a/n: this was written pretty quickly, so probably has even more typos than my usual batch. I apologise in advance. also, I'm sorry if it seems rushed, but it covers something like eleven years, so, you know. yeah. for about ten minutes, I considered making it eleven chapters, one for each year, but I shot that one down myself. thanks to Kelsey and Ally for the prompt — I had a lot of fun writing this :)
also, as a warning: there is mention of physical abuse, as well as scenes involving drug use in this.
Strain this chaos, turn it into light.
I've got to see you one last night.
Before the lions take their share,
Leave us in pieces, scattered everywhere.
Just give me a chance to hold on,
Give me a chance to hold on,
Give me a chance to hold on.
Just give me something to hold onto.
The woman who answers the front door has frosty blonde hair, small eyes, and bony hands.
He doesn't want to look her in the eye, and he only clutches his duffle bag to his chest and shuffles into the house behind Mr. Hopkin. He hasn't ever been in a house before, at least not that he can remember. Mr. Hopkin told him that houses were really only big apartments, but now that Finn looks around he feels a little scared.
The entryway is large and cool, and he tries to count the portraits of the dogs on the walls, but he can't count past ten. The ceiling goes up so, so high, disappearing into a second landing, half cut from his view by a large brown banister that feeds into the stairs. Mr. Hopkin tells Finn to wait, and he goes off into another room with the woman.
He can hear snippets of their conversation: "too small for a six-year-old" and "you know this kind" and "you can count on me" and "cigarette burns" and "busted for grand theft auto" and then their voices grow too soft for Finn to hear. He looks down at his feet.
He tries to count the portraits of dogs again, and this time his eyes catch on something else.
She stands at the top of the stairs, peeking around the corner at him, and he meets her gaze.
He raises his hand to wave hesitantly at her.
She waves back.
"Okay, Finn," Mr. Hopkin says, walking back into the entryway of the house. The girl disappears. Finn looks at Mr. Hopkin. He really likes him. He gave Finn some Skittles this morning, and he bought him dinner last night, too. And he smiles nice. "You're all set to stay here with Mrs. Bailey for a little while. Okay? She'll take good care of you, and you can play with kids your own age. How does that sound?"
Finn only nods.
He pats Finn on the shoulder, drawing his hand back quickly when Finn flinches.
"Good luck, kid," he murmurs softly.
He leaves, and Finn finds himself face to face with the woman. "Finn, is it? I'm Lynnette Bailey. You can call me Mrs. Bailey, or ma'am. I run the house, along with my husband. The kids call the place the House on the Hill."
He doesn't know what to say, so he nods again.
That seems to satisfy her. "Follow me upstairs, and I'll show you where you'll sleep with the other boys. I think you'll like them." She smiles, then, and he tries to smile back at her.
The room she takes him to is long and narrow and has three beds. She leads him to his, and she explains that he has to make his bed every morning, and he'll have three other chores each day, which will be assigned by the week on Sunday nights. "After you finish your chores, and if you've no school work to do, you can play in the attic, the basement, or out in the backyard."
The phone rings. She glances out of the room and then looks back at him, finishing hastily. "For now, you can have the day to do whatever you like, and I'll introduce you to everyone at dinner."
Again, he simply nods.
She smiles quickly before she hurries from the room. "Welcome home, Finn."
He doesn't know what to do.
He puts his NYPD duffle bag, a gift from Officer Brown, on the bed. He sits. She said he could play outside. But what would he do? He hasn't ever been this far out of New York city before.
"Are you going to stay here?"
His head snaps up to the doorway. It's the girl from before. She's small, even smaller than him, and he hasn't met anyone smaller than him before. She has her brown hair in pigtails, her eyes are bright and large, and she looks really nice.
"Yeah," he says.
She beams and skips into the room. "I'm Rachel Berry," she says. "I live down the hall with Tina and Mercedes." She holds out her hand to him. She has sparkly pink nail polish on. "I've been here for over a year. It's not so bad here. But someday I'm going to leave and be a famous singer."
"Cool," he says. "I'm Finn."
He shakes her hand, and before he can pull back, she tugs him to his feet. "Come on," she says. She drags him out of the room and down the hall and then up another flight of stairs, and they emerge in an attic. It's hot up here, and bright, too, as light floods in from the row of windows that line the slanted ceiling.
But he hasn't ever seen so many toys in his life, scattered all around on a faded floral rug.
She leads him to the other side of the attic, though, pasts stacks of boxes, and finally to a small corner, hidden from the rest of the room. "This is my favourite place in the whole house," she says. "I keep my dolly Anne downstairs, but I keep my books up here, and my rock collection, too, and all my crayons. Wanna see?" She looks at him eagerly.
"Yeah," he says.
Her rock collection is really cool, and he hasn't ever seen that many crayons. "You can have one if you want," she says. "Any single one you want. Except the razzmatazz, because that's my favourite. But any other one."
She nods. "And we can be friends."
He hasn't ever had a friend before. "Okay." He looks down at her crayon collection. He doesn't know which one to choose. He glances up at her.
"How about Magic Mint?" she suggests. She hands him a green crayon. "That's my second favourite, so I want you to have it, 'cause you're my friend."
"Wow," he says. He accepts the crayon carefully. He doesn't want to break it. His uncle says he's clumsy like that. "Thanks, Rachel."
She shows him her books, then. "Can you read?" he asks, kind of awed.
"Not really," she admits. "But I like to look at the pictures, and sometimes I make up my own stories to go along." They settle against the wall, and she opens up a big book with these really awesome pictures of a secret world of mice who live underground. She points at her favourite parts. He sees a scar on her arm.
He has one just like that.
She sees his eyes on the little round scars, and she tugs her shirtsleeve down. "Sorry," he says. "But look —" He tugs off his jacket, and he rolls up his sleeve, and he shows her the marks on his arm, two scars and a fresh one, still a little pink.
She leans forward suddenly and kisses the fresh burn. "That's how you get better," she explains.
He smiles. "You're cool, Rachel," he tells her.
"You're cool, too, Finn." She pauses. "Do you want to be best friends?"
"How do you be somebody's best friend?" he asks. He's never had a best friend before, either.
She doesn't reply immediately, and he waits. "You have to do all the stuff friends do," she finally answers thoughtfully, "like play together and share secrets and stuff, but you have to like each other best of all your friends, and you have to pinky swear to be someone's best friend forever and ever, and then you are."
He holds out his pinky. She grins, hooking her pinky with his.
"I swear to be your best friend forever and ever, Finn, no matter what," she tells him solemnly.
He smiles shyly. "I swear, too."
He likes the House on the Hill.
He can pick whatever cereal he wants for breakfast (served at seven am, always), and Mrs. Bailey makes different sandwiches for lunch everyday (served at noon, always), and if he asks nicely he can even have seconds of dinner ever night (severed at six pm, always).
On Fridays Mr. Bailey brings home ice cream for dessert, and sometimes, if they all behaved that day, Mrs. Bailey lets them watch a movie at night.
(His favourite is The Fox and the Hound.)
Once a week, Ms. Cathy comes around, and she makes them sing the alphabet, and she clips their fingernails, and she checks to see if they brush their teeth every day. "I'll know if you don't," she always warns. She also asks them questions. She asks Finn about his mom, and about his uncle, and if he ever has nightmares.
He doesn't like that so much, and he usually stares at the table and doesn't say anything.
But it's summer, and he has most days to do whatever he likes. Rachel teaches him how to do all the chores, and they help each other with their chores, so that everything is finished quickly. Rachel is really great like that.
