home that first time; he'd dragged his feet over returning the things Rachel had left around his mom's place in Lima. When he had, though, Rachel's parents had made it perfectly clear that they weren't angry with him, though they never passed information on to him regarding her. After a while, Finn figured they were waiting for him to make the call himself and, when he never did, they simply continued to toe the same line.
To hell with the line, Finn suddenly thought fiercely. Looking Stuart straight in the eye, he asked, "Do you think it's a bad idea?"
Stuart made a study of the junk food in front of them and picked out a couple of things, a high-end pack of cookies and Finn's preferred licorice, dropping them into the basket before saying anything back. "I believe," he said slowly, "that a discussion is past due."
"What kind of discussion?"
"The kind that clears the air, of course." Stuart studied the contents of the basket and plucked out the original flavored Pringles and replaced them with nacho cheese. Rachel's favorite kind, Finn thought fleetingly.
"Andrew and I have always believed that if you two just talked things out, maybe it would have turned out differently. Though perhaps it went exactly the way it was supposed to."
"I don't think we were supposed to hurt each other the way we did," Finn said shortly.
"That's not what I meant." Stuart looked at him straight on now. "I meant that Rachel got everything she wanted out of life. Well, nearly. And you. You've done great things, Finn. You're a wonderful teacher, a confident, well-adjusted young man."
"Well, nearly," Finn muttered.
"A big difference from when we first met. Remember?" Stuart smiled fondly. "I caught you kissing my daughter on the front steps. I thought you were going to faint when you finally saw me behind her."
With an embarrassed laugh, Finn remembered it clearly. "It was an intense weekend. Meeting the parents was just a little too much right then."
"You came around." Stuart patted his shoulder. "We were glad you did. Andrew and I have always felt that way."
The back of his eyes suddenly stung. God, a trip to the grocery store should have been safe. Swallowing hard, Finn asked, "Just tell me, how is it? The show, I mean."
"She's beautiful out there," Stuart replied with a note of awe in his voice that spoke of fatherly affection, but also plain truth. "Absolutely captivating."
"Yeah, that makes sense," Finn ducked his head, "I'll see her, Stuart, I'll talk to her, I promise."
"Finn, I always knew you would."
That was funny; Finn hadn't. Which went to show, he thought to himself, that maybe there were a lot of things he didn't know after all.
New Directions annihilated the competition at the Ohio State meet during their junior year, and they placed third in the nation. Their senior year, Finn dipped Rachel on stage and kissed her enthusiastically when they claimed first prize. Around them everyone cheered, jumped, flipped, but for him it was only her. For Rachel, it was only him.
That was the way they were, for so long that there was no question when Rachel received her letter of congratulations from Juilliard, that Finn would be going to college in New York, too. Despite Rachel's urgings, he didn't bother applying to Juilliard or taking up a small offer from NYU; even if she had lofty ideas of what he could do, Finn was a little more realistic. He didn't dream of singing and dancing for the rest of his life and knew that there were many who did it better than him and had the life-long passion to match. Instead he sent his first tuition payment to the City University of New York and felt just fine doing it. Finn decided that he could take a couple of years to figure out which direction his life was going to take; for him, as long as he was there with the girl he loved, he knew he'd be happy.
They bore through the first year, when Rachel was required to live on campus, by visiting often and setting time aside just for themselves. And when that year was done, they moved onto the next step as it was perfectly obvious that they should.
Rachel's dads and his mom didn't have many illusions concerning their relationship; when it came down to the New York apartment that Rachel's family had been saving for since she was two, it was given that Finn would move in, as well. The parents grudgingly accepted it, but Finn's mom made him promise to be responsible, which at first made him sputter in response until she explained that she expected him to help pay bills. And take care of the other stuff, too.
