He couldn't sit still.
He shifted in his seat. He drummed out a rhythm on his knee. He glanced at the window. There wasn't much to see. He looked at his watch. It was two in the afternoon. They would pull into the station soon, and soon after that they would finally be home. He started to tap his foot. He glanced at his watch again. It was one minute past two now. Had it really only been a minute? He thought it felt more like five or so. Maybe his watch was slow?
He crossed one leg over the other. He started to glance at his watch again.
"Ease up, Hud," Puck grunted, his eyes still closed as he leaned against the window. "You're driving me nuts."
"Aren't you excited?" Finn asked.
Puck shrugged. "I'm beat, that's what I am."
"You shouldn't have spent all last night drinking with Rich and Gordon," Finn said.
"Least I enjoyed myself," Puck said, "unlike some fellow who spent all last night flipping his wig over seeing his cookie and didn't have a decent last drink with his boys."
Finn rolled his eyes. "Rich and Gordon were too sauced to remember their own names last night, let alone remember if I went on a bender with them. And I wasn't flipping my wig. I was just excited. Still am." He looked at his watch — only five minutes past two now. Really?
"No reason to be this excited," Puck said.
Finn didn't understand. How could Puck not be excited?
"It's been three years!" Finn exclaimed. "I haven't seen Rachel in nearly three years! That's three Christmases, and three birthdays, six if you count mine, too, and nine — fifteen if you count everybody's. I haven't seen the boys in three years, and I haven't even met —"
"Huddy, I've heard this speech before. Lay off. I'm trying to get some shut eye, here."
"You shouldn't bother," Finn said. "We'll be there soon. It's already —" He glanced at his watch. "It's already six minutes after two! And I think my watch might be slow."
"I think you might be slow," Puck muttered.
Finn ignored him. He shifted in his seat again. He glanced out the window. They might always arrive early, too. He looked back at Puck. He knew Puck was excited. He had to be. Finn had seen that bottle cap necklace Puck wore under his clothes, the one Beth had made him. Finn looked at his watch. He pulled out the letter from his pocket.
I could barely contain myself when I received your last letter! Quinn will take the Cadillac and meet you at Grand Central at 2:15. Ben is beside me now, and he wants me to tell you that he caught a beetle today. I love you.
She usually wrote longer letters. She always had so much to say. But he supposed maybe she thought she could save everything and tell him when she saw him, which would be soon, so soon, because it was already — eight minutes past two. And how long would the drive from the house to the station be? Ten minutes, maybe? Half an hour, tops?
The train pulled into the station exactly seventeen minutes later, and Finn nearly leapt out of his seat. He grabbed his duffle, whacked Puck in the face with it to wake him, and then headed out onto the platform. He glanced around. People were everywhere, shouting and crying and hugging other vets. He didn't see Quinn, though. "Surprised you haven't taken off running yet," Puck said, coming to stand beside Finn with his own duffle slung over his shoulder.
"I'm about to," Finn said. "Come on." They walked through the station and out into the street.
"I can't believe she drove my Cadillac," Puck said. "She'll bust that old girl up, I know it."
"Oh, it's my Cadillac now."
Puck and Finn both spun around to see Quinn, standing behind them in a little blue dress suit, a scarf over her curls and a smirk on her lips. Finn grinned. "Sweetheart, girls ain't supposed to drive Cadillacs," Puck said. "Goes against nature." But he held his arms open, and Quinn simply shook her head as she hugged him. But her smirk faded as she pressed her face into his shoulders and curled her fingers into the material of his jacket, clutching him tightly.
Rachel would have socked Finn if he told her something like that, but Puck and Quinn were always that way, Finn supposed. And even if they liked to pretend they didn't, they loved each other — after all, they were holding onto each for dear life now. Finn wanted to hold on to Rachel for dear life. He cleared his throat. "Can we go?" he asked.
Quinn started to pull away from Puck, but he stopped her, and he kissed her. She smiled a little into the kiss before she swatted him away. "Let's go home, honey," she said. "There'll be more of that later. Besides, Beth wants to see you, too. And this one here's got people waiting on him as well." She jabbed her thumb at Finn, Puck sighed dramatically, and Quinn led the way down the street.
She and Puck couldn't seem to keep their hands off one another. Puck had an arm around her waist as they walked to the car, Quinn put one hand on the wheel and the other on Puck's knee as she drove, and every few minutes Puck would lean over and kiss her temple or her shoulder. They still managed to snipe at one another, though.
"You better enjoy this ride," Puck told her. "You're not getting behind the wheel again."
"Sure, sweetheart," Quinn replied breezily.
Finn shifted in his seat. "How long of a drive is this?" he asked.
"I'd say a little over an hour," Quinn answered.
That was a long time. Finn glanced at his watch.
"If it helps," Quinn said, "Rachel made pie."
Finn frowned. "How does that help?" He did love pie. Did she make apple pie? That was his favourite.
Quinn shrugged. "Something to look forward to."
"I don't need anything more to look forward to," Finn replied. "I need you to drive faster."
Quinn chuckled a little, Puck lifted her hand and kissed her knuckles, and Finn looked at his watch again. Quinn started to talk about renovations she and Rachel had made to the house, but Rachel had already told him all of that in her letters. Quinn mentioned Mr. Speckles, the little yapping dog that Puck had bought her years ago, and how Beth wanted to buy a Mrs. Speckles. "I'll buy her the entire Speckles family if she wants," Puck said. Quinn absently patted his knee.
She went on, talking about the cocktail raids that Rachel had already described in detail to Finn in letters, and Finn didn't bother to listen anymore. He couldn't take this. Quinn really did drive slowly. He could walk faster than this. He leaned his head against the window. He knew he had done the right thing, done right by his pops and made his ma proud, and he had done his part to protect his family.
But three years was a long time, a hellish time that he wanted to forget.
And, honestly, if he had known Rachel was pregnant, he never would have left.
He stared out at the passing street, and he told himself he wouldn't look at his watch again. He lasted four minutes before he looked again — but it felt like at least fifteen minutes. He pulled out Rachel's letter and read the few lines again. He tapped his thumb on his knee, thinking of that song he had heard on the radio last night.
He asked Quinn what time her watch said. His watch was obviously slow. Somehow, though, finally, finally, after ages, the car turned onto Peach Blossom Street, and all the familiar houses appeared, and Finn could feel his heart start to pound against his chest. And then he saw them, waving their arms and racing down the street. Quinn started to slow the car, and he pushed open the door and stumbled out.
"Finn!" Quinn yelled, shocked.
He ignored her. His boys were barefoot and flying down the street, shouting over and over again, as if he might somehow miss them, "DAD!" Moments later, Chris and Ben tackled him, and he clutched them, their voices a loud chorus that washed over him.
