A/N: Well this is it! Thank you so much for reading and reviewing. You really are the best and I can't tell you how much I've appreciated your enthusiasm and support!
if I could tell you
The four of them are in a car headed for the Travelodge on Lombard Street. His (newly official) girlfriend. Her ex-husband who happens to be his ex-best-friend. Their kid who in everyone's opinion is pretty damn awesome. And what is he doing here, exactly? He's not sure how it all happened, only when Rachel took his hand and asks him to come with them, it seemed completely natural to follow her out his apartment door without thinking too hard about it.
He'd say it was awkward but with Connor strapped into his car seat holding a bear almost a big as he is and talking at about one hundred miles an hour (no prizes for guessing who he inherited that particular trait from) there's not really any opportunity for things to get weird. Or weirder than they already are anyway.
Connor is still listing every single feature of life in San Francisco ('There's the big red bridge, the giant boat you can ride on, the bad fountain that made me fall in and then Noah fell in and he bled, Daddy. I didn't bleed but I got all wet and Mommy said we were both brave.') when they pull into the lot.
"We're here," Rachel says with totally faked cheerfulness, her hands still tightly gripping the steering wheel and her mouth in a tight line and it's definitely shitty that he's relieved to see how pissed she is about Finn showing up unannounced like this. And also, he's not going to lie, he's pleased as hell that Finn is staying here and not on Rachel's sofa.
"Nice place," he says, looking at the sign by the road. "Look: cable TV and air-conditioning." Yeah, he should watch the sarcasm.
"It's not the Marriott," Finn shrugs as they walk towards the office, "But it'll do for a while." He sweeps a giggling Connor up in his arms. "You like that bear, little man? Daddy rode with that in the seat next to him all the way from Columbus!"
Rachel stiffens slightly at his side at that and somewhere, somehow, he's absolutely sure that his mother is calling him a schmuck right now.
He ends up putting the hotel room on his credit-card which he doesn't think anyone (Finn) is happy about, but hell, if Finn is going to leave his wallet in the restroom of some truck-stop outside Reno, he's lucky that anyone (Puck) is willing to pick up the tab.
Then the four of them (again, fucked up, right?) go to the room and he plays a cartoon for Connor on his phone while Finn and Rachel 'discuss' the situation in the bathroom. And no, he's not eavesdropping but after a few minutes it starts to get kind of loud.
"Well, I would have let you know if you took my calls. Totally not cool, Rachel!"
"I didn't answer my phone for four days, Finn. Four days! And in that time you decide to come across the country and surprise us all!"
"Who exactly is 'us all'? Connor seemed to think it was a pretty good surprise. Jesus Christ, Rachel, I missed my son! And don't start because I know it was my idea, but I didn't realize how hard it was going to be not seeing him."
"Of course it's hard! But you showing up on a whim with a big teddy bear isn't going to change that! He needs security and stability!"
"Get off your high horse, Rachel! Are we talking about the kind of stability you gave him when you decided to move out here on a whim?"
Shit. This is going south fucking quick. He sneaks a quick glance at Connor, who still seems to be concentrating on the show, and then crosses the small room and opens the bathroom door to join the two of them.
Finn shoots one irritated look at him and mutters, "Oh great, it's Puck the boyfriend."
He lifts one brow. "More like the babysitter this second. And take it from me, it's getting a little noisy if you know what I mean." Rachel's hand flies up to her mouth as she immediately brushes past him on her way to Connor. "Maybe you two should continue this tomorrow," he says to Finn, who's leaning on the vanity, pinching the bridge of his nose and suddenly looking every day and then some of his twenty-seven years.
He moves to follow Rachel out when Finn stops him. "Hold up a minute," he says, still not making eye contact. "Connor was saying something earlier about falling in a fountain. Did he get hurt?"
Puck shakes his head quickly. "No. It wasn't deep and we got him out right away. Nothing a change of clothes couldn't fix. And honestly, Rachel didn't look all that surprised."
