A/N: Okay, I wrote this all today as a celebration of my return to fanfiction. I went off fanfic cold turkey, and, whew, I realised the extent of my addiction. I think I might need therapy - or a ten step program, at least. Anyway, I'm afraid tomorrow I'm off to Chicago for the next few days so an update to "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" is still about another week off, but it shouldn't be longer. As for this - I apologize for all typos; I'm sure I didn't edit this properly and there are plenty. I'll try to fix them in the near future. Also, I apologize if I'm rusty on my Rachel "voice." Title and lyrics are from Natasha Bedingfield's "Little Too Much."


Sometimes it hits like car crash,

And it's too late to reverse.

Sometimes you make me a better person,

Sometimes you bring out the worst.

Sometimes we get on like fire,

Sometimes we're stubborn like rain.

Just when I think that it's over,

You wave a white flag again.

We fall out, then we fall back in.

We're always back where we begin.

Everybody hurts just a little too much,

Everybody hurts but it's never enough.

It's wonderful to fall, let's love and risk it all,

I'd rather love just a little too much.


i.

On her sixth birthday, her dads try to comfort her with a glass of water for the first time.

See, they take her to the zoo and then to a wonderful dinner, but everything turns unpleasant when a woman corners Rachel as she goes to the bathroom. The woman asks her who those two men with her are. And when Rachel says they're her two dads, the woman grows mean, and she hisses that Rachel's father are an abomination who never should have had a child.

Rachel's upset, but she doesn't say anything to her dads.

At home, she looks up the word abomination in her pink dictionary.

abomination (n): a thing that causes disgust or hatred.

She doesn't understand. That woman had looked at her with such terrible eyes, and she had gripped Rachel's shoulders with sharp nails, and she had scared Rachel. Why would she do that? Why would she call Rachel's dads an abomination? Rachel's dads are the most wonderful people in the whole wide world.

Her fathers come to her bedroom, then, and ask her what's upset her. She tells them. Her daddy sits beside her while her dad fetches her a glass of water, and he explains that some people are ignorant. "That means that they're uneducated, and they make uninformed and often hurtful comments," he explains.

"Sometimes," her dad goes on, "people who are ignorant believe terrible things, like that that two people who love each other shouldn't be together. But you have to know better, and not let what other people believe, what other people say or do, affect you. You can't let them change you, and you can't let them hurt you."

She sips her water as they explain more to her, and then she sits on her daddy's lap and watches The Swan Princess with them, and she falls asleep like that, with a solemn vow in her mind: she won't ever let anyone ignorant affect her or change her or hurt her.

She loves her dads far too much to let them down.


ii.

She likes to perform.

She likes when her father films her, and when the neighbours applaud at her small neighbourhood concerts. She likes her collection of her blue ribbons. She likes recognition. She likes to feel accomplished. She likes to feel good.

In the third grade, Susan Moyer tells Rachel that her dress is super-duper ugly, and Rachel's upset, because this is her favourite dress — it's pink and purple plaid and has a star on the front and three pockets. Rachel loves pockets, and stars, and the colours pink and purple. She wants to cry when Susan says that, and when Susan's best friend Andrea laughs at Rachel.

And then Susan and Rachel both sing in the school talent show, and Rachel comes in first while Susan comes in nothing. Rachel stands on stage in her pink and plaid dress with the star and the three pockets, and she beams at her adoring audience. Susan Moyer can say what she likes about Rachel, because Rachel knows how talented she is.

And she'll prove it again and again until even people like Susan Moyer know it, too, and they don't say mean things to Rachel.


iii.

Rachel doesn't have very many friends.

Annie, who sits with her at lunch and plays with her at recess, is really her only friend at school. But Annie moves to Seattle in the sixth grade, and then Rachel has no one to talk to in school anymore. She does have a few other friends, though. She talks to a boy named Leo who has the same piano teacher, but Leo lives too far away to go to school with Rachel.

Sometimes Rachel talks with Noah Puckerman, because he goes to synagogue with her, and he's nice there. They dance to the radio sometimes when their parents are at some synagogue committee meeting. One summer he teaches her how to play soccer. He even gives her a Snickers for her thirteenth birthday.

He doesn't go to school with her either, though, until high school. She tells him how excited she is to go to school with him, and he just kinda shrugs at her. She thinks maybe he's simply not very good at expressing his excitement.

And then on the first day of school, she waves happily at him and he throws a slushie in her face.