So Finn got a job, a really crappy one as a waiter where the tips sucked and he was constantly asked to admit if he was either a struggling musician, actor or dancer. No one believed him when he said he was just a student, but Finn blew it off pretty easily. And at the end of the day, he was able to go home to a young man's heaven, to a beautiful girlfriend, no parents, and as much privacy as they wanted if they didn't count the constant traffic outside. He would lay at the foot of the bed and tickle Rachel's feet, trying to distract her as she scoured the newspaper and looked for open auditions for the both of them. Finn had told her not to bother for him, but every once in a while he'd find a sheet of lined tablet paper on his pillow filled with addresses, phone numbers and possible parts. He went to several of them, mostly for her, and wasn't insulted when he didn't get called back.
On their free nights, and those were few and far between as the second school year kicked into high gear, they would go out and walk down Broadway, where Rachel would stare at the posters, taking in every inch, every splash color, until Finn had to physically drag her away. They'd go to dinner, where Rachel would talk about her classes, professors, auditions, training… all to the point where Finn would roll his eyes, jokingly get down on his knee and beg her to change the subject.
For two kids from Lima, Ohio, learning to navigate the city in yellow taxis (Rachel's pick) and grimy subways (Finn's wallet's pick), taking in cheap shows, discovering great food in hole-in-the-wall restaurants and wandering Central Park, it was perfect. It was exciting. They were happy. Until they weren't.
Standing in Will's driveway with an overnight bag in one hand and grocery bag in the other, Finn waited as his friend kissed his wife goodbye. Will took his time, placing his hands on her swollen belly and talking to it as if the kid inside were totally into a conversation; Finn gave them all an awkward wave when they looked over. He was anxious to get on the road, but probably just as eager to stay.
"Promise you'll be careful?" Emma asked Will when he finally turned his face back to hers.
"No speeding? No public rest stops? If it starts raining, you'll pull over until it's finished?"
"Absolutely." Will held his hand to her cheek and kissed her again. He said something under his breath that only Emma could hear and she gave Finn a quick look before nodding. "I'll call when we're halfway."
Emma grasped her fingers together, as if she physically needed to bind herself so Will could unlock the doors. Finn had already thrown his stuff inside and was clicking his seatbelt in when Will finally got behind the wheel. Putting the car into reverse, Will said, "Sorry we made you wait. It's hard for Emma, and for me. She wishes she could be coming, too."
But if she had, Finn wouldn't have a ticket; after all, it hadn't been meant for him in the first place. "How much longer does she have?"
"Just under a month. We went to the doctor's this morning to make sure everything was okay. He said it was safe enough for me to go out of town at least a couple of days. Her, too." Will put on his sunglasses to counteract the sun streaming in the windshield. "But you know Emma, one internet article on the likelihood of deep vein thrombosis in pregnant women sitting for a long time and she's passing on her ticket to you."
"What's deep vein thrombosis?"
They grinned at each other.
Will reached over and turned on the air conditioner. Within seconds, the sticky feeling the summer heat had left on him started to disappear and Finn eased back in his seat. He closed his eyes, waiting for the onslaught, just as the last few days had warned him was coming. Instead, Will just turned on the radio and started tapping along to the beat on the steering wheel.
Finn opened one eye and peeked over at his friend. Will continued to merely keep his gaze out the window, making the appropriate turns and yields that would lead them to the highway. At a red light, however, he glanced back and caught Finn staring at him in wonder. "What?"
"Nothing, I just…" Finn tried shrugging away the question. "Never mind."
"Last couple of days rough on you?"
Finn threw his head back. "You have no idea."
"I figured that might happen."
"You could have warned me."
"I did warn you."
"Yeah, in that ridiculously subtle way that you know goes over my head half the time."
"Finn, you've graduated from a top Ohio university and you teach for a living. You can't play the Dumb Jock card anymore."
"Yeah, I know."
Both men sighed, Will out of amusement and Finn with the uneasy recognition that maybe change was always going to happen, whether he liked it or not.