They play in the backyard a lot, usually as Spiderman and Mary Jane, but sometimes they pretend to be dolphin riders or treasure hunters or wizards, like from Harry Potter. They do other cool stuff, too. They crush pennies at the train tracks down the street, and they look at all her books, and they play with all the action figures in the huge box in the basement.
Finn really loves, though, when Mr. Bailey is around, and he plays his drums and lets all the kids sing and dance around him. Rachel sings the best of all, but she tells Finn that he sings really well, too.
Finn likes the other kids, too. Tina never, ever, ever talks, though, and Mercedes likes to play dress up with herself, and she never lets anybody else play with her.
There are two older girls, Angelina and Vikki, who share the room beside the room that Rachel, Tina, and Mercedes share, but Finn doesn't really know how to talk to them, and they don't ever seem to want to talk to him. He shares his room with Mike, Matt, and Puck. Mike is his age and Matt is only two years older, and they're both cool, but they really only like to play with each other.
Puck is his age, too, but Finn doesn't' really know what to make of him. He always tries to skip his chores, calls Finn by his last name, and confides to Finn that he likes to try to see how mad he can make Mrs. Bailey.
Really, after a couple of weeks, Finn knows that Rachel is the best kid in the whole house, and he loves that he gets to be her best friend.
On his seventh birthday, Finn receives presents for the first time.
Mrs. Bailey bakes him a cake and gives him his own book, and as his present, Mr. Bailey lets Finn sit in his lap, and he gives him his first ever drum lesson. It's the coolest feeling in the world, and he wants to learn more. Mr. Bailey tells him someday.
Rachel gives him a Raphael ninja turtle action figure for his birthday. "He's the coolest ninja turtle," she explains, "because his name ends differently than his brothers, so he's special, and the best people in the world are special people." Rachel always knows cool stuff like that. "I bought it all by myself," she tells him. "Ms. Cathy pays me fifty cents for every psalm I memorise, and I've saved and saved for months!"
It's his best birthday ever.
He asks Rachel when her birthday is. "I'm gonna get you a really, really cool birthday present," he tells her earnestly.
"Oh, I don't have a birthday," she says, looking down at her rock collection.
"I thought everybody had a birthday," he replies.
She shrugs sadly. "I don't know when mine is, anyway."
He thinks all night about what to do. He comes up with a really cool idea. He asks Mrs. Bailey to add six months to his birthday, so that he can know his half birthday, and then he goes to Rachel. "Your birthday should be December 18th," he tells her. "That way, on my birthday, it's your half birthday, and on your birthday, it's my half birthday. That'd be cool, right?"
Rachel hugs him really tight.
People come by the house one afternoon.
The man is really tall, and the lady has bright red hair, and they smile at Finn, Rachel, and Puck. The lady might be the prettiest lady in the whole world. Finn isn't sure. They go into the living room with Mrs. Bailey before long, and the kids aren't allowed in the living room.
After a few minutes, Mrs. Bailey comes out and asks Rachel to come with her.
Rachel disappears into the living room.
She comes out forever later, and she looks at Finn with wide, worried eyes.
"What did they want?" Finn asks her as soon as they escape to the attic.
"They want to be my foster parents," she tells him. "And then maybe adopt me."
"Oh," he says. "Would you leave the House on the Hill?"
She nods. "I would go live with them."
He doesn't want her to leave, but he doesn't say anything. Two weeks later, the man and the lady come by the house, and this time they introduce themselves to Finn as Mr. and Mrs. Schuester. And then they take Rachel away. She packs up all her books, her rocks, and her crayons, and she carries Anne under her arm, and she leaves.
He watches the car disappear down the street.
"She's gone 'cause she isn't messed up anymore," Puck tells him that night.
"What do you mean?"
"You only get to leave here if you're normal again," Puck says, "'cause if you're normal, then people want you. Nobody wants the rest of us, 'cause Tina doesn't talk, and Mike wets the bed, and you have nightmares, and I have too many scars."
"Oh," Finn says. "But Rachel's normal now?"
"Must be," Puck replies.
Finn rolls over in his bed, away from Puck, because he doesn't want the other boy to see him cry.
He misses Rachel a lot.
He plays some with Puck, but Puck doesn't like to play Spiderman with Finn, and he doesn't like to look at books, and Finn only even has one book to look at now. Plus, Puck definitely doesn't like to sing with Finn, and he tells Finn that singing is stupid. He says they should light every candle in the house, and when Finn asks why, Puck tells him not to ask so many questions.
"It'll be fun, doofus," he says.
They light all the candles with matches that Puck steals from Mr. Bailey.
And the curtains in the kitchen catch fire.
Finn is terrified, and the smoke reminds him of his uncle, and he hides in the pantry.
But Mrs. Bailey finds him as soon as she puts out the fire, and she shakes him and screams really loudly, and he feels his jeans go wet and he wants to wake up from this nightmare but he can't. She doesn't look like nice Mrs. Bailey anymore. Fury carves the lines in her face, and she brings him so close to her as she shouts that he can see the clumps of black stuff on her eyes, and she leaves spit and a smudge of purple lipstick on his forehead.
Mr. Bailey spanks Finn and Puck that night, and they can't have dinner.
"I won't let you turn into little juvenile delinquents on my watch!" Mrs. Bailey snarls.
Finn hates this place without Rachel.
To make matters worse, school starts in three weeks, and Finn doesn't want to go without her. He hates school, because all the kids always make fun of how he smells funny, like smoke and stuff, and how he wears stupid clothing and can't read even a little.
He tells Ms. Cathy that, and she replies that he doesn't smell that way anymore because he lives somewhere nicer, and she assures him that they all receive new clothing before school starts. "And I'll help you read."
Rachel said she would help him. He wants her help.
He really, really misses her.
And then she comes back. He's in the backyard when she calls his name, and he sees her scaling the fence to join him. She has on a backpack, and she has Anne with her, and she runs over to him the moment her feet hit the ground. She tackles him. "I missed you so much," she says.
He hugs her. "I missed you, too."
"I'm never gonna leave again, okay?"
He tells her everything that happened, about the candles and the fire, about how he doesn't want to go to school, about how he misses all the games they used to play and the books and her. She smiles and says that they can do all that again, and that school will be fun if they go together, and she tells him that Puck is stupid.
She makes everything better.
They go up to the attic, and she carefully pulls her six books out of the backpack, and they look at each one, touching the pages and pointing out their favourite pictures.
Mrs. Bailey storms into the room a few hours later, and she pulls Rachel to her feet and drags her down the stairs. Finn hurries after them. Mr. and Mrs. Schuester are downstairs. Mrs. Schuester rushes to Rachel and hugs her. "We were so worried, sweetheart," she says. "Please don't do that again, okay? If you're unhappy, tell me or Daddy, and —
Rachel shoves her away. "He's not my daddy," she says loudly, "and you're not my mommy, and this is my home, and I'm gonna stay here."
"Rachel," Mr. Schuester starts.
"I'm not leaving," Rachel insists, stomping her foot. "I'm not. I'm staying with Finn."
Mrs. Bailey sighs. "This is about Finn? Rachel, you can visit Finn plenty —"
And Rachel screams. She curls her hands into fists, she squeezes her eyes shut, and she screams. The sound pierces through the hall. Mrs. Schuester cringes and covers her ears, and Mr. Shuester tries to calm Rachel down, tries to reach out to her, but she kicks him away and only screams louder. Still, he steps towards her, his face pinched.
Mrs. Bailey puts a hand on his arm and shakes her head. Nobody moves. A few minutes later, Rachel finally stops. Mrs. Bailey looks at Mr. Schuester. "Does she do that often?"