"Dad, you're back! You're back! Dad, look, I'm taller! Momma says I'm gonna be as tall as you! I'm tall, too, Dad! See, look! Dad, Momma made pie! Do they have pie in Philips? It's not called Philips, fat-head, it's the Philip-pines, ask Momma. Right, Dad? Wait, Dad, look at this, I got a scar on my arm, see! No, Dad, look at this, he only has a scar on his arm but I got one on my stomach, and it's cool like yours. Dad, did you miss me? Dad, wanna see my marbles? Dad, you're back!"
Quinn rolled down the window of the car. "Boys," she shouted, "what if I had hit you with the Cadillac? You can't run out in the street like that — oh, for goodness sake, Beth, you should have put on shoes!" Nobody listened to her, not the kids, not Puck as he flew from the car to greet Beth, lifting her up and spinning her around, and certainly not Finn as he looked at heights and scars and marbles and two matching mops of brown hair and bright brown eyes and beaming freckled faces.
"Welcome home, Mr. Hudson!" Mrs. Cassady shouted suddenly from the closest house. She leaned so far out her front window that Finn thought she might fall out. "And, you, too, Mr. Puckerman! We've missed you both!"
He'd missed them all, too, even nosy Mrs. Cassady. He managed to wave quickly before Chris and Ben each had a hold of his hands and marched him down the street, nearly tripping over their own feet in their rush. Puck followed, Beth on his back and giggling into his ear as he told her jokes, and in the car Quinn crept along behind them all.
They passed a few houses, and Finn could just spot theirs up ahead. Finn and Puck had bought the divided house back in '38 for an absolute steal, and it might be Finn's most absolute favourite place in the world. He asked the boys if they wanted to race. They bolted forward, and, laughing, he followed, and then they were all there, were home, were stumbling into the front yard of their house.
Chris tackled Ben and sent them both tumbling to the grass. "Momma, look, it's Dad!" Ben shouted from the ground, pointing wildly at Finn.
Leaning against the frame of the front door, Rachel bit her lip and smiled. She hadn't pinned up her hair, she had on a checkered dress she had bought years ago, and she was barefoot, too. He swallowed thickly. She looked like home. He crossed the yard slowly, the boys nearly running circles around him before they raced into the house, Rachel brushing her hand over Ben's hair as they passed her. Finn took the steps of the porch two at a time, and he walked towards her. Her eyes went glossy with tears.
He clasped her face with his hands, and she clutched his hands with hers, and he stood there for a minute, staring at her, and suddenly she laughed and a few tears leapt free. He laughed, too, gathering her up in his arms, lifting her up on her tiptoes, burying his face in her hair.
She even smelled the same, smelled like home.
"Dad, okay, this is my favourite marble, and I usually keep it in my pocket but I — whatcha doing? Dad, look! Dad, hug Mama later. Dad! Dad! Dad! Daaaaad!"
Finn broke away from Rachel, who only shook her head softly and smiled, and Finn let Ben lead him into the house. He saw his ma, then, tears in her eyes and a grin on her face, and she held her arms open to him. "Welcome home, sweet boy," she murmured as he hugged her. She lived down the street with Mrs. Puckerman, who surely had her arms around Puck in their half of the house at this very moment.
He kissed her cheek and then turned back to Rachel, only to see her.
She had toddled over to Rachel, and she stood in a little pink and green plaid dress, one Finn knew Rachel had made, with her hair held back by a pink ribbon. Rachel crouched down beside her, and the little girl leaned into her, holding her teddy bear tightly. Finn came over to them, and he crouched down, too. His heart had started to pound again.
"Who's this, baby girl?" Rachel asked her. "Do you know who this is? This is Daddy, Ruthie."
Ruthie hid her face shyly behind Rachel's arm, but her dark eyes peaked out at Finn a moment later. He smiled at her. She was already so big. The boys had grown, too, but this little person hadn't even really existed before, and now she was there and clutching Rachel and watching Finn quietly.
"This is Daddy, Ruthie," Rachel repeated affectionately. "Can you say hi to Daddy, baby girl?"
"Hi," she whispered, before pressing her face into Rachel's sleeve.
"Hi Ruthie," he said.
"Can you give Daddy a hug?" Rachel asked. "You give the best hugs. Can you show Daddy?"
She looked up at Rachel and she glanced at Finn and then suddenly she held out her teddy. "This'sm'teddy, Boxer," she told him.
"Hi Boxer," he said to the teddy. He reached out and shook the bear's paw. "It's nice to meet you."
Ruthie smiled a little, hugging her teddy and smiling into the bear's ears. And then Rachel gave her a little nudge, and she toddled forward, touching Finn's arms unsteadily. He hugged her, then, smashing Boxer between them. She was little and warm and soft, and her small fingers curled into his the material of his shirt a little, and this was so much better than ten dozen letters about her and pictures that started to crinkle and fade after he looked at them ten dozen times.
"Give Daddy a kiss," Rachel said.
Wet little lips pressed sloppily to his cheek. He smiled and kissed her cheek, too, and he stood with her in his arms, her little legs automatically curling around his waist. Rachel stood with them, and she leaned forward, resting a hand on Ruthie's back and rising up on her tiptoes.
And Finn kissed her.
The world fell away under him as, for the first time in years, her lips moved under his, and her tongue chased his, and he gripped her waist with his free hand and tugged her still closer to him. He wanted to put Ruthie down and pick Rachel up, and he wanted to carry her off upstairs, and then lay her down and —
— And Ruthie poked his cheek, murmuring for attention, and Chris called his name, beckoning Finn across the room to the train tracks he and Ben had set up. Rachel smiled into his lips and drew back. He turned towards the boys, even as Puck walked into the house, Beth pulling him along, and Quinn following behind, Mercedes and Sam on either side of her. "Quinn and I called everyone we knew to announce your homecoming," Rachel said.
Finn only smiled. He greeted Sam and Mercedes, and Mercedes told him that Kurt meant to come by that night, and then Mrs. Puckerman appeared with a casserole, and Quinn ushered her to the kitchen, and people were simply everywhere.
Finn wouldn't be alone with a Rachel for a while.
He'd have to wait, at least until all the chaos calmed.
Rachel seemed to think the same, and she kissed his cheek and went to the kitchen. Ruthie wiggled out of his arms and chased after her, and Finn sat with the boys. They played trains for half an hour, before Kurt arrived, beaming and insisting on hugs from Finn and Puck both, and then he put the phonograph on and insisted all the kids dance with him. Ten minutes later, with help from the kids, Kurt convinced Mrs. Puckerman and Finn's mother to dance as well.
Before they could snare him, Finn went to the kitchen and found Mercedes and Sam at the table with Puck. "Happy to be home?" Mercedes asked, smiling knowingly at Finn and taking Sam's hand gently in her own. He knew Sam had gone over to fight, too, but he had been wounded in '44 and shipped home, safe and sound, at least according to Rachel's letters.
