When Finn Hudson sees his new neighbor for the first time – wearing some frilly layered tutu and struggling with the handle of a bedazzled rolling suitcase – he's significantly less than impressed. It's not that he's been expecting much, really (Finn's known for almost a month that the Berrys would be bringing along a little girl, and that girls are only good for target practice), but it seems an added blow that she has be so pink and poofy on top of being, well, female. He watches her maneuver carefully up the drive for a moment before looking down forlornly at the baseball in his hand. Finn may not be the brightest boy on the block, but he doesn't think it takes a lot of smarts to deduce that the primadonna in the princess dress won't be playing catch with him anytime soon.
Resigned to his solitary fate, Finn skulks around his yellowing front lawn and continues the long tradition of merely tossing the ball to himself. As the only child of a single mother who works two jobs and has no real athletic inclination, he's used to this sort of one-sided play, but over time the pleasure of counting how many times he can clap his hands before the baseball falls back into his open palm (thirteen and a half, thankyouverymuch) has begun to wear thin.
Today, he decides to try something new – instead of clapping, Finn spins in frenzied circles when he throws the ball up in the air, keeping track of his rotations (and narrowly avoiding tripping over his own feet). On one such wild turn, he catches a fleeting glimpse of the little girl from next door charging in his general direction and nearly beans himself in the head with the baseball, whether from dizziness or the determined set of her jaw he can't decide.
"My name's Rachel Berry and I'm going to be on Broadway someday," she announces upon reaching him, extending a businesslike hand. "Pleased to make your acquaintance."
Finn can't help but admire her pluck…even if it does come encased in several pounds of pink tulle.
"I'm Finn," he tells her flatly. "What's Broadway?"
She fixes him with a look of abject horror and Finn feels his cheeks flush scarlet.
"You know, Broadway. In New York city! Where they have all the plays with the singing and the dancing and the lights and sparkly costumes!" Rachel enunciates each syllable with precision, like she's talking to a foreigner, or a baby.
"Oh," Finn says, not sure he quite understands. "Right."
She seems to accept his response because she takes a wary step closer. "Well, I'm going there one day. And I'm going to be famous." Rachel tells him, tapping the gold star embroidered on the front of her dress for emphasis.
"I'm going to be a Power Ranger when I grow up!" He blurts out, feeling immediately embarrassed at his attempt to keep up with big dreamer in front of him.
"That's awesome!" Rachel says almost reverently, offering him a wide smile.
He grins in return, feeling relieved. "Yeah. Hopefully my mom will let me."
Rachel bends over to adjust her dotted tights and Finn notices her noticing the battered baseball, lyring abandoned between his sneakers.
"Wanna play catch?"
(Finn thinks the new neighbor might not be so bad after all).
Midway through second grade, Rachel comes down with a severe case of "boy crazy."
Mrs. Hudson is the one who makes the diagnosis on a Taco Tuesday in late January as Finn mumbles complains through a mouthful of salsa verde.
"She never wants to play cops and robbers with me anymore," he whines, poking at a lump of refried beans, "and she spends every recess chasing me around the playground trying to give me a stupid kiss."
His mother offers him a sympathetic smile.
Carole Hudson sighs briefly, splaying her fingers out on the dull wooden surface of the table. "It sounds to me, Finny, like Rachel is just a little boy crazy right now."
Finn crinkles his nose in confusion. "I don't get it."
"Well, dear, girls tend to mature faster than boys, emotionally. So, even though you and the other boys in your class may not be interested in girls yet, the girls likely have – a different idea. And sometimes, when that maturation happens very quickly, it might cause a girl to become a little, well, fixated. On a boy," she explains.
"Is it gonna be like this forever?"
Carole laughs, ruffling her son's hair. "It'll pass, Finn. I'm sure Rachel will come to her senses in no time."
Finn knows the way he's expected to feel - repulsed, annoyed, fearful of Rachel's rabid cooties. But lying in bed that night, with his star wars bedspread pulled all the way up to his chin, Finn closes his eyes and sees Rachel pursuing him, her skinny arms outstretched, a kiss pursed on her pink lips.
He imagines what would happen if he stopped running.
(When Rachel's boy crazy ends as suddenly as it began a week later, Finn's almost disappointed).
Once, during the summer before fourth grade, Rachel bursts into Finn's living room unannounced and catches him banging away at his drum set and singing at the top of his lungs like a dweeb.
He's so startled by her sudden entrance that he loses his grip on one of the drumsticks and it soars across the room, taking out one of his mom's withered ferns in its wake.
"I was just – I wasn't – Hi, Rach," Finn manages.
She doesn't mock him, like he expects her too. She doesn't even laugh.
"You're very talented, Finn," Rachel says earnestly. "I would know. I'm very talented too."
Finn is dubious. "Seriously?"
"Seriously! Your voice may lack the polish and precision that comes with formal training, but you sing with a lot of passion, and your natural timbre is lovely."
"I'm not sure I know what any of that means," he admits.
"Let me put it this way," Rachel says, running her index finger against a cymbal. "You're a lot better at singing than you'll ever be at spelling!"
"Hey!" Finn cries, and he socks her playfully in the arm.
Rachel whines, but she hits him back all the same, and her punch lands even harder.
"You're not gonna tell anyone about this are you?"
She smiles, her eyes glinting with mischief. "Of course not, Finn. As long as you promise to sing a duet with me – whenever I ask."
(Singing with Rachel gives Finn this funny feeling, like the bubbles in his nose when he drinks a can of soda too quickly).
At ten years old, Finn is sure of a lot of things: that his mom makes the best peach cobbler in all of Western Ohio, that the Blue Jackets will never ever win the Stanley Cup, that long division really is the worst form of torture, and that there's a lot more to Rachel Barbra Berry than meets the eye.
A lot of people think Rachel's a priss because she wears a lot of ruffles and sits really close to the teacher and will never trade her dessert at lunch, but Finn's seen enough mud on her knobby knees to know that it's not entirely the truth.