A bunch of older kids laugh and pound him on the back. She has to spend the rest of the day with cherry slushie all over her new green sweater, bought especially for her first day of high school, and there's slushie in her hair, too, and under her shirt, and it's just awful. She accosts him later at his locker and asks why he did that. "We're friends!" she says.

"We're not friends," he dismisses. "'Cause you're a freak. You wear freaky clothing and you talk too much and everybody here knows what a loser you are. I don't wanna be a loser like you. So don't talk to me again, okay?" He slams his locker shut and walks away.

He slushies her again the next day, as if to make his point clear.

She decides that night that Noah Puckerman is like that lady at the restaurant and like Susan Moyer and like every ignorant person in this world. And she won't let him or anyone else change the way — or amount — she talks, or the way she dresses, or the way she is. She won't let anyone dim the shine of her personal star.

She soon solidifies her resolve to be Rachel Barbra Berry and nothing less.

She starts to bring extra clothes to school, and she keeps an air pump in her car, and she never lets herself cry. She even buys herself a pack of gold star stickers, and she starts to use them whenever she writes her name, simply to remind herself just who she is and who she'll one day be. She's a star. She won't let anybody say otherwise.

(Still, at synagogue she speaks very loudly when she tells Mrs. Bloomburg all about how she won her dance competition on Thursday, and she hopes Noah hears her where he stands a few feet away. Is it so bad to want to be liked?)


iv.

She doesn't want her high school career to be a waste.

But she can't seem to make others see her the way she wants, or even simply recognise her talent. Of course, she can still work toward that goal and do everything she can to continue down the path toward stardom. She continues her dance lessons and her piano lessons, and she joins the Glee club, and she practices her smiles and her performance face at every opportunity.

(The city goes to bed, and she lives inside her head.)

She wishes she could make a friend, though, or that the comments on her myspace would be a little nicer. There are some nice ones, sure, from a dozen or so people she's never met who think highly of her talent. But no one who lives in Lima, who goes to McKinley, who she might want to meet and get to know, ever leaves anything nice.

She kind of hates that. What does she have to do? She refuses to change. And she won't. But somehow, someway, she'll make something of her time in high school. She will. She will.


v.

She doesn't let herself think about it.

She does her biology homework, and she looks over her English syllabus. She eats dinner with her fathers, and she watches jeopardy with them. She does some yoga. She practices her scales. She takes a long bath. She even slips on her pyjamas, turns off the lights, and goes to bed.

But she can't avoid the thoughts, no matter what she does.

They creep up on her and take hold of her. She knows her biology homework isn't done well, and she knows her fathers think her first day of sophomore year went poorly. And she can't toss and turn all night, because she has school tomorrow — she needs to be well-rested.

She finally gives in.

She sits up, flips on the lamp by her bed, and stares at her hands. She curls her fingers. She glances at her palms. She holds her hands up and tries to decide if knuckles are supposed to look like that. Is that the problem? Are her knuckles too big? She keeps her nails short, too, and that probably doesn't do her any good. But she has to keep them short for piano.

She goes to sleep eventually. And at school the next day she walks through the hallways with her head held high, because she knows the insult isn't true and she won't even entertain the thought that it might be. She won't. She has much more self-esteem than that, thank you very much.

(She really wishes that cheerleader could have waited until a few days later to throw that taunt, because Rachel truly wanted her sophomore year to be a fresh start, and she hates that the first day will now always have that stain on it.)

She does not have man-hands.


vi.

She's never felt this way before.

Her heart swells, her spine tingles, her mind spins — and his beautiful voice echoes through her head. She can't deny her initial scepticism when Mr. Schue first introduced him to the club, and she can't admit how disappointed yet entirely not surprised she felt when he begged off to save his reputation. But he came back, and he saved the club.

She thinks the story will make for a very good chapter in her autobiography.

She wonders idly that night if he'll be more than a chapter.

When he takes her backpack from her a few days later, such a complete gentlemen, she knows the truth: she wants him in much more than a mere chapter of her life's story. He's so talented, and so sweet and genuine and good.

She sits in algebra II, and her heart swells, her spine tingles, her mind spins, and she knows she has fallen head-over-heels — completely, dizzily, wonderfully head-over-heels — for Finn Hudson.


vii.

Of course, she does eventually learn she shouldn't want him the way she does.

