Author's Note: innumerable thanks to Rachel (dancingxinxthexrain) and Mary Gael (colors-carousels) for their constant encouragement and, in Rachel's case, beta-ing as well.

I'll See You, or I Won't (Whatever)

I.

Rachel is practicing facial expressions in the mirror – as she is wont to do, on lazy Sunday afternoons, to keep her theatrical muscles toned and at the ready – when she hears a soft knock on her bedroom door.

"Who is it?" Rachel trills, furrowing her brow and attempting to squeeze a single tear out of her left eye.

"Kurt, of course… the only other person that lives here," a slightly exasperated-sounding voice replies. "I made something for you! Cranberry pistachio biscotti!"

Rachel wrenches open the door and fixes Kurt with a withering look. "You want something."

"I am offended, Rachel!" Kurt gasps, clapping a hand over his heart in mock-horror. "Why ever would you think that?"

"Because the last time you made me cranberry pistachio biscotti, you asked to a thousand dollars from me to cover your half of the rent, and then you spent it all on Fendi scarves," she says simply, shrugging her shoulders.

Kurt sniffs. "Well, maybe I just wanted to do something nice, for my beautiful, talented, fashionable best friend!"

"The answer is no," Rachel tells him, rolling her eyes.

"But you didn't even let me ask!" he whines, stomping a loafer-clad foot for emphasis.

"A-ha!" she shouts, thrusting a victorious index finger into his sternum. "I knew you wanted something!"

"Alright, alright, I want something! But please, hear me out – it's not even for me this time, I swear."

"Fine," Rachel sighs, as if the mere thought of it pains her. "But make it snappy! I'm practicing sadness."

It's credited to how well Kurt knows his volatile friend that he isn't baffled at all by this statement.

"I'd like your permission to have my stepbrother come and stay with us – just for a few weeks – until he can find a job and an apartment here in the city. He has no qualms about sleeping on the couch, I can personally vouch for his personal hygiene, and I promise he wouldn't be a nuisance!"

Rachel massages her chin slowly, as if in deep thought. "No," she says, after an eternity.

"What do you mean 'no'?" Kurt demands, "You can't just shoot me down like that, without any explanation. You don't even understand the situation at hand!"

"Enlighten me, then," she says.

"Finn – my stepbrother – has been having a rough time lately and would really like to move away from our hometown and start fresh. He and his fiancée, Quinn, well, ex-fiancée now, were expecting a baby, only – bless his poor, naïve heart – he's just found out that she's been lying to him all along, and that the father of the child is actually his supposed best friend. Now, I know what you're thinking: this sounds more like an episode of General Hospital than life in small-town Ohio, but I swear on my Prada blazer that it's true. Finn's really torn up about the whole thing, and I think the move to New York could do him so good. Well, that, and a new wardrobe, God willing!"

"I suppose that is quite sad," Rachel concedes, chewing on her bottom lip. "That Quinn girl sounds like quite the hussy!"

"Putting it mildly," Kurt says, with a tilt of his head. "Anyway, does this mean you've reconsidered?"

Rachel huffs. "Fine – I suppose he can stay here. But only temporarily! And if he's going to be sleeping on the couch, he must know that I'm an early riser, and I will be up and about at 6 a.m. sharp every morning! And I'm going to need to add him to the chore chart!"

"Yes, right, excellent, that all sounds good to me. I'm going to go call him with the good news!" he sings, exiting the room with a victory shimmy. "And don't forget to eat that biscotti! I covered my freshly-manicured hands in flour to make them!"

Rachel walks across room, grumbling, until she's once again standing before the mirror. She decides to practice annoyed.

Something tells her it won't be very difficult at all.

II.

Finn arrives at JFK airport in early November.

By some miracle of persuasion – (she's got her money down on witchcraft) – Kurt convinces Rachel to accompany him to the airport.

"I can't believe you dragged me all the way out here!" Rachel shouts over the din of the crowded baggage claim. "Look at all of these people, and their germs. If I get sick because of this grossly contaminated excuse for an airport and am unable to perform tonight, I will personally castrate you with my bare hands!"

"You are an understudy with a small, non-speaking role – you'll only be performing tonight if Samantha Van Arsdale comes down with the flu," Kurt reminds her dryly. "Besides, it's important to me that you meet Finn as soon as possible! I want you to make a good impression, Rachel. You can come across as a little, well…"

"A little what?" she demands shrilly.

"Intimidating?" Kurt squeaks.

"That's not what you were going to say," Rachel mumbles under her breath.

Kurt lifts his hands in the air – a gesture of innocence.

"How are we even going to find him when he gets here? This place is a zoo!"

"Oh, don't you worry your neurotic little head about that," Kurt laughs. "Finn might be the tallest man I know. He'll stick out like a sore thumb. In fact, I think I see him now! Over here, Finn Hudson!"

"Oh my god, he is a giant!" Rachel hisses when a scruffy-looking brunette man snaps his head up at the call and starts wading laboriously through the crowd in their direction. "And he's dressed like a lumberjack…"

"I did specifically ask him not to wear a puffy vest," Kurt says, sighing airily, "but since you're currently sporting a unicorn sweater, I think it's safe to say your opinion with respect to all things fashion hardly matters."

"For the hundredth time, Kurt, this is a carousel horse!" she says angrily, but he's too busy pulling Finn into a bear hug to take note of her correction.

"It's good to see you again, Finn!" he practically squeals, "and to have you here, in New York!"

"It's good to be here, man," Finn says, smiling a little sadly.

"Oh! And before I forget, this is Rachel – my best friend and roommate," Kurt informs him, not-so-gently shoving Rachel forward.

"Finn Hudson," he says, extending a calloused hand.

She takes it, pumping his arm vigorously.

"Rachel Berry – triple threat," she tells him, by way of introduction.

He laughs heartily, tipping his head back with enthusiasm, until he spots the sour look on her face and sobers immediately.

"Oh," Finn says. "You were serious. Is that like an official title or something?"

"Of course it is. It's printed on my business cards," Rachel says, fishing one out of her purse for good measure.

He takes it from her, examining the gold embossed lettering. "Huh. Well that's, uh, impressive, I guess?"

Rachel offers him a sickly sweet smile. "Remind me, Finn, what it is that you do again?"

"I'm, uh…I guess I'm currently unemployed."

"That's what I thought," she sneers, snatching the card from his hands.

Kurt inserts himself between them as a physical barrier, taking them both by the elbow. "That went well!" he chirps. "Now why don't we end this little territorial showdown before someone pees all over my new boots."

He swivels a bit to face his step-brother. "You must be hungry, Finn! Why don't we head back to our place and get you something to eat. Rachel's prepared a special dinner in celebration of your arrival – isn't that right, Rachel?"

"I hope you like tofu," she says moodily, adding in a mumble, "but I'm sure you don't."

III.

Finn's been at the apartment for all of three days when Rachel bursts suddenly into Kurt's bedroom, her brown eyes flashing with unadulterated rage.

"I know you two are family, Kurt, but Finn Hudson is the single most horrible human being I have ever had the displeasure of meeting in my entire life, let alone living with," she informs him curtly.

He glances up at her, briefly, from the mountain of socks he's folding as part of his biweekly closet reorganization ritual. "Is that so?"

"Yes that is so," Rachel says, stomping a delicate foot. "In fact, I've prepared an itemized list of all of Finn's wrongdoings, so as to more effectively emphasize the direness of this sitation."

"Well, then, get on with it, won't you," Kurt prompts, waving his hand in her general direction.

She clears her throat loudly. "One: On Wednesday morning, Finn helped himself to a bowl of cereal and neglected to put the vegan soymilk back into the refrigerator. Two: On Wednesday evening, at approximately 9:52 PM, Finn turned up the television so loudly that it woke me for a deep and much-needed slumber. Three: On Thursday afternoon I walked into the living room only to discover with horror that Finn had forgotten to put away his pillow, and that his blanket was spread out all over the couch, rumpled and unfolded! Four: When I leaned over to straighten aforementioned blanket, Finn walked in and I would swear on my autographed Funny Girl playbill that he was looking up my skirt. Five: On – "

"Very well, I think I've heard enough, Rachel!" he interrupts, depositing his socks into the corresponding drawer of his wardrobe.

"But I'm not finished! Do you know he actually had the audacity to tell me shut up while I was practicing my scales this morning?" Rachel shouts, her lips curled into a snarl. "I was trying to hit a high A, Kurt! Do you know how much concentration it takes to hit a high A? And he had the nerve to distract me with his immature insolence. In my apartment!"

"Our apartment," Kurt reminds her.

"Whatever," she spits, arms crossed. "He's got to go."

He crosses the room to sit on his bed, patting the vacant spot beside him. "Rachel," Kurt begins, when she's perched on the mattress next to him, "I'm going to level with you. While you are unequivocally my best friend – "

"In the entire world!" Rachel interjects.

"Yes, yes, in the entire world," Kurt concedes. "But, in spite of this, Rachel, I must say that you are sometimes prone to…how can I put this delicately…psychotic tendencies."

"I beg your pardon?" she screeches, her eyes narrowing to dangerous slits.

"Perhaps I misspoke!" he amends. "What I meant to say was that your expectations can be, from time to time, unreasonable. And that sometimes you form judgments too quickly. Finn is a good guy, Rachel, who's going through a tough time. Sure, he may be a bit of an oaf – but can you really blame him, at that height? Just, give him another chance. For me? Your best friend in the entire world?"

Rachel sniffs. "I suppose it would be a little unfair to expel him from the apartment when has only been here for approximately 76 hours. He can stay – for now. But that doesn't mean I have to be nice to him! Or civil!"

Grinning, Kurt pats her lightly on the knee. "That's my girl."

She manages the shadow of a smile, peering around at the clothes and shoes tossed haphazardly around the room. "Are you cleaning again?"

"Sure am."

Rachel shifts here eyes back and forth, like she's about to reveal some sort of salacious secret. "Would you mind if, maybe, I, uh, finished this for you?"

"You're not serious."

"You know I'm a stress-organizer!" Rachel snaps. "Please? I really need to decompress."

"Don't have to ask me twice," Kurt says, hopping deftly to his feet. "But if my Dolce and Gabbanna Kimono goes missing again, I know where to find you!"

Glad to have dampened the flames of Rachel's temper – at least for the moment – Kurt practically skips out of his bedroom.

Only to barrel headlong into a sturdy chest.

"We need to talk," Finn says when Kurt manages to right himself.

"Let me guess," he sighs, dusting off the shoulder of his blazer, "about Rachel?"

"How'd you know?"

