a/n: Okay, I know I should focus on "When The World Comes Down," but I've been toying with this idea for ages, and I can't help myself. Right now, the outline has ten chapters. I tend to write in more detail than I originally plan, though, so it'll probably end up as twelve or thirteen chapters. This is my first Glee fic in past tense (yes, I can do it, I swear!), my first legitimate multi-chapter for the fandom, and my first "period piece" so to speak (or "historical fanfiction" if that works) for any fandom. I hope it doesn't disappoint on any count! The fic is, above all, a Rachel/Finn story, but there are other romances, and I intend to include all the Gleeks we know and love :) The whole story won't be in Finn's POV, but he will be the leading man most of the time.
"It's Hummel. I've got something for you. It's all here. Everything. You want to take down Mr. Karofsky? Here's all you need. Here's the whole story, the murder, the money, all of it. But you have to make me a promise. It isn't only his story, see. They're all tied up in it. And if you go after Karofsky, he'll try to take all the rest down with him. You have to promise me that won't happen. Can you do that? Here goes, then. It all started years ago, of course, but we don't have time for that. I'll start with when the new Fright night singer came. I'm not sure it's her real name, but she goes by Rachel. . . ."
He hated McKinley's.
He didn't even know who the original McKinley was. But the club had to be named after somebody, didn't it? He wondered sometimes. McKinley was probably some poor fellow with a family, and he did right in every way he could, but he had something Karofsky wanted, so Karofsky took it. Finn felt bad when he thought about it, but there was no use to that. Puck always said McKinley's was a terrible name, anyhow. He always said if he had a club, he'd call it something macho.
Finn didn't know what he'd call a club if he had one of his own.
But it didn't much matter. He didn't have a club of his own. All he had was McKinley's, and he hated every damn brick of the building. He sighed, stomped out what was left of his cigarette, and headed into the club. He had to go in eventually, didn't he?
It wasn't too crowded, but it wasn't too late, either.
Some Jazz boys were up on stage, and half the tables were full, and Finn could spot a few people— there was Mercedes up front, talking with some locals; Madame Sylvester sat with a few of her girls and that greasy twit Mr. Remington at one table; Artie Abrams was at another, and Brittany was already beside him, smiling and touching a hand to his knee.
He didn't see Mr. Karofsky, or any of his boys, not even Puck.
Finn focused on the bar, though, and he saw Sam, who nodded hello from across the smoky club. Finn slipped into a stool at the bar and Sam slid a drink to him, just like always. "Sam," he greeted.
"Finn," Sam said. "Haven't seen you around in a few days."
Finn grimaced into his glass. "Nope." He paused. "I might have been avoiding the place."
"I thought as much," Sam replied. "I'm glad you came tonight, though. He'd've gone after you if you'd tried to ignore him another day."
"I'm not so sure he still won't," Finn replied sourly, and Sam chuckled sympathetically. "He's coming in tonight, isn't he?" Maybe he wouldn't, and Finn could have a reprieve for another night.
"Always comes on Fridays," Sam replied. "You know that."
"Good evening, Mr. Evans!" a girl chirped.
She slipped into the seat beside Finn, and he glanced to the side to greet her; chances were if she came to McKinley's, he knew her. The moment he saw her, however, he nearly spat out his drink. He knew it wasn't right to stare, especially not at a stranger, but he couldn't not stare.
"Evening, Ms. Berry," Sam said pleasantly. "What can I do you for?"
"An Orange Blossom, please," she replied pleasantly, smoothing her dress. He definitely didn't know her. And what was she wearing?
She looked at Finn and caught his gaze. She smiled brightly. "I see you've noticed my hat," she said. "It's hard not to stare, I know. What do you think of it?"
That was a hat?
"I think that . . .," Finn said, ". . . is a . . . hat." That made no sense, but he tried to smile. "A nice hat, I mean," he amended. From the corner of his eye, he could see Sam smirking. "I think that's a real nice hat," he repeated, trying another smile.
"Thank you!" the girl said, beaming. "I bought it at a little shop down on 5th. I usually like to make my own hats; I use all sorts of things: ribbons, buttons, flowers — anything I can put some thread to, really, but it's rather hard to make something quite so lovely as a hat like this."
"Right," Finn said, "I'd say."
"Orange Blossom, doll," Sam said, handing her a glass. Finn didn't even know what an Orange Blossom was. And he couldn't stop staring at the hat. Was it a bird or . . . ?
