Author's Note: Inspired by Bruce Springsteen's classic "Thunder Road"
You can hide 'neath your covers
And study your pain
Make crosses from your lovers
Throw roses in the rain
Waste your summer praying in vain
For a saviour to rise from these streets
Well now I'm no hero
All the redemption I can offer girl
Is beneath this dirty hood
With a chance to make it good somehow
Hey what else can we do now ?
Except roll down the window
And let the wind blow back your hair
When Finn pulls up to the Berry residence on a humid night in June, he almost doesn't make it out of his truck. He tells himself that he has no business being here, that he shouldn't have come without calling, that he shouldn't have come at all.
He tells himself all of these things, repeats them like a mantra, but somehow he still finds himself standing before her front door, hand rapping against the painted wood of its own accord.
Rachel wrenches the door open before he has a chance to draw his knuckles back, and it's almost like she's been waiting for him, like she knew all along that he'd be there standing stupidly.
Finn almost faints when she steps into the soft glow of the porch light. Her hair is a little longer than he remembers it, tumbling soft and loose over her shoulders, and he notices with a twinge that her breasts look fuller, but on the whole she is remarkably unchanged. Just Rachel.
"What are you doing here?"
The words are clipped, angry, but her eyes are wide and they glisten with unshed tears.
The question is out of his out of his mouth before he can stop himself. "Do you want to go for a drive?"
He hasn't seen her in more than two years. It is an impossible request.
"A drive," she says incredulously, as if she can't believe he has the audacity to even ask. "Where to?"
"Nowhere. Anywhere." Finn shrugs helplessly. "Just a drive."
Rachel crosses her arms tightly across her chest . "No," she says, and she tries to close the door but Finn lunges after her, pressing his palm against the screen to prop it open.
"We're not teenagers anymore, Finn," Rachel says, her voice constricted, as if the weight of all her twenty four years was pressing down hard on her chest.
"But what have we got to lose?" he counters, and his voice is a plea.
She studies him for a long moment, her face a ribbon of moonlight.
"Fine," she says tersely. "Give me a minute to get my purse."
The screen door slams shut behind her like a gunshot and moments later he can hear the quiet echo of her footsteps on the polished wood floor. The canned laughter from whatever sitcom Leroy and Hiram are watching floats out onto the porch and Finn fiddles nervously with the fraying hem of his Led Zeppelin t-shirt.
After an eternity, Rachel emerges, a small beaded bag slung over one shoulder. Her eyes look brigher, and Finn thinks that maybe she put some lip gloss on.
He really wants to kiss her.
"Well, let's go then," she says, and her voice is hard. Rachel traipses over to his truck and climbs in the passenger seat; she does not give him a chance to help her.
Finn slides behind the wheel with his heart beating so violently against his ribcage he wonders if Rachel can hear it.
She stares wordlessly out the window as Finn backs out of the driveway, so he lets the radio make conversation for them. There's some old CCR playing over one of Lima's twelve classic rock stations that he can't remember the name of (and no offense to John Fogherty, but Finn's pretty sure all those songs sound the same anyway).
He feels the silence between them fill up with all the months and weeks they've spent apart.
Rachel had dropped out of Julliard her junior year after snagging the leading role in a much-anticipated new musical. He remembers the way her voice had sounded on the phone when she'd broken the news – full of false bravado that couldn't conceal the uncertainty beneath it.
It's a hard decision, I know. But being a star is all about making hard decisions, Finn. Besides, it's clear that I don't need a silly piece of paper to succeed in this city – my talent will speak for itself.
After being in a long-distance relationship for almost three years, he had been used to communicating with Rachel only irregularly at best, but the three months she spent workshopping that show were some of the longest of Finn's life. He'd been lucky to catch her once a week, and when he did her voice had always been tired and thin; she grew frustrated with him easily, she hung up in tears on more than one occasion.
The show had opened for previews in May, and it was universally lambasted by critics – Rachel's performance especially. They labeled her "one-dimensional" and "melodramatic" and a bunch of other words that Finn didn't quite understand. He'd called her again and again and again, dialing ad nauseam, leaving her reassuring voice-mails until his voice was hoarse but still she wouldn't pick up.
The show lurched on for another week before closing down completely.
She broke up with him over e-mail three days later, with no explanation, and the caveat that she hoped they could "remain good friends."
Finn, deciding that her indifference would hurt less than being patronized, declined to write back.
And that was the last time they'd spoken.
The rest of Rachel's story he'd had able to cobble together from different sources: from Kurt, whom she called occasionally; from his mom, who ran into Hiram and Leroy at the Shoprite from time to time, and from Santana, whom Rachel inexplicably kept in almost constant communication with. Because of this, Finn knows that pride kept her from returning to school; that shame had driven her from any further auditions; that when Leroy had been diagnosed with throat cancer, she'd seen it as a good enough reason to pack up shop and come home; that he's been in remission for almost a year, but Rachel has stayed put in Lima; that now she's teaching dance classes at the YMCA and picking up shifts at the Dairy Freeze when she can to make a few extra bucks.
He knows, too, that somehow all of this has led here, to Rachel in his passenger seat, curled up so tightly against the window that her nose brushes against the glass.
