This is the longest oneshot I have ever written, and it's split into two parts, chapter wise, because it's over 20,000 words long.
Loosely based on the film Across the Universe, set in the 1960s, 100% AU
Told in alternating third person point of view. Odd numbers are Rachel, even are Finn.


Nothing's Gonna Change My World

i.

Rachel Berry knows war, but not personally. It's something she's learned about in school, something that affects other people. She never expected it to affect her, for her to experience the pain of it firsthand.

So it's a shock when Jesse tells her he's going to serve in Vietnam.

"I don't understand," she whispers, a tear sliding down her cheek.

Jesse strokes her skin, wiping it away. "I honestly don't expect you to," he replies. "I just… I have to do this, Rachel."

"You're leaving me," she says, an accusing note in her voice.

"But I'll come back," he assures her.

"You promise?" she asks, her voice small and fragile.

He nods. "Of course," he murmurs.

She lets him kiss her then, because she believes him.


ii.

Finn Hudson has never known his father. His mom always says that he couldn't stick around - that it was complicated.

Finn suspects his dad just bailed, like so many of his friends dads in this cow town in the abyss that is Ohio. He doesn't understand why his mom is in denial.

"I'm going to find him," he vows.

His mom rolls her eyes.

"I will," he insists. "I don't know why you want to just pretend he doesn't exist, but I think I deserve to know."

His mom sighs, her body tense as she puts down the plate she's washing. "He doesn't owe me anything, Finn, you have to understand that."

"I can't," Finn says quietly. "You're – you're amazing, Mom, and he just walked out on us—"

"He didn't," his mom says quietly. "He… he never knew about you, Finn."

Finn gapes at her. "Wh – what?"

"He never knew you were even born," she says quietly. She takes in a deep breath. "I was – I was the other woman, Finn. He had a wife. It was – it was a short thing, what he and I had, but… it produced you."

Finn just stares at her some more.

"Finn, honey," she says quietly.

"He – he doesn't know I exist?"

She shakes her head.

"Do you – do you even know anything about him?" Finn stutters.

"He went home to New Jersey, the last I saw of him. I – I think he got a teaching job at Princeton."

"Shit," Finn breathes, and his mom doesn't even scold him for using such crass language. How is he supposed to show up at Princeton and track down his long lost dad? How is he supposed to go up and say 'well, hey there, professor, I'm your bastard son'?

"See, Finn, it's no use—"

"I'm still going." His words surprise even him, but he knows he means them.

"What, to New Jersey?" his mom asks.

He swallows, nodding. He doesn't understand it, but he still has to go, still has to meet his father – at least once.

His mother sighs, but she doesn't say anything else.

So he packs up his bags that night, and he's gone by morning, leaving Ohio behind.


iii.

Jesse ships out the Wednesday before Rachel begins her last year of high school.

"Be careful," Rachel says, her voice low and tender as she grips his arm.

He smiles. "Don't worry about me."

He kisses her goodbye then, and she tries not to focus on the knot in her stomach. He lets go of her, ignoring the tears that spill down her cheek, and he heads toward the bus ready to take him away.

She raises her hand in farewell.

He doesn't turn back around.


iv.

Finn's never been to New Jersey before, let alone somewhere as prestigious as the campus of Princeton University. He feels out of place the minute he sets foot on the lawn.

He's so busy admiring the campus that he runs smack into another guy, sending both of them sprawling. The guy – who has a long strip of hair down his head and that's it – quickly scrambles up, trying to collect the various papers scattered across the grass.

"Here, lemme help you," Finn says quickly, hurrying up as well.

"You new here?" the guy asks, straightening up as Finn tracks down the few remaining papers.

Finn offers him his papers. "Just lookin' for someone."

The guy grins. "Maybe I could help. I'm Noah Puckerman, but most everyone calls me Puck." He offers Finn his hand.

Finn shakes it. "Finn Hudson."

"What brings you to Princeton, Finn?"

Finn sighs, glancing up at one of the nearby building. "'M looking for my dad."

"He a professor here?" Puck asks.

"'S what I hear," Finn answers.

"Well, we should look into that. There's a registry in the library," Puck says. He turns around and begins to walk, stopping after a few feet to glance back at Finn, who is still rooted to his spot. "You comin'?" he calls.

Finn hurries after him. "You a student here?" he asks once he catches up.

Puck smirks. "In theory, yes. But in reality? I only go to a fourth of the classes and drink the night away."

Finn laughs. "Sounds like the life."

"It is," Puck assures him. "But my mom and step dad are about sick of it, I reckon."

He leads Finn over to a building with a dome-shaped roof, opening the door, and they both duck inside. "Where do we start?" Puck asks. "I've never actually been in here before."

Finn stares at him in disbelief. "You've never even been here before?"

Puck shrugs. "Told you I only go here in spirit, man."

Finn laughs, ducking his head.

"What are you boys doin'?"

Finn turns around to see a man in a janitor's uniform eyeing them suspiciously.

"Looking for someone," Puck says. "A professor of sorts."

"Well, I know the campus pretty well," the man says. "Maybe I could help. What's his name?"

Puck looks at Finn expectantly. Finn clears his throat, then says, "Hudson. C-Christopher Hudson."

The janitor sighs. "Well, I dunno about a professor, but I just replaced a Christopher Hudson not too long ago."

Finn's heart pounds in his chest. "D'you know where he is now?"

The janitor eyes him carefully, then says, "Shipped out to 'Nam, didn't he? Then he got himself killed, I heard."

The room starts to spin, and Finn grips a desk to steady himself. Dead dead dead dead dead. The word echoes over and over again in his head. His father is dead and he never got to meet him and he never even knew he existed.

"You okay, man?" Puck's face swims across his vision, and Finn fights to move, fights to nod, and somehow he succeeds, the movement slow and jerky but a nod nonetheless.

"C'mon," Puck says quietly, putting one arm under Finn's armpit and hauling him up. "Let's get you back to the dorm."

Finn doesn't resist, just focuses on moving his feet and breathing, moving his feet and breathing.

"Sorry, dude," Puck says once they make it out of the library. "That – that must be tough, hearing news like that."

"I never even knew him," Finn manages to croak out. "And he – he didn't even know about me. All my life, I've just… I wondered about him, and now I'll never know."

Puck nods sympathetically. "C'mon, bro, you're crashing at my place."

Finn doesn't protest, just lets Puck guide him through campus.

It's not like he has anywhere better to go anyways.


v.

"Rachel, you have mail!" her stepmother, Rebecca, calls.

Rachel races down the stairs, practically taking them two at a time.

Her stepmother raises her eyebrows, an amused expression on her face. "Were you waiting for anything in particular?"

Rachel laughs, rolling her eyes good-naturedly, holding out her hand for the letter.

Her stepmother places it on her palm, and Rachel flies back up the stairs. "Let us know what Jesse has to say!" she calls after her.

