i.

There are lots of things that should be said, explained, understood. But, she tells herself, they're only beginning now. She intends for them to go the distance, she and Finn, so she will take every necessary precaution to insure it all works out well.

And those necessary precautions include toning her intensity down. Finn recognises that she's a star, and that stars are bold, but she, very fairly, understands that asking him to face the terrors of the past when they've never even been on an actual date is an audacious suggestion.

So, as they walk out of school and into the freedom of summer, she lets him hold her hand, and she ignores the spectres nearby — of kisses he ran from and a sad clown hooker and names for a baby that was never his and a boy who crushed an egg on her face. This is the beginning of something beautiful, and they'll weather the last remnants of past storms when the time is right.

Because in the beginning, she's Rachel and he's Finn, and together they're Rachel and Finn, and that's how she likes it best.


ii.

Sighing, she shakes him.

He shifts a little, mumbles something incoherently, and keeps his eyes firmly closed. She frowns. "Finn," she says, "you can wake up now. The movie is over. Finn. Finn!" He still doesn't respond. She only holds him so culpable for not enjoying Grease 2, because it really is an insult to the original, but to fall asleep? Really?

She'll admit, however, that he looks kind of cute asleep. His head is leaning on his own shoulder, and he's drooling a little, and he gives a whole new meaning to the idea of sleeping giants — she's never seen anything so harmless in her life. She's never seen anything so perfect in her life, she corrects to herself, and she relishes the knowledge that he's finally all hers.

Two weeks of blissful summer have seen them become a firmly established couple. They've gone on dates, and kissed on her doorstep, and she's even met his mother and he her dads.

But, she thinks as she considers his sleeping form, they've been so careful with each other so far. It's almost as if they're more like close friends than like a happy couple in love. Admittedly, she had missed his friendship over the last few months, and it's nice to have it returned, but she can do with a little more now.

"Finn," she murmurs, "please wake up?"

It's quiet. She smirks. Well, there's only one choice, then. She shifts, climbing on to his lap and straddling him. He frowns slightly in his sleep and mutters something. Gripping her arms, she leans forward and gives him a breathless, trace of a kiss. And, then, feeling particularly daring, she rolls her hips against his.

His eyes fly open as fast as his hands fly automatically to her waist.

"Rach — the movie, I — you —" His eyes are wide, blinking rapidly, and he looks so adorably confused. His hands are still hot on her waist, and she's not interested in talking. She captures his mouth again, nipping slightly at his bottom lip, and he groans into her mouth. She giggles. He doesn't put up a single protest.

Heat rushes down her spine and makes her stomach twist and twirl in swooping motions of the most pleasant kind. His tongue slips into her mouth, his hands weave into her hair, and she can feel something pressing against her stomach.

At last, when all the breath is gone from her lungs — quite a feat, because she has a stunning lung capacity, as all great musical stars do — she pulls away from him. His eyes are bright and his expression is dopey. She kind of wants to kiss him again. "I know," she says primly, smoothing her hair. "I'm such a great girlfriend, right?" She beams at him.

Nodding, he gives a goofy grin. There's a brief pause. "Let's do it some more," he says.

She laughs. And she complies.


iii.

She quickly establishes a summer routine, as she does every summer. She wakes promptly at eight every morning — summer is, as Finn says, the time for sleeping in — and works on her elliptical. On Thursdays, instead of the elliptical, she goes for a jog with Finn. He groans a lot about being woken at "the crack of dawn," but she, chiding him, never listens to his complaints. It is, after all, for his benefit. He needs to stay in shape.

She knows he appreciates it, even if he doesn't always show it.

After her workout, she showers, has a healthy breakfast, and then practices her vocals. She does her scales, and then she selects a song to put up on myspace. She had neglected this a great deal during the year, but that's because Glee not only took up a lot of her time but also provided her with the needed practice all stars must have. But there is no Glee club in summer, so she begins to post videos daily.

The comments are a lot less harsh now, and occasionally they are very nice. (She's nearly certain the truly kind comments belong to the few people she might call her friends, like Mercedes and Tina.)

Usually Finn arrives during that time, and sometimes he helps her record her song, and then they have lunch together. The afternoons are a hazy, lazy time, and while she isn't certain her time wouldn't be better spent on something productive, she does admit to enjoying those afternoons.

She enjoys sitting with Finn by the pool in her backyard, one rarely used by her household before Finn. She enjoys lying in bed, listening to music with him, her ankle hooked over his and the feel of his shoulder pressing comfortably into hers. She enjoys watching musical after musical with him; it is especially nice to provide him a much-needed education in the subject.

Once the afternoon fades away, they go out, perhaps to his favourite diner, or to the drive-in movies on the edge of town, or to dinner with his mom and Burt. Occasionally they even meet up with the other members of Glee. Those are some of the best nights of her life yet. If she could have performed and showcased her talent on them as well, they would have been perfect nights.

It's a good summer.


iv.

"You really like him, don't you, sweet pea?" Daddy asks.

She glances up from the "Our First Summer Together" scrapbook she's making, and she smiles brightly at Daddy. "Of course," she says. "I love him more than anything in the world." The rain is pounding on the window, and she's having a pleasant Sunday afternoon at home with her dads.

"Even more than being a star?" Dad asks, looking up from the crossword with amusement dancing on his lips.

"Even more than us?" Daddy asks.

"Oh, Daddy," she laughs, "don't be silly. I love Finn, being a star, and you both all equally." She blows him a kiss, and he reaches forward and captures it, holding it to his heart. She giggles at his antics. "Don't you like him?" she asks.

"He's a sweetheart, I'll give him that," Daddy concedes. Rachel looks at Dad. He shrugs. A part of her appreciates how protective Dad is of her, but it really is entirely misplaced. "Just remember," Daddy says, "the only men a girl can trust are —"

"— Gay men," she supplies. "Especially gay dads."

"That's right," Dad says, winking at her.

"And I guess," Daddy says, "if my only girl has to fall for a straight boy, Finn Hudson is good enough."

"No," Rachel says, sighing a little as she gazes down at a picture of Finn, "he's more than enough."


v.

"I'm sorry," he groans.

"It's okay," she assures. She's a little flattered, in fact.

"This always happens." He buries his face in his hands, as if he can't bear to face her.

