a/n: this is an expansion of a tumblr drabble, so all due credit to Kelsey for the prompt! I wrote most of this last night and tonight, while in the company of my unstudiously studying friends, who continually distracted me, so I'm sorry if that shows. Title and lyrics come from Athlete's "Rubik's Cube." :)
The world is too heavy,
Too big for my shoulders.
Come take the weight off me now.
Thousands of answers to one simple question.
Come take the weight off me now.
Oh, I'm like a kid who just won't let it go,
Twisting and turning the colours in rows.
I'm so intent to find out what it is.
This is my Rubik's Cube.
I know I can figure it out.
Lost in the playground,
Late night nostalgia,
Open the sky for me now.
Friends 'round the fire, outside in December.
Open the sky for me now.
She sits down with a plate of mac 'n' cheese, fresh from the oven, and she doesn't even really see what happens. Her eyes are only half on the screen, on Finn; she's more focused on her dinner, until suddenly the commentator says his name.
"And Hudson just took a massive hit, and the ball is at the thirty."
She pauses with her fork halfway to her mouth. Finn doesn't play quarterback anymore, and —
"Kurt," she murmurs.
"Hudson is still down," the commentator says, "and the paramedics have arrived."
His stats appear suddenly on the screen, and Rachel nearly drops her plate. Why hasn't he stood back up? Why are there paramedics? Is he okay? She knows his stats; why isn't the camera on him?
"Kurt," she says, and she swats him in the leg.
He snorts a little. "What? I'm awake. I'm great brother, and I'm awake. Did Finn just make a touchdown? I'm awake." He sits up, rubbing his eyes.
"No, Kurt, something's happened —"
"It looks like Hudson is out of the game for tonight," the commentator says. The camera is back on the field, and Finn is on a stretcher, is lead off field by paramedics, and the game resumes without Finn, and panic starts to choke Rachel.
"Call Carole," she breathes.
She and Kurt drive home that night.
It's a drive they've both made a dozen times before, although usually it isn't at night and it isn't at the last minute and it isn't while Rachel grips the door with white knuckles and lets Burt reassure her on the phone yet again that he'll call her as soon as the doctors have something more to report.
They cross the state line into Ohio a little past six in the morning, the sky a wintery grey, and Kurt switches from a CD to familiar radio stations. Rachel doesn't recognise the song that he settles on, but she can't really be bothered to care.
Finn plays football, and football players take bad hits.
They're juniors in college; this is his third season of college ball. He's been to the hospital before, for a fractured ankle and for a concussion. But this is different, this is serious, and all she can think about is paralysis and broken bones and head trauma and, God, what if even worse than that?
Kurt spots Carole only moments after he and Rachel stalk into the hospital, and Rachel feels her heart break a little at the sight of her so tired and so blank, with black rings of smeared mascara under her eyes, seemingly obvious to her husband in the seat beside her.
She smiles a little when she sees Rachel, and she stands to hug Rachel. "He's okay," she says.
"He's okay?" Rachel repeats, drawing back just far enough to look Carole in the eye.
"He hasn't suffered any severe damage or internal bleeding or — they've run some tests, and he had a dislocated shoulder, but that's — that's nothing to worry about, but it's — it's only that he — he suffered some head trauma —"
"Another concussion?" Rachel asks.
Carole shakes her head, and her whole boy seems to tremble a little. She probably needs sleep. "He — I said he had no internal bleeding, but not — I meant — his brain had some — they had to perform surgery because of, um, hemorrhaging —" She stops, eyes flickering closed for a moment as she takes a deep breath.
Rachel needs more — hemorrhaging is a scary word. "But he's okay?" she pushes.
"They said he should be okay," Carole says, nodding, "but he hasn't woken up yet."
Rachel hugs her again, and Burt smiles a little and nods, his own hand on Kurt's shoulder. It'll be okay, though. That's what Mrs. Hudson said; that's what the doctors said. All they have to do is wait, is be patient, and he'll be awake, and he'll grin that goofy grin and let Rachel talk a thousand pinky promises out of him not to scare her like that ever again.
She can wait. She's a patient person. She'll wait.
A few of his teammates show up, as well as some assistant coaches from OSU.
"This is Kurt," Carole introduces, "my step-son, and this is Rachel, my — my — Rachel. She's Finn's girlfriend. His high school sweetheart. Kurt and Rachel drove down from New York last night." Her arm is around Rachel, and Rachel smiles at the coaches, shaking hands with a large, burly man that Rachel knows Finn particularly admires. She's seen him in pictures before.
"I'm Denny," a football player introduces, shaking hands with Rachel. His smile is toothy but sympathetic, his hair blonde and his eyes startlingly blue, and Finn has told Rachel about him, too.
"We haven't met, but Finn's told me a lot about you," Denny tells her. "I love your care packages. I always try to steal the snicker doodles from Finn. They're really good."
Rachel nods. Smiles. "I'll be sure to send extra snicker doodles in my next package."
A little past noon, Kurt takes Carole home to sleep. Rachel refuses to go, but at some point she falls asleep against Burt. When she wakes up, he's let her sleep with his bunched up jacket for a pillow on his lap, and her dads are both here to see her; they're brought soup for her, and they hug her and kiss her and promise her that Finn will be just fine.
Around dinner, after she eats a little soup so her dads lay off, she calls Santana.
"We just have to be patient," she tells Santana. "And, well, patience is a virtue!"
If she stays optimistic, how bad can things really be? And Finn will be fine.
It's what the doctors said.
They finally let Rachel and his family in to see Finn, and her heart breaks a little at the sight of him. His arm is in a sling, his face clean and clear, as if he were simply asleep. They shaved his thick dark hair, and a bandage is wrapped around his head, but his hair will grow back.
She takes his hand in hers, and she kisses his cheek, and she takes the seat by his bed as Kurt stands beside her and Carole sits on the other side, taking his other hand. She tells him much she loves him and how she was so worried about him and how she'll bake him whatever he wants just as soon as he wakes up and can put in a request, and Rachel silently repeats the promise.
The visitors hours are over soon, though, and her dads want to talk about how long she plans to stay in Ohio, because she has another week of finals; the semester is almost over, but almost isn't actually. She tells them she needs coffee. Kurt comes to the cafeteria with her. "I already e-mailed my design professor," he says. "She told me I could send her my portfolio online if I wanted."
"That's great," Rachel murmurs.
"And since that's my only final left, I think I may stay here, but — but I can drive back with you if you want. You should e-mail your professors, though, and see if you can work something out. You have that literature exam, but doesn't Professor Greenwood love you? She'd probably help you work something out, and. . . ."
Rachel nods. She will work something out.
Blaine calls, and Kurt excuses himself.
Rachel isn't a huge coffee fan, but she likes the smell. Finn started to drink coffee at college to help him pull all-nighters, and she loved how his breath smelled like coffee when she saw him over Thanksgiving break freshmen year. That same break, after she confessed that she loves his new coffee habit, he gave her a sweatshirt of his to take back to New York that smelled like coffee, too.
She still has that sweatshirt. It's in the closet of her bedroom in New York. She wishes she had it with her now.
She spills her coffee on herself when she turns the corner to see two nurses hurry into his room.
That's good, right? If nurses are in his room, that means he needs them, that means he's awake. But what if something is wrong? What if his brain has started to seize or —?
Her heart slams against her chest as the empty cup drops from her hand and she sprints down the hall. The door is wide open, and she stumbles in to see a nurse shining a light into his eyes and telling him to look this way and to look that way, and laughter bubbles up inside her.
The wait is over. It's okay again. He's awake.
She moves to stand by his bed, and the nurses patiently step back as she takes his hand and kisses his knuckles, and she can't stop smiling, even as tears bead in her eyes, because this has been the worst day of her life, but finally it's over, and he's awake. "Hey," she murmurs.
He looks at her, face pale, and she touches a hand to his shaved, bandaged head, smiling. He must be freaked, she knows, but he's here, and she's sure Burt is already on the phone with Carole to tell her the good news. "You were tackled in the playoffs game," she tells him. "But you're okay."
He only continues to stare at her.
"Finn?" The tiniest trickle of worry begins to seep into her mind, even as her coffee seeps into the cotton of her dress.
And he finally says something, his voice scratchy. "Who are you?"
It's amnesia. He doesn't know who she is, because he doesn't remember her at all. At all.
The nurses crowd the room, and the doctor examines him, and they need to run some tests.
And finally, outside his room, the doctor explains. "It looks like he hasn't suffered any severe damage, but he does appear to have retrograde amnesia, or a loss of recent biographical memory. It's pretty common in patients with head trauma. He knows who he is, he can read and write and do math, but a period of his life has been wiped clear from his mind."
The doctor talks as if it's nothing that Finn has forgotten a part of his life — the entire part of his life that involves her. That's not nothing. That's everything. That's them. How can that simply have been wiped clear from his mind? It's not possible. It's not.
"We'll need to run a few more test, to see the extent of the amnesia," the doctor says. Carole nods. "I know this sounds really scary, and it is. But the good news is that a lot of patients recover their memory, especially when it's lost from this kind of trauma."
Rachel forces herself to breathe, and Kurt squeezes her hand tightly.
"What's the bad news?" Burt asks.
"The bad news is that there's no clear way to proceed from here. We'll run some tests, and we'll determine the extent of his memory loss. But there really isn't any process to help him recover any lost memories. You can tell him about his life, but that doesn't trigger memories in most people."
"What does?" Carole asks.