Rachel grins, flopping down onto her bed and sliding open the envelope. She scans the letter eagerly, and her smile fades as she reads the three short, concise paragraphs.

The first two are about the conditions of Vietnam and the procedures they go through daily.

The third paragraph simply says, Everything's fine here. Hope everything's okay with you. Talk to you soon.

No I miss you. No I love you. No Nothing's the same without you here. No nothing to indicate she was special to him.

Tears well up in her eyes and she furiously wipes them away. Jesse always says crying is for the weak and simple minded.

She just thought they had something special, but apparently not, because he left her to fight halfway across the world, and he doesn't even think she's worth writing a heartfelt letter to.

She stares at the letter for a few seconds before her fingers reach out and rip it in half. She holds the two halves in her hands, breathing heavily, and then she dissolves into tears.

She shouldn't be worrying about a letter; Jesse is just preoccupied. He loves her, he does. He has to miss her.

She sobs, clutching her pillow to her. She cries until she falls asleep.


vi.

Finn's somehow managed to stay in Puck's dorm without getting caught, although it could have to do with the fact that Puck rarely goes to class, so no one really notices he's at the university either.

"And your mom and stepdad are cool with that?" Finn asks.

Puck laughs. "You should meet 'em, then you'll know." He looks thoughtful for a second, then he says, "Actually, what're you doing for Thanksgiving?"

Finn hasn't planned that far. He doesn't really want to go back home to Lima and face his mom. "Nothin'," he replies.

Puck smirks. "Looks like you're coming home with me then."

So Finn backs up his few belongings and heads with Puck to his stepdad's home further upstate.

He's never had much of a proper Thanksgiving before anyway.

vii.

Rachel sighs, shutting her locker.

"No word from Jesse?" her best friend, Tina, asks knowingly.

Rachel shakes her head. "Nothing since that first letter."

Tina pats her arm sympathetically as they head out the main school doors. Then she smiles, pointing over Rachel's shoulder.

Rachel turns to see her stepbrother, Noah, parked in the front parking lot usually reserved for teachers, smirking at her as he holds his hand up in a wave.

Rachel rolls her eyes.

"Have a great Thanksgiving!" Tina calls after her as she heads over to Noah's car.

Rachel waves goodbye.

As she approaches the car she notices someone else is already in the front seat. She's never seen him before. He's probably about a year or two older than her – Noah's age, maybe. He has brown eyes and dark brown hair, a sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of his nose.

"Hey, Rachel, when did Tina get tits?"

Rachel stops staring at the guy in Noah's car to glare at Noah himself instead. "Do you always have to be so crude, Noah? It's nice to see you, too."

He just smirks at her. "Climb in the back, sis."

She rolls her eyes, throwing her backpack in the back and hauling herself over the edge of the car. She feels pressure on her arm and looks up to see the dark-haired stranger helping to pull her in.

"Thanks," she mutters once she's situated.

He nods, giving her a little half-smile. "I'm Finn," he says, sticking out his hand. "And I'm, uh, staying for Thanksgiving."

She raises her eyebrows, glancing at Noah. "Do Dad and Rebecca know?"

He laughs. "Nope, but I can't wait to see the looks on their faces."

She rolls her eyes once more, taking Finn's outstretched hand. "I'm Rachel, and I don't know how you came to befriend my stepbrother, but I suggest you get out while you can."

"Funny," Noah remarks acidly.

Rachel shoots him a sarcastic smile, and Finn laughs.

"Do you go to Princeton, too?" she asks.

Finn ducks his head, glancing over at Noah. "Something like that."

Rachel doesn't ask more, but she has a feeling that this Thanksgiving will certainly be eventful.


viii.

This is, without a doubt, the most awkward Thanksgiving dinner Finn has ever been to in his life. Granted, he hasn't been to many, but he highly doubts that most Thanksgivings consist of constant back and forth arguments between two parents and one son, like what's been happening with Puck, his mom, and stepdad.

"So you haven't decided on a major?" Puck's mom asks, her voice flat.

Puck shrugs. "I have, it's just not classified as a 'major,' per se."

Mr. Berry – Rachel's dad and Puck's stepdad – says, "Enlighten us."

"I just didn't think the dean would find it appropriate if I proposed 'Getting Wasted' as a major."

Mr. Berry – and he did tell Finn to call him that – turns a scary shade of red. "Are you wasting my – and your mother's – hard earned money toward your education? You just get drunk and high, boy? Do you even go to class?"

Puck licks his lips. "Define 'go to class.'"

Mr. Berry slams his fist down on the table then, and Rachel stands up quietly. "Daddy, think about your anger, and try to channel it into something more positive."

He glares at her.

She sighs, recognizing defeat. "Finn? There's something I need to show you outside."

He raises his eyebrows, but there's something about her expression that makes him stand up and follow her out of the room. She grabs his hand without hesitation once they're out of the dining room, tugging him out onto the front porch right as the shouting starts.

"He loves to antagonize them," Rachel says quietly, sitting on the steps.

Finn hesitates, then sits beside her. He doesn't say anything, just sits.

"He likes pushing buttons," Rachel goes on. "Our parents married when I was eight and he was nine, and ever since I've known him he's been like this."

Finn nods slowly.

Rachel clears her throat, glancing over at him. "So what about you? What's your story?"

He sighs. "I'm from Ohio. I – I showed up at Princeton about two months ago looking for the dad that never knew I existed, only to find out that he's dead. So Puck – I – I mean, Noah – he kind of took me in. I've been staying in his dorm."

Rachel bites her lip, then slips her arm through his, lacing their fingers together and leaning her head on his shoulder. "I'm sorry," she whispers. "That – that must have been awful."

Finn nods, even though she can't see him. For some reason, her fingers in his just feel natural. He feels comfortable with her, and he's only known her for a few hours.

"What about you?" he finds himself asking. "You gotta story?"

"Don't we all?" she sighs.

He waits, because he senses there's something more, and, sure enough, she starts talking again a few seconds later.

"I have a boyfriend, you know," she begins.

He feels his heart sink into his stomach, and it doesn't even make sense because he practically just met her and she's gorgeous so of course she has a boyfriend.

"He's serving in Vietnam," she continues, her voice still quiet and soft. "For… for the longest time, I've been mad at him, mad at the government, mad at – mad at myself for being mad." She sighs, and he's suddenly even more conscious of her head on his shoulder. "He's written me one letter in three months. One. I must've written hundreds, Finn. Hundreds! And they're lengthy, too – lengthy and full of detail and love, poured right onto the paper. He wrote me three paragraphs. Never once – never once did he say he missed me, or – or that he loved me."

She sighs again. Finn knows just by this story that this guy – no matter if he's serving his country or whatever – doesn't deserve Rachel. Not a bit.