"It's part and parcel of being a teenage boy, Finn," she says.

"I mean to me — it always happens to me." He finally looks up at her. "I mean, all we're doing is kissing and — I try to think of the mailman I hit with my car to distract me but it barely ever works."

"Well, we'll just think of more effective methods. I'll do a little research."

He makes a face at her and mutters something under his breath. She considers him for a moment, the idea starting to take shape in her head. "Finn," she says quietly, "the first time we kissed last year, at that ridiculous picnic I set up —"

"Yeah?"

"Did you . . . ?"

"Have to think of the mailman?" he asks. "Yeah." He looks even more upset.

But she's ecstatic, and she kisses him before he can make a single protest. "You know," she whispers into his mouth, "I'll have to do some research to be positive, but I'm pretty sure practice is a very effective combatant to early arrival."


vi.

"Do you like it?" she asks nervously, touching her hair hesitantly.

He stares for a moment, as if really assessing her haircut, and then he smiles, and she breathes out in relief. "I love it," he tells her. He gently brushes a hand over her new bangs. "They're cute." She beams, and then stands on her tiptoes and kisses him.

"Now," she says, stepping back. "Let's talk about your hair."


vii.

She doesn't think anyone else wants to call it a double date, but she does, and no one corrects her. She loves going out with only Finn, but she likes going out with Puck and Quinn, too, because for the first time, Quinn is nice to her. They sit in the movies and then at dinner and then finally at the batting cages, and well, okay, it's not so much that Quinn's nice, but more the fact that she isn't mean.

Rachel doesn't really know how Finn feels about Puck and Quinn after everything, but he seems to have forgiven them. Really, it's simply a taboo topic all around, and for now, Rachel thinks, that's good enough. Leaning against the chain-link fence, she watches as Finn, joking around with Puck, hits ball after ball. He really is an athletic star.

"I watched your myspace video last night," Quinn says suddenly. She's picking at her nails.

"Oh," Rachel says, not sure what she should say.

"It was really good." Quinn smiles hesitantly at her.

Rachel flushes with pleasure. "Thank you," she says.

And, then, oddly breathless, Quinn says, "I miss her." Rachel knows who her is. Of course she does. She waits for more. Quinn bites her lip. "I just needed to say that out loud."

Rachel nods. Quinn isn't all bad, really. Finn calls Rachel's name, and he and Puck both coax her into trying to bat a few rounds. (Quinn refuses point blank, and no amount of cajoling changes that.) Rachel's absolutely dreadful and never hits a single ball, but, she tells them, it doesn't matter, because her musical talent more than makes up for her less than desirable athletic prowess.


viii.

She is sad to see the summer end.

Of course, next year is going to be an absolutely fabulous year. Glee, and Rachel, too, will receive the attention it, and she, deserve, and this year they will win sectionals and regionals and nationals. She can already taste the victory. But, still, summer with Finn has been like something out of someone else's life, and she's loath to see it come to a close.

Her eyes dart to where he sits beside her on the hood of his mom's truck. They're parked on the side of the road a few miles East of town. It's the mountain they have to drive over to get to Target, and parked on the side of if in a grassy plateau, they can overlook the valley below. It's not a stunning sight, but it's as nice as it gets in Lima. And, to make it better, they're eating a tub of ice cream from the grocery store with two plastic spoons. The mixed tape he shyly gave her a few weeks ago is playing from the car.

"What?" he asks, noticing her stare.

"Nothing," she says, looking back out at the valley. She gathers her courage. Stars can't afford to be timid. "There's something I'd like to say." She puts her spoon down.

"Okay." He puts his spoon down, too.

She finds she can't look at him. "I'm glad," she says slowly, "I'm glad I dated Jesse for those few months, even if it turned out he was using me and he possessed no true feelings for me and he couldn't even appreciate my star talent."

He doesn't say anything.

"I'm glad," she goes on bravely, "because dating someone so awful as Jesse allows me to understand more clearly how lucky I am to date you now, and I can know with complete certainty that my love for you is deserved." Her eyes slowly flicker to him.

And, to her utmost relief, he gives a crooked half smile. "I'm glad, too, Rach," he tells her softly. "That you dated him, I mean. 'Cause it was good for me, too. I, like, I mean —"

"You appreciate me more after experiencing the agony of seeing me with someone else?" she suggests.

"Yeah," he nods, "that."

She leans over and kisses him. He tastes like chocolate fudge ice cream. And maybe, she tells herself, this small confession, this small salve on old wounds, will be enough to keep him with her when they return to school.

(Because it's not inevitable that he'll break up with her; it's not merely a matter of time. It's not.)

"I love you, Rach," he says, almost as if it's a promise.

"I love you, too." Her words are a promise.


ix.

"I like your necklace," he says.

Her hand jumps to it and she blushes a little with pleasure. "I didn't think you'd notice."

"Course I noticed," he replies, "it's my name." He smiles, brushing a hand over her hair, and she curls into him. They barely both fit on his tiny bed in his tiny room with that inane wallpaper, but she doesn't mind being so close to him.

Things haven't been going too well between them these last few weeks. She made a mistake with Sunshine, she knows, but he forgave her. Had he really meant what he said — that he would never break up with her? She hopes so. Their relationship had been tense, too, because of football and Britney Spears and her own insecurity. It's to be expected, really; the transition back into the world of peer pressure was bound to be difficult. If that's the worst of it, she has no reason to complain.

And as they lie together now, everything seems right with the world.

"Rachel," he says, "you kind of, I mean, I think you should know — you . . . you have really awesome boobs."

She giggles despite herself. He blushes, and she presses a kiss to his cheek. "Is that so?"

"Yeah." He won't look at her. "Just in case you were, ah, you know, wondering . . . or something."

It had felt very nice, having him touch her like that. "Finn," she says knowingly, "is that your way of saying you would like to touch them again?"

He turns to her with wide, eager eyes. She laughs, nods, and kisses him, and she doesn't have to guide his hand this time.


x.

She sees him at temple, and she smiles. It really is good of him to attend now and then, even if he isn't the most devout Jew she's ever met. Afterward, however, when everyone is gathered in the basement munching on cookies, Rachel realises he isn't there.

