a/n: okay, so this is as close as I plan to come to my own reconciliation fic, because there are plenty out there, and I'm sure anything else I come up with would somehow inadvertently copy someone else. (fine, I lied, I have another idea, but it's a little silly and cheesy and will probably never see the light of day.) anyway, this has thirty-four parts, but was written in three very separate sittings, and hopefully it doesn't show. and why thirty-four parts, you ask? 'cause I couldn't make it fit in thirty and forty seemed a long way off.


When I look into your eyes,

I can see a love restrained.

But, darlin', when I hold you,

Don't you know I feel the same?

'Cause nothin' lasts forever,

And we both know hearts can change.

And it's hard to hold a candle,

In the cold November rain.

We've been through this such a long, long time,

Just tryin' to kill the pain.

But lovers always come and lovers always go,

And no one's really sure who's lettin' go today,

Walking away.

If we could take the time,

to lay it on the line,

I could rest my head,

Just knowin' that you were mine, all mine.

So if you want to love me, then, darlin', don't refrain.

Or I'll just end up walkin',

In the cold November rain.

Do you need some time, on your own?

Do you need some time, all alone?

Everybody needs some time on their own.

Don't you know you need some time, all alone?


i.

"Are you an idiot?" she hisses. She drags him to the end of the hallway, away from the prying eyes of the rest of the school.

"I —"

"Don't," she cuts him off. "I plan to be Prom Queen. Do you know what that means? It means I need to date a boy who plans to be Prom King. And if you go around hanging out with losers, you are not going to be Prom King."

"But," he protests, "I wasn't hanging out with him! I was just — they threw him in a dumpster, Quinn. And he's in a wheelchair! I had to help him get out."

She glares at him, and he cowers slightly.

"Look, Finn, if you want to date me, you have to be cool. I know cool." Her voice goes momentarily sweet. "And I'll help you be cool." She touches his arm softly, only for her fingers to curl around his wrist. "But you have to do what I say, do you understand me?"

"Yes," he mutters.

"Good. Don't help any more losers out of dumpsters. In fact, next time? Help Puck throw the kid in." She pauses, as if to let the words sink in. "Are we clear? Finn?"

He nods.

ii.

He does want to be cool.

And he knows that Quinn is right about stuff like that. Sometimes, though, he doesn't get why he has to be a jerk to be cool, even if that's what everybody says. Like, he's also cool 'cause he's gonna start as quarterback next fall, but that's because Mickey Jackson fucked up his arm when he fell out a window on a drinking binge last month.

He's only a freshmen, though, and Quinn only just agreed to date him, and he doesn't need to mess things up. He'll have to take her word for it all, hers and Puck's, too. He slams his locker shut, repeating the decision to himself, and nearly runs into some girl.

He looks down at her. She's freakishly small. "Um, sorry," he says. She stares at him.

"I couldn't help but overhear your conversation earlier this afternoon," she says. He opens his mouth, but he's not really sure what he should say. She saves him the trouble. "You're not an idiot," she says. And then she gazes up at him with this overwhelming intensity in her eyes. "Don't let her turn you into one."

She flounces off, and he realises she's wearing a green pants suit, which is totally weird, and he focuses on that, instead of what she says. He doesn't know who she is, and he doesn't find out until two weeks later in the back of Bobby Roper's truck when Puck shoves another egg in Finn's hand. "C'mon, dude. Freak alert. Rachel Berry's the biggest one in this school."

Afterward, as he watches her retreating figure in the rearview mirror and sees her wipe egg from her eyes, he thinks maybe she'd gladly call him an idiot now.

iii.

Mr. Schue is disappointed in him.

And if his mom knew half the stuff he really did, she would be, too, nevermind the pot.

He doesn't want to be this guy. He really doesn't. He wants to be better. He wants to stand up for people, because he can't stand to throw one more poor kid into a dumpster, no matter how cool it makes him. 'Cause maybe he can be cool and nice. Like, it's worth a shot, isn't it? He can lead the football team and the Glee club.

"You're better than all of them," Rachel says.

He definitely wants to be. Does that count for something?

Maybe it's a stupid move, but he's gonna try anyway.

iv.

It actually makes his head hurt.

He doesn't know what cool is. He doesn't know if he's an idiot. He doesn't know if it's all his fault. He doesn't know if the Glee kids are even his friends after they all lied for her. He doesn't know if Puck even liked him. He doesn't know if he still loves Quinn. He doesn't know if he ever loved Quinn. He doesn't know what to do. He doesn't know what to think.

He doesn't know what to feel.

"You are cool, because you're kind and you stand up for what you believe in, and that makes you cool," Rachel says. "You're not an idiot at all. If anything, every single person in Glee is an idiot for thinking they would help you by keeping the truth from you. Forget Puck. Forget Quinn. Trust me, Finn. I'll help you."

Rachel has all the answers.

He kisses her, desperately, despairingly, plunging his tongue into her mouth, clutching her face, curling his fingers into her hair, and he hopes maybe he'll have all the answers, too.

It doesn't work.

v.

He wants to be with her.

He, Finn Hudson, wants to date her, Rachel Berry.

There. He can admit that. She wears leg warmers and animal sweaters and plaid skirts. She talks a lot. She raises her hand in class and asks lots of questions and reminds the teacher about homework. She's bossy. She's loud. She's the definition of not cool.