Finn nodded and sat, and Mercedes continued describing her job teaching in Boston to Puck. Rachel handed Finn a beer from the fridge, and her hand lingered slightly as her fingers brushed against his knuckles. He nearly reached out and pulled her to him, then, ready to wrap her up in his arms and kiss her once more, but she turned away and continued her conversation with Quinn. He should probably listen to Mercedes, and to Sam and Puck, too, but he couldn't really take his focus from Rachel.
She and Quinn argued over everything, it seemed, over how long to cook the chicken and the amount of seasoning they needed and which silverware to use and should they set up a table in the back yard and everything. But the way they moved around each other while they cooked, the way they expertly skirted around Ruthie as she jumped around, offering her services and babbling, the way they handed one another ingredients — it was like they had done this all a thousand times, like they were family.
They were family. They were his family.
He and Rachel had rented an apartment in New York City as soon as Karofsky was behind bars, and that had been the start of everything. Rachel started to audition around the city, and Finn had found a job as a bartender at a club that didn't have any trouble whatsoever. They married a few weeks after they moved, with only Puck and Quinn as witnesses.
And then it was Finn and Rachel against the world in the best possible way, without shady characters and sordid pasts and endless money problems.
It was Rachel and Finn and the whole wide-open future spread out before them. Weeks passed into months that became years. They saw plenty of Puck and Quinn, and some of Mercedes and Sam, and even a little of Kurt, and they went to visit Finn's ma now and then, too. Rachel starred in a few plays, and Finn was sure that any day she would make it to Broadway, any day would be completely perfect.
And then one day their whole life in the city came tumbling down, because they weren't Finn and Rachel anymore. They were Finn and Rachel and baby.
Finn had never been so terrified in his life.
But baby came into the world, safe and sound, small and red and healthy, and baby became Christopher. They bought a split house outside the city with Puck and Quinn to raise Chris with his cousin, Beth, and Ben was born the next year. Rachel started to teach music at the elementary school, Finn and Puck started a lawn business, and this whole new kind of perfect life started.
But the war broke out, and Finn couldn't not go.
The draft in town exempt fathers, at least at first, but Finn volunteered. He wasn't sure they would take him, what with his hand, but Puck had shot him in that one spot that didn't fuck a fellow's hand up (something Puck also told him proudly was purposeful), and all that really remained now was a scar. The army was more than willing to take him. And he — he simply had to go.
His dad had fought thirty years before, every good fellow he knew intended to fight, and even Puck wanted to go. Rachel cried — a lot — and Finn had to sit the boys down and try to explain to a five-year-old and a four-year-old why their daddy had to leave for a long, long time. But, eventually, in the summer of '43, Finn and Puck shipped out.
Five weeks later, Rachel sent him a letter that nearly made him desert: she was pregnant again. He spent the next three years (two years and ten months, to be exact) waiting to come home again to her, and to his boys, and to his baby girl. And finally here he was.
Rachel caught his gaze, and she smiled. He smiled, too. Something flickered in her gaze.
"Fine," Rachel said suddenly, interrupting Quinn mid-sentence. "Add the orange juice."
"I — what?" Quinn said. "I thought you said orange juice never worked well with chicken —"
"I've changed my mind. Take it away." And she thrust her spoon at Quinn, crossed the room, and tugged Finn to his feet.
"Oh, I see," Quinn said, hand on her hip. "I see."
Rachel ignored her. "Excuse us," she said, and Mercedes only smirked, dismissing them with a wave of her hand. Rachel led Finn out into the backyard. He had his lips on hers the moment the backdoor hit the frame. She laughed a little into his mouth. "I thought I might go bonkers," she murmured.
"Go bonkers?" he repeated, running his hands up and down her sides.
"If I had to stand in the kitchen another minute," she went on, trailing kisses along his jaw, "and argue over dinner with Quinn while you sat at the table, finally home —" She looked up at him, her eyes wide and bright, and he slid his fingers into her hair. "And I haven't even told you yet," she murmured.
"Told me what?" he asked.
"That I missed you so much," she said, cupping his cheek.
"That's okay," he murmured. "I forgive you." He started to smile, and she did, too, and he hoisted her up suddenly, muffling her laughter with a kiss as she sank into him and wrapped her legs around his waist. "I missed you, too," he breathed.
Heat started to sear through him in small, whirling spirals.
He turned slightly and pressed her against the side of the house. His mind spun, his insides somersaulted, and his hand travelled up, running over her stomach and her breasts and then up to her collarbone, and then down again, under her dress, and he groaned slightly as the warm weight of her breast filled his hand. She whimpered, but she broke away from his insistent kisses. "We — we can't — not — not that," she breathed. "Not yet."
"We can," he said, nodding and nipping at the soft skin of her neck.
"Somebody — the boys or Quinn or — they'll come looking — soon —" She finally managed to catch his eye, and as if to prove her point, Chris shouted for Finn suddenly. Finn pouted slightly as clear thought washed once more over him. He stepped back, pulling his hand from her dress and letting her slide down to her feet. "I love you," she told him, eyes apologetic, chastely kissing his cheek before she smoothed back her hair. Chris, Ben, and Beth all stumbled out of the house a moment later.
"We're gonna play hide and seek, Dad!" Ben told Finn. "Come on! Uncle Puck's counting to a hundred right now, so you gotta hurry!"
Rachel smiled softly and disappeared into the house, and Finn looked at the eager faces of his kids.
"Come on," he said, "I know a place where Uncle Puck will never look."
Slowly, the afternoon passed into evening. They all moved into the backyard, and Puck carried the phonograph as Finn helped Sam carry the kitchen tables from both houses out, before Mercedes and Quinn spread table clothes over them. Beth, Ben, and Chris were assigned to set the places, but Mrs. Puckerman ended up with the job when Puck started up a game of backyard baseball.
Finn played, too, showing Ben how to pitch and letting Beth hit a home run and grinning at Rachel every time she caught his eye as she and Quinn started to pile the tables with food. Twenty minutes into the game, though, Chris hit the ball wildly foul, Beth stumbled to catch try to catch it anyway, and she nearly trampled over Ruthie, who had crept closer and closer to the game, watching with wide, curious eyes. Ruthie tumbled to the ground, and Finn started towards her in alarm. "I'm sorry!" Beth exclaimed, eyes wide.
"She's fine," Quinn said. "Little kids fall." But moments later, her face pinking and her bottom lip trembling, Ruthie broke out in tears.
"I've got her," Finn said. He picked her up, found the scrape on her arm, and sat down at the table to look closer. It didn't look bad. He settled her down in his lap, bouncing her a little, but she only went on crying. Mercedes cooed at her. Quinn looked ready to take over, but Finn could take care of his own kid.
"Don't cry, baby," he murmured. "Boxer doesn't want you to cry, does he?"
