She's got her chin balanced atop her hands, folded, bottom lip between her teeth. He doesn't quite know what brought him here, to her, but she smells the same even if she's dressing differently, legs crossed beneath the wood table. Even her coffee order is different – it was probably silly of him to expect her to be the same.
After all, he isn't the same, either.
He pushes out a slow breath between his teeth as she brings her coffee cup to her red stained lips. "Finn," she says, swallowing the bitter brown liquid, and she sighs after she says his name. "I'm getting married."
He knows, of course. Santana called him about it as soon as she heard, so he knows, and he understands, but it doesn't stop him from wanting to tug the ring off her finger and toss it into a ditch.
The Lima Bean is noisy, as always, a cacophony of talking and laughing and music. If this were another life, another time, the ring on her finger would be his, and maybe they'd be married, not only engaged, but he's here, this life, faced with the very real reality that she didn't wait.
He tells her he knows, artificial plastic words, "I'm happy for you."
"No, you're not."
He shakes his head. "I am." He doesn't want to argue. "How's work?"
"Good." She's smiling. He presses his palm against hers, open on the table, two fingers touching the spot on her wrist where a tiny gold star is tattooed into her skin.
He isn't giving up on her, not yet.
There's a scar on his knee that she's never seen before, and another one on his back, spaces on his feet and arms that are sore from bruises long-since faded. It was raining outside when he came home, raining still when he pulled up to her dorm room to surprise her, pouring and soaking his body through and through and his heart shattered in her small hands when she shook her head and squeezed his arms and shut her door.
And here he is now, fingers pressed against the bone and skin of her wrist, pulse flying beneath his touch. She smiles, just a little, and pulls her hand from his grasp. "We can't do this." She shakes her head; lips pressed together, eyes shining.
He purses his lips, agrees, pencil-stained fingers reaching for his coffee cup. "Rachel, we need to – "
"What are you doing now?"
"Working at an architecture firm," he answers coolly, lips puckering at the bitter coffee on his tongue. Her lips form where before her voice says it, so he answers the unspoken question, "Manhattan."
He's always been able to read her like that, understand where her thoughts are heading before she has the chance to – he used to think it was some cool psychic connection, but he's realized it's just 'cause he loves her so much, knows her so well.
She must realize this too, and smiles, just a little, fingers twisting the diamond- encrusted band around her finger. He doesn't know her fiancé. He doesn't quite care to, either, doesn't want to meet the guy living out his dream.
He doesn't bother asking her what she's doing – after all, he knows. He knows about the green makeup, the stage lights, defying gravity and a trapdoor. He knows all of that and more, from Kurt, from articles, but most of all from seeing the show himself.
They don't say much else for the next hour, but as the sun begins to crawl back to the horizon, she yawns a little, and he doesn't want to be without her. "Do you – do you want to – "
"Can you take me home?"
She winds up pressing her body against his on the bench seat of his truck. She doesn't say anything, so he doesn't say anything, and they just ride to her house, sky bleeding pink into red and red into navy.
He stalls the car in her empty driveway and turns slightly. Her fingers toy with a loose thread on the edge of her navy skirt and she turns her big brown eyes up to him and asks if he wants to come in, and before he even registers the question, he finds himself traipsing after her into the house.
But after a moment of silence in her kitchen, he decides it's not best for him to be here – he'll end up doing something he'll regret, certainly – so he grabs her face in his hands and presses his lips against her cheek.
She sighs and squeezes his forearm, and with one long glance, he leaves.
He can't exactly pinpoint where it all went wrong, but he thinks they were probably doomed from the start of their second – third – try at dating. He hadn't intended for their relationship to have an expiration date, but come his enlistment in the army and her acceptance to NYADA, their relationship came to a close by the end of that summer.
He'd tried bringing it up, tried, "Wait for me," and promises of forever, but she refused them, refused him, but a part of him always expected her to wait.
It's what they do. She waits for him while he's with another girl, and he waits for her, just the same. But now the impermanence of separation is looming and he's swallowed by the idea of forever without her.
He can't really imagine it, can't picture never kissing her again. Whenever they broke up in high school, he always knew they'd get back together.
You only have one soul mate, right? If not, where are his others? He's only ever felt tethered to Rachel. But maybe she's not tethered to him.
They're both back in their respective boroughs of New York – he in Brooklyn, she in Manhattan – by the time fall blusters in. He has to find a way to get over her, which isn't easy, as her face is plastered all over Times Square, advertising her new show – which he, of course, has front row seats to.
These days his heart lives in his throat and he misses her more than ever, and he laughs (albeit bitterly) at the irony. He's always missed her, from the moment he was deployed to the moment he graduated college, but it's the little things that enhance her absence.
He misses the way her hair would fall over her shoulders when she laughed really hard, how her fingers would trace over his chest, and the contrast of her honey hued skin against his own stark, white complexion.