He still wants to date her.

He doesn't have the answers to anything else. He still doesn't know how to feel about Puck or Quinn or the baby. He still doesn't really have a grasp on, well, anything, but he knows this much, he knows he wants to date Rachel, and he's kinda proud of that discovery.

He wants to be a real couple with her.

He's freaked her out, though. He knows it. She's scared to be with him now. She's confused. He finally got something straight in his head, but he had to mess with hers first, and that totally sucks. He'll make it right, though.

He can do that much.

vi.

It isn't that easy.

Nothing in his life comes easy.

It's actually pretty hard to be him, okay?

Like, lots of people think he has it really easy, 'cause he's this big dude who can play all these sports, and his mom gave him his own truck, and he doesn't have to struggle with, like, racism or anything.

But that doesn't make his life easy. His girlfriend cheated on him with his best friend, and the only way he can handle it is not to think about it. That's not easy, is it? And he tries really hard in school and he still only does sort of okay. He doesn't have a dad, and he knows he makes his mom's life harder. He has to struggle to figure out what's cool and what's not and what's even worth being cool and what's not.

And everybody expects so much of him.

See? Not. Easy.

He gets bullied, too. That's totally lame to say, but guys like Azimio and Karofsky mess with Finn, too, like that time they ambushed him in the locker room. Everybody expects all this stuff from him, but he's a kid, too, and just 'cause he's bigger than Kurt that doesn't mean he's, like, untouchable. He still has feelings, you know.

He tries to be a good guy. He tries to be a leader and a friend and . . . it's just hard.

The one person who ever made him feel really good, the one person who ever told him that it is hard, but that's okay because he can handle it, because he's better than it all, well, she's gone. She's in love with somebody else. And it's his fault, 'cause he totally screwed with her and hurt her and payback's a bitch.

She has to forgive him, though. He needs her to forgive him, because he needs her to love him again and have all that faith in him. He needs her to understand him and to listen to him and to stand by him when he doesn't even know how to stand in the first place.

She's his rock.

He has to get her back.

vii.

When he sings Jesse's Girl, it's about so much more than the words.

It's about, like, standing up and saying what he wants, and he isn't gonna let what anyone else thinks drag him down. He wants her, and he doesn't care if she's not cool or if she already has this perfect pansy boyfriend. Maybe there's a better way to handle it, but this is the best way he knows how, and he's pretty proud of himself.

He's in love with her.

He'll shout it from the rooftops if that's what it takes.

She's the best, and she deserves the best, so he's gonna be the best.

Take that, geometry proofs. Finn Hudson can follow logic.

viii.

"I'm sorry I ever threw eggs at you," he says.

She pauses in her search for her ipod and looks at him curiously. When he doesn't say anything more, she say softly, "What do you mean?"

He shrugs. Isn't it obvious? "Back before Glee," he clarifies. "I threw eggs at you once with Puck and some other guys on the football team. I'm sorry."

He knows now probably isn't the best time to apologise. Like, they're sitting on the bus after Regionals, and he doesn't know what's gonna happen between them now that she's kissed him and he's admitted his feelings. But he had to say it.

"I just really wanted to tell you that," he says. "I've been thinking about it a lot lately. I'm sorry, Rach. I wish I could take it back."

She nods and focuses on her backpack. Moments later, she pulls out her pink ipod and unravels the earbuds. She hands one to him. "We're going to listen to the soundtrack of Wicked. I can't believe I've never made you listen to it before."

He nods and takes the earbud. She leans up suddenly and kisses his check. "Thank you," she murmurs. She settles back down on the seat and presses play on her ipod. "If you want to make it up to me," she adds matter-of-factly, "you can make our first date this weekend the best of my life."

He grins.

She wants to go out with him.

ix.

He pulls into her drive carefully.

He really doesn't need to, like, take out a bush or something on their first date. He checks his face one more time in the rear view mirror and then steps hesitantly out of the car. This is it. He's gonna take Rachel Berry on a date, and there's no stupid baby drama or Jesse St. Dickweed or anything else to get in the way.

He rings the doorbell, only to realise he left the flower in the car.

A moment later, she opens the door with a wide smile. "Hi Finn," she greets sweetly.

"Hey! Just wait one second, okay?" He races back to the truck, yanks open the door, and frantically searches for the stupid plant. He knew he shouldn't have tried to be all smooth and stuff like the movies. He finally finds the stupid sunflower, though, grabs it, and hurries back to her.

"Here," he pants, and he thrusts the thing at her.

She bites her lip and smiles as she takes it, and he realises she looks really hot. Like, she's curled her hair or something and it's falling around her shoulders loosely, and she has on this dark, smoky make-up. Her dress is dark and has these ribbons and bows, and it dips down just enough to show some cleavage. (But he's totally not looking at her boobs or anything.)

"Hi," he tries again.

"This is very sweet," she tells him. "Sunflowers are my favourite."

"Yeah, I remember," he says, nodding proudly. "You look really pretty." He has to say it now, before he forgets, 'cause he always forgets stuff like that.

"Thank you!" She smiles. "You look very handsome." She steps back, which is his cue to come into the house, he thinks. "Let me put this in water," she says, and he stands awkwardly as she disappears down the hall. When she reappears, she has a sweater with her. "Help me?" she says.

