A/N: This is the second in what people have called my "Bohemian Finchel" series. It is the sequel to "And They Played Real Good For Free". The song is "A Salty Dog", written by Gary Brooker and Keith Reid, performed by Procol Harum. I own none of the characters except Fred, Clement, and Eli.
It was a ten-hour drive west from Brooklyn to Lima. Sure, they could have flown to Dayton and had someone pick them up, Rachel Berry thought, but she and Finn decided to cram in one additional shift at their jobs before driving all night and crashing at her dads' house. That would give them a few hours sleep before having to get ready for the rehearsal dinner for Kurt and Blaine's wedding. Finn picked her up at the restaurant at 5, and an hour or so later they were making great time on 280 outside Roseland.
"Here—have your sandwich," she said, unwrapping the large turkey on wheat she had made for him in the restaurant kitchen. "Thanks, babe," he replied. Finn grinned as he tore into it as he drove.
She watched him as she ate her own Portobello mushroom sandwich. Finn Hudson was no longer the goofy kid that had come with her to New York five years ago. He was thinner, his hair long and shaggy, with a dark stubble on his face. The plaid shirts and polos of high school were almost completely gone, replaced with mostly black t-shirts and jeans and an old brown leather flight jacket. But he cleaned up nicely when he had to, and, more importantly, knew when that was sometimes necessary. She liked the look on him. He looked alert and happy, even after putting in a long shift at the garage.
Rachel was dog tired from work herself, and even though she wanted to stay awake at least a little while and keep Finn company, the sandwich put her over the edge. "Sorry, baby, but I have to crash or you won't have a reliever later." He just smiled, and she grabbed a pillow and leaned her head against the window. Finn's contented face, lit by the afternoon sun, was the last thing she saw before dropping off.
It was dark when she awoke, feeling refreshed. The clock on the dash read 10:37.
"You got some good sleep," Finn said, "Even the gas stop an hour ago didn't wake you up". Rachel stretched her arms out luxuriantly, like a cat, and then looked over at him. "Ready to switch, baby?" He shook his head. "I'm good for a while more—must be my second wind, or something. I could use some coffee, though." He liked to push himself first before drinking coffee on road trips. Kept him from getting jittery. She poured some from the thermos she had filled at the restaurant. It was a wonderfully dark and strong Italian roast, and she could see his appreciation in the dashboard light. "Mmmm…Thanks".
She noticed that the iPod wasn't plugged in. "So what were you thinking about while I was out?"
"I didn't want to risk waking you up, so I nixed the tunage. But I was thinking about something to help fill our second sets."
Their songwriting process was slow, and the original songs, plus the standards Rachel sang and the closing 'Faithfully" duet barely filled one set for their band, Finchel. Some club owners told them that a growing number of their fans actually bought tickets to both shows, so the whole band was always looking for great and unusual covers to give the hardcore fans some variety. "Eli turned me on to something yesterday, and I wanted you to listen to it," he said, asking her to plug the iPod into the truck's sound system. He selected a song and turned up the volume.
Rachel looked at the listing—the band had an odd name, Procol Harum. It sounded vaguely familiar. The song was "A Salty Dog", from Live in Concert with the Edmonton Symphony. She settled back to listen.
At first she heard someone was speaking, but couldn't make out what he was saying, then there was the eerie sound of seagull cries, giving way to a soft, slow, subdued march on a grand piano, its measured beats matched by strings. Then a quiet, plaintive voice:
'All hands on deck, we've run afloat!' I heard the captain cry
'Explore the ship, replace the cook: let no one leave alive!'
The singer got louder, matched by the orchestra, and at the peak, a gloriously loud, powerful ruffle of drums, settling into a stately, rocking beat:
Across the straits, around the Horn: how far can sailors fly?
A twisted path, our tortured course, and no one left alive
The pattern repeated:
We sailed for parts unknown to man, where ships come home to die
No lofty peak, nor fortress bold, could match our captain's eye
Upon the seventh seasick day we made our port of call
A sand so white, and sea so blue, no mortal place at all
Rachel was almost brought to tears by the wonder and yearning the singer put into that last line. Who was this guy?