He has a girlfriend who's pregnant. He'd never cheat on her, or leave her, and Rachel respects him and likes him more for that. He makes mistakes, sure, he even uses her feelings, but he's still a good person, she knows that so surely. And every day she falls still deeper for his sweet smile and shy shrug. She even gives up her first real relationship, if a week with Noah Puckerman counts, because she can't simply accept that she and Finn are meant to be friends.

She simply feels so much for Finn, and she wants to be with him so much that she doesn't know how she can bear it all sometimes. Her heart beats faster when he makes a stupid joke, when he catches her eye in the hall and smiles, when his hand brushes her as he borrows her pencil. He smells so good, and he sings so well, and he believes in her.

She just can't escape her feelings. This isn't something she can hide from, something she can deny or ignore or even overcome, no matter how hard she tries.

And she's never not been able to deny or ignore or overcome something. She's supposed to be stronger than this, she knows that. She isn't supposed to set her sights on a boy she can't have and then let that control her life. But she wants him, and like everything she wants, she wants him too much, even too much to forget about him despite all the logical reasons.

She thinks maybe love is supposed to defy logic.

(Does she love him? She's a lonely girl, and this is a small town world, and maybe she just might. Is that really so terrible? The heart wants what it wants, you know.)


viii.

She tries, for the first time, to make herself hate Finn Hudson.

She remembers sitting abandoned on the stage surrounded by stupid picnic. She remembers a flirtatious invitation and a bowling date that was all meant to hurt her. She remembers nervous, uncomfortable eyes and talk of a sad clown hooker. She remembers the smile he gave Santana in the hall. She remembers his easy dismissal of her. She remembers that he doesn't even want her.

Why should she want him, then?

Why shouldn't she hate him?

She grasps those memories tightly, and she tries to press them into herself. She finds an angry song and belts the words out with those memories in mind. She feels better, if only because she finally said something, she finally made him, or anyone, know just how angry she sometimes feels.

Somehow, though, she goes home and lies in bed and she still doesn't really hate him, and she hates that. Why can't she hate someone who doesn't love her, doesn't even hate her, is merely indifferent to her?


ix.

And then she meets someone who asks her out without a qualm, who likes her and has no problem with that admission. He makes her proud to be herself. She doesn't need to take the few, rare scraps of kindness that Finn randomly tosses her way when it suits his purpose because no one cares about her more. All ready, Jesse St. James cares more.

He can sing and he can dance and he has as much confidence and star talent as she does.

But when he looks in her eyes, she never does see the feeling, that one she knows so well. Finn sings, he's looking in the mirror all the time and wondering what she don't see in me, and that feeling seeps from every line in his face, burns from his eyes, swirls from his voice — that feeling of overwhelming need, of overwhelming want, of overwhelming everything, until a person simply can't bear the weight of it all.

She thinks maybe Finn never really was indifferent to her, he was simply a teenage boy, and whatever feelings he had were real and terrifying and too confusing for him to understand. No matter how long he took to discover them, those feelings existed, and they were real.

They still are.

But Jesse has those feeling for her, too, and he didn't need time and another boy to figure that out.

(He does have those feelings, right? More importantly, she has those feeling for him, doesn't she?)


x.

He doesn't show doubt.

He looks nervous, maybe, but his words are spoken with absolute conviction, with daring and confidence, as though his words are nothing if not true. They're so perfect, really, and full of such potential that she wants to put a gold star sticker by them.

"Break a leg," she says.

"I love you," he replies.

She'll put three gold stars by his words, one for him and one for her and one for them both.

Because she learned and he learned, but she was too soon and he was too late, and now, this time, this time, two strangers will learn to love again and they'll learn together.


xi.

Honestly, the summer passes quickly. She does like to keep a busy schedule, after all.

She teaches dance to children at the JCC, and Finn works at Sheets 'N Things, and they meet sometimes in the morning for a run, and they spend nearly every evening together — they go out to the movies, or out to dinner, or even simply out for ice cream. And sometimes they stay in and watch television and kiss until she can't think. They go to the pool now and then, too, and they have jam sessions with Artie and Puck a few times as well.

On a Thursday, he agrees to help her plant a garden, and when he says he'll help, he means he'll lie on his back and moan about how hot it is out as he occasionally steals with he thinks — and what are really not — very subtle glances at her butt, while she carefully maps out her garden, plants all the seeds, and does all the work.

(She still rewards his hard work with cranberry juice, lemon square cookies, and a kiss or two — or maybe she rewards him because she kind of likes that he steals glances at her butt, but she won't tell him that.)