"We don't know," the doctor says, her voice soft and sympathetic. "A lot of patients that regain memory do so simply —" The doctor shakes her head. "— simply spontaneously. The memories are still there; he's simply lost the ability to access them. The brain is a pretty amazing organ, and we still understand so little. The best you can do is be there for Finn, see if maybe he wants to talk to a therapist, and help him reorient himself in his life."
She continues, and Carole nods while Burt rubs her back, and Rachel tries to pay attention, but this is all too much. The doctor says that there isn't a timeline for when Finn will regain his memories if ever at all — there isn't any guarantee that he will. This period is his life might simply be lost.
"And you should prepare yourself for that possibility," she says. "I have a couple names I can give you of really great psychiatrists to talk to about all of this, because it will be hard, but the important thing to do is to remember that this — this is a good outcome. His quality of life hasn't suffered. His personality will likely remain the same as you know. He's really come out of all this well."
Rachel stares at the woman incredulously.
Finn has no memory of Burt or of Kurt, of Glee club, of Rachel, his girlfriend for four years now.
And the tests confirm that. The doctors quiz him, and apparently no hard fast test exists, but what tests they do have determine that he's lost seven years of his life. He's lost his two and a half years at college; he knows nothing about his time at OSU or his friends at school. He's lost all four years of high school — he's lost everything that happened to him for those four years.
His most recent memories are from middle school. He remembers his mom. He remembers Puck.
It could be worse, the doctor says. Rachel tries to repeat that to herself. It's not any comfort.
She still cries herself to sleep that night.
She hasn't seen him since she first stumbled out of his room when she realised he didn't know who she was. She's had a solid five hours of sleep now, though, and she needs to see him again, to talk to him. She walks into his room to find his face is pained as he sits up in bed, his shirt half on.
"Are you okay?" she asks, alarmed, crossing the room quickly. Where are nurses to help him?
"I'm fine," he murmurs. "I'm just —"
"You just dislocated your shoulder," she says. "You arm is sore. It'll be that way for a while. Here. Let me help you." She does a hand to his bare arm, and he jerks away from her.
"I can do it," he says. "I can dress myself."
His voice is sharp, and she stares is shock. Finn doesn't talk like that. The doctor said his personality wouldn't change, but Finn doesn't talk like that. "I'm sorry," she says, stepping back.
He manages to pull his shirt on, his arm held so gingerly. His jaw is locked, and his eyes flicker to hers only to bounce away again quickly, and he stares at the ground.
"Do you need help to put the sling back on?" she asks quietly.
He nods. "Yeah, if you don't mind."
She picks up the sling and takes his arm, and he still won't look at her. He doesn't smell like coffee. He smells like the hospital. She doesn't care in the slightest. The sling is on, and she should step back, but this is her boyfriend, and this is her place, right beside him, and he will remember that.
"I know you don't remember me," she starts carefully, "but I'm —
"My mom has told me about you," he says. "I know who you are."
"Oh," she says. It's quiet. "I was really worried about you. We all were. It's really, really great that you're okay. I don't know what I would have done if you. . . ." She doesn't finish. He nods. "Kurt is on his way here now, and he and I were going to go out to dinner, but if you want — if you want we could maybe pick something up and bring it back here. Do you want something? We could go to Applebee's and pick you up a bacon cheeseburger, your favourite."
"I know what my favourite foot at Applebee's is," he says sourly.
"I know," Rachel says. "I just . . . you want me to call Kurt? Or just when he gets here we —"
"Look, I know that you're my girlfriend, and Kurt is my brother, but I don't remember you guys, and my head hurts all the time, and I've only been awake for three days and all these people want to talk to me and to ask me questions, and I just kind of need a break, okay?"
He talks quickly, his voice low, his eyes hard as he stares at the floor.
She knows he needs a break. That's why she thought he might like real food from the outside world with her and Kurt. She thought he would be excited. She thought it would be a good way to reintroduce him to everything, to her and to Kurt and to how close they all are.
"Okay," she says, "of course."
She can't take much more of this, and she smiles even though he won't look at her, and she touches a hand to his shoulder even though she knows he'll tense, and she leaves. She waits outside the hospital for Kurt to pull up, and she doesn't tell him about her conversation with Finn.
She refuses to go to Applebee's, his favourite.
Her professors are all really great about everything. She takes a timed online test for Professor Greenwood, and she sends an audio clip to her music professor, and she mails her final project for her composition class in. That's it, then.
Her semester is over, and she is officially more than halfway through college.
And she decides to take her next semester off.
Finn needs her in Ohio with him. Her dads don't entirely agree with her decision, but it's what she has to do. New York will always be there, and she can complete her degree and make her debut on stage at any time. Finn needs her now. She can't abandon him.
He'll remember her soon. She firmly believes that. This is only temporary.
But he's different — sullen. He's sharp, like he was when he talked with her. He's angry.
He glares at Burt when his mother explains who the older man is, and then he doesn't want to talk to Burt, or to his mom; he even shouts at her to leave him alone, and he completely ignores Kurt.
After Kurt walks out of the room, hand shaking a little as he grips his phone, Rachel turns to Finn, who looks so tense. She wants to take that away from him, to rub his shoulders, to kiss the crease in his brow, to hug him tightly until she feels him relax against her. But she can't do that.
(She's afraid to try. It's only been four days, but it's been four bad days. How does so much go so wrong so quickly?)
"I know this is hard," she finally says, and she daringly takes his hand in hers.
He pulls his hand away. "You really don't," he says, his words short. It's quiet for a beat, and she starts to say something, starts to explain that he didn't like Burt much at first, but he came around, only for Finn to continue, hand fisted around the hospital bed blanket. "These people come to see me everyday, and they talk to me like they know me and care about me and I should remember them. But I don't. And all this stuff has happened that I don't know about, and —"
He cuts himself off, his lips pressed together tightly.
"Oh, Finn," she murmurs. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." The pain in his voice breaks her heart.
"Why?" he asks. "Because you know me and care about me and I should remember you?"
He looks at her, and the way his face contorts with a kind of coldness is worse than anything.
"Look," he says, and now his voice is simply strained as his gaze drops to the bed. "I know you're supposed to be my girlfriend, and my mom says we're really close and I love you a lot, but — but all I see when I look at you is that girl from seventh grade science who dresses weird and mutters under her breath 'cause she doesn't have any friends."
She can't think of anything to say. She can't even think. She stares at him.
He moves his gaze back from the bed spread to her face. "So can you give me some space?"
She nods, still unable to speak, and she escapes to the hospital bathroom before she starts to cry.
It doesn't seem fair that this is how it plays out.
She wakes up on Christmas to a quiet house, her parents at work. She's Jewish. Her dads don't celebrate Christmas. She didn't either for years. But these last few years? She's loved Christmas, because Finn loves Christmas. He can never fall asleep at night on Christmas Eve; he calls her and keeps her on the phone until she falls asleep, because he's too excited.
He's like a little kid.
It makes her think of how he'll be with their kids. (Perfect.)
Or it did. He didn't call her Christmas Eve this year. He's in the hospital. And he doesn't remember her. Why would he call her? She turns over in bed, and she tries not to cry. She's already cried so much, too much, because he's supposed to remember her. He loves her. How can he forget her?
It's not his fault. It's not like he chose to her forget her.
They're supposed to have kids someday. They're supposed to marry.
She doubted that for a little while. Their senior year of high school, she wasn't so certain about their future. They were back together, they were more in love than ever, and they were prepared for anything, but she refused to set her heart on a future with him, not yet.
And then they ended up at separate colleges, and they decided to do long distance, and it worked.
She began to imagine a real future with him again. She won't take that away from herself again.
That night Kurt brings some Christmas ham in Tupperware over to her house for her, and the day after Christmas most of the old Glee club comes over — Puck, home from Boston, Sam, home from Michigan, Tina and Mike, home from Princeton, and both Kurt and Santana, of course.
It's a huge elephant in the room that Finn isn't with them all.
But Rachel tries to ignore it, just like everyone else does. They play candy poker, and a little karaoke, too, just because, and they watch A Christmas Story, because even Puck loves that movie.
It's Santana who convinces Rachel to drink a little with everybody, saying it'll help her relax.
Her friendship with Santana is a college development, something that happened when they were assigned to the same freshmen dorm at NYU, and they've spent nearly every day of winter break this year together, as if Santana thinks Rachel might not notice that Finn is absent, that Finn doesn't remember who she is, as long as Santana keeps her company.
(She's infinitely grateful to Santana for that.)
And it's Santana who sits in the bathroom with Rachel, holding back her hair as Rachel throws up in the toilet and brushing aside her tears as Rachel cries into the toilet.
It's two weeks into winter break when Rachel finally works up the nerve to visit Finn at his house.
She's given him some time. She's let him readjust to life back at his house. She's ready to see him.
He still hasn't regained any memories, and he maintains a resigned, stony silence around his stepfather and his stepbrother; according to Puck, he doesn't even seem comfortable around anybody. He definitely isn't comfortable around Rachel, but she's tried to look past that.
She bakes him some cookies just because, and she tells him about her life at NYU.
He needs a distraction from everything, right? It's her latest plan. If it's hard for him to deal with what he doesn't remember, then she'll focus on something else. She can't make him remember her, so instead she'll make new good memories with him. That's something the doctor advised.
But he only tears her to pieces again. "Aren't you supposed to go back to NYU soon?" he asks.
"Actually," she says, "I've decided to withdraw from this semester."
