A/N: This story has been in progress for a while and has been a source of much frustration for me but at the same time, I couldn't leave it alone. I hope you're pleased with the end result. Please take a moment to let me know? Thanks go to wood-u-like-to-no, writingismypassion4ever, Paceismyhero, and holygoof101 for unlimited read throughs encouragement and suggestions. Spawned by Passenger Seat by Death Cab for Cutie.
Disclaimer: Still don't own anything. I'm bored with having to say this.
From the Passenger Seat
She's been in this seat probably a hundred times before, but she's never really thought about it like that. She's never realized how much she actually likes 'riding shotgun', next to Finn, and doing whatever they're doing. She's been nervous in this seat. She's been happy in this seat. She's been kissed, and had a stomach full of butterflies and she's even said goodbye from this seat more than once.
It's never been quite like this. Now she's just heartbroken. It's the first time she's extremely uncomfortable sitting next to him. What's even worse is that she's not sure if she wants it to be the last or not. He made it abundantly clear he wants it to be the last and that's the last thought that pushes her over the edge and she's crying in the passenger seat. Her head is turned to look out the window and she manages to hide the sounds of crying and to try to be indifferent to if he notices.
Why did they pick a tree lot so far away?
It's about twenty-three minutes that she sits in the seat, barely smelling the fake evergreen from her coat pockets and the real evergreen on him through her stuffed-up nose. She didn't think to bring tissues because she thought she would be going home happy. She thought she would be in the passenger seat, talking about Christmas carols and maybe drinking hot chocolate. The thought makes her stomach turn over now. All she wants is water and her bed and… not to feel unwanted.
Somewhere around the tenth eternal minute inside the car, she huddles toward the door and she feels him move to turn the heater up. Well, she hears the scratchy sound of his coat sleeve moving when his arm does, and then she feels the air blowing on her and it truthfully makes her feel like she's going to either pass out or vomit, neither of which she wants to do. It's bad enough she's crying and bad enough he wouldn't just let her walk home. Even worse was the three and a half minutes he followed her in a slow roll, his eyes begging her to just get in the car even though it was like he couldn't make himself say the words because he didn't actually want her there. She wasn't sure if she wanted to be there less than he wanted her there. She knows it just doesn't matter. None of it matters. All the times she's sat here before, all the times she thought she would sit here tomorrow and next week and next month and...it just doesn't make a difference any more.
She reaches out and tips the heat vent into his direction so it's not blowing on her and she huddles toward the door even more. The truck is leaking the cool December air inside where the seal around the door is faulty and through the spaces where the old window rattles when the truck moves too fast. She feels like it's leaking too slow so she reaches up to turn the handle, moving as slowly as she can because anything going too fast feels wrong now that everything has slipped away so fast. Everything is changing and she doesn't care for it, even if she seems to be making choices that inspire everything and everyone to move away from her faster.
Once the window is down, it's only about the fourteenth minute of their twenty-three minute car ride and she has the window all the way down and her head cradled against the door, letting the cold air blow inside and over her face. She closes her eyes and feels the air blowing on her damp cheeks and the combination is bitterly cold but she doesn't care. Does that mean she's bitter? She also doesn't care. Not right now.
"What are you doing?" He asks. His voice, his normally beautiful voice, is rough and strained and quiet under the weight of it all. She knows he glances away from the road at her, but she doesn't move and she doesn't care. She's not allowed to care anymore. She can't care anymore. She just cannot. Not tonight and maybe not ever and she hopes that if she gets frozen, she'll stay frozen. Frozen enough that whatever she's feeling will eventually fade, and the memories will too. "You're shivering, Rachel. Roll the window up."
She thinks maybe if she makes herself chilled enough, she'll forget a warm summer and sloppy, heated kisses and all the happy things she's had and felt and done in this passenger seat. Because she won't be back here again, she's sure.