On a Monday, she wears her favourite polka-dot bathing suit to help him wash his truck, but somehow they end up half inside the truck, lips pressed hotly together, legs tangled, and the forgotten hose spraying a nearby tree. They shouldn't waste water that way, she thinks vaguely, before his hands grip her waist, and she's so tiny and he's so large, and his fingers span her back, and his heart thuds erratically against hers, and he strokes her tongue with his, and, oh, this.

This kiss, this boy, this life. She doesn't want to let any of them slip away.

She wants to go slow, to fall for him little by little, the way people are supposed to fall. She wants not to scare him away, she wants not to want him too much. She knows nothing good can come of that, knows her intensity reeks havoc upon everything, even her own life, and she won't lose him.

She won't.

On the first day of school, she feels so happy and proud beside him, but as a group of football players start down the hall, Finn and Rachel are so clearly in their path, she loosens her hand slightly in his. One of the guys nods at Finn, a few others say something, and Rachel starts to pull her hand completely from his.

She can do this, see? She can be casual. She can show those ignorant buffoons that Rachel Berry is not crazy, and Finn isn't crazy to be with her. She knows how to play the game now, see?

The moment her hand slips from his, however, Finn wraps an arm around her shoulder.

"Hey, Rachel," some random football player says.

"Oh, hello there," she replies. She thinks his name might be Gary. Actually, she has no idea what his name might be, but he certainly looks like a Gary. He'd make a good Gary. But, anyway, the guy talks with Finn some, then, and Rachel leans into her boyfriend, and she smiles a little to herself when she feels Finn absently toy with her hair.

He's a good boyfriend, and this will work.

(Because she loves him. She loves him. She LOVES him. She wants to marry him and make babies with him and have the words Rachel Hudson written on playbills because she loveslovesloves him.

Okay, honestly, it's not bad to think intensely, is it?)


xii.

She does want to be better, because of him, for him, regardless of him. She's still slushied on occasion, and she still has no real friends, and she still doesn't feel truly comfortable in her own skin, no matter how confident she acts.

(She once read in Seventeen that confidence is the most attractive attitude a girl can have, but she thinks there might be different kinds of confidence, because the kind Quinn has makes boys swoon and the kind Rachel has does absolutely nothing. How does she fix that?)

But for the first time, she feels like maybe it doesn't so much matter if there are ignorant people out there. She still won't let them affect her or change her or hurt her, but maybe she doesn't need to prove anything to them. What are they to her, anyway?

The people who matter already care about her. She has nothing to prove to Finn, except maybe that he's changed her, and she really does love him. Because she knocked on his door, and she gave him her key, and they're both better for it, she thinks.


xiii.

Her makes her feel in a way no one ever really has before, emotionally and physically.

She thinks — she knows, really — that the two are tied together, and if she didn't love him so much, his kisses wouldn't make her knees weak, and if his hands didn't scorch her skin, she wouldn't love him as much as she did. It's all part of it all, part of Finn, part of Finn and Rachel, part of them.

And when he inspires all these feelings in her, hot, dizzy, trembling feelings, swooping, tightening, aching feelings, she's honestly a little terrified. Feelings like that mean so much, they have to mean so much, and what if she's not ready? What if he's not ready? What if this all too much for him? What if everything changes?

More and more often, though, she can't really think about all that when the feelings are so much.


xiv.

He starts to pull out his history textbook, but she wraps her arms around him from behind.

She presses her face to his back and takes a deep breath of cheap cologne and sweat and boy and Finn. He laughs a little, dropping his backpack, and he turns in her arms. His hands find her waist, her hands rest on his shoulders, and she looks up at him as he smirks down at her. "I thought we were going to do homework," he says.

"Don't be silly," she replies. "You were going to pretend to do work for two minutes before you asked for my help, and then when I leaned over to see what you were working on, you were going to kiss me and distract me."

"And?" he says.

"And we're skipping that today," she tells him, standing up on her tiptoes to muffle his laughter with a kiss. She can't help herself. He had danced around in that blue jacket, and that mash-up had been just perfect, and she had nearly swooned. She could barely keep her hands to herself as he led her over to his truck and then drove them to her house.

Now, when she can finally hold him and kiss him and touch him, her stomach swoops inside her in the most delicious way, and she wants more, so much more. He hikes her up, and she wraps her legs around his waist in a desperate attempt to get closer, always closer, and he moans a little.

