Author's Note: Can anyone please rip St. Berry out of my mind?

Timeline: Set after "Audition". Jesse is in LA, Rachel in Lima. Because I wanted someone to understand Rachel. And who better than her male version? And it took a life of its own after it.

Disclaimer: Oh, please. C'mon.

someone to understand

She's standing at her bedroom, glancing longingly at their picture at Sectionals – all twelve of them, looking proud and fierce and excited and young with their big, shiny trophy sitting in Artie's lap. Matt is gone now – replaced by a tall, wiry bleached blond boy with thick lips who still hasn't found his niche and is clashing with her new boyfriend. Said boyfriend who all but turned his back on her when Tina and Mike told them all what she had done.

She did what she did to Sunshine Corazon because of them – because she knew Sunshine would only bring along fresh new drama that they didn't need. Not now that everything's settled.

But they don't get it. They only see Sunshine as the scared little girl from wherever it is that she's from (she thinks it's Philippines). She's once again perceived as the villainess – and she's tired of the role. For once, she wants someone to understand her motives, to see from her point of view, to simply get her, no questions asked, no suspicious glare sent her way.

Her heart breaks when she realizes that the one person that has ever truly understood her now lives miles and miles away, chasing his dreams, away of her for months now. It's been so long since she thought of him – so long since she's allowed herself to think of him. He broke her heart and her hopes and dreams when he crushed an egg on her forehead. She was still picking her pieces. But, if there's one thing she could always trust him to do, was that he always understood her. Always. No unnecessary questions asked.

Biting her lower lip, she reaches for her cell phone and dials his number. It rings once, twice – the sound of the call trying to connect reverberating on her mind, quickening the pace of her heart, making her breath shallow – and then it's silence. She breathes and hears him breathing. Tears flood her eyes, and she sniffles.

"Jesse…" She whispers., her voice thick with the tears that she doesn't allow herself to cry (hasn't shed since that afternoon when she dared him to break the egg in her hair like he did her heart, and he whispered he loved her). Once again, there are no questions, no demands, no explanations to give unless she wants to.

"I'm on my way", he says. Simple.

He's at her doorstep forty minutes later, and sitting on her bed in five minutes. She doesn't even question why he isn't at school right now; she just wraps herself around him, and he hugs her tight, and she knows she's supposed to feel like she's betraying Finn for having him there, consoling her. But she doesn't. She doesn't because Finn doesn't understand. Finn's all for team loyalty or something like that, and his biggest dream, she thinks, is to graduate from high school. He doesn't have her ambitions and her dreams.

Jesse does, however. Jesse understands. And, because she needed someone who understands, she squeezes him a little bit tighter. "I miss you", she whispers. "I thought you'd be in California by now. You have a full ride to University of California Los Angeles. And even I've heard of them. It's in Los Angeles". She teases with a smile, remembering the first time he mocked her with that same sentence (months and months ago when her heart was still whole and she had believed she had found the one), and he chuckles and places a small kiss on her hair.

"I'm leaving next week. I… I was actually gathering the courage to call", he confesses quietly. "Rachel, I really hate the way things were left between us. But… I'm glad you called".

She bites her lip and the tears she has been fighting back fall down her cheeks. "I just needed someone to understand me", she sobs brokenly, fisting the fabric of his shirt. "Finn acted like I was this big bad bitch and I don't think I've ever felt so lonely in my life".

(She's lying, of course. The loneliest she felt in her life was after the Run Joey Run fiasco, when she sang Total Eclipse of the Heart for him and he walked away).

Since he knows that, he pretends his hearing failed him and asks quietly, "What happened, baby?"

The whole story pours out of her, and he rubs her back comfortingly. Jesse is silent for a long time and, for a long, insane minute, she believes she finally did the one thing that the great Jesse St. James wouldn't have back in his Vocal Adrenaline lead days.

But then he says softly, "I'd do the same thing. You know that. People like us – like you, Rachel, like me – we don't like to share the spotlight or to have it threatened to be taken away. But Rachel, I've seen her. And Sunshine doesn't have an ounce of your talent. You're better prepared, tougher, more driven and more ambitious. And…" He makes a long pause, his long, slender fingers tracing the curves of her face, "… You're prettier too".

She blushes slightly, and they stay silent for a long while before she breaks it. "I hate the way we left things too", she breathes.

And that's about it. All is forgiven.

(He leaves the next morning. She finds in her mailbox a copy of Lionel Richie's songbook, the same he used at the bookstore. Finn doesn't understand why she sings 'Hello' at practice that afternoon and cries. She doesn't explain. Santana is the only one who knows what that song means).

The next time she calls, she's in tears again, but this time it's not because of Glee club. At least, not directly. He's in the middle of one of his most difficult classes when his cell phone vibrates against his thigh, and he frowns when he sees her number, but, because he knows how difficult this teacher can be, he lets it go to voicemail. Five minutes later, his phone vibrates twice, and he knows he's got either a text or an e-mail. He clicks on it, and his heart breaks.

Kurt's dad had a heart attack. I need you.

He rises from his seat – trying very hard to ignore the way his heart quickens when he realizes that she needs him, that she needs his presence at this hard moment, instead of her stupid boyfriend who in his personal and unbiased opinion doesn't deserve to lick the soles of her shoes – and quickly slips out of the room, pressing the call button on his phone. She answers on the first ring, and he hears her shallow breathing before asking quietly, "How's Mr. Hummel?"

"He still hasn't woken up, Finn's on a religious roll – he's Catholic, Jesse, and he's speaking of Jesus and God and all that stuff, and you know I'm Jewish! – and Kurt refuses to let us pray for his dad", she says all in one breath, and he stays silent for a moment. It's her first brush with death, it's understandable that she's almost panicky.