"I'm Ms. Rachel Berry," she told him, holding out her hand. "I'm from Ohio, and one day I'll be on Broadway."
He took her small hand, and she shook it firmly, surprising him. "Finn Hudson," he said. "I'm from Michigan." He didn't really have any ambitious future plans to share.
"From Detroit?" Ms. Rachel Berry asked brightly. "It's very pleasant here."
Finn thought she might be the first person ever to call Detroit very pleasant.
"Nope, a little West of here," he replied. She glanced at Sam, as if for an explanation.
"He came here to make it big," Sam told Rachel. "Just like all of us. He's a regular around McKinley's, actually, even if he hasn't been by in the last week." He addressed Finn. "Ms. Berry's been here every night since Monday, Finn."
"And my patience and perseverance has paid off," Rachel declared. "Mr. Schuester promised me I could audition tonight. I fully expect to dazzle the audience." She smiled again, took a dainty sip of her orange drink, and looked at Finn happily.
"Audition?" Finn asked. "You're a singer?"
"That's right," Rachel said proudly.
"And you want to sing here?"
"Not permanently, of course," she answered hastily. "I do intend to star on Broadway someday. But until I have enough savings to go to New York, I'll need some work here in Detroit. I've auditioned at a few others clubs, but, well, you know how hard it is these days."
She took another sip of her drink, a little less of a shine to her face. Finn felt bad. He wanted her audition tonight to go well, because it was hard these days, and she seemed nice enough, if maybe a little crazy. She was tiny, and she had these big, bright eyes, and he thought maybe she could be pretty if she took off that hat.
But she didn't want to work at McKinley's.
No decent person wanted anything to do with a club like this.
"What do you do?" she asked him, turning slightly so as to face him.
"Yes, you," she said teasingly, smiling sweetly again, as if he had told a good joke. He was pretty sure he had never seen someone smile that widely before. It was kind of disorienting. He liked it, though.
"I'm a Boxer," he answered. "Just locally," he went on, "around Detroit and all." He felt suddenly as if he ought to defend himself, as if she would grimace at his words and turn away. She only looked at him, however, eyes large with interest, and nodded for him to go on. "I mean, it isn't a life," he said, "but it's something for now."
"I understand completely," Rachel assured earnestly, patting his arm. "I've never met a Boxer before. But you've very nice, Mr. Hudson, and you set a very good example for Boxers everywhere."
"I — thank you, I think," he said.
"You've very welcome. I — oh! It's Mr. Schuester! Excuse me, gentlemen. Oh, here." She pulled a dime from her skirt and handed it to Sam. "Do I look okay?" She smoothed her dress once more, and now that she stood he realised it wasn't a dress at all. Rather, she wore a skirt and jacket, both bright purple, and a lacy shirt that buttoned up her neck and was clipped with a large bird broach. She looked a little silly, maybe, but she was kind of cute, too. And she really was tiny, he decided.
But that hat.
"Maybe don't wear the hat," he suggested.
"I mean, I really like the hat," he went on quickly, glancing at Sam for support.
"Me, too," Sam said.
"But not everyone can appreciate how . . . how bold it is," Finn said. "You know?"
To his relief, she nodded and reached up to slip off her hat. "You're right, of course. Thank you! Would you look after it for me? I'd simply die if something happened to it!"
"Don't worry," he told her as she handed it over. He started to say something more, but he fumbled slightly. She had thick, dark, shiny hair that, now let loose, curled slightly around her face, and Finn realised she wasn't simply cute. She was actually sort of pretty. It wasn't the kind of beautiful that turned heads, but she was something.
"How do I look now?" she asked, biting her lip.
Finn didn't reply right away. "Gorgeous," Sam supplied.
"Yeah." Finn nodded.
"Thank you! Wish me luck." She paused.
"Good luck," Sam and Finn both offered.
She beamed and turned away, her eyes seeking Shuester once more before she found him and made a beeline for him, her purple skirt twirling about her ankles. "She's . . ." Finn began, watching as she startled poor old Mr. Schue, who looked momentarily confused and then simply tired as she waved her arms about and chatted his ear off.
"Eccentric?" Sam said. "Sure. But I kind of like her. It's hard to find somebody with spirit like that around here anymore." Finn handed her hat over to Sam, who put it beneath the bar and then turned to pour someone else a drink.
