a/n: the first draft of this was originally posted on tumblr, so a lot of you may have read it. it's really only slightly different: a couple thousand words have been added to flesh everything out. Title and lyrics are from "The Story" by Brandi Carlile. It's one of my favorites!


All of these lines across my face,

Tell you the story of who I am.

So many stories of where I've been,

And how I got to where I am.

But these stories don't mean anything

When you've got no one to tell them to

It's true: I was made for you.

I climbed across the mountaintops,

Swam all across the ocean blue,

I crossed over lines and I broke all the rules.

And, baby, I broke them all for you.


His mom signs him up for this pen pal program.

He tells her that he doesn't want to do that, doesn't want to write to some stranger or whatever, but she insists that he doesn't even have to write back if he doesn't want. "You should know how many people do support you," she says. He grumbles under his breath and lets her have her way, because he knows how much she worries about him.

The first letter comes on a Tuesday in a pink envelope.

His buddies look curious, 'cause, like, they all know only his mom and his brother send him letters that he actually reads, but nobody says anything as he opens the letter. He can smell perfume on the paper, and he feels homesick suddenly, because he hasn't smelled something sweet like that in months. The handwriting is loopy and pretty, and he smiles to himself a little as he reads.

Dear Finn,

Hello! My name is Rachel Berry, and I'm the civilian who adopted you! I've never done this before, but I hope I can brighten your day a little with letters now and then. They said you sometimes have internet access, and they gave me your e-mail address, but I've always enjoyed hand-written letters most.

I should tell you about myself. I'm a junior at New York University, I major in theatre, and I intend to be on Broadway some day. I love cats, Barbra Streisand, and scrapbooking.

I also want you to know that I think the world of you and everyone else who fights for us. My uncle fought and died in the Gulf War, and I never met him, but my daddy always said he was the bravest man in the world. I know you must be brave, too.

Your form said you love music. What sort of music do you like? Do you enjoy musicals? You don't have to write back, of course, because you do more than enough for everyone, but I would love to hear from you!

Stay safe!

with love,

Rachel Berry

P.S. I like to put stars by name, because I love metaphors, and stars are metaphors for me as a star. That's another little fact about me.

She seems sweet, and he shakes his head at the little gold sticker by her name. She's probably like those pretty girls he never had the guts to talk to in high school, and if he did say something, he sounded like a total idiot. He re-reads the letter twice, and then he tucks the pink stationary back into the pink envelope and joins Sam and the rest of the boys in a poker game.

He doesn't write back to her, because he doesn't really know what to say, but a week letter he receives another letter. She talks a little about her classes, and she tells him about the movie she saw recently, and then she says all this really nice stuff again about how brave he must be and how she hopes he knows that. She writes on pink paper again, pink paper that smells like perfume, and he kinda wonders if she smells like that.

The next week, she sends a package with these awesome chocolate chip cookies that he almost doesn't want to share, and tons of candy, including Sour Patch Kids, which is totally awesome. She packs these three murder mystery books, too, and some gum, and, like, five People magazines, so that you can keep up on the latest celebrity news! The letter inside the box says she didn't really know what he would like, but she thought he might enjoy these.

He really wants to write her back, but he doesn't know what to say. He never knows what to say.

He tries anyway.

Dear Rachel,

Thanks a lot for your letters and the package. Sour Patch Kids are my favourite. NYU sounds really cool. I didn't go to college. I joined the army right out of high school. I like Dashboard Confessional a lot, and Kings of Leon, and older bands, too, like Journey. I'm not picky. I've never seen any Barbra Steisand movies. I think it's cool that you're going to be on Broadway some day.

Sincerely,

Finn Hudson

He thinks he sounds kinda like a tool, but after five drafts, he gives up and mails this one. He wonders what she looks like, but that totally isn't cool to ask.

The very next day yet another letter from Quinn comes. He tosses the stupid envelope in the trash, just like always, and Sam nods his head at him in silent solidarity. He talks to his mom that night on her monthly phone call, and she asks if anyone has sent him letters through the pen pal program. He says that, yeah, this girl named Rachel has sent him some. He doesn't really tell her that much, though. What is there to say, anyway?

But when another letter comes six days later, he eagerly tears open the pink envelope.

Dear Finn,

You're very welcome! I love Sour Patch Kids, too! And I'll happily send you more. You deserve at least as much. And those are all good bands! Journey really writes the most beautiful songs, don't they? I can really feel their music, you know? And I'll send you a copy of Funny Girl in my next care package. You'll never be the same again, Finn!

Have you ever seen a Broadway play? I bet you would like Rock of Ages.