It's just one of the many paradoxes that make up the fabric of his best friend.
Rachel loves show tunes but has a soft spot for Journey; she's a blue ribbon tap dancer but trips her over own two feet in the cafeteria; she wears dresses made of lace and crinoline but can kick a soccer ball farther than most of the boys in their class.
She even agrees to help him catch frogs in the creek behind their houses – as long as she gets to wear rhinestone encrusted galoshes.
"Are you sure you know what you're doing?" Rachel sniffs, an accusatory note in her voice, as she watches Finn crouch in the murky water with a net clenched in his right hand.
""Course I do, Rach," he says, "I'm a bona fide frog expert. Now shut up so I can concentrate."
She huffs, disgruntled, but complies all the same (and Finn doesn't take that sacrifice for granted – he knows what a Herculean effort it is for Rachel to keep quiet for more than thirty seconds).
Squatting so low that he almost dips the seat of his pants into the creek, Finn is silent and still as a sentry. At the first sign of a disturbance on the surface of the water, however, he lunges without thinking – creating a veritable monsoon in his wake.
He hears Rachel shriek and realizes, belatedly, that he should have warned her.
Finn can't bring himself to feel too sorry, though, when he finally surfaces, hair dripping, t-shirt stained, but with a slimy, wriggling frog caught in the mesh of his net.
He turns to Rachel, beaming with pride, only to find himself face to face with the most terrifying sight he's ever beheld.
Rather than returning his grin, Rachel looks absolutely livid, with rivulets of dirty water running down her face, her long brown hair matted, her eyes narrowed into dangerous slits, and her fists clenched tightly in unadulterated rage.
"Finn Christopher Hudson, I'm going to absolutely k – "
Finn thrusts his hands into her face, palms cupped around the tiny frog, in a desperate attempt to diffuse her fury.
Rachel falters midsentence. "Whoa," she says, her voice awed. "He's kind of cute."
The amphibian puffs its chest out in a soft ribbit, and Finn could swear the sound is full of bravado, like he's putting on a show for them.
Finn shrugs. "He feels sort of gross in my hands. What should we do with him?"
"Put him back, of course!" she says.
"I know that," Finn says, rolling his eyes. "I mean, until then. Wait a second…I've got it!"
"Do enlighten me."
"You should kiss him. You never know, he might be a prince!"
Rachel rolls her eyes. "You're crazy. You must have been dropped on your head as a baby."
Finn smirks, glowing with self satisfaction. "I knew it," he tells her, "I just knew you wouldn't do it. You're such a germafob."
"It's germaphobe, Finn," she corrects gently, "and I am not!"
"Rach, you won't even sit on the swings without disinfecting them," he teases, "and now you might be turning down a chance at true love because you're scared of a little pond scum. Unbelievable."
"Is that a challenge?" Rachel asks, and Finn can hear that her voice is suddenly edged with competitive steeliness.
He shrugs. "Who knows! Could be."
Without another word, Rachel begins leaning slowly forward. Her damp hair slides over her shoulder, her pink mouth puckers, her eyes flutter closed, and for a brief moment Finn finds himself mimicking her motion – forgetting, momentarily, that it's the frog she's bending to kiss, not him.
Her lips press against the frog's slick skin with a wet smacking sound, and she jerks backward immediately – grimacing, but clearly pleased with herself. The frog, to his credit, slides out of Finn's hands and into the creek with a quiet plop.
"Try that on for size, Mr. Hudson!" Rachel sings. "So much for your germafob."
"Too bad he wasn't a prince, though," Finn says.
She smiles, kicks a splash in his direction with her galoshes.
"I think I'll be just fine," she replies.
Finn graduates from Heritage Elementary School on a balmy evening in June. All the girls in his class wear white dresses and the boys scowl, itchy in their creased khakis and shirts with ties. They sit on folding chairs on the auditorium stage and receive diplomas printed on blue cardstock. Rachel leads the choir in a rendition of Vitamin C's "Graduation" that has all the moms in the audience dabbing at their overly made up eyes.
(Finn is struck, not for the first time, by the soaring power of her voice – by the way it seems too large for the cramped auditorium, too large for the school, too large, even, for the purple evening sky).
Afterwards, everyone heads to the gym, where the kickball mats and hockey sticks have been put away and replaced by paper streamers and plastic buffet tables and the old disco ball that the school had obtained from the Lima Roller Rink when it burned down two years ago. There's a DJ booth set up in the corner, and even though the dude's wearing a Hawaiian shirt and way too much gel in his hair, he plays a lot of Journey so Finn can't really complain.
Especially not when he spots Rachel striding towards him as the opening bars of Faithfully begin to crackle over the speakers, wringing her hands with uncharacteristic nervousness.
"Do you want to, maybe, dance?" she asks upon reaching him, and her words seem to carry too much gravity for someone who's known him since before he could reach the cookie shelf in his pantry.
He nods weakly, fearing that the contents of his stomach will wind up splashed down Rachel's front if he even attempts speaking.
When Rachel leans up slightly to loop her skinny arms around his neck, Finn finds himself suddenly hyperaware of his surroundings – the way the fabric of Rachel's dress feels, stiff and starched underneath his sweaty palms; the play of the lights on her softly curled hair; the soft, slow rhythm of the music, traveling through him like a pulse; the way she bites her lip, shyly, staring down at her feet like she's afraid of falling; her dark, black eye lashes, impossibly long; the gentle swell of her hips, swaying from side to side.
But when the song ends, fading jarringly into some generic poppy beat, she pulls away and smiles at him, just Rachel.
"You're tie's crooked, you know," she teases. "I can't take you anywhere!"
"Take me anywhere?" Finn huffs, "As I recall, your parents are the ones who carpooled with my mom."
Rachel sticks her tongue out at him.
"And at least I'm not wearing a doily," he adds, smiling.
"You simply have no taste, Finn Hudson!" she harps, poking him in the side. "No taste at all! Hopeless!"