He holds up the sweater and she slips her arms into it. "It's really soft," he says, and then he feels like an idiot, because who cares if her sweater is soft? He always says the stupidest things when he's nervous.

"It's new," she replies happily. "So . . . should we — should we go?"

"Yeah! Yeah, definitely." He opens the door for her, and when she walks past him, he can smell her perfume or shampoo or something. It's fruity and cool and stuff. He thinks maybe he should tell her he likes it, but he stops himself. That might be, like, something a creeper would say, right?

They start to walk down the driveway. Her hand brushes his. He grabs it. He hopes his palm isn't too sweaty. She looks up and smiles shyly. "Finn," she says, and she slows on the trek to his car to look up at him with a determined gaze.

Dammit — his palm is too sweaty, and she's probably completely grossed out, and —

"Do you want to be my boyfriend?"

He trips. She steadies him, though, and he can't even imagine how red his face must be as he looks at her. "What?" he asks. Did she really just ask that?

"I know it's rather forward of me," she goes on, "but I thought it might relieve some of the tension tonight. Dates are generally trial runs, you know, to see if you'd like to see someone exclusively, but I already know I want to see you exclusively, and —"

"Yes," he interrupts. "Yes, I want to be your boyfriend." He smiles a little hesitantly, waiting for a response, and relief rushes over him when she beams. They stand there, then, looking at each other.

And he can't help it. He bends down to kiss her. But he pauses, 'cause he hadn't planned to try this until the end of the date, and he wasn't even gonna try it then unless the date went really good, and what if she freaks out now? He's such a big idiot — "I'm going to kiss you," she whispers. She stands on her tiptoes and presses her lips sweetly to his.

She pulls back after only a moment, and he stares at her. She has freckles on her nose. He's never noticed those before. Her breath tickles his face. "I'm going kiss you," he echoes, and she nods eagerly. His mouth hovers uncertainly over hers, but her fingers curl into the sleeves of his jacket, and the movement makes him brave. He kisses her, finally really kisses her, as he lets his hands rest on her waist, pulling her slowly towards him.

She sighs a little, and her lips part, and — and — This. Is. Fucking. Awesome.

She giggles a little and draws away from him. Biting her lip enticingly, she takes his hand once more. "This is already the best date I've ever been on," she tells him.

"Cool," he says.

xi.

"Off the top of my head? Can't I, like, think about it some and then get back to you?"

"No," she says, "no, no, no. The game doesn't work that way. I pick a genre or type of song, and you have to pick a specific song within that genre or type that you feel exemplifies us, and you have to do it then and there."

"But I don't know lots of songs like you do," he protests.

"Please, Finn? This is my favourite game." She looks at him with big, pouty eyes.

"Can't your favourite game be, like, baseball?"

She stomps her foot.

"Okay, fine," he says. "What's your pick again?"

"Ballad," she says happily.

"What ballad, off the top of my head, makes me think of me and you?"

"That's right," she says, nodding. "And, remember, a ballad is a song that tells a story. Often in great ballads, there are characters, many times the singer, who undergoes an evolution or experience that changes him or her."

He nods. Right. "Okay, so how about Faithfully?"

"That's no fun," she protests.

"Sorry," he laughs, "that's my pick."

"I suppose it'll do," she says, and she lifts up his hand and kisses it.

xii.

He's gonna do this whole thing with Rachel right.

He isn't gonna make any more stupid mistakes.

And he has the summer as, like, training wheels. (His relationship with Rachel is the bike, get it? That's an analogy. He's so proud of himself; he almost tells Rachel.)

There aren't jocks around to mess with them in the summer. The rules of popularity don't apply in the summer. He can say what he thinks, and nobody calls him stupid. She can wear a tank top that has a fluffy seal on it, and no cheerleader is gonna call her a freak. He can just be Finn, and she can just be Rachel, and they can just be Finn and Rachel.

Sure, they hang with the rest of Glee sometimes, like when they go bowling with Kurt and Mercedes, or when Artie helps Finn teach Rachel the basics of Call of Duty, but the rest of Glee all accept Finn and Rachel. That's why Glee club's awesome, you know?

He can take the summer to show Rachel what a great boyfriend he can be. He can take the summer to prove that he really does love her and she doesn't have to worry that he'll leave her for someone cooler or something stupid like that. He's made mistakes before, but he's learned his lesson. He's never gonna hurt her.

One night, he takes her to the movies and he actually manages to get her to make out with him, which is awesome. It's pretty much their first real make-out.

She tastes like movie theatre popcorn and malt balls, and her leg presses against his and her arms circle his shoulders. She starts to trail kisses down his neck, which is a first, and his eyes nearly roll back in his head. But he wants more. He wants her closer. His hands slide down her back and, daringly, he cups her ass to pull her all the way to him.

She jerks away, and, freaking out, he quickly slides his hands back up to safe territory. She looks at him shyly, her face flushed. "Finn," she whispers, a kind of awestruck and timid tone to her voice, and then she buries her face in his neck.

She actually watches the movie after that, snuggled as close to him as the seats allow.

He really wishes he hadn't gone for some butt action. (But for the record — so killer.)

Good boyfriends don't pressure their girlfriends, and she's gonna hate him for this. And, yeah, she didn't get angry right away, but he knows it must only be a matter of time. Quinn always got mad, or annoyed, or frustrated, as if he were a big idiot and he couldn't keep his hands to himself. He doesn't want Rachel to act like that.