Finn couldn't pinpoint the moment where things started to go wrong; he'd been so content in their life together that maybe, he would admit later, just maybe he'd purposefully turned a blind eye to Rachel's growing uneasiness. Maybe he wouldn't have jumped to the conclusion that it was only something wrong between them, but instead realized that it was an unforeseen challenge that was starting to tear her down. She was Rachel Berry, after all, he'd been certain for years that she was indestructible.
But that's when Blaise Beck showed up.
Stupidest name he'd ever heard, Finn had thought, at least until he knew the guy well enough to hate him simply for existing.
A lot of people, once they heard of Blaise, nodded understandingly, very Oh, dear, she was tempted away, I see… until Finn made it clear that Blaise was so effeminate, he made Kurt Hummel look butch. Years later, it would still make him seethe with anger that so many people automatically assumed Rachel had been unfaithful. It wasn't like that. If it had been, Finn hoped he would have stepped in sooner. Stepped in at all.
Rachel mentioned Blaise a couple times over the years with admiration in her voice, talking about a graduating upperclassman at Juilliard who'd trained on Broadway as a child; she was cutely jealous and star struck, particularly when at an end-of-term party, Blaise had approached her and praised her performance in a workshop. Finn had been happy for her, even though he was slightly skeptical of the guy in front of him, dressed head to toe in black with a bright red scarf and itty-bitty wire-rimmed glasses. It was almost summer, for heaven's sake. He amused himself with the thought that Kurt would have peed himself with envy.
The first big sign of change was Rachel's decision not to visit Lima that summer before junior year, instead working with Blaise on an independent production he was setting up in Central Park. Finn had been disappointed and more than a little confused when he paged through the script while she double-checked his suitcase. Usually Rachel's scripts were highlighted to the extreme with her parts; often she was a supporting character, or understudy to the lead.
Not one part of the script in his hands had been highlighted though. He'd looked twice.
It wasn't until he'd gotten back to Lima that he could call and ask what the unmarked script had meant; Rachel breezed over his questions and somewhere along the way he pieced together than Rachel wasn't in the show at all, but rather working as a stagehand. When he returned to New York after a two week visit at home, he hardly saw her for three days straight, she was so busy running Blaise's last minute errands. From the way she described everything, Rachel made her part seem vital, but Finn's first inklings of discomfort began to form when everything she talked about made her seem less vital and more ruled over by a man with a ridiculous name and worse wardrobe.
Their junior year started and somehow Blaise started to work into their daily lives. He brought around his own friends, some douchey artsy types that put their heads close together whenever Finn walked in the door, murmuring as if to show that he wasn't worthy to hear their conversation, even though they were in his own damn apartment.
Rachel beamed when Blaise called her Darling and just brought everyone drinks.
For weeks Finn tamped down on his own growing dread, especially when he asked Rachel just why Blaise was so important and she started in at top speed at all the connections he still had on Broadway, the people he'd promised to introduce her to upon graduation, the parts he was already dreaming up for her. The idea didn't seem as exciting as it would have been only the previous spring.
Rachel started practicing all the time, running scales over and over to technical perfection, but somehow to Finn's ears missing something important. She started to go for even more auditions, so many that their bedside table was often littered with discarded newspaper ads. Two months went by and no tablet paper showed up on his pillow; Finn surprised himself by feeling alarm instead of relief. Maybe it was Rachel's growing fervor as she checked her voicemail and slumped dejectedly at the results. Maybe it was the way Blaise and his pseudo-wise advice popped into their daily conversation, or the way Rachel had been taken aback when Finn hesitantly asked if Blaise needed to come around so often. The fight that followed would have made someone think that he'd denied her fathers a visit, let alone some douche bag that had somehow managed to make Finn's girlfriend into his personal lackey.
Honestly, Finn had never been more worried than the moment Rachel broke three days worth of a grade-A silent treatment by bursting into tears upon hearing her voicemail and happily announcing that Blaise had secured her the lead in his next project.