Not that she wants to be here now but she didn't have much of a choice. He followed her for three and a half minutes as she made slow, careful steps right on the shoulder of the road. He finally stopped the car, scooped her up with barely more than an arm around her waist, and put her in without her consent. She was too shocked to speak and now… well, now she's still too shocked but also too angry and dejected. So she doesn't move and she doesn't answer him and she doesn't care. She also doesn't know who she thinks she's fooling because she thinks she cares far, far too much.
She cares too much about trivial things like reputations and patching over insecurities and gold star stickers and songs. She cares too little about the actual value people in her life hold to her until she's let one of the things she cares too much about get away from her. She's the type of person who reports a teacher's inappropriate actions not out of moral obligation, but out of ambition. She's the type of person who kisses other people's boyfriends. She's the type of person who kisses others even if she has a boyfriend. She hurts everyone around her and it's usually with some sort of selfish initiative.
The truck stops at the stop sign a block away from her house and she realizes that she still feels like she's choking on stagnant air even though the window is down and she has to go. So she goes. She jumps out of the truck at the stop sign and doesn't even flinch when she hears him calling out to her to wait. She also doesn't wait, she just runs home. And she knows he's behind her, at least making sure she walks into the house safely but she can't help feel the tiniest bit of relief that the boy she sat by and the seat she rode shotgun in are both behind her now. Maybe it's a metaphor, more than the seat and the sitting beside, that everything will be okay.
She doesn't believe in the metaphor right now, though. She doesn't believe in anything really. She doesn't not believe either but she falls somewhere between. Somewhere below. Somewhere beneath. Somewhere she's used to being but never thought she'd be when she sat in the passenger seat.
She still isn't completely sure how she found herself here, sitting next to him as he fiddles with the binoculars, looking down at them in his lap. His mouth is drawn into different shapes at different times, sometimes a pouty, thoughtful little "o" and other moments, it's more of a thin, straight line. It's been nearly three and a half minutes since he spoke and she can feel the tension creeping into her shoulders because she doesn't want to be the first one to speak. Usually, it's an honor she reserves for herself (she's also a fan of being the last one to speak, which sometimes causes problems, she's learned), but this time she is obstinately refusing. Even if it's uncomfortable. Even if she wants to. Even if she's doing a happy little dance in her head. She feels terrible because he's obviously unhappy with this turn of events.
She puts her hand back on his shoulder. She had been rubbing the spot for a while, hoping it did any sort of good even through the thick layers he's wearing against the chill of early spring. She dropped her hand and moved back to give him space because he wasn't talking and she didn't know if he wanted her there. She realizes now that's ridiculous. He's invited her twice, without any sort of hint other than her showing him the Muckracker blind item in the first place, so obviously he wants her there.
Eventually, all the talks they've had and all the history she's lived through in this exact same spot—whether the passenger seat is considered a metaphor for being next to him or not—they force her to speak in some way.
"Look, Finn…" she starts. She sees him inhale and then his chest doesn't move and she knows he's holding his breath a little and waiting for whatever she's going to say. She smiles a little because it's so familiar and she feels just so happy with this turn of events, even if she knows it hurts him. She's not happy that it hurts him; she's not. She's happy that it hurts them, though, and she will never ever say it because it sounds so awful and selfish. "There was a time not that long ago when I was certain I would never sit in this seat again."
The breath he was holding leaves in a rush and he looks over at her with a scowl. "What?" He sounds confused and that is clearly not what he was expecting.
She shrugs because she's not getting into it too far. She has also promised, as a result of his actions and how they contributed to a sad breakup, she will not withhold the truth from another person. So she compromises and continues. "That night when you so insistently took me home from the Christmas tree lot, although we had just 'officially' broken up, I was fairly certain I wouldn't be here again." His eyes get kind of wide and she knows she's doing it again; she's putting her heart on her sleeve and he had just told her a couple of nights ago that he'd always felt more certain in their relationship because of it. So she hopes it helps now. "It was really hard to sit next to you," she admits. "I felt like I couldn't breathe."