"Call it brother's intuition," Kurt says flatly. "Walk and talk?"

"I don't understand how you've lived with that girl for so long," Finn tells him, trailing obediently after his step-brother into the kitchen. "She's impossible. No, she's not impossible – she's insane! D'you know she tossed my cereal out – the cereal that I paid for – because I left the jug of milk on the counter for like three minutes while I ate? And then when I was trying to watch some baseball the other night, she came charging out of her room screaming at me about waking her up and like, disturbing her beauty rest, or some shit. It wasn't even 10 o'clock yet! And, you know, God forbid I take a piss in the morning before making up the couch, because of course she'll come in and find it like that while I'm on the john and then practically bite my head off. And the way she's always prancing around in those microscopic plaid skirts of hers – I mean, it's like she's begging me to look, just so she can catch me in the act and call me a perv!"

There's a beat. Kurt turns to face Finn, holding two glasses of water. "Are you finished?"

Finn looks at his hands. "I guess so," he mumbles, suddenly bashful.

Kurt sets both glasses down, taking a seat across from Finn at the table. "I'm going to be frank with you, Finn," he warns.

"Who's Frank?"

"Never mind," he replies, rolling his eyes. "Look, the simple truth is that Rachel is… difficult. She is. That's the nature of her personality. But underneath all of that diva beats a good heart. She means well. Most of the time. She'll thaw a little once you get to know her better!"

"Very convincing," Finn mutters darkly, picking at the lint on his sleeve.

"Look, if you could just suck it up and try to get along with her, it would be much appreciated. Keeping the peace was hard enough when it was just Rachel and me living here – I hardly need the added headache of the two of you bickering like children!"

Despite his size advantage, Finn shrinks a little in the face of his step-brother's anger. "Okay, okay! I'll try. Take a chill pill, dude."

"You better try hard," Kurt hisses.

He lifts his hands in surrender. "I'll try my very best."

IV.

Later that night, over dinner – (grilled tofu and soba noodles prepared lovingly by Rachel, picked at nervously by Finn) – Kurt breaks the tense silence at the table with a dramatic clearing of his throat.

"I have an announcement to make," he says gravely.

"But I thought we decided that only I could make announcements at dinner!" Rachel huffs. "You're supposed to make yours at breakfast!"

Kurt silences her with a look.

"As I was saying," he continues, "I have an announcement to make, and that announcement is that I, Kurt Elizabeth Hummel, have a date tomorrow night!"

"Oh, Kurt, that's so exciting!" Rachel sings, forgetting her outrage. "With whom?"

"With none-of-your-ever-loving-business," Kurt informs her. "And since I can't trust the two of you not to tear each other's throats out while I'm gone, I'm leaving a bit of an assignment for you."

Finn and Rachel meet him with blank looks.

"You're… uh… what, dude?"

"Leaving you an assignment. The two of you are going to make dinner – together. I've selected the recipe, and I've even made up a little shopping list to go with it, so there's no confusion!"

"I'm not sure what you're trying to imply here, but I am an excellent cook," Rachel says adamantly, stabbing her fork into a cube of a tofu.

"Now, no one's denying that," Kurt assures her, "but I thought it might be nice if you prepared something a little more…Finn's speed. How does vegan lasagna sound, Finn?"

"Sounds great!" he replies.

"Plebeian," Rachel hisses through a mouthful of a soba.

"So, can you do this for me?" Kurt pleads theatrically, "This one, teeny tiny thing?"

Finn nods weakly and Rachel grunts something that sounds vaguely like a yes.

"Excellent. Now, Finn, would you please pass the salt?"

V.

Cooperative grocery shopping doesn't get off to an auspicious start.

For one, it begins raining torrentially the moment they set foot onto the street – much to Rachel's chagrin (and that of her meticulously coiffed hair). For another, Finn is so clumsy with his metro card it takes him seven tries to swipe it properly, which is about six too many for the crowd of angry, wet New Yorkers in line behind him.

By the time they reach Whole Foods (dripping, exhausted, and having withstood a myriad of filthy insults during Finn's subway debacle), they're both so frustrated that Rachel decides it will be best to carry out their shopping in silence – a silence she enforces until she's exhausted all of the items on their list within her (limited) grasp.

"Could you help me reach those noodles up there?" Rachel asks, steering their cart to a halt. "You know, they really ought to be more accommodating of vertically challenged people here. This is a civil rights issue!"

Finn extends an arm, grabbing the box easily. "So you're an actress, right?" he asks, changing the subject.

"Among other things, yes," she says slowly.

"You should tell me about the show you're in."

Rachel's head snaps up in surprise. "Why? Are you going to poison me so I'm unable to perform?"

"Um… no? I was just trying to make conversation," Finn says, looking a little alarmed.

"Oh. Well, in that case, and since you don't really strike me as the murdering type, I'm currently a member of the chorus in the new revival of West Side Story. But I'm also the understudy for Samantha Van Arsdale, who plays Maria – that's the female lead."

"West Side Story, huh? I think I might have seen that with my mom – that's the one with the gangs and the violence and all the snapping, right?"

Rachel offers him the hint of a smile, impressed. "So what is that you did back in Ohio, Finn?"

"Well, I worked at my step-dad's auto repair shop during the day," Finn says, "and then at night and on the weekends I gave private drum lessons out of my house."

"Kurt never told me you were musical!"

"Huh. Well, music's always sort of been a big part of my life. I mean, I was even in the glee club in high school, for a bit. Until my girlfriend decided it wasn't cool enough, or something," he tells her sheepishly. "It's actually a dream of mine to be like, a real music teacher someday. Maybe start my own glee club."

"Well I think that's a very honorable profession! You know, if it weren't for the early support of my first grade music teacher, Mr. Rodin – who discovered my immense talent – I might not be the rising star that I am today," Rachel says. "That girlfriend of yours must have been quite the harpy!"

"Well, she sure turned out to be…" Finn mumbles, suddenly stony-faced.

Rachel feels herself go numb with the realization. "Oh my god, I'm so sorry,I had no idea, I shouldn't have – "

"It's alright, seriously. I mean, it's only the truth."

"I know I haven't been very welcoming to you so far," she admits, in a rare moment of empathy, "But, I really am sorry. About what happened to you. It must have been very difficult, finding out that two people you loved were lying to you all along."

"It was, at first. Difficult," he says slowly. "But now – and I feel sort of bad saying this – I'm just kind of…I don't know…relieved? Like, I'm not ready to be a dad. There's still so much I want to accomplish. And me and Quinn, well, we only really got engaged because of, you know. The baby thing."

"Oh, is that so?" Rachel says quietly, feeling a strange, tingling warmth collect in the bottom of her stomach.

She doesn't have time to ponder the implications of this digestive oddity, however, for at the precise moment of its occurrence a precariously-placed jar of artichokes dislodges itself from the shelf behind her and shatters all over the floor.

"Well, we're certainly not paying for that," Rachel whispers conspiratorially to Finn, before shouting clean up in aisle three! and hightailing it to the cash register

VI.

Despite their fleeting moment of camaraderie in the Soup and Pasta aisle, the dinner preparations begin to crumble when Finn's culinary skills are found by Rachel to be…wanting.

"Finn, you are wielding that knife entirely incorrectly!" she screeches, snatching the cutting board away from him as he attempts to slice a zucchini. "Are you trying to cut your own fingers off?"

"Yes, that was exactly my plan!" Finn snaps derisively. "How did you guess?"

"Well excuse me for trying to protect your limbs! I suppose next time I ought to just let you chop your thumbs right off, because that's what was going to happen with the clumsy way you were gripping those vegetables. Goodness, it's like you were raised in a barn or something."

"You know, if that's supposed to be some kind of insult to Mama Hudson-Hummel, you can take that back right now, and I'll just forget you ever said it, and we won't have a problem."

"I'm sure that she is a perfectly wonderful mother, but the fact of the matter is that she certainly never taught you the proper way to julienne. Now could you hold still and stop putting words in my mouth so I can show you how to do this?" Rachel says, her patience perpetually wearing thin.

"Fine," Finn says reluctantly. "If you must."

She places the laden cutting board before him, circles around his back and grabs his right hand in a pointedly non-gentle fashion. "First, you've got to make sure you have a proper grip on the knife – like this," Rachel explains, wrapping his hand tightly around the handle.

"Then you've got to slice the zucchini down the middle lengthwise," she says, guiding his arm, "so that the halves will lie flat and not wobble around dangerously. Now you're going to make these halves into quarters by slicing across the width, like so. And then it's just a matter of slowly, carefully making quarter-inch thick cuts, until you reach the end. Got it?"

Finn looks at her curiously. "Yes, I think so."

"Are you sure?"

"Well I just said so, didn't I?"

"Then why are you looking at me all strange-like?" Rachel demands, frowning.

"Because you're still touching me."

"Oh!" she squeaks, tearing her hands away as if they'd been planted on a hot stove. "Sorry."

"That's alright," Finn tells her with a smirk. "I knew it would only be a matter of time before you fell victim to the Hudson charm. Try not to feel too bad, though – no lady could possibly resist this fine specimen of man right here."

"You disgust me."

"Ah, but that flush on your cheeks would beg to differ!"

"This is the flush of all-consuming rage," Rachel spits. "Now shut up and finish chopping those vegetables or I'll use my knife to eviscerate your small intestines!"

"If you say so," Finn teases.

"Don't press your luck!"

VII.

They're halfway through the dessert course – fried plaintains, which Finn pushes around his plate suspiciously – when Kurt arrives home, walking through the front door with his shoulder bag held before his face like a shield.

"Kurt," Rachel says slowly, "what exactly are you doing?"

"Dodging projectiles," he tells her matter-of-factly, "I assumed that you two would be positively warring by now."

"Aw, c'mon, dude – have a little more faith! Look, we're eating civilly. No one's impaled anyone on a fork."

"As much as they might have wanted to," Rachel finishes drily.

"I must say, I'm impressed!" Kurt exclaims, clapping his hands together happily.

Finn and Rachel beam up at him with pride.

"Oh no," he clarifies, "not with you two. With myself! It appears my master plan was a brilliant success."

"What master plan?" Finn asks.

"You can't cook with someone and not bond with them at least a little bit," Kurt replies with a wink.

Rachel feigns gagging. "Don't get ahead of yourself. I may be able tolerate Finn for a few hours, but he's still a clumsy buffoon with no concept of order or responsibility or cleanliness."

"And I may have lived through this evening with Rachel here," Finn says, "but she's still a slightly unhinged control freak with a stick up her ass the size of the Eiffel Tower."