"For me?" he says, and before she can answer he plows on. "You shouldn't. It's dumb."
"I want to help you —"
"I don't need your help. And, like, you don't have to keep coming here."
He's sitting on the couch, his video game on pause since she came over, and she stares at him from where she sits beside him, a palpable foot of space between them. And she wants to scream. She wants to tell him that he obviously does need her help, and she's more than happy to give it, because she's his girlfriend, and she loves him, and why can't he remember that?
How can he not remember that?
How can he not remember all their Skype dates and all her care packages and all the times he came to visit her in New York and they curled up in her tiny dorm room bed as Santana made herself scarce? How can he not remember their high school graduation, or Glee, or that first time that he set up so romantically, or when they sang together —
How can he not remember a single moment between them?
But he doesn't. And he's cold, and caustic, and he's not the boy she loves.
She demands to talk to the doctor about him, and she ends up with a psychiatrist, her family psychiatrist, in fact, who assures her that Finn is still Finn, that if the doctors told her his personality hasn't been affected, there's no reason to doubt that.
"He has forgotten seven years of his life, Rachel," Dr. Gupta tells her. "And now he's told that his mother is married, that he has a stepbrother, that he's graduated not only middle school but also high school and he plays college football. That's a lot of change for him not to remember."
"I'm not any part of that," Rachel exclaims.
"No," he says, "but you're one more major piece of his life that he doesn't remember. And everyone must tell him how much he loves you, and how close you two are, and that can't be easy for him not to remember on top of everything else."
Rachel stares the older woman.
"Finn isn't cruel," she says, trying not to cry again. "He isn't cold. He doesn't treat people that way, whether he remembers them or not."
"Finn has never been through something like this before," Dr. Gupta replies. She reaches out and takes Rachel by the hand. "This is a hard, hard thing, Rachel, for you and for him."
Rachel doesn't need a professional to tell her that.
She decides she needs to persevere.
The doctors recommend a comfortable environment to help Finn; that's the best advice they can offer: give him a comfortable environment — and not to focus too much on his memory, because they should put hope in his future instead of his path. And Rachel can do that.
She can have patience for the future, and she could provide him with familiar, comfortable stimuli.
She'll help him with music. That's her plan. She finds all their old sheet music from Glee club (and he used to laugh at her because she saved all of it, even when their notes to each other half-covered the songs), and she heads over to his house with a playlist of all the music on her iPod.
She finds Quinn Fabray in his room.
They're on his bed, side by side, his laptop on her lap, together, happy.
He's laughing at something, and Quinn's smiling, and Rachel stands in the doorway long enough for them both to look at her in surprise. The smile fades from his face as Finn stares at her, and Rachel can't even look at Quinn, not before she turns on her heel and races back down the stairs.
She can't breathe.
Her heart is lodged in her throat.
She walks on eggshells with him, and he treats her worse than impersonally, but Quinn makes him laugh. Quinn makes him happy. He doesn't remember Quinn anymore than Rachel, but it's Quinn, smart, gorgeous, blonde Quinn that he wants to see now —
Carole catches her at front door.
"She's been by a few times now," she explains. She sighs. "He really lights up around her."
It hurts to hear that. It hurts. Rachel really doesn't want to cry in front of the woman who was supposed to be her future mother-in-law, but her whole body trembles with the effort not to cry.
"I think maybe you should head back to school," Carole continues, her voice soft and gentle. "You shouldn't put your life on pause for him." She pauses. "It is what it is, Rachel."
Rachel nods, tears choking her, and turns to leave.
Rachel is already out the door.
That night she starts to cry so hard in her room that Kurt actually pushes his fingers into her mouth to pull her jaw down and force her to breathe. But she can't breathe; she can't, because her heart is broken. Of all the ways to lose him, for the world simple to take him from her with no warning —
She falls asleep against Kurt on the floor, his own tears in her hair.
Three days later, they drive back to New York together.
They're back early, but they're behind on registration, and Rachel needs to withdraw her initial withdraw from the semester, and the dean looks at her like she might be crazy, and Rachel can't focus on school and classes and life when her whole world has dropped out from under her.
"My dad offered to stay with my aunt for a few months to help Finn adjust," Kurt tells her. "Carole told him that Finn needs to learn to adjust with her as a married woman. He still hates my dad, though, just as much as he hates me."
His voice is carefully devoid of emotion as he eats his spaghetti.
"He hates me too," Rachel says, pushing her peas across the plate. "If you talked to your dad, did he say anything about Quinn?" She tries to imitate his carefully carelessness tone.
"He mentioned that Finn finally left the house when he went to the movies with Quinn."
Rachel stabs a pea with her fork.
"No," Rachel cuts in quickly. "No, please — don't."
The rest of dinner is quiet, and Kurt even turns on the television to fill the silence.
Santana takes Rachel out to a party on the first night of classes, because apparently all she and Kurt do anymore is mope around their apartment, and Santana can't take it anymore.
It's not as if Rachel hasn't been to a frat party before, she has, at least a dozen times, but they're not her usual kind of party, and when Santana does bring her along, she usually sticks to a single beer, if for no other reason than to have something to hold. This time, though, when she spots the gin and juice barrels, she uses the first cup she can find.
It tastes like sour juice. She supposes that's the point, and she plugs her noise and downs the entire cup at once, because she wants not to feel so much. She dips the cup back in to the trash can for a second serving, and before long she's past tipsy. Santana keeps a firm hand on her elbow, though, and none of the boys who flirt with Santana seem to care that she has a tiny girl stuck to her.
On the walk back to their dorm, past three in the morning, Santana finally complains.
"You can at least try to walk," she tells Rachel. "And if you plan to continue to go on benders, we really need to work on your tolerance, I swear." She rolls her eyes dramatically.
"Oh, excuse me," Rachel says, rolling her eyes too. "I'm sorry I'm not Quinn Fabray."
Santana raises an eyebrow at her. "I didn't say you were," Santana replies.
"I'm sure Quinn Fabray can hold her alcohol, but I'm not her, am I?"
And Santana sighs, stopping in the middle of the street. "Rachel," she murmurs.
"I . . . I —" Rachel says, shaking her head. She feels tears bead in her eyes, and all this alcohol has only made her feel worse, honestly, which must mean she didn't drink enough.
"You miss him?" Santana asks knowingly.
"I —" Rachel starts, and she looks at Santana, and she spits the words. "I — am so — mad."
"It's not fair, and it's not okay, and it's not — I'm so mad, Santana, so angry, so pissed off, because it's not supposed to happen like this. How could he do this to me? How? After everything — but I know, I know, that he doesn't remember anything, and that's the point, and that he isn't doing this on purpose, but I'm still —"
"You can be mad," Santana says.
"I'm furious," Rachel whispers. "I just . . . I just want to scream. He's willing to give Quinn a chance, but me — oh, no, I'm that weird girl in his science class. How is that fair? How is that okay? It's not, Santana, it's not."
"I know it's not, so scream, Rachel," Santana says, and she takes Rachel by the hands. "If you want to scream, then scream. Right here. Scream, Rach."
Rachel looks at her, breathing deeply, tears burning her eyes. And she screams. It tears out of her throat, and she curls her hands into fists around Santana's cold fingers, closing her eyes and screaming so that her throat burns, the sound angry and loud and wrong, and Santana screams with her, yells and shouts. "It's not fair! It sucks! It fucking sucks!" Santana yells.
"IT FUCKING SUCKS!" Rachel screams. Moments later, she collapses against Santana, the sobs overpowering her screams, and Santana clutches her, letting them both sink down to the ground, the pavement cold. They're right off campus, and passing students stare, but Rachel doesn't care.
"It hurts, Sanny," Rachel breathes.
"I know, baby girl," Santana whispers.
They're like that for a long time, until finally Rachel can't cry anymore because she can't really think anymore, her head pounding too much, her throat raw, her face sore with sobs. Santana stands and helps Rachel to her feet, and Rachel sleeps in Santana's bed that night.
It takes a long time for her to be okay again.
She feels out of place without Finn to anchor her, even though she's attended NYU for two and a half years with him half way across the country. But it's not simply that she's lost the ability to text him or to call him or to Skype with him — it's that as much as she misses him, he doesn't miss her at all, because he doesn't know who she is.
It's that she's nothing to him. She isn't his girlfriend anymore. They're over.
She tells that to Kurt, and he shakes his head and says that over the summer she can try again with him, once he's more adjusted to his life. That's his own plan. For a while, Rachel makes that her plan, too. But he'll probably be with Quinn by then, because even without a memory, he likes her.
Her life should be so perfect right now. She lives in an amazing apartment, rooming with her best friend, her other closest friend right across the living room. Her grades are good, and she's won the starring role in the spring musical, and it isn't supposed to be so hard without him, but it is.
She misses him until it makes her sick.
She lies in bed and stares at the ceiling, and she toys with the wisps of hair at her neck, just like Finn used to when they would lie in bed lazily, and sometimes in class she taps her fingers against her thigh and tries to pretend that it's him, back in her life, back in love with her, absently tapping out a drum beat against her leg.
When she flies home for Spring Break, she hasn't decided whether or not she wants to see him.
She really has no idea what his life has been like these last few months. Kurt doesn't either.
He doesn't ask after him anymore, and Rachel's glad. It somehow makes it easier.
But the decision is made for her when Finn turns out to be at the airport with his mom to pick up Kurt. She can tell Kurt is surprised, too. His eyes are apologetic as he looks at her. Rachel only clutches his hand tightly in her own, and he squeezes back. They approach Carole and Finn.