She frowns. Now that she thinks about it, he hadn't looked very happy during the service. And it wasn't so much in a I-really-wish-I-weren't-here way but more in a my-life-sucks sort of way. Coming to a firm decision, she excuses herself from a conversation with Daddy, Mrs. Reid, and the rabbi, and goes in search for him.

She finds him on the back steps outside. It's freezing out, the ground covered in crisp snow and their breath billowing up in white clouds, but he sits with nothing more than a flimsy windbreaker on. "You shouldn't be out here without proper attire, Noah," she tells him. "You'll catch a cold, and Glee needs your voice."

"Glee doesn't need my voice," he replies, his voice even sharper than she'd expected. "Glee's got Sam's voice." She doesn't know what to say, but he only goes on, his words caustic. "I'm gone for, like, two fucking months, and I'm replaced. Nobody even gives a damn. I could disappear and nobody would notice."

"I would notice," she argues. "I'm very happy to have you back. We all are. And don't use such crass language, Noah, however tough you think it makes you seem."

He scoffs, turning away from her and staring hotly out at the street.

She traces a random design in the snow with her mary janes. "Is this about Glee," she asks slowly, "or is this about Quinn?"

He sends her a withering glare. "I don't give a damn about that pussy."

She closes her eyes for a moment, praying for patience.

"Just leave me alone, Berry. I don't need your pity."

"I'm not trying to offer you pity," she replies matter-of-factly. "I'm trying to give you advice you so clearly require, and as a participant in a very healthy, happy relationship that has recently celebrated six months of success, I feel confident that I can provide —"

"Shut up, Berry," he interrupts. "You and Finn are nothing like —" He swallows hard, and she can so easily see the sensitive side he keeps tightly locked away. She places a tentative hand on his arm. It's quiet for a long time. "We had a baby together," he murmurs. "And she just gave it up, and then she gave me up. . . ."

"Then give her up," Rachel says softly. "If she can't realise what a good catch you are, Noah, then she doesn't deserve you."

"It's not that easy. You should know."

"Yes," she says, "I know."

There's not much else to say. Slowly, she leans her head on his shoulder. She's starting to lose feeling in her fingers when he says, his voice gravely, "I'm glad."

"For what?"

"That you got him. Hudson. That he got his act together. That he loves you back." He doesn't look at her. She doesn't need him to.

She thinks back to their conversation so long ago on the school bleachers. She wishes she could say the same words to him. But she can't. "Thank you," she whispers instead.

She takes his hand and squeezes it.

She's glad, too, more glad than anybody could ever imagine.


xi.

She notices the way Finn looks at her.

She notices when his eyes are on her chest, or when they're on her butt. She knows what outfits he likes; he never has to say it. He's really the only person who's ever made her feel this way before, made her feel like she's beautiful.

(The sad clown hooker debacle will always be among her most embarrassing memories, but his words to her that day still hold a special place in her heart.)

She decides in early December that she'll try wearing something he might like. She puts on one of her favourite sweaters, the pink one with the two dancing polar bears that her daddy's mom knit her, her favourite green skirt, and her sequinned pink legwarmers.

The sweater has a v-neckline, and as Daddy says, a girl only needs to show a little collarbone. Rachel knows Finn likes seeing a little collarbone, too. The skirt she knows he likes, without a doubt, and the legwarmers, well, he had mentioned them that day, hadn't he?

"Nice legwarmers," Santana says at practice, sharing a smirk with Brittany. Rachel decides to ignore them both. She doesn't need their approval, however much she would like it.

Finn links his hands with hers. "I like them," he murmurs. His eyes flicker to her legs. "A lot."

She kisses him right then, in the middle of Glee, (something from which she regularly abstains) and she doesn't stop until Mr. Schue starts coughing loudly.


xii.

He likes her banana bread.

She likes having someone to make banana bread for.

(No, she likes having Finn to make banana for. And that's all the difference in the world.)


xiii.

She's organising his desk while he practices the song from Hair that she wants him to perform with her at the next Glee practice when she finds the dvd.

It's tucked away among the astounding mess he's made of his desk drawer, and she doesn't think much of it at first. But eventually she has to put it in her laptop so she can determine what it is — he has no idea, he tells her — and they're both shocked when the screen fills with a sonogram. She looks at him, and she sees his eyes cloud over. She turns it off quickly. "I didn't know I still had it," he says. He swallows thickly. "You can throw it out."

"Finn," she murmurs.

He turns back to the sheet music.

"Finn," she repeats, going to him and touching his shoulder.

"It's nothing, Rach. I don't need to keep it. I didn't even know I had, okay?"

"You know," she says carefully, "we never really talked about — "

"What's there to talk about?" he interrupts, his voice hard. He must see her hurt expression, though, because his shoulders sink a moment later. "I dealt with it all, okay?"

"Did you really?" she whispers.

He shrugs. "It's not like it was really a big deal. I mean, how can I miss something I never had?"

"You did have it — have her," she tells him, because he needs to hear it. "And it was so cruel for it all to be taken away from you. Yes, it's better for your life now and for your future that the child was not actually yours, but that doesn't mean you can't be upset that Quinn and Puck lied to you, and it definitely doesn't mean you can't be upset that you lost something you'd grown to love."

He nods. A few minutes later, she agrees to watch Rush Hour with him. She isn't very impressed with the film, but he enjoys it, and part way through, he whispers into her hair, his voice soft and vulnerable, "Thanks, Rach."


xiv.

"Oh her eyes, her eyes, / Make the stars look like they're not shining. / Her hair, her hair / Falls perfectly without her trying. . ."

He sings with a little half smile on his face, his eyes never leaving her. Bruno Mars does not have particularly great vocals — he is hardly a star by Rachel's judgement — but his words from Finn's mouth are breathtaking. Finn means them, she can tell, and it makes her heart flutter wildly in her chest. This is what was missing with Puck and with Jesse; this is what will always be missing from every other boy.

"Oh you know, you know, you know, / I'd never ask you to change. / If perfect is what you're searching for, / Then just stay the same. . . ."


xv.

Rachel celebrates her first Christmas with Finn, Kurt, and their newly engaged parents.