(He wishes more than ever that he's closer to her, so that he can wrap his arms around her and offer her the comfort of his embrace. He knows she wishes the same).

"He's going to be okay. He must be a strong man", he says softly.

She snorts. "You never got to meet him, Jesse".

He smiles ruefully because she's right, he never met Burt Hummel, but he heard from her that he kicked Finn out because he called Kurt a fag and, because of this, he respects the man. "His son is Kurt. He raised Kurt all by himself. He raised a blatantly gay kid in Lima, and he's proud of said son". He makes a pause and adds, "So, yes, I've never had the pleasure of meeting him, but he's a strong man, Rachel".

She is quiet for a long moment and then sighs. "You're right. It's just that he just recently got his life on track. He's living with Carole – Finn's mother, and they seem so happy together. It's just… Not fair".

"Life isn't fair", he adds quietly. "If it were, you'd be with me in Vocal Adrenaline, where your talent would be revered and adored", it escapes his mouth before he can control it, and the silence that stretches afterwards freezes his blood. But then she sighs.

"I know", she says, and they're quiet for a moment. "Sorry for bothering you", she adds remorsefully.

"Nonsense. I'm glad you called. It's been a while since we last spoke and I miss you, Rachel".

"I miss you too. How's UCLA?"

And that's it.

Their entire relationship changes three weeks after that first call, the one that started everything. They talk everyday; if not by phone then by e-mail or IM, and he can truly say that she's finally, at long last, opening up for him in a way that he knows she never did, she never does and she never will for Finn (she tells him herself, how he sometimes is the one person that manages to keep her focused).

She calls again a week after Mr. Hummel's heart attack, and this time he's agitated by what she tells him (she's usually the one who is agitated and he soothes her. Today, she sounds insecure, even defeated. It leaves him devastated, more than he's willing to admit. And furious, too, because she is so strong, how can she let someone walk all over her?)

Apparently, Mr. Schue gave a duet assignment as a competition to the glee club this week, and Finn (the idiot! Seriously, what does Rachel see in this dude?) suggested that they threw their chance at winning so that the new addition to the choir, a boy named Sam Evans, feels welcomed into the group. He's comprehensively furious, and paces in his apartment. "Rachel, for the love of all things Broadway, do tell me that you sent that ass packing!" He exclaims, and she's silent for a long moment, what sends his heart plummeting, because he has his answer already.

"Who are you?" He questions horrified, and she scoffs.

"You know who I am, Jesse, please".

"I don't think I know you, not anymore, Rachel. The Rachel I know – the Rachel I fell for-" He hears her gasping softly and, fuck it, he's laying all on the table now, because Rachel has the right to know he's still waiting on the wings for his second chance. "The Rachel I love, the Rachel I want by my side when I conquer Broadway would never, ever, accept a stupid suggestion to purposefully lose a competition to make someone else feel welcome".

She's stunned into silence, her heart thumping loudly on her ribcage, because she knows there's no mistake – he just said the Rachel he loves, present tense, and this word, this simple word, changes everything in her entire life.

(It's funny how, even from the distance, he still manages to shake her world upside down).

The silence stretches, thick and heavy, and she sighs. "Jesse… I have to go". She doesn't even give him the chance to say goodbye, simply disconnects the call. He fights the urge to throw his cell phone against the nearest wall, because he just fucked up with her.

(He throws his last picture with his teammates of Vocal Adrenaline, and it shatters with a satisfying crunch against the wall).

He spends the next day in a bad mood, which spooks his new friends because, albeit guarded, he's quite cheerful all the time (the soulless automaton died on the parking lot of a high school in Lima, Ohio. He refuses to admit that it happened earlier, on one of his favorite haunts, where he sang a duet with the most talented girl he ever met).

(Just because he refuses to admit, doesn't mean that he doesn't know when it happened. He does. Quite vividly).

She calls later that same day, and he picks up because he can't find in himself to let her calls go straight to voicemail. She's silent for a moment, but when she speaks, her voice is cool, collected. The voice of the woman he knows she'll grow to be. The woman he knows is his. "Sam and Quinn won", she says lightly. "Finn voted on them". He can almost picture her rolling her eyes at this, but he stays silent. "I sang Happy Days Are Here Again/Get Happy with Kurt".

Wait, wait, what? "You didn't sing with Finn?" He repeats again, shocked, because this definitely he didn't see coming. He can almost see her, shaking her head negatively with that secretive smile, and once again he feels the need to rush to her.

"No. You… You were right, Jesse – as much as it hurts me to admit such a thing. I've been changing myself to make Finn happy, when the one I want – the one I've wanted for quite some time now – knows me and loves me the way I am".

He bites back the urge to throw the phone against the wall – because of course she already has someone new –, and manages to speak in clipped tones, "Puckerman is one lucky son of a bitch".

But her laughter, her booming, incredulous laughter, disconcerts him. "Noah? Are you drunk, Jesse? Noah is more like a brother than a lover – and Santana would kill me if I ever entertained the idea of being anything more than a close friend".

His despair grows now because if it's not Hudson and it's not Puckerman, then who is? He knows she won't approach Ben-Israel (she's too grossed out, grossed enough for generations), so it must be anyone new. "Well, whoever he is, he is a very lucky man".

"Oh my God, are you stupid?" She is annoyed, he knows, and he's confused. He can see her roll her eyes, and then soften entirely. "It's you, you jerk. I love you".

He's silent for a moment, and then… "I'm on my way!"

"Jesse!" She says laughingly, but it's too late. Four hours later, he sneaks in her bedroom and presses kisses to her entire face. It may have taken months, longer than he planned, but he has her, and this time, he's not letting her escape.