Rachel takes a deep breath in, and then Finn looks at her. "Hey Rachel." He speaks so casually.
She breathes out.
The overwhelming need to hug him nearly swallows her up, but she swallows it.
And then Finn manages a small smile for Kurt, asks him about his year, and Rachel spots her dads.
She hugs Kurt, tells him she'll see him for the flight back in a few days, and he kisses her cheek and reminds her to call if she can't bear a whole week without him. She laughs and avoids eye contact with Finn as she hurries to greet her dads.
She doesn't see Finn again all Spring Break.
But when she returns to school, and she goes to her bedroom, and she sinks down on her bed, the old but still familiar need to cry takes a hold of her once more. She lies back on her bed, and she reaches for the rainbow platypus that Finn won her at the fair two summers ago, and she cries.
It's always been real, yet it's always been temporary, too.
All the evils have been, in the back of her head, past her tears and her fury and her hurt, temporary.
But it's not really temporary. He doesn't remember her, and he won't. He would have by now, wouldn't he? Kurt tells her that night, as they sip chocolate milk in her bed, that he hasn't remembered anything, not about her or about him or about a single moment in high school or college.
"He doesn't seem to care, either," Kurt says, "not anymore. He's taking community college classes, and he's making new friends, and he's just. . . ."
"Moved on," Rachel supplies.
"I miss my brother," Kurt admits.
"I wish he missed me," Rachel confesses. Kurt leans his head on her shoulder. She doesn't cry.
By the time May dawns, life without Finn isn't so hard to fathom anymore.
At a party on her last day of classes, she kisses a boy from her English lit class, and he tastes like some fruity cocktail made with beer, and he has really soft hair. She thinks his name is Rick. She doesn't really remember, but a number is in her phone, and the name is Rick.
The worst part is that she doesn't feel like she cheated. Rick texts her the next day, asks if she wants to go for coffee before the school year ends. She spends the day in her pyjamas rather than respond, watching rom-coms with Santana, and Santana only comments once about how Rachel is smearing her snot all over Santana's bedspread.
Rick takes her out to coffee after her last exam. He tells her to look him up when school starts next semester, and his smile is lopsided in a sweet way. She likes him, and she kisses him again, quickly, softly, lightly, just because she can, and her heart turns over a little when he smiles that lopsided smile at her, shoves his hands in his pockets, and walks away.
She doesn't think she'll call him, but it was a nice day.
It's not hard to fathom life without Finn, because life without Finn is her life.
She comes home for the summer to find Finn all over her room.
His clothing is in her dresser, gifts he's given her are scattered causally among her possessions, and a million memories cover each inch of space. She looks at her piano rug and thinks of the time they made-out on that rug. She sits at her desk and thinks of that time he lifted her up out of her desk chair and sat down, put her in his lap, and then announced that he was bored with his homework.
She thinks of that, and she smiles and hugs herself, and she knows how much she still misses him.
It's easier to avoid her room, to find other places to spend her time.
She can only find a part time job, scooping ice cream at the local creamery; she spends most of her time with Kurt, who works part time at his dad's garage. It's hot that summer in a wet, blistering way that makes her want to lie on the cool tiles of the kitchen floor and do nothing.
It's two weeks into summer when, with Kurt, she inevitably runs into Finn.
They're at his house, and he comes downstairs to grab a soda from the kitchen. She doesn't even notice him at first. She continues to belt out Celine into Kurt's brand new karaoke machine, and Kurt dances beside her, adding a little background harmony. But then she spins around in an elaborate curtsey, breathless and happy, and she finally catches sight of Finn.
"Finn!" Kurt says, as surprised as Rachel. "Are you — are you busy? You're welcome to join us if you want. It's a lot of fun." He smiles, and Rachel knows his goal for the summer is to reconnect with Finn, to salvage a relationship with his brother even if he has to start from scratch.
(She knows because he told her, and then he asked if she wanted to do the same.)
"Um, yeah," Finn says, setting his soda down. "Sure."
Rachel is surprised — and alarmed. "Actually, I — I have to go," she says. "I told my dads I would be home in time to help for dinner, so it's nearly . . . three now, and that's — I'll call you, okay?" She smiles quickly at Kurt, and grabs her purse from the chair. "I'll call you."
It's better to avoid him.
She doesn't want to pounce him and hug him and kiss him all over his face when she sees him anymore. But she feels so sad, a little wistful and a little broken, liked a dumped, forgotten girl, every time he smiles at her with no comprehension of who she is, every time she can see the pity etched into his face because he knows she remembers a relationship with him that he doesn't.
He isn't cold anymore, isn't cruel, isn't intent to make everyone suffer alongside of him.
She doesn't need Kurt to tell her that; she can see it for herself in the few occasions she can't find a way to avoid him. But if she can only have a piece of him, if she can only have his pity, she'd rather take nothing at all. She explains as much to Kurt.
"He's really come around," Kurt insists yet again. "He isn't so angry all the time anymore. He and my dad have even made peace."
"But he still doesn't remember anything," Rachel says. Kurt doesn't reply. That's her answer.
Finn comes into the creamery. "Hey Rachel," he greets.
She smiles. "What will you have?"
"Um, well, I've never actually been here before," he says. "What's good?"
"I really like all of the flavours. What kind of thing do you like? Chocolate or . . . ?"
"You don't know?" he asks, looking at her as if searching for something.
She bites her lip. Okay. Fine. She nods, and she smiles, and she makes him a double scoop of Mint Chocolate Chip and Rocky Road in a waffle cone, and she holds it out to him.
"That looks awesome," he says, smiling, his dimples so familiar that she has to smile, too.
"It'll be four fifty," she replies, and he hands over a five-dollar bill. She hands him his change, and he doesn't move, as if he wants to say something else, but she doesn't know what to do. It's not that she doesn't know what to say — she can think of a thousand things to say.
It's whether to keep them to herself or to say anything at all that stumps her.
He's a mystery to her. It's like when he dated Quinn that second time, when he broke up with her because she kissed Puck but he took back the girl who slept with Puck, and Rachel simply couldn't fathom it, couldn't fathom him. She hates that feeling so much more than she thought possible.
"Thanks," he finally says.
She smiles, and she turns away. He leaves.
But after she helps Mark close up that night, she spots Finn's car in the parking lot.
He steps out of the truck, waving at her awkwardly, and she frowns a little but heads towards him. "Your truck isn't broken down, is it?" she asks, concerned. He came in over two hours ago. He hasn't been here the whole time, has he? He could have come in to use a phone if he needed it.
"No, no," he says quickly. "I just . . . Kurt mentioned that you walked home from work, and I thought maybe you'd want a ride. I finished some errands, and then I remembered the sign said that you closed at nine, and I thought . . ." He finally stops, and he shrugs. "You want a ride?"
It takes her a moment.
"Yes," she finally manages. "Yes, that'd be nice."
His truck smells like those awful vanilla car fresheners that he always buys at the grocery store. She's never complained about them before, simply because after those brief few weeks she dated him but he didn't date her their sophomore year, she missed the terrible smell, and she grew fond of it.
It makes her inexplicably happy that he's clearly still buying those same fresheners.
"Is it cool to work at an ice cream store?" he asks.
"I like it," she admits. "I even get to be a little creative when I make the cakes. I'm an expect cake decorator, actually. I think my skill is part of the reason I was hired — I made sure the manager knew my daddy and I had taken cake decorating lessons at Michael's."
"That's awesome," Finn says.
"I couldn't find a job. I just help Burt out in the garage. Um, where's your house?"
That shatters whatever illusion had begun to build up in her mind. "It's just right down the street from this stop light. Turn left. It's right up ahead." She looks at her nails. She should repaint them.
He pulls up outside her house. "It was cool to talk to you," he says.
"You, too," she says. He waits in the driveway until she's inside the house, just like he always used to in case the house was locked. She waves from the doorway, and she calls Kurt to ask if something happened, if there's a reason Finn suddenly wants to be her friend.
Kurt doesn't have an explanation for her.
She spills hot chocolate on herself when she opens the front door to see him.
It's July 4th, and her dads are out at the lake, where the Lima police station always hosts a fireworks charity function, but Rachel, for the first time, told them to go without her.
And now Finn is here, on her doorstep, a sheepish look on his face.
"Finn," she says, a little floored. "Is everything okay? Is Kurt okay? Has something happened?"
"No, um — no, nothing like that," he says. "I just . . . can we talk?"
She nods, and she stares at him, and then she shakes her head and opens the door for him to come in. She feels completely out of sorts as she asks him to wait in the kitchen while she changes into a fresh t-shirt, and then suddenly they're sitting at her kitchen table, just the two of them.
"I . . . I know you've been avoiding me," he says.
"I haven't avoided you," she replies. It's a blatant lie.
And she carries on hastily. "I've simply been very busy. And I didn't think that you would want to see me. If I've offended you in any way, then I'm really very sorry." She smiles at him as best she can, holding her empty hot chocolate mug because she needs to hold something.
It's quiet for too long.
"You know Quinn Fabray, right?" he asks abruptly.
Her grip on her mug tightens. "I do. I went to McKinley with you both."
"Yeah. Right. Um, well, we hung out a lot this past spring, 'cause she was of the only people who didn't act like she knew all this stuff about me and she needed me to remember. She looked at me, and she didn't have all this stuff in her face. She didn't look — she didn't look disappointed that I didn't remember, or —" He sighs, running a hand through her hair. "You always looked like that."