"Who's eccentric and spirited?" Kurt asked as he sat down beside Finn. "Clark Gable? I don't know if I'd call him eccentric, but he's certainly easy on the eyes. Back over here, Sam!"
"Who's Clark Gable?" asked Finn.
"Who's Clark Gable? Jeepers Creepers, Finn! Have you taken one too many hits to the head? Honestly." He shook his head, accepted a drink from Sam, and then pulled out his small notebook and pen. "What's new, then?" he asked.
"Nothing," Finn said.
"I haven't seen you in a few days," Kurt observed. Before Finn could come up with an excuse, Mercedes appeared. She always came by to greet Kurt when he arrived. She looked annoyed, and Finn suspected it was at whomever she had just served, but she brightened slightly as Sam slid her a glass of something and Kurt smiled at her.
"How's the next great American novel coming along, Kurt?" she asked him. She asked him that every night, and every night he merely smiled. "And if it isn't old Finn Hudson!" she exclaimed, feigning amazement. "Here I thought you'd forgotten about all of us at McKinley's."
"Impossible," Kurt dismissed. "We're unforgettable." He didn't look up as he spoke; he only continued to write something in his notebook. No one cared — Kurt came by McKinley's every night, drank fancy cocktail after fancy cocktail, and wrote away in his book, and it would be strange to see him act any other way.
"I've been busy," Finn told Mercedes.
"I heard about your last fight," she said quietly, her smile fading. "Or lack thereof."
Kurt glanced over at them. "Lack thereof?" he prompted.
Finn sighed. "I —" He caught sight of him suddenly, and his insides dropped. "Fuck," he whispered. Kurt and Mercedes both followed his gaze. Karofsky was here. He sat down at the same table he always took, and Noah Puckerman, Will Shuester, and Quinn Fabray all sat with him.
Quinn Fabray was about the most gorgeous woman Finn had ever lied eyes on. She was dolled up in something silvery and bright tonight, something that was draped over her shoulders and made her look all kinds of ritzy, and she had curled her short hair like all the girls had it these days, and —
— and Puck managed to spot Finn across the club. Puck nodded sharply at him, his expression cold and guarded and with something of a warning in it, and Finn's hand tightened into a fist. He drank the last of his whiskey and then slammed it down on the bar.
"Good luck," Mercedes murmured.
He barely acknowledged her. The whole club seemed louder now. More people were around, talking and laughing and dancing, and the room was hazier with even more smoke. Finn felt a little sick as he approached their table. Quinn's gaze flickered to him for a moment before flickering disinterestedly away again. She lit a cigarette. Finn focused on Karofsky, who eyed him lazily.
"Have a seat, Hudson," he said.
He pulled a chair out and sat. He should have brought a drink with him. "It's good to see you, Mr. Karofsky," he said.
"Is it?" Mr. Karofsky said.
Finn smiled tightly. "Puck," he greeted, nodding at his friend. "Ms. Fabray."
"Mr. Hudson," Quinn said smoothly, looking at her bright red nails.
"Will," Finn said.
"Hello Finn," Will replied, attempting a smile that came out as something else, something sad and pathetic. He looked as if he wanted to say something more, but he eyed Karfosky and kept quiet. Finn hadn't ever know Will Shuester as any different, but he had always thought there must have been a time when Will wasn't such a thin, pale, drip man.
He sure was now, though.
"I heard you didn't fight Langley on Monday," Mr. Karofsky said, drawing Finn's thoughts back to him. He spoke calmly, but Finn didn't what to say. "I go to all the trouble to arrange a good fight for you, and you don't show?" Now there was no edge to his voice. "Sometimes," he continued, "I think you don't appreciate everything I do for you, Hudson." His beady eyes narrowed slightly as he gazed at Finn.
"It's not like that," Finn said quickly. "Langley was twenty pounds heavier than I was. I would've been slaughtered. I thought . . . I thought it would be best not to fight this one. I've got a fight next Wednesday, though, against —"
"You thought it would be best?" Karofsky asked. He looked at Puck. "Is that what he said?"
"That's what he said," Puck echoed, his expression blank.
Sometimes Finn hated Puck — he was the first friend Finn had made in Detroit, but he was also one of Karofsky's fucking goons, and he'd sell out Finn for free tooth paste.
"That's what I thought." Karofsky focused on Finn. "Let me explain something to you, Hudson. I'm not interested in what you thought. If you fight, you get paid. It don't matter if you win or lose. It don't matter if you get slaughtered. As long as you're still alive, they pay you. And if they pay you, then you pay me, and everybody's happy.