Finn smiles briefly. "Yeah, he gets into stuff all the time. Mom more or less said we were screwed when he started walking at ten months."
"He sure doesn't stop for much, does he?" Puck offers back with a grin and there's just a second where they could be laughing together over some of the crazy shit Bieste used to say or Schue's sweater-vests but then they both hear Rachel's bright voice just outside the bathroom door and the moment passes.
"So I suppose I'll be seeing you around," Finn says with a careless shrug.
He throws around a couple of possible responses in his head because chances are that this is exactly the kind of male posturing crap he never used to be able to resist responding to. This isn't high school, though.
"Yeah, you probably will," he says, offering his hand, even if he has to grit his teeth a little.
After a short pause Finn shakes it.
That's probably a good thing.
They drive back to Rachel's place and he carries a sleeping Connor up the four flights of stairs. Rachel pulls back the covers and he slips him into his bed and the whole thing is so reminiscent of the first night the two of them arrived on his doorstep that his chest aches a little. He didn't want to lose her then, even if it had been years, even if truthfully he had never really had her in the first place.
And now? Rachel turns to him and lit by the glow of the small bedside lamp, she's absolutely the most beautiful thing he's ever seen and if he spent most of his stupid high school years half-crazy about her, he's all in now. He's in love with her and it's going to be one fucked-up twist of fate if he's finally admitted it to himself only to have it all fall to pieces in his hands now.
She tucks herself under his arm. "Can you stay tonight?" she asks quietly. "The whole night, I mean?"
The thing is, all respect to his mother and her worries, he's kind of thinking that it isn't going to fall apart.
He leans down and brushes his lips along her hairline. "Yeah baby, I can," he replies.
They crawl into her bed together and she's practically half asleep by the time her head hits the pillow, so he just fits himself against her back, one hand spread out on the warm skin of her stomach and then lets his own eyes close. Don't tell anyone, but this is good too.
Of course he doesn't mean he objects when she wakes him up in the middle of the night with her hand stroking up and down his cock and a wicked little smile visible in the moonlight streaming in through the window.
"I'm going to sing on an album, right?" she demands breathily, twisting her wrist gently as he hardens underneath her fingers. "I didn't just dream that part, did I?"
"No, you didn't dream it," he lets out a sharp laugh that turns into a groan when her thumb swipes over the head. "That gets you going, doesn't it?"
"A little bit," she admits. "But you do too, Noah."
"Good," he grunts, leaning over her, pushing up her shirt and dragging his tongue across her nipple and then blowing a quick puff of air across it. "Let's test that out."
The whole situation doesn't necessarily get less strange. He supposes they all just get used to it. Shit, they kind of have to because after a few days it becomes clear that Finn isn't going anywhere anytime soon, or at least that's what he takes away from the fact that the man bought a juicer and a sandwich press and installed them in his hotel bathroom. ("You knowI get hungry at night, dude.")
He knows this because he's there. A lot. Apparently Connor likes having all his grown-ups around and honestly, he's too flattered at being considered one of them to argue. Also it probably helps to have a buffer around whenever Finn and Rachel are in the same room. He can tell they're both working on it, but every so often Finn starts saying stupid shit and Rachel started getting that pinched, closed-off look. (Or-and he'll deny this to his dying day because he's not a moron-or the other way around.)
And fine, he'll cop to it, he starts out by being kind of jealous too. In his head he knows that if they wanted to be together, they would be. Hell, they've got one of the best reasons in the world to try to work things out and they just couldn't, so that should be the end of the story. But Finn and Rachel were together for a long-ass time and he wanted her for most of that time and it's not easy to let that go, even if he knows he should. Especially since now more that ever he'd argue that the two of them have as much heat together as a box full of puppies does. Sure, passion isn't the only thing, but it's fucking important, okay?
The jealousy thing, he's working on it.