"I'm sorry," she murmurs. She honestly is.
"I asked Kurt why you've been avoiding me, and he told me it's 'cause I broke your heart."
She swallows thickly. "You really shouldn't take it personally," she says. "I haven't intended to hurt you by avoiding you, I promise, I just assumed it would be easier —"
"Because I did," Finn says. "I did break your heart. I didn't mean to."
"I know," she replies quietly. "It's okay."
"Kurt showed me this picture," Finn continues. "Of us. He said it was our senior year, and you're smiling at the camera, but I'm smiling at you, and it's . . . it's a really cool picture. I really like it."
"I don't remember you. I've tried so hard to remember you. I have pictures of you in my room. Kurt didn't have to show me that picture. I've seen a thousand of you. There's one in my wallet. And there's this sweater with a smiling penguin in my dresser, and — and I looked through all my high school notes that my mom found in the attic, and, like, half my stuff is covered in notes from you, and it's like — I really loved you."
She can see the emotions, the frustration, play out on his face as he stares at the table.
"For so long, all these people told me exactly that," he continues. "They told me that I'd regain my memories, and I'd go back to my college, and then I'd probably marry Rachel Berry, and then they'd, like, smile knowingly like it was some joke that I was in on, but I wasn't 'cause I didn't remember and that was the point, but —"
He shakes his head, and his eyes finally focus back on her again. "I want to remember. So bad."
"Finn," she says, reeling a little.
"I've looked at all these pictures of us, and I've read all the notes you wrote me, and I've — and then I see you with Kurt, dancing and signing and stuff, and he talks about you, and you sound like the girl in the pictures, and in the notes, and I really want to know what — I really. . . ."
He reaches out and takes her hand. His own trembles just a little. "I'm probably not gonna ever remember those seven years I forgot. But do you think maybe someday you could — you could do it all over again? Like, do another first date and another first kiss and —?"
"I can't forget what already happened," she whispers.
"But can you be okay that I have?" he asks.
She stares at him. She searches his face, so familiar to her, and the desperation in his eyes makes her heart clench a little. She runs her thumb over the back of hand. "I can try," she whispers.
He asks if she maybe wants to hang out tomorrow, and he thought it'd be cool to go bowling.
She nods quickly, smiling as she tells him that she'd love that. She hasn't been to the bowling alley since she and Finn went once the summer after their freshmen year of college, but she'll forever associate the Lima bowling alley with him and them and that first date he swears wasn't totally fake.
(Or he swore, because he doesn't remember that first date anymore to swear one way or the other.)
He picks her up at six the next night, dressed in slacks and a button-down, as if for a date. This is a date, she knows, and she's glad she put on a dress, one of her favourites, the bunny print.
"Have you bowled before?" he asks her as they sit down at their lane.
"With you," she replies. "You taught me, actually."
"Yeah?" His eyes are bright at that, as if he's pleased.
"This was our first date," she continues, tying her bowling shoes.
"Cool," he says, and he smiles down at his own shoes.
They don't really talk that much about the past, though. He tells her about community college, and how he needs to decide whether he wants to complete his senior year at OSU or not. They've pulled his athletic scholarship, but Burt and his mom will still pay from him to go if he wants.
And she talks about NYU, about her friends and her life there, about all that he's missed in the last six months, as if he does remember what happened before then.
It's easier than she thought it would be.
But he acts differently around her, shyer, nervous, like he did when they first met. It's so sweet in a way, but it breaks her heart at the same time, and she honestly doesn't know what to feel. She's been through the wringer with this boy, and she's seen him at his worst; she's heard him snore, seen him pee, sat by the toilet as he threw up.
And to him this is a first date, and it's simply so strange. But it's fun.
She's happy. She's missed him, memories in tact or not.
The moment he pulls into her driveway, he hops out of the truck to walk her to her door.
"This was really fun," he says, eager, eyes shining.
"It was," she agrees, nodding and turning to face him on the front steps of her house.
He stays back a few feet, hands in his pockets. "Was it, um, was it weird for you?" he asks.
"A little," she admits. "But it was — it was nice, too. I've really missed you. I mean, you were kind of my best friend, and it's been pretty hard not to have you in my life anymore."
"I'm sorry," he says. She fiddles with her keys a little. She glances at him again, and he looks at her with a goofy kind of smile "You're really pretty," he tells her. He says it like he just loves that cool fact, his eyes bright, and her heart swells in her chest as she gazes at him.
"You know," she says, unable to help herself, "you can kiss me if you want to."
"I want to," he says.
He used to tease her with that line sometimes; but it's not a joke now.
He steps closer to her, steps up onto the first step, and she leans down, hands on his shoulders as his own hands touch her waist, and she feels as nervous as if this really were their first kiss. He tastes like bowling alley nachos, and his lips are soft and shy and uncertain against hers.
His eyes catch hers for a moment, and then he dives back in for another kiss, and she curls her fingers around the material of his t-shirt. She wants more, wants to clutch him to her, wants to pepper kisses all over his face, wants all of him, wants Finn, but he pulls back.
This is a first kiss, and he doesn't know her like she knows him, and he can't kiss her like she wants him to, because he doesn't know how. The newness really hurts at that moment, hits her suddenly and painfully, even as he smiles sweetly at her, looking so happy.
"I'll call you," he says.
She only nods.
She can't fall asleep that night. She lies in bed, stares at the ceiling, and tries to work it all out in her head. She doesn't know what she wants anymore. That's a lie. She knows what she wants: for Finn to remember everything, to remember his past and his relationship with her.
But she can't have that. Or maybe she can — if she waits. The doctors said there wasn't a timeline.
She loves him. She can wait. But would that mean she put her life on hold for him? And what about after the summer ends? She'll go back to New York. She has to.
Are she and Finn supposed to try a long distance relationship when everything is still so new?
According to her alarm clock, it's only a little past two when she sits up, switches on the bedside lamp, and calls Santana, who she knows will still be awake.
"I don't know how to do this," Rachel says, and Santana sighs heavily. "We went out, and it was really fun, but I'm so confused, San. I mean — I thought it was over, you know? I thought . . . but now it doesn't have to be, and it's scary, and it's hard and — and I'm a wreck. This is excellent material to draw on for emotional roles in my Broadway career, but I —"
She clutches the phone tightly, willing Santana to have the right answer.
"But you're scared," Santana says.
"It's not that I'm scared," Rachel replies.
"Yeah, except it is," Santana argues. "You put all this faith and hope into the idea that you would help him with everything, right? That you would help him try to remember his life, and if he didn't then you would make new memories with him, yes? And then he tore you to pieces, forcing you to move on. He dumped you. And now you're scared to take him back."
"Maybe," Rachel says. "But I'm happy, too. I'm so happy. It's just . . . it's really hard."
"It wasn't supposed to be easy."
Rachel lies back on the bed, curling around her stuffed animals. "What do I do?"
"Are you still in love with him?"
"I think I am, but I don't know! What if he isn't him, anymore? I can't — I am scared, San. I am."
"He might be, but you won't know that until you give him a chance," Santana says. "Listen to me. You're Rachel Berry. You're a resilient, unrelenting, irrepressible force of nature. You don't give up. You don't let anybody talk you out of something. You take the hits, again and again and again, but you don't stop. You know what you want, and you take what you want, and I love that."
"San," Rachel murmurs.
"You heard Finn sing when you were fifteen years old, and you wanted him, and you got him. He doesn't remember that. But you have another chance. Take it. You're a BAMF, Rachel. Act like it."
"If you want him, Rachel, then give him a shot. If it doesn't work, then when summer ends, you can move on. We'll start senior year as the two best single bitches in the city of New York."
"I can — I can give it a shot," Rachel says, nodding to herself. She smiles. "Thanks, San."
He does call her, and he takes her out to Breadstix. "We probably came here a lot, right?" he asks.
"Actually, it wasn't really in your price range most of time we dated," Rachel says. "But we came him for big moments, like graduation." She smiles at him. He doesn't seem fazed at the correction.
He really is much better about everything now, isn't he? She likes that.
Admittedly, Breadstix isn't her favourite, but he wants to putt-putt after that, and they drive half an hour out of town to the nearest putt-putt place, Space Mountain, where she plays with a pink ball and a pink club, which just happens to be the right size for her.
She's terrible, as it turns out, but Finn promises she improves as they play the course. She's never actually putt-putted before. "I didn't always have a lot of friends," she tells Finn as they eat ice cream, his mint chocolate chip, hers vegan strawberry.
"But I was your friend, right?" he asks.
She smiles. "Yes. You were my friend."
He kisses her cheek, his lips cold, and she sings for him on the drive home, belts out a Kelly Clarkson song because she can, because she's happy, and he looks at her when he stops at a light, this kind of adoration in his gaze. "I've never heard anybody sing like you," he says.
She kisses him on the mouth, tastes the mint chocolate chip, and he cups her cheek with his hand.
The car behind them honks, because the light is green, and he holds her hand over the shift stick for the rest of the drive back to her house.
She tells Kurt about the date, gushes to him as they're at the mall. "It was perfect. I think we can do this, Kurt. I think Finn and I can have a fresh start. He might not remember anything, but I can remember for the both of us, right? And he really is still Finn."
Kurt smiles. "I know. I've begun our nightly warm milk talks again. But if things are so perfect with Finn right now, then why are you suicidal?"