(And even as they bicker and push buttons, Finn tries to hold on to that memory of the dance, grips it desperately, turns it over and over until it's smooth as sea glass in his hands).
Rachel cries when she finds out they won't have any more classes together, but Finn can't bring himself to be surprised.
Now that they're starting middle school, Rachel's taking a bunch of accelerated courses, while he's stuck schlepping it among the ranks of the average and the underachievers. They still have lunch, together, though – a fact he reminds her of as she hiccups into her shoulder a week before classes start, offering her the rest of his popsicle when even that won't stop her tears.
As the seventh grade trudges slowly on and Finn finds himself mired in a quicksand of assigned reading and dioramas and pre-algebra problems that make his head spin, Finn starts to notice that not everyone seems to like Rachel as much as he does – that sometimes people call her names in the hallway, or stick post-its to her back when she's not paying attention, or try to trip her between classes. He starts to notice that he's the only one who ever sits with Rachel in the cafeteria, that boys "accidentally" knock over her tray at least three days a week, that girls will point at laugh at her as they stand in the lunch line.
Once, when Finn holds Rachel's backpack for her as she rummages through her locker for a pink pen, Azimio Adams walks right up to him and claps a meaty hand to his shoulder.
"Charity case, huh?" he barks, pointing a thumb at Rachel. "Damn, Hudson, they ought to canonize you! But that chick is hopeless."
Finn doesn't laugh, but he doesn't tell Azimio to knock it off, either.
(There are other things Finn notices, too – like how short Rachel wears her skirts and the outline of her bra under all those animal sweaters and the way her hair always smells like strawberries and cream).
Things start to change rapidly after Finn's fourteenth birthday.
For one, he finally experiences the legendary Hudson growth spurt – the one he's been waiting years for, crossing his fingers every night before bed, praying to wake up in the morning miraculously lanky. Finn shoots up like a redwood in the blink of an eye, finding himself suddenly taller than everyone in his class – even boys who used to dwarf him, like the monolithic Dave Karofsky. And aside from the dull ache in his limbs and the awkward, shuffling gait he adopts (still unaccustomed to this new height), Finn loves the benefit of his increased stature. He finds that he's picked first in gym class more often than not, that girls suddenly want to borrow a pencil from him in every class, that jocks nod their shaggy heads at him when he passes them between classes.
(Occasionally, he'll even use the benefit of his tallness to steal a glance down one of Rachel's ruffled blouses as they walk to the bus stop together).
Rachel, however, remains remarkably unchanged. In spite of his own transformation, she is as tiny as ever, as driven, as fearless, as stubborn, as loud.
Sometimes Finn wishes she'd try a little harder to fit in.
Once, towards the end of eighth grade, he's heading towards his usual spot in the cafeteria when he hears a familiar voice call out his name.
"Yo, Hudson," Noah Puckerman says, loud enough for everyone to hear. "Why don't you come sit with us?"
Finn doesn't even spare Rachel a glance before making a beeline towards their table, choosing a seat across from a pretty blonde with a toothpaste ad smile.
"Quinn Fabray," she tells him, extending a manicured hand towards him. "Nice to meet you."
He shakes her hand weakly, and tries not to notice Rachel – staring at him with her wide, wounded eyes.
"Finn Hudson," he tells her. "I, uh, think I've seen you around."
He doesn't sit with Rachel again for the duration of the school year.
Finn tries out for football in August and makes the team.
"Congratulations," Rachel tells him with a tightlipped smile.
(He tries to ignore the niggling feeling that he's losing something he might never be able to find).
Finn stands in the middle of his first high school house party, wearing his letterman jacket despite the heat of the cramped, sweaty room, clutching a beer in his hand that he's not quite sure what to do with, unsure of why he even showed up in the first place.
"Rager at Fretthold's tonight!" Puck had told him after practice, earlier that day, clapping Finn on the back.
"Oh, sweet," he'd replied, a little taken aback, still not quite accustomed to his position in the cult of cool.
"Hope to see you there dude," Puck had said, adding cryptically, "And I'm not the only one!"
He's about to call it a night and just walk back to his place when he spots Quinn sashaying towards him, still clad in her Cheerios uniform, the red polyester pulled taut across her breasts.
Oh, Finn thinks, so that's what Puck meant, huh.
"Hi," she says, practically shouting to make herself heard over the thumping bass of the music.
"Um, hey," Finn says, and he can't help but notice that she's standing close enough for him to feel the fabric of her pleated skirt pressing against his thigh.
"Big game tomorrow, huh? You nervous?"
"A little, I guess," he tells her, switching his cup of beer from hand to hand. "Not terribly."
She nods, reaching up to straighten the collars of his jacket, letting her hands linger for a moment too long. "So, do you wanna dance?"
(Finn can't help of Rachel, then, so shy and sweet, asking him that same question three years ago; she has little in common with the shapely blonde vixen before him now).
"Yeah," Finn says, nodding. "Definitely."
She presses him against the sink in the downstairs bathroom an hour later, his hands in her hair, her tongue shoved so far down his throat he expects to feel it brush against his tonsils.
"I think we should date," Quinn tells him breathlessly, her lips moving hot and fast against his neck.
"Sure," he groans, his hand tightening around her ass, "me too."
(Finn says yes because kissing Quinn is easy, because her touch makes his head swim, because when she puts her hand there he doesn't have to think about Rachel, about all the things he's done wrong).
When he wakes up to the sound of furious knocking the next morning, Finn rolls over and cracks one eye open at his alarm clock.
7:17. He stifles a curse. Finn would be tempted to ignore the sound were it not for the fact that he'd recognize that persistent staccato anywhere.
He pulls on a moth-eaten t-shirt and stumbles down the stairs, pulling open the front door to reveal a perfectly put-together Rachel, her hand still flying so quickly she almost punches him in the chest.
"Is it true?" she demands before he can say hello, her eyes wide and wounded, her arms crossed defensively over her chest.