"I mean, I know I'm only seventeen, I can't know what I want in life, and I should just wait here for Jesse to come home, but… why? I mean, is it worth it? Will we even have anything when he comes home?"

She pulls away then, sitting up and putting her head in her hands. "I'm sorry I'm dumping this on you," she groans. "It's just – it's nice to have someone to talk to who isn't Tina who just tells me how dumb I'm being – that Jesse loves me, but… I don't know, maybe he doesn't."

"I don't mind," Finn says quickly. Rachel looks up at him. "That you're dumping this on me, I mean."

Rachel offers him a small smile then. "You're a good guy, Finn."

He laughs, shaking his head. "Not really."

"You are," she insists quietly, scooting closer to him. "I can feel it, right here." She grabs his hand and places it over her heart. His own pounds loudly in his chest, blood pulsing in his ears. Suddenly he's aware of just how close she is and how good her hair smells and how easy it would be to just lean in and press his lips against hers.

As if she's reading his mind, she whispers, "You know, you can kiss me if you want to."

He licks his lips, then whispers back, "I want to." He leans in, watching her eyes flutter closed, and then he shuts his eyes as well, preparing for the feel of her lips on his.

Suddenly they hear a stomping noise, and they both spring apart. She quickly drops his hand and smoothes down her skirt as Puck bangs open the screen door.

"There you two are," he says, scowling.

Finn sneaks a glance at Rachel. She's still breathing a little hard.

"Looks like I've already overstayed my welcome here," Puck says drily. "Dear old Mom just broke the news that she's not paying for more college, so it looks like I'm a dropout." He laughs, plopping down between Finn and Rachel. "Fuck it, though. I ain't cut out for the Ivy League anyways."

Finn nods. "So what're you gonna do, man?"

"Maybe head to New York," he says thoughtfully. "The city's not that far away," he adds. "You and I could get an apartment, maybe. Two guys on the town."

Rachel snorts. Puck glares at her. "It's just an idea," he says defensively.

"No, it sounds great," she says between giggles.

"Fuck this," Puck says suddenly, standing. "This is one shitty Thanksgiving."

Finn nods in agreement.

"Let's go bowling," Puck says suddenly.

Rachel looks at Finn skeptically. He shrugs.

"Alright, man," he says, standing up. He turns to Rachel. "You in?"

She sighs, but she stands as well. "Better than listening to Rebecca talk about what a disappointment her son is."

Puck's scowl deepens. "Fuck you."

She smiles, grabbing Puck's hand, and then Finn's. "Let's go, boys," she says cheekily.

Finn really can't get over the way her hand fits perfectly with his.


ix.

She can't help but sneak glances over at Finn every few seconds. She almost kissed him. Her boyfriend is overseas and she's a terrible person because she almost kissed another guy – one she's only known for a few hours.

"Rach, it's your turn," Finn points out, and she jumps a little, her heart pounding.

"Right," she says quickly. She steps up to the ball rack, picking up her pink bowling ball. He called her Rach. No one's called her Rach before. She decides she rather likes it.

She manages a spare, and she heads back over to the table where Finn and Noah are sitting, talking in low voices.

"I mean it, let's just head to New York."

Finn sighs. "We have no money, Puck – nowhere to go."

"We'll figure it out," Noah says.

Rachel clears her throat, and both guys look up at her. "It's your turn, Finn," she says quietly.

He gives her another half-smile, and her heart skips a beat. He heads toward the lane.

"Break a leg!" she calls after him.

He just shakes his head, smiling.

"What about your boyfriend?" Noah asks with a smirk.

Rachel rolls her eyes. "Are you really heading to New York?"

Noah nods. "I'm done with school, Rachel, and I sure as hell ain't hanging around here."

She sighs. "I don't blame you. I want to get out of this town as soon as I can, too."

Puck gives her a small smile. "Thanks for understanding, sis."

She nods. "Of course," she whispers. She takes in a deep breath, turning to look at the lane, where Finn is hunched over in concentration, preparing to bowl.

"Oh, and please stop staring at Finn's ass. I mean, you could at least try to be subtle."

She just rolls her eyes, not even bothering to tell him that that was not what she was doing, because she was actually just thinking about how easy it would be to run away with him to New York – and Noah, too, she supposes. She could just forget about Jesse and forget about school and for the first time in her life, just let go.

She knows she's being silly though, so she simply pushes the thought aside.


x.

Finn knows that Puck is an impulsive guy, and going to New York on a whim with him probably isn't the best idea, but he literally has nowhere else to go but with him. He doesn't think he could go back to Lima and face his mom, tell her about his dad.

So he ends up in the front seat of Puck's convertible, zooming down the highway, headed for the Big Apple.

"Isn't this great?" Puck shouts over the wind. "Just two guys, on the road!"

"Yeah, it's great!" Finn shouts back, grimacing a little.

"Actually, scratch that!" Puck yells. "It's fucking awesome!"

Finn sighs, looking out at the blurring landscape. They have no idea where they'll stay, but that's not even what's bugging him. He just can't stop thinking about Puck's stepsister – Rachel.

Something was there – a spark, something tangible between them.

"Dude, why are you not as pumped?" Puck asks, clapping him on the shoulder.

"I – I am pumped," Finn insists.

"Good!" Puck shouts. "Because we are headed for freedom and the promised land!"

Finn gives a small smile and a chuckle, then goes back to looking outside.

How is it that one girl he barely knows can have affected him so much already?


xi.

Noah and Finn have been gone for three days when Rachel gets the news.

She's doing her homework in her room when her stepmom calls her name. There's something in her voice that makes Rachel descend the stairs a little faster, makes her heart beat a little louder. It's fear.

She goes into the entrance hallway to see her stepmother and Mrs. St. James, both clutching each other, tears streaming down their faces.

In that second, Rachel knows.

"No," she whispers. Tears spring to her eyes. "No."

Mrs. St. James sobs even harder, but she starts to speak, "J-Jesse was k-killed while on the frontlines. He d-died a hero."

"No!" Rachel wails, and Rebecca opens her arms so Rachel can collapse into them.

Sobs wrack her body, and she keeps thinking, I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm so sorry. Maybe if she'd never doubted Jesse, he'd have made it. He would've come back home.

She thinks of how she almost kissed Finn the other night and she feels so guilty, her stomach churns. She breaks away from her stepmother, rushing down the hallway and into the bathroom. She makes it to the toilet, and she leans over it, heaving, all of her guilt turning into vomit as it exits her body.

She collapses onto the floor, sobs still wracking her body.

She never wanted him to die. She never wanted him to go at all.


xii.

"I found us a place, bro!" Puck says, throwing open the door to the dingy motel room he and Finn have been staying at.

Finn looks up. "Really?" he asks doubtfully, because this is the fourth time in the week they've been here that Puck claims to have "found them a place."

"Yes," he says with an eyeroll. "It's just down the street, and we'll be renting a room from this lady I got referred to."

"How?" Finn asks.