When he drops her off at her house after the movie, he walks her to the door, like a boyfriend's supposed to do. "I had a really good time," she says, smiling as she adds, "as always."

"Me, too."

She pauses at the door, her hand still in his. "You're not — you're not mad about earlier, are you?" She bites her lip and looks at him nervously. He can't believe it. She thinks he would be mad?

"What? No! Of course not. It's cool." How can she possibly think that? He smiles reassuringly and she leans up to kiss him. She still tastes like the movie theatre popcorn. He's breathless when she pulls away. "I'll see you tomorrow," he says.

She nods and opens her front door, only to glance back. "You're a really good boyfriend, Finn."

He grins the entire drive home.

xiii.

He doesn't understand girls.

He never has, and he never will.

He certainly doesn't get Rachel.

She sleeps with Jesse, but she won't even let him near second base. She jumps up and down at his basketball games with a shirt that proclaims Team Finn, yet she doesn't want him on the football team. He doesn't understand any of it, and it kills him, because he wants to understand it.

He wants to understand her.

She sings to him, though, in Glee. She says all this stuff to him and she pours her heart out, and he thinks of when he sang Jesse's Girl, and he thinks that maybe this is her own version, and he takes a slow breath to hold back tears. When she finishes, people clap, and they look back and forth between Rachel and Finn, but he can't be bothered to care what they think.

She comes over and sits beside him, and he kisses her. He can't not.

"I meant it," she murmurs. "I meant every word."

"I know," he replies.

Mr. Schue starts talking, and Finn wraps an arm around her shoulders. He doesn't get her, but she seems to get him, and she always knows how to fix everything between them, like this, like now. He'd be totally lost without her.

xiv.

And that's why he can't lose her.

She can't find out about Santana.

'Cause he messed up, he knows, and she won't understand, and it's just better if she doesn't know. If he knew how to explain it all to her in her language, so that she would get it and it would all be okay, then he'd be able to come clean, but that's not how it is.

He counts on her to love him despite all the stupid stuff he's done, and he doesn't need to test that.

(Maybe that's the stupidest thing he's ever done, actually.)

It doesn't matter. He just really doesn't need to cause her anymore hurt.

xv.

She falls asleep on his lap.

His mom and Burt are both a little tipsy at the head table as they talk with their friends, and some of the guests have already gone home, but there are plenty more still on the dance floor. It's way past midnight, though, and Rachel's curled up like a little cat in his arms, her face tucked into his neck.

Her face is flushed pink, her hair has mostly come undone, and one strap of her dress has slipped slightly. He looks down at her, and he feels this kind of warmth seep into him. He feels this, like, this tenderness overtake him. He wants to take care of her. He wants to carry her to bed and tuck her under the sheets and whisper "sweet dreams" to her.

He loves her, and it's kinda scary.

He wants to make out with her and he wants to see her naked and he wants to have sex with her.

But that's just the start of it all.

He wants to buy her that sweater with the cat on it he saw at the mall, 'cause he knows it'll make her smile and she'll absolutely love it. He wants to see her in a musical 'cause she's always wanted to be in one. He wants to bake her brownies or something 'cause she always bakes stuff for him and somebody should make something for her. He wants to give her everything.

He doesn't really think it's, you know, normal for somebody his age to feel this way.

He does, though.

He thinks about the vows Burt and his mom made, and he plans out his own in his head. He'll tell her that she changed his life, and that she makes him want to be better, but she accepts him for who he is, and it's so . . . it's so rare — that's a good word for it — to find somebody like that. He'll tell her that he can always count on her and. . . .

His vows won't be very fancy, and hers will have all these big words and everything and they'll reduce everybody to tears, but he'll still really mean his, and he knows she'll like them. And he is gonna marry her someday. He just knows it.

"Mmm, Finn?" Rachel murmurs sleepily, shifting slightly. "'S cold," she whispers, pressing her face into his neck.

"You want me to take you home?" he offers.

"No," she says. Her eyes are still closed. "Wanna stay here with you."

He smiles a little, and then he cradles her to his chest with one hand as he reaches around and pulls his tux jacket off the back of his chair. "Here," he says, and he gently props her up and helps her slip the coat on. It totally dwarfs her, which is completely adorable. She settles back against his chest, unconsciously smacking her lips a little sleepily.

"Thanks, baby," she mutters, "love you."

He only kisses her head.

And I'll love you forever. That's how his end his vows.

'Cause he will.

xvi.

He will love her forever, but she has to take care of him, too.

She has to be there and unabashedly tell him that he's not an idiot as long as he tries to be nice and do what's right and stuff. She has to be there to fix stuff when he screws up, 'cause he screws up a lot, and she always knows how to fix things.

He slept with Santana when he was depressed and desperate, and then he lied about it 'cause he was scared, and now he doesn't know how to explain any of that to his girlfriend or to assure her that it didn't mean anything and she should just forget it 'cause he wants to forget it, too.

See, he wants to ask Rachel what he should do, 'cause she'll know. She's so smart, and so perceptive, and she understands other people and is nice to them even when they don't deserve it. She's Rachel. If anybody can help him with all this, it's her.

But he can't ask Rachel what he should tell Rachel to make Rachel feel better.