Finn feels his stomach tighten with guilt when he realizes they haven't spoken in more than a week.
"Is what true?" he asks, brow furrowed, because it's far too early for her to be so cryptic and expect him to understand.
"That you're dating Quinn Fabray," Rachel clarifies, her face pinched, like the words cause her physical pain.
Finn leans against the doorframe and feels all the breath go out of his lungs. He doesn't understand how she could have found out already. "Um, yeah," he says finally, "I guess I am."
He sees her bottom lip tremble. "Cheerleader Quinn Fabray? The one who calls me Rupaul? Manhands? Jew Nose? The one who wrote "FREAK" on my locker in red lipstick? The one who stole my clothes after gym class so I had to wear someone's borrowed, smelly athletic shorts all day?"
He just stares at her, slack-jawed, trying not to notice the tears that cling stubbornly to her lashes.
"How could you, Finn?" Rachel asks, taking a deep, shuddering breath. "I thought we were friends!"
Finn straightens reflexively, taking a half-step towards her. "We are friends!"
"This isn't how you treat your friend, Finn," she shouts, sadness giving way to anger. "You don't go out with the person who exerts a concerted effort to make their life miserable every single day."
"But Rachel, I – "
"I thought you were better than this, Finn," Rachel says, "I thought you…I thought you cared about me."
The epiphany crashes into him like a kick to the gut, and Finn almost stumbles backward with the weight of what he's suddenly realized – Rachel's hurt, the guilt that's been wracking him, the way he's always ached for her, deep down inside his bones.
He wants nothing more than to close the space between him, to take her in his arms, to kiss her on the mouth.
He isn't sure, then, how to explain what he says next.
"Look, Rachel, I'm sorry that you're so jealous," Finn spits, hating himself more with every syllable, "I'm sorry that I'm cool, and you're still getting shit thrown at you between classes…but would it kill you to try and act a little more like everyone else for once in your life?"
She starts to back away from him, shaking her head slowly back and forth, like she can't believe this is really happening, that he's saying these horrible, hateful things to her.
Finn can't really believe it himself.
"Maybe Quinn says all that stuff about you because it's true. You are a freak, Rachel, and everyone knows it but you."
He wants her to slap him, to push him, to scream in his face and call him a liar.
But she just stands her ground, pulls herself up to full height, and lowers her voice to a cutting whisper.
"Fuck you, Finn Hudson."
Finn watches her go and thinks that the swear hurts worse than physical violence could; he's never even heard Rachel say hell.
He walks inside and closes the door behind him. He sinks to the ground, head in his hands.
(Finn wants to cry, but he knows he doesn't even deserve his own tears).
"Quinn seems nice," Mrs. Hudson says a week later, after she comes over for dinner for the first time. Finn hands her a dish to dry.
He grunts in response, soaping up another glass.
"Pretty too," she says. "Very pretty."
"Yeah, she is."
There is an awkward pause. "You know, I've been thinking, I haven't seen Rachel in a while."
Startled, Finn drops the knife he's holding. It drops into the sink with a soapy plop.
"Did something happen between you two?" Carole asks pointedly.
"No! I mean, nothing happened, I think Rachel's just been busy – I mean, she's in our school's glee club now, or something, and you know, I've been busy with football, and Quinn, and…stuff."
"Oh," she says, and Finn can tell by her tone that he's not fooling her. "Well that's too bad. I miss having her around!"
(Finn stands at the sink for a long time, holds his hands under the bubbly water until they're wrinkled as prunes.)
He slushies her for the first time on a Wednesday.
It's Puck's idea, really – a ritual he insists is a necessary initiation, the only way to truly become "one of them."
Quinn, of course, eggs him on further. "Come on, Finn, just do it! That little dwarf has it coming, anyway, with the way she's always stealing glances at you with those sad Bambi eyes of hers. Don't think I haven't noticed."
"Quinn's right, Hudson" Puck says, handing him the plastic cup. "It's time to nut up or shut up."
Finn feels, momentarily, like he's having an out of body experience – like it's not him but a stranger who walks down the hall towards Rachel, who taps her on the shoulder, who watches a glimmer of hope pass across her face, who mumbles I'm sorry before dumping the frozen purple slush down her front, who sees her eyes brim with tears she stubbornly refuses to shed.
"Can you believe he and Berry used to be friends?" he hears Quinn tell Puck behind him, laughing. "What a riot!"
(Finn's stomach starts to heave. He almost doesn't make it to the bathroom in time).
The summer between Finn's freshman and sophomore year is one of the hottest on Lima record, with weeklong stretches of temperatures in the upper '90s and humidity so high that even the Berry's poodle won't stay outside for more than five minutes at a time.
It is also, coincidentally, the summer that his mom has him out doing yard work almost every day of the week. (For a few days, Finn is convinced that she might actually be trying to kill him).
And the summer that Rachel starts sunbathing in her backyard four days a week. In a bikini.
Finn finds himself suddenly voluntarily taking on even more of his mother's chores – edging patches of lawn that don't need to be edged, trimming hedges that don't need to be trimmed – anything for an excuse to stare, if only for a little while, if only from a distance.
It's not even just the physical that Finn is attracted to – the firmness of stomach, the length of leg – but the aura of confidence that she exudes, the star power that seems to burst out of Rachel's every pore.
He's watching her rub suntan lotion onto her nose when he two soft hands suddenly clamp over his eyes.
"Guess who!" Quinn trills, whirling Finn around to face her before he has a chance to obey. He kisses her like he is a marathon runner and she a cool drink of water, because it allows him, for a moment, to forget.
Finn hears the slam of a screen door and knows that Rachel has retreated back into the safety of her living room.
(He thinks that she's probably better off without him, anyway. That he could never in a thousand years deserve her).
When Finn settles into his lumpy auditorium seat and peers at the program for McKinley's annual Happy Holidays Talent Show, he can't help but smile when he sees that Rachel will be performing the closing number. He'd bet good money that she'd demanded that slot, remembering the way she'd always insisted on belting out the last note herself when they sang duets together, willing to believe that even as a sophomore in high school her resolve would be the same.