It's really a lot of fun. She bakes cookies with Mrs. Hudson, she and Kurt discuss the best moisturising routine, and she even lets Finn try to teach her how to play one of his silly shooting video games. Finn gives her little gold teddy bear earrings, and they're adorable. He's speechless at her present for him (a jersey signed by some large baseball player, something Mr. Hummel promised Rachel that Finn would like), and she's very pleased with herself all day because of it.

In the middle of the afternoon, when Kurt leaves for a few hours before dinner to meet Mercedes to exchange gifts, Rachel and Finn make their way upstairs. They lie in bed and listen to new songs on her ipod, sharing one pair of earbuds, just like those lazy summer afternoons. She's not sure how it happens, but they share a chaste kiss that turns into a full-blown make-out session and then suddenly she's tugging down his pants.

She doesn't know what she's doing — she's never gone down on a boy before — but judging by the look on his face and the noises he makes as her mouth moves uncertainty over him, tentatively licking and sucking, he enjoys it anyway. It doesn't take long (she's very accustomed to his issues with early arrival), and he tastes strange, but she thinks all in all it goes pretty well.

When she says so, he fervently agrees. "You're the best girlfriend in the world," he tells her, reverence in his voice.

"I know," she replies happily.

He watches her for a moment. "Have you ever . . . have you ever done that before?" he asks quietly. "I mean, did you and . . .?"

"No," she says, "we never did that. We never even came close." She pauses. "In fact, it's time I confess something to you. I lied that day, Finn. I never slept with Jesse. I wanted to seem as if I had moved on from your betrayal, but the truth was that I hadn't, not really, and as long as my heart wasn't entirely with him, I couldn't go through with it." She waits, slightly afraid at his reaction. She hates that she lied to him, she really does.

But a slow grin spreads across his face. (She should have known.)

It really is a good first Christmas.


xvi.

Mercedes comes by to talk to Kurt, but he's out with his father running a few errands. Finn is mowing the lawn, and Rachel is re-watching Funny Girl on Finn's bed as she waits for him to finish his chores. Before she knows what's happening, Mercedes is telling her everything.

"He kissed me," she gushes.

"Who?" asks Rachel, pausing the movie.

Mercedes is flushed with pleasure, unable to stand still. "Kevin," she says, "Kevin — we went out last weekend, and we had a really good time, so today we went to see a movie at the two dollar theatre, and afterward he just — he just — he learned forward and kissed me."

"That's very nice," Rachel says. She smiles kindly.

"Yeah," Mercedes says. There's an awkward pause, and Rachel realises this is her chance to be a friend. She likes to think she's Mercedes friend. So why doesn't she act like it? If she had told someone about her first kiss with Finn (which she hadn't), what would she have wanted them to ask her?

"How did he do it?" she asks. "Was it soft and sweet or —? And where? Where did he put his hands? In your hair? Tell me everything."

Mercedes grins, actually giggling, and the words pour out of her. It had been in the car outside the movie theatre, and she had been turning the music up on the radio, and he had said, "You really like music, don't you?" and she started going on and on about how she loved music, and all of the sudden, with no warning, he had leaned forward, his hand slipping over the console and covering hers, and he had —

"Hey," Finn interrupts.

"Go away," Rachel says.

He frowns.

"We're having girl talk." And she makes a shooing motion at him. He looks at Mercedes, shrugs, and disappears, hopefully to take a shower. Rachel focuses back on Mercedes. "You just have to meet him, Rachel, you just have to," Mercedes says. Rachel nods eagerly, and Mercedes continues her story.

Rachel loves Finn so much.

But she loves having friends, too.

She never thought she'd have it all.


xvii.

"Aw, come on," he says, but she barely acknowledges him as she storms out of Glee practice. She's well aware that all her friends are watching her, that even Mr. Schue is taken aback, but she's glad they don't know what's going on. She almost wishes she didn't know what was going on.

He chases after her.

"Leave me alone," she tells him, "you've already ruined Glee for me today. I would like to salvage what I can of this dreadful day."

"Rach, listen, please! You've been ignoring me ever since I admitted —"

She stops abruptly, takes a deep, calming breath, and turns to him. "Okay, Finn," she says softly, "I forgive you."

He blinks. "Wait, what? Seriously?"

She nods, smiling sweetly. "It's all in the past, right?"

"Erm, yeah," he says. He starts to smile a little. "Yeah. It is."

"How about we go out tonight, maybe to Olive Garden or some place nice? Breadsticks?" She bats her eyelashes at him.

"Sure," he says, and he can't hide his relief and delight now. Good.

"Oh, no," she frowns, "wait, I can't. I have to study for my chemistry test. Oh, I have an idea! Why don't you go to dinner with Santana instead and then afterward you can go to a hotel and have sex with her and LIE TO ME ABOUT IT!" And she storms off once more.

"Rachel!" he groans.


xviii.

Rachel finds it very therapeutic to slap Santana and call her a home-wrecker.

She forgives Finn eventually, and she decides that this bump in the road of their relationship is a blessing in disguise, because they are stronger for having overcome it. She tells him as much, and he nods. "So that means we're good, right? And we're still together?"

"Yes," she says firmly. "I meant when I said at the beginning of the year." Her voice softens. "I'll never break up with you." She waits to hear him say the words too, because sometimes she just needs to hear these things, just to be completely sure.

He tucks a lock of hair behind her ear. "I'll never break up with you, either."


xix.

Her dads took her to New York City three times before she goes with Glee.

The first time, she was seven, and she got to see her first Broadway show for her birthday. She knew, sitting there that night, that it was where her stardom would take her. The second time, she was eleven, and Dad had a business trip in the city. While he was holed up in offices for the whole week, she and Daddy explored everywhere. The third time, she was fourteen, and it was her graduation from middle school present. She had saved for nearly all of eighth grade, and she went to see a show every night they were there.

But all those amazing times pale in comparison to the weekend trip the Glee club takes. Performing in New York is far more amazing than she has always imagined, and she can't wait to be on Broadway, her star talent truly recognised. They come in second place, and she can barely hold back the tears, but as Mr. Schue says, they've already made it so much further than anyone thought

they would, and next year they'll do even better.

And it's hard to focus on the loss when the whole group gathers in Mercedes and Kurt's hotel room afterward. They drink cheap wine that Puck somehow managed to get ahold of and sing Don't Stop Believing because it's their song, the club's song, the song that never fails to set Rachel's heart soaring.