Finn never told her that the news sent him straight to the bathroom so he could throw up. He wished he had. Because that girl in the next room, clinging to the phone, ecstatically and desperately calling friends he didn't know, that wasn't his Rachel. Finn didn't know where she'd gone at all.
Things got worse, so much that he didn't know what to do. All Finn wanted was for things to go back the way they used to be, when Rachel was actually present with him in bed, in his life. So many times he'd wanted to turn to her, to remind her that she'd never needed someone else's validation, that she'd always been an incredible person, that he'd always known that she would succeed, even if they both had to pay their dues first.
He never said a word. Pride kept him back, as did his growing certainty that things between them were falling apart even as so many of her dreams appeared to be coming true. A deep fear formed, growing more certain with time that if Rachel was forced to decide, he may not be her first choice anymore.
Finally, it broke.
In mid-November, three weeks before the opening of the show, Finn decided to visit during rehearsals and had brought food from work as a peace-offering. It'd been two days since he and Rachel had spent any time together, if passing by in the bathroom could be counted. Naiveté couldn't be indulged anymore; he knew it wasn't Rachel's schedule that kept her busy, but instead a chasm had formed between them that he had no idea how to cross.
Finn heard the yelling before opening the door and knew instinctively that it was Blaise; he seemed the type to be a jerk when directing and Finn had taken deep breath before entering so as to not show his anger. It wouldn't help any to show anymore disapproval if he wanted to start patching things up.
But it didn't help at all either to see Rachel on stage, her head bowed to Blaise's tirade, nodding with short, jerky movements. His heart had clenched as he realized she was crying. Crying. Rachel, on the stage, her stage, was being shut down as if she were nothing. Finn had thought before then that she had started to seem a stranger, but in that moment he knew he had to do something about it.
Blaise didn't see him coming; it was a quick grab, turn, and then Finn's fist was in the air and Blaise had gone down with a squeal. And when Rachel went first to the man on the ground, Finn knew it was over.
It was over even before the apocalyptic fight they had that night in the apartment, before he stayed the last few weeks of the semester with some friends from school and they called it 'space', before they traveled separately home for the holidays.
Finn went back to New York two days before Rachel did, packed up his things and was back in Ohio before she'd returned to the city.
He never called and neither did she.
"Finn?" The knock on the door was gentle, polite. He could only respond with a moan as he dropped his face on the toilet seat. Will took that as an invitation and eased open the bathroom door. He was holding both their suits and hung them in a closet provided by the hotel before coming nearer.
"Apparently," Finn said faintly as he reached up and flushed, "I have a nervous stomach."
Will folded his legs underneath himself and sat down with his back to the doorjamb. Finn closed his eyes rather than look at his long-time friend, hoping maybe he wouldn't feel quite so embarrassed. All the same, Will wasn't one to kick people when they were already down; it was one of the reasons he was the first to know what had happened in New York.
"I don't think I ever thanked you," Finn said from his crouched position. "For everything, getting things together so I could finish school, pulling strings, getting me off my ass…"
"You thanked me plenty of times."
"I was a mess, Will. I know it, you know it, and apparently so does everyone else." Finn thought back to the spring semester where he should have been finishing his junior year, but had instead secluded himself in Lima. To this day, he had no idea how many people Will had talked to in order to get him an interview for the Cleveland Institute of Music, but it had been the one thing that made him finally emerge after months of self-pity. "You got me into school, yeah, but you got me to actually work at being a part of my own life again. There's no way I can ever thank you enough for that."
"Well, how else am I supposed to get students interested in joining the glee club when they get to freshman year? I think I did myself a favor by getting someone to influence them during middle school," Will replied with a chuckle. When Finn opened his eyes and gave him a serious look, Will's laugh faded.
"Come on, Finn, what else could I do?" he asked with a sigh. "I saw my friend fading, I couldn't just let that happen without trying to help."
Finn squinted at him. "You're doing that teaching thing again. Why do I feel I'm supposed to be applying this to Rachel and me?"
"Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to make a point on who was wrong or right," Will said, holding up a hand. It made him feel like he was back in high school, where Will often had laid out the crumbs and Finn was left to find out his own answers based on the hints in front of him. Eleven years from then to now and it was just like old times. "But I have a feeling you'll give me a different answer these days as to why everything went wrong. So… why did it?"
Seven years before he'd placed the blame solely on Blaise, on the way he'd seduced Rachel with the idea of stardom, convinced her that only his opinion was important. Finn thought back on the accusations he'd made and wanted to shake some sense into his younger self.
"It was both our faults," he finally said slowly. It wasn't a new revelation, but still hurt to admit. "Rachel wanted things to be as she'd always dreamed and I… I just wanted things to stay exactly how they were because it was my dream."
Will nodded thoughtfully.
"And my dream hasn't changed, not really." Finn sat up and slumped back against the cold tub. "I never got over Rachel. I'm still not over her."
He waited for Will's response and was annoyed when he looked over and saw the unsurprised expression on his friend's face. "You could at least be a little shocked by that."
"I would be, if you didn't flinch every time her name came up or if you ever dated a girl for more than a few months at a time." Will gave him a wry grin that said no offense and Finn figured he couldn't be that annoyed by the plain truth.
"Do you think," Finn paused and cleared his throat, "do you think she's over me?"
With sympathetic eyes, Will said, "I honestly don't know. I was never as close to Rachel as I am to you. Nobody-"
Stopping short, Will seemed unable to find the words, but Finn knew what he was looking for. "Nobody but me. No one knew Rachel like I did and I left. I just left." A hard lump formed in his throat. "I abandoned her, Will."
"Don't paint it like that, you're not giving either of you any credit. You were causing each other more harm than good at that point. Yes, you left, but Rachel was always a strong person and it wouldn't have done her any favors for you to fix everything for her, to force her to see the path she'd let herself be guided into." Will shook his head when Finn nodded numbly. "No, listen to me, Finn. This thing with Rachel, her focus on being a star, wanting to be universally loved, personally, I think something like this was bound to happen. Until she learned to be more discerning, Rachel was always going to be an easy mark for predators like Blaise."
"Blaise Beck, what a stupid name," Finn muttered.
Finn sighed. "I know, sorry."
"Perhaps you could have responded differently, but Finn, you were both kids. I know at that age, people don't want to hear that, but you were. You'd been together since you were sixteen, where success came in big ways with trophies and you had a strong community around you, where I was just down the hall instead of in another state and Rachel had her fathers close by to keep her grounded. It's not weak to admit that you both made mistakes; it would be weak to not learn from what you experienced. You both did the best you could and it's not shameful that you both may have failed in your first attempt. Most everyone does."
Wiping at his eyes, Finn took a few minutes before he could respond. He wished he'd realized these things seven years before, learned the lessons without losing his idealism, or Rachel for that matter. He missed her in that moment as he had the day he returned to Lima with packed boxes and a broken heart. And he still loved her just as desperately.
"I think it'll kill me," he said hoarsely, "if it turns out she got over all of this years ago. If she's barely thought of me since then."
"And that may be the most ridiculous thing I've heard you say in a very long time, Finn Hudson."
Stuart had looked on as a father and found his daughter captivating. Finn saw with the eyes of a man who had loved and lost Rachel Berry and when he looked at the figure on the stage, he felt pure joy. Joy to see her again, to see her succeed, to share her gift with the world. He realized, while watching her, why Will had called him ridiculous.
His friend hadn't been trying to tell him that Rachel had still thought of him, but instead that if what they'd once had was truly over, Finn was still going to be okay. He had strong friendships and a talent as a teacher, patiently guiding students to learn scales, read music and navigate performances as someone had once taught him. And when he looked at Rachel on the stage, he saw it was hers again, no one was beating her down with words or false power.
He was Finn and she was Rachel. They each belonged to themselves again.
There, sitting in a crowded room, surrounded on all sides, Finn felt like he was taking his first full breath in years.