"You fight, you're paid, I'm paid, and there ain't a reason for you to think. You hear me, Hudson?"
"I hear you," Finn said. It was quiet. Quinn blew a ring of smoke.
"Now, I'm a forgiving man," Karofsky finally went on, "which means I'll let this one go."
Finn bit back a visible sigh of relief.
"But next Friday, you fight Benny Reid."
Finn's blood went cold. "Reid's at least thirty pounds —"
"Fifty dollars, Hudson. That's the offer for a fight with Reid. I want that fifty. It'll be what you owe me for this week, with interest, and for next week."
Finn bulked. Even if he did fight, he needed to send some of that money back to Ohio. He hadn't been able to send anything this week, obviously, and his mom counted on that money.
"Is that a problem, Hudson?"
"No," Finn said, feeling like a fucking useless lame-brain. "That ain't a problem."
"Oh, for the love of God, enough," Quinn drawled with almost enough conviction to seem as if she might actually care. "I'm beyond bored. Isn't there a show tonight, Shue? Isn't there something? I can't take another minute of this awful music. Davie?"
Karofsky looked at Will.
"I, well, actually —" Will stuttered, and Quinn sneered at him, and Finn really needed a drink. "A girl," Will finally said. "She's been by everyday this week asking for an audition. I finally heard her this morning, and she's real good. I told her she could go on tonight." He looked nervously at Karofsky. "I mean, you said the club could use somebody to sing when there weren't any shows, and —"
"Where is she, then?" Karofsky demanded as he lit up his own cigarette.
Will stood quickly, rocking his chair. "I'll tell her to go on right now." He couldn't run away fast enough, and Finn wished he could go with the older man. He shifted uncomfortably.
"You had something to eat yet?" Karofsky asked him.
"Not yet," Finn answered. Maybe this was his chance to leave.
"It's on me, then," Karofsky said, grinning, and Finn wanted to punch someone — just not Benny fucking Reid. He really was going to get slaughtered. "Mercedes!" Karofsky barked. He had hired a whole host of pretty blonde girls to serve drinks and flirt with men — and they came and went by the week — but the only waitress who ever served Karofsky was Mercedes.
He owned her just like he owned Finn.
Mercedes was at the table in moments, and Finn knew she must have been nearby, watching and listening all along. "Something to eat, Mr. Karofsky?"
The band went silent. There was a collective groan from the audience, but Will called out pleasantly, "Good evening, everyone!" He looked even paler under the stage lights. "McKinley's has a real treat for you tonight. It's my pleasure to introduce Ms. Rachel Berry!"
A handful of people clapped, and Finn would have too if he had been back at the bar with Sam and Kurt. He wasn't, though, dammit, so he sat silently as Rachel appeared on stage, her face glowing with anticipation. There were a few murmurs and a little laughter as she went to the center of the stage and the microphone, and Finn felt bad for her. He hoped she really was good, like Will said.
"What is that?" Quinn hissed. "It looks like something from my nightmares." Karofsky chuckled. Finn pretended not to hear either of them. The band started up again, something different and a little slower and something he vaguely recognised as popular. And then Rachel started to sing.
"The very thought of you, and I forget to do, / The little ordinary things that everyone ought to do . . ." she sang, her voice sweet and cool and absolutely amazing. Will was right.
She could sing.
She could really sing.
"I'm living in a kind of daydream, / I'm happy as a king, / And foolish though it may seem Why to me that's everything. . . ."
People slowly began to dance once more, and conversation started up again, but Finn couldn't look away from her. She had closed her eyes, and she held a hand to her chest, as if she could barely contain herself. She looked so in love with every word that poured out of her.
"The mere idea of you, the longing here for you, / You'll never know how slow the moments go till I'm near to you. . ."
Finn had never much cared for the shows put on at McKinley's. Once and a while Will would bring in a so-called local celebrity, but Finn was never really impressed, and he found the show girls Karofsky would borrow from Madame Sylvester to be only passingly entertaining. But he would come to that god-forsaken club every night to hear Rachel sing.
"I see your face in every flower, / Your eyes in stars above, / It's just the thought of you The very thought of you, my love. . . ." She opened her eyes, and Finn could swear as she gazed out across the club, she looked at him. "I see your face in every flower, / Your eyes in stars above, / It's just the thought of you . . . The very thought of you, my love. . . ."