Kurt sighs, dropping into one of the vacant chairs at the dining table. "If you two are going to insist on being so stubborn, then suit yourselves. You're not going to ruin my night!"

"How did your date go?" Rachel asks, chin in hand.

"Wonderfully, magically, miraculously well," he replies dreamily. "Which means Mr. Blaine Anderson won't be meeting either of you children for a long, long time. I'm not going to screw this one up."

"I resent that," Finn complains, socking his step-brother in the arm good-naturedly.

Kurt shoves him gently in response. "Are you going to eat those, or are you just going to stare at them all night?"

"Be my guest."

"Thank you," he says, through a mouthful of plantain. "I'm starved. I didn't eat dessert in front of the new boy, of course. Couldn't have him thinking I'm some sort of glutton!"

VIII.

Finn and Kurt are lounging in the living room two days later when Rachel bursts so violently through the front door that she falls to the floor with an almighty crash.

"Are you alright?" Finn asks worriedly, springing to his feet.

"I'm fine," she assures him, dusting herself off. "Better than fine, actually, I'm fantastic!"

"And why ever would that be?" Kurt demands.

"Samantha Van Arsdale's been hospitalized with severe food poisoning!"

"Rachel, that's terrible!" he replies, aghast.

"Oh, no, she'll be perfectly fine once they've pumped her stomach," Rachel says, dismissing his concern with a wave of her hand. "But she will be too ill to perform for the rest of the week. Which means…"

"Which means you're going to be playing Maria in West Side Story!" Kurt squeals, crossing the room rapidly to join her. "Oh my god, Rachel! This could be your big break!"

Finn watches with a bemused expression as they grab each other's hands and hop up and down in a circle, squealing incoherently.

"You'll be there tonight, won't you?" she asks breathlessly, once they've ceased jumping.

"With bells on," Kurt assures her, tapping her on the nose with his index finger.

"I'll be there too!" Finn bursts out suddenly, and they both turn to face him – Kurt smiling knowingly, Rachel furrowing her brow.

"So you can pelt me with rotten tomatoes?"

"It's a tough job," he replies. "But someone's got to do it."

IX.

Despite her prodigious nervousness, Rachel's debut goes off without a hitch – that is, if one ignores her habit of quite literally elbowing her co-stars out of the spotlight (but hey, a star's got to do what a star's got to do, and this star wants to shine). Finn and Kurt meet her backstage before she has a chance to change, her makeup still smeared with post-performance sweat.

"You came!" Rachel says, her eyes trained on Finn, voice lilted with surprise.

"Well I said I was going to, didn't I," he replies with a shrug.

"Never mind that," Kurt says, thrusting a bouquet of roses at her. "I hate to inflate your already dangerously large ego, but you were amazing out there, Rachel. Truly! The second coming of Barbara Streisand. I cried."

"He did," Finn confirms. "Several times…"

Rachel hugs the bouquet to her chest, offering Kurt a watery smile. "Thank you for the flowers," she manages, her voice cracking slightly.

"Oh, don't thank me – they were Finn's idea! Although I did foot the bill. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to pop into the little boy's room before we go; these trousers constrict my bladder terribly. Ah well, you know what they say… beauty is pain!"

Rachel remains silent for several moments after Kurt's departure, eyeing Finn warily, as if he were a predator and she a cornered animal.

"What?" he bursts out finally, "you're looking at me like I've just killed your puppy or something!"

"What's your angle?" she demands shortly, tucking an errant lock of hair behind her ear.

"My angle…?"

"The flowers," Rachel says. "What are you trying to say?"

"I'm not trying to say anything!" Finn says, throwing up his hands in exasperation. "What's a couple of flowers between friends?"

"But we're not friends," she reminds him.

"Something like it, then," he counters.

"No," Rachel insists, "Nothing like it at all."

"Well, in any case, you were great tonight," Finn says. "I may not know a lot about musical theater – or, like, anything at all – but I do know that."

She frowns. "You're going to kill me in my sleep, now I'm really sure of it!"

"Aw, c'mon now. If I was really going to kill you, I'd want you to be wide awake so I could see the look on your face."

"Creep!" Rachel shouts, beating him over the head with her roses.

"Hey, careful with that!" Finn complains. "I picked those out myself."

"Yes, and I'm sure it was a stunning feat of mental exercise for a pea brain like you."

"Lashing out because you can't believe someone would want to do something legitimately kind for you," Finn says, "that seems reflective of some awfully deep insecurity issues, Ms. Berry."

"Insecurity is for amateurs," she huffs, jutting out her chin. "I just don't trust you as far as I can throw you, and seeing as you're quite possibly suffering from gigantism, that isn't very far at all."

"You know, I'm still not really sure what I did to make you hate me so much," Finn admits, sounding a bit put-out.

"Well that's exactly it, isn't it?" Rachel says, her voice clipped. "You've got no self-awareness whatsoever."

"You know, that's actually pretty hilarious coming from you," he replies, only he doesn't sound like he thinks it's hilarious at all and Rachel wonders when exactly their friendly banter crossed the line into adversarial.

"And what exactly is that supposed to mean?"

"That you don't know – or maybe, like, you just don't care –about the way that you come across to other people," he says matter-of-factly.

"Oh really? Well then, why don't you enlighten me, seeing as I'm so terribly unaware," she spits, clutching her roses so tightly that she nearly snaps the stems.

"Alright then," Finn says, taking a step towards her (and he's suddenly so close that Rachel would swear she can feel the anger rolling off of him in waves), "you come off as a spoiled, self-obsessed diva with a paranoid streak and absolutely no sense of humor whatsoever."

"Well gee, that might have even stung a bit if it weren't coming from an uneducated country bumpkin who can't even manage his personal life let alone a career!"

She expects the barb to land, and it does – but it's the look he gives her she hasn't foreseen, the way it seems to crumple instead of tense with the anger she'd hoped to provoke.

"I'm sorry, Finn," Rachel amends quickly, reaching out a tentative hand, "I shouldn't have – I didn't mean – "

"Now, now, children, not fighting again, are we?" Kurt interrupts suddenly, striding towards them. "I leave for three minutes and all hell breaks loose. And you two looked positively cozy when I left!"

Rachel opens her mouth to explain, but she doesn't get the chance.

"We weren't fighting, bro," Finn says, squeezing the back of his neck with one hand. "You know, just…having a conversation."

Kurt raises a dubious eyebrow. "Oh, is that so?"

He shrugs. "Well, yeah."

Rachel tries to catch his eye as they leave the theatre, but Finn looks pointedly in the other direction.

X.

She approaches Finn the next morning, wringing her hands with a nervousness she doesn't quite understand.

"Can we talk?" Rachel asks, splaying her palm across the kitchen table.

Finn looks up from his Cheerios. "Sure," he says, a bit of milk dribbling down his chin.

"I wanted to apologize. You know, for the things I said last night. I was out of line, and it was inappropriate for me to be so callous about such a… sensitive subject. So, I'm sorry. Very, truly, from-the-bottom-of-my-heart sorry."

Her words are met by a prolonged period of silence, and the prima donna within her is tempted to reach across the table and shake a response out of Finn.

"Apology accepted," he says after an eternity. "Was there anything else?"

Rachel pouts, straightening up to her full (if modest) height. "You can't be serious."

"As a heart attack," Finn deadpans. "But really, I'm not sure why you're staring at me like that."

"Isn't there anything that you want to say to me?"

"Um – your hair looks nice this morning?"

"Don't be cute!" she says exasperatedly, voice rising by a decibel or two. "You know what I mean!"

"I really don't," he tells her.

"You don't think that maybe you owe me an apology too?"

He caresses his chin thoughtfully. "Honestly? Not really."

Rachel balls her hand into a fist and brings it down so hard against the table that some of Finn's cereal sloshes out of the bowl. "I'm trying to be mature here, Finn, and you're not making it very easy! You know that you said some very hurtful things last night and I think that you should apologize at once."

"Well, you know, maybe they were only hurtful because they were true?"

"You're impossible!" She seethes, "Just say you're sorry!"

"No!" he replies petulantly, rising from his chair. "And yelling at me like that isn't exactly warming me up to the idea, either."

"Why can't you admit that you were wrong and apologize! I did it, and god knows it wasn't easy for me!"

"Would you please stop screaming?" Finn says, taking a step closer to her.

"Apologize!" Rachel demands shrilly.

"Seriously, Rachel, shut up!"

"Not until you apologize!"

"I'm dead serious, Rachel, shut up or I'm going to shut you up!" He tells her, crouching down a little so that he's closer to her eye-level.

"Oh, and now you're threatening me?" She shrieks, "What, you think because you're a big, strong man that you can just treat me however I like? Well I'll have you know that I'm a feminist and I'm not going to be bullied like this!"

Finn shrugs nonchalantly. "I warned you!"

And with eyes blazing, he leans down and presses his mouth against her slightly-parted lips.

All in the name of shutting-up, of course.

And when Finn brushes his tongue against Rachel's, it's not because he's enjoying kissing her, but just to make sure she's really going to be quiet. And when Rachel threads her fingers through Finn's unkempt hair, it's certainly not to pull him any closer, but so that she might push him away. And that blinding, shuddering heat that seems to burn them both from the inside out? Well, it's obviously anger – hatred perhaps, or even loathing. But certainly not desire.

They fly apart at the unmistakable click of Kurt's approaching Prada boots, chests heaving and arms crossed like two duelers about to square off.

Understandably, he misconstrues the true cause of their breathlessness and darkened eyes.

"Really now, this is just getting ridiculous," Kurt complains, arms akimbo. "Fighting again? Am I going to have to orchestrate another dinner date intervention?"

"No!" They both shout in unison.

Kurt looks between them suspiciously.

"I've got to go…make a phone call," Finn says suddenly, bolting out of the kitchen at a near-run.

"And I've got some socks that need darning!" Rachel squeaks, hurrying to her room and locking the door behind her.

XI.

In the days following their brief kitchen tryst, Finn and Rachel handle themselves as any two mature adults who've finally given in to the Unresolved Sexual Tension surrounding them and kissed each other with a raw, unbridled passion would.

They pretend that That Thing That Happened…never actually happened.

Or rather, Rachel pretends that That Thing That Happened never actually happened and devotes her time to aggressively avoiding Finn at all costs.

She begins leaving for performances earlier and staying at the theater later, even when Samantha regains control of her bowels and Rachel's brief stint as Maria ends. During the severely truncated time that Rachel does spend at home, she cultivates a hermit-like existence, preparing soup on a hot plate in her room to avoid taking any of her meals in the kitchen.