The last stanza began as quietly as the others, but ended in a huge crescendo of sound, with the orchestral brass sounding like the trumpets of heaven itself:
We fired the gun, and burnt the mast, and rowed from ship to shore
The captain cried, we sailors wept: our tears were tears of joy
Now many moons and many Junes have passed since we made land
A salty dog, this seaman's log: your witness my own hand
As the echoes faded, the song gently ended as it began, with the sounds of seagulls wheeling in the sky.
"Wow." Rachel uttered. That was one of the most beautiful songs she'd ever heard. "I know, right?" said Finn, shaking his head.
Rachel wrinkled her brow. "But Finn, how can Finchel match that sound? We'd need string synth backup, I guess, but that might sound thin and reedy, ruining the effect. And can we talk any horn players in joining us?"
Finn nodded. "That's exactly what set me thinking tonight. Something occurred to me. Play the song again, Rach, but this time imagine it's only the piano and voice."
He was on to something, she thought. Stripping the song down to its bare essentials retained its beauty, but subtly changed the emotional dynamic, making it more meditative as opposed to powerful.
"It would suit your voice perfectly, babe," Rachel mused, "And it would definitely add to the variety of the set as well."
They discussed the possible meaning of the lyrics for a while. Rachel liked Finn's idea that the song was about a shipwreck with the loss of all hands, and their souls' journey to the afterlife. But soon she saw he was reaching his limit on driving, so they stopped for gas and switched. He fell asleep almost immediately, leaving her alone to think.
In Lima they would be seeing their old Glee friends, with the exception of Kurt, Blaine, and now apparently Mercedes (they really needed to give her a call), for the first time in five years. Rachel winced at the memory of those awful last few weeks before graduation, with her not getting into NYADA, and Finn without that football scholarship. She could still feel the smug "my, how the mighty have fallen" looks. Everyone assumed Finn would remain in Lima and help Burt run his shop, and that she would break up with him and storm out to New York and most likely find obscurity, not fame. Kurt said privately that the group had been caught completely by surprise when, the day after graduation, Rachel and Finn had just taken off together for New York in his truck, with no job or school prospects. And, typically, they blamed everything on her. Somehow she had used sex to bewitch her lovable but dumb-as-a-bag-of-hammers boyfriend into going to New York with her instead of staying where he belonged. Man Hands, the pint-sized femme fatale. Yeah, that was it. Rachel took a sip of coffee and chuckled to herself. They never had a clue.
Nobody, it seemed to her, ever understood Finn, nor did they understand her relationship with him. In the Lima universe it was simpler, she supposed, to just reduce them to a high school rom-com cliché. You know, the smart, unpopular artsy girl meets the dumb popular jock, opposites attract, magic happens, blah, blah, blah. Not that there wasn't an element of truth to that, she had to admit. For example, Finn did have qualities she wished for herself—his unselfish nature, for instance. And let's face it—she looked over at him-he was fine. But he wasn't stupid. On the contrary: it was McKinley's poisonous, anti-intellectual, provincial culture which prevented him from realizing just how intelligent he was. She bristled at the memories of being called a bitch for correcting his vocabulary. In her family, being told the proper use of a word was a gift. But in Lima, which placed no value on knowing how to use the language properly, pointing out the correct use of a word was an act of elitism. And the fact that Finn never showed the slightest embarrassment or irritation at the correction just meant he was whipped, not that he had insisted she help him with his vocabulary because it was something he wanted to improve.
They were in for a shock when they meet him now, she thought. Almost from the moment they enrolled at Queens College three years ago, Finn transformed himself from an insecure, indifferent high school student into a scholar. His vocabulary grew in leaps and bounds on its own. He spoke well, carried himself with confidence again, and his grades were excellent. In high school Rachel couldn't remember ever seeing Finn reading a book for pleasure, yet once when she had a day off and decided to surprise him at the garage with lunch, she saw a battered, dirty copy of Catch-22 sitting next to his toolbox. "For fun," he replied casually when she asked him what he was reading it for, "and because it wasn't assigned, you know?"