Her mind spins with the friction, he stumbles back to the bed, and she starts to lose herself in the hot and heady feeling of it all. His hands slip under her shirt and scorch her skin, and his lips are so soft — are boys supposed to have lips that soft? She runs her tongue along his jaw, and he groans again, the sound making her arch into him as he rolls over to trap her beneath him.

"I loved your mash-up," she manages to whisper to him, even as he trails kisses along her neck, nipping at her throat, and she thinks he'll leave a mark, and then she thinks she doesn't care.

"Not like I loved yours, babe," he whispers, and suddenly his hands are cupping her breasts, and she wonders briefly how he managed to move his hands that high without — but, oh, God — his fingers slip under her bra, and — "You looked so hot like that," he tells her, his words giving way to another moan, his hands squeezing her breasts and his fingers sliding over her nipples, "you're so hot, Rach, you're so —"

She kissed him hard, curling her hands into his hair, unable to take it.

She draws back. She can't take it. She can't. "What's the matter?" he pants, his breath washing hotly over her face, and his eyes are dark, his cheeks flushed, and she suddenly doesn't know how to say the words, but she shifts slightly under him, cradling him between her thighs.

She has to do something.

"Can you —?" she says. "Can you — help me?"

He stares, and then his eyes go wide, and it would be comical if she didn't need him so much right now. "Um, yeah," he breathes. He nods quickly, and his weight shifts to the side slightly as he trails a hand down and then so slowly back up her leg. "You mean like this, right?" he says, and his fingers, trembling ever so slightly, brush the edge of her underwear.

She nods furiously, letting her eyes fall closed as she buries her face in his neck and clings to him, unable to stop from whimpering when his she feels him actually touch her.

"I love you," he breathes.

She clings to him, and her last real thought before she stops bothering to think at all is that "I love you, too, so much."


xv.

She tries to support Kurt.

She knows what it's like to be bullied, and she hates that he has to go through any of that. She talks to her dads a little, and they offer to speak with Kurt, or to talk to Figgins, and she tells them she isn't sure that's really what Kurt needs. "Then do what you think he needs," Dad tells her.

"Be his friend," Daddy says, "and support him as best you can, pumpkin."

She tries to. She's reached out to him before, and she reaches out again, and she pushes her fellow Glee club members to do the same. Sure, Kurt has, in his own unintentional way, bullied her before. But he's never truly intended to hurt her, never really realised that she took his words to heart despite her best attempts to do otherwise, and she doesn't want him, or anyone in Glee, to feel as bad as she's felt. She doesn't want anyone ever to feel that way.

She doesn't want anyone ever to be the victim of ignorance, especially not someone as brave and talented and special as Kurt.

Of course, her plans to bring the Glee girls together in order to have the Glee boys stand up for Kurt don't play out exactly the way she imagined. Still, somebody stood up for Kurt. And Rachel is so proud when Finn at long last fully embraces the bravery he's so long toyed with and taken ahold of only then to shy away from again.

It's a good night.


xvi.

But it's the last good night.

The world comes tumbling down a few days later.

He slept with Santana. He lied to her. He let everyone else find out the truth, but he kept the secret from her. She simply can't even fathom it all. He slept with Santana and then lied to her for months and made a complete fool of her. How could he do that? Doesn't he love her? Did he ever love her? Were those words only words to him, when they meant the world to her?

(If he loves her just the way she is, if the whole world stops and stares for awhile, 'cause, girl, you're amazing, just the way you are, why would he sleep with Santana? Why wouldn't Rachel be good enough?)

She tries so hard to find a way to make it okay, to find an explanation, to find a reassurance, to find revenge, to find a second chance, to find a fresh start. And somehow every search comes up empty, and she loses him. She loses him, and she wonders if she ever really had him to begin with.


xvii.

She decides it's her fault. She did this. She broke them.

And that means that she can put them back together. She can fix them.

She tries everything she can think to do. She pours all of herself into her plans, into a romantic present, into the scent of Christmas trees, into the prettiest dresses she can find, into sweet smiles and shy glances, into a song with another boy, into an attempt to save the football team for him, into a hundred dollar bill to buy a hundred kisses.

But it's not enough.

She thinks it might be, because he must have loved her, must love her still — why else would he give her that necklace, why else would he be so sweet to her, why else would he still believe in her? She wears that necklace proudly, her heart bursting, and wonders what she can do next, how she can finally win him back entirely.

And then it all goes terribly wrong, and she doesn't even know how.

She gives him everything, gives him too much, even, and he chooses Quinn.