He gripped the bear and shook it's head. "No, Ruthie, don't cry," he said, taking on a little voice. "I don't like it when you cry." He titled the bear forward and pressed its little black nose to her wet cheek. "Mwah," he said, before changing back into his own voice and telling her, "Aw, he loves you, Ruthie!" Boxer nodded his head. "Don't cry, Ruthie. Mwah."
Rachel bent down beside them, a band-aid in her hand, and she gently wiped at the scrape and put the band-aid on. "There," she said softly, smiling. She pressed a kiss to the covered scrape. "All better."
"All better!" Finn had Boxer declare. Ruthie looked back and forth between Boxer and Finn, wiping at her cheeks. "You wanna dance?" Boxer asked. Finn tilted the bear back and forth, making his little arms go up and down, and Ruthie started to giggle, bobbing her head as Finn started to hum some sort of silly made-up tune.
"You're such a good dancer, Ruthie," Finn told her. "Isn't she, Boxer?" The teddy nodded. "Mwah." Ruthie broke into louder giggles and clapped her hands.
"MamalooBoxer'sdance!" Ruthie declared.
"I see, big girl," Rachel said, smiling.
"So, is she okay?" Chris asked, making a funny face at his sister, who, giggling, leaned against Finn and hugged Boxer.
"She's fine," Rachel replied, standing.
"Can we finish the game, then?" Ben asked. "Come on, Dad."
"I'll take her," Kurt offered, holding out his arms.
Finn nodded and stood, starting to hand Ruthie over, but Ruthie wouldn't let him. She curled her hands around fistfuls of his shirt and clung on. He sat back down, and she settled into his lap, looking up at him. She pressed Boxer into his hand.
"Dad, come on," Ben said, tugging on Finn's arm. Puck shouted for Sam to come play instead. Ben turned to shout back. And Ruthie reached out, and she slowly plucked each of Ben's fingers off Finn's arm.
"What are you doing, baby girl?" Mercedes asked.
Ruthie held Finn's hand in both of hers. "Damineow," she said.
"What did she say?" Sam asked.
"Dad mine now, I think," Mercedes said, chuckling. "Lookie there, Finn. I think she wants to keep you."
Finn swooped down and gave her a loud, wet kiss. "I'm not going anywhere, Princess," he told her, and he glanced up to see Rachel blinking tears away. He grinned at her.
"Dad," Ben whined.
"None of that, little man," Rachel said. "And your game's over, anyhow. Dinner's ready. Go in and wash up. Chris! Beth!" She ushered them all into the house, and ten minutes later everybody crowed around the two tables for dinner. The phonograph played softly in the background as Finn sat beside Rachel, close enough to press his thigh to hers, and he helped Ruthie eat, and his boys told him all about Cub Scouts and school and their teachers and when they practised for the air raids.
"Momma and Aunt Quinny practised for 'em, too, Dad!" Chris said.
"Oh, yes," Kurt said, smirking, "Rachel told me in her letters. Why don't Momma and Aunt Quinny tell us about their air raids?"
"Mother's a nurse, and Doc Robbins wanted her help!" Beth explained proudly.
"Yes, that's right," Quinn said, sipping her lemonade. "I'm a registered nurse, and Doc Robbins wanted me to join the local emergency hospital air raid team. Rachel joined, too, and we practised riding in the ambulances and setting up nursing stations."
"Really?" asked Mercedes. "Good on you both."
"What?" Sam said.
"Ask them what they did once they got to their practice nursing station," Puck replied.
"We practised nursing," Quinn said, smiling at Beth, who nodded in agreement with her mother.
"You mean you sat around and drank cocktails," Kurt corrected, grinning.
"I haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about," Quinn said lightly. Sam and Mercedes both looked over at Rachel, who smirked into her water.
Mercedes laughed. "Good golly, I've missed all of you!"
Rachel leaned her head on Finn's shoulder, and dinner went on. Mercedes mentioned Tina and Mike, and how they had four daughters now, and wasn't that crazy? Finn glanced down at Rachel. He wouldn't say no to a fourth. Kurt talked about Blaine, and how they still saw one another pretty often. "Sure," Sam said, "they see each other pretty often." All the adults laughed, and Beth asked what the joke was. Kurt only kissed her on the top of the head and told her to ignore all the silly grown-ups.
A few minutes later, Beth talked Puck out of his seat to dance with her. "This is my most favourite song in the whole world, Daddy!" she declared. Kurt held his hand out dramatically to Mercedes, who laughed and stood and let Kurt twirl her around. "And who will dance with me?" Finn's ma asked, looking at her grandsons. Chris volunteered brightly, and Ben had a hold of Rachel's hand in the next moment.
"Come dance, Uncle Finny!" Beth called. "Come on, Uncle Sammy! And Mother! And Grandmother! Come on!"
"Sorry, doll, I don't dance!" Sam called.
"We'll see about that," Mercedes declared, and she pulled him to his feet, waving off his protests.
Puck swept his laughing mother out of her seat, then, and Finn took Beth's hand.
"I'll stay with Ruth," Quinn volunteered.
"But Ruthie can dance, too!" Chris said. "Right, Ruthie?" He went over to his sister, pulling her from her seat. "Come on, Ruthie, doncha wanna dance?" He bobbed his head a little, and Ruthie copied his movements, teetering around and clapping her hands in her own little made-up dance. "Likadansing," she said. "Daloodansing!"
"See, Aunt Quinny, you don't got an excuse now," Ben told Quinn matter-of-factly.
"She doesn't have anexcuse now," Rachel corrected.
"Uh-huh," Ben said. "Let's go, Aunt Quinny! Let's go!"
Finn crouched down beside Ruthie. "Will you dance with me, Ruthie?"
She nodded, jumping a little and swaying a little, before spinning suddenly in a circle and then looking at him proudly. "Wow!" he said. She beamed. Laughing, he reached out and pulled her into his arms, before lifting her up and spinning her. She squealed in delight.
Slowly, the sun started to set.
Ruthie started to fall asleep against Finn, and everybody started to grow quieter, but nobody seemed to want go in, nobody even wanted to start clearing the table. Kurt laid out in the grass with Ben, Beth, and Chris around him, and he started to tell stories about the constellations.
Rachel put a new record on, and she turned to Finn, smiling and walking over slowly. She held out her hand. "Dance with me, Mr. Hudson?" she asked. "It's a simple old two-step."
He smiled. "I think I can handle that." He took her hand, pulling her close to him. Ruthie leaned her head against his shoulder, sucking her thumb as Finn and Rachel started to dance, or, really, to sway with each other.
"I'm so happy your home," Rachel said.
She leaned up and kissed him softly.
The song ended. "I should put Ruthie to bed," Rachel said, gazing affectionately at the little girl, now.
"I'll do it," he said. She nodded.