There were times before when Rachel just wanted to drive him out to Lima and drag him from house to house, forcing everyone to see for themselves what they never had the insight-or imagination—to see in him. And, what's more, she wanted to show them that he was still the same sweet man they thought was only capable of football and working in a tire shop. No, RuPaul hadn't turned him into some kind of Frankenberry version of herself: Finn retained his "aw, shucks" demeanor, ate meat, and still enjoyed drinking beer with the guys. She often thought of him as a young Sam Shepard.
Feeling this way made her wish Finn was awake, so he could bring her down from feeling bitter about the past. The feelings didn't come as often as they used to, but every now and then the resentment over how both of them had been treated rose up like bile. He was so good at defusing her moods, but she wasn't about to wake him up just because she couldn't control her emotions. So she tried thinking about better things, like the friends they had made in New York.
Rachel loved his buddies at the garage, who adopted her as their little sister after she baked them cookies, and good-naturedly flirted with her when she came to visit Finn at work. And her colleagues at the restaurant were funny, literate and supportive of each other—most of them were aspiring artists themselves. She also adored Clement and Eli, the guitarist and bassist who formed the other half of their band, Finchel. One day during their first year at Queens College, Finn texted her, saying he was bringing a couple of classmates home for dinner. He showed up with two kids- one tall and dark-haired, the other shorter with a blonde buzz-cut and beard- lugging guitar cases and two small amps. "Guys," Finn said, putting his arm around her, "This is my Rachel. Rachel, this is Clement"—the tall one—"and Eli. They want to start a band, and need singers and songwriters!" Apparently, Finn told Clement and Eli that both of them had written and performed songs before. And when she protested that she wasn't really a songwriter, Finn gave her this "Girl, please!" look that made everyone, including her, burst out laughing. So she gave Clement and Eli hugs, fed them, and Finchel was born.
The two boys were freshmen like them, but a couple of years younger, and roomed together in the dorms. Rachel immediately bonded with Clement. He offered to give tips on her guitar playing, and was in awe of her voice. He often asked her for advice about his girlfriend Ally, the high school sweetheart who was at Rutgers. Eli had a cute mancrush on Finn, who must have seemed glamorous: older student, ex-football star, songwriter, a day job working with his hands, and living with "his Rachel," the singer/songwriter/love of his life. Once, the four of them were at the apartment watching the film "High Fidelity", and when the character Rob Gordon said he didn't want to just date a musician, he wanted to live with a musician, Eli jumped up and pointed at them, saying "That is so the two of you!"
No one at McKinley appeared to notice when they stopped referring to each other as boyfriend and girlfriend. A few days after they made love for the first time, Finn introduced Rachel to a new member of the football team: "Reggie, this is my Rachel." Surprised, but touched, she asked him about it later. "So I'm not your girlfriend, anymore?" she joked. He shook his head, then faced her, hands on her shoulders: "You stopped being my girlfriend when you became my lover," he said solemnly. Puzzled, Rachel asked, "So why didn't you introduce me as your lover, then?" She laughed, suddenly realizing how that would sound in a high school setting, or, God forbid, in front of their parents. Finn laughed along knowingly with her. "I didn't want us to start sounding like a Saturday Night Live skit", he said. She didn't understand, so he took her to his house after school and showed her the Will Ferrel and Rachel Dratch skit about the obnoxious college professor couple that keeps inserting the word "lover' into almost every line. They sat on his bed and laughed themselves silly. Until they realized that's what they could turn into if they weren't really careful. So, from then on, she was his Rachel, and he was her Finn. She loved that.
And then there was Fred. Of all the people Finn and Rachel had met in New York, Fred was the dearest to both of them. It was Finn's idea to test stripped-down versions of their new material out in Union Square Park on weekends, and Fred had a snow-cone stand located in an ideal place, near the entrance, across the street from the Starbucks. They approached him one Saturday afternoon, and asked if he'd mind them performing near his cart. If they were any good, Fred replied, he wouldn't mind at all. Soon they were attracting a lot of attention, mostly positive, which made Fred happy, especially on hot days. They became friends.