Mr. Schuester hesitates, but he finally nods. "All the time." He scrubs a hand over his face.
Mrs. Bailey sniffs. "I'm sorry," she says. "It had been over two months since she last acted out like that. Not since — " She glances at Finn. She sighs, shaking her heard.
Everything happens quickly after that. Rachel is sent to her old room. Finn is shooed outside. He hears cars pull up into the driveway. He sneaks inside and sees Ms. Cathy walk Rachel down the stairs and into the living room.
Eventually, two strangers and Ms. Cathy and Mr. and Mrs. Schuester all leave.
But Rachel doesn't.
He and Rachel each take a pillow and a blanket from their beds and sneak up to the attic to spend the night together. They lie on his blanket and under hers, and they face each other, her doll clutched to her chest.
"Why did you scream like that?" Finn asks.
"So that people would listen to me," she replies. It's quiet. "But I won't ever scream at you like that," she says, "I promise. You listen to me. And I love you."
"Nobody has ever loved me before," he tells her.
"Well, I do."
"I love you, too."
She smiles, and it's quiet again. He has more questions, though. He can't help it.
"What was it like with Mr. and Mrs. Schuester?"
"I don't know," Rachel says. "They were nice. But I missed you."
"Yeah," Finn says. "But it would be cool to have a mom and dad. I had a mom once, I think, but she died in a car accident when I was baby, and then I went to live with my uncle."
"Did your uncle die, too?" she asks.
"No." He doesn't really like to talk about his uncle, but this is Rachel, and best friends are supposed to tell each other everything, right? "The police arrested him because he did bad things, and then they brought me here." He honestly doesn't know much more than that.
It's quiet. "I had a mom once, too," Rachel whispers. "But I never had a dad either."
"What happened to your mom?"
"I don't know. She left one day and didn't come back. She was mean, though." She goes quiet, and she shifts slightly, and from the moonlight he can see her clutch Anne a little closer to her chest.
"Sometimes," he says, "when my uncle was really angry, he would pull his belt out of his pants, and he would hit me. It hurt a lot."
Rachel looks at him. "My mom would lock me in my room, and she would bring people to the house, and she would forgot to let me out for days, until I learned to scream really loud. But sometimes I would meet the people she brought over, and they were mean, too. And sometimes —" She lowers her voice to a whisper. "— sometimes she would be so angry, and her breath would smell funny, and she would yell at me and hurt me and call me mean names."
"My uncle said mean stuff, too," Finn confesses.
"Uncles are stupid," Rachel says.
"Moms are, too," Finn replies.
"But best friends aren't," Rachel goes on. She takes his hand under the blanket.
He smiles. "Nope. Best friends are awesome."
Mrs. Bailey doesn't buy them actual new clothing for school.
She takes them to Goodwill, though, and she lets them each pick out three outfits. Finn doesn't know what to pick, so Rachel picks for him. The clothing isn't new, but he still really likes his three outfits, and Rachel helps him carefully fold them up and put them in the trunk by his bed.
The Sunday before school starts, Mrs. Bailey and Ms. Cathy take all the kids to church. Finn has never been to a church before, but Mrs. Bailey tells them all to behave, and he tries his best.
He lets old ladies fawn over him, ruffling his hair and pinching his cheeks, and he tells them he likes ninja turtles and Spiderman and his best friend, and they smile and laugh and pat his head.
Afterward, a man from the church gives each kid a bag of school supplies.
School starts, and it's hard. The other kids look at him funny and they whisper behind his back and don't want to be friends with him. He's used to that, though. He's in the second grade, and Rachel and Puck are, too, but none of them are in the same class. He spends most of his time at school waiting for class to let out so that he can rejoin Rachel.
It isn't all bad, of course. Rachel helps him with his homework, and he finally learns the whole alphabet, and how to count to one hundred, and that's kinda cool.
And the first week turns into the second one, and soon they've been at school for a month, and then two, and time marches on.
A week after his tenth birthday, a couple comes to see Mrs. Bailey.
"You know what that means," Puck whispers to Finn as they watch the couple go into the living room. Finn rubs his sweaty palms against his jeans. He doesn't want people to try to take Rachel away again. It's been years since the last time, and a lot has changed — Angelina turned eighteen and left the house, and Mercedes went to live with some cousin, and two new boys came to stay with them. Finn can read a little now, too.
But, mostly, life is the same: the same house, the same chores, the same games, and the same best friend. And he definitely doesn't want any of that to change.
Mrs. Bailey comes out of the living room. "Come down here, Finn," she says.
Puck looks at him with wide eyes. But Finn goes downstairs, and he goes into the living room, and he meets Mr. and Mrs. Hummel. They have a son, a boy named Kurt, and they say that Kurt would love a brother, and how would Finn like to stay with them for a little while?
Finn swallows thickly. "Leave the House on the Hill?" Leave Rachel?
"That's right," Mr. Hummel says. "You could have a room all your own, kid." He grins.
Finn wants to say no. But he doesn't know how.
Mr. Hummel stands up, and he claps Finn on the shoulder. Finn flinches and stumbles backwards. "He takes a little while to warm up to men of your build," Mrs. Bailey murmurs, acting as if Finn can't hear her. Mr. Hummel nods knowingly, and Mrs. Hummel gives Finn a hesitant kiss on the cheek before they leave.
The moment Mrs. Bailey lets him, Finn rushes upstairs to tell Puck and Rachel. He can't believe this. Why now? Why him? And how can he stop this? He doesn't want to go. He won't go. He tells that vehemently to Rachel, and she nods and squeezes his hand.
None of the adults listen to him, though, when he does finally try to say no.
Rachel cries and won't let go of him until Mrs. Bailey tears her away. Rachel starts to scream. "Oh, dear," Mrs. Hummel whispers. Mr. Bailey appears in the room, and he picks Rachel up, clapping his hand over her mouth, and he starts to carry her from the room, even as she kicks wildly
Finn starts to shake. Mr. Bailey is going to hurt Rachel. Grown-ups do that.
"Stop it," he whispers. "Stop."
Nobody listens to him.
Finn tries to run after her, but Mrs. Bailey blocks the way, and the next thing he knows, Mrs. Hummel has him by the hand, and she walks him out to the car, and he can't even say goodbye to anyone.
This house is bigger than the House on the Hill, and everything is newer and cleaner and nicer. Finn does have his own room, and he can even play video games with Kurt, who is nice and asks Finn lots of questions, which makes Finn think of Rachel. The Hummels even buy him lots of new clothing, actual new clothing.
But he still lights the kitchen curtains on fire.
He only stares blankly at Mrs. Hummel while Mr. Hummel bats out the flames.
She makes him tea and asks him if he wants to talk. He knows, though, that she doesn't really care about him. He knows that the government gives adults money for foster kids, and that's the only reason people volunteer to take them.
(Rachel is the only person who actually cares about Finn.)
He lights the couch on fire next, and he sets his stupid homework on fire, because he hates homework, especially when Rachel can't help him, and then he goes after a place that he knows will hit home: he lights Kurt's bed on fire.
He has to talk to police, and to Ms. Cathy, and to a handful of other people.
Finally, Mr. Hummel drives him back to the House on the Hill on a Thursday night.
"I'm glad you're back," Rachel whispers that night, lying curled up together in the attic.
"It'll always be you and me, right?" he replies.
They never really see Mr. Bailey.
He isn't around the house during the day, and more often than not he doesn't even come to breakfast or dinner. Every once in a while, when Mrs. Bailey goes out for a few errands and leaves Vikki in charge of the house, Finn and Rachel sneak into Mr. Bailey's office, where he keeps his drums.