As she finished, people clapped and cheered a little, and Rachel beamed that bright, endearing grin, even as she nodded at the band and began to sing another number. "Like her, do you, Finn?" Karofsky asked. Startled, Finn looked over at Karofsky.
"She was good enough, I suppose," Quinn said, saving Finn an answer. "Even if she was hideous." Again, Karofsky chuckled, but it seemed to annoy Quinn. "Are you simply going to stand there?" she snapped at Mercedes. "Or are you going to bring me something to eat?"
Mercedes was gone in an instant, sparing the smallest glance for Finn, and Finn realised they all must have ordered without him. He was almost embarrassed, but as he glanced back at Rachel, still up on the stage, still singing some popular song as if it were the song that told the story of everything she knew and loved, she still entranced him.
He had only ever heard a girl sing like that on the radio.
He wondered if she'd be famous someday. She said she would be, didn't she?
"I like her," Puck announced, "the Canary. She can sing." Finn nodded eagerly, glad someone agreed. Karofsky said nothing, but he seemed satisfied as he smoked and his beedy eyes followed Rachel on stage.
And suddenly Finn was positive Rachel ought to find some other club to amaze. She didn't want to wind up in place like this. She didn't want to wind up under Karofsky's thumb. He would know, wouldn't he?
But what could he do?
The next few hours passed slowly.
Karofsky smoked and talked with Quinn and Puck and with various men who walked by and were invited to sit. Finn wanted to slip away badly, but he had a feeling this was some sort of penance. He managed to talk a little with Puck about Joe Louis and Henry Amrstrong and the like, but even then he was on edge. When Quinn asked him if he had seen any movies lately, he nearly choked on his tongue. He couldn't talk to her, he just couldn't.
Mostly, he smoked and watched Rachel, and he was positive she smiled at him in particular once or twice, as if to give him the guts to get through one lousy dinner.
"Davie," Quinn finally exclaimed, "you promised you'd take me to a show tonight. Are you or aren't you?" She looked at him petulantly, and he sighed, downing the rest of his drink.
"Sure I am," he replied. "Keep your hair on, kitten." He looked at Puck. "Where's Schue?" Puck nodded and stood, walking off. Moments later, he returned with Will in tow. "Tell your girl to finish with this one," Karofsky said, "and then bring her over here. I'd like to introduce myself."
"Of course," Will said.
Karofsky glanced at the two men he had invited to the table half an hour before. "Have a good night, gentlemen," he said, and both murmured replies before they stood and left. Karofsky glanced at Finn, who, for the first time all night, suddenly didn't want to leave.
What if Karofsky tore Rachel to pieces? Finn should be there to defend her. He frowned out his own thoughts. Even if Karofsky did talk down to her, Finn knew he wouldn't have the guts to stand up for her, would he?
But Karofsky didn't ask him to leave, and Finn lit another cigarette, waiting. It would probably be better if Karofsky did rip Rachel right up, and then she would run out of this place and never come back. Rachel finished her song, there was a little applause, and then the band started another song without her.
When Will brought her to the table, her face was flushed pink, her eyes were bright, and her hair was a little mussed. She looked . . . really good. She smiled at Finn. "Hello Mr. Hudson!" she greeted happily, and he found himself unable to answer. His realised his heart was pounding, was racing, like he'd run across the club to see her.
"Ms. Berry, let me introduce Mr. David Karofsky," Will said, a hesitant hand on Rachel's shoulder.
Rachel thrust her hand at Karofsky. "Hello Mr. Karofsky," she said. "I'm Ms. Rachel Berry! It's an absolute pleasure to meet you!"
"Sure, dollface, it's a treat," he replied, and he took her hand.
"And this here is Ms. Quinn Fabrey," Will introduced, "and Mr. Noah Puckerman, and Mr. Finn Hudson." Rachel nodded at each of them sweetly. She looked so happy.
"So," Karofsky said, "Ms. Berry, is it?"
"Where'd you learn to sing like that?"
"I taught myself, actually," she replied. "I took lessons, of course, back in Ohio, but only when I was very young. I practice every day, however."
"And every night, I'd imagine," Quinn said. "It isn't as if you have anyone to take you out." She smirked scornfully. Rachel didn't seem at all bothered, but Finn was. How could someone so pretty be so mean? He knew most of Quinn's story, of course, but when she acted like this it made him doubt how innocent in everything she really was.