She tells him she understands, and she'll move on, and she takes comfort in the new friends she has. But she doesn't understand, and she doesn't know how to move on, and she's so afraid to lose her new friends, because she's never in her life been able to keep a steady grasp on those things she cares about most. What's wrong with her?

Who is she?

She sings in some attempt to declare the truth in hopes that she'll discover that truth in her very declaration, but how can she be a firework, how can she let her colours burst, if she doesn't even know who she is?


xviii.

She has to be who she was once.

She decides to be spirited and talented and Rachel Barbra Berry. She decides that somehow she must have let other people affect her and change her and hurt her, whether they meant to or not, and she won't do that again. She'll make a comeback.

Of course, nothing goes the way she wants, until Finn tells her he thinks she's made a comeback.

She feels inspired. Soon, she feels hope, as she hugs him and he returns the embrace. And then she feels drunk. Finally, she feels angry. So. Freaking. Angry.


xix.

She throws her pen across the room, she grabs a pillow, and she screams.

She doesn't belt out a beautiful song. She doesn't raise her voice or shout or yell. No, she truly screams, she screams until her throat burns in what is surely a very detrimental way, and she collapses on her bed with big, fat, hot tears soaking into her pillow as her sobs tear against her raw throat.

She's experienced life.

She's had pornographic caricatures of herself drawn on walls. She's been bullied and belittled and begrudged in the worst possible ways. She's had a boy crack an egg on her face after he claimed to love her. She's had a mother manipulate her way into Rachel's life only to stroll right out again when Rachel wasn't what the woman wanted.

She's fallen in love and then lost that love because she loved him too much.

How can she write any of that in a song? How can she open herself up that much, make herself that vulnerable, risk that much? She's much too easy to hurt to be that open, that vulnerable, that risky. It's easier to sing about a headband.

Who is Finn, anyway, to tell her that she needs to live? What does he know? Who is he to break up with her for kissing another boy when he intends to run back to the girl that slept with another boy and then lied to him for months? Who is he to patronise her with talk of how he believes in her when he doesn't even want to spend any time with her?

Who is he to tell her to let Noah crack up the alcohol at her party and then tell her she's an awful drunk? Who is he to affect her and to change her and to hurt her?

She hates him.

(But she doesn't. Why can't she hate him? Why?)


xx.

She plays a few notes. "When all that you touch tumbles down," she sings softly, her eyes flickering closed. "'Cause my best intentions keep making a mess of things. . . ." She opens her eyes, frowning a little as she tries another note on the piano.

"What's that?"

She spins around to see Finn, standing in the doorway and smiling softly.

"It's nothing," she whispers, turning away. She catches his frown at the last minute, but she pretends not to see. She goes to her seat, folding her hands in her lap and waiting for the rest of the Glee club to arrive.

And then Finn sits beside her. "Hey, can I say something?"

"Of course," she tells him, smiling briefly, but she doesn't really look at him.

"I'm sorry," he murmurs.

Her face snaps to his.

He keeps his own gaze on his hands, however. "For, like, for calling you a needy drunk. I mean, if you even remember that, but —" He glances at her, then, slightly confused, as if he doesn't know how to make his words come out right.

"I remember," she tells him. "And it's okay. I shouldn't have been so affectionate with you. It was entirely inappropriate. I know that."

"Yeah," he says. It's quiet. Artie and Brittany come in, and they greet Finn and Rachel. "I wasn't really mad at you, though," Finn says suddenly, his voice soft. "'Cause I would have been doing something like that, too, to you, if I were the drunk one, I mean. And that's what I hate. If — if that makes any sense." Once more, he refuses to look at her.

"It does," she says gently.

The rest of Glee arrives, and Mr. Schue is sweet to them, as he only is now and again.

(Rachel doesn't really care about Mr. Schue. She's too focused on the way her heart races every time Finn smiles that beautiful smile at her.)


xxi.

And that night, lying in bed, Rachel starts to perfect her song, and she realises something she deems rather profound: she can't hate Finn, because even when she feels like she does, it's only a reflection of how very much she loves him. If she didn't, then she wouldn't hate him when he hurt her, she would simply grow indifferent to him. Isn't that right? Isn't indifference the opposite of love? And she's never been indifferent to Finn Hudson.

She loves him still, even though she shouldn't, because he's hurt her so much.

But he loves her still, even though he shouldn't, because she's hurt him so much.

"Oh, how many times will it take for me," she whispers, "to get it right?"