I do really love NYU. I didn't have a very happy high school career. I really didn't have very many friends, at least not until I joined the Glee club, and even then I only had a few good friends. I have two gay dads, and people made fun of me a lot for that. They called me a freak. I refused not to be proud of my dads, though. They're the most amazing people in the world.

My best friend Santana says I scared people with my intensity and my strange fashion sense. She says I dress simultaneously like a grandmother and a four-you-old, which doesn't even make any sense, if you ask me. But I fit right in at NYU! Everyone here loves music and theatre as much as I do, and nobody cares about the sexual orientation of my parents!

Did you like high school? Also, do you want anything special in your next care package?

Stay safe!

with love,

Rachel

P.S. I included some pictures of my cat, Glinda, in case you needed something to cheer you up!

He kind of hates everybody she went to high school with. How could somebody make fun of her? She's the nicest person ever. And his step-brother is gay, and even if Finn didn't, like, treat Kurt right at the start, he stepped-up before too long.

It's sort of weird that she shared all that with him, but he guesses maybe she's just one of those people who really likes to share personal stuff, which isn't bad.

He wonders what she must dress like. He thinks maybe she wears, like, sweaters with cats or something. That sounds like her, you know? And the pictures of her cat are cute. He doesn't really love cats, but hers is big and white and fluffy, and he can see her hands in one of the pictures. He thinks they might be her hands, anyway, and she has on blue nail polish. She has pretty hands.

He writes back and tells her about his step-brother. He doesn't really know how to tell her, but he tries to talk about everything that happened and not sound too much like a douche. He tells her that her cat looks awesome, too, and he asks if she's named after that witch in Wicked. Burt took his whole family to see that play in Columbus once.

He also mentions that the people at her high school sound like dicks.

I would have been your friend, he writes.

He leaves on a mission, then, and he doesn't get back to the base for two weeks. He has a letter from Quinn waiting for him, a thick one that probably has pictures, but he tosses that into the trash and eagerly turns to the two letters and the package from Rachel. He grins as he sprawls out on his bed, tearing open the package. "So who are all these letters and packages from?" Sam asks.

"My pen pal," Finn says.

"Your pen pal?" Bentley asks, raising his eyebrows.

"My mom signed me up for this Adopt a U.S. Soldier thing. This girl writes me."

"This girl, huh?" Sam grins, and the guys all laugh, but Finn ignores them, breaking into the bag of cookies. There're more books in the care package, too, and a Funny Girl DVD, and some chapstick. All the boys reach into the package to help themselves to cookies, and Finn opens the first letter. She goes on and on for a while about what an amazing brother he sounds like, and how she wishes she had known him in high school, too.

And, yes, Glinda is named after the character in Wicked! Isn't that a marvellous musical?

He grins. He loves the way she talks, all sophisticated and stuff. He starts to form a response in his head as he reads the two dozen questions she asks. Her next letter is even longer — he likes that every time she writes him, she writes more and more. She describes her friend Santana and complains about how much Santana loves to go out. She includes more pictures of her cat, too, and she calls him brave again, and thanks him for everything he does for the country.

"These are fucking awesome, dude," Sam says, cookies shoved in his mouth.

"Yeah, she's pretty great," Finn says, tearing open a bag of Sour Patch Kids.

Dear Rachel,

I guess I should tell you more about myself. My dad died in Desert Storm, and it was pretty much just me and my mom growing up, until in high school my mom remarried my step-dad Burt, who's totally cool, and I got a step-brother, too. But I told you about Kurt.

I play the drums, and I love video games. Also, thanks for the second care package. All the guys are jealous. My friend Sam really likes your cookies. We actually went to high school together, and we signed up for the army together. He's pretty cool. I played football, basketball, and baseball in high school, but football was my favourite. I was the quarterback. The team kind of sucked, but I loved the game. I pretty much only had a few good friends, though. There was Sam, and my friends Mike and Puck.

Mike goes to University of Michigan, which is totally a betrayal, because we're from Ohio, so Buckeyes for life, you know? Puck went to Ohio State, but we don't really talk. He sort of got together with my girlfriend. She cheated on me with him. It sucked.

Sincerely,

Finn

P.S. I really like talking to you.

He almost doesn't send the letter. He totally shouldn't have told her that. But he wants her to know about his life and stuff. And he really does like talking to her.

Her next letter comes only a few days later, and he reads it five times in one sitting. She writes three pages in her pretty, loopy script, and she talks about how her dad went to OSU and how he talks the same way about University of Michigan, and he can't believe they're both from Ohio. She's from Columbus, which is much cooler than stupid Lima, but they totally lived only hours apart for years.