"Does it still feel like that?" He gives her a look and yes…in that second that's exactly what it feels like, although the reasoning is completely different. The reasoning when she looks away is also completely different.
"Sometimes," she says carefully, tilting her head and avoiding his intense stare. They're both pulled out of the conversation and out of their immediate bubble by movement outside; Rachel catches a flash of bushy hair she knows belongs to the head of one Jacob ben Israel and she stops whatever else she was going to say to give Finn a smile when he looks at her, his eyes wide and questioning. She thinks he wonders if she saw the same thing he saw and yes she did.
They need to be going. They got what they were looking for, at least for the moment. And she never got to tell him that she's reclaiming that spot and it's a sign of his ability to forgive. (Secretly, she thinks that ability is wasted on Quinn because Quinn never learns from her mistakes.)
She thinks it's sweet that he insists on driving. This Christmas is different in so many ways, and every single one of them are good. This Christmas, she's not sitting in the passenger seat so much as she's sitting in the middle with her small thigh pressed against his long one as he slowly winds them through the slushy streets of town back to her house. It's been snowing slowly and steadily the entire time they were outside and there is so much pinkish-hued cloud cover she can't see the stars, but she keeps thinking about her Christmas present anyway. She loves it, she truly does, nearly as much as she loves him if such a thing is possible. She also loves the way they gave up the more material Christmas presents, but she wishes there were something she could give him. He's given her so much; it may not have been a pair of earrings in quite the way she'd insinuated and he'd planned just to please her, but it's also in things that matter more and are not as tangible. Still, that being said, there's something a little off in the sweetness of his gift and it's something that makes her a little nervous.
She pushes her mitten-covered hand onto his thigh and rubs a little. His eyes do not deviate from the road—she's grateful—but he clears his throat a little. "What…whatcha doin' there?"
She represses her smile, but just barely as she looks over at him. "Thinking."
He just bobs his head and doesn't need to ask her to continue.
"Was giving me the star a way to say you don't think you'll always be there with me to tell me you believe in me?" She asks quietly.
"No," he finally gets out, but it sounds a little choked out.
"If you know what you want, you don't have to be afraid to tell me," she says, steeling herself a little. They have a bit of a history with this time of year and harsh words and she's felt the pressure of the previous year through the entire season this time, even if everything between them is nothing but wonderful and nothing but everything.
"I…" he clears his throat again. He's nervous about something. "No, I want to come to New York with you," he finally says. "I know I want to be with you and like you said, we'll figure it out together. Last year…last year sucked. And in case you didn't notice, it's a thing. Like I think I'm gonna give you a star every year, in some way. You don't have to do that 'cause you're like… you're the North Star or whatever for me. You're always there, always in the same place, and… and you're how I find my way." He pulls into the driveway at her dads' house and, once the truck is safely in park, he turns toward her. He leans forward and she holds her breath for a second, but instead he tilts his head and looks out the window. The clouds from the snow flurries earlier are a little more stringy and a little less snowing, and there are a few night lights visible in the sky. He points to one (which one, she has no idea, truthfully but she isn't going to tell him that) and then kind of looks at her. "Think that's it?"
His eyes are twinkling a little and his lips are pressed together so she can see that dimple she always wants to kiss or touch and she thinks it's pretty hard to hold back her own grin. The most easily visible light blinks a little. "No," she says. "I think that's a satellite. I'm pretty sure it just moved." She leans over a little and whatever light she saw before is dimmer and possibly hidden behind one of the clouds that are still clinging to the air.
He laughs and shrugs. "Well… sometimes stars and satellites, like, run into each other, don't they? Maybe I'm just… maybe I'm just your satellite and I'm hovering or something, just waiting for the right moment."
His laughter is infectious, utterly contagious, and she laughs as well. She takes off her mitten and presses her warm hand to his warm cheek, feeling the dip of his skin where his smile dents his cheek so adorably. "I have no idea how that works," she admits. She leans forward just enough and pushes her lips against his and it's hard to breathe again; this passenger seat, this boy… they're always kind of pressing on her and taking her breath away. When she's next to him, she always feels like she's on the verge of something and it's amazing, really, the ability he has to do that without even trying.