"And you'd like a job here, would you?" Mr. Karfosky asked.
"Very much," Rachel assured. Finn could see it, then, could see that she really was anxious despite her beaming, blinding smile. And he felt bad.
"I don't have any regular work for you," Karofsky said. "Except Friday night. I need a Friday night singer."
"I'd love to be your Friday night singer!" Rachel exclaimed eagerly.
Puck grinned a little, apparently amused, and as Puck looked at Rachel, Finn felt his hackles rise.
"There'll be a few conditions," Karofsky said. "First — I want you here every night, in case my other entertainment falls through. If there's no work for you, there's no work. But I want you here every night. And for every night you do work and manage to keep a crowd, I'll pay you . . .," he paused, and then said, as if it were all nothing to him, ". . . five dollars."
Rachel's eyes went wide. "That sounds more than agreeable, Mr. Karofsky." Her words were rushed, as if she were afraid he would change his mind.
"And you'll have to buy a new dress," Karofsky went on. "I don't need a blue-eyed Betty on my stage. Wear something pretty. Something the hard-working guys who come here can apparecaite. Understand? And do something about your hair."
"I . . . yes, okay," Rachel said, and she nodded obediently.
Finn grit his teeth. Karofsky was a jerk. There was nothing wrong with her hair, or with her outfit. It was just . . . different. Karofsky was a jerk, and, worse, Rachel didn't know what she was getting herself into, even if she could see that Karofsky was a big ass. But Finn knew exactly what mess she was about to dive headfirst into. Maybe he should talk to her? But what would he say?
"That's that, then," Karofsky said. "Let's go, kitten."
Quinn rose slowly.
Karofsky pushed back his chair, only to pause and glance at Puck. "Come along with us." He always had some goon come along with him wherever he went. Surely he wouldn't want Finn to come, too, though, would he? Finn immediately tried to think of some excuse if Karofsky asked.
But Karofsky didn't even look at Finn as he stood and Quinn took his arm, and Finn took a shaky breath and offered Quinn a poor smile. Finn watched as Karofsky's favourite torpedo, Azimio, joined them at the back door of the club and left with them.
As soon as they were gone, he sank back in his chair, exhausted.
"He's certainly rather intimidating, isn't he?" Rachel asked. Finn turned to her, and She smiled at him, only to pat her hair a little nervously. "What do you think he meant — take care of my hair?" She bit her lip, her smile slipping a little. "I know it's fashionable to have a bob these days, but I've always liked my hair, and —"
"Don't cut it," Finn interrupted. "It's pretty the way it is." He reddened at his own words, and he stumbled to make himself seem like less of a goof. "I mean, bobs are fashionable, sure, but . . . he probably just thought your hair was a little messy, you know, from your hat and all."
"It's not too terribly messy, is it?" she asked, her eyes worried.
"No! No. I wouldn't worry about it. I mean . . . you were great up there," he added, hoping to distract her.
It worked. She visibly brightened. "I was, wasn't I?" She nearly rocked on the balls of her feet, as if she just couldn't contain herself. "It was so wonderful, Mr. Hudson, to be on stage like that!" she gushed. "It's where I belong, the stage! I could feel how right it was! And I have a job, a paying job. Even if I only work on Fridays, that's five dollars a week!"
And he knew, right then, he wouldn't say a word to her about how dirty Karofsky really was.
How could he? It would devastate her, and he knew already he couldn't stand the sight.
He smiled a little. "Come on back to the bar," he invited. "I'll buy you a drink to celebrate." He started to blush at his own brash words again — what about her made him so turned around? — but she only smiled.
"No, Mr. Hudson," she replied, "I'll buy you a drink. I am employed, you know." She grinned and flounced away from the table, and he found himself grinning, too, as he followed her. The crowd had thinned considerably, but they still had to weave their way through all the tables as they crossed the club. By the time they reached the bar, Kurt was waiting for them with a smile playing on his lips.
"Kurt Hummel," he said, holding his hand out to Rachel.
She shook it firmly, which seemed to surprise her, as it had just about everyone Rachel had met. "Rachel Berry," Rachel replied. "Did you enjoy my performance, Mr. Hummel?"
"You can sing, I'll give you that," he said.
"I know," she replied. "I intend to go on Broadway one day."
Finn wondered if she felt the need to announce that to everyone she met.
"Something more to drink, Ms. Berry?" Sam asked.