He laughs when she describes more of the antics that Santana went through, and he grins when she asks if he has any specific cookie requests. I make a mean batch of snicker doodles! And he lingers on the one paragraph where she says that she hopes he knows not all girls are like his ex-girlfriend and that he deserves so much better than her.

I've really only had one serious relationship, a boy I went to high school with named Jesse St. James. We dated for almost two years, but he was a year older than me and he broke up with me as soon as he graduated and went to UCLA, because he said he didn't want me to hold him back. He was so talented, and he could be very sweet, and he really did make me happy at times, but he never treated me truly well. I can see that now. And he always used to pressure me for sex. Someday I want to find somebody as sweet and good as you.

She definitely deserves better than a douche like that kid.

He patrols that evening, and then he comes back and reads the letter yet again.

The next few months pass with longer and longer letters and more care packages, and she sends him an X-box for his birthday, which is totally awesome. He tells her she didn't need to buy him something that expensive, and she replies that she can't think of any better way to spend her paycheck than on a good present for her favourite soldier.

He starts to tell her jokes in his letters, and she makes little smiley faces and actually writes laugh out loud! in response. He tells her more about the army in his letters, too, and about his dad, and about high school. She just really gets him, and it feels good to tell her stuff. He admits that he always felt like he was never really good enough for more than Lima, and he always feared he would never be better than a stupid jock, but he joined the army to try to prove himself.

That isn't the whole story, but she'll totally think he's stupid if he tells her the whole story.

She says she understands, and she talks about all the terrible messages people use to put on her myspace, and sometimes, in her darkest hours, she actually even doubted that she would be famous. He smiles a little at that last part. She's totally adorable. But what kind of coward bullies people online? He would totally teach those kids a thing or two with his fists.

But you are so much more than a stupid jock, she writes. You fight everyday to defend your country, and I bet your dad would be so proud of you. And I know your mother must be, too. Her son is a good, kind hero. What more could she ask for?

His buddies start to rib him about her, especially when Sam catches him with pictures of Glinda, but he doesn't really care what they say, even when they start to refer to her as his Pink Princess. He mentions that nickname in her letters, but he assures her that he really loves her pink stationary.

In her next care package, she sends more cookies, more candy, more magazines, and some Q-tips like he asked for. There's also a burned CD and a portable CD player.

You told me some of your favourite songs, and I included them on this mix, but I also included some personal covers of my own favourite songs, she explains.

He listens to the CD over and over again, because, God, she has the most amazing voice. Like, she definitely will be famous. He wishes he could hear her in person. He kind of hopes that someday he will. He doesn't even recognise any of the eight songs she sings, but her voice makes his heart beat faster, and he starts to fall asleep to her songs. He tells her she can sing really well, and her voice, like, touches him. That sounds lame, but he really means it.

He also asks for more batteries, because he runs through them pretty fast on his CD player, even with only that one mix CD to listen to.

A few weeks later, obviously upset, she sends him a long, rambling letter with sloppier handwriting. She goes on and on about how she auditioned for an off-Broadway production of Sound of Music, because her professor recommended she should, but then the director told her she wasn't pretty enough for the play, wasn't pretty enough to be on stage at all. Doesn't that stupid director know that Maria is supposed to be frumpy-looking? she writes. And I'm not frumpy-looking, but I would make an amazing Maria, I know I would!

She writes more about how nobody appreciates her talent except her dads, and Santana says she needs to calm my tits, and what does that expression even mean? And why be so crass? It seems completely unnecessary to me! She complains that people think her nose is too big, but Barbra made it big with a larger nose, and Rachel tries to model herself off Barbra and other great stars.

He reads the letter a few times through, and he writes six or seven drafts before he responds.

Dear Rachel,

I'm sorry you didn't land a role in Sound of Music. I've only ever seen the movie, but I think you would make a great Maria, especially because I don't think that lady in the movie is frumpy-looking at all. She looks really pretty to me, and I know you must be really pretty, too.

You definitely shouldn't let anybody tell you that your nose is too big. Your nose is your nose, and that means it's awesome, because everything about you is awesome. You're the nicest person I've ever talked to before, and you sing really beautifully, and you bake the best cookies in the world. That director is totally going to regret not casting you as Maria, especially when in a few years you're on Broadway and you win tons of Tonys and hang out with Barbra Steisand.