"You don't think it's too much?"
"Nah, she'll love it," Will said reassuringly, indicating the full bouquet of deep red roses Finn had run down the street to buy right after the show was over. It'd cost him an arm and a leg, but somehow he felt like he needed something to hold when they met with up with Rachel, maybe to keep himself from reaching out for her. Just because he finally felt like himself again didn't mean that impulse was gone.
The crowd was slowly dispersing and they'd taken up a small space several feet from the back exit, where Rachel had apparently told Will where she'd most likely be found. It'd been almost an hour, the most torturous he could ever remember. Finn jiggled each of his feet in turn. "I'm nervous."
"I'd tell you that you have no reason to be, but I'd be lying."
"I guess my only hope is that she's nervous, too."
Finn turned on the spot at the familiar voice, what had stayed with him for years on end. Rachel stood before him, her face scrubbed clean, a little older and with a calm gleam in her eyes. Different, but still so much the same.
"I was, but now," it wasn't a gleam, there were actually tears in Rachel's eyes and they welled up further, "now I'm just really, really happy. Hi, Finn."
Without a word, Finn passed the roses back to Will and reached out for her anyway. Her hair brushed his cheek where they pressed together and her arms looped around his neck. His arms found their way to her waist and for several seconds they just held each other closely. Finn shut his eyes tight, trying to memorize every inch of that moment.
They slowly eased apart, but Finn softly touched his hands to her face.
"Me too," Finn murmured. "I'm really happy to see you."
Rachel put her hands over his before he could let go, but then shook her head slightly as if to clear it and brushed away the tears that had fallen. Looking over at Will, she asked, "Are those for me?"
"Nice to see you too, Rachel," Will said dryly from behind the flowers.
"Oh, come here," Rachel took the flowers and passed them to Finn to hold as she gave Will a tight hug. "I'm so glad you made it."
"You were phenomenal," Will told her earnestly. "I cannot tell you how proud I was to see you up there."
"Thank you. You have no idea how much that means to me." Rachel beamed at Will, but then turned her eyes to the roses and breathed them in deeply as Finn still held them. Raising her gaze to his, she quietly said, "Thank you."
"Here." Finn passed them to her arms and felt his chest constrict when their hands brushed against each other. So many years and she still did that to him. He wondered if she always would.
"Now if you'll excuse me," Will's voice startled them both, "I promised I'd call my wife as soon as we saw you, so here."
He passed the phone to Rachel and when the call connected, she moved a few steps away. Will moved in closer and gave Finn a searching look. In response, Finn gave him a sure nod and took a few deep, even breaths. After about five minutes of chatting, Rachel passed the phone back to Will; she stood in silence with Finn as the conversation ended. They stood side-by-side, hands in their pockets until Will turned back.
"Come on, let's go get a bite to eat."
Rachel guided them to a diner Finn had remembered from long before; it held a lot of good memories and he smiled at her as they slid into a booth. It was easier with Will there, talking about students and glee club, where their old classmates were and what they were up to. Finn filled Rachel in on Artie and Tina's long-time dance around one another, how he'd already secured the best man position though it had to be at least five years away.
She told them about her grueling rehearsals and the friends she spent time with during her few breaks; a couple names sounded familiar, but Finn allowed himself a little pleasure when Blaise nor his friends weren't mentioned.
They tried to linger, but Will started to yawn and go on about old man's bones, never mind only being in his early forties. Finn and Will fought over the bill and then burst out in mock outrage when Rachel told them it had already been put on her tab, as she came in to the diner after every show. True to point, their waitress brought her a small shake as they exited the booth; Finn took her up on the offer for one while Will declined.
Which is how they found themselves outside the hotel, Will saying good night to the both, not even bothering with subtlety when he handed Finn the extra key card. "Just be quiet when you come in, all right?"
Finn clasped his friend in a quick hug and said, "Thanks, man" and turned before he lost his courage.