Kurt is (rightfully) suspicious, though he continues to misconstrue the source of the tension between his roommates. Rachel rebuffs all of his inquiries by shoving her fingers into her ears and singing "Memory" at the top of her lungs. Finn just plays dumb. (It's not that much of a stretch).

One morning, a little more than a week after the incident, Finn manages to corner Rachel as she attempts to sneak from her bedroom to the hall bathroom. Crouching behind a ficus, he jumps into her path the moment she gingerly shuts the door behind her.

The sound of her scream is so shrill it's a wonder she doesn't manage to wake the entire building.

"Jesus, Rach, chill out," Finn hisses, planting his right hand against the wall to further obstruct her path. "I'm not going to, like, murder you. I just think we should talk."

She eyes him warily, like a skittish animal, her hands raised instinctively in a defensive position.

"There's nothing to talk about!" Rachel tells him, ducking under his arm with a perfectly executed ninja-roll and sprinting into the bathroom.

Groaning (but not so easily outdone!), Finn plods over to the bathroom door and hammers on it mercilessly with his not-inconsiderable fists. "C'mon, Rachel, this is ridiculous! We're adults! Will you just have a conversation with me?"

He receives no verbal response, but moments later a scrap of toilet paper that's been scrawled on with sharpie is shoved underneath the door.

Rolling his eyes, Finn crouches down to read the note – which informs him that in no uncertain terms will she be having a conversation with him today as she woke up feeling slightly hoarse and needs to save her voice for the evening performance.

"Alright, fine. You win for now," he concedes, "but you can't avoid me forever! We live in the same apartment, in case you've forgotten!"

XII.

When it finally does happen, neither of them are expecting it.

After wrestling with a particularly stubborn case of insomnia one night, Finn finally waves the white flag and rolls tiredly off of the couch, hoping that a glass of water and a midnight snack might help ease his restless mind.

It becomes clear that he isn't the only one being plagued by sleeplessness when he stumbles upon Rachel in the kitchen, nursing a steaming mug of tea.

She starts so violently when she sees him that she overturns a chair.

"Easy now, tiger," Finn says, "you're gonna wake up Kurt if you keep making a racket like that!"

"And maybe that would be for the better!" Rachel whisper-shouts, hugging her arms to her chest. "If he comes in here you won't get a chance to…assault me again!"

"Look, I know it's like, coded into your DNA or something, but could you stop being so dramatic for once in your life? I just want to talk. About…you know. That Thing That Happened."

"Nothing happened!" she insists, waving her arms around for effect.

"You mean, we didn't kiss? Because, I don't know, I feel like I remember that happening pretty distinctly. In fact, we were standing right about here, weren't we?"

"Okay, fine, that might have happened. But it doesn't count because… because I was drunk!"

Finn levels her with his best are-you-fucking-kidding-me face. "Rachel, it was 9 a.m."

"So? Maybe I have a drinking problem!"

"Will you just stop?" he says, volume rising despite himself. "You are not an alcoholic, but you are a child. Or, at least, you're acting like one. Will you just give me three seconds to actually talk to you before derailing the entire conversation with some stupid comment?"

"Fine," Rachel tells him, arms folded. "Speak your piece."

"Thank you," he replies before clearing his throat noisily. "Okay. To begin – I think we can pretty much agree that you are not my biggest fan."

She nods emphatically.

"Right. And I am certainly not yours either. Like, at all. In fact, if I had to choose to be trapped in a closet with you or some grizzly bear-shark hybrid with laser beams for eyes, I would probably choose the shark."

"Look, if you're just going to insult me, I'd rather go to bed. It's late."

"Sorry, I got a little carried away there," Finn admits. "Anyway, what I'm trying to get at is that I think we're both in agreement that the ki – That Thing That Happened – was a mistake."

"A mistake," Rachel echoes, noticing that he's moved almost imperceptibly closer to her. "Yes, certainly. A huge mistake!"

"Monumental," he says, taking another step in her direction. "And I certainly wouldn't want to repeat it."

"Never," she confirms, eyes trained on her kitten slippers, which are now almost toe-to-toe with his bare feet.

"And since it was such a…mistake, that meant absolutely nothing to either of us, I don't really see the point in acting so strange around each other. In fact, I think we ought to give another try at being friends."

"Friends," Rachel says, testing the word's shape and weight.

"You know," Finn says, and he's suddenly so close that she can feel his warm breath against her temple, "for Kurt's sake."

"Naturally," she breathes, and is startled to find her palms resting against the broad expanse of his chest.

Rachel feels momentarily as though she's having an out of body experience – like she's watching the scene unfold as an outside observer. She sees herself lean up on tiptoe as Finn leans down, sees his lips move against hers with a soft, slow deliberateness, sees his large hands settle gently on her waist.

This second kiss is the diametric opposite of the first – soft and patient where the other had been frenzied and insistent.

She isn't sure how long it goes on for before the reasonable part of her brain finally stirs from its slumber and she pushes against his chest – hard.

"I can't do this," Rachel tells him firmly.

"Aw, c'mon, we're just – "

"No!" she says, with more malice than she intends. "We don't even know each other, Finn! And more than that, we can hardly tolerate each other! This is a recipe for disaster, and frankly, I'm not even interested in the slightest."

"That's not what it seemed like thirty seconds ago," Finn mumbles petulantly, raking a hand through his hair.

"You're an ass," Rachel spits, "and you're proving my point for me. Look, this – whatever this is – has got to end. I'm putting a stop to it now."

Pressing a hand against the small of her back, Finn says, "Please, can we just – "

"Don't touch me!" she orders, swatting his hand away. "I'm going to bed. Can we please just pretend that none of this ever happened and go back to silently tolerating the other's presence? Occasional table conversation is acceptable, but only in the presence of Kurt. Am I clear?"

"Crystal," he says, his voice deflated.

Finn watches her go with a tightness in his chest that he doesn't quite understand.

XIII.

Finn is the first to admit that he doesn't have, like, the best track record when it comes to picking girls. Quinn, of course, is a shining example of that – not only was she kind of an icy bitch with a sociopathic streak, but she got knocked up while cheating on him with his best friend.

Yeah. Probably should have seen that coming.

Even so, he can't help but trust his instincts when it comes to his… feelings for Rachel. Because even though she's kind of high-strung and eccentric and makes him want to tear out his own hair nine-tenths of the time, he spends the other one-tenth of the time fantasizing about tearing her clothes off.

And not just because she has, like, a killer bod. It's more complicated than that. There's just something about her.

So the next morning, he sets his sights firmly on winning her back. Or, winning her over, to be more precise, since he never technically had her in the first place.

They don't know each other at all? Fine. He's prepared to get to know her. And to share anything about himself that she wants to know – his favorite color? Credit score? List of past sexual partners? She can have them all, presented in a powerpoint format if that's what she prefers.

Only, Finn decides that she might not just take him at his word. It's gonna require some sort of bigger gesture to get her attention. Since flowers backfired so terribly the first time, he decides on something a little more creative. Trekking to the nearest Whole Foods, he picks up a bottle of pink champagne and these fancy vegan truffles that were made in like, Switzerland, or something. It's kind of expensive, especially considering he hasn't found a steady source of income yet, but Finn decides that it's a worthwhile investment.

Especially if he gets to kiss Rachel again.

(He really, really likes kissing her).

Finn's feeling so confident when he gets back to the apartment that he doesn't even rehearse what he's going to say before charging over to her bedroom door and knocking on it, like, ten times in a row.

There's some muffled shuffling before Rachel wrenches open the door.

He feels all the air rush out of his lungs with a pathetic woosh when he catches sight of her – cheeks flushed, hair askew, one strap of her dress hanging off of her shoulder.

And, worst of all, there's some fruity-looking dude sprawled out on her bed, his goofy patterned shirt, like, three-quarters of the way unbuttoned.

"God, you almost gave me a heart attack knocking like that!" she complains, eyeing him warily. "Is something wrong?"

"Er – no," he manages, even though he wants to say yes, this is all wrong, terribly wrong. "I was just wondering if you've, um, seen Kurt?"

"Not since breakfast. Why? And what's with the wine and the fancy chocolates?"

"Oh, um, I just wanted to celebrate. With Kurt. Because I found a job," he improvises.

"That's wonderful!" Rachel tells him earnestly, and for a moment there's no annoyance or sarcasm in her tone.

"Uh, yep. Pretty great," Finn says. "So are you gonna introduce me to your friend or what?"

She blushes, but he also gets the feeling that she's relishing the opportunity to rub this dude in his face.

"Of course! I'm so silly. Finn, this is Jesse St. James. He's playing Tony in our production! He's a real star. And Jesse, this is Finn Hudson. Kurt's step-brother."

"Pleasure to meet you, Finn," Jesse says, and his tone is so smug that Finn wants to hurl his morning cheerios all over the carpet.

"Yeah, same to you," he says gruffly. "Anyway, I guess I'll see you later."

"Maybe," Rachel tells him, before shutting the door in his face unceremoniously.

He waits long enough to hear the bed springs creak under her weight before walking slowly into the living room, feeling like the biggest idiot in the entire galaxy.

XIV.

Rachel's meticulously braiding her fresh-from-the-shower hair when she hears the sound of the television being turned on in the living room. Overwhelmed by curiosity and an alertness that she doesn't think can be beaten down into sleep yet, she smears a thin layer of Vaseline on her lips and emerges from her bedroom.

It's only, Finn, of course, silhouetted in the bluish glow of one of those stupid late-night talk shows hosted by some overgrown manboy who thinks he's about a thousand times funnier than he actually is.

His poor choice in programming aside, Rachel still feels compelled to go over and say hello. To tell the truth, she feels a little guilty about how poorly they left things last night.

"You're still up, huh?" she says in a half-hearted attempt to make conversation as she settles down beside him on the couch.

Finn grunts noncommittally in reply, his eyes fixed firmly on the television.

"Did you ever get in touch with Kurt?"

"Oh, yeah. I did. He's spending the night at Blaine's place," he tells her, tone robotic.

"Gross," she whines, nose wrinkling.

Finn lets out something that sounds suspiciously like a scoff.

"What?" Rachel snaps. "If you've got something to say just come out and say it."

"Fine," he says, angling to face her, "it just seems a little hypocritical, is all, considering you turned the whole apartment into, like, your personal sex cave this afternoon."

"And I'm the dramatic one?" she says with an eyeroll. "We didn't even leave my room! And do I have to remind you that you're a guest in my apartment?"

"Whatever," Finn mumbles, turning away from her.