And Finn plays, slowly teaching himself, and Rachel sings.
They go to the public library on the weekends now and then, too, and they look up how to read sheet music on the internet, and they teach each other.
Finn loves music more than anything in the world — except for Rachel — and he always feels so free when he pounds on the drums as Rachel dances around him, singing sweetly, her eyes bright and her whole face flushed happily. She says someday they'll grow up, and they'll leave the House on the Hill, and they'll both be famous.
He believes her, but he can't imagine ever leaving the House on the Hill.
Two weeks before the seventh grade starts, though, police come to the house.
They arrest Mr. Bailey for statutory rape as Mrs. Bailey screams in the background. "I bring all these stupid kids into this house, and I feed them and clothe them and discipline them, and all for you — for you — for money, to make money for my stupid husband, who can't find a decent job, and you go and FUCK ONE OF THEM, YOU STUPID, FUCKING MANWHORE!"
She tries to hit him, and a police officer has to hold her back.
"What's statutory rape?" Finn asks quietly from the second landing as they watch everything play out below. Rachel doesn't know. "I d-don't know," Tina murmurs. Mike does, though.
"It means he had sex with somebody under eighteen." He pauses. "Vikki," he says. "She's only sixteen."
Finn feels bad for Vikki. And he feels bad for Mrs. Bailey, too. He doesn't really like her, but he doesn't dislike her, either, and he doesn't know what to do when she starts to sob, collapsing against a police officer.
A few days later, they all leave the House on the Hill.
Matt goes to foster parents. Finn doesn't know what happens to Vikki. But he, Rachel, Tina, Mike, and Puck all end up at a new group home, one right in the heart of New York City, a townhouse with no basement and no attic and no backyard.
Two sisters run the house, Sue and Jean, and they don't give any chores or make any rules, and the kids can eat whatever they can find in the fridge or the panty whenever they want. Everything is completely different. But it's fun to go up on the roof, and Jean is really sweet and likes to hide small pieces of candy in their rooms for them to find.
And, most important of all, Rachel is still with him.
Rachel paces the small room, wearing a path in the old, thick carpet.
"This is impossible," she says. "None of these outfits say Rachel Berry: high school student and rising star — none!"
She has her clothing strewn all over the tiny room, and they've been in here all afternoon, ever since Tina left to see a movie at the dollar theatre with Mike. Finn doesn't really know what advice to offer, so he stretches back on her bed and simply watches, offering her a sympathetic expression when she glances his way during her rant.
"How about my cat shirt?" she says, and she holds up the pink shirt with the rhinestone cat on the front. He doesn't have a chance to answer. "No," she says, and she shakes her head. "No, that would be a terrible shirt for our very first day of high school — terrible!" She tosses the shirt aside angrily. She paces a little more. "What about my paisley shirt?"
She picks that up. "And with this skirt?" she turns to him, eyes wide as she touches her light pink cotton skirt. He nods. "Mmm," she says, muttering under her breath as she tears off her t-shirt and starts to pull on the paisley shirt.
His breath catches a little.
He's seen Rachel naked before, when they were little kids. But he can't really remember the last time he saw her without clothing. He sees her now, sees the soft stretch of her back, sees old scars from memories not even she has anymore faded into her skin like birthmarks, sees the dimples in her lower back — and he can just barely see the curve of her small breast.
And then she has the paisley shirt on, and she turns to face him. "What do you think?"
"Huh? What? Yeah — yeah, I like that one. That's good. You look good." He swallows thickly.
"Okay. I think this just might be the outfit." She crosses the room to the slightly blurred mirror propped up in the corner, and she turns slightly to the side, looking at herself. She whirls to face him again a moment later. "Does this shirt make my face look washed out?"
Her hair is all soft and falling freely, and she has on a cheap necklace from the mall, and her legs are long and bare and lead to her tiny feet with chipped blue nail polish on her toenails. She looks like she always has, like Rachel, like his best friend, but somehow —
"You look good, Rach. I promise."
She sighs and comes over to flop onto the bed beside him. "Are you excited for high school?"
He shrugs. "I don't know. I guess."
"I am. But I'm nervous, too." She leans against him, and her chatter hovers around them comfortably, but he can barely breathe, suddenly hyperaware of her hip pressed to his, of her foot curling against his leg, of her hand on his stomach, of her breasts pressed into his side.
They've been in this position a million times before, yet this is so different.
"We'll survive," Rachel says, "you and me, won't we?"
"Yeah," he says. "Definitely."
He doesn't like high school anymore than he liked middle school or elementary school.
None of the teachers here even bother to try. He sleeps in most classes, and no one wakes him up. He doesn't do his homework, and none of the teachers say a word. He really only manages barely passing grades because of Rachel.
She's the best part of school. He doesn't have any classes with her, but he finds her between every class, just to see her, and they eat lunch together. He has a handful of friends, like Puck and Mike and a few other boys, but he mainly keeps to himself, really only ever talking to Rachel, and people have no problem with that.
He finally has his growth spurt, and three months into school he towers over nearly everybody, and he can race past everyone in gym. It's kinda awesome, even if he's sort of an awkward klutz. He tries to bulk up, and soon enough he can actually do fifty push-ups with Rachel sitting on his back and singing Eye of the Tiger and giggling madly, so that's definitely pretty killer.
Sometimes after school he hangs out on the blacktop with a few other guys, shooting hoops as Rachel sits on the sideline, reading and occasionally smiling at him, and he feels really normal. That's sort of awesome, too.
It's especially cool how tall and strong Finn gets when some jerk, some random upperclassman, tries to mess with Rachel.
The kid knocks the books from her hands, backs her up against the lockers, and tells her she ain't Einstein, and she shouldn't try so hard. "Nobody gives a damn how many little gold stars the teachers give you," the boy says, "so why don't you go ahead and bend over and flip up that little skirt —"
Finn hits him as hard as he can.
He takes a few punches, too, but he isn't the one who walks away with a broken nose. The principle lectures them both, but nobody is any real trouble. If the school kicked out kids who fought, no kids would be left. Rachel helps him bandage his hand afterward, and she kisses his cheek, and they never do talk about it.
He makes sure he always has an eye on her from then on, though.
Finn doesn't give a flying fuck about anyone else in school, but nobody is gonna mess with Rachel.
Finn misses the drums.
He can't play at the House on the Hill anymore, obviously, and the high school doesn't have a choir room like the middle school did, so he can't even sneak in there with Rachel during lunch. Rachel bought him his own drumsticks for his thirteenth birthday, but he can only bang on pots and pans and random counters for so long.
He wants his own drums, and he needs money for that.
Rachel always seems to find ways to make a little money for herself, like through surveys she signs herself up for at CUNY or through chores she agrees to do for Jean, who likes Rachel and gives her a hug and a dollar for every chore Rachel does. But Finn doesn't really have a way to make money.
He asks Rachel to help him find one, and she eventually finds this junkyard that will pay five bucks an hour, off the record, to any boys who help him out now and again.
Finn has never had so much money in his life. He has a way to go before he can buy drums, though, and he has to resist the urge to buy other cool stuff, like his own basketball, or a slushee at the seven, or cheap comic books.
But in November, he spends all the money he has.
The winter dance approaches, and Sue says the dance will consist of three banners in the gym, a bowl of punch, and inappropriate music blasted from an old boom box, but Rachel still wants to go. She begs for money to buy a new dress, because she doesn't have enough.
Ms. Sylvester gives Rachel and Tina twenty dollars for the both of them.