I don't really know what that expression means either, but Santana sounds like she knows you'll be famous, too, and that's why she thinks you shouldn't be too upset. This is like one of those stories you can tell when you're famous. You can tell the story of the time when some director thought you weren't pretty enough to be on stage, and, look, you showed him!

with love,

Finn

He almost rewrites the whole letter because he doesn't know about that ending, but he can't think of a better way to end, and sincerely sounds dumb now. He asks Sam to edit the letter to make sure he spelled everything right, and when Sam smirks at him as he reads, Finn just hits him in the back of the head. "I know you sleep with Mercedes's letters around your pillow," Finn tells him.

Sam just grins, shakes his heads, and tells Finn he spelled everything right.

Rachel sends another long letter in response, and she says all these really, really nice things that make Finn blush a lot, and she says she worked him into her planned Tony acceptance speech. She might be crazy, but that's sort of cool, right? You have the biggest heart, Finn Hudson, she writes.

He's really proud of that. His mom is basically the only person who's ever thought that highly of him. Quinn definitely didn't. He reads the letter a lot, and he only throws a hackie-sack at Billy's head when Billy exclaims one night, "Oh, look, it's the commoner Finn, mooning over his love, the Pink Princess!"

Billy can suck it.

His mom calls about a month later, even though she wasn't supposed to call again for another week, and he can hear the hesitance in her voice. "Is everything okay?" he asks. "Did something happen to Burt? Or Kurt?" At least ten terrible possibilities spring to life in his head in an instant.

"No, sweetheart, they're fine," she says. "It's Quinn."

He swallows thickly. He doesn't want even to think about Quinn. Why would she bring her up?

"Honey, it's Beth," his mom goes on gently. "She died. Beth died. There was a car accident. I — I thought you should know. I don't know if you still talk to Quinn, but she hasn't taken the death well. I can't even imagine — to lose a kid is just . . . I can't even imagine. And, you know, her fourth birthday was next week."

He nods, even though she can't see him. But he doesn't want to talk about this. He can't. "Yeah. Tell her I'm sorry, or whatever. I gotta go, Mom."

"Sweetheart —"

"I'm sorry, Mom. I really gotta go. I love you." He hangs up.

He goes for a run around the base, and he tries to clear his head, but he can't, and he feels guilty that he still ignores all the letters Quinn sends him, even after all these years. But then he feels angry, because who is she to make him feel guilty after what she did? And she probably only still writes him to relieve her guilt.

And then he just feel sad, because he never met Beth, but she was just a kid.

(Plus, for a few months, she was his kid.)

That night, he pulls out paper from under his bed.

Dear Rachel,

So something kind of happened. You know how I told you my girlfriend Quinn cheated on me right at the end of our senior year of high school, and I didn't even learn until, like, months later, after I'd been shipped overseas?

I kind of didn't tell you the whole story. Quinn actually got pregnant when she cheated on me. But she told me the baby was mine, and I believed her, even though we hadn't even had sex, because she said I got her pregnant this one time when we were just messing around or whatever. And I actually proposed to her, and she said yes, and we were going to raise the baby together.

I joined the army because I thought it was the only way I could provide for a family and be good enough. I would get paid okay, and maybe someday I could go back to school, and my mom and Burt would help take care of Quinn while I was away. I wanted to make the girl I loved and my baby proud of me. But then the truth came out when she was, like, eight months along. She had cheated on me with Puck, and he was the father of the baby, and it was all just really screwed up.

I broke off the engagement with her, and when I came home on leave for the first time, I refused to see her or the baby. She kept the kid, and she and Puck got married. I refused to talk to them, but she's sent me letters for the last three years, even though I never even read them. My mom called, though, and she said that Beth, the baby, she died. She was in a car accident.

And I just feel really shitty. I told you that I like being a soldier, because I'm really good at it, but the truth is that I feel like I'm not good at anything else. I'm definitely not very smart. I was gonna marry this girl who cheated on me and then I was gonna raise my friend's baby like a total idiot. And I really don't ever want to go back to Lima and to face everybody, but I've never really had any place else to go.

Now everything is even more messed up. I don't even know what to feel.

I just really wanted to tell you. What should I do?

with love,

Finn

He falls asleep to her crooning this song about this guy she totally loves who doesn't even know she loves him. The next day, he mails the letter, and he tells Sam in a few words what happened to Beth. Sam pats his shoulder, and they go on patrol together.

He checks the mail everyday for a letter from Rachel, and he doesn't have to wait long.

Dear Finn,

I'm so sorry. I feel terrible for Quinn and Puck and their baby. No parent should ever have to experience that kind of tragedy.