Afterward, as everyone is heading back to their rooms, she glances at Quinn, and the other girl nods slightly. They've already discussed this. She doesn't head back to her room with Quinn but instead makes her way to Finn and Puck's room. "Back for more, Berry?" Puck teases, twirling a half-empty wine bottle at her.

"Quinn is waiting for you," she replies. "Take your necessary toiletries with you. You'll be spending the night there." Puck and Finn both stare at her. "Well?" she says impatiently. "We don't have all night." He leaves, and she looks at Finn, and she knows he can see what she wants to do.

"You sure?" he asks as she slowly climbs onto the bed and straddles him.

"More than anything in my life." She kisses him hard.

They've been together for a year now and they've rounded all the bases but home plate — his words, not hers — he's seen her naked and he's touched her and he's made her head explode, but this is different. This is a whole new, special, terrifying, exhilarating experience.

It isn't perfect. He seems even more nervous than she is, and she has to help guide him into her, and it hurts even more than her internet research had said it would. But it's Finn, and the feel of him filling her up and the look on his face and the way he whispers her name more than makes up for the pain. Of course, it's over as quickly as it begins.

But she curls into him, warm and content. "That was . . ." he begins.

"Yeah," she says, for once as inarticulate as he is while she smiles into his shoulder.

"I feel different," he tells her, and he seems so inexplicably happy about that fact. And then he blushes and looks at her with guilty eyes. "Sorry it wasn't . . . I mean, for you — you didn't . . . I know —"

"It's okay," she interrupts, adding practically, "we'll just have to practice."


xx.

He gets a summer job at Sheets 'N Things, and she visits him everyday at noon. They eat lunch out on the picnic bench behind the store, and sometimes she brings him a treat: some cookies or a turkey sandwich made just the way he likes it or a double chocolate milkshake.

It's the middle of July when she meets him and, before he can even say hello, tells him her good news: she'll be spending a week in New York at the start of August to tour NYU. She's so excited she starts to pace around the picnic table.

"So you're really gonna apply there?" he asks.

"Of course! It's my dream!" She goes on and on, but eventually she sees the tells that something has upset Finn. She's become much better at recognising them in the last year. "What's the matter?" she asks. "I know it's disappointing that we'll have to spend a week apart in our summer, but it's only a week, and this really is a fantastic —"

"What's gonna happen to us?"

She pauses, frowning. "What do you mean?"

"When you go off to NYU," he says. "What happens to us?"

"I don't . . . what to you mean?"

"Well," he says, not meeting her gaze, "I'm not going to NYU . . . or anywhere in New York. I'll probably go somewhere in Ohio. Maybe Ohio University if I'm lucky. So . . . what happens to us when we're living in separate states?"

She wants to reassure him that nothing will really change between them. She wants to say that he needn't worry; it'll all work out. But she doesn't know how to say any of that, not if she isn't sure that she believes it.


xxi.

She should have known better, really, but when she walks into school for her last first day of high school, she's shocked by a grape slushie in her face. "Let's face it," Kurt says beside her, wiping slushie from his eyes, "no matter what, Glee is never going to be popular."

She sighs.

All the better, she tells Finn, because it will make her rise to stardom a greater achievement, and she will forever be able to hold over her ignorant classmates' heads that she went on to be more famous than all of them.

Maybe things are a little better for Glee, though, because five or six freshmen sign up, all of whom have heard about Glee's trip to New York and all of whom don't yet realise that Glee is uncool. Rachel does her best to prove to them all that it is cool, even if the rest of the school doesn't realise it. (She will not make another Sunshine mistake.) The club manages to keep four of them.

She applies to six safety schools, as Ms. Pillsbury recommends, but she knows she'll be accepted into NYU. She helps Finn apply to schools as well, and she convinces him to apply to NYU, too. "You have real talent," she insists, "and NYU may well recognise that!"

They win sectionals and regionals and she can't wait to attend nationals in California.

She's accepted into all six school she applies to, and she sends her letter of intention to attend to NYU the very next day. Finn isn't accepted, and she wishes she hadn't pushed him to apply in the first place. But he is offered a partial scholarship to the School of Music at Ohio University in Athens. "And that's so amazing," she says.

They'll be okay, she tells him. They'll be okay, she tells her dads. They'll be okay, she tells herself.

(She's not sure anyone, even herself, believes it.)


xxii.

He tries to break up with her.

She refuses to let him.

He tells her it only takes one person to end a relationship.

She tells him she strongly disagrees.

"We can't do this," he says, his voice broken.

"Yes, we can," she argues. "There's nothing I say I can do that I can't, Finn Hudson. I know what's in my future: I'm going to be a star and I'm going to be with you, and anyone who says otherwise is merely jealous of my talent and of our happiness. We can make this work. I love you, and I'll take a plane from NYU every weekend next year to visit you if that's what it takes."

She breaks him down eventually.

She is Rachel Berry, after all, and Rachel Berry gets what she wants.

He's never been rough with her, but the night he finally tells her okay, the night he says that she's right and they can make it work, his hands bruise her as he slams into her. He tell her with a kind of anger that no matter what happens, he's the only one who'll ever make him scream like this, that no matter what happens, she'll never forget him.

"You're mine," he breathes. "Say it, Rach. Say it."

"I'm yours," she moans.

He seems embarrassed by his actions afterward, but she kind of likes it. (She's always kind of liked his possessive nature of her. She is an independent woman, but it is her independent choice to belong to Finn Hudson.)

"Now," she says smugly, as their breathing returns to normal, "aren't you glad I wouldn't let you break up with me?"


xxiii.

They've both always been pretty (seemingly) confident in themselves.

They've both always planned to get out of Lima and do something exciting and challenging with their lives, to sing across the stage on Broadway. New York has always in both their plans. Yet when they're both suddenly on a plane staring another era in their lives, it's all much more terrifying than either had imagined.

They decide to meet up after their first day of classes. And, somehow, they fall into a routine. They meet for lunch every Monday and every Thursday and to study sometimes on Sunday, too. Though she grew closer to him in Glee club and then through Finn, Rachel never really thought she and Kurt Hummel would ever be good friends.