Puck shrugs. "I know a guy who knows a guy who knows this lady."

Finn sighs, muttering, "Of course you do."

"We have a meeting in thirty minutes, so let's move!"

"That soon?" Finn's honestly shocked.

"She really wants the rooms gone," Puck says.

So, thirty minutes later, they're standing outside an apartment complex just a couple of blocks away. The brick is fading, and the building is a little rundown, but all in all, it's better than the motel.

Puck presses the button.

"Can I help you?" a female voice asks on the other end.

"Uh, we're here to see the apartment?" Puck says, but it sounds more like a question.

"I'll buzz you up," the voice answers, then the static clicks off. A few seconds later, a buzz sounds, and Puck pushes the door open.

They climb three flights of stairs before they come to apartment 3E. Puck knocks on the door, glancing over at Finn. "Be respectful," he mutters.

Finn scoffs, because if anyone's going to be disrespectful, it's more likely to be Puck.

The door swings open, a black woman about their age – maybe a little older – standing in front of them, clad in colorful robes and beads. "You Puck?" she asks bluntly.

Puck nods. "And this is my boy, Finn. We're lookin' for a place."

"Obviously," she drawls. She eyes them both up and down. "I'm Mercedes. Come on in."

She opens the door wider to let them into the apartment, and Finn's surprised at how big it really is. There are three bedrooms, from what he can see, as well as a living room area and a kitchenette.

"That would be my room," Mercedes says, pointing to what appears to be the largest bedroom. "I'm a singer, so my sleeping schedule is unique to say the least." She eyes them both once more. "You'd have to pay rent, and this ain't some sort of halfway house for any delinquent friends you might have."

Puck and Finn both nod.

Mercedes surveys them both, then says, "Alright, you're in."

Finn gapes at her, glancing over at Puck to see his jaw dropped as well.

"Just like that?" Finn asks.

She nods. "I need renters, and you don't seem like creeps. Month's due at the end of every month. Pick your rooms. Now I'm off to bed."

With that, she's gone, disappearing behind the beads that separate her room from the living room.

"We're in," Finn says quietly in disbelief.

Puck pumps his fist into the air.

Finn's actually living in New York City now. It's kind of surreal.

"Shit," Puck mutters. "What're we gonna do about rent?"

Well, he guesses there are still things that keep him in reality.


xiii.

The funeral is awful. She sits right behind Mr. and Mrs. St. James, tears spilling down her cheeks as the officers present Mrs. St. James with the American flag. Mrs. St. James clutches it to her chest, her sobs echoing throughout the cemetery.

Rachel can't look when they lower the casket into the ground. It's just a reminder that all of this is real – that Jesse's now six feet under and never coming back.

She leaves as soon as it's over. She doesn't stay to talk to Mrs. St. James. She doesn't stay to talk to anyone at all. She goes home and locks herself in her room.

She doesn't cry. She's out of tears. She simply surveys herself in the mirror, her eyes rimmed dark because of her running mascara, tear tracks traceable on her cheeks.

She sighs, collapsing onto her bed, not even worried about wrinkling her black dress. Why should such little, trivial things matter now? She closes her eyes, but Jesse's face swims before her, his last little smirk before boarding the bus that would ultimately lead him to his death.

She quickly opens them. She breathes heavily, trying to erase his face, but it's impossible.

She doubts she'll be getting any sleep tonight.


xiv.

Finn quickly realizes that he's not going to end up with an ideal job; he just needs one to pay his share of the rent. So he and Puck go out searching for work.

They try an appliance store, a music shop, and finally they walk into a dingy looking café about four blocks from their apartment.

The manager surveys them both, then tells them they're in – waiters. They barely even have to ask if they're hiring.

Finn looks at Puck, who looks back at him with raised eyebrows. It's almost too easy.

Just like that, they have jobs. Not high paying jobs, granted, but jobs nonetheless.

"We're doing this," Puck exclaims once they leave the café, work schedules in hand. "We're fuckin' New Yorkers now."

Finn smiles a little bit.

He's never really belonged anywhere, but he thinks that maybe he belongs here.


xv.

"I want to go stay with Noah in New York for the summer."

She's thought about it long and hard in the five months since Jesse's death, and she just needs to get away – away from the pitying glances, the stares, the whispers, and the memories of him that are everywhere.

Rebecca looks over at her like she's crazy. Her father purses his lips. "Is that really a good idea, Rachel? You know how reckless Noah can be."

She stands her ground. "He's my stepbrother and since I'm eighteen and graduating at the end of this month, I'll be an adult. I'm going with or without your permission. I'd just prefer it."

Her father shakes his head, but she can see he's caving. "This is what you really want?" he asks her, his eyes piercing.

She swallows, nodding. "Yes, Daddy. It is."

He sighs, but he says, "Fine."

She looks over at Rebecca, who has been studying her the whole time, and her stepmother gives her a slight nod.

Rachel ducks her head as she gets up and heads up the stairs. She knows Rebecca was telling her she understands – understands that she just has to get away.

She always has liked her stepmother.


xvi.

Finn comes back from working his shift at the café to find Puck on the phone, standing in the kitchen with his back to him.

"Who's he talking to?" he asks Mercedes, who's sitting idly on the couch, painting her nails.

"Hell if I know," she says.

Finn sighs just as Puck hangs up. "Who was that?" he asks.

"Rachel," Puck says. "She wants to stay with me – well, us – for the summer."

Mercedes and Finn stare at him.

"And what did you say?" Mercedes asks, her voice dangerous.

"I couldn't say no!" Puck says, throwing up his hands. "She's my kid sister, and she's comin' no matter what. She can't just be left alone in this city. I have some duties as her older brother."

"I thought she was your stepsister," Mercedes points out.

"Same thing," Puck replies.

"Well, we don't have room," Mercedes says exasperatedly. "The three bedrooms are taken, so unless she wants to sleep on the couch—"

"That won't be necessary," Finn breaks in. Both Mercedes and Puck look at him. "She can have my room."

Confusions is etched on Mercedes' face, but Puck just eyes him warily. "I ain't sharin' my bed with you, Hudson."

"Nah, I'll take the couch," he says easily.

Mercedes is still looking at him like he's crazy.

"This better not be some ploy to get in my sister's pants," Puck says warningly.

Finn rolls his eyes. "Dude, I'm taking the couch so we don't share the same bed."

Puck glares at him.

"When's she coming?" Finn asks.

"Three days," Puck answers.

"Hot damn," Mercedes mutters.

Finn tries not to get ahead of himself. He's only met Rachel once, after all.

But he can't help the fact that his heart speeds up just thinking about her.


xvii.

Rachel arrives in New York the first Thursday in June. Surprisingly, Noah is there to pick her up at the bus station.

"Didn't expect you to come," she says lightly, but she smiles at him.