But I'm also so unbelievably sorry that Quinn cheated on you. I'm sorry she lied to you. I'm sorry she took away a beautiful future from you. I'm sorry she still won't let you move on, and I'm sorry you feel like your home isn't home anymore. And most of all I'm sorry you feel like you're stupid and you can't do anything more than be a soldier.

It takes so much to be a soldier. It takes bravery, loyalty, and strength, and to have all those qualities in spades the way you do is a rarity. You fight to defend people you've never even met. You fight to protect little girls like Beth from evils much greater than car accidents.

You are an amazing man, Finn Hudson.

You are so sweet, and your letters always make me laugh. I read them over and over again. You're honest, chivalrous, and devoted. I know all that with absolute certainty, and I've never even met you. And the things you tell me in your letters, the observations you make, they all prove that you're so perceptive. You are smart. I underline that because I really mean it, Finn, I do. And you have a huge heart. You trust people and are good to them, and you expect them to be good to you in return. I hate that anybody ever made you suffer for that.

Someday, Finn, you will meet somebody that realises how amazing you are, and she will give you babies all your own, and she'll be so proud of her heroic husband.

What you decide to do is up to you. You can write Quinn a letter, if you like, and express your condolences. That might be best, actually. And remember that you can mourn for that baby, too, because for a little while she was yours, never mind how everything turned out. It's okay to be sad. But don't ever forget how truly wonderful and truly loved you are. And you can always tell me anything. Stay safe, Finn.

love,

Rachel

He cries when he reads her letter. He can't help it. He cries for Beth, because she never really got to live, and he cries for Quinn and for Puck, and he cries because he never really cried over everything before.

And as random as this might be, Rachel is actually the first person to acknowledge that the baby was his for a little while, even if not for long. He listens to her songs as he writes Quinn a short letter that tells her how sorry he is. He tells her that he wishes he had met Beth, at least once. He doesn't really know what else to say, but he pours out all of his other thoughts in another letter to Rachel. He plays poker with the boys that night, and he wins pretty big, and he feels better than he has in a long time. It's strange.

For the first time since everything with Beth happened, he feels as if home isn't this foreign place anymore, and he can go back and move on and everything can be okay.

Another few months pass, and nothing much at all happens. He still exchanges letters with Rachel, and she sends him a scarf she knit him, along with her usual array of cookies and candies. She sends him another CD, and she raves and raves in a seven page letter about the NYU production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. She tells him the story of when her Glee club attempted that musical, and he actually laughs out loud as he reads.

He knows she might be a little crazy, but, honestly, he completely loves that.

He's falling for her, okay? He admits that to Sam and Billy, they both rib him a little, but they have genuine smiles on their faces. "You deserve it, man," Billy tells him quietly.

Finn doesn't know what she looks like, but he really doesn't care, because he knows everything else about her, and he thinks she might be the most amazing person ever. He knows she doesn't have a boyfriend, not even a casual one, and he tries to think of ways to ask if maybe she would want to meet when he next goes on leave. He doesn't have that much experience with girls. Quinn was his first kiss, his first girlfriend, his only girlfriend.

But he thinks maybe he could love Rachel a lot more than he ever really loved Quinn.

Quinn does finally write him back. Her letter is short and the words are slightly smeared with tears, but she thanks him for his letter, and she tells him that she knows he hasn't read her letters over the years, but she really is sorry for everything that happened.

He believes her, he finally does.

He writes her and tells her so. She doesn't write back, at least not before he next has to go on another mission. He's actually pretty excited. He feels restless at the base, where nothing much at all happens day in and day out.

The mission itself is pretty simple: to take and to secure a village several kilometres North of the base. He warns Rachel in his letters that he might be out of contact for a little while. She writes him one last letter that tells him at least ten times to stay safe and to write her as soon as you possibly can. I won't be able to sleep at night until I know you're safe again!

You're pretty much my best friend, Finn, she tells him.

He takes that letter with him, and the pink paper is folded up in his pocket when the bomb hits the transit van on the way back to base.

It's homemade, the bomb, with soap to make the fire stick to their skin, and his whole world goes up in flames in an instant. He loses consciousness, and when he wakes up in an army hospital, his whole right side is fucked up, burns covering his right hip and his right arm and almost half his back, even crawling up his neck and onto the right side of his face. He's lost two of the fingers on his right hand, and his wrist is pretty screwed over, too.

He doesn't give a fuck about any of that, though, because Sam is covered in burns, still unconscious in a cot a few rows down from Finn, and he looks like a corpse, his hair all burned off and his face hidden behind bandages. He has to be okay. He has to be. Finn can't lose him, too.

Everybody else is dead.