They are now, however. She tells him everything, and he often seems slightly annoyed, but he always listens nonetheless. He lets her go on and on about Finn, about what he says and thinks and how much she misses him.

(Most of her New York friends quickly grow tired of hearing about Finn. Her roommate, Stacy, even says it's unnecessary as Rachel has papered her walls in pictures of Finn and Skypes him nearly every night to the point that Stacy feels she already knows all there is to know about him.)

He tells her everything, too, not just about his classes, but about the stupid things people have said to him and how much more open New York is and even about the boys he likes. When his first serious New York boyfriend, Jack, breaks up with him, he turns to Rachel. He gives her all the gory details, frustration radiating off him in waves.

It isn't until they're at the after party of the Spring musical they both starred in and they're both a little drunk that he finally tells her why. She like Kurt, likes his voice and his sarcastic humour and his extensive knowledge of the musical world, from pop songs to Broadway debuts. But why does he like her? The hall is full of their friends, but they've taken a corner to themselves.

"You and me," he tells her, "we're like those kids in Harry Potter."

She giggles. "Does that make you Dumbledore?" She pauses, leans against the wall for balance, and says as seriously as her fuzzy mind can manage, "I didn't know you'd read Harry Potter."

He rolls his eyes. "I recently read those silly books because Leo really likes them, for God only knows what reason, and there's a part in the first book, where Harry says that there are some things you can't go through with a person without becoming friends."

"That's the part with the troll!" Rachel exclaims. She loves Harry Potter. (She wishes it were a musical.)

"Yes, my point," Kurt says, "is that Glee is our troll."

She smiles. "That's sweet, Kurt."

"Sometimes," he admits, "it's nice to spend time with people who already know your history and. . . ." He's staring off into space.

"And love you despite it?"

He looks back at her, smiles, and taps his cup of cheap wine with hers. She giggles again. And, unable to help herself, she resorts to her favourite topic of conversation: Finn. She whines about how she hasn't seen him since Spring Break a whole five weeks ago, and how he promised to stay up late tonight so she could call him when the party was over.

"You two are such a cliché," Kurt declares.

She pauses in the middle of explaining that Finn is really enjoying his Palaeontology class and she was thinking of buying him some dinosaur pyjamas for his birthday. She thinks about his words. She decides she doesn't like them. "What does that mean?"

"You're kidding, right?" he says, raising one eyebrow in a perfect, practice arch. "The attractive jock who always gave into peer pressure and acted like a jerk really had a heart of gold and the unpopular, nerdy girl who he secretly starts to spend time with shows him the light and makes him a better person and they fall in love and live happily ever after?" He says it all in one long drawl.

"That's not —" She frowns.

"See: every romantic teen movie ever. I mean, really, Rachel, every other Taylor Swift song is about it. You so could have sung "You Belong with Me," to Finn while he was dating Quinn." He looks at her as if daring her to argue with him.

She thinks of the myspace video she made to the that song while, in fact, Finn was dating Quinn. She wonders if Kurt knows about that. She suddenly hopes he doesn't. Kurt seems to notice that he's actually upset her. She thinks she's upset, anyway. She might simply have had too much to drink. Finn says she can't handle her alcohol. (She would be annoyed at him for that, but it's kind of true, and he says it's adorable and smiles that smile at her, so she lets it go.)

"Whatever," he says, "it's not like it's a bad thing. My life would be so much easier if it were some heterosexual cliché from a Drew Berrymore movie." His face takes on a sullen expression, and she knows they've entered dangerous territory.

She downs the rest of her cup in one fell swoop, makes a face at the sharp taste, and then looks at him with wide, excited eyes. "Let's talk more about Harry Potter! If it were a musical, which character do you think I would play?"

He sighs as if he's so very put upon, and starts to walk away. She trails after him, giggling, and even her alcoholic vision doesn't miss the small smile he gives, too.


xxiv.

"Finn, are we a cliché?"

They're Skyping in the hall of her dorm. It takes him a moment to respond, and she has to cross her arms over her chest and effectively cover her boobs to get him to focus. "Are we a what?" he asks.

"A cliché," she repeats, "are we a cliché?"

"Ah, that depends," he says slowly.

"On what?"

"On what a cliché is. It's, like, a book thing, right? English teachers like to talk about it, I think."


xxv.

She sends him a care package every month.

She puts in candy — lots of Twizlers, because those were his favourite. She sometimes adds a couple of copies of Sports Illustrated or some sheet music. She sends studying supplies, too, because she knows he never remembers to buy those things for himself. If there's a new movie he likes out on dvd, she'll put that in. She once sent a little teddy bear that had a picture frame as a stomach, and it held a picture of them.

Kurt says she sends far too many and that she's spoiling him, but she loves sending them.

And he takes her by surprise when, near the end of the year, she receives a package from him.

It has cookies his mom made, some Andes mints, because they're her favourite, a pair of pink and purple argyle socks, and a necklace that he thought she'd like.

"You two are sickening," Kurt comments.

Rachel only smiles, clutching the poorly taped package to her chest.


xxvi.

Winter break is a glorious month and Spring break is fun (if far too short), but both pale in comparison to coming home for the summer after her freshmen year. Finn has another week of exams, but she plans to spend that week on campus with him.

She spies him at the airport before he notices her, and she races towards him. He sees her at the last minute, a goofy grin spreads across his face, and he catches her. He lifts her up in the air and twirls her around (just as she instructed him to do on the phone the night before) and she laughs happily as he brings her back down to kiss her.

"I love summer," he tells her.

"I love you, too," she replies, grinning.


xxvii.

"You two are pretty amazing," Mercedes says.

It's Spring break of their sophomore year. Mercedes is home from California, Tina from Virginia, Quinn from Wittenberg University, and Rachel from New York. (It's the only night Rachel isn't spending with Finn. He's out with the boys of Glee while she's out with the girls — well, the girls she's still in contact with, anyhow.)

"I know," Rachel agrees. "Why do you think so?"

Tina laughs, but it's a genuine, kind laugh.

"Not many high school couples survive college," Quinn explains.

"Well, Finn and I will," Rachel assures. She has no doubt of that fact.

"You know," Tina tells her, "I'm actually kind of starting to believe that."

Rachel beams.


xxviii.

Her junior year, her first chance at a big break comes.