"Only a soda, please."
"Will we see you around anymore, Rachel?" Kurt asked. "And may I call you Rachel?"
"You may," Rachel said, smiling and accepting her soda. "And, yes, you will see a great deal of me, as Mr. Karofsky's offered me a job as the new Friday night singer." She looked as if she were attempting to rein in her own excitement and appear composed, but she was failing miserably.
"Congratulations," Kurt said, and then he bent over to write something.
"Are you a writer?" she asked him.
"He likes to think he is," Sam told her.
She looked at Finn, who shrugged. "He writes freelance, and the papers pay him sometimes, right, Kurt?"
"That's right," Kurt said.
"It's one of those jobs for now," Finn said, "like we all have."
"Of course," Sam said, "we ain't all gonna go on to bigger and better things like you." He winked at her and poured a drink for someone else. Finn frowned. Sam had his own girl.
"That's not true," Rachel protested, and she addressed Finn. "You could go on to become a professional boxer someday!" She looked as if it would break her heart for him to argue the point.
"Maybe," he said, and she smiled.
"And what about me?" asked Mercedes. She leaned against the bar and rapped her knuckles on the wood until Sam slid her a drink. Finn knew she wasn't supposed to drink here, but who really cared? Karofsky was long gone now. "Am I going to become famous, too, dolly?"
Rachel glanced at Finn. "I —"
"This is Mercedes Jones," he introduced.
"Mercedes likes to interrupt our conversations at random moments," Kurt added, talking as if Rachel had asked the weather, "and then leave as quickly as she comes. Pay her no mind." He took a sip of his Manhattan.
"Mercedes," Finn said, "this is Ms. Rachel Berry. She's the new Friday night singer."
"Nice to meet you," Rachel chirped.
"I heard," Mercedes said. Of course she did. Mercedes heard everything that happened in the club. She tilted her head as she gazed at Rachel, as though appraising her. "You can sing well enough, I suppose, even with that get-up on."
"Thank you, I think," Rachel said. She straightened. "One day I intend to go on Broadway."
Finn smiled into his drink. It really was kind of endearing.
"I heard that, too," Mercedes said dryly. "And what makes you think you're so good? You're not even the only one in this club that can sing, let alone in the States. Yet you're going to be on Broadway." She put a hand on her hip.
"I know it takes more than mere talent," Rachel told her. "It takes both talent and determination, and I happen to have both in spades." She paused. "Can you sing, then, too? We could do a duet together, if you like!" She looked childishly happy. "A personal favourite of mine is —"
"Don't even try," Mercedes interrupted. "Blacks aren't even allowed through that door to watch the shows of pretty little white girls like you, let alone actually stand on the stage. Not in McKinley's, not in any Detroit club."
Finn shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
"I'm sorry," Rachel replied, and she seemed genuinely apologetic. Finn thought Rachel had to be the most honestly nice girl he'd ever met. Even Mercedes softened a little at Rachel's words. Rachel went on innocently. "If Mr. Karofsky hates the African American so much, how'd you get a job here?"
Mercedes smiled grimly. "There's one thing Mr. Karofsky hates more than blacks," Mercedes told her, "and that's people he can't trust."
Rachel's brow furrowed, but she seemed to understand after a moment or two. "And he can trust you?" she asked.
"Unfortunately," Mercedes said, and she left, probably at the nod of some paying table. It was quiet. Rachel glanced at Finn and he gave a small smile.
"I suppose I should go," she said. "I have to walk several blocks home."
"Walk?" Finn asked. Was she crazy? "You can't walk. It's past midnight. Take a cab."
"If only I could," she said, sighing. "I'm afraid I don't have the money for such luxuries." She spoke delicately, as if it were improper to talk about money. It probably was. It certainly made everybody uncomfortable, even bright, bubbly Rachel Berry. "I'll be fine," Rachel assured. "Do you have my hat?"
"Here it is," Sam said, and he handed it over. She put it on, arranged it a little, smoothed her dress, and smiled. "Will I see you here tomorrow, Mr. Hudson?"
"Yes," he answered. "But let me walk you home." How could he not offer? She couldn't walk a few blocks in the dark after midnight in Detroit, however pleasant she might think the city was. Finn might be unable to protect her from Karofsky, but he could protect her from the rest of the city.
"That's really not necessary," she said.
"But if you insist, I'd love your company! Good night, Mr. Evans!"