Finn is surprised when she is the one to speak first. "I hear you're teaching now," she says.
"Yeah," he tells her, nodding. "At an elementary school in Brooklyn. Just choir, though. No smart stuff."
He grins self-consciously (he has never been the intellectual). "And I'm, um, playing drums in a Journey cover band. No big time stuff, you know, but we've played a couple of bars."
He pauses. "It's…cool."
Rachel offers him a wan smile. "I'm proud of you, Finn," she says earnestly. "I know I might not show it very well. But I am."
He feels his heart fill up like a balloon. He wants to tell her that he's done it all for her, that he'd chased her spirit to New York after graduating from Ohio State, that when he stands in Times Square with the sounds of the city pulsing through him like a heartbeat he can almost pretend he's holding her again.
He wants to tell her all of these things, but the most he can manage is a mumbled thanks.
They drive from one end of town to the other, stopping at old haunts along the way (and the roads are deserted at this time of night but everywhere they go he can feel the yearning of their ghosts and the people they used to be).
They throw rocks against the side of McKinley High, one for every asshole who ever cut them down. They laugh at the neon sign outside of Breadstix, where someone letters have fizzled out that it just reads BREAST in a bright, flickering red. They trade stories about the perils of working with young children, about living with family; they don't talk about the things that hurt, but those things hang between them all the same, filling up the spaces between their words.
At 3 a.m. they pull up to Lima's lone 24-hour convenience store, and they fill a basket with a six pack of Miller Lite and a cardboard cylinder of slim jims, laughing like kids when the clerk narrows his eyes at them. They drive up to Eureka Lake and climb into the bed of his truck with their purchases spread out before them like a feast fit for kings, and they eat jerky until it starts to give them indigestion, and after two beers he convinces her to sing "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" with him in its entirety, and when Finn reminds Rachel that they're parked in the very spot where she first let him put his hand up her skirt, she throws back her head and laughs.
But this lightness is hollow, short-lived, because the conversation takes its inevitable course, and soon they are talking about Glee and their old friends and all of the things they have done – Puck and his escape to L.A., Tina and her Rhodes Scholarship, Mercedes' single and her coveted spot on the Billboard Hot 100, even Quinn and the non-profit organization she's founded for pregnancy prevention among at-risk teen girls.
"It's sort of ironic, isn't it" Rachel says with a bitter laugh, "that out of everyone in Glee club, I'm the only one who became a Lima Loser."
"You're not a loser, Rachel" Finn says. "You're not."
He's not sure exactly how it happens, but suddenly her salty tongue is in his mouth, and her tiny hands are working furiously at his belt buckle, and he's pulling her dress over her head so urgently that the buttons tangle in her hair, and she's wriggling out of her lacy pink panties, and he's kissing her soft, warm breasts, and she's moving hot and fast against him.
He'd almost forgotten what it feels like to be inside her, and the sting of her teeth on his bottom lip, and the strangled way she cries out his name.
She comes as the sun begins to rise and sky is a soft orange.
Afterwards, they lay side by side, the cool air of dawn drying the sweat on their sticky bodies.
"You know, I never stopped being in love with you," Finn tells her.
"I know," Rachel says quietly, turning to face him. "Neither did I."
He props himself up on an elbow to get a better look at her – mussed hair, swollen lips, smeared mascara and all.
She is so beautiful it almost makes his stomach hurt.
"Come with me to New York."
Finn isn't planning to say it, not really, but he isn't surprised when the words fall out of his mouth either.
(He thinks maybe they've been there all along).
Rachel peers up at him through a web of dark lashes.
"You're living your dreams, Finn," she says carefully, measuring her words. "You're making music in the most incredible city in the world. You have everything you've ever wanted. What could you possibly need me for?"
He doesn't understand how she can be so blind.
"Don't you get it, Rach?" he tells her, and he feels the volume of his voice start to climb in spite of himself (and he's never been the boy with a good reign on his emotions, has he?). "You're the only thing I've ever wanted."
Neither of them say anything for a long, long time. The sky fills with the sound of distant birds waking, shaking out their feathers, taking to the wind.
Eventually, she rubs his palm with the tips of her fingers. "We should get going," Rachel says softly. "My dads will worry."
Finn nods his assent, and they dress silently, their bodies casting slender, dappled shadows on the surface of the lake.
He holds her sweaty hand in his as he walks her to the door, feeling, for a moment, like he is sixteen again, and dropping Rachel off after their first, nervous date.
"It was a pleasure to see you again, Rachel Berry," Finn says. He takes her delicate face in his rough hands, presses his lips lightly against her forehead.
Her eyes flutter closed. She breathes his name.
"I'll come Finn," Rachel says, reaching for his hands. "To New York. With you. I want to come."
She kisses him, and it tastes like the future.
There were ghosts in the eyes
Of all the boys you sent away
They haunt this dusty beach road
In the skeleton frames of burned out Chevrolets
They scream your name at night in the street
Your graduation gown lies in rags at their feet
And in the lonely cool before dawn
You hear their engines roaring on
But when you get to the porch they're gone
On the wind so Mary climb in
It's town full of losers
And I'm pulling out of here to win