Isn't that messed up? He kinda wants to ask his mom, but he doesn't know if he can tell her about the whole mess with Santana. Mr. Schue hasn't really been somebody Finn can turn to in a long time, and Ms. Pillsbury definitely isn't any help. Pick is the worst best friend in the world, and Finn doubts Artie or Mike or Kurt would have any good advice, either.

He really needs to get his own shit together.

Somehow, though, he keeps waiting for Rachel to make it all okay.

She has to know that it didn't mean anything. She has to know that he lied because he didn't want to hurt her. She has to know that, yeah, Santana is super hot, but he's not with Santana. He's with her, because he's in love with her. He's Finn, and she's Rachel, and together they're Finn and Rachel, and that's awesome. She'll realise that, like she realises everything, and she'll put all the broken pieces back together.

He needs her to fix it all. He's counting on her.

xvii.

And she lets him down.

"No more lies," he says.

What if he hadn't said that? Would she have kept the truth from him? But he does say it, and she tells him everything. He can't be near her. He can't. He walks away from her, and she avoids him for the rest of the day, even in Glee.

He tells himself maybe it'll all turn out to be a misunderstanding, a big, stupid mistake, and Rachel will pull this explanation out of no where and make everything okay again. After all, this isn't like her. Rachel, the Rachel he knows and loves and dated for months, wouldn't cheat on him. She's better than this. And she'll prove it. She'll fix everything.

But she doesn't.

She approaches him the next day, and she apologises, and that's that.

She doesn't fix anything.

It all falls apart, and he sees it happen.

Finn closes his eyes, and Puck pushes the plaid skirt up Rachel's thigh. Finn turns over in bed, angrily punches his pillow, and he wills himself to sleep. But he sees Puck thrust his tongue into Rachel's mouth, and he sees Puck's hands all over her breasts, and he sees Rachel pant as Puck trails kisses along her neck and —

She cheated on him.

No matter what he does or says or thinks or convinces himself to feel, he can't escape that.

She trails after him, day after day, and she says sorry again and again, but it doesn't make a difference. In his nightmares, as Puck yanks down her panties, the little white ones with the pink stars all over them, she whispers sorry once, twice, a third time. And then she lets Puck fuck her.

xviii.

"Don't let her turn you into one," she told him.

She should have said, "Don't let me turn you into one."

It hurts worse when she does it, 'cause he never sees it coming.

xix.

"It's time for you to forgive me!" Rachel tells him.

He can't forgive her.

He can't even look at her.

Did he ever even know her? Everything she's ever done suddenly seems suspect. How can he have fallen so in love with her, how can he have come to count on her so much, if she's not even the person he thought she was? How can have been such a big idiot? How can she have been such a big bitch? And what the hell is he supposed to do now?

He tries to forget her. He makes it clear that they're over, that they are officially broken up, but it doesn't make anything easier. He tries to focus on Christmas, because he loves Christmas. He let Quinn and Puck ruin the holiday for him last year, but he'll enjoy it this year if it kills him. It doesn't really work, though. He can't forget about her, and he can't forgive her.

He lies in bed and stares at the ceiling, and Rachel moans Puck's name.

xx.

She backs off, like he wanted.

He sees her at school, and he sees her in Glee, and it's like last year when she dated Jesse. They're just two people, and they can put up with each other, but they're not close, they're not even friends. They don't sing any duets, they don't pass notes, they don't even acknowledge one another unless forced by Mr. Schue or somebody.

He hates it.

How is this what he wanted?

(He knows she'll take him back if he wants. He knows she'll jump into his arms in a heartbeat the moment he opens them up. It doesn't make anything any better. It just makes it all harder.)

xxi.

Quinn kisses him.

Finn cries like a baby all night afterward.

"You're still in love with her, aren't you?" Quinn asks the next day.

"I don't know how not to be," he tells her.

She nods, and he thinks maybe she doesn't want to leave Sam for him. She wants to leave Sam for somebody who messed her up as bad as Rachel messed up Finn. They're both fucking idiots. "We were good together," she says, "sometimes, anyway." She smiles softly.

"No," he says, offering her a sad smile in return, "not really."

But, hell, what does he know?

"Why did you cheat on me?" he asks.

"Because I . . ." She bites her lip and looks away, and he knows she doesn't want him to see her cry. When she meets his gaze again, her face is determined. "Because you're right. We weren't good for each other. And I fell in love with someone else."

He thinks maybe that's the best answer she could have given him.

"But, Finn, Rachel didn't fall in love with Puck."

"No, she just wanted to hurt me," he mutters.

Quinn doesn't have an answer for that.

xxii.

Does Rachel join the football team with the other girls to get close to him?

He thinks maybe she does, and that pisses him off.

He needs time. He needs space. That makes sense, right? That's what characters on television always want and stuff. Like, he used to watch Friends with his mom, and if he's Ross and she's Rachel, then they need space. Except, do Ross and Rachel even get space, since all their friends are the same and stuff? And isn't he Rachel — like the Rachel on the show, I mean, as far as the analogy goes? And don't Ross and Rachel have a kid?

Whatever.

She looks cute in her football uniform, but he can't do this.

xxiii.

Brittany has a huge super bowl after party.