They've both hurt each other, but they both love each other, and maybe they weren't perfect together, but maybe if she didn't strive to make them perfect out of some fear that anything less would cost him her, maybe. . . .

She doesn't understand everything yet, but she knows one certain truth: she's not giving up on him.


xxii.

They win.

She jumps up and down, laughing and squealing and hugging her friends. Everyone claps and shouts and Rachel can see her fathers on their feet, beaming and whistling. Because they won. They're going to Nationals in New York, and they'll win there, too, she just knows it. She hugs Tina for a third time, and, yes, Mike, you get a hug, too, and she laughs into Artie's shoulder, nearly falling over, as she tries to hug him as well.

And then she starts to hug Finn, and she hesitates.

He doesn't. Grinning, he hugs her tightly, his arms wrapping her up in that warm, wonderfully overwhelming way of his, and he inadvertently lifts her up onto her tiptoes. She closes her eyes for a moment and relishes the feel of him. She never wants to let go.

He starts to pull back, though, and she falls gently back onto her feet. "That was amazing, Rach," he tells her, his soft voice barely audible over the celebratory chaos. They're still up on stage, slightly blinded by the light, but his face is close to hers, his words meant for her, only for her, and his hands are somehow holding hers tightly. "That song," he murmurs, shaking his head as if he doesn't have the words, and then he places his hand over his heart.

Her breath catches. She feels fifteen again, and she's on that stage again, and no one's broken her heart yet, not even him, and she has all the courage in the world.

"That was for you," she tells him, her heart jumping into her throat. She smiles, tears blurring the sight of his face, still so very close. She squeezes his hand. "I still love you."

She watches him swallow thickly, and then he wraps her up in his arms again and spin her a little, and she laughs, hugging him tightly.


xxiii.

It's nearly dark out, and the parking lot is full of proud, happy parents, including her own. She waves at them, and then she smiles briefly at Finn and tells him she'll see him on Monday. She starts to walk away, but his hand catches hers to stop her.

"Rachel," he says softly. He pauses. She waits. "Do you really love me?"

Maybe she shouldn't have told him that. He might not be ready. She did hurt him, after all. And last year everything went much better when she took things slow, when she didn't pour out all her feelings to him. She needs to take things slow again. She can't let him see how very much she wants him and needs him and loves him.

But she does want him and need him and love him — so much. And what's wrong with that? Why can't she say that? She knows who she is: Rachel Berry, talented, ambitious, compassionate, and intense. And she's proud of that.

"Yes," she says quietly. "I've never loved anyone or anything like I love you." She bites her lip, afraid to see him recoil. "And I know I said I'd move on, and I know that's what you want, but I don't think I can, Finn. I'll be your friend. I'll be whatever you'll let me be. But I won't stop loving you."

He just sort of nods, and she starts to slip her hand once more from his. But he still won't let her go, and she glances back at him. "Finn?" she says gently.

"I've never really liked fireworks," he says quickly. "I mean . . . I just thought you should know." His face pinches slightly, and she knows that look, knows he's upset with himself. "I'm just not — I'm not — I'm not always able to say what I'm thinking or feeling or anything," he goes on. "I'm not like you. I wish I was. I wish I . . ." He runs a hand over his hair. "I don't know how to do any of this," he says quietly.

He's said that before. And she had told him she'd teach him. A few weeks later, he left her for his inner rock star. As she gazes up at him now, she thinks he remembers that, too. "I guess I'm just saying that . . . don't stop being you, okay?" he says. "Don't, like, don't ever not tell me what you think or try to say what you think I want to hear 'cause . . . I just need to catch up. Okay, that didn't make any sense. I mean — "

She doesn't let him finish. She leans up to hug him, sinking slightly into his arms in that way she loves, that way that makes her feel so simply safe.

"I understand," she whispers. She kisses his cheek and draws back, but she rests her hands on his shoulder for a moment. "And I'll wait."

He lets her walk away this time.

She lies in bed, unable to sleep despite how exhausting and overwhelming the whole exhilarating day has been. Her few, brief conversations with Finn play over and over again in her mind. She decides that Finn did fall in love with Rachel Berry, talented, ambitious, compassionate, and intense, and he always did know who she was, no matter how she tried to tone herself down.

And that she ever doubted that fact amazes her now. It seems so simple. Is that where they went wrong? She won't make that mistake again. She smiles to herself, tucks her monkey a little closer to her chest, and thinks that she can easily wait for the boy who loves her how far too much she loves him.