She allows herself to stew in quiet thought for a moment, playing idly with the sleeve of her flannel cupcake pajama set.

And then it hits her.

"Oh my god!" she says, her voice louder than anticipated. "You're jealous, aren't you?"

"What?" he sputters. "That's gotta be the most ridiculous thing you've ever said, which is pretty impressive considering you once told me that lackluster applause is the leading cause of death among young starlets."

"It's not ridiculous at all! You are jealous! Just look at yourself – you're blushing like a little schoolboy!"

"I'm not blushing, you're just annoying me. My face gets red when I'm annoyed!"

"Uh-huh," Rachel says dubiously, artfully raising one eyebrow. "Sure it does."

"It does!" Finn insists childishly. "Although, I will admit that I don't really understand why you kissed me if you already had that greasy boyfriend."

"Please, I could think about it for a million years and I still wouldn't understand why I kissed you. It was case of temporary insanity," she says. "And besides, this thing with Jesse wasn't even a thing then. Today was the first time that we were ever…intimate."

"Ugh, could you please spare me the gory details," he complains, mock-retching into his bowl of popcorn. "And, by the way, your insanity is anything but temporary."

"Genius such as mine is always misunderstood. It's practically historical!" she tells him.

"Genius, psychopath. Tomato, tomahto," Finn deadpans.

Rachel snags a kernel of popcorn form his bowl and tosses it as his face. "Very mature," she sneers.

"Yeah, because hurling food into my eye is like, the picture of maturity. Why are you even out here talking to me, anyway? You hate my guts, remember? I thought we weren't supposed to talk unless Kurt was here to chaperone."

She shrugs, blowing gently out of the side of her mouth to ruffle her bangs. "I figured now that I have Jesse we don't have to worry so much about…you know. That other thing. And besides, you were right about what you said last night. That we should try to be friends for Kurt's sake. And I mean really try, not just pretend to converse when he happens to be in the room."

"Who says I even want to be your friend?" Finn snaps.

"I do!" Rachel sings. "Now budge over and share some of that popcorn with me before I hit you over the head with the remote."

Sighing, he reluctantly complies (but only because he's, like, sure that she totally would hit him).

XV.

Finn wakes up the next morning with a renewed sense of determination. He wipes his still-salty fingertips on the front of his plain white t-shirt before grabbing yesterday's paper off the coffee table to scan the classifieds.

He did sort of tell Rachel he'd found a job, and considering she's got a mouth so big she could probably swallow all of Manhattan, Kurt's bound to find out sooner rather than later.

So he'd better find a real job before that happens.

Most of the ads are for positions way out of his league, jobs that require all sorts of experience, and, you know, education. All that crap that normal, successful people have – not losers like him, who've got nothing to show for their pathetic lives but a broken engagement and a fistful of quarters.

But now is not the time for such defeatism.

Eventually, he stumbles upon something that looks promising – an opening for bartender at this little hole-in-the-wall place that's actually within walking distance of the apartment. It's not, like, a career, but it's something.

Plus, he totally knows he made the right decision when he shows up to the place to interview and there's this smoking Latina chick working behind the bar.

Finn walks up slowly to the counter, the newspaper clipping clutched in his right hand. "Um, hi," he says, attempting to get the girl's attention, "I'm here about the ad from the paper – the bartender position?"

"Yeah," she says disdainfully, eyes flicking up to meet his, "And?"

"And?" Finn echoes, suddenly nervous, "And I'd like to apply!"

The girl plants her elbows on the shiny hardwood of the bar, resting her chin in her hands. "You got a license?"

He wills himself not to look at her boobs (which is like, quite a feat, because it's been a long time since he's seen boobs and hers are pretty spectacular). "Um, no," he admits, "but I'm willing to take a class, like, as soon as possible. And I'm a quick learner!"

That last part is kind of a lie, but he's hoping she won't be able to tell.

She eyes him slowly up and down, and Finn gets the distinct impression that she's a predator and he's like, a snail, or something, that's about to be devoured.

"Fine," she says after an eternity, straightening back up to full height. "Job's yours."

"Just like that?" he asks, not quite able to take her words at face value.

"Just like that," she confirms, filling a pilsner glass with amber liquid and sliding it across the counter towards him. "We're kind of short on testosterone around here, and having a dude on staff will help bring in some more tips from our female clientele."

"Huh," Finn says, taking a sip of his beer (which he hopes is complimentary, since there's currently nothing but pocket fuzz in his wallet).

"Plus," she tells him with a smirk, "you're kind of cute."

He can hardly believe his luck – if anyone can help him forget about crazy Rachel, it's this sexy vixen bar chick with those killer boobs.

"I'm Finn Hudson, by the way," he says and extends a hand towards her.

She shakes it firmly. Almost too firmly. "Santana Lopez," she purrs. "Pleasure to meet you."

XVI.

He's not quite sure how it happens, but somehow Finn winds up sloppy drunk and stumbling into the apartment at three in the afternoon with this Santana Lopez girl in tow.

She starts kissing him before he even has a chance to shrug out of his jacket, and so forcefully that he winds up backing slowly into the kitchen.

"Whoa, easy there, Tiger," he says, attempt with some difficult to right himself as she nips at his neck.

"Where's your bedroom," she demands without a question mark, tearing impatiently at his belt buckle.

"You see, um, the thing is," Finn manages between kisses, "I don't exactly have one. I'm only staying here temporarily, so I've just been crashing on the couch."

Pulling away, Santana quickly surveys her surroundings before boosting herself up onto the counter without a trace of hesitation. "This'll do," she says flatly, shrugging her shoulders.

The rational, sober part of Finn's brain is screaming at him that this is a terrible idea, but it's easily defeated by the much larger impulsive majority.

Plus, it's been, like, ages since the last time he got laid. He broke up with Quinn a few months ago, and anyway, she'd established, like, an official sex embargo the minute she found out she was pregnant. She kept saying she was afraid of them poking the baby's head, or something, even though the doctor specifically told them not to worry about that.

So, long story short, he wasn't in any position to be turning down freely offered sex. Especially freely offered sex from someone as hot and badass as Santana.

"It sure will," Finn agrees, hands sliding up and under her black silk blouse.

XVII.

Rachel's struggling to locate her house key in the depths of her Mary Poppins-esque purse when she hears what sounds suspiciously like a moan coming from the other side of the door.

"What the hell was that?" Jesse asks from beside her, adjusting the knot on his silk scarf.

"Uch, Finn probably ordered one of those pay-per-view pornos from Skinemax, or something. He does seem like that kind of guy."

"Can you really blame him, though? The guy has got to be lonely and sad, from what you've told me," Jesse says, in an unprecedented show of empathy.

Rachel sends him a scowl communicating that this is not the time for his uncharacteristic charity.

"What?" he asks, hands raised in a gesture of innocence. "I'm just saying."

"Yes, well, I'm just glad you have more class and restraint than that," she tells him, her fingers finally closing around the key. "Aha! Found it."

Slowly turning the knob, Rachel prepares herself for the awkwardness of possibly walking in on Finn watching a dirty movie.

What she actually walks in on is much, much worse.

Due to the relative openness of the apartment's floor plan, she has a pretty clear view of the kitchen from the entranceway – a clear enough view, at any rate, to discern that Finn is…fornicating with some exotic hussy on her brand new granite countertop.

"Oh. My. GOD!" she screams shrilly, her purse falling to the floor with a thud. "What on earth do you think you're doing?"

Rachel can hear Jesse giggling behind her.

"What does it look like we're doing, dwarf?" the hussy has the gall to ask, her red-painted lips twisted into a scowl.

Jesse grabs her hand and begins leading her towards the bedroom. "C'mon, Rachel, let's just get out of here and…let them at it," he urges, clearly still struggling to contain his laughter.

"Let them at it?" she screeches, "Let them at it? Do you realize how unsanitary that is?"

Despite her protestations, Rachel allows herself to be pulled into the other room – after which she slams the door so hard it rattles on its hinges.

"Can you believe that girl?" she fumes, pacing up and down her polka-dotted rug, "Can you believe she had the gall to speak to me like that? And in my apartment! At least Finn had the decency to look somewhat ashamed!"

Jesse strides over to her and places his hands on her shoulders, bending to kiss her hard on the lips.

"Forget about them," he whispers in a poor facsimile of husky, "I know a way to get your mind off of it."

She's not particularly in the mood, but acquiesces nonetheless – anything is better than listening to the zoo noises currently reverberating off of the kitchen tiles.

XVIII.

She dares to emerge for a cup of tea two hours later, when she can be certain that all bumping of uglies has ceased and the stranger has let herself out.

Marching self-righteously into the kitchen, Rachel fills a kettle and smashes it down onto the stove with such force that it's a wonder it doesn't crack. She pointedly ignores Finn, who is (thankfully) fully clothed and devouring a ham sandwich at the table.

"You're not going to say hello?" he asks through a mouth of white bread.

"You are disgusting," Rachel seethes. "What do you have to say for yourself?"

Finn does like slightly abashed, scratching nervously at the back of his neck. "I am, um, sorry about before. Didn't think you'd be home."

"Rehearsal was cancelled," she snips, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. "Not that my being out of the house gives you free reign to have your way with random women on any old surface you please!"

"Look, it won't happen again," he tells her. "Promise."

"Do you even know her name?" Rachel asks, voice laden with judgement.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Finn replies angrily. "And for the record, yes. Her name is Santana."

"And I suppose you met her… what? Last night? Earlier today?"

"So what if I did?"

Rachel snorts, taking the screaming kettle off of the hot burner and splashing some boiling water into her mug.

"Don't you think that's kind of pathetic?" she goads, "Getting your jollies with a complete stranger? Sex is supposed to be special and romantic, with a foundation of trust and real feeling…not whiskey and blue balls."

"Are you trying to tell me that this whole Jesse situation is about romance and feelings? Because, not to be crass, but no fucking way I'm buying that."

"I wouldn't expect you to understand," Rachel says serenely, tearing open a tea bag, "Jesse and I are artists. We connect on a deep level that you couldn't possibly imagine."

At that precise moment, Jesse wanders into the kitchen, his jacket on and hair freshly coiffed.

"I've got to get going," he says, pressing a chaste kiss to Rachel's cheek. "Don't want to be late for my big date!"

"A date, huh? That's odd," Finn says, as soon as Jesse's out of earshot, "considering that he just left and you are standing right here. Or maybe that has something to do with this deep connection that I can't even begin to fathom?"

"So we're not exclusive!" Rachel shouts, marching towards her bedroom, mug in hand. "At least Jesse buys me lunch before we make love!"