The house was quiet, and he climbed the stairs slowly, uncertainly. He hadn't been upstairs since he came home. He found her room, though, and it was so different than he remembered. Before he left, Chris and Ben each had a room to themselves, but two years ago Rachel's letters had detailed the move to twin beds in Ben's room so that the baby could have Chris's room.
He had already missed so much.
He glanced around at the wall paper with sea horses along the borders. The bookshelves were topped by a row of clothe dolls he knew his ma had made, and in one corner was the rocking chair that Finn had bought Rachel when Chris was born.
He set Ruthie down in her crib, and she blinked sleepily at him. He found pyjamas in the small bureau by her bed, and he helped her change, her limbs lazy and her eyes watching him quietly. "Goodnight, Ruthie," he whispered, laying her down and tucking Boxer securely to her side.
"Nostay?" she murmured sleepily. "Mamagimmekiss?"
"Daddy'll give you a kiss." He kissed her cheek, and he ran his hands lightly over the little strip of tummy that peaked out from under her pink-stripped pyjama shirt. "Go to sleep, baby," he whispered.
"Mamasing," she said, her eyes fluttering.
He smiled a little. "There's a saying old, says that love is blind," he said softly, and her eyelids began to flutter. Slowly his voice became a song, and she fell back asleep moments later. "Tell me, where is the shepherd for this lost lamb? / There's a somebody I'm longin' to see. / I hope that he turns out to be, / Someone who'll watch over me. . . ."
He kissed her forehead. "I love you," he breathed, watching her tiny chest rest and fall. "And I'll be around for all the rest — I promise."
He closed the door quietly behind him as he left the room, and he returned to the backyard, where everybody had finally begun to help clear the dishes. He joined in, and afterward he and Puck carried the tables back into the house. He said goodnight to Mercedes and Sam, and he hugged his mother tightly before she left with Mrs. Puckerman and Kurt, who would spend the night with them, while Sam and Mercedes took the guest bedroom in Quinn and Puck's half of the house.
Quinn led Sam and Mercedes into the house, and Puck started to follow, Beth half-asleep in his arms. But he paused, and he glanced back at Finn. "Best night in three years, huh?" he said.
"Something like that," Finn replied, smiling. Puck nodded and left, and Finn walked into the kitchen, dim and empty, and he locked the backdoor. The house was quiet. He went upstairs, and, ah, there they were: Rachel sat on Ben's bed with a boy on either side of her and a book in her lap. "Dad!" Chris said. "We waited for you!"
"Hush, darling, your sister's asleep," Rachel said.
"Momma's gonna read the next chapter!" Ben whispered loudly.
"Next chapter of what?" Finn said, and he sat on the bed, Ben crawling into his lap. Rachel leaned into him and held up the book for him to see. "The Short-Wave Mystery," he read. "The Hardy Boys, huh? I've never read this one."
"It's new!" Chris told him.
"Don't worry, we'll tell you what happened," Ben assured.
"They go to Canada, Dad," Chris said. "Have you ever been to Canada? It snows lots there, right?"
"And they drink maple syrup all day long," Finn said, trying not to laugh when Chris and Ben nodded seriously at him.
"Okay, okay," Rachel said. "Chapter three. . . ."
Neither of the boys wanted to let Finn and Rachel leave, not after chapter three had been read, not after chapter four had been read, not after Rachel had tucked them in their beds and even sang to them, not after Finn had promised to play baseball with them again tomorrow. "I can't go to bed, Momma," Ben said. "I haven't brushed my teeth yet!"
"Dear, I stood beside you in the bathroom while you brushed your teeth," she said, standing in the doorway and looking half-amused and half-exasperated. "And I can't believe you want to brush them again. Now go to sleep! The sooner you go to sleep, the sooner you'll wake up and it'll be a whole new day."
"But I don't wanna go to bed," Ben argued. "Dad's back! I can't just go to sleep!" He looked up at Finn and Rachel, his eyes bright and his face shining
Finn's heart broke a little. He sat down on the edge of the bed. "I am back, buddy, and I'll still be back tomorrow. And we'll play some ball, and you'll show me that pitch we worked on, right? And then we'll go to the picnic Momma told us about, right?"
Ben nodded. Finn leaned forward and kissed his forehead. "I love you," he whispered.
"Me, too," Ben said.
Finn stood, and Rachel held out her hand for him. "Goodnight, boys," she said.
"Night, Momma," they chorused together. "Night, Dad," Chris added. Rachel flicked off the light by the door, and bathed the room in near darkness, the only light now from the small night-light in the wall. Finn started to close the door. "Hey, Dad?" Chris called suddenly.
"Hay is for horses," Rachel said automatically, leaning against Finn.
"What's the matter?" Finn asked him, just able to make out his little outline under the covers on his bed.
"Nothing. I'm just really glad you're back, is all."
"I'm glad, too," Ben said.
Finn swallowed thickly. "So am I." Finally, he shut the door, and he turned to Rachel, who smiled softly at him. "I can't believe I ever left," he said. How did he? He honestly doesn't remember anymore.
She didn't say anything. She only took his hand, and she led him down the hall and to their room. She closed the door, and she turned the lock, and she turned around to face him with a soft, triumphant gleam in her eyes. He stepped closer to her, resting his hands on her waist.
"I love our family," she murmured, and she reached for the hem of his shirt, pulling it up and off him in one swift movement. Her eyes were dark when he caught her gaze again. "But right now," she said, "all I want to do is love you."
And he couldn't wait a moment longer.
He kissed her, plunging his tongue into her mouth, and she moaned a little. Not breaking the kiss, he picked her up and carried her to the bed. She lay back, and he went with her, already aching. He kissed her insistently, his hands grappling with her dress, trying to push up her skirt and pull down her sleeves and just find skin, just touch her, because, God, did he want to touch her.
She grasped at his hair, panting into his mouth, her own hands fanning across his back. "Babe," he breathed, "how much do you like this dress?"
"Mmm? I — what?"
He gripped the collar of the dress and tugged, yanking open all the little buttons in one swift movement. He could hear fabric tear and a few buttons pop off, but he didn't care, because she lay beneath him, all soft, warm, familiar flesh, and she didn't seem to care, either, not when his lips found her breast and she arched up into him.
He nearly tore off her underwear, then, and her hands fumbled at the buttons of his trousers, and they weren't even all the way on the bed, but he couldn't possibly care less. He started to kiss his way down her stomach. "No, no," she breathed, tugging on his hair. "Later. You first. All of you. I want all of you." He smothered her words with another kiss.
She rolled them over, shrugged off her dress, and he gazed up at her with heavy lids, cupping her breasts, and she tugged down his trousers and then rocked up and then — and then she sank down, sheathing him completely. Her mouth parted slightly in a kind of silent scream. His entire body on fire, he grasped her hips, lifting her up and then slowly lowering her down again, and he couldn't take his eyes off her face, her eyes intent on his.
She leaned down, giving him a ghost of a kiss. "I love you," she breathed.