Sam swallowed a grin and avoided Finn's gaze. "Good Night, Ms. Berry."
Finn grabbed his coat as they left the club, but it wasn't too cold out — it was nearly summer now. The streets were still rather full, so he walked close to Rachel, and her arm constantly brushed his. For a few minutes, it was quiet. His mind began to wander to Benny Reid, but he didn't want to go there. He focused on Rachel. "How long have you been in Detroit, Ms. Berry?"
"Only a few months. I came with a little cash from my father in March. And you — you can call me Rachel, if you want." She smiled shyly at him.
"You can call me Finn, then," he said, "if you'd like, I mean."
"I'd like that very much . . . Finn," she replied, and his insides turned with a swooping sensation. There was something so endearing about Rachel. He really wanted her to like him; he really wanted to make her smile that wide, beaming smile at her. And, Jesus, could she sing.
"How long have you been in Detroit, Finn?" she asked
"Six years this month," he said. "I came after I finished school."
She nodded. The street was emptier now. "Do you . . . do you have a girl?" she asked. She didn't look at him.
"No," he admitted. "Never really had one." Again, it was quiet. "You want a ciggy?" he offered. Silence made him uncomfortable.
"No, thank you," she said. "I believe smoking may be detrimental to one's voice, and I have to take care of my voice above all else. Mr. Hudson — Finn — do you really like my hat?" She stopped and turned to face him.
His eyes went wide. He didn't know what to say. She looked away, biting her lip, and she crossed her arms, as if to cradle herself a little. "I know I'm not pretty like some girls — like Ms. Fabray — and I don't wear the dresses that are all the rage, but I . . ." She shrugged.
"That takes something, though," he supplied quickly. She looked back up at him. "I mean, to dress like the girls in magazines and all that, well, it only takes a pocket of rubes, right? But to — to wear your own style and all, that takes something. Guts, I mean." Did he ever make any sense at all?
But Rachel smiled hesitantly. "Do you really think so?"
"Sure," he said. It did take guts to wear that hat. "It's like you dress like . . . you. That's good, I think. So, you know, I like your hat, 'cause it's your hat, and I like you."
She beamed, then, and she looked so cute that the sudden wish bowled him over: he wanted to kiss her. He barely even knew her, and there wasn't a chance she wanted a thing to do with a crumb like him, but he couldn't help it. She tucked a loose lock of hair behind her ear as they continued down the street, and she began to sing under her breath. He tried to think of something good to say. He came up blank.
She paused and turned to him once again. "This is my house," she said. "My landlady, Mrs. Baxter, left the light on for me, see? She's a sweetheart. She makes great blueberry pudding, too."
"I love blueberry pudding," Finn said.
"Me, too," Rachel replied. She took a quick breath, and there was something in her gaze as she looked at him. "You know," she breathed, "you can kiss me if you want to."
He was startled by her words. But he replied despite himself. "I want to."
She leaned up, and he leaned down, and he wasn't sure this was actually happening, but her warm breath washed over his lips as he paused, and when her eyes flickered closed, he couldn't hold out any longer. He pressed his lips softly to hers. Her small hands gripped his arms, as his own hands settled on her waist, so tiny, and he opened his mouth, only to have her mouth open, too.
He had to bite back a moan, and he pulled back slightly. Her eyes were glazed. "I should go," he murmured. "But I'll . . . I'll see you tomorrow at McKinley's."
"Yes," she said, as if a little dazed. He stepped back. He wanted to step closer. He wanted to kiss her until her legs gave out, and then he would carry her into that little house and up into her room and — but she was not that kind of girl. He didn't want her to be.
So he stepped back.
"Good night, Finn," she said, and she finally turned away to go into the house. She opened the door quietly and glanced back with half a smile. He smiled, too, and, her cheeks flushed, she disappeared into the house.
Slowly, he started the trek to his own apartment. The last girl he'd kissed was Santana, and it was nothing like that. He touched his lips briefly and glanced back down the street at her house. Had he really met her only a few hours ago?
He felt like it had been ages.
And he was sure it would feel like ages before he could kiss her again.
a/n: review? The next chapter should be up within the next week or two (hopefully sooner!). Work right now is kind of like a tennis racket smacking me repeatedly in the face for eight hours straight, so writing has kind of taken a backseat lately, but things will be back on track in another week or so, and I hope to have regular updates every few days after that. The story is all mapped out, as I said.