"How special!" Finn calls after her retreating figure, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

XIX.

To the surprise of absolutely everyone involved, the Jesse-Santana situation actually manages to lighten some of the tension between Finn and Rachel.

They still average approximately two screaming matches per day, but at least now no one's arguing about kissing or – God forbid – feelings.

In fact, things improve so markedly (in relative terms, at least) that Kurt even decides they're ready to meet his new beau without completely traumatizing the man.

He drops the bombshell during breakfast one morning.

"Children," he begins, patting a cloth napkin daintily against his lips, "I have a favor to ask of you. And by favor, I really mean demand."

Rachel sighs, flicking a section of hair over her shoulder. "A star is born to make demands, not to follow them!" she reminds him tiredly.

"I'm going to do you a favor and pretend I didn't hear that," Kurt snaps, gripping his fork so tightly that he knuckles whiten with the effort.

Finn coughs loudly to cover his laugh.

"Now then," Kurt continues, recovering himself, "I'm going to demand that the two of you behave like the responsible, civilized humans I know that you can be this evening, because one Mr. Blaine Anderson will be joining us for dinner!"

Rachel shrieks and starts clapping her hands together like some kind of stupid performance seal, but even Finn can't deny that he's a little excited to meet this new dude. Kurt's kind of an intensely private person (at least, when it comes to his own business), so Finn always tries to relish the moments when he opens up to him like, you know, a real brother would.

"Before you get more excited," Kurt says over the din, "I just want you to remember that meeting Blaine is a privilege – not a right! If at any point today either of you give me reason to believe that you cannot control yourselves, you'll both be uninvited like that!"

He snaps his fingers for his effect.

"We understand," Finn and Rachel tell him in unison.

"So what time should I tell Jesse to be here?" Rachel asks sweetly, flashing her best winning smile.

"Are you kidding me?" Finn whines. "If she gets to bring Jesse, then I'm bringing Santana! It's only fair!"

"Neither of you are bringing anyone," Kurt tells them seriously. "This is a formal dinner to introduce my boyfriend, not some sort of casual fuck-buddy convention!"

Rachel pouts dramatically. "But – "

"No buts! This conversation ends now. And consider it your first warning," Kurt says. "Now, for the preparations. Finn, I need you to concentrate on straightening up the living room. Make sure it's completely spic and span! Rachel – it's time for a fashion consultation. There's no way Blaine is going to find out that I live with someone who willingly wears animal sweaters."

"Aw, c'mon dude, is that really fair?" Finn complains, picking at his bagel. "I mean, I kinda like her sweaters."

"You do?" Rachel asks suspiciously.

He shrugs. "They're cute."

"Yes, well, they may be cute," Kurt says, "but the theme of this evening is cocktail attire. And there's nothing cocktail about animal sweaters, except that looking at them makes me need one."

"I appreciate your sentiment nonetheless, Finn," Rachel tells him, offering the wisp of a smile.

"Um, no problem, cowboy," he says stiffly, trying not to redden. "I'm gonna, go, um, work on the living room."

"And we're going to take a little tour of your closet!" Kurt says brightly, dragging her towards her bedroom by the wrist.

Rachel mimes shooting herself to Finn when Kurt has his back turned.

XX.

By 6 o'clock sharp, Finn and Rachel had been primped, polished, and stuffed into ridiculous outfits with varying levels of discomfort.

"I can't feel my lower half," she whines as they stand side-by-side in the entranceway, preparing for Blaine's arrival – even though he isn't due to arrive for another fifteen minutes.

"Yeah, I'm not sure what made Kurt think we're the same size, but we're definitely not," Finn says, tugging at the too-tight collar of his borrowed button-down.

"This dress is going to shatter my ribcage," Rachel says seriously. "It's going to break all of my ribs, and one of them is bound to puncture a lung, and then how am I ever going to sing professionally again?"

"Will you calm down," Finn mutters. "You're not going to break any ribs. And you look really pretty."

She glares at him, and to be honest, he's still kind of afraid of her.

"What? Am I not allowed to say you look pretty now? Friends are allowed to tell friends that they look pretty."

"I'm just trying to detect any sarcasm."

"I don't have to be sarcastic all the time, you know," Finn says, frowning.

"Sure you don't," Rachel says.

"Hey! Now who's being sarcastic?"

"Yeah, yeah," she says, before sticking her tongue out at him. "Guilty as charged, I suppose."

"You nervous?" Finn asks conversationally, because when silence hangs between them it's always so heavy.

"Why should I be? According to you I don't know – or is it care? – how I come across to people, so why would I worry?"

Finn cringes and tugs some more on his collar. "I was kind of a dick that night, wasn't I?"

She shrugs. "I think I started it."

"But in all seriousness," Rachel continues, "I don't think either of us have anything to worry about it. It's not as if Kurt's going to dump us just because some new boy doesn't approve of us, or something."

He catches her eye and they both erupt in laughter.

"Oh my god, who am I kidding, he totally would!" she wheezes, leaning against the wall for support.

"We're fucked," Finn concludes.

"Now, now, no need to be such a negative Nancy," Rachel chides, poking him in the side. "When you're not being a callous, insensitive oaf, you can be somewhat charming."

"And I guess when you're not being a self-obsessed priss, you're decent to talk to."

"We'll be fine," she affirms, clapping him on the shoulder (which is actually quite the physical exertion for her, even in four-inch heels).

The two of them are spared from any further opportunity to fret as the bell rings a moment later.

"He's here, dude!" Finn calls to Kurt, who dashes out of the kitchen still clad in his "Kiss the Cook" apron.

"Really?" Rachel says, "You're going to answer the door in that?"

"Heavens no!" Kurt replies, tearing off the offending garment and tossing it behind a potted plant. "Places everyone!"

At the clap of his hands, Finn and Rachel spring into perfect posture. With grand ceremony, Kurt swings open the door to reveal a sprightly, dapper man with close-cropped deep brown curls and eyes that practically, like, twinkle.

"Hello," he says, turning to Finn and Rachel after dropping a kiss on Kurt's cheek. "I'm Blaine. It's a pleasure to finally meet you."

XXI.

Dinner goes off without a hitch.

Well, except for the fact that Kurt neglects to make a vegan-friendly alternative for Rachel, limiting her options to a small side salad.

Finn wants to tell her that she isn't really missing much – this English eel pie is hardly edible – but he doesn't dare speak such insubordination within Kurt's earshot. Blaine, to his credit, seems to be enjoying it (or he's just a better actor).

Kurt and Blaine excuse themselves after dinner to "listen to records" in Kurt's room. They're not fooling anyone, of course, but Finn's stepbrother is never one to shirk such niceties.

Rachel watches Finn retreat onto the small balcony adjacent to the kitchen and against her better judgment, decides to follow him.

She regrets it almost immediately – it's freezing outside, especially in this thin excuse for a dress that Kurt coaxed her into, and even worse, he's smoking. Second hand smoke can be disastrous for a starlet like herself with such a delicate constitution.

"I hope you know that's a disgusting habit," Rachel harps, leaning up against the railing beside him.

He has the decency to look slightly abashed. "I do know," Finn admits. "I haven't done it in years, to be honest, but I've picked up again from spending so much time with Santana. Chick smokes like a chimney."

"I hope that's the only thing you've picked up from Santana," she says, giggling at her own wit.

"Ha ha," Finn deadpans before blowing a ring of smoke straight into her face.

"My vocal chords!" she shrieks, knocking the cigarette from his hands.

He sighs, raking a hand through his unkempt hair. "I suppose I deserved that."

"You're darn right you did!"

Finn does a one-eighty, turning so that his back is pressed against the cold metal railing. "I'm hungry," he complains absently, eyes trained on nothing in particular. "You couldn't have paid me enough to eat that slimy eel shit."

He shudders at the memory.

"You're telling me," Rachel scoffs, mirroring his pose. "At least you could try the main course. I had to make do with like three pieces of lettuce and some carrot shavings."

Her stomach rumbles as if on cue.

"Alright," Finn laughs, "maybe you win."

She peers up at him through her lashes, expression inscrutable.

"You wanna get out of here," Rachel says finally, "go get something to eat? There's a great diner a few blocks away that actually has a killer vegan menu."

He pulls a face and picks some imaginary lint off of his sleeve. "I'd love to, Rachel, I really would, but, um, I'm supposed to meet Santana. At the bar. I'm not working tonight, but she wanted some company."

"Oh," she says, feeling inexplicably crestfallen. "Are you two like – together together now? You know, like a real relationship?"

"Nah, it's pretty much just sex," Finn tells her candidly.

"But she wants you to come keep her company! That's…sweet. That's romance, Finn."

"Company," he says, leaning in conspiratorially, "is code for a quickie in the supply closet."

Rachel pushes him away, wrinkling her nose. "Gross!"

And she does feel disgusted – a little. But mostly she feels relieved.

"Yeah, well. I take what I can get."

She rolls her eyes. "You could get much better than that, I'm sure. Even at your most desperate."

"First of all," Finn says, "rude. Second of all – what are you trying to say? Do you have someone else in mind?"

He wiggles his eyes suggestively.

"Are you flirting with me?"

"God, Rach, you really do have to make everything about you all the time, don't you?" he scoffs.

"Hey," she whines, elbowing him in the side, "unnecessary! And you were so flirting with me."

"Was not!"

"Was too!"

"Was not!"

"This is childish, Finn. Even for us."

"Maybe so," he concedes, "But I still wasn't flirting with you. I wouldn't flirt with you with a ten-foot pole!"

"That doesn't even make sense," Rachel says.

"Yeah, well, at any rate I've gotta head out," Finn tells her, glancing at his watch.

"Have fun!" she calls to his retreating figure. "And use protection!"

He flips her off, grinning.

Watching him leave, Rachel finds herself feeling strangely lonely.

XXII.

Finn's not really sure why says it. He isn't planning to – the words just kind of tumble out of his mouth while he's zipping up his fly.

"I don't think we should do this anymore."

Santana looks over at him, adjusting the strap of her bustier, and he isn't sure what to expect. But he certainly isn't expecting what she actually says to him.

"Fine."

She doesn't say it angrily, or like, sadly either – just with the same frank curtness she always speaks with.

"Seriously?" Finn asks, because in his (admittedly limited) experience, it's never that easy.

Santana shrugs. "I've had better," she says, breezing past him and out of the cramped space. "Lock up the closet when you're done, okay?"

"Uh, sure thing," he says, refastening his belt.

The door closes behind her with a soft click, and Finn smiles a little himself.

He should probably be offended that she was practically eager to be done with him, but mostly he's just kind of glad to have avoided any fuss.