"What?" Rachel frowns. "I'm not —"
Kurt snags the kissing swan sweater away from her. "You're right. This sweater wouldn't kill you. It would kill me. Already, my eyes burn." He tosses it carelessly over the changing room partition. "Let's hope it falls into a pit of fire and dies."
She rolls her eyes.
Finn walks into the creamery two days later, a wide grin on his face when he sees her.
"You're off soon, right?" he asks.
"Yes, in twenty minutes, but I didn't know we had a date tonight." She starts a fresh waffle cone for him. They've been out four times now, to dinner and to the movies, the normal first few dates, and it's fun in a way to do all this.
"We didn't," Finn says. "But, I don't know, I thought we could just hang out." He shrugs. "Are you busy tonight?"
"Oh, well, I had planned to work on a project, but I don't —"
"I can help you," he volunteers.
She hesitates. "It's — it's a scrapbook," she says. "I make one every summer for the last school year. I've put off this one, though, because this really wasn't my best year, but there were good moments, and I want to remember them."
"I'm not really good at crafts and stuff," he says, "or at least I don't think I am. But I can keep you company, or whatever, and, like, help glue stuff."
"Okay," she says. "Sure."
It could be fun. She rants about her boss on the drive to her house, and then she shows him her room for the first time. His eyes catch on a picture of them from senior year, and he smiles a little. She introduces him to all her stuffed animals, and then she pulls out her craft box.
They set up camp in the dining room, taking over the table, and she lets him look through pictures of her year as she tries to take stock of what supplies she has: glitter, felt, some teddy bear stickers, glitter glue pens, scrapbook paper, and coloured pencils. He knows Kurt, and she points out Santana and her handful of close friends from NYU.
It doesn't take him long to come to the pictures from the start of junior year, pictures that include him, like when he came to visit her for fall break. He stares for a long time at the picture of them on her bed, she in his McKinley sweatshirt, her hair in a messy ponytail.
She realises he's wearing that same sweatshirt right now.
"I really like that picture," she says.
He looks over at her. "Yeah."
"Finn, what changed?" She has to ask.
His brow creases. "What'd you mean?"
"I mean, why did you suddenly want to be with me? You didn't even want to look at me after your accident, and you wanted to spend time with Quinn Fabray, and — and I know that you explained how it was easier to deal with her, but — what changed?"
He stares at the table. "Um, I just . . . everybody went back to school, and I talked to my mom, and I . . . I wasn't so pissed all the time anymore. Like, I just got used to the fact that I didn't remember anything, and my mom and Burt got used to it, and. . . . " He looks up at her. "And, the more I adjusted, the more I actually wanted to know about my life, you know?"
She nods. It makes sense.
"And then you came home, and I'd heard all about you. I'd asked about you. And, I mean, like I said, I'd seen pictures of you and read all these notes, and you were this huge part of my life, I could see that, and then you were so pretty, and I saw you with Kurt, and —"
He looks at her, a kind of imploring earnestness in his face. "And — and you're just really awesome. You're awesome, and I'm sick of how the fact that I don't remember stuff is supposed to, like, rule my whole life now. So I don't remember stuff. I can't change that. Plus, the doctors say I'm really lucky, 'cause I can still make new memories. So, like, shouldn't that be what matters?"
"That's . . ."
"Yeah," he says, sheepish, "sorry, I kinda just, like, exploded. I'm sorry."
"No," she says. "I liked that. You're right. It's about new memories."
"But old memories are good, too," he says, eyes falling to her scrapbook.
She bites her lip. "I have an idea. I'll be right back." She runs her hand over his shoulder as she passes him out of the room, and she returns a minute later with her scrapbooks from the last few years in hand. "You're kind of the star of these," she says. "Alongside me, of course."
The rest of the summer passes a lot like that.
They go out, and she tells him about their relationship in high school and in college, and they find ways to make it easy. She grows addicted to his kisses again, and he isn't so cautious as more time passes. He presses her against the mattress and kisses her like a boyfriend should, and she refers to him as her boyfriend to a waiter at this Italian restaurant. That's what he is.
He's still Finn, just as goofy, just as sweet. He still plays the drums, and he'll sing along to the radio with her in the car. It's not that hard to pretend sometimes that he never forgot anything.
But often it's like he isn't on an inside joke that she knows, that she needs him to be in on.
He doesn't have the kind of confidence that high school and Glee club taught him. He doesn't have that spirit, that optimism, that emerged in him as high school passed. He's more passive. He's like the boy she first fell for, and there's nothing wrong with that, it's only —
She sometimes misses the confidence, the spirit, the optimism.
And somehow it still surprises her every time he doesn't act the way she expects, every time he isn't just like the boy who texted I'm texting you from the field! twenty minutes before he took a hit in the middle of a televised game and lost seven years of his life.
Kurt knocks on her bedroom door, and she shouts at him to come in.
The Glee club planned a last hurrah of the summer for that night, hosted by Santana, and Kurt is here to pick her up. They have another three weeks before they have to drive back to New York, but Puck heads back to Boston tomorrow, and Mike and Tina need to be at Princeton in three days.
"I'm in the bathroom," she tells him.
He knocks again on the door, and she glances up into the mirror. It's Finn.
"Santana asked Kurt to pick up some last minute mixers," he says. "I volunteered to pick you up."
"Oh, that's fine," she says, smiling. "I'm almost ready. I always like to put my suntan lotion on before I even leave for the pool, so that it has plenty of time to soak in. You can never be too cautious when it comes to skin cancer."
"Yeah," Finn says.
"You actually came at the perfect time — can you do my back?" She holds the lotion out to him. She's already in her bikini, shorts on over the bottoms.
He nods wordlessly and takes the lotion, and she turns around. "Are you excited for the party? It'll be fun to have the whole Glee club together. We really haven't done anything as a group all summer. I guess the further we get from high school, the less we all hang out together."
"Yeah, I guess," he says, and his hands are warm against her skin, even covered in cold lotion.
She smiles over her shoulder at him. "You haven't even really met Artie yet, have you?"
He shakes his head. "I've — um, I've heard a lot about him. He's in some of your pictures, too."
"He's pretty great," Rachel assures. Finn finishes moments later, and she takes the lotion back from him. "Here. Turn around. I'll do your back. We don't need you to have melanoma in ten years."
"Um, actually, I'm cool. I have really pale skin, so I'm just gonna keep my t-shirt on." He smiles tightly, and she stares at him for a moment. "But I should probably put some on my face and stuff," he says, as if to fill the quiet.
"You don't have to be insecure, Finn," she tells him gently.
"I'm not — I'm not insecure."
"Yes," she says, "you are. I know. We've had this conversation before."
He opens his mouth to protest, but she looks at him knowingly, and she waits for him to catch up, to realise what she means. "Oh," he says, and she nods. She feels a little bad, actually. "I guess that shouldn't really surprise me, right?"
"If it helps," she says, trying to lighten the mood. "I've seen you completely naked, so —"
He laughs a little, shaking his head. "That doesn't really help." His eyes drop, and he tugs on his the edge of his shirt.
They've avoided this part of their relationship — the physical part. They kiss, of course; they make-out, even. But the very topic of sex is an unspoken taboo. He's never brought it up, and she hasn't either, and it's not because she hasn't thought about it.
She has thought about it.
Finn is the only person she's ever been with, and she knows him as well as she knows herself. She misses that sometimes, so much, misses the closeness, misses the way he could make her feel so much, because she's, well, helped herself, but it's not the same, not even close.
This isn't really the same Finn, though, not on that count.
He will be. It's like she has to wait, as if she's gone back in time, and she has to wait for them to reach the place from where she came, to reach that point in time when she trusted him enough to be with him entirely. It won't be forever, just a little while longer.
She leans up and kisses him quickly, and when she steps back she holds his gaze, and she smiles.
He smiles, too, kisses her again, and then tugs off his t-shirt, turning his back to her.
The pool party is a lot of fun.
Rachel wears her new bikini, picked out with help from Kurt, and she lets Santana make her a mixed drink that tastes like pineapple candy, and she loves these parties, these throwbacks to the few moments of high school that she actually enjoyed. Puck starts a volleyball game, girls versus boys, which dissolves into a splash war that ends when Mrs. Lopez brings out a pan of brownies.
They end the night sprawled out on all the pool chairs, Rachel in Finn's lap, talking about high school, about stupid moments, about the time Puck was trapped in a port-a-potty, about the time Rachel sent Sunshine to a crack den, about the time Artie sang a song about a baby to Brittany.
For a moment, Rachel worries that all these reminiscences might make Finn uncomfortable, but when she looks up at him, he only smiles, and she snuggles against him.
They haven't actually talked about the status of their relationship when they go to the drive-in the night before she, Kurt, and Santana are supposed to drive back to New York. Her job finished over a week ago, and she spent most of that week with him, simply sitting around.
But she's avoided the idea of what happens next, and she doesn't even realise that until he brings it up. The movie is finished, and they're at the gas station. He puts the nozzle in the car, sits back in the driver's seat to wait with her while the tank fills, and clears his throat.
"Can I — can I ask what happens now?" He fiddles with the zipper of his jacket. "I mean, with us. You're about to go back to New York, but what happens with us? Are we gonna stay together?"
She's a little taken aback.
"I think so," she says, trying to catch his gaze. She'd assumed so, actually.
It's not as if she wants to be with anyone else, or she wants him to be with anyone else, or she wants to lose him again. She can't lose him again, not now that everything has finally started to go right again, to return to the way it used to be.