Rachel is happy about that, Finn knows, but as soon as she and Tina return from shopping the next day, Rachel runs up the stairs blindly, and Finn abandons Mike and Nintendo sixty-four to chase after her. He finds her in his room, curled up in his bed, sobbing into his pillow. "What's the matter?" he asks.
"I can't go to this dance," she says.
He sits down beside her. "Why not?"
"Because it's stupid." She spins around to face him. "And I have nothing to wear!"
"I thought you and Tina went out to buy dresses?" He sees a bag by the bed. He pulls the pink sundress out and looks at her, the question in his eyes. He doesn't understand.
"That's the only dress I could afford," she says. "Even with all the money I have saved. And it's stupid, because this is a winter dance, and it's a faded, second-hand, summer dress, and I — I —" She looks at him, clutching his hand. "Just for one night, Finn, for one night, I didn't want to be the foster kid in the cheap clothing, and I know, I know, this isn't like when we lived with Mrs. Bailey, and most of the kids at school are as bad off as we are, but I still — I just wanted to be pretty for one night, Finn."
He doesn't know what to say, so he simply lies back on the bed and lets her cry into his arm. She doesn't eat dinner that night, and he hates that. She always eats less when she feels stressed or upset, and he worries about her.
He skips his afternoon classes the next day, and he goes to the Belk.
He doesn't really know what to look for, but the lady behind the counter eyes him for a while and finally asks if she can help him. He approaches hesitantly. "I want to, um, I want to buy something pretty for my friend. Like, a — a necklace, or something."
"Okay," the woman says, smiling. "May I ask how much money you have?"
He pulls the wad of cash out of his pocket. "I got, like, um, hundred and forty, maybe?"
"I think we can find your friend something very pretty with that," the woman replies warmly.
He returns to school in time to meet Rachel in the hall outside her last class. They start the walk back to the house, and he tells her he has a surprise for her. She claps her hands in delight. He waits until they're home, though, upstairs in her room, sitting cross-legged on her bed, before he hands her the box.
He watches her face as she opens it and sees the tiny gold necklace, with the little gold star on the end. "It's 14 carat gold," he says, "which is the best kind, I think." Her eyes travel to the earrings, little drop pearls, hung on gold. "You don't have to wear them together," he adds, "but the lady at Belk said they match, so. . . ."
She looks back at him. "You bought these for me?"
"So you can feel pretty," he says, nodding. "I think you're always pretty, though. And here." He hands her twenty dollars. "If that helps you buy a different dress, okay. But I like the pink one. Do you, um, do you like the necklace? And the earrings?"
She clutches the box to her chest for a moment. "Yes," she whispers. He smiles, satisfied. "Help me put them on." He picks up the necklace as she carefully puts in each earring, and then she holds up her hair as he slips on the necklace, his fingers brushing against her collarbone. "How do I look?" she whispers.
His hands still rest on her neck, and he can't take his eyes off hers. "Pretty," he says.
He can't really breathe.
"You know you can kiss me if you want to," she says.
"I want to."
He leans forward, she lies back, and he kisses her. Her lips are soft and smooth and warm, and he can't believe this, he can't, and he opens his eyes to see her, to see Rachel, lying beneath him, his hand cradling her back, her lips parted and — and he kisses her again.
He pulls back an instant later, scrambling off her.
"What? What's the matter?" she asks breathlessly.
No. Fuck. Dammit. No. "I — I —" His eyes dart down automatically and then back to her, and he starts to panic, tugging his shirt down when she looks at his trousers, too. They stare at each other. "I'm sorry," he whispers, guilty.
But she smiles slightly and glances down shyly for a second before she meets his gaze again. "It's okay," she says. She lurches forward on her knees suddenly and hugs him, and he forces himself to breathe. "You make me feel that way sometimes, too," she confesses, her nose pressed to his cheek.
She only nods, burying her face in his neck.
He and Rachel never really talk about what changes.
It's strange, really, how Rachel loves to talk about anything and everything, yet sometimes what matters most they don't talk about, because they don't need to.
They hold hands now, or walk with his arm around her shoulder or her hand hooked around his elbow, and they kiss.
They really kiss, as often as they can, anywhere they can, hot, wet kisses, and their noses bump and she bites his tongue accidentally and he laughs in her ear. He slips his hands daringly under her shirt to trace over the skin of her back, and she digs her fingers into his shoulders, and he becomes addicted to her in a whole new way.
But the rest of their relationship doesn't change, not really.
Their attempts to make dinner with what they can find in their kitchen, their evenings spent in front of the television, the days they explore the city to find new music stores for him to practice the drums with the pretence of a potential purchase — that all stays the same.
They're like best friends who kiss lots.
The more time passes, though, the more everything else starts to change.
The night Rachel turns fifteen, Puck comes back to the house past four in the morning, wakes Finn up, and shows him three hundred dollars cash, bunched up with a rubber band. Finn has never seen that much cash at once in his entire life.
"That's how we fucking do it," Puck breathes.
Finn doesn't understand, but Puck tells him he found a job, a good job where Finn can make real money if he wants in. "I know a guy. And you know you're my boy, Hudson, so you say the word." Finn asks what the job is, and Puck grins. "You in, then?" Finn frowns. That wasn't an answer.
Puck explains: he deals. Finn only stares at him. "Look, it's easy shit, dude," Puck says. "You pick up the product, you take it to school, you hand over for cash, and then you deliver the cash back, and you can keep a chunk. 'S like fucking cake, Hudson."
Finn isn't so sure. "What is it?" he asks.
"It's money," Puck says, waving the cash in front of Finn.
"No, the drugs. What kind?"
Puck shrugs. "Some snow. Glass. Mostly smack. Well?"
"I don't know," Finn replies, rubbing the back of his neck. "Rachel probably wouldn't —"
"Rachel? Your girl, huh? You wanna talk about your girl? Let's talk about that. You wanna treat her right, don't you?" Puck holds up the cash. "This is how you treat a girl right, Finny D." He pauses. "Look, why don't you come for a pick up with me tomorrow night? A little test run. You don't like it, you're out, no sweat."
Hesitantly, Finn nods.
And the next day, he tells Rachel, because he can't not.
She frowns. "I don't think that's a good idea, Finn," she says. He sits on the small brick wall that lines the street outside the townhouse, and she stands between his legs, her face tight.
"It's just once," he says. "I'll see how it goes, and —"
"No," Rachel interrupts. "No. Don't go. I don't want you to go, Finn." She crosses her arms over her chest and stares him down.
He reaches out, holding her hips. "It'd be really good money, baby," he says softly.
"If you want to make money," she replies, "I will help you fill out a work permit. Don't go tonight, Finn. Please." She rests her hands on his shoulders. "If I'm your baby, Finn, do this for me. Listen to me. Please don't go with Puck."
He doesn't go.
He falls asleep in front of the television with Rachel asleep beside him, and he wakes up to hear Sue on the telephone, screaming. She hangs up, and the story comes out pretty quickly. Puck was arrested, and Finn sees Puck only once or twice before he's sent to juvie.
He feels relieved, and then he feels guilty that he feels relieved, but he can't help that.
Winter break comes and goes, and soon enough Finn has a work permit and works construction twenty hours a week, whenever he has free hours. School is the place he sleeps, Rachel is really his only friend, and life goes on.
He works full time over the summer.
Rachel works, too, but she can only find something part time, and the rest of the day she spends with him, at whatever house needs a new irrigation system or wants to put in a cobblestone path or a backyard fountain. She sits with cheap pink sunglasses on and a book in her lap, and she endears herself to all the boys on the crew.