He wrapped his arms around her back, sliding his hands down to grasp her ass, and as she rose up again, he flipped her over suddenly and drove into her from above, and she screamed a little. He clapped a hand over her mouth, and she looked up at him with dark eyes, kissing his palm, before his hand travelled down to palm her breast as his lips slanted over hers.
Her knees bent and then pressed in to his hips, and with a few quick thrusts, skin slapping against skin, he felt her walls shudder and shatter around him, and she bit down on his lip, her fingers digging into his shoulder. He came moments after her, and she run her hands up his neck, burying her fingers in his hair as he finished and softened inside her.
Slowly, unwilling to leave her, he rolled once more onto his back, and she lay boneless on top of him. He kissed her gently, and she pressed her face to his, her eyelashes flickering against his cheek. He cradled her, running his hands gently up and down her back as they both regained their breath.
"What are you thinking right at this very moment?" she asked quietly.
"That there isn't a place I love more than inside of you," he replied, and he brushed her sweaty hair back from her face, smiling softly at her.
She bit her lip. "Welcome home, then," she whispered.
He smiled, and she bit her lip, amusement dancing in her gaze. He couldn't help it — he started to laugh, and she dissolved into giggles, sloppily kissing his cheek. He caught her lips a moment later, and he felt himself start to harden in her again. He rolled her over, pressing kisses along her jaw and then down across her throat.
"Already?" she breathed, before nearly purring when he nipped at the top of her breast.
"'S been a long time," he murmured. "I need several, good, long welcomes."
She broke out into giggles once more, and he didn't think it was possible to love a person more than how very much he loved her in this moment — than how much he had always loved her, and how much he always would.
"Come home, Finn," she said into his kisses, still giggling even as her breath came shorter "Come home."
"Oh, I'm glad you're enjoying this," he said, and he drew out of her finally to plunge back in once more, groaning at the sensation.
She locked eyes with him. "Always."
She knew she should get up.
She should dress, and she should make breakfast, and she should greet the day.
But she couldn't move, because she couldn't leave this bed with this man — she couldn't even take her eyes off him, sleeping on his belly with his mouth parted ever-so-slightly and drool on his chin, her own sweet Finn, finally home. She reached out and skated her fingers across his cheeks softly, and then she ran her hand over his hair, still so soft and terribly in need of a haircut.
She could give him one today. There would be time. They did have the picnic lunch this afternoon, though, and she knew all the neighbours would be there and would want to talk with Finn and Noah, and the whole affair would go on for hours and hours. But she couldn't really protest, as Finn and Noah were the last of the boys from town to come home, and the old biddies who planned these events had put off this one for their return.
Doc Parker had come back months ago, and the milkman, sweet little Jerry, had, too, and poor Mrs. Stutson's son hadn't come home at all and never would, but, oh, Rachel couldn't think about that. She could still remember the terror that overtook her every time she thought Finn might not come back. Every time someone in town received a telegram, she and Quinn would stay up late, sitting together, silent, too terrified to fall asleep, because the next telegram could be for one of them.
But Finn — and Puck, too — was safely home now. Rachel had waited through the war, and through his time stationed in the Philippines while those who had been in Europe from the outbreak of war came home first, and through the three weeks Finn spent at the debriefing in Newport News, and finally he was home.
Finn grunted a little in his sleep, and the arm thrown loosely over her tightened. She snuggled closer to him, kissing his bare shoulder and letting her eyes flicker closed. She could enjoy this for a few more minutes before she had to get up, before the clocks chimed and the boys woke and pounded on the door and Quinn came by to start breakfast.
She could have a few more blissful minutes in bed with Finn — until the doorbell rang. She frowned. Goodness, who would come by this early? She hoped it wasn't a nosy neighbour, as happy as she would be to know that her neighbours are happy to see her husband home safe.
The doorbell rang again. She hadn't imagined the sound.
"Who's that?" Finn murmured groggily.
She sighed. "I'll go see," she told him, and she started to slip out of bed. He protested a little, but she merely kissed the arm that reached for her, told him to go back to sleep, and pulled on her dressing gown. According to the clock on her dresser, it was only a little past six in the morning. She started down the stairs, and the doorbell rang a third time.
She opened the front door.
And her hands tightened into fists.
"Good morning, sweetie," Jesse greeted, flowers in his hand.
"I told you not to come here again," she snapped. He couldn't honestly be here right now. He couldn't. Did he never give up?
"I'm sorry, did I wake you? I thought you were an early bird. I apologise. I'd love to stay for breakfast, though. And, yes, I'd be more than happy to take you to the picnic this afternoon." He smiled and held out the flowers.
"You did wake me, you may not stay for breakfast, and you are absolutely nuts if you think I want you to take me to the picnic." She glared at him. "Leave. Now."
"Didn't you plan to go to the picnic this afternoon?" he said, unfazed by her hostility. "I know it will be hard without your husband, but you don't have to be alone." He smiled slickly.
"I'll have you know, Mr. St. James, that my husband is asleep in his bed right now, and he will take me to the picnic." She crossed her arms over her chest. Finn had finally come home, and Rachel would finally be rid of this man.
He chuckled. "Be serious, Rachel."
"That's Mrs. Hudson to you, and I am serious. He arrived by train last night with Mr. Puckerman."
"You've cried wolf before, sweetie. Why would I believe you now?"
She grit her teeth. Why did he always call her that? "You're right, I have," she told him sharply. She had lied to him ten times over in fruitless attempts to make him leave her alone. "But I'm not lying now. My husband is home, and you have no reason to be here. You need to leave," she said, "and that's the end of the discussion. We've had this conversation before, and we won't have it again. We agreed to keep the secrets of our past in our past and live our own lives."
Why couldn't he respect that?
"Yes, we did," Jesse told her, smiling indulgently. "The past is the past. But the future? That's ours for the taking, you and I, the two greatest stars New York will ever see. Of course, you abandoned stardom for this —" He glanced distastefully around the street. "—but I can take you back to the city with me, and I'll even put up his children —"
She wouldn't listen to this. She turned on her heel and started back into the house, ready to slam the door in his face. He grabbed her arm. She turned to him furiously.
"After everything," he said, his eyes darkening, "you can at least do me the courtesy —"
"Let go of me," she snarled. He had no right —
"— of hearing me out. At the very least —"
"I said let go of me —"
"GET OFF MY MOMMA!"
Rachel barely had time to blink before Chris and Ben rushed past her and pounced, shoving and kicking and wildly whacking Jesse, who tried to swat at them only to end up with his hands raised defensively as he cringed and stumbled backwards.
"Boys — boys —!"
"She doesn't like you!" Chris yelled. "She likes my dad!"
"And, 'sides," Ben said, giving Jesse a particularly vicious kick. "I heard my aunt Quinny tell my momma that you're not man enough for any lady! Go away!"