She invites, like, half the school, but she also invites all of Glee, and Finn hates that no matter where he goes in her giant house, he manages to see Rachel among all the hordes of people. She has on this pink dress with white polka dots, and the fuzzy pink sweater she wore on their first date, and she even has her hair tied up in a pink ribbon. She looks like Rachel.

It actually makes his heart hurt.

She stands awkwardly with Kurt and Mercedes, clutching a soda to her chest, and he wants to go to her, to wrap his arms around her and to make her feel more comfortable, but he can't. He doesn't get this. It's been over a month, and he still just feels so much when he looks at her — sometimes good, sometimes bad, but always so much.

He just wants to be okay again. He just wants to know what he wants. In the end, he stumbles out of the party to sit out on the front porch and watch his breath billow up in little clouds. He doesn't know how long he sits there before she joins him, but he recognises her lacy pink socks and shiny black mary janes the moment steps out onto the porch. It's quiet.

He doesn't know what to say. He shouldn't have to say anything, dammit.

He came out here to escape, remember?

"My dads got me the complete works of Barbra Steisand on Blu-ray," she says. "Of course, I already had nearly all her films, but the quality of these is astounding, and it's really very nice."

"That's great, Rachel," he says. "Why are you telling me this?" He glares at her.

And he wants to cry.

Because she looks like he slapped her, and this isn't fair. He needs time and space away from her if he ever has a chance to forgive her, can't she see that? He's doing this the best way he knows how, and she has to respect that.

"I'm sorry," she says. "But you're my . . . you're really my only friend, and I have no one else to talk to. I wanted to tell somebody. . . . I'm sorry. I know you want space. I'm sorry." She stands quickly and starts back towards the house.

"Rachel," he says, and there's this pathetic whine in his voice. He looks at her. "I counted on you," he murmurs. "And you . . . " He doesn't want to say that she ripped his heart out and trampled all over it — but that's the truth.

"You counted on me?" Rachel echoes. She steps towards him, and her eyes are watery as she gazes down at him with this incredulous look on her face. "Did you ever think, Finn, that maybe I counted on you, too? That maybe you let me down, too? That maybe, just maybe, you messed me up, too?" A single tear makes a getaway down her cheek.

"I know I'm the villain," she murmurs, and she swipes angrily at her eyes. "I know that what I did is abhorrent and reprehensible, and you were completely right to break up with me. I cheated on you. My actions were immature and cruel and altogether rather heinous.

"But, Finn, all that time we were together, you never once stood up for me. You never — I know I act like I can take the slushies and the insults and all of it, but I'm not made of steel, Finn! You counted on me?

"I counted on you, Finn! You were my only friend! You were my best friend! I loved you so much, and you could never once act like you really loved me, too. I needed you to act like it, Finn. I needed you to show it!" She's sobbing now, and some of the tears are black from her mascara.

She's messed up. Just like him.

"I'm sorry for what I did," she whispers. "I really am. But I'm not totally heartless. I'm human."

She turns back to the house and disappears inside before he can even open his mouth.

He leaves the party.

He hates parties, anyway.

xxiv.

Maybe someone should have said something to Rachel.

"You're not a mean person. Don't let him turn you into one."

They both screwed up.

Who's gonna fix it now?

xxv.

Burt and his mom get into a fight.

It's pretty much a regular Wednesday night. He hears someone shouting downstairs, though, and he pauses his game to investigate. He can't believe what he sees: his mom on one side of the kitchen, Burt on the other, their faces tight and tense and angry, the battle lines clearly drawn.

He tiptoes back upstairs.

An hour later, someone knocks on his door. It's his mom. "Hey, honey," she greets quietly. "You never came down for dinner. I thought you'd be starving by now."

He shrugs. "Yeah, I . . . I had a big lunch." He smiles tightly.

She sighs and comes into the room, softly shutting the door behind herself as she sits on his bed. "You heard us fighting," she says, and it's not a question, but he nods. "I'm sorry. You shouldn't have had to hear that."

"Are you . . . are you guys gonna get divorced?"

Her eyebrows fly up. "Divorced? Of course not!" She sighs. "We were — it was about my job. He hates it and he wants me to quit. I mean, I hate it, too, but it's my job. It's what's kept us going for years now. We calmed down, though, and we talked. Sometimes I think the nastiest fights I have are with the people I love most, you know? Because you know all the right things to say to hurt each other, and you have the biggest ability to hurt each other."

She pauses. "But it's all good, I promise. Don't worry about me and Burt. You can come eat something now, if you like." She offers a small smile. "I made chicken pot pie."

That sounds good. He loves chicken pot pie. He doesn't really want to eat it just yet, though. "Mom," he says slowly, "can we talk?" She looks at him in that way she has, and she waits for more, so he gives her more. He lets it all pour out.

Like, she knows he and Rachel broke up, but he never told her why, and she never pushed it.

He tells her now. He tells her everything. It doesn't fix anything, but it does make him feel better.

And that's something, right?

xxvi.

Azimio walks into school with a slushie.

Finn tenses, but the dude walks right by him, and he relaxes. He realises, though, that the slushie is meant for somebody, and that sucks. It could be Tina or Mercedes or somebody in Glee. Or it could be some poor other kid, maybe even, like, Jacob Ben Israel. It doesn't matter who it is. Nobody should be slushied, just like nobody should be thrown into dumpsters. Who made stuff like that cool, anyway?

It all happens really fast.