Billy is dead. Mark and Bentley and D'Angelo and twelve other guys are all dead.

The next few weeks pass miserably. Sam survives, but he can barely look at Finn, can barely talk, and Finn doesn't even know how to grip his burned hand. He cries, though, and Sam does, too. They sit there in the hot tent, covered in burns and bandages and crying because there's nothing else left to do. Sam is shipped home the next day. His tour of duty is over.

Finn has to dictate a letter home to Billy's mother. He and Billy promised each other that if anything ever happened to one, the other would write his mother. He doesn't really know what to say, but he tries to talk about how great Billy was, and how he was a hero, and he borrows a few lines from Rachel's letters, because she can say stuff much prettier than he can.

Rachel still sends him a letter every week, and he can hear the rising panic in her tone with each successive letter, but he can't even really hold a pen to write her, and he doesn't want to dictate a letter to her. He can't share her with anyone. Besides, what would he say to her? He talks to his mom on the phone briefly, and he falls asleep every night to Rachel's songs.

"And being apart ain't easy on this love affair," she sings sweetly, "Two strangers learn to fall in love again. / I get the joy of rediscovering you. / Oh, boy, you stand by me, / I'm forever yours, faithfully. . . ."

Finally, after five weeks, he forces his hand to hold a pen, and he writes her, telling her in a few lines what happened. She deserves to know that he survived. And he tells her that his tour of duty is over, too, so she doesn't have to write him anymore. The camp doctor says he needs time off, and if he eventually wants to serve another tour, he can, but he needs to go home, to have therapy, to heal properly.

He flies back to the states four days later.

His mom, Burt, and Kurt all come to pick him up from the San Antonio airport. His mother cries and clutches him so tightly he can barely breathe, and Burt pulls him into a hug, too, tears glistening in his eyes. The car ride all the way back to Ohio is insanely bad, and his whole family seems to, like, eat egg shells around him, or however the expression goes.

Kurt asks him how he feels every five minutes, and then he insists that he go to the VA hospital with Finn when Finn goes to have his burns checked out again. He kind of wishes Kurt would leave and go back to Chicago for school, but his brother is on winter break, and he follows Finn around everywhere for the next three weeks until he finally does have to leave.

Christmas is kind of miserable. Finn doesn't want to see anybody. He doesn't want anybody to see him. He visits Sean, and he goes to see Sam, who has sunk completely into depression and won't really talk to anyone but Mercedes. "I was gonna ask her to marry me, dude," Sam says. "I can't now. She deserves to marry someone better than this. She still comes around, though. I can't make her stop."

Finn can see Mrs. Evans standing in the doorway, on the verge of tears and wringing her hands as she watches on in silence. She meets his gaze, but Finn doesn't know how to comfort her.

He writes a couple of letters to a few of his other buddies in the army, but he wasn't really close with any of them. Everybody he was close to died. He asks his mom to send them a care package, though. He gets a call one morning from one of the guys over there. "Your girl's written a couple of times," he says. "Doesn't she have your address now? And I can forward these to you."

"No," Finn murmurs. "She doesn't . . . just return them to sender, okay?"

The next few months pass painfully slowly. He wants to leave the house, to find a job and to do something, but he hates the way people look at him, look at his burns, whenever he does. It's like they can't see anything else when they look at him, and he can't really blame them. He runs into Quinn and Puck once. They're divorcing. They don't know what to say to him, and he doesn't know what to say to them. He sees Mike once, and that reunion doesn't really go any better.

Kurt comes home for Spring Break and tries to convince Finn to do yoga with him.

Finn shouts at him, furiously telling him to fuck off, and he reduces Kurt to tears. Finn feels like complete shit, especially when Kurt easily accepts his apology. He just wants to go back overseas, because he can't handle this anymore. He hates Lima, and he doesn't fit in here anymore. The VA doctor, though, tells him that his vision was fucked by the fire, and his right hand is too messed up, and he probably wouldn't pass a mental health exam. "You can't go back," she says.

"So, what?" Finn says. "The army takes me, chews me up, and spits me out? And that's it?"

The doctor only shakes her head, touching his shoulder briefly. "I'm sorry."

To make everything worse, Finn really misses Rachel. He never even met her, never even saw a picture of her, but he has all her letters saved, all but the one that he had in his pocket the day his life went to hell, and he reads them over and over again. He listens to her CDs, too, until he can hear her voice sing each word of each song perfectly even in complete silence.

They wrote back and forth for nearly seven months. He started to love that he finally had someone who always wanted to listen to what he had to say, who understood him and wanted to share her life with him, too, and who really cared about him. Like, he has his mom, and Burt, too, and even Kurt, but they don't understand him the way Rachel does.