"Where to?" Rachel asked expectantly. She held the shake in one hand, her flowers in the other; she smiled and he grew warm
"Anywhere is fine." Finn tried to beat back the creeping awkwardness and unsuccessfully at that. Rachel caught onto it and shifted her eyes from his.
"It's late, so we could…" she cleared her throat, "my apartment isn't far."
"All right," Finn replied quietly.
He found he still had an arm for cabs, or maybe it was his height working to their advantage because one stopped in front of them within a minute despite the late hour. He let Rachel climb in first and sat back in shock when she gave an address eerily similar to the one they used to share together.
"You're still in the same building?"
Rachel gave him a somewhat brittle smile, "Yeah. Um, I moved upstairs some time back. Remember the neighbors -"
"With the dogs and the heels and - "
"Possibly a whole bunch of clogs?"
He laughed softly. "Yeah."
"They moved and I thought it was a pretty good idea to be on the top floor, in case the next set of neighbors ended up being, I don't know, Irish River Dancers."
"Good call," Finn said, though inwardly he wondered at how close he'd been. By how many years, months, days had he missed her?
It kept him from saying anything else and he stared at the familiar streets and corners, buildings and shops. He made sure to bypass Rachel and pay the cab fare and then got out, staring up at their old apartment on the second floor. There was a dim light shining from the third floor window, Rachel's place. He'd been so close. So very close.
At the jangle of keys in Rachel's hand, Finn said, "Wait, I…"
Rachel gave him a look he could only interpret as fearful.
"I don't think I'm ready to go up there," he finished in a rush. "Not that I won't, just, not yet."
"O-okay," Rachel stuttered and waved uncertainly at the front steps. "Is this okay?"
"Yeah, I guess. Yeah."
He sat down heavily, elbows on his knees; Rachel was more graceful as she settled in and crossed her legs, but he gave credit to her training rather than any ease with their situation. Head bent, Finn ran his hands through his hair a couple times before saying, "I just, can I just… I know we have a lot to talk about and this might really piss you off, but I need…"
Without further warning and without permission, Finn turned his head and pressed his lips to Rachel's. He pushed one hand into her hair and felt her shiver just as she started to kiss him back, her lips soft to his, hesitant and timid for the first time in such a very long time. For a few seconds it was a gentle touch before Finn pressed in more deeply, his mouth opening slightly to share her warm breath. They held each other there until he felt something warm on his cheeks; when he finally pulled back, he realized he wasn't sure if the tears were his own or hers.
"I have missed you so much," he said, voice low and a little weak.
"I missed you, too." Rachel said shakily.
Finn didn't dare break their eye line. "How did we go so wrong?"
"So many reasons, I can't even begin," Rachel swallowed hard, "Finn, you need to know, I have never regretted anything in my life as what I did to you, driving you away like I did."
Shocked, Finn shook his head. "All this time I thought I'd abandoned you."
"No, you didn't or at least, it never crossed my mind that you had," Rachel replied and then shut her eyes. "Or maybe in the beginning, yes, I blamed you, but I couldn't lie to myself. I had just pushed and pushed and I was so angry at you even when you were still here."
Finn watched her face, as frustration and sadness played over it. She thought she'd driven him away? She'd been angry with him, too?
"You were so easy to please, Finn. You and me, here in New York, and it seemed like you didn't want to understand how I wanted more, needed more than that. I know it was selfish, but that's the way it was back then, I wanted you to want the same things I did, just like in Lima." Rachel pulled away from where he'd still held her head. "I couldn't understand how you could have so many things at your fingertips, like your acceptance to NYU or how you didn't really try for those auditions. You were so talented and you just dropped it."
"I didn't need those things, Rachel. I had you, that's all I wanted."
"And do you know how exhausting that was?"
They both went still, Rachel at her angry outburst and Finn at the truth in her statement. He hadn't known; his world had revolved around her. He thought she'd wanted that. Rachel must have seen it on his face and kept going.