Fred was tall, graying, in his early sixties, and ran the snow-cone stand to supplement his retirement income. He lived alone in a small apartment in Williamsburg, not far from them, actually. The first time they had dinner at his place, Rachel complimented him on his cooking. He just smiled and said his ex-wife taught him everything he knew. They started talking about their families, and when Finn told him about his father, Fred stood up suddenly and excused himself. He came back with a picture of a group of young men in battle fatigues, grinning at the camera. Beautiful, snow-covered mountains rose in the background. Fred pointed to a tall, dark-haired boy in the middle. "That's my son, Daniel," he said proudly, "He was a Navy corpsman assigned to the 5th Marines in Afghanistan." He put his arm around Finn . "He was killed on December 18th, 2011," he said softly, "tending to wounded under fire during an ambush even while badly wounded himself. He was awarded the Navy Cross for that." Rachel gave a gasp, and Finn explained that December 18th was her birthday. Fred smiled and gave her a bear hug, saying he'd been looking for something to ease the sadness of that day, and now he had found it.
Fred became a godfather of sorts to the both of them, and when her dads flew in for her birthday they insisted on inviting Fred along to the traditional dinner and Broadway show. Fred liked to joke that he periodically filled her dads in on their shenanigans, so they'd better behave—or at least not let him see anything.
The only people in Lima who actually had some idea of the nature of Finn's and Rachel's relationship were Kurt, Blaine, and their parents. Rachel's dads told her they were surprised when Finn asked to have lunch with them privately one day, soon after they had announced their plans to leave. Both expected him to ask for her hand in marriage, and were prepared to gently tell him "no frakking way" (she loved her daddy's sense of humor). Instead, in her daddy's words, "A very serious young man came to us and not only made an ironclad case for why he should accompany you to New York, but also told us why he loved you, and couldn't live apart from you ever again." Frankly, her daddy said, Finn had left them speechless.
Apparently, Finn told them Rachel was the only person he had ever met who recognized the artist within him, which she nurtured and fiercely defended from the Lima culture that threatened to snuff it out and keep him in his expected place: an ex-football star working in a tire shop. And when he wasn't recruited by OSU, her heart was big enough to hold and heal his broken one. In turn, by some strange geometry of love, Finn said his heart was big enough to hold and heal hers after the NYADA news, and that he would always be there for her. Finally, he told them that he would make mistakes and probably hurt their daughter again, because neither of them communicated perfectly in conventional ways. But he vowed that, when things were tough, they would always rely on the one true, undistorted form of communication they had between them: song. There was only one person in the world that could communicate that way to him, he said, and he could not imagine living without her for the rest of his life. Finn laughed when he told Rachel about it later, especially how her dads just sat there for a moment, stunned, and how her daddy suddenly needed to polish his glasses. "Oh, one more thing," Finn told her, winking, "Even though your dads are confident you can take care of yourself-they have the self-defense class bills to prove it-they said they would sleep better knowing a 6-foot-three ex-football player was around, too. "
While Finn was talking to her dads, Rachel was having lunch with Carole and Burt. She started explaining their artistic connection, something Rachel said she recognized the day they met. Carole listened carefully, and even gave a tentative smile, but Burt sat stonily with his arms crossed. Eventually he interjected, saying he'd like to ask Rachel only one question. Rachel paused, "Of course, Burt. Ask me anything".
"If Finn decided to stay in Lima, and asked you to stay with him, would you?"
Well. That was the question on everyone's minds, wasn't it? She looked at him calmly, straight in the eyes.