He smiles back. "I was gonna have Finn come get you, but he's workin', so…"

Her heart irrationally speeds up at the mention of Finn, even though she hasn't seen him in months, and she hastily clears her throat. "Oh, is Finn here?"

Noah rolls his eyes. "'S what I said on the phone, isn't it?"

She rolls her eyes in return.

"Good to have you here, Rachel," he says quietly.

She smiles a bit. "I'm glad to be here."

He takes her back to the apartment and introduces her to Mercedes, their roommate/landlady. Rachel notices she's got spunk, and she decides she likes her straightaway.

"You can have Finn's room," Mercedes tells her pointedly, pointing to the room closest to the kitchen.

She crinkles her brow. "Is that… really fair to Finn? I mean, where will he sleep?"

"His idea," Noah says, raising his hands in defense.

"The couch, I guess," Mercedes says, answering Rachel's question. "Boy's crazy. That couch ain't exactly comfy."

Rachel feels guilt pool in her stomach. "Well, I can take the couch, it's no trouble—"

"Oh, Finn won't let you do that," Noah says matter-of-factly.

Rachel glares at him. "I refuse to let him sleep on the couch."

Noah shrugs. "You'll end up in the bed, mark my words. Ain't no way Finn's letting you sleep out here. Funnily enough, he's a gentleman."

"Yes, I'm sure you wouldn't understand that, Noah," Rachel snaps back.

Noah smirks, placing a hand over his heart. "Ouch, sis, that one hurt."

She rolls her eyes.

"You two done yet?" Mercedes deadpans.

Rachel looks down sheepishly.

"Anyway, I have a show tonight," Mercedes continues, "and Rachel, you should come. Puck and Finn managed to get off work, so they better be there too," she adds, glaring at Noah.

Noah grins. "Wouldn't miss it, babe."

"You better not," Mercedes says warningly. "Don't wanna have to put you out on your asses, now do I?"

Rachel's amazed at how Noah and Mercedes (and probably Finn, too) have such a system, a banter between them. She realizes that after living together for months, they're comfortable. She's sure she'll just stick out here, that this will be another place she doesn't belong.

She really hopes she's wrong, because there's something about this city already. It's magic in the air, a tingling feeling in her fingers.

Great things are meant to happen here.


xviii.

Finn goes straight to Mercedes' gig from work. The bar is just a couple of blocks away, so he trudges along, head down, hands in his pockets.

He looks around as he enters the bar, spotting Mercedes and her band setting up on the stage. He smiles a little bit. He knows how excited Mercedes is – it's her biggest gig ever. The turnout doesn't seem to be too bad, either.

He spots Puck in a corner booth with his arm draped over the shoulder of some blonde, Rachel sitting across from them.

Finn's breath hitches and he just stares at her for a second. She's even more beautiful than he remembers. She definitely looks older, but sadder as well.

At that moment, Rachel looks up, locking eyes with him. His heart pounds as she sends him a small smile, raising her hand in a wave.

Puck turns around, then shouts, "Hey, Hudson! C'mere!"

Finn crosses the room, standing at the edge of the table. "Hey," he greets, looking at Rachel. He can't help it. He can't help but feel drawn to her.

"Are you gonna sit down or what?" Puck asks, an amused expression on his face.

"Oh," Finn says. "Right."

Rachel smiles at him again, scooting over to make room for him. He plops down, glancing at the blonde next to Puck.

"This's Quinn," Puck says, gesturing to the girl. "I met her outside."

Finn resists the urge to roll his eyes. Of course he did. "I'm Finn," he says.

She nods but doesn't say anything, but it could be because Mercedes' set officially starts. The guitar comes in first, then Mercedes begins to sing, her voice completely filling the room.

Rachel grips his arm, leaning over to shout "She's good!" in his ear.

He grins. He's heard Mercedes perform at least a dozen times, and she never fails to disappoint.

Mercedes goes through her set, but by the time she gets to the fourth song, Rachel leans into him again, this time saying she needs some air.

Finn nods, getting up to let her out, and to her surprise, she stops, turning back to him.

"Come with me?" she shouts over the music, stretching her hand out in front of him.

He grabs it without thinking, shouting back, "Sure!"

Puck raises his eyebrows but doesn't say anything as Finn and Rachel leave the bar, hand in hand. Finn briefly wonders if Puck would be cool with him dating his sister – well, stepsister. Then he shakes the thought, because Rachel's living with them for the summer and that just has bad idea written all over it.

He can't help but feel disappointed when she drops his hand once they get outside. She paces the sidewalk, biting the inside of her cheek.

"Are you okay?" he asks slowly.

She stops pacing and looks at him. "Not really." She sighs, running a hand through her hair.

Finn hesitates, then says, "I'm sorry about what happened."

She locks eyes with him, a frown on her face.

"I – I heard about your boyfriend, about how he died."

Rachel ducks her head, and a tear slides down her cheek. "He was so brave," she whispers. "He was so brave, and I – I doubted him."

"Hey," Finn murmurs, and before he even knows what he's doing, he takes two strides and engulfs her in his arms, wrapping them around her waist. "It's not your fault, Rach."

She sobs, resting her head on his chest.

"It's not," he repeats. He rubs his hand in slow circles on her back. It pains him to see her like this – in so much pain.

"I had to get out," she whispers. "I couldn't be in that town without seeing his face everywhere, without being plagued by memories." She lets out a hiccup, and Finn grips her more tightly.

"Of course," he murmurs.

"And you know what the worst part is?" she asks, her voice still laced with tears.

"What?" he asks.

"I feel guilty, because I felt something for you that night – on Thanksgiving. Jesse was risking his life – no, giving his life – to keep us – to keep me – safe, and I was just out, almost kissing boys I didn't even know." She sniffs.

His heart pounds. She felt something, too. He knows it makes him a bad person, but he can't help but feel a little excited. Maybe she could feel it again, if she felt it once.

"I'm a terrible person," she wails, and he's brought back to reality.

"You're not," he insists, and he draws back to look at her. Her eyes are rimmed red. "You're a great person, Rach. You didn't do anything wrong."

She stares at him for a second, her breathing still ragged, then she asks quietly, "Why do you call me that?"

His brow crinkles in confusion. "Call you what?"

"Rach," she answers. "No one's called me Rach before."

He falters for a second. "It just… feels right," he says finally.

She stares at him intensely for a second, and he's worried she'll slap him, but she replies, "I know. That's what scares me, I think."

"You don't have to be scared," he whispers, and he leans in toward her.

He's so close he can hear every intake of breath, see the teardrops still clinging to her eyelashes.

His lips are millimeters away from her own when she breathes, "I can't," pulling away. "I – I'm sorry, I just can't."

He nods, taking a step back. "I shouldn't have done that."

She doesn't answer.

"I'm sorry," he says.

She sighs. "We should probably head back inside."

"Rachel," he says.