Santana's back behind the bar when he's leaving, and he lifts his hand a wave.

"See you later, Frankenteen," she calls, the corner of her lips twisted up in a smirk.

Finn thinks they're gonna be just fine.

XXIII.

He's hoping that Rachel will still be up when he gets home, but Finn doesn't count on it – she's about as good at staying up past her bedtime as a five-year-old coming down from a sugar high. To his surprise, though, she's sitting on the couch when he gets in – wrapped up in a moth-eaten afghan and watching reruns of that shitty Kardashian show.

"You're home early," she remarks, voice lilted.

"You still hungry?" he asks before tossing a greasy-looking paper bag in her direction.

Rachel peers inside suspiciously. "What is all this?"

"Vegan burrito," Finn explains, taking a seat beside her. "I stopped by that diner you mentioned on the way home. The burger and fries are for me, of course."

"Thanks," she tells him, unwrapping her food with marked reluctance.

"Oh come on, you're not still worried I'm trying to poison you, are you?"

"I'm not completely crazy," she tells him, sinking her teeth hungrily into the warm tortilla to prove her point. "I just don't understand why you're being so nice to me."

"I'm sorry, what was that? I couldn't understand you through that mouthful of burrito," he teases.

She opens her mouth to display the wet hunk of partially-chewed food on her tongue.

"Ugh, gross!" Finn complains, shoving her lightly against the armrest.

Rachel swallows thickly, wiping her mouth on a paper napkin. "I said, I don't understand why you're being so nice to me."

"I dunno. Why shouldn't I be?"

"I've never really done anything nice for you," she points out.

"So? Maybe I'm turning over a new leaf. Being nice just for the sake of being nice. Paying it forward all that jazz," he says. "Besides, that's not totally true. You gave me some good advice."

"I did?"

"Well, it might not have been phrased very delicately," he amends, "but… I decided to break things off. With Santana."

Rachel almost chokes on a mouthful of burrito. "You did? How'd she take it?"

"Fine. You would have thought I was doing her some kind of favor," Finn laughs, cramming a handful of French fries into his mouth. "You know, I have a sneaking suspicion that you might be more her type."

"Oh," she says knowingly. "Oh."

"Anyway," he says, changing the subject, "if I'm gonna do you the honor of gracing you with my presence, could you please put on something other than this trash?"

"The Kardashians are not trash," Rachel tells him haughtily, though she hands over the remote anyway. "Put on what you want – but no violence, nudity, or cruelty to animals!"

"Rach, it's past midnight. What else are we going to watch? Care bears?"

"You know, that's the best idea you've had yet!"

She falls asleep twenty minutes later, her feet in his lap.

XXIV.

Ordinarily, Rachel would go to Kurt with this type of problem. Streisand knows he's talked her through a number of heartbreaks in the past – dried her tears with one of his silk handkerchiefs and settled her onto the couch for a marathon of classic movie musicals. But lately he's been so wrapped up in his own budding romance that she can't even get in touch with him half of the time.

After she gets his voicemail for the eighth time in a row, Rachel swallows her pride and sets out to find the only other person she can talk to about this sort of thing. She doesn't even bother to change out of her costume, just tosses her cell phone into the bag containing her street clothes, slings it over her shoulder, and marches out of the theater.

She can't find him anywhere when she gets to the bar, but – just her luck – she does manage to catch Santana's eye. Flouncing over toward the girl, Rachel tries to forget that she must look completely ridiculous in her swingy polka-dotted halter, with her stage mascara running in rivulets down her face and her false eye-lashes askew.

"Is Finn here?" she asks, managing to control the quaver in her voice.

Santana raises one perfectly manicured eyebrow before disappearing into an adjacent room. "Finn," Rachel hears her call, "Your dwarf is here! And she's crying."

He emerges moments later, a full bottle of vermouth in each hand. "Rachel? What are you doing here? Is everything okay?"

She climbs gingerly onto a barstool, her face crumpling. "Jesse broke up with me!" she wails.

"Oh, I'm sorry." He pauses, looking confused. "Were you guys even, like – officially together?"

"Well, no," Rachel admits, wiping her nose on the sleeve of her cardigan, "but all the same, he said that he doesn't think we should see each other anymore."

"Did he at least give you reason?"

"He's getting back together with Samantha Van Arsdale," she tells him, laughing bitterly. "She doesn't believe in open relationships."

"Oh wow," Finn says, scratching the back of his neck. "So first she gets the role you wanted, and now the guy too? That's pretty shitty."

Rachel buries her face in her hands. "Are you trying to make me feel worse?"

"Shit! No, I'm sorry, Rach," he amends, patting her stiffly on the shoulder. "Um, maybe this will help?"

She looks up to find him hovering above her, holding a full shot glass.

"Is that tequila? Seriously?"

"What's wrong with tequila?" Finn asks, looking crestfallen.

"I mean, there's nothing inherently wrong with tequila," she explains. "I just can't believe you're honestly suggesting that I solve all of my problems by taking shots!"

"Um, would it change anything if I said I'd do them with you?"

"No!" Rachel shouts, checking the urge to smack him upside the head. "Finn, we are adults and we need to act accordingly. Getting blackout drunk is not an acceptable form of conflict resolution."

"Would you just loosen up for once in your life?" Finn asks, "Because, honestly? Jesse is a toolbag, and if he's willing to cast you off like…like you're his damn property, or something, then he doesn't deserve you anyway!"

She surveys him carefully, her mascara-stained eyes narrowed with focused intensity.

"Fine," she says after an eternity. "But I hope you've got some limes hidden behind that fancy bar of yours."

XXV.

It was probably a bad idea to begin with.

Finn's never really been skilled in comforting weepy females – especially beautiful ones who make his chest feel all funny when they sit too close to him. This is no exception.

He's totally been having a ton of fun, but he's not sure if Rachel actually feels any better. In fact, judging by the number of shots they took, she probably can't even feel her face.

It's not like he's in any better shape, to be honest. As they stumble towards the apartment through sub-zero temperatures, arms-linked, they're both so drunk that Finn can't even remember who's supposed to be holding up whom.

Frankly, it's a miracle he manages to push the right button on the elevator.

"Homesweethome!" Rachel slurs as she flounces through the front door, the key brandished triumphantly in her fist. (It only took, like, five tries for her to unlock it).

"Yeah yeah, congratulations," Finn says, hand pressing into the small of her back, "now let's get you to bed."

She plants her hands on her hips defiantly. "Really? You are gonna put me to bed? You're three sheets to the wind, Mr. Finn Hypocrite Hudson!"

"Yeah, well… so're you."

"That's my point," Rachel says, shoving playfully against his chest.

"Please?" he asks, pouting. "I just wanna make sure you're a-okay."

She sighs, letting out a long breath that ruffles her bangs. "Fine. But I resent the implication that as a female I need the protection or guidance of a man!"

"Duly noted," Finn quips, shuffling after her into the bedroom. (He doesn't quite understand how she can use such big words when she can barely remember her own name).

Rachel looks him straight in the eye as she wriggles out of her puffy pink parka and peels off her West Side Story dress, standing only in her frilly bra and underwear. They match. Of course.

"Satisfied?" she asks, crawling under the sheets with as much theatricality as she can muster.

Finn nods, reaching over to shut off her bedside lamp. The room darkens almost completely, save for Rachel's star-shaped nightlight which emits a soft golden glow.

"'Night, Rach," he says, his hand resting on the doorknob.

"Don't go."

She says it so suddenly that it takes a moment for the words to register in his tequila-addled brain. He peers over at her, brow wrinkled.

"Don't go," Rachel repeats, answering his silent query. She lifts up a corner of her duvet – an invitation.

He circles around to the vacant side of the bed, inelegantly kicks off his shoes, and moves to climb in beside her.

"Wait," she commands, holding up her small palm. "Lose the shirt."

Finn dutifully shucks his sweater, tossing it onto the floor in a wrinkled ball.

"Better?" he asks.

She considers him thoughtfully.

"Pants too."

He kicks off his jeans and slides under the covers before she has the chance to demand the removal of any more of his scant clothing.

"Are you sure about this?"

"Yes," Rachel says, as she rolls into him, legs tangling, her cold nose pressed against his cheek.

Finn touches her tentatively; his fingers hovering over the gentle swell of her hip.

"You know, you can kiss me if you want to," she whispers into the juncture of his neck and shoulder.

"I want to," he says.

And he does: on the half-moon of her translucent eyelid, on the hollow of her collarbone, on her pink and half-parted lips.

Given the high content of tequila sloshing their veins, they manage to shed their undergarments with an astonishing fluidity; an easy, unintentional synchronization.

He settles into position, his arms held up tensely on either side of her shiny hair, and she gasps when he presses his mouth against the soft skin of her inner thigh.

"I've wanted this for a long time," Finn tells her with a frankness that makes her lungs constrict, and he likes the way she says his name when he pushes into her, the way it shudders like the breath she always takes before hitting a high note.

XXVI.

Rachel Berry does not get hungover.

Hangovers are for teenagers, for irresponsible college students, for losers who party all night long and work in dead-end day jobs – not for perpetually accountable budding starlets who get eight hours of sleep per night and drink at least 100 oz of water every day.

In spite of all this, Rachel Berry is hungover.

She groans immediately upon waking, the sunlight filtering through her pink curtains hitting her like a powerful spotlight directly to the face.

When she manages to open her eyes, however, the hangover is the least of her problems.

Rachel almost screams upon realizing there is a living, breathing man in her bed, and she's got her hand wrapped halfway around her emergency bedside mace when she realizes that the man is…Finn.

The events of last night come crashing back to her like a tequila tidal wave and she checks the very real urge to vomit into her kitten-printed wastebasket. Part of her wants to blame this nausea on the Finn of it all, but the fact that she's having trouble recounting just how many shots she took last night throws a wrench that theory.

Okay. So maybe she's not completely disgusted by the fact that she slept with Finn, but that doesn't mean that she enjoyed it!

And even if she did enjoy it, that doesn't mean that it was anything more than good sex, or that it came from anywhere but drunken lust – which exists in a feelings vacuum, and what is a feeling anyway? Rachel's pretty sure she's never had one. And that is definitely not denial. At all.

Finn shifts slightly in his sleep, hands tightening around her waist, and the sudden pressure makes her very very aware of how badly she needs to pee.

Never one for delicacy, she pokes him squarely in the forehead until he stirs.

His tired eyelids flutter open and he flashes a sleepy smiley before burying his head in her chest. "'Morning," he mumbles against her sternum.