(She won't stop believing, she'll hold onto that feeling, and she'll wait.)


xxiv.

He asks her to prom.

She says yes calmly.

"Cool," he says, and he turns and heads back to his locker as she leans against her own, closing her eyes for a moment and clutching her chest. She starts to smile to herself, and she dances around a little. Yes. Yes. YES! She takes a deep breath, opens her eyes, and readies herself to greet what must surely be a new era in her life, in their life.

And Finn stands at his locker, staring at her and grinning.

She only grins back.


xxv.

She thinks Under the Sea might be the least creative prom theme in history.

Rachel joined the prom committee, of course, but Quinn did, too, and every measure Rachel attempted saw a quick, painful death. Rachel decided to let Quinn have this one, because, honestly, Rachel gets what matters most: not her perfect prom, but her perfect date.

And with the blue and green lights and the somewhat professional drawings of fish everywhere, Rachel thinks the theme came together rather well, all in all. She doesn't know the seniors crowned King and Queen of prom, but she certainly knows the prince and princess: Quinn and Sam, together again and McKinley's favourite blonde sweethearts. Rachel claps politely for them and leans back into Finn as his arms wrap around her middle and they sway a little off to the side.

He leans down and kisses her temple. "You'd make a prettier princess," he whispers.

She glances up at him. "You'd make a much handsomer prince," she replies.

"Please tell me you two do not honestly whisper those sweet nothings to one another," Kurt says.

Rachel doesn't bother to reply, not when Finn turns her in his arms and kisses her, really kisses her, softly and sweetly and carefully, so much like the very first time. But he doesn't run away this time. Some clichéd prom song by Lifehouse plays in the background, other couples sway around them, and he whispers the words into her lips.

"I love you," he says, "so much."

They have Nationals still to come, and they need to talk and relearn each other and start fresh, and she knows they both still need to work through a lot. But they'll work through it all, and they'll start fresh and relearn one another and they'll talk, really talk.

And they certainly have Nationals in the bag.

For now, then, she'll simply kiss him.


xxvi.

On her thirty-second birthday, she fills up a glass of water to comfort her daughter for the first time.

She goes upstairs, and she smiles a little despite everything when she sees Finn, a giant on the tiny pink bed, with Ellie curled up in his lap. Rachel sits on the edge of the bed and holds the glass out to her. "Here," she says gently.

Ellie drinks a little, her bangs falling into her face.

"I thought Uncle Kurt would be a really good show and tell," she murmurs, passing the glass back to Rachel as she leaned against Finn and wiped at her cheeks. "Because he wears really pretty scarves and he's really funny and nobody else has an uncle Kurt."

"Those are all very good reasons," Rachel agrees.

"But then today when I brought in my cupcakes and was passing them out, Cody told me that he didn't want a cupcake I had made 'cause my uncle was a stupid homo. I don't even know what that means!" She starts to cry again, and Finn rocks her slightly, looking helplessly at Rachel. He can't stand when Ellie cries. He'll do anything to make her feel better.

Case and point: their pet dog. But that's another story, and Rachel knows a puppy won't fix this one.

She knows exactly how her perfect little girl feels. She starts to explain everything the best way she can. She talks about how some people are ignorant, and you can't let those people affect you or change you or hurt you.

"And if somebody doesn't like your uncle Kurt, or doesn't like your pretty daisy dress, or says something mean to you," she tells Ellie, "just know that those people are ignorant, and you should ignore them. Okay?"

Ellie nods.

She watches The Little Mermaid with Finn and Rachel and falls asleep eventually.

Finn buys her a pack of gold star stickers the next day, and she seems so happy at her present that it's as if she's forgotten all about Cody and the awful things he said to her. When Rachel walks her to the bus on Monday, though, and Ellie turns to her and hugs her, she whispers the words to Rachel.

"I won't let anybody ignorant hurt me, Mommy. I won't let you and Daddy down."

Rachel only smiles.

Fin.


Sometimes we're trapped in a circle,

Till we're digging holes in the ground.

We try but nothing is working,

But still I want you around,

'Cause if I'm lost in the desert

I know somehow you'll find me

And if I drown in the ocean,

You'll be the first to rescue me.

We fall out then we fall back in,

We're always back where we begin.

Everybody hurts just a little too much,

Everybody hurts but it's never enough.

It's wonderful to fall, let's love and risk it all.

Even if it hurts just a little too much,

I'd rather love just a little too much.