"Look, we can't do this," she says quietly. "I – I'm not ready. And we're living together this summer – what if something happens, Finn?" She shakes her head. "We don't – we don't even know each other, really."

His heart sinks all the way to his knees, but he nods. "Totally." He's aware of how monotone his voice sounds. "I totally get it."

She gazes at him, something looking suspiciously like hurt in her eyes, then she heads back inside.

He doesn't know how she keeps affecting him this way – keeps getting under his skin only to be yanked away without a moment's notice. He aches for her, yearns to be close to her, even though – like she said – they barely know each other.

He doesn't get it, but he just knows they're connected. There's something drawing them together. And he knows she feels it, too, even if she's fighting it with every ounce of her being.


xix.

Rachel has trouble falling asleep. It's her first night in a new city, but that's not it at all.

She rolls over, and she can smell Finn on the sheets. It doesn't help at all.

He'd tried to kiss her, and she'd almost let him – again. She doesn't know what it is, but something about him just feels familiar, like she's known him forever. She can talk to him, dump her problems on him, and when he was holding her, she felt safe. For the first time in months, she'd felt home.

It scares her.

She knows he can feel it, too, and she doesn't know how to feel about that. Part of her wants him, wants to feel his arms around her, to feel his breath on her cheek, to feel his lips on hers. And part of her is still so terrified of being close to him, terrified that she'll let him in and he'll leave, just like Jesse.

She feels a pang in her chest. Jesse is still another matter entirely. She's not sure if she truly loved him, but surely it's an insult to his memory or something.

It shouldn't be, a voice says in her head. You have to move on.

She squeezes her eyes shut, trying to block out her thoughts. Finally, she drifts off into a troubled sleep.


xx.

Mercedes wants a new guitar player since her current one – Gus – has decided to move to Alabama with his girlfriend. So Finn goes with her to hear some guy her manager suggested she check out.

"What's his name again?" he asks as they enter the club where they're supposed to meet the guy.

"Uh, Sam," she says. "Sam Evans."

Finn nods, and they don't have to wait too long before a blonde-haired guy in his early twenties comes in, guitar slung over his shoulder. He introduces himself as Sam.

"So, what can you do?" Mercedes asks bluntly.

Sam doesn't falter, simply picks up his guitar and begins to play, and Finn may not know much about music, but he knows that this guy is good.

Mercedes' expression doesn't change, but she's tapping her foot, so Finn knows she thinks he's good as well.

Sam finishes and shrugs of his guitar. "So…?"

Mercedes shrugs. "You're good, white boy, I'll give you that. You got big dreams?"

"The biggest," Sam affirms.

"You think you can help me reach mine?"

"If you'll let me," he says, and he just sounds so earnest and honest. Finn sees Mercedes soften a little.

"Okay," she says. "You're in."

Sam pumps his fist in the air, and Mercedes gets up. Finn takes that as his cue to get up as well.

"We practice tomorrow at five," she tells him. "So be here, and don't be late."

Sam assures her he won't be, and he grins at her. Mercedes gives him a small smile back.

Finn ducks his head, grinning a little bit himself. He's pretty sure Mercedes has got a little crush.

He's glad though. The world could use a little more love.

Mercedes just glares at him when he tells her that as they walk back to the apartment. "I just met the boy," she says acidly. "How the hell would I already be in love with him?"

Finn shrugs. "Sometimes you just know, even if you haven't known them for long."

She raises an eyebrow. "Like you and Puck's sister."

Finn feels the color rise in his cheeks. "There's nothing going on between me and Rachel," he says.

Mercedes laughs. "Boy, I could cut that sexual tension with a knife, and she's only been here two days."

Finn scowls. "She – I – it wouldn't work," he says quickly.

"The only ones standing in the way of you two are you two," she points out. "I doubt Puck'd even be that mad."

Finn shakes his head. "She's – she's great and everything," he says with a sigh, "but it wouldn't work out." He looks down at the sidewalk. "She wouldn't want it to work out."

"But you would?" Mercedes asks gently.

"I, uh…" He takes in a deep breath. "Yeah. Yeah, I would."

"Then convince her," Mercedes says, like it's the simplest thing in the world.

He shakes his head. "It's not that simple."

"It could be," she says.

He opens his mouth to reply, but then he closes it again. Because it really could be, couldn't it? He hasn't tried to show Rachel that he could be there for her – that she could lean on him. He could be the person she needs, and maybe she could be the person he needs, too.


xxi.

It's been raining for three days. Rachel's barely left the apartment, mostly hiding out in Finn's room with the books she was sensible enough to bring. She's already read through The Catcher in the Rye and Pride and Prejudice in her efforts to avoid him.

Mercedes coaxes her out of the room at around seven though, with the promise of homemade chicken and dumplings, so Rachel ends up at the table with Finn, deliberately staring down at her bowl and trying to block out the sounds of the rain coming from the open window.

"Haven't seen you around," Finn notes.

She nods. "Been reading."

"Oh," he says quietly.

They eat in silence for a few more minutes.

"Rachel, please just talk to me," he pleads.

She looks up at him. His eyes are soft and sad, and her breath hitches in her throat. "I—"

A thump comes from behind her.

"What the hell?" Mercedes asks, getting up from the couch. Rachel looks around to see a wet, dripping girl about her own age standing in the middle of the living room, a fresh bruise under her left eye.

"Can I help you?" Mercedes asks, and her voice is not unkind.

The girl just stands, shivering.

"Finn, fetch the poor girl a blanket," Mercedes orders. Finn disappears into his bedroom.

Rachel hesitantly goes to stand by Mercedes and the dripping girl. The girl's dark eyes survey her warily.

"Who did that to you?" Rachel asks quietly, gesturing to the girl's black eye.

"Doesn't matter," she mutters, her voice rough. "I won't have to deal with him anymore."

Mercedes and Rachel exchange a glance.

Finn comes back with the blanket then, helping to drape it over the girl's shoulders. Rachel feels a pang of irrational jealousy as the girl gives him a small grateful smile.

She shakes it off. It doesn't mean anything, and even if it did, who is she to care?

"You have a name, honey?" Mercedes asks, steering the girl to the couch and plopping her down.

"S-Santana," she stutters.

"You have a place to stay, Santana?"

Santana casts her eyes downward. "Not any more."

"You can stay here," Mercedes says decisively. "You can have Puck's room."

Rachel laughs, and Mercedes, Finn, and Santana all look at her. "What?" she asks. "You know Puck won't take that." She sighs. "I'll give up mine – well, Finn's – room."

"And where will you sleep?" Finn asks.

"Out here," she says. "On – on the floor, I don't know."

"I'll take the floor," he says, "and you can have the couch."

She rolls her eyes, but she doesn't argue, because she knows Finn will just be stubborn.

"I – I don't want to be a burden," Santana says quietly.

"Honey," Mercedes says gently, "you just rolled in her through the window. You need a bed, baby."

