A/N: Even though it has been done many times before, I really wanted to write my own version of Finn and Rachel's relationship had there been no Glee club. I hope you'll enjoy it, it was a lot of fun to write.


stay just like that forever

i.

The first time she sees him is a week into their freshman year when she's walking down a hallway and he randomly appears around a corner with a few of his team mates. It's hard not to notice him. Despite the fact that he's a freshman, just like she is, he's towering over most of the other students. His bright red letterman jacket makes him stand out too. And the way his amber eyes sparkle.

She is positive that he is the most beautiful boy she has ever seen in her life.

Looking over her shoulder, she chances another quick peek at his retreating back. She marvels at how broad his shoulders are. And for a second she wonders what it would feel like to grip those shoulders as she pulls him in for a kiss. But she pushes those thoughts to the back of her mind quickly. She doesn't even know where they came from. She doesn't even know him. She just knows of him. Everyone knows who Finn Hudson is.

No one knows who she is. Certainly not Finn Hudson.

Muffling a sigh, she turns back around before anyone catches her staring at him and keeps walking with her gaze fixed in front of her.

She doesn't feel his eyes on her back.

As she turns the corner, heading toward her locker to get her history textbook, she's rudely halted in her steps by something that feels like tiny needles pricking her all over her face. Gasping for air, as the cold half-melted ice drips down her chin and her chest, her hand flies up to her face and wipes the slush from her eyes.

"Welcome to McKinley, Stubbles!" a tall girl wearing a tight polyester cheerleading uniform screeches at her and she can feel tears poking at the corners of her eyes.

She keeps her head high though, as she continues toward her locker, trying to seem as unfazed by the incident as possible. They will not get her tears. She is Rachel Barbra Berry. She will be on Broadway one day and they will all be stuck with dead end jobs back in Lima. She will come out the winner.

ii.

Three weeks into her sophomore year the glee club disbands. Two weeks after it started. Mr. Shuester leaves McKinley to become an accountant and no other teacher wants to even as much as touch glee club with a ten foot pole.

She's upset that she'll never get a chance to show everyone all of the excellent song ideas she has that feature her heavily on lead. But then again a show choir consisting of five people – one of whom is in a wheelchair – is not really a very good show choir. So maybe it's for the better for her to just continue recording videos and posting them on MySpace. And going at it alone. That's the way it's always been, so she's used to it.

But she's not completely alone anymore. Though they are far from close, she has at least begun a tentative friendship with the other members of the cancelled glee club. Sure, Kurt makes fun of her clothes any chance he gets and Mercedes never agrees with her on anything, but Artie and Tina are always nice. And she's got people to eat lunch with every day and someone who'll help her get the ice out of her hair when that imbecile Noah Puckerman and his meathead friends throws slushies in her face.

All in all, despite cancelled Glee Clubs and weekly slushie facials, sophomore year is turning out to be a little bit better than her freshman year.

She still spots Finn Hudson in the hall every now and then, they don't share any classes and she'd rather be dead than at a football game, so those are the only chances she gets to watch him.

He's still the most beautiful boy she has ever seen. And he's even bigger and broader now after a full year of playing football. And she still goes weak at the knees whenever she sees him. But he still has no idea who she is.

It's probably for the best though. She can afford no distractions on her course toward Broadway and super stardom. Nothing is going to stand in her way, not even tall, beautiful boys with amber eyes and crooked smiles.

iii.

The first time he really notices her, not counting the few quick glances of her he has sneaked since that very first one in his very first week of high school, is late one afternoon during one of the last weeks of his sophomore year. He's lumbering down the hall on his way to his locker to get some stuff. He's got a blue raspberry flavored slushie in one hand – he thinks blue food is kind of fun – and his backpack slung over his shoulder as he thinks about what his mom will make for dinner later.

Entirely lost in his own thoughts, he doesn't notice a door open or the slight figure walking through it before it's too late.

"Ugh!" she grunts as she hits the floor with a thud.

"Oh God, I'm so sorry," he mumbles, bending forward to help pull her up, unfortunately completely forgetting about the slushie in his hand that tips over and spills all over her legs. She lets out a little yelp as the cold mush hits her bare skin and he feels like the biggest dumbass in the world. "Crap. I'm sorry," he says again, "uh… about, you know, knocking you over and then dumping a blue raspberry slushie on you." He wishes his mouth and brain had a better connection and that he could just stop talking sometimes as she looks at him with large, dark brown eyes.

Her eyes are really pretty.

She pulls her legs up against her chest and he can't help but notice how long and shapely they are. He's having serious trouble not noticing how short her skirt is as well and the way it's riding up a bit along her thighs. "Oh, that is perfectly fine," she says, sounding almost chipper, as she stands, snapping him out of his daze, "it's not like you did it on purpose, like some of your friends have a tendency to do."