He looks at her. "I know you hold back around me," he says. "You treat me — you treat me sometimes like I'm a little kid, and you have to watch what you say around me, and —" He shakes his head. "Are you with me 'cause you actually like me, or 'cause you like the idea of me? Like, of who I used to be, this person that I can't remember?"
"You're still the same person," she says. "And I am in love with you." He has to believe that.
"But?" he pushes.
"There's no. . . ."
He stares at her.
She sighs, and she drops her own gaze this time. "But — but it's like you're the Finn I knew when I first met you, and I want you to catch up to the Finn that you were when I lost you. You're still you, but you're just the slightest bit different."
"I can't help that," he says, defensive.
"I know," she says quickly, "I know, I do."
"If you want me to — to catch up, or whatever, then why don't you catch me up?" he asks.
"It's not that simple," she says. "I can't give you those experiences that made you who you were. I can't — I can't be Glee club for you, and I can't make you feel the way you did when you — when you slept with Santana, and I can't —"
"I slept with Santana?" he interrupts, eyes widening.
She hadn't meant to say that. But he wanted her not to hold back, right?
"Yes," she says, "and you didn't like it. It was your first time, and it was a mistake. It turned into this whole mess, and that's — that's the thing, see? We all so happily tell you the good stuff, but nobody wants to tell you the bad stuff, with sex and cheating and — and the truth is that people are shaped just as much, if not more, by their bad experiences." She looks at him imploringly.
"A person is made from their experiences, good and bad," she says.
He stares back at her, no answers on his face.
"And . . . and I can tell you everything. I can tell you the whole story. I can describe our first kiss. I can tell you every second of it, what I thought and what I felt and what it as like — but it still won't be the same as if you remembered every second." She's started to cry a little, but she can't look away from him, and she needs him to understand this.
"I know," he murmurs. "Trust me. I know."
"So what are we supposed to do?" she asks. "I — I love you so much, but this is so hard, and . . . and I don't know how to do this. I don't know. . . ." She shakes her heads. "I want to be with you, but I feel like, maybe a little, unintentionally, I look at you and think of you as a different person than my Finn, and I tell myself I just need to wait and soon enough you'll become my Finn again."
She feels terrible for that, but it's the truth.
"And — and honestly, Finn? I'm still a little scared. I didn't want to admit that I was at all, but Santana pulled it out of me, and I still — I know that your accident wasn't your fault, and I know that you weren't in a good place for so long, but you — you really did break my heart, Finn."
"I'm not going to do that again," he says.
"How am I supposed to be sure of that? We've been through so much, overcome so much, and all that's made me who I am, but you don't remember that, and what if — what if the unchanged you and the changed me, what if we're just at two different points, and we can't make this work, and you don't fall in love with me, and I'm holding on to something that —"
"No," he says, "no! Okay? Just — just stop!" He stares at her, presses his lips together, and then abruptly tears out of the car. She hears him yank the nozzle out of the car, and she waits.
It doesn't take long for him to return, and he turns the car on, but he doesn't shift into drive.
"I don't remember the bad stuff," he says. "So tell me. I can't experience it, but I can know it, at least. And I can promise you that I'm not gonna break your heart. You're my best friend, Rachel."
He looks at her, his knuckles white as he grips the steering wheel.
"I wanted another shot with you, wanted to get to know you, because I liked the idea of you so much, and I thought if I could start again with the girl in the pictures, the girl in the notes, the girl that everybody told me I'd loved, it would — it would make everything finally, really okay. And somehow it did, but — but not like I thought it would. 'Cause it's not about the idea of you anymore.
"It's just about you."
She leans over, grasps him by the shoulders, and tugs him down to her.
He hugs her, and she presses her face into his neck so she can smell his cologne and his boy smell and him, and she whispers the words against his skin.
"I'm not ready to give up on us yet," she says.
They're together, and they're going to try long distance. He'll be back at OSU, she'll be in New York, and they'll try long distance. It's worth a short, just like Santana told her two months before.
And they come up with a plan as they slip slurpees in the parking lot of the seven and she tells him about the jocks at school who used to make sport of slurpees. She'll send him a text every morning with a fact that he should know, something about his past or hers, something that'll help him catch up. It won't be an experience, but it'll be something.
"We'll make new experiences, too, over Thanksgiving break and winter break and —"
He kisses her.
Barely an hour after he drops her off at her house, he texts her. "I thought I'd start. I'll tell you something you probably don't know." She stares at the screen, a little amused, and moments later another text message appears.
"I've kind of started to fall in love with you."
She bites her lip, reads the message again, and then holds the phone to her chest.
They can do this. They can do long distance. They've made it through this much, haven't they?
She texts him when they pull up in front of their apartment to say they've arrived.
"I miss you already!" she says.
He replies "I just totally thrashed Burt at Grand Theft Auto!" A few seconds later, another text comes. "And I miss you too, babe." She doesn't know why, but those texts make her happy in a crazy way, and they're still on her mind as she participates in the Lady Gaga move-in dance party that Kurt initiates.
All of her classes this semester are voice and acting classes, her general education requirements finished, her necessary credits accounted for, everything perfectly in place. This will be her year, and she's already decided she needs to start to audition for off-Broadway productions to put her name out on the scene rather than waste time with a mundane job.
After all, how will a job as a library assistant help her become a Broadway actress?
She and Finn Skype for almost four hours his first Saturday back at OSU as he tells her all about school, about how his randomly assigned roommate is actually really cool and how he hung out with these guys who turned out to know him, and it wasn't that awkward. He even carries the computer around his room to show her everything. He's happy.
She's happy, too.
And she texts him every morning, like she's supposed to. It's fun, really, to think of little facts she wants him to know.
She tells him how winter is her favourite season, because she loves the way her nose tingles when she comes in from the cold, and she explains how she likes astrology, and he took her to see a psychic during winter break their freshmen year, and the woman terrified him.
"You were convinced for weeks that she put a curse on you," Rachel texts him.
He actually calls up to know more about that one.
They talk about Santana and Jesse and their tumultuous relationship sophomore year on the phone, too. It's not as hard as she thought it would be to explain it all — it really did happen so long ago, and they were simply such stupid kids.
But she can tell it stresses him out to hear it.
"I get it, I think," he says. "I mean, like, I was a total douche to treat you like that, but I was probably just in a bad place, the way I was right after my accident, so I wasn't really thinking about anyone else but my self."
"You made up for it," she promises, "both times."
He's at the airport with her dads when she flies in for winter break.
Kurt and Santana both have another week of exams, but she's finished early. She runs across the airport to hug her dads, and then she turns to him, and she saw him only a couple of weeks ago for Thanksgiving break, but she's still so happy to have a whole month at home with him.
She kisses him, and her dads only smile indulgently, and it's a good start to winter break.
Finn doesn't know anything about Hanukkah, but she is more than ready to teach him everything for a second time. A snow storm leaves half of Lima without power, but she helps Finn build a snow fort for a battle against Puck and Sam, and she shows him what a mean snowball punch she can pack.
Her phone goes off at eleven at night on Christmas Eve, after she's already gone to bed.
"Finn?" she murmurs, rubbing her eyes.
"Are you asleep? I'm sorry! I can't sleep. It's Christmas Eve, like, the real eve, 'cause it's nighttime, and the day doesn't really count. It's Christmas Eve, baby." He sounds like a little kid.
She smiles. "Are you excited?" she asks.
"For Christmas? Yeah! It's gonna be awesome. You're still coming over to open presents, right? I bought you something really cool. Kurt helped me a little, but I still made the final decision myself. And my mom made Baby Jesus a birthday cake, and she doubled the icing recipe so it has double the icing, so it's gonna be really good."
She falls asleep to the sound of his thrilled ramblings.
They sleep together, a second first time, a week later.
It's a New Year's party that Carole and Burt host, and Rachel wears the pretty new blue dress that her dads bought her for the last day of Hanukkah, and Finn wears slacks and a dress shirt, and they dance around the living room, happily letting the adults ignore them as they sneak glasses of champagne and talk with Kurt and Blaine, the only other people their age at the party.
And, somehow, they end up in the basement, a stolen bottle of chocolate wine with them, and she kicks off her heels and curls up on the couch beside him. They talk about nothing, really, and the quiet lull that falls is comfortable, and then he looks at her, and he says the words.
It's simple, easy, like he wants to share this thought that just occurred to him with her.
(It's so much like the first time, and she'll gladly take this first time a thousand times over.)
"I love you," he says.
She smiles softly at him, and she echoes the words. She really does. And she straightens the collar of his shirt a little, and he just stares at her, half a smile on his face, this kind of overwhelming adoration in his eyes. They both break into laughter after a moment, just because, and she takes a sip of chocolate wine and hands the bottle to him.
He kisses her, the wine bottle presses into her back as he pulls her closer, and she feels giddy.
She doesn't even know why; tonight isn't any particularly special night. Or maybe it is.
(He loves her.)
And she's really only ever felt his way a handful of times, felt so brilliantly, blindingly happy in a pure, unadulterated way; it's a happiness that makes her heart feel too large for his chest, makes her stomach expand in this sharp way, makes her want to sing with every breath she takes, makes her want to cuddle against Finn and kiss him endlessly. She doesn't care why. She's happy.
He feels the same way, she just knows.
She doesn't stop him as he slips his trembling hands under her dress. She only skims her lips along his cheek, down his neck, nipping and licking and sucking at the skin, and he grips her hips tightly, his thumbs running along the edge of her underwear. She starts to unbutton his dress shirt.