Santana sighs, closing her eyes.

"Hey, do I smell some dumplings or—" Noah stops, staring at the four of them. "Who's the chick? And why the fuck is she wet?"

Rachel rolls her eyes.

"She came in through the window," Finn offers.

Noah shrugs, then goes back into his room.

Mercedes helps Santana get adjusted in Finn's room, and Rachel gets a pillow and blanket out to make her bed on the couch.

"That was really nice of you, Rach," Finn says, spreading a blanket out on the floor for himself.

"Well, she looks like she's had a tough night," Rachel says, fluffing up her pillow.

"Hey," Finn says, touching her arm. She looks up at him. "You're a great person, you know that?"

The corner of her mouth twitches, and her heart pounds at the light touch of his fingers on her skin. "Not really," she whispers.

"But you are," he insists, and his gaze is so intense, she has to look away.

"Good night, Finn," she says pointedly, climbing onto the couch and pulling a sheet on top of her.

"Rach," he murmurs, and she feels his eyes still on her.

She rolls over, squeezing her eyes shut. She doesn't know how she'll be able to fall asleep when he's literally inches away, but she knows she has to try.

She hates that she feels this way though, like he could change everything. Like he could be the one to save her.

She doesn't need saving.

(But somehow she ends up dreaming of Finn that night anyways.)


xxii.

Puck convinces Mercedes that, in celebration of Santana's arrival (like it had been planned or something), they should throw a party. And since Mercedes herself is always up for a good time, she agrees.

So Finn finds himself in a crowded room full of people he doesn't know a week later, beer in hand. Santana actually seems to be enjoying herself. Over the course of the week, she's definitely come out of her shell more, and Finn's learned that she actually has quite a fiery personality. She's argued with Puck nonstop, and she keeps insulting Rachel, but it's more in a way that makes Finn think it's not that she dislikes Rachel at all – more of the opposite.

He hasn't asked though – he thinks Santana might kick his ass if he asks her if she's into girls.

He scans the room, looking for Rachel but trying to act like he's not looking for her.

An arm is thrown over his shoulders, and he looks over to see an already intoxicated Puck. "Isn't this party the best?" Puck asks.

Finn nods, trying not to laugh. "Totally."

"Looking for Rachel?" Puck slurs.

Finn feels himself blush. So much for being inconspicuous.

"She's over there," Puck says, pointing across the room to where Rachel is being grinded on by a nerdy looking guy with a jewfro and looking less than excited about it. Finn sees red.

"Excuse me," he says tersely to Puck before striding across the room.

Rachel gives him a small smile of relief when she sees him coming, and his heart swells a bit. She's been avoiding him since they had to sleep in the same room together, so he's happy she's not still scowling at him.

"That's my girlfriend you're grinding on," Finn says firmly, grabbing the back of the creep's jacket.

The guy stops dancing long enough to turn around and size Finn up, his face considerably paling. "Oh?" he asks.

Finn nods. "So I suggest you get out of here."

The guy swallows, then says, "The lady didn't seem to be objecting to my dance moves."

Finn sees Rachel roll her eyes.

"Fuck off," Finn spits.

The guy opens his mouth again, and then, before Finn even knows what he's doing, his arm cocks back and he punches the creep in the face. He staggers backwards, groaning, and Rachel covers her mouth.

"You'll pay for that!" the guy says, shaking his fist, but he turns and runs, presumably out the door.

Rachel glares at Finn, but he shrugs which only causes her to giggle instead.

"Your girlfriend?" she asks pointedly.

"You looked like you needed some help," Finn offers.

Rachel sighs, crossing her arms. "He was creeping me out."

"Do you wanna dance?" Finn asks, the words just kind of slipping out of his mouth.

She raises her eyebrows.

"Please, Rachel? It's just one dance. It doesn't have to mean anything."

"But it will, won't it?" she asks quietly, gazing up at him. "It will mean everything for us."

He furrows his brow in confusion. He doesn't really know what she's saying, exactly. "Rachel, I don't-"

"Okay," she concedes.

"Okay?"

"I'll dance with you."

He grins down at her, and she gives him a small smile back, wrapping her arms around his neck and letting his arms loop around her waist. They just sway back and forth, back and forth, and he think he could dance with her for the rest of his life. He doesn't even like dancing, but he likes the feel of holding Rachel in his arms.

Her fingers reach up to play with the small curls on his neck, and he's overcome with this desire to lean down and kiss her.

He figures he'd better not though – he doesn't want to get slapped or something.

"I think Santana likes you," he breathes instead.

She smirks at him. "And what makes you say that?"

He swallows, then replies, "She looks at you the way I look at you."

She stares at him, her expression unreadable, then suddenly she leans up, pressing her lips to his. He quickly deepens the kiss, sliding his tongue into her mouth and curling his fingers into her hair. An electric shock shoots down his spine, and he forgets where they are – all he knows is that he can't stop kissing her. If he stops kissing her, he'll wake up from this dream.

She pulls away, breathing hard, looking up at him with a strange expression on her face. "Did you feel that?" she asks breathlessly.

He nods. "I sure as hell did."

"And what did it mean?" she asks.

"It means that I definitely want to kiss you again." And with that, he lowers his mouth to hers once more.

She moans a little bit before she pulls away again. "Don't you think we should go somewhere else?" she breathes. "Like maybe your room?"

His heart pounds. Is she really suggesting what he thinks she is? "Wh – yeah, okay."

So she grabs his hand and leads him through the crowd, past a more-wasted-than-ever Puck, grinding on Quinn (who has miraculously managed to stay his girlfriend for two weeks now), past a giggling Santana doing shots off another girl's stomach, past a laughing Mercedes letting Sam spin her around in the living room.

She kisses him again once they reach his bedroom before pulling him inside and locking the door behind her.


xxiii.

Rachel has no idea what she's doing. All she knows is that she kissed Finn and it was magical and now she just wants more of him – so, so much more.

She tugs at the buckle of his jeans, pushing him back toward the bed.

"Rachel, Rachel, wait," he says, hastily, grabbing her hand.

She looks up at him. "What is it, Finn?"

"It's just…" He takes a deep breath. "Are you sure you want to do this?"

"D-Don't you?" she asks. Her heart is pounding. What if she's misread all the signs – what if Finn doesn't feel what's between them anymore, if that kiss made him change his mind?

"Rachel, God yes," he says exasperatedly. "I just – I don't want you to do anything you don't want to do."

"I want this," she insists, kissing him again.

That seems to quell his fears as he slides his hand up her shirt, letting it rest on her stomach as he kisses her back eagerly. She manages to undo the belt buckle, sliding his jeans off of him, and he gently tugs on the hemline of her shirt. She pulls away to let him pull it over her head, then she quickly mashes her mouth against his once more, guiding his hands to her still-covered breasts.

He squeezes them softly, and she moans a little bit into his mouth.