Even if they're both polite to each other and shit, it still surprises him when Finn calls him up at after a long day at the studio and asks him if he wants to go out for a beer. What he really wants to do is catch Rachel before she falls asleep, but she's already warned him that she's got a pile of progress reports to get through. So he finds himself in some hole-in-the-wall bar near Finn's hotel, which actually seems a lot better the minute he finds out that they've got pitchers of IPA for twelve bucks. No question, this is going to go a little smoother with beer.
He's already sitting at a table in the back and when Puck walks over and slides into the seat opposite him.
Finn launches into it immediately, tapping his fingers and jiggling his foot under the table. "Look Puck, I told Rachel already but I just figured I should let you know that I'm sticking around. Long term, I mean. I actually looked at a couple of places this afternoon."
So much for small talk. And hell, if they're putting shit on the table he might as well ask. "Is that a heads-up or a warning?"
Finn shrugs. "A heads-up." And then after a pause: "And maybe a warning too."
The waitress arrives with the pitcher and two glasses and they both drink in silence for a minute.
"Do you want her back?" he asks finally.
"Who, Rachel? Um, no," Finn says, now shredding his beer mat with long, nervous fingers. "I figure we already had our shot."
No shit. More than once is what he's thinking.
"You know last year I thought I finally had it all figured out," Finn continues. "Things were going good with my music and I really got my head turned by this idea that I was going to famous, you know, hit it big. But dude, life on tour sucks. It's all crappy hotel rooms, and twenty-four seven with the same three guys and the only time you have a minute to yourself is in the can. Do you know how many bathrooms I had to call Connor from this summer? And then you get back and realize that you have to do it all over again."
Now he might see the music business from another side, but he sure as hell knows what Finn is talking about. For a band just trying to get their name out there, the pace is brutal and beyond talent and luck you've got to be willing to get on that ride for the long haul. "Not what you thought it was going to be?"
"No. I still want to play my music. And I'm still writing some. But god, all this time and I still don't know what the hell I want to do when I grow up." He shakes his head. "Or actually, I kind of know. I want to be a good dad and maybe some guys can, but I can't be if I'm thousands of miles away from Connor on tour all the time."
Puck drains his beer and looks Finn square in the eye. "You don't have any plans to try and convince Rachel and Connor to move back to Lima, do you?"
Finn chokes. "Hell no! For one thing, I wouldn't be looking for a place if that was the case. For another, I don't think Rachel would go back there if I tried."
"So what's the warning about then?" he asks, trying to sound casual.
"You know, when I heard you and Rachel were dating, I didn't like it all that much," Finn admits.
"That's not a huge surprise," he snorts. "I didn't expect you to throw the two of us a party."
"Probably not," Finn says candidly. "I'm probably not ever going to be super crazy about the idea of Rachel with someone else and you've got to admit that there's been some fairly messed up history where the three of us are concerned."
That's putting it mildly. The Gleeks had more plot twists than one of Schue's telenovelas. (He's still not sure how those got into the approved curriculum.)
"True," he says firmly. "But just in case you're thinking it, I'm not seventeen any more and I'm not going to agree to stay away from her because you don't want anyone else to have her."
Finn rolls his eyes and pours out the last of the beer from the pitcher into their glasses. "I'm not asking you to, dumb-ass. She likes you and for some reason I never really understood, she always did. Just don't screw it up."
He can't help it, his mouth twitches and then he starts laughing uncontrollably, clutching at the table for support. "This is coming from the expert, right?"
"Exactly," Finn grins as he waves to the waitress. "Hey, can we get another pitcher of beer over here?"
So it turns out that Finn is just another new part of the pattern to adjust to and maybe not even the most challenging part.
There's work and the excitement and stress of dealing with a highly-anticipated upcoming album. There's the thrill of seeing Rachel slide seamlessly into that part of his life. (Jared loves her to the point where he's only insisting on three or four separate arrangements per song. Hell, at this rate, the bastard might even crack a smile.) There's his mother who's still slowing coming around to the idea that her single greatest dream from the years 2006 to 2012 might just be on the verge of happening. There's his sister who's calling to bitch that she'll never finish her degree if their mother doesn't stop calling her to talk about that possibility.