Rachel wrapped her arm around Chris and finally managed to grasp Ben with her other hand, and she pulled them back. Panting a little, Jesse glanced off to the side and then looked back at Rachel, his eyes cold. "You don't have —" He faltered.
And Finn wrapped his arm around Rachel's waist. "You need something?" Finn growled.
"Dad! Did you see us?"
"We got him, Dad!"
The boys hopped up and down triumphantly, and Rachel turned slightly to look at Finn, her eyes growing wide when she realised he stood there in only trousers and nothing else at all. But she supposed it didn't much matter. Jesse St. James certainly didn't deserve any kind of decent courtesy. She leaned into Finn slightly, and she looked back at Jesse. There. He couldn't very well deny her claims now, could he?
"Well," Jesse said coolly, "look who survived."
"I'll ask again — you need something? If not, get lost."
Jesse only shook his head, and he sneered at Rachel. "Fine, then. I'll leave," he said. "But you know you're better than this life. You know you are. You settled. And for what?" He tossed the flowers aside, and he left. Rachel didn't release either of the boys until Jesse's Rolls Royce disappeared down the street. Ben immediately leapt for the flowers, trampling them.
"Did you see us, Dad?" Chris asked. "I woke up and I heard Momma fighting with Mr. St. Jackass —"
"That's what Aunt Quinny called him!"
Oh, honestly. Quinn could be as bad as Noah sometimes.
"I saw you," Finn told Chris. "I saw you both," he added, nodding at Ben when the boy opened his mouth. "I heard you, too. I think half the street heard you." He smiled a little.
"We showed him, didn't we?" Chris said. "And he won't come back again, not with us around, and with you back, too, Dad!"
"No," Finn said, but his smile faded slightly. "He won't be back."
Rachel watched him for a moment, and she looked at the boys. "That's enough, then," she said. "Go inside and get dressed. I'll start breakfast. Go on."
Chris nodded obediently and started into the house, and Ben hopped after him. She loved those boys so much, she really did, but sometimes they were too much for her. Of course, she probably loved them all the more for it. And she would never condone violence, certainly, but perhaps now Jesse would stay gone.
Ben poked his head out the door again. "Arentcha coming?" he asked.
"We'll be there in a minute," Finn murmured. Ben nodded. Rachel looked up at Finn. "How long has he been after you?" he asked quietly.
She sighed. "Quinn and I took all the kids to see a show in the city with Kurt a year ago, and I saw him there. He learned that you were away, and he started stopping by after that. I never even let him into the house, but he came by the school, too, and any sort of event the town would have. I don't understand why." She really didn't. What made Jesse harass her like this, after everything he had already put her through?
"He wants you."
"But why me?" she asked.
"Who wouldn't want you?" Finn touched her hair softly.
"I'm taken," she told him.
He smiled a little. "If he comes back —"
She shook her head. "I think he's gone for good," she told him, "at least as long as you're around. And you're not going anywhere, are you?"
"No," he said. He paused. "It wasn't easy for you and Quinn here, with Puck and I gone, was it?" She had told him some in her letters, but he knew she must have left plenty out. He would slowly tug all the stories from her, though.
"Not really," she admitted. "But my life could never be easy without you. And I don't suppose your life over there was easy, either. It's a good thing that time's over, isn't it?" He smiled. She always knew what to say. He kissed her forehead, and his gaze caught hers, and then his eyes flickered to her lips, and he leaned down.
"I hope you're aware that Mrs. Abraham across the street probably has her face plastered against the window right at this moment."
Rachel pulled back from Finn to see Quinn, one hand on her hip and a bored expression on her face as she stood in front of her door and looked over at them.
"I'm happy to give Mrs. Abraham her kicks," Finn said.
Rachel swatted his chest. "Come on. She's right. And you need to get dressed. I do, too."
"I'll be over in a few minutes!" Quinn called, and Rachel nodded.
The rest of the morning passed quickly. Quinn came by and they made breakfast. Rachel thought she and Quinn should probably start to run their own separate households again now that Finn and Noah had returned, yet over the last three years she had grown so used to a daily routine that simply involved Quinn in everything.
She still smiled a little to herself whenever she remembered how terribly she and Quinn had gotten along when they first met. Quinn had once admitted that she had thought Finn was the only one worth anything in McKinley's, the only one who could actually take care of Quinn for good, and she intended to snag him for that very reason, nevermind that she and Finn didn't go well together at all.
"But I eventually realised he's far too big a baby for me," Quinn had declared.
Rachel had only smiled.
Because it had all worked out, hadn't it? They had both ended up with the men they wanted, and somewhere along the way Quinn had become her best friend — second to Finn, of course.
Rachel helped Ruthie get up and get dressed, they all ate, and the boys played in the backyard with Finn and Puck, and with Beth, too, and Sam when he finally woke up. According to Mercedes, Sam still refused to embrace the morning time, even long after he no longer worked nights at a bar. "Of course, comic book writers can keep any schedule they want," Mercedes said. "But sometimes the boy drives me nuts the way he refuses to wake up before noon." She smiled as she spoke, absently twirling the wedding band on her finger.
Rachel knew Mercedes and Sam kept their life private, and they never lived in one place long, as if to run from prejudices. She couldn't help but wish they would move to New York, though, and settle down and maybe even have a child or two. Mercedes would make a wonderful mother, wouldn't she? Rachel told her as much, and Mercedes only laughed.
"Dolly, you're my absolute favourite, you know that?"
"Thank you, Mercedes, I think you're lovely as well."
Mercedes only laughed more.
Soon after, they all left for the park.
As soon as they arrived, people swarmed around Finn and Noah, hugging and kissing and cooing over them, and Rachel could only shake her head and let her neighbours fawn over the two men. She and Quinn spread out the blankets and their food a little ways away from the chaos, and Rachel made sure Chris and Ben put on suntan lotion, despite their protests, before they raced off to play with their friends. Rachel spoke with everyone who came by, but, really, the sun shone down so bright and hot that she felt lazy.
Sam sat beside her for a little while, and Rachel asked him what he knew of Santana and Artie and if he had heard from Mr. Schuester. "I think he married," Sam told her. Good for him, Rachel thought. Mercedes beckoned Sam over to her, then, to introduce him to someone, and moments later Quinn sat down by Rachel.
She slipped on her sunglasses and lay back. "It's too hot for anything at all," she announced.
Rachel lay down beside her. "It really is," she agreed.
She glanced over at Finn, Ruthie perched in his arms and Ben and Chris on either side of him, and she frowned. He looked tense, even from far away. She watched him glance down, and she could see his locked jaw. What was the matter? She pushed herself to her feet. He was talking with Doc Robbins, Mrs. Cassady, and a few others, and she came to stand beside him.