"I want you," she whispers, gently tugging at his own shirt. "All of you."

"God, I want you, too," he groans back, letting her yank his shirt off. She runs her hands along the contours of his chest, stopping just on the edge of his boxers.

He pulls away, smirking, and then flips her onto the bed, hovering over her. He nips gently at the skin of her stomach, reaching under her to unclasp her bra. "You're sure?" he murmurs again against her skin.

Her eyes flutter closed as she feels his hand on her bare breast, and she moans. "Yes."

Suddenly his warm mouth is on her, his tongue sliding over her nipple, and she moans again. He just feels so good, and she wants all of him, inside of her, surrounding her. She grips the back of his hair and pulls him up so she can kiss him, roughly shoving her tongue into his mouth.

His hand inches down her waist, coming to rest on the zipper of her skirt. He breaks away to look at her, and she gives an almost imperceptible nod of her head.

He quickly pulls down the zipper, and she wiggles her hips so he can completely remove her skirt. She groans a little, tugging on his boxers, and he takes the hint, quickly removing them.

Her breath hitches a little as she sees all of him for the first time, and she doesn't think she's seen anything so beautiful. She pulls his face down to meet hers again, and she feels his erection pressing into her stomach.

"Finn," she whimpers as his lips trail down her body, pressing kisses to every part of her he can reach. He presses kisses to the inside of her thighs, looking up at her as his fingers loop through the waistband of her underwear. She nods again, and then he pulls the cotton down.

"God, you're so beautiful," he breathes, placing butterfly kisses along her stomach.

"Finn, please," she whispers, and she's not even entirely sure what she's begging for – she just knows she needs him now.

"Have – have you got a - ?" she manages to ask, because she does remember a few things from health class, and he nods, opening the drawer to his bedside table. He hurriedly unwraps the condom, sliding it over his length.

"You're sure?" he asks again.

She nods. "I've never been more sure of anything in my entire life."

He grins, leaning forward to kiss her again, and then suddenly he's inside of her. She freezes for a second, and then he does, too, pulling away to study her. "Rach—"

"Just… give me a minute," she pants. She waits until she's sure she's adjusted to him, then she nods, leaning up to kiss him. "Okay," she whispers against his lips.

He starts to move then, and it's nothing like she's ever experienced. It's like he's everywhere all at once – like he's meant to fill her and her alone.

She moves along with him, a bubbling fire building in her stomach, and suddenly the fire boils over, and she's shaking and seeing stars and she cries out his name.

He comes undone at about the same time, and then they're both breathing heavily. He pulls out of her, rolling over, and she moves so her head is resting on his chest.

"That was…" He trails off, grinning down at her goofily.

"Yeah," she agrees, smiling up at him. Suddenly she knows what this warm, fuzzy feeling is in her chest – so she just says it, lets her emotions win for once. "I – Finn, I love you."

His grin widens, and he presses a kiss to her forehead. "I love you, too," he whispers against her hair.

She sighs happily, pressing a kiss to his chest, and then she closes her eyes, forgetting all about the party going on outside, just curling into Finn's side as she drifts off to sleep.


xxiv.

"What the hell?"

Finn groggily opens his eyes, feeling Rachel stir next to him. He looks over to see Puck in the doorway, Quinn peering around him, clad in one of Puck's old t-shirts.

"Morning," Finn groans.

Rachel sits up quickly, dragging the sheet with her. Finn doesn't loosen his hold on her waist.

"That's my stepsister," Puck says pointedly.

"Noah," Rachel says evenly, "please get out."

"The fuck you playing at, Hudson?"

Finn groans, sitting up. "Nothin'."

"Doesn't look like 'nothin''," Puck spits. Quinn grabs his arm.

"Noah," Rachel says again, her voice dangerous. "This is none of your business."

"The hell it isn't," Puck says, still glaring at the two of them.

"Noah, I love him."

Both Puck and Finn gape at her. Finn hadn't been sure that she had really said that last night, but now it looks like she did. He kisses the side of her head gently.

"So this is how it's gonna be now?" Puck asks, his tone flat, looking between the two of them. "My best friend and my sister?"

Finn nods. "'S how it's gonna be."

Puck shrugs. "Can't say I didn't see it comin', I guess." He grabs Quinn's hand then and leaves the room, shutting the door behind him.

"Oh my God," Rachel groans, pushing her face into Finn's chest. "That's so embarrassing."

"You love me," he says quietly, smiling as he plays with her hair.

She peeks up at him. "I could've sworn I already told you that."

"You did," he confirms. "But it didn't really hit me, I guess."

She smiles, pressing a kiss to his stomach. "And?" she presses. "Do your words still stand?"

He grins, cupping her chin and pulling her face up to meet his. "I love you," he breathes against her lips, capturing them with his own.

"Mmm," she sighs, running her hands through his hair.

He's pretty sure this summer is going to be the best one yet.


xxv.

The next several weeks go by quickly – too quickly for Rachel's liking. She and Finn stay in the same room, Santana opting to stay out in the living room. Quinn is practically living with them, although Noah refuses to acknowledge it. Mercedes and Sam strike up a secret relationship that really isn't too secret at all, seeing as everyone knows about it, and he's in the apartment more often than not.

Three weeks after Noah discovered Finn and Rachel in Finn's bed, the seven of them – Rachel, Finn, Noah, Quinn, Santana, Sam, and Mercedes – are sitting out in the living room, and somehow the conversation turns to Rachel and her impending future.

"What're your plans, Rachel?" Noah of all people asks, surveying her intently.

She curls more into Finn's side, glancing up at him. "I, uh… I guess I'll stay here, try to find some work…"

"Don't you have a scholarship in New Jersey?" Noah asks pointedly.

She shrugs. "Dreams change, people change…"

Finn looks down at her. "Rachel, you have to go back to school."

"I don't have to do anything," she replies indignantly. "I want to stay here in the city with you."

"Rachel," he says quietly.

"No," she insists. "I'm not going back there, Finn, I'm just not, okay?" She glares at him.

"Rach," he whispers.

"I love you," she reminds him. "And I, for one, am not going to throw this away for – for some education I don't even really want."

His eyes are sad, but he nods. "I don't want you to – to throw your life away for me."

"Finn," she says softly, cupping his cheek. "I'm not throwing away anything. For the first time in my life, I'm living."

Finn smiles then, pressing his forehead against hers.

"So…" Noah clears his throat. "Does that mean you're staying, or…?"

Rachel glares at him. "I'm staying, Noah."

He raises his hands defensively. "'S all I'm askin'."

Mercedes starts talking about her gig planned for the next night then, and Rachel's relieved to have the conversation turn to something else. She knows she'll have to call her father and stepmother tomorrow to let them know she won't be coming home, but she knows she's making the right decision.

She belongs here, in New York, with Finn, and that's where she plans on staying for the foreseeable future.