"We loved each other, Finn, and it was incredibly special and, with a few more years under my belt, I know now that it's also pretty damn rare. But we hardly had a life outside each other for such a long time and it became so clear when all I could get were bit parts in the workshops or, if I was lucky, work as an understudy. I still had the same dreams, but didn't know how to reach them anymore. I'd lost all the focus I'd trained myself my entire life to have and then that idiot Blaise came into the picture-"
She stopped short with a snarl. It would have sounded adorable if Finn wasn't feeling so many waves of guilt. "I thought, 'here's my chance' and it just snowballed and we started fighting and it became such a giant mess. And I know you meant well, I do, but-"
"We needed to make those mistakes."
"Yeah, I suppose we did." Rachel placed her hand over his knee. "And I'll never be more sorry over the fact that we couldn't survive those mistakes."
"Rachel, what would have happened if I'd just told you that I didn't like Blaise? That it felt like he was changing you in all the wrong ways?"
"Finn, I knew you didn't like him, it was really obvious," she said with a sarcastic laugh, "but I probably wouldn't have listened about the part of how Blaise was influencing me. How much he was stripping away from me with my knowledge. It took me longer to see that and I think it was one of those things I had to end up seeing on my own."
"So we still would have broken up."
Rachel shrugged uncertainly. "We certainly could have communicated better."
"I still love you, Rachel."
She stared up at him for what seemed like several moments but couldn't have been more than a couple seconds. At last, in a sure voice that made his heart nearly burst, Rachel said, "Finn, I won't ever be able to love anyone as much as I still love you."
He held her face in his hands again. He kissed her again. Over and over, he kissed her, memorizing every brush over their lips, every one of her sighs. Finn committed each and every one to memory because even now he knew, the love they still had for each other could still not be enough. Rachel must have known because she kissed him back just as greedily, just as desperately.
It seemed a long while passed before they pulled back and it was only when they heard a wolf whistle from somewhere across the street.
"What are we going to do?" Rachel whispered once their audience had stumbled on.
Finn smiled sadly. "I have no idea."
"You're in Lima, I'm in New York, we both have our jobs, our friends, our lives-"
"I know, I know," Finn said softly. He pulled her in and held her close for several minutes, feeling her breathe against him, still cataloguing every touch and scent. Could he go on again without her?
Yes, he could survive without Rachel Berry. But it wasn't the best choice he could make and it wasn't the option he was willing to take anymore.
He eased back to look at her. "Rachel."
"I'll quit if I have to, I will," she said rapidly and tearfully, "I'll find something in Lima, we can do it. Just let me finish my run and then I'll quit, I promise-"
"Don't do that, okay?" He ran his fingers down one side of her face. "Your dream is to be here in New York and you belong on Broadway. I will spend the rest of my life working to help you keep that because, Rachel, you're not you without that stage. I've known that since I was sixteen and I still know it now."
"I'll finish my contact with the Lima I.S.D this next year. That'll give Will time to find someone to replace me from the CIM or maybe I'll be able to convince Artie or Tina to take over, they're both pretty well trained for it."
"Rachel, I want to be with you. And I'll miss Lima, but it hasn't been home without you there. Nowhere will be home for me if you're not there."
She sniffled. "Really?"
"And I'll get hobbies, maybe run a marathon or, I don't know rescue puppies so you can get a break from me when you need to."
With a tearful laugh, Rachel asked, "Rescue puppies?"
"I'm surrounded by fifth and sixth grade girls sometimes, puppies are popular."
She laughed again and threw her arms around his neck. "Are you sure?"
"I realized tonight that I can live without you, Rachel. It just turns out that I don't want to, not anymore."
"A whole year?"
"Rachel, we've been waiting for this since we were sixteen, I think we can handle one more."
She kissed him fiercely and then smiled so widely he had to laugh. "You know what, Finn? I think you're right."
One year later, Finn proved he was.
For the hell of it, he brought a puppy with him.
A/N: Thanks for reading. Please review if you liked it.