"And I shot that devil right between the eyes," Mr. Brandt said, motioning with his hands. Rachel bit back a frown at the words as he grinned and Mrs. Cassady patted his arm affectionately. Finn stared at the ground, and Rachel looped her arm through his, brushing her hand affectionately over Ben's hair and leaning into Finn.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Hudson!" Doc Robbins greeted cheerfully.
"Afternoon, Doctor," she replied.
"But how about you, Hudson?" Brandt went on. "How many did you get?"
"I don't know," Finn said, and his hand fisted against Rachel's waist. She reached down and took his hand, slowly, subtly uncurling his fingers.
"My dad killed tons of them dirty Japs," Mikey Brandt said, looking proudly up at his father.
"My dad —" Chris began.
"Excuse me," Finn said sharply, and he took Chris by the hand and turned on his heel. Ben looked up at Rachel with wide eyes, and then glanced after his father.
Awkwardly, Rachel smiled at everyone, her smile cooling slightly as she looked at Gerald Brandt, his misguided son beside him. "I'm sorry," she said, "but not everyone likes to rehash the death they've faced." She nodded at Doc Robbins, who smiled kindly, knowingly, even, at her, and she followed after Finn.
He had sat down on the blanket, and Ruthie had tumbled over to Quinn, and the two were making some sort of necklace out of grass. Finn scrubbed a hand over his face and motioned at Ben. "What's the matter, Dad?" Ben asked softly.
"What did I do wrong?" Chris asked.
"It's not — you didn't — come here," Finn said. He pulled Ben into his lap, and Chris knelt down beside him. He looked at Ben, and then at Chris, and he sighed.
"I want you two try to understand something for me. War isn't — it isn't glorious. It isn't something you brag about. It isn't something you're proud of. War isn't like that. Any fellow who wants to talk about how many Germans or how many Japs he's killed — that's not right. Those Germans, and those Japanese, they've got mothers and fathers, and brothers and sisters, and even sons and daughters, and — and you don't talk that way about people. About anyone. It's not — it's not an accomplishment to kill anyone."
He paused, and Rachel watched him glance seriously between Chris and Ben.
"I fought in the war, I fought to take care of you, and Momma, and Ruthie. And I did my duty. But that's nothing to brag about. You understand? And you're going to come across people like Mr. Brandt, and he'll try to tell you otherwise, but you don't listen to him, or to Mikey Brandt, or to anybody who talks about war like that.
"You're better than that. Okay?"
Slowly, both boys nodded.
"Okay, Dad," Ben said. He hugged Finn around the neck, and Rachel bit her lip, looking down and smiling, her heart swelling a little inside her. Finn told the boys to go play, and they nodded and ran off. Finn looked at Rachel. "You're my hero, you know that?" Rachel told him softly.
He started to smile, but something else shone in his eyes. "Can your hero ask you something?"
"Of course," she smiled, looking at him curiously. "Is everything okay?"
"Yes," Finn said. "It's only — since this morning, with St. James — the last time I saw him, we were in Detroit. All those years ago. And — and back then, you had all these ambitions. You would introduce yourself as the girl who'd go on Broadway someday. And now? You're living outside the city in some tiny town full of knuckleheads like Gerald Brandt, and you've got kids to chase around and a job as a teacher and you never made it to Broadway —"
She shook her head at him. "Finn," she murmured. How did she even begin? "Don't tell me Mr. St. James really made you doubt everything like that."
He shrugged a little.
"Oh, Finn, I did have such great plans. But love changes great plans, doesn't it? And I know, I know, Broadway could never make me as happy as you do. It's not possible. I chose this life." She smiled, taking his hands. "Besides, if I wanted to move back to the city and start auditioning again, wouldn't you support me?"
"Of course," he said.
"And that's why I don't have to," she said. "Don't you see?"
"But — we can — go back to the city, I mean — if you want. We still have plenty of money saved. And I know you and Quinn had your hands full with me and Puck gone and four kids to care for by yourselves, but I'm back, and if you want —"
"Finn," she interrupted, shaking her head and smiling up at him. "I don't want to go back to the city. Honest."
He reached over and cupped her cheek. "You're happy here? Teaching music at the school?"
"I love music," she said, "and I love children, and I love watching children fall in love with music. What more could I want?" She loved him so much, but he could be so completely silly sometimes. "You're home, Finn, and every other thought pales in comparison to that. This is the life I've missed — my life with you — and I won't let it go now that I finally have it back."
Slowly, he smiled, and she leaned forward to kiss him.
"Dad! Momma! Stop that!" Chris called. "Come play with us!"
"Leave 'em alone, Chris!" Beth shouted. "You're not supposed to bother mommas and daddies when they're doing mommy and daddy stuff!"
"But you should come play with us," Ben said, and he nearly tackled Finn, and then he grabbed Finn's hand and tried to pull him to his feet. "Let's go, Dad! We're gonna play tag!"
"But what about Momma?" Finn asked. "I have to stay here and keep her company."
"Dad," Ben said, his voice reprimanding, "girls can play, too! Anything boys can do, girls can do, too. Ask Aunt Quinny!"
Rachel muffled her laughter. Quinn had far too much influence over the children. She better use that power for good. "I guess if Momma plays, too," Finn said slowly, looking over at Rachel.
"She'll play!" Chris said.
"Come on, Aunt Rachel!" Beth called.
"Who's it?" Rachel asked, pushing herself to her knees and then starting to stand.
"You!" Ben said.
"Me, huh?" Rachel said slowly, her eyes bright. "Well . . . you better run, then!" And she reached for Ben, who took off like a bullet, laughing and telling Chris and Beth to run fast. "You can't run forever!" she shouted, and she glanced back at Finn, who smiled up at her from the blanket, before starting to his feet. "You, too, Mister," she told him.
"Momma, come get us!" Chris shouted.
The next two hours passed in a hot, summer haze before the picnic started to wind down. They packed everything up lazily. As they started to leave, though, they spoke with a few more people, and Doc Robbins even came over, saying something quietly to Finn and clapping him on the back before he introduced his new next-door neighbour. "This is George Burns," Doc Robbins said, "and Mrs. Burns — Annabelle."
Rachel smiled. "My name is Mrs. Rachel Hudson," she said, holding out her hand. "I live on Peach Blossom, and this is my husband, Finn."
a/n: ta-da! What'd you think? I'm sorry for the long wait on this chapter, but it turned out to be one of the hardest to write! I hope it was a fitting conclusion.
All the talk of war and cocktail raids comes from my granddaddy and grandmother's experience with the times. My granddaddy never really talked about the war, because it was over and why would he ever want to talk about it? and I imagine Finn would act much the same way. Also, little fact — "mom" used to be considered slang (at least, that's what I was told growing up. For a long time, actually, my siblings and I weren't even allowed to call our mother "mom," as she wasn't allowed to call her mother "mom," either. According to her, mothers should only be called mother or momma or maybe, maybe, for little children, mommy. Seems crazy, right?).
Anyway, please review — one last final one?