"Thank you for your honesty, Burt. Nobody else has had the decency to ask me that directly, although I imagine most think they know the answer already." Burt kept his arms crossed, but gave a curt nod. Carole looked distressed. "And since you're being honest with me, I'll be honest with you. Most of you think of us as high school sweethearts, whose relationship will end at graduation, as 99 percent of those kinds of relationships do." The looks on Burt and Carole's faces told her that was exactly what they thought. "But let's get something straight up front: Finn isn't my boyfriend." She paused for half a beat to let that sink in and watch them blink at her in confusion before continuing, "He's my lover." Astonished silence. Good; the momentum was in her favor again. She continued:
"That means we share everything: our hopes and our dreams, as well as our bodies. And that includes our passion for music. I felt that passion in Finn the moment we met, when I first heard him sing. He was doing something that he loved, the sheer pleasure he took in the music radiated off of him. You know, psychics like to talk about people having auras, and claim that only they are sensitive enough to be able to see them. I'm not sure that's true, but I do know I recognized his passion immediately, because it's exactly the same feeling I have when I sing. Finn told me later my singing had a similar effect on him. He said it "touched" him inside. We both give off some kind of energy—aura, if you will—that only the two of us can sense. It's as if we were in a crowded room, but literally able to see only each other." Rachel stopped for a sip of water, and noticed Burt and Carole were staring at her, transfixed. She continued:
"And it's not just something we sense. It's the only source that we trust, pure and free of other's expectations. When we were apart the last time, did either of you know it was Finn's coaching and instincts for writing songs that enabled me to finally write the song that started him on the path back to me? Or that his song to me was what finally achieved our reconciliation? Until he wrote that song, Burt, my answer would have been, unequivocally, 'no'. " Rachel paused for a moment, because tears were beginning to well up. "Before I met Finn I had resigned myself to being alone. I thought it was the only way I could reach my dreams. It was the only way to immunize myself from the effects of living in this town. What is it about Lima that makes wanting to leave regarded as a betrayal, the mark of a freak, or outcast? I never dreamed I'd meet a kindred spirit here. But I did, and I cannot achieve my dreams without Finn. I just can't. He has become an integral part of my artistic self. I could never have played Maria authentically without tapping into the feelings I have for him—he inspires my art as I inspire his. To go to New York without him—without us- would make no sense whatsoever." She swallowed hard, because brimming tears put a lump in her throat, and she clasped her hands tightly in front of her on the table for control. "But it's not just about art. I once told Finn I was like Tinkerbelle, who needed applause to live. I was a fool. I should have listened to Judy Garland, who said that late at night, she'd rather have a few words of love from a man than the applause of thousands of people. I want to be a star, yes, but what I want even more is to be human." Burt's arms had come uncrossed, and Carole was dabbing her eyes.
"So, to answer your question, Burt, if Finn asked me to stay in Lima, I would. But both of us know he would never do that, don't we?" Burt 's expression softened, and as it did Rachel could see Kurt in him. Unexpectedly, he reached across the table and took her tightly clasped hands in his rough, honest ones. "We know, Rachel," he said gently, "we know."
Rachel cracked the truck window open and let the soft, late-summer air waft over her. Yes, she considered herself a New Yorker, heart and soul, but being born and raised in the Midwest, she found the smell of fertile earth, still wet from the recent summer rains, irresistible. Its rich fragrance brought back almost sacred memories from her childhood: chasing fireflies in the backyard; being picked up off the grass and swung around by her dads as she giggled hysterically; blowing dandelion seeds into the air in clouds. Safe, loved, untroubled. Like…well, now. She glanced over at her lover—her Finn—peacefully asleep, and realized for the first time that maybe she was close to feeling as safe and content as she had when she was a little girl, before ambition and heartbreak made her high school years seem like such a hell. Her high school self, the girl who was convinced she wanted everything too much, would have been horrified at her life now. No NYADA. No Broadway (yet). A waitress. Already eclipsed by Mercedes and her Grammy. But that wasn't her anymore. That girl was gone, along with the insecurities. The current Rachel Berry was making music with the love of her life, had friends, envied no one, and maybe, just maybe, found some kind of peace.
Rachel finished her coffee and settled back into the seat. The fragrant darkness swaddled them as she drove on to Lima. She hummed that Procol Harum song to herself, and truly began to enjoy the ride.