Their mouths move together gently, lazily, and in a well-practiced rhythm. The tip of his tongue tickles at her lips and she's really glad she had recently applied her chocolate-peppermint lip gloss because she knows he loves the sweet taste of it and when he loves it, he shows her how much he loves it. It's not like they've completely perfected the physical aspect of their relationship yet; they just haven't had as much practice with that as they've had with kissing and, regardless, they aren't going to get more practice with it just now. Her curfew is in approximately three minutes, she's completely certain her father has looked out the window at least once so there's little privacy to be had, and they're both wearing far too many clothes to even make it feasible because winter is, in some ways, a terrible season to be young and in love.
She finally manages to pull away from him, but just barely. She folds her lips against themselves and, just as suspected, the lip gloss is gone, but his eyes are still twinkling.
"I think I understand why you rolled the window down last time," he said simply. "It gets really, really hot in here. And it smells like Christmas trees…sort of."
Her smile widens and she nods a little. "I might've put air freshener in my pocket again," she admits slowly. She looks down, still so close to him his lips brush against her forehead as she ducks. She pulls the green pine tree out of her pocket and slides it onto the dash. "I know how you love the smell of evergreen and this was the closest I could find."
She does not say she was using it this time, when she knows things were going to go how she imagined with the laughing and the hot chocolate and the in-love, to cover up and forget the previous year. She doesn't need to say it, because she's sure he knows. She wants this to be the best Christmas ever, and it's slowly becoming obvious she's determined to succeed; she is succeeding. She doesn't need to say it.
He kisses her again then, taking his time and letting his fingers tug on the bottom of one of her braids as they melt against each other in the warm, heady truck cab. The air is thick, but it's a different kind of tension and it's so easy to count the ways this year is different from last year.
"It's time for you to go inside," he says. She can tell he's reluctant and that's now how he wants it to go, necessarily. She nods anyway.
"C'mon. I'll walk you in," he says.
It was so nice of his parents to make sure the old truck was parked at the airport for them. Burt and Carole were heading back to Washington D.C. for some sort of an event after a brief trip home to Lima to check on Burt's business, so the timing was ideal for a vehicular custody exchange.
"Baby," she says, her tone rising on the end to indicate there's more to come.
"Yeah?" He says, turning his head for just a second to glance at her before he looks back at the otherwise unoccupied, two-lane road. Maybe, just maybe, they're taking the long way home. After two years in New York, including the first summer when they didn't return home for more than the fourth of July weekend, the ability to drive and get lost is actually appealing rather than terrifying her as it once would have done. She's relaxed, even if the air conditioning is broken in the truck. It's not too hot, so the rolled-down windows and what he called a cross-breeze is helping, although it is making basically a mess of her hair.
"Pull over," she requests sweetly. He does a sort of double take, but there's a dirt road turn off right about where she said that (it wasn't pre-planned, just merely convenient.) And there's a Journey song on the radio, which sounds stupid but seems perfect. "Please?"
The next glance he gives her is curious, perhaps a little wary, and she knows what he's thinking. He's going over the list of their interaction lately to try remembering if he's made her angry and if she might put those self-defense classes to use while she has a secluded spot to hide the body. She has to try not to laugh at him because he's so adorably clueless sometimes and, for someone who knows her so well, he has his moments where he's so unaware of how she operates. It's refreshing because she honestly does enjoy the occasional opportunity to 'spring' something on him.
The truck hasn't even bumped to a complete stop before she's in his lap, straddling his legs and kissing him hard, the short, loose skirt of her sundress moving around the top of her thighs. He somehow manages to get the truck shifted into park before he puts his hands on her butt and pins her to him. They always find a way to tightly wind around one another but it took him all of three seconds to realize what she was doing and awkwardly slide them over to the side with just a little more space to work with.