Quinn looks over at him from the next seat over and he worries, for a fleeting moment, that perhaps his accidentally spoken these thoughts aloud.
Finn has high expectations for Rachel's solo, anticipates it with an eagerness to which he has no right, and she does not disappoint, delivering a rendition of O Holy Night so genuinely moving he almost forgets that she's Jewish.
Finn finds it odd, then, that when he moves to bring his hands together, he peers around and notices that no one else is clapping. Apart from a few staccato bursts of applause from the front row, where Finn recognizes a few of Rachel's fellow glee club members, the auditorium is eerily, unnaturally silent.
And he knows that this can't possibly coincidental, because the people in this school might hate Rachel, but they've always only hated in her in an abstract sort of way – to them, she is only a caricature, someone to bully only as a matter of convenience, to shout at in the halls, to trip in the cafeteria. No, something of this magnitude had to have been planned, because that performance was too damn beautiful to possibly move 1200 students into stony-faced silence without a little encouragement, without organization.
When he hears Quinn snickering beside him, Finn has a sick feeling that he knows who's behind it all.
Rachel, to her credit, doesn't give her rapt audience the satisfaction of her tears. After recovering from the initial moment of shock, she merely straightens her back, points her chin, and strides briskly off stage – her dignity intact.
She is so brave and beautiful that it makes Finn want to cry.
"I need to talk to you," Finn hisses, taking Quinn's wrist, as they file out of the auditorium. She follows him dutifully to his locker, her curled ponytail swinging.
"Well?" she asks, "what's so important, then?"
He clenches his fists in an attempt to compose himself. "Were you responsible for – for what happened in there, just now? With Rachel?"
She smirks, mistaking his anger for pride. "Guilty as charged! I have to admit, when I made the facebook group, I had no idea it would be this successful – but did you see the look on her face? I wish I would have taken a picture!"
"What is wrong with you?" Finn asks before he can stop himself, and Quinn recoils as if he's slapped her.
"How can you get off like this, doing something so…mean? What did Rachel ever do to you? Why do you act this way?" He demands, taking a step closer to her with every question.
"Whoa, someone's got their panties in a twist today," she says, raising a perfectly manicured eyebrow. "What's gotten into you? This is Berry, we're talking about. She's a total loser, Finn, and she deserves everything coming to her."
Finn can feel the tendons in his neck start to tighten, his face flushing red. "She deserves nothing but all the success in the world!" he tells her, shouting now. "Rachel isn't a loser – she's special. She works harder than anyone else in this school – no, in this town – and she's got more talent in her damn pinky than most of us have in our whole bodies. And you know what? I think you know that deep down inside, you know that, and it scares you. That Rachel Barbra Berry is going to be a star someday, and it's the jerks like you and me who are headed nowhere fast."
Quinn stares at him, openmouthed. "Who are you?" she says finally, like she's seeing him clearly for the first time.
"Not your boyfriend, that's for sure," Finn says, turning away from her. "I'm breaking up with you."
She scuttles around him, throwing out her arms to block his path. "You can't do that!"
"Watch me," he says, shoving past her roughly.
"You're making a big mistake!" Quinn wails at his retreating figure.
"No," Finn tells her, without turning around. "I'm fixing one."
He doesn't bother going to tenth period, doesn't even stop by his locker to collect his things, just heads out the big red double doors of McKinley high and sucks down deep gulps of winter air as desperately as a drowning man.
Finn knows, only, that he needs to see Rachel, feels her name coursing through him like a pulse.
The five mile walk back to his neighborhood takes longer than he expects, and by the time Finn finds himself standing on the Berry's front porch, he is drenched in sweat despite the chill.
This time, he isn't too chicken shit to knock. In fact, Finn pounds on the door, bangs it with his fists until he thinks they'll bleed, shouts Rachel's name at the top of his lungs, filled with a sense of urgency that has his heart beating so hard it's a wonder he doesn't crack a rib.
After an eternity, Rachel wrenches the door halfway open. She is drawn back, standing in the shadows, but Finn can still see that her eyes are swollen and red-rimmed.
"What, have you come here to gloat?" she demands, and her voice trembles. "I have to give you credit, that was some stunt you and your little friends pulled today. Bravo, really."
He starts to reach out a hand to wipe away her tears, but thinks better of it, and shoves it in his pocket instead. "Rachel, listen, I am so sorry about what happened today – and not just today, but, God, I've been such an ass to you, for no reason, and for that I understand if you never want to forgive me – but, Rachel, I had nothing to do with what happened in the auditorium. I would never. I wish I could take back everything, take back the last fucking year and a half of my life. I just want to be your friend again."
"That was a real pretty, speech, Finn. Now forgive me if I still think you're full of shit," Rachel says, backing away from the threshold.
"Rachel, please!" Finn pleads, "You have to believe me!"
"Give me one good reason why I should trust you."
"Because I think I'm in love with you!" he shouts, the words slipping from his mouth before he can stop them.
She slams the door in his face.
Finn's sleep deprived and struggling to pull his trashcan up the ice driveway the next morning when he notices Rachel walking towards him, clutching something in her gloved hands.
Wordlessly, she thrusts a sheet of pink paper in his face. Finn lifts to his face and sniffs. Lemon scented.
"What's this?" he asks, squinting at Rachel's loopy handwriting (he always has had trouble reading cursive).
"My conditions," she says flatly, pinching the fabric of her coat between two fingers.
"For friendship," Rachel clarifies. "If you truly want to be my friend again, then there are a few key things about your behavior that are going to need to change."
Finn turns his attention back to Rachel's list, resisting the urge to smile when he notices that she's used gold star stickers in lieu of bullet points. It reads as follows:
You will not slushie anyone ever again – and I mean ever!