There's him who still hasn't let Rachel in on the fact that he's in love with her. That would probably be a good thing to get right on. You know, if he ever gets her alone again.
"Hi babe," he says with a surprised grin as Rachel breezes into his office. "What are you doing here so early? I didn't expect you until six."
(Fuck. It's like she can read minds or something. That's both awesome and terrifying.)
"I didn't think you'd mind," she says, perching on the edge of his desk with a flirty smile. "The band teacher said he'd cover my last period study-hall and Finn is picking up Connor from school today and taking him to the aquarium, so here I am. I was hoping I could tempt you away for a late lunch, or even a very early dinner."
"Mmmm, very good idea," he murmurs, pulling her closer, one hand sliding up her leg, thumb rubbing on the hem of her dress lightly, making her squirm. "What do you say to take-out?"
"Perfect," she breathes into his ear.
(Right. Terrific. Outstanding. Nothing holding him back now.)
They stop by this noodle cart that she loves that's only about a block away from where he works and the two of them sit in the shade on a city bench waiting for their order and this is it, he's not going to wait a second longer, he's just going to tell her flat out that he loves her.
Instead to his complete surprise, he says something totally different.
"Why didn't you call me?"
She looks at him strangely. "I called you this morning. And I left a message for you around 10:30 giving you my availability for that extra session that Jared wanted."
He licks his lips nervously, but fuck, now that he's said it he realizes that he really wants to know. "No, not this morning. Before you came here, before you got to San Francisco. It was only two years ago that I saw you in that supermarket in Lima. You knew I was here, you even had my address, so why didn't you call? Were you ever going to?"
She sighs and scuffs her flats on the sidewalk. "Noah, I was going to, only..." she begins and then falters and his heart sinks a little, but then she slips her hand into his and starts again. "Noah, when you saw me in that supermarket, I was an exhausted mess. I hadn't had a shower in two days and I had part of Connor's lunch all over my shirt, not to mention a truly tragic hair-cut. I wanted to look different. If I'm being honest, I wanted to be different."
"I didn't care about any of that, Rachel," he says, tightening his fingers around hers. "You looked the same as you did in high school to me. You looked beautiful."
"I know. That's exactly it. You weren't looking at the girl who was stuck in a boring job in a town she hated, or the girl who never finished her degree or except for Connor, hadn't smiled in way too long. You saw the Rachel Berry who was full of dreams and plans and enthusiasm and I wanted to see that girl again, too." She leans her head on his shoulder. "Seeing myself in your eyes that day changed things for me, or maybe it just sped up something that had been moving at a glacial pace."
"I love you." he blurts out.
(Of course. Now he's saying it)
She turns to him and her eyes are enormous and so fucking hopeful that it would scare him if he didn't think he's looking at her in the exact same way. And then she practically jumps on him and she's definitely kissing him in a way that's telling him that she's forgotten all about the fact that they're on a public street and he's not in much of a hurry to remind her otherwise. Because all of a sudden, he just knows. Knows for sure that she's every bit as much in love with him as he is with her and if this is stepping off a cliff, then all he can say is bring it.
Finally she pulls away, laughing and gasping all at once and he goes back in for just one more kiss and then says with confidence (and maybe just a touch of the old cockiness), "Well? Aren't you going to say it back?"
"What? That I love you?" she says and she's practically sparkling, looking back at him with every bit of the enthusiasm that he never managed to forget. "You know I do, Noah. But wouldn't it be more fun to take me home and get me to say it by taking my all clothes off?"
He stares at her for a minute before rasping out, "You know that makes me love you even more, right?"
"I thought it might," she purrs, pulling him up and off the bench and towards home.
A/N: And we're done! Again, thank you so much for reading and your feedback is very much appreciated!