The very thought that the director of the fall musical went to college with and is close friends with a Broadway talent agent sets her head spinning. Best of all, the production that fall is West Side Story, and Rachel, after rigourous daily practice all summer with Finn as the Tony to her Maria, wins the starring role.

This is it, she tells herself as she practices her vocals every night. This is her chance, she coaches herself at the school gym every morning. This is the kind of opportunity she's waited her whole life for, she tells Finn on the phone.

It helps, of course, that her co-star is nearly as talented as she is. She desperately wishes she were working with Finn, and that she could have her old Glee friends to back her up, but she'll do the best she can with what she does have. Greg Black is sharp and his voice has a smoky kind of quality to it. He's tall like Finn, but thin and gawky and with a mass of curly blonde hair.

He readily agrees to extra practice with her, and she starts spending all her time with him. Kurt doesn't much like him, but his protests that Greg is so full of himself it's a wonder he can walk around with a head that large go unheard by Rachel. Kurt simply doesn't understand stars. A measure of confidence in one's abilities, sometimes misinterpreted by others as arrogance, is essential.

Of course, Kurt's dislike for Greg is nothing to the growing hatred Finn seems to harbour for the boy he's never even met. The more Rachel comes to like Greg, to appreciate his talent and to enjoy their practices, the more Finn grumbles when Rachel mentions him. It isn't until Finn asks, "What does he look like? Is he bigger than me?" that Rachel finally clues in.

She finds his jealousy cute. He has nothing to worry about. She tells him as much, but it does little good. "Really, Finn, this is ridiculous. Do I worry about the number of pretty, popular girls that attend your classes and surely fawn over you? No, I do not, and do you know why? Because I trust in us, Finn. I haven't always, but I do now. I'm asking you to pay me the same courtesy that I'm paying you."

He only grumbles some more.

A few weeks later, Finn volunteers to fly up to see the show's debut. She's so excited, and she decides to overlook the idea that it might well be to mark his territory. (That's the term Kurt uses for it.)

Six days before the show, Greg kisses her — really kisses her, with his arms wrapping around her and securing her against him and his tongue tracing her lips as she stands in frozen shock. He releases her after a few painful moments and smiles sheepishly. "Took you by surprise, didn't I?"

"You — I —" She runs from the auditorium.

She texts Finn and tells him she's sick that night. She goes to bed early.

(How could her big break have turned into this?)


xxix.

It would be so easy, really, to be with Greg.

He goes to NYU with her, and they see each other all the time, and he's certainly attractive. He likes reading biographies in his spare time, and it makes him a virtual encyclopaedia on famous artists. Together, they would be the power couple of NYU arts. No one would be able to deny how very well they fit together.

Maintaining her relationship with Finn is hard. They see each other a handful of times during the year, and they really don't have time to Skype and call each other as often as they did freshmen year. Sometimes she feels as if she's simply keeping an eye on their relationship while it rests safely on a back shelf until they can truly be together again.

Is it worth it?

All those doubts she had about whether Finn really cared for her, about whether he would dump her when they returned to school after a blissful summer, seem childish in comparison to her doubts now. Finn does care for her, and she for him, but is it enough? Are high school romances even meant to last? And if they do make it out of college, then what? Will Finn really want to come out to New York?

Rachel knows she can never go back to Ohio.

She thinks of what Kurt said years before. History together made friends of them. But history isn't enough to keep a romance alive, is it?


xxx.

He likes her reindeer sweaters and knee socks.

He once drove out to the supermarket on his study hall to buy her another pack of gold stars when she ran out and couldn't possibly imagine talking her algebra II test last period without a star by her name.

He liked her despite how she might have been a little too obsessed with him when they first met.

He always listens to her sing and helps her post her myspace videos. He even sheepishly admitted on the night of their high school graduation that he used to jerk off to them.

He's the modern high school Tony to her modern high school Maria.

He's Finn.


xxxi.

"I can't do this," she says, barely meeting his gaze. "I'm sorry."

He stares at her. "Because of him?"

"Honestly?" She takes a deep breath and faces him bravely. She's never been good at this, at letting down the attractive, talented boys who like her. "Yes. Because of him. I love him. I've always loved him, even when I tried my hardest not to. I always will."

"And when you're on Broadway," Greg asks, "what then? Will he be trailing after you, living off you, holding you back?"

Rachel is instantly defensive. "He'll be a star in his own right. It doesn't matter what he ends up doing or — or even what I end up doing. We'll be together. You shouldn't have kissed me. You've severally jeopardised our professional relationship. Now, if you don't mind, practice starts in ten minutes, and as the leads, it would be inappropriate for us to arrive late."

He doesn't say anything, but he nods curtly after a tense moment, and they head to rehearsal.


xxxii.

Finn arrives in New York three hours before her performance of West Side Story.

Kurt picks him up at the airport and brings him to the theatre. Rachel gets the briefest moment to say hello and let him wish her good luck before she has to rush play goes brilliantly. She wants to do well for the talent agent, but even more for Finn, as if somehow she can prove how very much she loves him, wants to be with him, will do what it takes to make their relationship go the distance, just like she always planned.

Afterward, she runs to him and he meets her in the middle aisle. She doesn't care that her dads are trying to congratulate her or that the talent agent might be watching her; she kisses Finn full on the mouth.

"That was amazing, baby," he says earnestly.

"I know!" she squeals, hugging him again. He smells so good, and he's warm, and he's here.

Later that night, lying with him in her tiny room in the apartment she shares with Kurt, she tells him everything. "I knew it," he says, "I knew he was after you."

"Yes, you were correct. But I'm taken, and I set the record straight." She presses a kiss to his shoulder. "Besides, really, this is good for us." She's basking now, basing in the new understanding this small, sordid affair has given her.

"It'll be good for us when I punch him in the face," Finn mutters.

Rachel laughs. "There is no need to resort to violence. You see, this is better for us. It has made me realise something about myself. I've spent the last week reflecting on my past, present, and future, and I'm somewhat terrified by the realisation I've come to, but I've decided it's time I own up to the truth." She doesn't give him the chance to say anything. "I've changed, Finn, since the start of Glee. I've changed, and my life has changed."

It's quiet. "O . . . kay," he says slowly.