Puck doesn't really come home. He's only in juvie for three months, but he doesn't return to school, and Finn never really sees him, and Sue doesn't seem particularly bothered when Puck goes for weeks away from the house. No one really cares, honestly. Sue and Jean only take in older kids, the ones who were too messed up as little kids to land a family and are now, if nothing else, simply too old to warrant attention from adopting parents.
People like Ms. Cathy, social workers with bright smiles and pitying eyes, don't come around.
Finn likes it better this way, honestly.
He doesn't need some woman with a degree in psych to tell him how to be okay.
Summer is almost over when Rachel and Finn have sex for the first time.
They're on the roof of the townhouse, lying on rusted pool chairs and drinking Cheerwine, and before long Rachel abandons her chair to straddle Finn on his and kiss him.
Everything follows quickly, the night a humid blanket over them, her hands in his hair as she sucks his tongue into her mouth, his feelings too many and too much for his thoughts. He tugs open the snap buttons of her shirt, and he raises his hips to help her pull down his jeans.
He manages to catch her eye, and she murmurs assurances to him, and then, her hands sliding along his sweaty back under his t-shirt while his own hands grip her waist tightly, she sinks down onto him.
She gasps, and he stares up at her. Her shirt is pushed down to her elbows and her bra is hanging half-off; her eyes are glassy, her hair loose from the ponytail and curling around her forehead and neck as sweat gathers on her skin, tinted pink.
"I love you," he says breathlessly. He does love her, he really does, more than anybody and anything. He always has, and this is different than before, different than a kiss to the cigarette burn on his arm and a Magic Mint crayon, but love all the same.
She nods, smiles a little, and starts to move.
They fall asleep afterward, and they wake up to the sight of Sue towering over them with a snarl on her face.
"Did you at least use a condom?" she asks.
His face blazing, Finn shakes his head wordlessly, looking at Rachel in a panic as she fumbles with the buttons of her shirt and avoids Sue's gaze. But the older woman takes Rachel by the arm, hoists her up, and marches her off the roof and downstairs.
Finn follows with the empty bottles of Cheerwine, but Sue takes Rachel somewhere in her car.
Almost an hour later, Finn hears people in the kitchen. He clambers downstairs in time to see Sue make Rachel take a Plan B pill, and then Sue shoves a box of condoms into his hands on her way out of the room. "Responsibility," she hisses, "try it sometime."
Rachel is too mortified to look Sue in the eye for days. "She told me all this stuff," Rachel tells Finn in a whisper. "She talked about how one in four times girls my age have unprotected sex, they're impregnated, and she talked about all these diseases, and — how come nobody ever told me any of this stuff before?"
Finn shakes his head. They both know now, though.
Summer ends two weeks later.
Coach Bieste convinces Finn to try out for the basketball team.
"I'm not that great," he tells her. "I'm tall, and I'm . . . tall."
She won't really take no for an answer. "I've seen you play, kid," she says. "I'm not a monkey short two tails, and you can't fool the Bieste — basketball is your game." Most of the boys on the team are pretty cool, and Finn actually starts to look forward to practice.
The very first game, he takes a rebound shot, and everybody cheers for him, and it's kind of completely and totally awesome. He sees Rachel jump up and down, waving and shouting his name. She has on a blue shirt with the words Team Finn written with the glitter paint pens that Jean loves so much, and he waves proudly at her.
He totally rocks the game, and they win by twenty-nine points. Finn has never felt like this before. People have never looked at him this way before, like he's worth something, except for Rachel, of course, and he doesn't want to lose that. Coach Bieste teaches math, too, and she starts to help Finn with his, telling him he has brains to match his talent, and he better not let either go to waste.
Sue brings Jean to a game, and he shows Jean how to shoot a basket afterward, and Sue nods her head in approval at him as Bieste gives him a big thumbs up.
And after every game, Rachel races down from the stands to hug him, and he always swings her up and kisses her full on the mouth. Finn Hudson isn't a waste of space, and neither is his girl, so take that.
He even finally saves up enough money from work to afford two tickets to a Broadway show. He and Rachel dress up in the best clothes they can, and Finn has never seen anything like it in his life.
Rachel is giddy as they walk home afterward. "I'm going to be up there one day," she tells him, her eyes still wide in awe, as if the musical is playing out again before her eyes.
"And I'll be in the front row," he replies. "Always."
She breaks out in song suddenly, skipping a little and then twirling around him. He laughs and joins her, and by the time they finish the song, a small crowd has gathered, and Rachel beams, curtsying as they applaud.
On a Tuesday in April, three people come to the townhouse.
Rachel is upstairs, waiting for him to rejoin her, but when Finn walks out of the kitchen, a sandwich in hand, he stops in his tracts at the sight of Sue in the living room with two men and a woman.
She looks like a social worker, and so does one of the men. That can't be good. And the other man, a tall, thin man, with dark hair receding backwards and tinged grey at his temples, looks like something much worse. The man stands, looks Finn in the eye, and Finn feels the world rock under him.
"Hey, kid," he says. "Remember me?"
Sue and the social workers leave Finn to talk with his uncle.
Finn doesn't want them to go, doesn't want to be alone with this man, but he can barely think straight as he stands in the doorway with his sandwich and stares. Uncle Scott smiles, though, and walks forward. Finn takes a step backwards, and his uncle laughs before he snares Finn in a hug.
Finn can't believe this.
Moments later, Rachel appears in the room, and Finn sees Sue disappear into the kitchen as Rachel slips her hand into his. They sit down on the couch, and Uncle Scott starts in, talks about he made lots of mistakes, and the biggest regret he's always had is that he couldn't take care of his nephew. "Carole never loved anybody like she loved you, and I let her down," he says.
Finn assumes Carole is his mother.
"But I want to make amends," Uncle Scott says. "I'm clean now, got me a good job, and I can finally take care of you. What do you say?"
"What do I say?" Finn echoes, confused.
"I've got a place, an apartment up town. Same school district, but a room all your own, and with family." His uncle smiles. "So what do you say?"
Finn stares at this man, his skin too lose for his bones, his face greasy, and he feels a little sick. He can barely remember belts biting into his skin or hands that boxed his ears until they bled, but he has the scars, and he can remember the fear, can remember the nightmares that took years to disappear, can remember how small and helpless and alone he felt.
"That's okay," Finn says. "I'm happy here."
Rachel squeezes his hand, and he tries to focus on that.
"Here? In a group home?" Uncle Scott raises his eyebrows. "You kidding?"
Finn only shakes his head.
Uncle Scott sighs. "Look, kid, I know that change is, ah, scary. I know. And you don't got much reason to trust me. I gotta earn that, I know. But we're family, me and you. We've gotta stick together. So let's give this a chance?"
Finn understands what that means: he doesn't really have a choice. He knows how to hear what people don't say, how to look at their expressions and listen to their tones. "No," he says. He stands, taking Rachel with him. "We're not family." He leaves, ignoring when his uncle and then one of the social workers calls after him.
But he can't really stop what happens next.
Sue tries to help him. He hears her scream at the social workers. "This kid does have family — my kids here are his family, I'm his family — I know how this story ends, I've been in this business for years, and listen to me — you take him away from here, from the only kind of family he knows, you put him with that man, and you fuck him over! How can you not see that?" Nobody listens to her anymore than they do to him or Rachel.
Before long, Sue tells him to pack. "Please," he begs.
"I'm sorry, kid. I tried. But the state likes to send kids back to relatives, even greedy ones. I can't help you."
"Ms. Sylvester —"
"You're not my ward anymore, Hudson. I'm sorry. It is what it is."
"I'm not a kid," he says angrily. "The state can't boss me around and pass me from person to person."
"Wrong. You're sixteen. You're a baby, Hudson. The state owns you."