And he can't even ever explain that to them, because that'd be so mean to say, wouldn't it?

It doesn't matter. He isn't in the U.S. army anymore, and the pen pal program will probably assign Rachel another soldier, some schmuck who hasn't yet watched all his friends burn to death. She deserves that, deserves better than some scarred, messed up guy like him.

He starts to write more letters to her, though, right around the anniversary of the first time she wrote to him. He thinks maybe it'll make him feel better. He doesn't send any of them, but he writes four or five before he gives up, because he doesn't want simply to write a letter, he wants to write her a letter, one that she can respond to, and that isn't ever gonna happen.

He goes to the cemetery with his mother one afternoon, and he sits down and stares at his father's headstone. He doesn't really know what to say, though. His mother rests her hand on his shoulder. "You would be so proud, Chris," she murmurs. "Finn is a real hero." She squeezes his shoulder.

But he isn't, is he? He never even did anything particularly heroic.

Summer comes, and he spends most of his time on the back porch. He still visits Sam a lot, too, but that somehow only makes things worse, especially when Sam starts to refuse to see Mercedes, which only makes the blonde sink deeper into depression. Plus, Finn can't really look at Sam without guilt over his dead friends and how messed up Sam is, and Finn doesn't even want to know what Sam sees and feels when he looks at Finn.

In the middle of June, he sits on the swing on the back porch, staring out at nothing and thinking maybe he'll volunteer to cut the grass, when his mom knocks gently on the door frame. "Finn? Somebody's here to see you."

"Who?" he asks. He doesn't really want to see anybody.

"Rachel. Berry. Rachel Berry."

He whips around to face the door at the sound of her voice.

She steps out on the porch, and he can't take his eyes off her. She has to be a foot shorter than him, and she has brown hair that curls at her shoulders. Her eyes are dark and pretty, and she has on a pink sun dress with little white polka-dots, and, yeah, basically she might be the most gorgeous girl he has ever seen.

His mom quietly goes back into the house, and Rachel takes a step closer to him as he only stares at her in shock.

"It took me a little while," she says, "but I eventually found a way to contact your mother. She told me to give you a little time, but I finally couldn't wait any longer. My classes ended, and I came back home to Columbus for the summer, and I drove up here with my friend Santana, because I . . . I really wanted to see you. I — I've missed you. I've missed your letters."

He doesn't really know what to say.

She comes to stand right in front of him, and her knees brush his. "I'm sorry, Finn," she whispers.

"Don't be," he says, his voice too soft. He wants to tell her he missed her, too. But he doesn't know how to say that either, not really, and what right does he to?

It's quiet for a minute.

"Look, I don't want to overwhelm you," she finally says. "But I . . . I brought you some cookies!" She smiles a little. "I left them in the kitchen. And I have some pictures of Glinda in my purse to cheer you up. And I . . . I'm actually in town for a few days, or as long as I want, really, because Sanny has an aunt who lives here, and we're staying with her, so . . ." She trails off, nervously tucking a lock of hair behind her ear.

"So if you want to maybe spend the day together tomorrow," she finally goes on, "or sometime soon, I guess, then I'd really like that." She offers him another hesitant smile.

"We don't have to," he says. How can she want to? Why would she want to? "You didn't even have to come here. We're not pen pals anymore."

"Oh — oh, I know," she says, nodding. She has pink giraffe earrings on, he notices suddenly, and for some reason that makes his heart squeeze a little. "I just . . . I guess I just really wanted to see you," she goes on quietly. "To see how you are."

"I'm fine," he mutters.

But she places her hands on his shoulders, then, leaning down, and the smell of her perfume, the very same smell of her letters, washes over him. His breath catches, and she places a soft kiss on his face, on his scarred cheek. She lets her lips linger there, and he can't really breathe at all. She draws back finally, though.

"You should know that — that you really are my hero," she says. "And you're even handsomer than I thought you'd be." She laughs a little, tears in her eyes. "I'll go now." She starts to walk away, and he can't believe this girl is even real.

She glances back at the door.

"I kind of fell in love with you," she admits.

She glances down for a minute and then looks back up at him with shining eyes. "And I know that sounds insane, because we'd never even met before today, but it's the truth. I just . . . how could I not fall in love with you?" She smiles gently again, and she disappears into the house.

He sits there for a minute, stunned, before he scrambles to his feet and follows after her. "Wait, Rachel!" he calls, and he catches her in the hall. From the corner of his eye, he sees Burt start to walk backwards back up the stairs. But his focus stays on Rachel.