He sees Rachel at her locker down the hall, checking her hair in her little mirror, and he sees Azimio lift the slushie slightly, and he knows what's going to happen. And then he totally freaks out, because he's sick of this shit. He's sick of slushies and eggs and dumpsters and —

He sprints down the hallway, shoving at a few kids to get there, and he grabs Azimio moments before he can slushie Rachel. He slams the other boy against the lockers and the drink tumbles to the ground. "What the hell is your problem?" Finn shouts.

Azimio shoves him and Finn punches him in the face.

It hurts so bad. He hears Rachel exclaim his name. People are staring and whispering, but there are no teachers, 'cause there are never teachers around when stuff like this goes down. "Damn, boy, you just dug your own grave!" Azimio threatens, and he shoves Finn hard. That's gonna leave a bruise.

He'll leave a bigger one on Azimio.

Finn grabs the half-empty slushie cup from the ground and splashes the rest of it in Azimio's face, and then he pins him against the wall. "Don't slushie her again, d'you hear me? Don't touch her!" Somebody grabs Finn, and he sees the sleeve of a letterman jacket, and he knows it isn't a teacher. He elbows the guy and then lunges at Azimio, who tries to punch Finn but misses by a mile, 'cause he has a bunch of purple gunk in his eyes.

Finn slams his fist into Azimio's nose, blood spurts out, and Finn spins around —

"Enough!" Sue Sylvester yells.

The whole hall freezes.

Finn sees Artie and Brittany nearby, and Quinn, too. "Disperse, all of you!" Sue glares at the crowd, before she looks at Finn and her eyes narrow. He doesn't care if he's in trouble. Brown, that stupid basketball player who can't make foul shots to save his life, helps Azimio to his feet. The guy's all covered in grape slushie and blood, and Finn kinda wishes he'd done worse.

"And apparently members of the Glee club do have a spine," Sue says.

Finn frowns.

"Coach," Brown starts, "Hudson just totally attacked Azimio out of no where, and —"

"That is not true!" Rachel protests immediately, storming to the center of attention.

"Okay, no," Sue says, cutting her off. "Let's get a few things clear. I don't care about any of you. I don't care about your rivalries. I don't care about your dating rituals. I don't care about your feelings. And I definitely don't care about your prepubescent squabbles. But you will not incite physical violence in my school, is that understood?" She eyes Finn, who nods, and Brown and Azimio both do moments later, too. There's a tense pause.

"Midget!" Sue barks. "Front and center!" Nobody moves. Sue rolls her eyes. "That's you, Steisand."

Rachel steps forward and opens her mouth to say something, but Sue doesn't give her the chance. "If I have to listen to you jabber one more word, I will claw off my own ears." She pauses. "Take your beloved Glee hero to the nurse. And the rest of you — move!" She turns to the crowd, who all start to walk in different directions as she shouts.

Finn can't believe that's all the punishment he gets. Ms. Sylvester pretty much sided with him.

As Azimio walks away, he glares at Finn. Finn glares back. Bring it, motherfucker.

Rachel touches his arm. He looks down at her. She smiles shyly. "Come on," she says. "You heard her. Let me take you to the nurse."

"I'm fine," he mumbles, suddenly embarrassed at the way he lost it in front of her.

"Your hands," she says, and he looks down to see his fingers are bloody. Slowly, he nods. He could use some ice. They don't talk as they go to the nurse, but as the older woman wraps bandages around his knuckles, he finally meets Rachel's gaze. "Thank you," she says quietly.

"Sure," he tells her. "That's what . . . that's what friends are for, right?"

She nods.

xxvii.

Rachel sings a duet with Puck.

When she first announces her intention and Puck stands up beside her, swinging his guitar around and plucking the first few notes, Finn wants to hurl something. Hard. But then she starts to sing, and she doesn't take her eyes off him as her voice twirls through the air and comes to rest on him, seeping into his skin.

And, as she finishes, he realises that The Only Exception wasn't her Jesse's Girl.

This is her Jesse's Girl.

She mentioned once over the summer that his serenade that day had provided the first chink in the heavy armour she had dawned to defend her heart from him. Now, Finn stares into space as she sits down, pleased with her performance, and Mr. Schue grins and pats Puck on the back.

And that sound? Hear it? That's the sound of Finn's armour breaking.

xxviii.

Rachel arrives at Glee with a strawberry slushie.

Finn really wants to know why, but he doesn't want to ask. He waits for someone else to. When Artie does, though, Rachel replies calmly, "No reason."

Mr. Schue comes in and tells them, his face guarded, that he has a treat. Coach Slyvester kindly found them a temporary co-director to help him with a dance routine for Regionals. Finn frowns. And Jesse St. James walks into the room.

People start to mutter, and Finn can't believe this.

Jesse gives some stupid speech and then looks at Rachel. "Aren't you, at least, happy to see me?" She doesn't reply right away, and he says. "Are you surprised? Didn't you get my text?"

"Actually, yes, Jesse, I received your text early this morning," she tells him. She stands. And she throws a slushie in his face. "I hope you are pecked to death by chickens," she says. "Also, I hope they poop in your hair first."

Finn cheers with everyone else.

He really wants to kiss her.

He doesn't.

xxix.

It comes on the radio one day when he's driving to school.