He tells her he won't leave the townhouse. He tells Rachel the same. He won't. He fucking won't.
Still, he somehow ends up across town in a small, impersonal apartment with a broken window taped over, cockroaches, and more beer than food in the fridge. He is far too big for his uncle to push around anymore, but he has never hated the man more.
He doesn't stick around the apartment.
Not after the first few days, not after his uncle laughs when Finn tells him to fuck himself, not after he realises that his uncle really, truly is an asshole.
He spends most nights with Puck, who has an apartment with four other dudes, all of whom are too stoned to begrudge him the couch. His uncle definitely doesn't care, because as long as the state of New York has Finn listed as under his care, the checks come in.
Sue won't even let him into the townhouse. She tells him once coldly that if she takes pity on him, she could lose her license to foster, and she can't afford that. She slams the door in his face.
He still sees Rachel. He sees her at school, and they spend their afternoons together, but everything is still so wrong. He feels wrong without her always close by, even at night, feels wrong knowing that home isn't where Rachel is. And, honestly, with classes and his work and her work, he really doesn't see her that often.
He hates this. He hates it.
He misses her, misses time time spend lying around aimlessly and talking, misses the taste of her, misses her hand constantly in his, her head on his shoulder. He misses her laugh and her sigh and her smell and her singing — under her breath, before bed, in the shower, as they walked down the street.
He only even goes to school anymore to see her. His grades plummet.
Coach Bieste pulls him aside one afternoon and tells him she's worried about him. "The only person who ever gave a fuck about me is Rachel, and they took me away from her," Finn replies. He pushes past her out of the gym, and she doesn't try to stop him.
Summer starts, he works full time, and Rachel does, too.
He goes an entire week and a half without her.
He hasn't been away from her for that long since he was ten and the Hummels tried to adopt him.
The first time he shoots up, he isn't really sure why. He drinks plenty, but he never really goes near drugs, mostly because they scare him, and he knows they terrify Rachel. Puck and his boys are all around Finn, though, in their cramped apartment, and Puck offers the needle to him. Finn doesn't see why not.
He doesn't tell Rachel.
She finds out anyway.
She comes by the apartment a few weeks later, and he wakes up when she throws water on his face. He sits up, rubbing his eyes, and sees her. "Rach," he starts.
"Don't," she snaps. "I wanted to talk to you, to see you, because it's been four days since I've heard a word from you, and I went to talk to Jerry, and he said you worked part time now. So I went to your apartment, but you weren't there, and so I came here, and I find you on the couch in the middle of the day, with this hanging on your arm!"
She's on her feet now, her voice a shrill scream as she waves the tourniquet in the air.
"How long?" she says.
"Answer the question!"
"Not long. Couple weeks. I've only done it a few times. Like, five. I swear." He looks up at her with wide eyes. She has to believe him. She looks bad, he realises. Her hair is pulled sloppily back away from her face, and she looks thin and pale, and he knows she must not have eaten a lot lately. Guilt seizes him.
"Done what? What is it?" she demands.
"What are you using to poison yourself, Finn Hudson?"
"Horse," he murmurs. She demands the proper term. "Heroin."
She stares at him. And then she attacks. She smacks him repeatedly with tiny little fists of fury. "You complete imbecile!" she cries. "Do you have any idea what heroin does to your body? The horrific ramifications to your health? Do you?"
He manages to grab her arms and stop her. She glares up at him, and he doesn't know what do say. "It's not like that," he says. "I'm not an addict." He feels defensive, and he doesn't want to acknowledge the guilt clawing at his insides. "I just . . . it was nothing, okay? It felt good, and the rest of my life is a shitfest, and I miss you, and we've never been apart like that, and I —"
He looks away from her, his jaw tight.
"Finn," she says, and her voice is soft. He brings himself to meet her gaze. "I don't think we've ever talked about this," she goes on, "but my mother did heroin." He's surprised. How did that never come up before? She only plows on. "I was a heroin baby, Finn. I came into this world addicted to that poison." Tears bead in her eyes. "Please don't make me watch the one person I care about — the only family I have, my boyfriend, my best friend — go out of this world addicted to it."
He loosens his hold on her arms and runs his hand over her hair. "I'm so sorry," he whispers. "I'm so, so sorry."
"Don't do it anymore, okay, please?"
"I won't," he says. "I promise." He'll promise her anything.
She clutches him tightly, then, her tears hot against his neck.
They leave the apartment, barely really speaking, and they go for ice cream. He wants her to eat something. It's awkward. They've never really been at odds like this before, and it's just strange, and it makes his chest hurt. She turns to him finally as they sit on benches outside the Walmart, a cheap tub of chocolate fudge ice cream between them. "I'm sorry I was so upset with you," she says.
"You were right to be," he replies earnestly, more than ready to fix everything.
"I just don't want to lose you, and — and these past few months, you've pulled away from me, and —" A few tears spring free.
He cups her face. "You're not gonna lose me, baby, not for any reason," he says.
"You know how much I love to read?" she whispers.
"Yeah," he says. She always likes to claim her three great loves are music, books, and him.
"Do you know why?"
He shakes his head, gently wiping away a few of her tears.
"Because in books," she says, "I can go anywhere or do anything or be anyone. I read about all the places I want to go, Finn, and all the people I want to meet. And someday I do want to go to all these places and meet all these people, I do, and I think music can help me, but, Finn — I want you to come with me."
She turns and looks up at him, clutching his hand in hers. "I need you to come with me."
"I'll come with you," he promises. "Anywhere."
He tilts her chin up and kisses her softly, tasting the ice cream on her tongue. They haven't really kissed in week, and he clutches her closely, one hand running up and down her side as the other one cups her breast, and she whimpers a little into his mouth.
They go to the townhouse, because Sue won't be home during the afternoon, and Jean might tattle that Finn came by, but that will be after the fact, won't it?
He stays away from Puck, from needles, from the temptation.
He talks his way back into full time work, and he hands his money over to Rachel for her to save, and he lives with his uncle, artfully avoiding him as best he can. He even sees a little of Tina and Mike, and the summer passes slowly.
He can't say he's really happy, but he won't let everything spiral out of control again.
Rachel first broaches the topic near the end of summer. "I have an idea, Finn," she murmurs as they lie lazily in Central Park.
"But it — it might not work, and I need you to remember something."
He searches for some sort of explanation in her face. "Okay," he says slowly.
"You once told me that you came to the House on the Hill after the police arrested your uncle because he did bad things." She pauses. "Do you remember what those bad things were?"
He shakes his head. "Not really. I try not to think about . . . that. About back before I met you."
"Can you please think about it now?"
He sighs. "Um, he drank a lot, chain-smoked, maybe a little hash, too, but I don't think anything serious. I don't know. I don't . . . I don't know. Why?"
"Because I'm not so sure people like your uncle often change," she admits. "And he might want people to believe that he plays by the rules now, but if he doesn't, and we can prove that — the state won't have a choice. They'd have to send you back to the group home."
Could they really . . . ?
School starts up again a week later.
He goes to classes, but he spends most of the lessons like he spends his nights: thinking about his uncle. He goes through the entire apartment for evidence of something illegal, but he can't find anything. He barely ever even sees the man, who comes and goes much like Mr. Bailey once did.
He thinks about the House on the Hill a lot.
No matter how he tries to force himself to remember the days before, his mind continually chooses to focus on other memories. He remembers the first time Mrs. Bailey took the kids to a lake, and Matt taught Finn, Rachel, and Puck to swim. He remembers when Rachel tried to bake a birthday cake for Tina, and she was spanked for the mess she made, but Tina quietly said thank you — the first words any of them had ever heard her speak.