"Good morning," she says curtly. "Would you mind releasing me from your vise-like grip? I need to use the little starlet's room."

Finn laughs, untangling his arms. "As you wish, grump!"

She lingers in the bathroom, panic rising in her throat that even a three-minute facial ice bath can't squelch. Finn seemed downright cozy in there, and for once Rachel is absolutely sure that she's making an objective observation, unbiased by her own admitted egomania.

She's going to have to break his heart. It's the only way. Because she doesn't reciprocate… whatever feelings he might be harboring for her.

She doesn't.

Finn's managed to pull himself into a sitting position by the time she returns to her bedroom. He brightens visibly at the sight of her.

"For a minute there I thought you'd flown the coop!"

"Still here," Rachel assures him, forcing a smile.

He pats the vacant space next to her and she pretends not to notice, dropping delicately into her desk chair instead.

"How about last night, huh?" he prompts, grinning dazedly.

She presses her lips into a thin line. "Last night was a mistake, Finn."

His face falls. "You're joking, right?"

"Of course not," Rachel tells him, more sharply than she intends. "How could you possibly think otherwise?"

"Look, Rach, don't be… what's the word you're always using? Obtuse?"

She nods.

"Don't be obtuse! You know that there's something between us. You know it!"

"Yes, fine, there's something between us, Finn. And it's called antagonism."

"Will you stop being like that? You know that it's more than just run-of-the-mill friction. Okay, yeah, we might not agree on everything all the time. Or, like, most of the time. But all that squabbling and intensity? It comes from a place of passion, Rachel. You don't get that worked up about someone who you don't care about. Will you just admit that we get each other? We know how to push each other's buttons and, yeah, sometimes we use that power for evil because it's easier than, you know, thinking about feelings and stuff. But that doesn't mean there's nothing else there!"

"There's nothing else there," she insists quietly, swallowing around an inexplicable lump in her throat.

Finn hangs his head in his hands and shakes it back and forth, slowly. "I wish that you would quit being so stubborn for once in your life. "

"I'm not being stubborn," Rachel says, realizing the ridiculousness of the words only after they've left her mouth.

"I don't understand why you're doing this. Do you know how hard it is for me to talk to you like this? I'm stubborn too, you know. But this? This is more important than a little pride! I really like you, Rachel. I think I might even lo – "

"Don't say it. Please. It's just going to make this harder."

"Harder for who?" he asks, and his voice drips with disgust.

"I think you should go."

He leaves the room immediately, doesn't even bother stooping to collect last night's clothes.

He doesn't look back.

XXVII.

Rachel convinces herself that it was the right thing to do.

Or rather, she doesn't have to convince herself, because it was the right thing to do. Right?

After the disastrous morning-after explosion, Rachel once again capitalizes on her power of evasion. She avoids common areas in the apartment and memorizes Finn's schedule so that she can be sure to hide in her room whenever he's coming and going. (The business of avoiding him is much easier, this time around – for once he seems just as eager to stay far, far away from her). And when physical distance isn't enough to shake the lingering feelings of guilt and embarrassment, she opts for some mental distraction and buries herself in her work even more so than usual – staying so late at the theater every night that she gets to know not only the name of the night janitor but those of his three dozen carrier pigeons.

She's tidying up her corner of the dressing room on one such late night when an extremely unexpected visitor interrupts her compulsive stress-cleaning.

"Scrub that mirror any harder and you're going to break your toothbrush clean in half."

Rachel whirls around so violently she nearly topples over before pointing the sharpened end of her toothbrush toward the interloper's chest.

"Jesus Christ, Rachel, is that a shank?"

"Jesse?" she manages breathlessly, lowering her homemade weapon. "You can never be too careful."

"I never realized you'd spent so much time in prison before," he says.

She plants her hands on her hip. "I learned this particular trick while doing research for a role," she spits defensively.

"I've always admired your dedication," Jesse tells her, "even if it's sometimes a bit…unnerving."

"What are you doing here anyway?" Rachel asks, patience wearing thin.

His posture straightens, and he tightens the knot of the silk scarf draped about his neck. "I wanted to explain myself. About… why I ended things with you."

She snorts. "That's rich. Excuse me for being dramatic, Jesse, but don't you think this is a case of too little, too late? Besides, you already did explain it to me. We all know that Samantha Van Arsdale, Star of West Side Story, will generate more press hanging off your arm than Rachel Berry, No-Name Chorus Girl ever could."

Jesse runs a beringed hand through his meticulously coiffed hair. "Samantha was part of it, yes, but not the whole part. The truth is, Rachel, it had less to do with her than it did with my pride."

"What do you mean?"

"I liked you, Rachel. I still do. But, it was obvious that you had feelings for… someone else. And Jesse St. James plays second fiddle to no man."

She feels her hand tighten automatically around the toothbrush, an inexplicable flush coming over her cheeks. "I don't know what you're talking about," Rachel insists.

He sighs. "I'm not sure whatever imagined problem is preventing you from pursuing a relationship with Finn, but it's obvious to anyone with eyes that there's something going on between the two of you. I swear to Mandy Patinkin, every time the two of you were in the same room the raw sexual tension was so palpable I thought I was going to trip over it. It was like being trapped in a cage with two cats in heat."

"That is just, c-completely and t-t-totally – "

"Correct?" Jesse supplies breezily.

Rachel pinches the bridge of her nose. What harm would it do, really, to admit it to Jesse? To admit it to herself?

"Unfortunately," she confirms.

He sidles over to her, clapping an encouraging hand on her narrow shoulder. "You're a one-of-a-kind, girl, Rachel Berry. He'll be lucky to have you."

"That's just it," Rachel moans, throwing herself into the nearest chair. "I don't think he wants to have me anymore, assuming he ever did. I screwed everything up. It's too late."

Jesse presses a chaste kiss to her cheek. "It's never too late! Just look at Eponine and Marius."

"Are you saying that I should become fatally wounded and use my dying breath to confess my lo– feelings for Finn?"

"Alright, fair enough – that was not a great example. But you know what I mean! Now why don't you get up off of your pretty little behind and go fix whatever mess you've gotten yourself into. Carpe Diem, Rachel! The show must go on!"

"While I appreciate your enthusiastic sentiment, the mixed metaphors and non sequiturs you've employed could much be improved on," she informs him, gathering up her things. "But thank you nonetheless!"

"You're welcome," Jesse says, apparently unfazed by her syntactical criticism. "And good luck!"

XXVIII.

When Rachel bursts into the living room of her apartment, monologue already half-memorized, she is disappointed to find it empty. Finn is nowhere to be seen. She checks her watch, frowning. He should be here – she knows for a fact that he's not working tonight.

Dumping her bag onto the couch, she wanders over to Kurt's bedroom where she can hear his Abba record playing quietly through the crack under the door.

She pushes unceremoniously, too impatient to knock (and much to Kurt's chagrin).

"What do you think you're doing waltzing in here unannounced like that?" he demands, arms akimbo, a greenish clay moisturizing mask hardening on his face.

"Where's Finn?"

Kurt looks at her suspiciously. "What do you mean 'where's Finn'?"

"I mean exactly what I asked!" Rachel cries, exasperated. "Where is he?"

"Cool it, sister," he says. "I don't know, probably still unpacking boxes at his new place. Why?"

"What do you mean 'his new place'?"

"Now who's being obtuse! I mean exactly what I said," Kurt replies, mimicking her waspishly. "He moved out today. Didn't he tell you? He put a deposit on his own place weeks ago."

Rachel lunges forward, seizing Kurt by the lapels. "What's the address, Kurt? Tell me his address!" she half-shrieks, shaking him with every syllable.

He maneuvers out of her stronghold, straightening his now-rumpled blazer. "I know you're practically a professional psychopath, but you're acting crazy even for you right now, Rachel," he tells her, and then a look of realization spreads across his face. "Oh my god! You're fucking him, aren't you?"

"No!" she says defensively, adding. "Not really, anyway. It doesn't matter! I just need you to give me his address!"

"This makes me uncomfortable. This is practically incest. But if it'll cease your foaming at the mouth, then fine," Kurt whips out his bedazzled iPhone, fingers flying rapidly over the virtual keyboard. "There. I've just texted it to you. But I expect a full explanation from you later!"

Squealing, Rachel kisses him full on the lips. "Thank you, thank you, thank you! You won't regret this!"

"Somehow I doubt that," he calls after her retreating figure.

XXIX.

Finn's arranging his prized OSU Buckeyes bobbleheads on his brand new mantelpiece when a sudden pounding at the door nearly knocks them clean off.

"What the hell?" he hisses, marching self-righteously over to his entranceway and wrenching the door open with a preemptive scowl.

He's not prepared for the source of the disruption to be one very windblown Rachel Berry, hair still pinned in her telltale West Side Story curls.

"What are you doing here?" Finn asks with more vitriol than he intended, his knuckles tightening around the knob.

"I could ask you the same question!" Rachel says, pushing her way in forcefully – (she's surprisingly strong for such a miniature human).

"I live here," he informs her.

"Yes, I know that now!" she shouts, waving her arms about emphatically, "But I had to find out from Kurt! Why didn't you tell me you were moving out?"

"We haven't spoken in like ten days," Finn says, voice edged with hurt. "I didn't think you'd care – you know, considering the last time we spoke you told me to go away, and all that."

"I know it's difficult for you, but don't be stupid!" Rachel pleads, taking a few steps toward him. "You know that I care!"

"You do?" he asks (because, he totally does not know that). "Why?"

"Because I'm in love with you, you idiot!"

She seems to regrets the words almost immediately, clapping a hand against her mouth as if she can retroactively keep them from escaping.

"You are?" He feels himself grinning goofily (in spite of the fact that he could have throttled her moments earlier – not like, literally, but still).

Rachel sighs. "Regretfully."

Finn leans forward to forward to cup her cheek, his thumb grazing the freckle beneath her eye. "You mean it? This isn't some sort of like, weird science experiment? Or some method acting thing?"

"If only it were," she laments, leaning into his touch.

"I guess if we're sharing secrets," he begins, "then I ought to confess that I don't think you're completely awful yourself."

"Now, now, I think you can do better than that."

He presses his lips slowly and methodically against her own, his hands settling delicately on her hips.

"How's that?" Finn asks, pulling away.

"A definite improvement," Rachel says, smiling, "but I think you can do better still."

"All right, all right. You've worn down my defenses. Rachel Barbara Berry… I love you, too. Even if you are a little bit unhinged."

To her credit, Rachel simply kisses him again instead of remonstrating him for such a puerile jibe.

Fin.