He's always loved Guns 'n Roses, but this has never been one of his favourite songs. His mom likes it, though. It always makes her smile. He think he might have sung it to her once when he was a kid, to cheer her up or something.

As he listens, though, he thinks about Rachel's game.

If they ever play it again, he'll choose this for the ballad that makes him think of them.

The last lines of the song reverberate around the car, and he wonders if it really works that way.

xxx.

It just happens.

He comes to school, and she has on this new blue skirt with this matching blouse that has a big blue, like, tie, and it's really cute. He knows it's new, 'cause it makes her butt look really good, and he would totally remember a skirt like that.

She smiles at him as she walks by. He smiles, too.

And he realises it.

He's forgiven her.

He doesn't know how. It doesn't really make sense.

He thinks, though, that maybe this isn't the sort of thing that's supposed to make sense.

xxxi.

Girls are strange creatures.

He doesn't think he'll ever understand them.

He understands Rachel, though. He sort of does, anyway. Okay, he likes to think that maybe he does. He goes online and he finds tickets to the community theatre production of Oklahoma (his mom helps; it's actually kinda her idea) and then, after Glee, he goes over to her before she can leave.

"Hey," he says.

"Hello Finn," she greets brightly, slipping her sheet music folder back into her backpack.

"Are you doing anything Friday?"

She freezes, and he literally sees the hope spring up in her eyes. "Nope," she says. "My Friday is entirely and completely and utterly free."

"You wanna maybe go see Oklahoma with me? I got tickets."

"Yes!" She says the one word so loudly that Mercedes and Tina turn back from the doorway and stare. Rachel only beams. Finn does, too.

xxxii.

She practices her breathing exercises before she goes out on stage.

He knows she shouldn't be nervous. They totally have Nationals in the bag, especially after she gives the most awesome solo New York has ever seen, which she is about to do.

"You're going to do great, Rachel," Mr. Schue says, squeezing her shoulder. "Break a leg."

"Yeah," Finn says, and she glances over at him. "Break a leg."

She smiles, slow and wide. "I love you."

xxxiii.

They escape from the rest of the Glee club and up to his room.

Puck sees him go, and he winks, and Finn thinks maybe that's, like, unmanly guy code of some kind. He'll take what he can get, anyway.

It's awkward. He fumbles and she giggles and it takes forever to get her dress off. She accidentally bites his tongue at one point, and he blows his wad the first time before she's even underneath him, and he can't focus on the condom wrapper when she's on top of him and her little breasts are, like, right there.

They get their act together eventually, though.

It doesn't last long, but when he finishes, she won't let him pull away. "Stay," she murmurs, and she grips his shoulders tightly, and presses her face into his sweaty neck. He doesn't want to leave, either. He loves her so much it feels like it's all there is, and he knows, even as he does pull away and roll onto his back, that he'll never really pull away.

They're gonna make it through now. What can possibly break them up?

He props himself up on his elbow and looks at her, even as she pulls the sheet up to her nose and peeks over the edge at him. He laughs. "That was awesome," he tells her.

"It was rather nice," she says, and she reaches up and runs a hand affectionately through his hair. "In fact, I feel as if I should have tried it a long time ago. I feel really good, which makes sense, really, as I've read that sex releases endorphins."

"I don't know what those are," he tells her, and he starts to kiss her. He totally wants to have more sex. She talks, though, and his mouth hovers over hers as she goes on about food and exercise and chemicals in the brain. He finally interrupts and kisses her.

He draws back after a moment. "What?" she breathes.

"What's a ballad that makes you think of us?" he says.

She frowns, puzzled. "Ours is Faithfully, remember?"

"I have another one," he tells her. "November Rain."

"Sing it for me," she immediately demands, and he laughs again.

But he does.

And sex the second time? It's even better than the first.

xxxiv.

He sees Quinn pull Puck aside at breakfast the next morning.

He can hear half of the conversation, too, and it doesn't sound good.

But he kinda wishes she had pulled him somewhere other than the bagel table, 'cause he was about to go get a bagel, but he totally can't go over there now. He eyes Rachel's bagel. Does she even eat bagels? She catches his gaze and, without pausing in her conversation with Tina, pushes the bagel onto his plate. Score.

"Are you an idiot?" Quinn hisses.

Finn bites into his bagel, feels Rachel's hand on his knee under the table, and smiles to himself.

Sucks to be Puck.

Fin.


I know it's hard to keep an open heart,

When even friends seem out to harm you.

But if you could heal a broken heart,

Wouldn't time be out to charm you?

Sometimes I need some time, on my own,

Sometimes I need some time, all alone.

Everybody needs some time own.

Don't you know you need some time, all alone?

And when your fears subside,

And shadows still remain,

I know that you can love me,

When there's no one left to blame.

So never mind the darkness,

We still can find a way.

'Cause nothin' lasts forever,

Even cold November rain.


a/n: title and lyrics are, if this isn't evident, "November Rain," by Guns 'n Roses. I LOVE Guns 'n Roses (I even kind of liked Chinese Democracy, but only a little!), and November Rain is by fair my favourite song of all time ("wouldn't time be out to charm you?" - doesn't it break your heart? doesn't it? doesn't it? it's frickin' poetry!), and I think it really fits Finn/Rachel right now perfectly :)

Also-the brief scenes with Quinn and with Jesse are as close as I want to come even to THINKING about the stupid speculation that's been circulating.