He thinks about her old crayon collection, now untouched at the bottom of her trunk. He thinks about the Magic Mint crayon, and he actually digs through his few possessions to find the crayon. He comes across the old duffel bag Office Brown gave him. The bag is pretty beat up now, torn, stained, and wearing thin at the corners, the NYPD logo faded.
He think about Officer Brown, and Mr. Hopkin.
He uses a payphone to call the townhouse.
"Baby, I've got it," he says. "It was grand theft auto. Cars, Rachel. He stole cars."
They recruit Mike and Tina to help, because Uncle Scott doesn't know them.
Finn skips school and spends the entire day in the apartment. His uncle comes in a little after seven. Finn goes out to the street and calls the townhouse on the payphone. He returns to his room and waits while his uncle bangs around in the main room for a while before he leaves the house at nine.
He goes over the townhouse to sit on the front steps with Rachel and wait.
Mike and Tina don't return until past two in the morning.
"And?" Rachel asks eagerly, standing to greet them.
"He went to a bar and drank all night," Mike says. "Sorry."
Finn wants to punch something. "B-b-but we can — c-can try again t-tomorrrow," Tina offers.
They do. Finn waits until his uncle arrives home, he calls Tina and Mike to tell them to lie in wait outside the house, and his uncle goes out again with Tina and Mike on his tail. Finn waves at Sue when she looks out the townhouse window at him, and she glares and swipes the curtains closed.
Mike and Tina don't return until nearly four in the morning that night.
But Mike has a grin on his face.
Finn stands up, his heart pounding.
"Hotwired a little civic," Mike said. He grins.
Rachel claps a little.
"We've g-got him," Tina says.
Mike walks Finn and Rachel to the street his uncle took the car from, and it's right along the edge of the Columbia campus. He bumps fists with Mike, thanks the dude, and then sits leaning against the fence across the street from the empty parking spot, Rachel settling between his legs and dozing against his chest.
The sun rises an later and more and more people start to appear along the street.
It's another few hours, though, before a girl, probably a Columbia student, texting as she walks, stops in front of the empty spot. She frowns. She glances down the street, walks a little further, and she starts to look pissed. Finn grins. He shakes Rachel awake and hops to his feet, and crosses the street quickly. "Hey," he calls.
"Go away, random boy," she says, not even glancing at him.
"Where's your car?" he asks.
She looks over at him, her hand on her hip. Her eyes rake over him, and he can't help that despite everything he feels self-conscious of the worn patches in his jeans and the frayed edges of his t-shirt. She spares a glance for Rachel, standing beside him, and then finally replies.
"Stolen, apparently," she says, her voice sharp. "You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?"
"Actually, yeah, I would."
Her eyes narrow. "What do you want?"
"Your help," Rachel says, stepping forward. She explains everything quickly.
"Let me get this straight," the girl says. She points at Finn. "Your foster uncle —"
"He's actually my, like, actual uncle," Finn says. "I wish he were only my foster uncle."
"Whatever," she says. "Your actual uncle steals cars, and you want to bust him, so that you can escape his custody. But because you're poor, pathetic foster kids, you don't think anyone will take you seriously. So you've come to me, now that he's stolen my car, and you want me to cry to the police and point my finger at him, in hopes that they'll listen to a Columbia student with a daddy who works at New York-Pres."
"Yeah," Finn says. "That's it."
"And how did you know he would steal my car?"
"We didn't," Finn replies. "We just guessed it would be a nice car, so it'd probably belong to somebody the police would listen to."
"It was just luck that you were our age," Rachel says happily.
"Don't smile at me like that, Yentl. It's creepy." She pauses. "But I'm in."
"Awesome," Finn says. "I'm Finn Hudson, and this is Rachel Berry."
The girl sighs. "How nice for you. I'm Santana Lopez."
It actually works.
Santana calls the police to say that somebody stole her car, and then she describes a man that she had seen around a lot lately, his eyes on her car. "He works at a gas station I go to a lot," she says. "His name tag always said Scott Raisely. But listen — I know my car is probably already stripped for parts or burned for heat or whatever it is poor people do with cars. But I want this fellow to go down. So can you, like, tail him or something?"
Rachel gives her a big thumbs up. Santana rolls her eyes and faces the other direction.
After she ends the call, she explains that her dad might need to show a little tough love to the police department, but this would play out the way she wanted.
She goes down to the station to talk to police, and Rachel gives her the townhouse phone number. Finn doesn't know exactly how everything does in fact play out, but four days later the police come by the apartment. They arrest his uncle, who curses profusely, and Finn remembers this same event, so many years ago, crystal clear.
This time, when his uncle glances at him, Finn doesn't tremble under the table and avoid his gaze. This time, he stares back, his eyes hard, and offers his best fuck you smile.
Of course, he has to go down to the station, too.
But Sue picks him up.
"You're something else, kid," she mutters.
He spends his first night back in the townhouse with Rachel on the roof, curled up on blankets and pillows stolen from their beds.
The summer after junior year, Finn turns eighteen.
"It's a dream come true," Sue tells him dryly. "But you know what that means? You're outta the system as of next week." She eyes him as he sits in the kitchen with Rachel, and she sighs. "You can stay here as my guest until September, and then you're both out, got it? That's how the rules go."
"September?" Rachel asks, frowning.
"You turn eighteen in September, Polly Pocket."
"But my birthday is in December," she protests.
"It really isn't," she replies. "According to the state of New York, you were born September 22nd." Finn is kind of stunned, even though he remembers when he himself randomly gave Rachel a December birthday. Sue leaves Finn and Rachel to talk, muttering as she goes, "I hate when I grow attached."
They start to make plans, then.
For so long, the plan was simply to stay with each other, no matter what.
They need a real plan now. Rachel tells Finn that as soon as she graduates high school, she wants to attend community college and audition for a part in a musical, for any part in any kind of musical at all, as long as there isn't nudity or animal cruelty involved. "I need to break into the business."
Finn nods. He can work landscaping and support her. They can find a one-bedroom apartment easily enough, right? He talks to Coach Bieste as soon as school starts. She always seemed like she genuinely wanted to help him.
"Ever heard of St. John's, Finn?" she asks, smiling. "Because I know a few guys there. And I bet they would jump like a slug with a shoe for a boy like you to play basketball for them."
A month later, he and Rachel move into an apartment in Queens. They pay with the landscaping and waitressing money that Rachel has saved for months, the rest of which she puts into a joint bank account she sets up. It's all so adult.
The first night, they celebrate the move with delivered pizza and flat soda stolen from Sue.
"We're really on our own now," Rachel says.
They don't have any real furniture, and Coach Bieste wants him to scale back his work hours so he can to focus on his play for a basketball scholarship, which means money will be tight, but Finn doesn't really care.
"We've always been on our own," he says. "You and me. Rachel and Finn." He smiles.
"Best friends forever," she agrees, nodding and beaming at him.
If he doesn't receive a full ride for basketball, then he won't be able to college. He knows that. And he knows that Rachel will have a lot on her plate if she wants to work, go to community college, and audition for plays all at the same time. But they'll deal with all of that later.
"Best friends forever," he echoes, and he holds out his pinky. "We're in this together."
She smiles and hooks her pinky with his.
You're cinematic razor sharp,
A welcome arrow through the heart.
Under your skin feels like home,
Electric shocks on aching bones.
There is a darkness deep in you,
A frightening magic I cling to.
It's so clear now that you are all that I have.
I have no fear now you are all that I have.
a/n: title and lyrics from "You're All That I Have" by Snow Patrol. Review?