"I now see that what I once thought impossible has happened." She shifts so that she's nearly sitting and she can look down at him. "What I've wanted more than anything in this world since I was three years old is to be a star on Broadway. Nothing was more important to me."

"I know," he says, half-smiling, "I like that."

She smiles, too. "And I still plan to achieve that dream. But somehow, somewhere along the way, something did become more important."

"What's that?" he asks, his large hands warm as they grip her.

"You."


xxxiii.

In a random conversation, he finally tells her about Grilled Cheesus.

"You find faith, and you pray to touch my boobs?"

"Well," he says, shrugging, "it worked, didn't it?"

"Jesus didn't let you touch my boobs, Finn. I did."

"Yeah, that's what Ms. Pillsbury said."

"You told Ms. Pillsbury?"


xxxiv.

For a few minutes, it's like they were never gone, like college never happened, like the set of twelve mismatched, awkward teenagers are back in the one place any ever felt they belonged. Rachel looks around at them all and feels a kind of solidarity with them. These people, no matter what, will always be her best friends.

They all fade into the background, however, when Finn announces that he's prepared a song. Everybody chuckles and jokes about how they must be back in Glee club, but Rachel can see how serious he is. How come he didn't tell her about this? And then he stands in front of them all, and he starts to sing. It's Journey, she knows, and her heart beats a little faster as he smiles at her.

"We sailed on together / We drifted apart, / And here you are by my side. . . ."

She bites her lip, smiling shyly and holding his gaze. She and Finn have made it. They've survived college apart.

"So now I come to you, with open arms, / Nothing to hide, believe what I say. / So here I am with open arms, / Hoping you'll see what your love means to me, / Open arms. . ."

She's come back home for the Glee reunion, but in a few weeks, she'll return to New York, and Finn is coming with her, and they're going to rent a bigger apartment with Kurt. Finn will go to school to get a teaching masters and Rachel will star in an off-broadway production of Hair.

"Living without you, living alone, / This empty house seems so cold, / Wanting to hold you, wanting you near, / How much I wanted you home. . . ."

Her eyes go wide when he comes closer to her and goes down on one knee, and she knows what's happening an instant before it does. She barely notices the exclamations of surprise from her friends. Finn pulls out a box, fumbles with it a little, but keeps singing.

"But now that you've come back, / Turned night into day, / I need you to stay. . . ."

He pauses, and the whole room seems to pause with him. "Rach," he says. His adam's apple bobs nervously in his throat. "This is the ring my dad gave my mom and I . . . I mean — " He laughs nervously. "Marry me?"

They are young, she knows. They have their whole lives ahead of them, and there is no rush. It would be prudent to be patient. But Rachel is not a patient person. She nearly knocks Finn over as she throws herself at him, and everyone starts to laugh and to clap.

"I think that means yes," Kurt observes.


xxxv.

The apartment is, truthfully, cheap and falling to pieces around them.

Finn's job as a waiter doesn't bring in much cash, but he really wants to be a music teacher, so Rachel wants it for him. She doesn't care about money, anyhow. (She'll eventually make enough for both of them.) They struggle to make ends meet, but they're kids in New York City following their dreams — it's to be expected.

Of course, between Rachel's rehearsals for whatever show she's working on and fancy dinners with could be show contacts, and Finn's work and school, they sometimes go days without more than passing each other. That's the worst of it. But when they have the time, they make up for the busy days.

What matters is that it's New York, they're together, and she's so close that she can nearly taste Broadway. It'll all work out in the end. She doesn't ever doubt it.

(But if she does, she need only glance at her left hand.)


xxxvi.

Kurt mentions it again at her bachelorette party.

"Such a cliché," he says, sipping his cosmo. She's not even sure how it comes up in the conversation. She pushes it aside, but the thought returns during her few spare moments in the following days.

Are they a cliché?

There is nothing good about clichés. They are old and trite and English teachers do like to talk about them — they like to talk about how everyone should work to avoid them. Rachel's meant to be a star, not a cliché. She doesn't want to be reduced to that, and she doesn't want Finn reduced to that. She doesn't want them reduced to that.

The morning of her wedding, she decides to put it to bed once and for all.

Hovering around her, Kurt and Mercedes are making last minute adjustments to her hair, and she considers saying something to them, but she knows Kurt won't be helpful, and Mercedes won't say anything that's more than a token comfort.

Her one good friend from college is chatting with Finn's mom, and Rachel immediately dismisses the idea of talking to either. That only leaves one other person: Quinn. Rachel's still not sure how she and Quinn managed to stay friends over the years, but they have.

Of course, Quinn sits looking lazily through People magazine. She appears bored beyond belief. In a way, Rachel appreciates this. If Quinn were to act any other way around Rachel, regardless of the fact that they're somewhat close, that Quinn is even one of Rachel's bridesmaids, Rachel would find it far too startling to handle. Strange, yes, but Rachel isn't going to start questioning her odd friendship with Quinn now.

She has more important questions to ask.

"Quinn," she says, sure to assert purpose into her tone.

Quinn sighs. "Rachel," she replies, her voice monotone. She flips a page in People.

"I need to ask you a question. I've been thinking of it for some time now, and I simply cannot stop, and I thought perhaps you could help."

"Okay," Quinn replies, picking at her nail. She idly crosses one leg over the other.

"Do you think Finn and I are a cliché?"

Quinn pauses. She glances up, her expression unreadable, and Rachel meets her gaze with earnest eyes. Quinn seems to consider her, and Rachel waits eagerly for whatever sage, womanly advice Quinn has always seemed to possess since Beth. There's the softest flicker in Quinn's eyes, and then, looking at Rachel as if they were once more fifteen and forever enemies, she asks, "Does it really matter?"

Rachel is startled. She hadn't actually thought of that.

Quinn goes back to her magazine. And Rachel smiles. "There!" Kurt declares, spinning her chair so she can see her hair in the mirror. "I'm such a genius," he says smugly, bumping shoulders playfully with Mercedes. Rachel doesn't pay attention to his words, or to her reflection, or even to her dads approaching her. She's getting married today. In a few minutes, she and Finn will be married.

Who cares if it's a cliché?

In the end, she's Rachel and he's Finn and together they're Rachel and Finn, and that's how she likes it best.

Fin.