His shirt's discarded on the floor beside them when she pulls back from him and stands.
He sits on the coach, and he stares up at her, his face pink from wine or happiness or her kisses.
Smiling, she reaches up and unclips her hair, and the curls fall down, brushing her shoulders. She holds his gaze, and she knows that she's been here before and he hasn't, but that doesn't mean anything. She can't even really breath, and everything in the world seems to fall away, or maybe simply to sit in front of her, because this is her world, he is his world.
All she knows at this moment is Finn.
She reaches down, pulling her dress up slightly, and slips off her underwear, and then she slowly walks back to him, and she sinks down, straddling him. "Can you help me with my dress?" she asks, her voice a whisper. He nods, and she moves his hands around to touch her back. She can see his Adam's apple bob as his fingers fumble with the zipper, and moments later her dress goes loose around her shoulders.
She doesn't have a bra on. His eyes widen, and that makes her giggle.
The dress pools around her waist, and he crushes his lips to hers as he cups her breasts. She whimpers a little at the feeling, her eyes falling closed, and she's missed this so much, and she needs this. More than anything in the world, she needs all of him, and she finds his belt buckle.
He breaks away from her, panting against her lips as she pants against his, his eyes so close she feels dizzy. He breathes her name. She knows they should work their way up to this, because this is a first for him, but she doesn't have that kind of patience.
They've been working their way up to this for a year now.
She doesn't need a condom. She never went off birth control, and she trusts him.
"If you want to," she replies, "I want to. I really want to."
She smiles. "With you."
He kisses her again, his arms circling around to hug her, his fingers skating across her back, and he tries to lift off the coach a little, to help her tug off his trousers and his boxers, and her dress isn't even all the way off, still bunched around her waist, but she doesn't care.
She steadies herself on her knees, kisses him, and nods yet again, a final assurance to him.
She doesn't take her eyes from his as she sinks down, helping to guide him, even as he pushes up.
His whole body trembles as she lets out a shaky breathe, digging her fingers into his shoulders. "I don't —" he starts, his voice strained, but she takes over. She kisses him, and she shifts, rocking up and then back down, and his hands are sweaty against her hips as he breathes sharply, bucking against her. He doesn't last long, but neither does she. They'll work on that.
And as he turns soft inside her and she sits boneless on his lap, it occurs to her that he's her Finn.
She knows he must have been all along.
Her final semester of college flies by.
It's not really real to think that everything she does takes her a step closer to the end of this era in her life. She has a role in a tiny off-Broadway production of Annie Get Your Gun lined up for the summer, and her classes are easier than they've been, or maybe she simply doesn't care as much — not that she doesn't care at all, of course.
But it all simply happens so fast.
Santana's accepted into Columbia law. She asks Rachel if she wants to live together again. "If Hummel heads out to L.A.," she says, "I can take his room, and Finny D can move in with you."
She makes it sound simple, and maybe it is. Rachel only stares at her, though, because she hadn't thought about it yet. It's April, and her semester is nearly over, college is nearly over, for her and for Finn, and she has no idea what he intends to do next. She won't leave New York.
Her dreams are here. But his? Are they the same as they were? He used to talk about how he'd come join her in New York, but that could've changed by now, even if he still had his memories.
They have to talk.
She's afraid, though. What if it ruins everything? What if it's the end?
Finn flies up with his parents for her graduation — and for Kurt's, too, of course.
He stays at the apartment with her, sleeps in her tiny twin bed with her, and Kurt gives them a speech about funny business, but they ignore that the morning of graduation when Kurt takes a shower.
It's a pretty graduation, and she cries so much that Santana has to fix her make-up twice for her.
But it happens. On a gorgeous Saturday morning, she, Kurt and Santana all actually graduate college, and her dads, Burt, and Finn all stand to clap and to cheer and to wallop loudly as she crosses the stage.
Finn picks her up afterward, spins her around, and tells her that's he proud of her.
She's proud of herself, too.
Her dads pay for both families, and for Santana and her parents too, to eat a huge lunch together, and her daddy gives a toast that reduces her to tears yet again. Her afternoon is spent with her college friends, her freshmen roommate Angela and her friends from her acting classes; she introduces them to Finn, and they all go out for drinks at Kurt's favourite bar.
But the night ends with just Finn and Rachel, sitting on the floor of her bedroom while Kurt watches television out in the living room with his friend Jake, and Rachel's just finished her detailed summary of the plot of Annie Get Your Gun when Finn says something.
"Are you okay?" he asks her. "I mean, like, you've gotten really quiet really randomly a lot today."
"I don't . . . it's just been a long day, and a lot happened, you know?"
He nods. "And you get to watch it all from the other side next Friday," he says, smiling. She and Kurt will both be at his graduation. She returns his smile, but he sees through that. "What?"
"What's the plan for after graduation?" she asks hesitantly. "We've never actually talked about it."
He frowns a little. "I don't. . . ." He shrugs.
"I'll be in New York, but you. . . ."
These monumental life decisions seem to come up again and again.
It's like they're back where they were nine months ago, back at a crossroads, and she's as uncertain now as she was then, despite how perfect the last nine months have been. She searches his face for something, but he only stares back at her, his frown deepening.
"I was just gonna work for Burt until I figured out what I wanted to do, I guess," he finally says. "I mean, I guess I thought about maybe . . . maybe teaching. I like kids. And it'd be cool to teach gym or something, and then to coach, but I don't . . . I hadn't thought about it that much. . . ."
"Have you thought about us? And what happens next? I'll be in New York, but you —"
"Wait, stop," he says, "are you trying to break up with me? Is that what this is about?"
"No," she says quickly, "no, that's not —"
"Like, have you just been waiting for this," he says, and he's upset, so upset, and he pushes himself to his feet. "Just — just, like, waiting to break up, like you never expected this to last?" He stares, incredulous, and she shakes her head, because he can't just jump to conclusions like that.
"No, Finn," she insists, "and — we've had this conversation before — but it's just like at the end of high school when I didn't want to pressure you to —"
"I don't remember the end of high school, Rachel," he says.
"I know you don't, I just —"
He runs his hands over his hair. "You what? You still aren't sure about us? Because, honestly, Rachel, I am. I want to marry you. I want to — to have all that future stuff with you. I thought that's what you wanted, too. We've been through so much crap, half of which is that I can't remember the other half of the crap we've been through, and you're just gonna break up with me?"
"I am not breaking up with you!" she says. Why can't he hear that?
"Then what are you doing?"
"I'm . . . I'm trying to make a plan for what happens next."
"Well, I don't — I don't have a plan, but I'm not gonna end this. We're together, and it's like Coach Sylvester said, like she said at her sister's funeral, we're tethered, Rachel. It's why we've made it this far, and it's why we're gonna figure everything out. I'll move to New York if you want. But it's just like Coach Sylvester said. We're tethered, Rachel."
"What?" She doesn't understand.
"She said she and her sister had this connection, that they —"
"I know," Rachel interrupts, "but who told you that? About the funeral for Ms. Sylvester's sister? About what she said? Who told you that?"
"I don't know — you, you told me that."
"I didn't, Finn. That's not . . . we've never really talked about that before, because I remember it, I do, I remember when she talked about how she and her sister were tethered, but you never compared that to us before." She pauses. "Did you and Kurt talk about that?"
"Yeah, I guess — I mean, no, I don't know —"
"Finn," she says, and she can't really breathe, "how do you know about that?"
"I don't — why does it matter? It's not any less true. I just — I remember that she couldn't read it, but Mr. Schue did, and it's like I could feel what she meant, even when Mr. Schue read it, 'cause I knew what she meant, I knew what it was like to be tethered to someone, to you —"
"Finn!" she says, scrambling to her feet. Doesn't he understand? "You remember that."
He stares at her. He swallows thickly. "Yeah," he says. "Yeah, I do."
She starts to smile, and to cry, and she claps a hand over her mouth, trying to hold herself together.
He nods. "I remember," he says. "It's like . . . it's like I've never not remembered it." The smile slowly tugs on his lips. "I remember that, Rachel. I remember the whole speech, I remember the funeral, that we sang that song from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and — and I remember it."
She nods, laughing. "You remember it!"
"I remember it!"
He picks her up off the ground, and she laughs into his shoulder, kissing his cheek, kissing him all over his face, letting the words bounce back and forth between them as he spins her around, and she's not sure if the tears on her cheeks are his or hers, but it doesn't matter.
He remembers it.
He doesn't remember anything else. The other memories don't all suddenly flood in.
But that memory is there, and so are all the rest, even if hidden away. He might never find them again. Rachel doesn't care. He still remembers how to make grilled cheese sandwiches, and he makes them his first night in the apartment, all his things officially moved in, and they toast the move-in and the meal with the cheapest wine Rachel can find at the grocery store.
"We have to be frugal," she explains. "We're struggling twenty-somethings now."
"Hip-hip-hooray," Santana replies.
Finn only smiles, and they sit down on the coach to watch American Idol, her plate of grilled cheese on her lap, Kurt on speakerphone as he watches the show on the other side of the country.
It's a good night.
Oh I'm like a kid who just won't let it go,
Twisting and turning the colours in rows.
I'm so intent to find out what it is.
This is my Rubik's Cube,
I know I can figure it out.
Credits roll over the edge of horizons,
That I haven't discovered yet/
Oh I'm like a kid who just won't let it go,
Twisting and turning the colours in rows.
I'm so intent to find out what it is.
This is my Rubik's Cube,
I know I can figure it out.