It's everything, really, those little spontaneous moments – like her tattoo – to the scheduled date nights. He just misses her, and it kills him that some other guy deserves her more, and gets to have her until death do they part.
Of course, he still feels that tether every single day, heart longing to be near hers and he wonders if she ever feels the same, if she ever felt the same when he was gone and if this fiancé of hers does as good a job as him of loving her. Because he isn't good at many things, but he is good at loving Rachel, good at knowing what she needs and why and how and where and – he just knows her.
The weeks bleed into one another, leaves falling to the ground under heavy sheets of snow, wind whipping his cheeks pink as he walks to the subway and home every single day. One Saturday morning is particularly wintery, flurries spinning from the grey sky, and he's content to stay in all day and work on designs.
But a knock on the door of his apartment distracts him from the building he's sketching, and, grumbling, he ambles to the door, doesn't bother with the peephole, and finds himself with an armful of Rachel Berry.
His arm is heavy on her thin shoulders as he guides her to his couch, and he wonders if she can see through the torrent of tears on her cheeks. She collapses onto the couch, does this weird gasping thing, and he thinks she probably can't breathe, so he pats her back to help her. "Um, Rachel?"
Ignoring his question, she presses her body against him, crawling on top of his body, chest to chest. "H-He," she hiccups, "he broke up with me."
He sighs slowly, lips parting slightly to release the breath built up in his lungs, and he squeezes her just a little tighter against him. "You, um, you okay?"
Her head snaps up to glare at him, so no, no she is not okay. "I—I need a place to—"
"Stay with me," he murmurs, lips brushing against her forehead, and she nods imperceptibly. Her fingers squeeze his cotton tee shirt, burying her face in the crook of his neck.
"Will I—will I ever be okay?"
He sighs, brushes his fingers through her hair, "Yeah. Yeah, you'll be just fine. You're Rachel Berry. You have to be."
Being Rachel's roommate isn't easy. He's stuck sleeping on the couch, too much of a gentleman to let her sleep there, but moreover, it sucks seeing her sad everyday and being unable to stop it.
But slowly, she begins to heal as he hauls out Christmas decorations and decorates the apartment, and he drives her home for the holidays, her sleepy body pressed against his in the truck the whole way home.
And, of course, she wants to be home for the New Year's Eve celebrations in New York, so they drive back to the city days before the holiday.
The curve of her hip presses against his side, leaning against the railing of the balcony on his apartment. She squeezes his fingers, tells him she doesn't really want to head out to Times Square, but would rather spend the night here – with him. Her straight white teeth pull her bottom lip in and he wants to cry, because it's been so long since she's looked at him this way – looked at him in any way – and all he does is tug her closer against his side.
He grasps her hand and pulls her to the couch, presses his body against the arm of it, and hopes she'll take his invitation to slip her body beside his – she doesn't, sits nearly a foot away from him.
"Come here," he murmurs, crooking a finger, and she does as he'd hoped, curve of her body pressing against his and god he loves her, he really loves her, he doesn't remember ever not loving her.
"I've always loved you," he tells her, later, as they ring in the new year together in his bed, fingers and legs and lips brushing over each other and it's been too long, hearts too far, and she repeats the sentiment, running her fingers over the curve of his shoulder.
He kisses her, then, soft and saccharine and he pulls away, lips catching the little gold star on her wrist, and he has to ask, "D'you miss him?"
She shrugs, pulls herself closer to him, "Would you hate me if I said a little bit?" He shakes his head. She's his, now, after all. "Finn, this is where I belong."
He wishes she had waited for him. He tells her this, voicing all the vulnerabilities he'd been so afraid of during his eighteenth year, how he'd hoped for letters from her and he shows her the shoebox full of letters he never sent, tucked neatly in his closet.
"Why didn't you send these – why did you let me end things?"
"I've," he draws in a shaky breath, and out of anxiety, tugs the blanket around their shoulders, "I've always only ever wanted the best for you and for a long time, I didn't think that was me."
"Well, it is."
Smiling, he pinches her side. "I know that now."
Her fingers loop with his under the table, and he's missed this, all of this, and he runs his thumb over her fingers. She rests her chin on the heel of her hand, smiles slightly at him, then, "Daddy, what are you doing on the fifth of October?"
"Honey, it's April, I don't have any plans that far in advance. Why?"
He beams as Rachel very casually places her left hand on the table. "Oh, no reason."
His reaction is priceless, excited crying and jumping and hugging and he turns on Rachel's dad, "Did you know about this?"
"Of course," he scoffs, "who do you think gave Finn our permission to marry her?"
Rachel leans her head against Finn's, and he can't help but smile against her hair. They may not be just as they were when they were eighteen, but he loves her all the same.
happy new year! as always, glee is not mine and also dedicated to rachel!