You will eat lunch with me in the cafeteria at least once a week
You will reinstate my open invitation to Taco Tuesday (I miss Carole terribly, and I hope it's not presumptuous to assume that she misses my company as well)
You will join the glee club
"Glee club, though?" he asks, brows knitted, voice laced with obvious trepidation.
Rachel presses her mouth into a thin line. "Do you want to be my friend or not?" she snaps, and then adds softly, "Look Finn, I know you don't like the idea of putting into jeopardy some of that popularity that's so precious to you, but as someone who still cares deeply about you – as much as I hate to admit it – I can't just stand by and watch you let all that talent go to waste."
"I'll do it," Finn tells her, this time without a trace hesitation. "I'll do anything. Whatever you want."
She cranes her neck to look up at him, and he swears that he sees the ghost of a smile on her lips.
"Well, alright. I guess you should start by inviting me in for breakfast, then."
He grins goofily at her in response. "Of course," Finn says. "You know, my mom's even been keeping a supply of that special sugarless syrup you like – I think she's been hoarding it just hoping that you'd turn up."
When they walk inside together, side by side, he can almost pretend like they are six years old again.
(Neither of them mention the "L" word, and Finn isn't sure if he should be disappointed or relieved).
Finn manages to make it to Rachel's locker Monday morning even earlier than she does – quite a feat, consider that Rachel runs on Berry Time, in which five minutes early is still late.
She starts a little like a skittish animal when she sees him, as if she's momentarily forgotten their truce and expects a slushie in lieu of the shy smile Finn offers her.
"Hi," he says, fidgeting, ungainly in his height even now.
"Hello, Finn," Rachel greets formally, opening her locker. "What are you doing here?"
"I, um, wanted to carry your books?"
She fixes him with an unreadable expression. "That's not one of my conditions."
"I know," Finn tells her. "I just wanted to."
"Well, I suppose that's alright, then," she says, handing Finn her bag and setting off in the direction of her First Period Pre-Calc class.
Finn falls into step beside her and tries to ignore the countless pairs of eyes he now feels trained on he and Rachel.
"We've got Glee this afternoon," Rachel says conversationally, after a few moments' awkward silence.
"Yeah, I know," he says, flashing her a grin. "I thought about it more and, I'm actually, uh, sort of excited.
She smiles broadly at him, and he feels the uncomfortable tensions between dissolve by degrees. "That's great! I can't wait for the rest of the club to hear you sing, oh, they're going to be so impressed."
"You really think so?"
"I know so!" Rachel assures him, coming to a halt before their intended destination. "Well, it looks like we're here. Thanks for carrying my stuff, Finn."
"My pleasure," he tells her, settling her backpack onto her narrow shoulders with a careful gentleness.
"See you at lunch?" Rachel asks, suddenly bashful.
"I wouldn't miss it for the world," Finn says, feeling like an idiot before the words even leave his mouth. Rachel doesn't seem to pick up on the corniness of his line, though, and ducks into her classroom with a small parting wave.
Finn's in such a stupor during his short walk down the hall to Mrs. Leister's biology class that he nearly crashes straight into Puck, who's filling up the entire doorway of the classroom and looking even more aggressive than usual.
"What the fuck, Hudson," he spits without explanation, crossing his arms and standing with his arms and crossed and legs planted far apart like some poor facsimile of a Hell's Angel.
"Good morning to you too," Finn grumbles, brushing gruffly past him and taking a seat at their usual table.
He feels Puck settle into the stool beside him a moment later. "What the fuck," he repeats, and Finn feels his patience start to grow thin.
"What is wrong with you?" Finn asks, taking advantage of the few moments Mrs. Leister spends busying about the room taking roll for whispered conversation.
"What's wrong with you, dude," Puck hisses. "First I hear you break up with the hottest piece of ass in this entire school, and now you're following Berry around like some pathetic lovesick puppy? That's fucked up."
Finn rolls his eyes, angling himself away from Puck. "Rachel's my friend. She was my friend long before you ever were."
"Do you have fucking amnesia, or something? Berry is a freak. You hate her."
Finn presses his pencil against the desk so hard that the tip breaks off. "Look, Puck, this is the way it's gonna be now, and you can get used to it, or you can get over it. I don't care which. And Jesus Christ, do you think you could get through like one sentence without swearing?"
He doesn't say a word for the duration of class, and Finn can't bring himself to care when Puck stalks off as soon as the bell rings without meeting his eyes.
In fact, Finn's forgotten about Puck entirely by the time that 2:15 rolls around and his excitement for Glee has morphed into a nervous sort of dread.
He hasn't sung since him and Rachel's fight more than a year ago.
Rachel seems to sense the fear rolling off of him in waves as they walk towards the choir room together. "You have nothing to worry about, Finn," she says gently, laying a hand on his forearm. "You're going to do great. And if anyone has a problem with you being there, they can take it up with me!"
Finn doesn't really understand the last part of what she says until the walk inside and he finds himself met with almost universal expressions of hostility. That asian chick with the fishnets and dark red lipstick actually flinches.
"What is frankenteen doing here?" the waif of a boy in studded jeans demands, hands planted defiantly on his skinny hips.
Rachel takes a step forward, stepping defensively in front of Finn, as if she can deflect their anger with her body. "I'm sure that Finn is very sorry for any grief that he may have caused any of you over the past two years," she says, measuring her words, "but he's turning over a new leaf now, and he is an extraordinarily talented singer. I – we're lucky to have him."
"Alright, White Boy," a girl Finn vaguely recognizes says. "Let's see what you've got."
Finn looks proudly down at Rachel, feels his heart swell so large it's a wonder he doesn't float away.
Finn's intermittently staring at the monstrous wall of text that is Great Expectations and pinching up clumps of grass between his thumb and forefinger when he notices that the August sky has begun to look a little ominous. He can't help but smile when he glances over at Rachel, completely oblivious to the gathering storm, with her knees pulled up to her chest and her nose buried so deeply into her copy of Jane Eyre that it's a wonder it doesn't brush against the pages.