"What's the matter?" she asks, gazing up at him with large eyes.

"Can I — you should know — I kind of fell in love with you, too." He can barely breathe as he makes the admission.

"Yeah?" she whispers, biting her lip, her eyes still on his.

"Yeah," he says, nodding. "Your voice and your jokes and your love of cats and your, like, your optimism and . . . you." He sounds like an idiot, he knows. He stares down at her, and she stares back up at him, and he really does love her, doesn't he?

"You know," she says, "you can kiss me if you want to."

His breath catches again. "I want to."

She stands up on her tiptoes, her eyes intent on his as he leans down. He places his trembling left hand on her waist, and he lifts his burned, disfigured right hand, only to pause, unsure, but she catches his hand in hers and kisses his palm. She lets him slide his hand up into her hair to cradle the back of her neck. Her hair is so soft, and her eyes are so dark, and he can feel her breath against his lips.

And he kisses her.

He breaks away after a moment, and she laughs a little, and he doesn't know what to do. But then suddenly she has her arms around him and her face pressed to his chest, and he hesitantly returns her hug, even as he looks up to see his mom leaning against the stairs banister, tears in her eyes as she clutches her mouth with this expression on her face that she wears when she watches chick flicks.

Rachel stays for dinner, and he kisses her again before she leaves. He trails his hand up her arm, her skin so unbelievably soft, and she passes him a box of letters she wrote, some that were returned to sender and some that she never sent. "I gave up eventually, because it wasn't the same knowing you wouldn't reply," she admits.

He feels guilty, but he takes the box, and he stays up way too late as he reads through the letters, and he can't believe how much he missed simply the sight of her loopy writing on pink paper. He needs to show her his few letters to her.

He meets Santana the next day when Rachel brings her by the house. She looks really scary, and she continues to stare appraisingly at Finn even after they put a movie on. Rachel sits beside him on the couch, though, and she holds his hand in her lap, and half an hour into the movie, she leans her head on his shoulder.

She goes to the bathroom after the movie finishes, and Santana pounces.

"We're only going to do this once," she starts. "Rachel is my best friend, even if she resists all my attempts to convert her to lesbianism." She narrows her eyes. "If you hurt her —"

"I won't," he interrupts quickly.

"You say that now. But the last dick she dated —"

"I know about him," Finn says. Rachel actually told him a lot over the course of several letters. "And I'm not like him. Plus, we're — we're not even dating." He doesn't know what they're doing, but he does know she deserves better than him. He tells Santana that.

She chuckles. "Oh, Finn." She shakes her head at him. "Give her time."

Rachel comes by every day for two weeks, before she finally demands to know if he plans to ask her out.

And he does, because he can't not. If she really doesn't mind how messed up he is, then he isn't going to push away this perfect girl. She doesn't seem to see his scars when she looks at him, and he becomes as addicted to her kisses, to the feel of her skin beneath his hand, to her sweet, unending chatter and her bright, excited eyes, as he was once addicted to her letters.

He doesn't like to talk about everything that happened, but he tells her bits and pieces slowly until she knows the full story. It's like when he wrote her letters — he just feels better to have her there to listen and to nod and to try her best to understand. She eventually convinces him to go out, to leave the house, and she helps turn the conversation away from the war and what happened whenever they spend time with other people.

She understands. She always has.

She even goes with him to the cemetery to see his dad, and then she helps him find Beth's grave. They stand there for a long time, and he finally whispers a few words to the poor little girl, and Rachel presses a kiss to his arm. "You're going to make the most amazing father," she whispers.

She and Santana spend the entire summer in Lima, and they meet Mercedes and Sam, and Rachel actually talks Sam into therapy, which is kind of amazing. Finn doesn't know what will happen with Sam and Mercedes, but he has a feeling Mercedes won't give up easily.

Rachel definitely doesn't. He tries to break-up with her a grand total of fourteen times. She never lets him.

And at the end of the summer she asks him to come back to New York with her.

He tries to say no. She refuses to take no for an answer.

Fin.


Oh, because even when I was flat broke,

You made me feel like a million bucks.

You do, I was made for you.

You see the smile that's on my mouth,

It's hiding the words that don't come out.

All of the friends who think that I'm blessed,

They don't know I'm in this mess.

No they don't know who I really am,

And they don't know what I've been through,

Like you do, and I was made for you.


a/n: what happens to Sam and Finn is based off the story of a soldier that my sister befriended when she worked in the VA hospital in Texas. Also, yes, I do like to try to incorporate that showmance kiss into every fic I write whenever possible. :)