Every time she sits in this truck, she starts thinking. This truck has actually been kind of a significant location in her life, especially when one considers the majority of her life's significant moments have happened while she was with him in some capacity, too. But somehow, she's surprised they've never really had sex in his truck. Well, there was the one instance, but that was in the back in the bed of the truck lined with blankets after a drive-in movie when they'd kept the date going out at the lake when it was a little too warm still for anyone else to be out there so late.
"Would you believe we've never… christened… your truck—so to speak?" She says, tossing her head back as his hands slide up under her skirt and he presses a kiss to her neck at the same time. He is a boy after all, so it's not as though it takes that much to get him going and she grinds down on him hard, knowing he's ready to go and probably has been since she crawled into his lap and started kissing him. "Now seems like a perfect time to cross that off our bucket lists, don't you think?" She smiles against his forehead before he sucks at that spot on her neck a little more insistently. Her eyes fall closed and her fingers wrap through his hair.
"I think shhhh," he says when he finally pulls away from her skin. "'Cause I wasn't arguing or anything."
A couple minutes later, a car drives past them going in the opposite direction and they really stop hesitating after that because it seems clear they're bordering on voyeurism and neither of them wants to put a repeating tally mark next to "getting caught in a compromising position" on their bucket lists. Or anti-bucket lists.
She finds it slightly amusing that, for as talented of a drummer as he may be, he doesn't have the slightest bit of rhythm for dancing. But what he lacks in dancing, he seems to make up for when they're like this and she's not surprised that he moves inside her with practiced ease to the beat of the song talking about getting back to their city and how much they miss the lights and whatever else. The song is about San Francisco she knows (she had an entire class devoted to song meanings and the teacher covered this one), but it feels like they're making love and holding onto the one thing that is a common thread for them between the two places, just waiting to get back to their lives. And enjoying each other during the break.
They've both taken their time coming down, breathing hard and holding each other for as long as they dared until another car drove by, replaced clothing, and reclaimed seats. They're headed back toward Lima now after their detour (and maybe one other, okay?) She's warm enough she's put her feet up on the dashboard which she typically doesn't care for due to the inherent risks, but it means the breeze from the open windows is brushing across the backs of her thighs and she keeps catching Finn sneaking glances from the road to her legs and her skirt when it swirls around a little and the glances light a little fire in her and actually make her excited for the car to stop moving so they can…well, take advantage of a house to themselves.
"Y'know…" he starts conversationally, forever yours faithfully humming along in the background and barely audible over the hum of the old truck, "We should just make this a regular thing. Like…"
"Yes, I'm sure you'd enjoy making it a regular thing," she says.
"Psh, not that," he said. "I mean…" he licks his lips and looks at her. "Not just that. No, I mean where you're the navigator or whatever and I'm the driver and sometimes we trade when you don't mind driving. Like if you need directions and I have 'em I'll share and when you have ideas about pulling over you tell me and…"
"I'm not sure what you're saying," she admits carefully. "I believe that's the current system."
He chuckles and reaches out to turn up the song just a little. "No, I mean… like for life. Forever. We should make it permanent."
Her breath catches in her throat. "What?"
"Marry me," he says.
Her eyebrows knit together in confusion. "Perhaps you should plan it out a little more when you ask such a serious question."
"I've been thinking about it for a while," he admits quietly. "I kinda wanna do it here."
"Like… now?" She asks, her heart beating harder and her feet coming off the dashboard as she turns to look at him seriously.
"Well not right this second," he says. "But…but when are we gonna be back here again? This is the best place ever for me and you to start out 'cause it's where we started out."
She finds it difficult to hide her smile as she looks over at him out of the corner of her eye. "Oh, well. In that case, I accept." He takes her left hand and plays with where the wedding band will sit and all she can think is she's found her place. And she never really thought it would be riding shotgun but somehow, she always knew it would be with this boy.
And the rest of the world just doesn't matter.