With that adorable, faraway look in her eyes, he can almost forgive her for dragging him out to this empty lot behind their houses to read, of all things – apparently, he can't be trusted to do it without her supervision.
"Finn, you have to remember that your Junior year is the critical year when it comes to applying for college!" Rachel had told Finn earlier that morning, steering him by the shoulders through their local Barnes and Noble. "I'm not going to let you jeopardize your future by flunking out of Mrs. Schoeller's English class. You will read every book on this reading list, and you will read them thoroughly, because I'm going to quiz you after!"
"Rachel Berry, you are a royal pain in my ass," he'd groaned, arms laden with several pounds worth of literature.
"Perhaps, but you love me for it!" she sang, flushing pink instantly when she realized the gravity of her words.
When a sudden gust of wind tears through the tangled, unmowed grass surrounding them, turning pages of Great Expectations – now lying completely abandoned beside him – Finn waits for Rachel to look up from her book and notice the weather steadily heading in the direction of inclement.
She hardly bats an eyelash, though, and Finn feels himself grow irritated in a petulant, childish way – he's restless and bored and he wants her attention quite badly.
So he decides to make a game of it, and fixes Rachel with the most powerful stare he can muster, wagering how long it will take her to feel the heat of his gaze.
She doesn't look up, though, until a fat, wet raindrop falls on the tip of her nose with a quiet plop.
"And what are you grinning at?" Rachel demands, feigning annoyance, though the smile on her lips betrays her.
Finn shrugs, pouting innocently. "Looks like rain," he says offhandedly.
"How very perceptive of you, Finn," she teases, adding, "I suppose we ought to find some sort of shelter – there's no way we'll make it back to my house without getting completely soaked through."
"I'll race you," he says, inclining his head towards the small wooded area some two hundred feet to their left and jumping to his feet before she has a chance to respond.
Finn lets her win at first, enjoying her cries of unbridled glee as she streaks past him, enjoying, too, the opportunity to stare unabashedly at the tightly-clinging fabric of her summer dress. But when the drizzle starts to pick up and the telltale rumble of thunder sounds overhead, Finn catches up to her in three swift paces and hoists her up by the middle, carrying her the rest of the way to safety.
Rachel laughs breathlessly when they reach the trees, her back pressing up against an old oak and one Finn's arms still wrapped around her waist.
He starts when he realizes how close they are, the mere inches separating their warm bodies; the thought scares him so badly that he almost jolts backward and ruins the moment.
Finn soldiers on, though, and with manufactured courage uses his free hand to push an errant strand of hair off of Rachel's forehead, now slick with rainwater. She grabs hold of his wrist when he moves to take his hand away.
"You know," Rachel says quietly, "you can kiss me if you want to."
He cups her face, brushing his thumb along her jaw line. "I want to."
So he does – and all is quiet save for the sound of their breathing and the gentle, steady patter of the rain.
They have sex for the first time in March.
Naturally, they've been discussing it for months, with their conversations always tapering off the same way – Finn's teenageboy question about when they'll actually get around to doing the deed, and Rachel's insistence that while I am certainly emotionally prepared for us to become intimate, I feel that premeditating the moment will rob it of some of its romance, and that when we make love for the first time it should be the spontaneous result of our unbridled passion.
Rachel throws those plans out the window, however, when her Dad is called away to a convention in Chicago and Daddy decides, at the last minute, to tag along.
"My dads are going away this weekend and I think that we should have sexual intercourse," Finn hears Rachel say over the phone, and he nearly chokes on his mouthful of Oreos.
"You're serious," he asks, when he regains control of his faculties. "But what happened to all that stuff about the heat of the moment, and, uh, unbridled passion."
"Oh, I'm sure it will still be passionate," she assures him, "just a little less spontaneous. This opportunity doesn't present itself very often, and I think it would be silly if we failed to take advantage of it."
"I agree!" Finn shouts, before he can stop himself. "I mean, uh, sounds good to me."
"Fantastic," Rachel says, and he can almost her smiling. "Their approximate time of departure is 3 p.m. tomorrow. I expect you hear as soon as you see their car pull out of the driveway."
"I can do that," he tells her, hanging up the phone.
Finn thinks that he go absolutely mad from wanting, but somehow he makes it to the next afternoon – taking up a position by his big picture window at 2:30, just in case the Berry's decide to leave early.
They don't, of course, and Finn spends the next hour with his fists clenched painfully and imagines using a tank to crash into an entire army of mailmen. (It doesn't help, much).
When he finally does spot Hiram and Leroy backing their family station wagon into the street, Finn is on and his feet and bounding over to the Berry residence so quickly he very nearly trips over a garden gnome.
He'd almost be embarrassed by his eagerness, were it not for the fact that Rachel wrenches her front door open before he has the chance to knock. "Come inside," she demands, eyes blazing.
He doesn't hesitate.
"Are you ready?" Rachel asks him, wrapping her arms around his waist.
"I was born ready," Finn says into her hair, backpedaling as soon as he realizes the implication of his words. "That's now what I – that came out wrong, I meant to – "
"Shush," she demands, silencing him with a kiss.
They take the stairs two at a time, kissing so frantically that Finn nearly tumbles over the banister at one point.
"Careful!" Rachel chides against his lips, her hand snaking down between them to press against the bulge in his jeans.
He groans in response, palming her breast s, and he can feel her nipples harden even through the thick cotton of her bra. "Bedroom," Finn manages, "now."
So they climb the staircase even more quickly, pass through the hall at a near-run – an impressive feat seeing as they remain in an embrace, in a frenzy of tongues and lips and hair and teeth.
Finn pins Rachel against her bedroom door and she thrusts once, twice, three times against him before reaching out behind her to fumble with doorknob. When it finally swings open, they stumble blindly inside, crashing against the bed with enough force to knock one of Rachel's trophies off of the shelf above it. Finn fumbles with the delicate buttons of her blouse, but his hands are too large and clumsy, and she slaps them away impatiently, tugging it off herself. He slips his hands under her bra, letting out an appreciative "oh" at the warmth of her skin under his palms, pressing his thumb against her nipple and marveling at the way she moans into his ear, her pupils hugely dilated.
She scrambles away from him after a moment, shimmying out of her skirt and bra, before looping an arm around the back of his neck and pulling his face towards her breasts, replacing gentle hand with hungry mouth. Rachel's breath hitches every time his tongue slides against her, and she threads her fingers through his hair to tug him closer, her heart beating erratically against her ribcage. Emboldened, Finn slides his hand underneath the waistband of her panties, pushing one finger inside of her.
"You know," Rachel says between gasps, her naked chest flushed, "I hate to be cliché, but it takes to tango, and you are wearing far too many clothes right now."
"I agree," Finn tells her, leaning back on his haunches to remove his t-shirt in one swift motion. Rachel bends to undo his belt buckle and he kicks off his jeans into a pile on the floor.
"Boxers too," Rachel commands, and he is loathe to refuse, though he does blush a little as the reality of completely, starkly naked washes over him.
Finn doesn't have much time to dwell on this embarrassment, however, because as soon as he's in the pink, Rachel dips her head to run her tongue along his shaft, her mouth closing briefly over the tip.
"Oh my God," he says, struggling for air as Rachel reclines slowly onto her mountain of pillows, pulling him down with her, mouth slamming against his in a kiss.
Finn drags his lips down the length of her body, pressing his tongue against the part of her lace panties that's darkened with his moisture before removing them completely.
He presses his palms against her thighs, parts them slowly, almost reverently. "Are you sure about this?" he asks, giving a nervous, fluttering kiss to her hipbone.
"Just do it already," Rachel demands in a strangled sort of voice, and then, as if embarrassed by her own need, adds softly, "please."
Finn takes a steadying breath and lowers himself into the correct position, planting his arms on either side of her head, careful not to pull her shiny hair. He feels her hand pressing gently against him – a guide.
When he finally moves, he does it as quickly as possible, because he remembers Puck saying once that it would minimize the pain for a girl the first time. But he hears Rachel gasp, too sharply for pleasure, and looks up in a panic to see a single tear coursing down her cheek and her eyes screwed up tightly.
"Oh my god, Rach, I'm so sorry, we don't have to do this," Finn sputters, moving to pull away from her.
"Please, wait," she insists, her fingers digging into his back to keep him close. "Just give me a minute?"
He nods, swallowing thickly, as she moves slowly, experimentally beneath him.
"Okay," Rachel says after a moment. "I think I'm ready now."
Not needing to be asked twice, Finn rocks his hips against hers, angling his face to press a sloppy kiss to Rachel's neck. She doesn't show any more signs of distress, so he dares to move a little faster, a little harder.
They both laugh when Rachel's mattress starts to squeak.
"I love you," she tells him, her words punctuated by kisses, and she slides a daring hand down his back to cup his ass.
"I love you, too," Finn manages breathlessly, stifling a groan. "I always have."
He tries to hold on, for Rachel's benefit, but he doesn't last much longer – he can't, not when she's so tight and hot and wet and bucking up against him and making all these sexy mewling noises that sound suspiciously like his name.
Finn comes so hard it leaves him lightheaded; he collapses on top of her, his sweaty face buried in the juncture of her neck and shoulder.
Rachel nips gently at his earlobe, and still buried inside of her, he lifts his face to look at her, smiling bashfully.
"That was…amazing, Rachel," Finn breathes, and she beams, reaching up to brush the hair out of his eyes.
"I always knew it would be, with you," she tells him earnestly.
"I'm sorry you didn't…you know – " he says, blushing despite himself, but she cuts him off with a kiss.
"You don't have to be sorry, Finn!" Rachel insists, running her hands up and down the length of his torso. "I don't think many girls do, the first time."
"Besides," she tells him, with a saucy wink, "I'm sure you'll figure it out, with enough practice."
"Practice?" he asks, in voice gone fuzzy around the edges from pleasure.
"Lots of practice," Rachel says, kissing him lightly on the nose.
Finn graduates from William McKinley High School on a balmy evening in June. This time, the crisp dresses and creased khakis are shrouded in red and white gowns, and the diplomas are printed on creamy beige paper with gold embossed text with not a sheet of blue cardstock in sight.
There is, however, one thing that remains the same.
Rachel in a frothy pink dress, looking like a cotton candy queen. Rachel singing their alma mater, her voice ringing out across the football field as clear as a cloudless summer sky. Rachel with her shiny brown hair in curls, tumbling artfully down her graceful back.
She races to him as soon as the ceremony ends, nearly tackling him in an embrace despite her diminutive size.
"We did it," she says into his shirt, as his arms close around her back.
"We did, babe," Finn echoes, awed. "We really did."
There is no gymnasium dance after this graduation, no pilfered disco ball, but after tossing caps and family dinners and posing for so many photographs that their eyes start to swim with the ghosts of too-bright flashes, Finn drives Rachel up to Lookout Point for their own private celebration.
He gingerly helps her out of the truck, careful to make sure the lace of her dress doesn't catch, and kisses her long and deep and slow – the way he hadn't dared to, earlier, surrounded by their parents and relatives.
"I can't believe that this is all really happening," Rachel murmurs against his lips, eyes held closed. "That I'm going to New York. That you are coming with me. I have everything I've ever wished for, and I'm so terrified I'm just going to wake up and find that it's all been some sort of elaborate dream, that I'm still just that gangly seven-year-old chasing you fruitlessly around the playground."
Finn brushes his lips across her temple, tucking an errant strand of hair behind her ear. "Do you want to dance?" he asks.
Rachel blinks up at him. "But there's no music."
"So we'll make our own," he tells her, pulling her in close as he begins to hum the opening bars of Faithfully.
She joins him a moment later, in nothing less than perfect harmony.
Finn looks out across the town of Lima spread out below them and imagines he sees their future folding out before him like uncharted territory, like a map that's theirs to draw.