"Oh… Uhm," he stutters, grabbing the back of his neck, "uh, yeah, no I've never really seen the point with throwing desserts at someone." He shifts uncomfortably. He knows that Puck does that to this girl – Rachel he thinks her name is – pretty much once every week. He tries to walk in a different direction when he sees Puck with a slushie in his hand, or say that he forgot something in his locker or something, to avoid having to deal with it. It's not cool to do that to someone and he knows it, but at the same time he doesn't want to be on the other end of one. So he just stays away.

"I agree," she says, her hands on her hips, as she looks at him with these really intense eyes, "I find it to be barbaric and just outright deplorable behavior."

He has no idea what that means. But she's looking at him like she wants him to agree with her so he nods. He doesn't know what else to say. He notices that the binder she's clutching to her chest is covered in small gold stars. "Cool binder," he says, "I like the stars." He cringes at how incredibly dumb that sounded but to his surprise her face breaks out into a wide, beaming smile.

"Thank you, Finn!" she chirps. "I like them too. Gold stars are kind of my thing. They're a metaphor you see – for me being a star."

"Oh, cool," he says and then it registers that she said his name. "Wait, you know my name?"

"Of course," she says, chuckling a little, "everyone knows your name, Finn. I'm Rachel Berry, by the way." She reaches out a hand and he takes it in his, shaking it gently as she smiles at him.

Over her shoulder he notices Puck at the end of the hall looking at him with a weird expression and he realizes that he's been standing there talking to her – this girl he doesn't even know – for at least five minutes. He has to go before Puck gets any closer and starts giving him crap about it.

"Uh, I have to leave," he says, and there's a tiny moment when her smile falters before she's smiling just as widely again. "See you, Rachel." She gives him a small wave and he stalks off toward Puck.

He doesn't really dare look back, because Puck is still watching him like a hawk, but he can't really deny that he wants to look at her one more time. But really he shouldn't, because he does have a girlfriend. Quinn, he can't forget about Quinn.

He doesn't look back and when Puck asks why he was with the "freaky diva chick" he tells him that he accidentally knocked her over and he was just helping her up. Puck laughs at him and tells him he's a pussy.

He kind of thinks he is too, but not for the reason Puck thinks so.

iv.

Finn lies in bed on the last night of his sophomore year, staring up at the sloped ceiling, trying his hardest to fall asleep. But his brain just won't shut up. It's a little weird actually, because usually he's really good at not thinking. Lots of people – his mom, teachers, friends – tell him that he does and says things without thinking all the time.

But right now his brain does not have an off-button.

He turns on his side and tries to burrow his head further into the pillow. He closes his eyes and starts silently listing starting quarterbacks in the NFL, hoping that will lull him to sleep. But all of his other thoughts just come running back.

Maybe he shouldn't be surprised that he's all confused in the head. A lot has happened over the last couple of weeks.

First, about two weeks ago, his mom sat him down at the dinner table and told him that she had started seeing a man and that it was beginning to get serious. Apparently she's been seeing Burt Hummel for over three months. Finn kind of knows who his son is. He's super pale and dresses funny and he's in his Spanish class. He's pretty sure that Puck tossed him in the dumpster a few times last year. He's met Burt once since and he seems like a decent enough guy, even though it still feels super weird knowing that his mom is moving on.

He flops over, fighting to get comfortable on his tiny bed. His thoughts move on to what happened a few days later when his mind was still trying to wrap around the first bombshell. He and Quinn had just been sitting on the couch next to each other, watching some stupid chick flick that she'd wanted to see, when all of a sudden she'd started crying. At first he had freaked out because he doesn't really handle himself well around crying girls. But then he'd understood what she was trying to say between her heaving sobs and raspy breaths.

She had cheated on him.

She'd tried to explain but he'd cut her off. For a few seconds his whole world had shook and threatened to crumble and he hadn't known what to do. Then he'd yelled and kicked over a chair and told her to leave without even looking at her.

When he, a few hours later, had calmed down and thought about it he had slowly realized that he really wasn't that upset. Sure, he felt like a fool for being led on by Quinn and a little sad that she would actually do that to him. But he wasn't heartbroken.

Heaving a sigh and screwing his eyes shut, he chases away any lingering thoughts of Quinn. For a second he thinks that maybe he can get some sleep now. But then his mind travels to Rachel. He doesn't understand why. She's just some girl that he's talked to once and not even for that long. And she's super intense and she talks a lot, probably more than she should, and all of her clothes have animals on them. But she's nice and she seems kind of cool.

He falls asleep that night with a million pictures flashing behind his eyelids. But somehow the ones that seem to stand out the most are the ones of dark brown eyes and a bright white smile.

v.

The summer between her sophomore and junior year Rachel gets a part time job at the vegan fast food place in the Lima mall food court, The Pita Place. It was her Dad's idea. He says that even though she's bound for stardom it never hurts to learn a little plain work ethic. Her Daddy agreed with her that it would be much more productive for her to spend the summer working on her one-woman tribute show to Barbara. But in the end her Dad won and now she has to spend every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday heating up pita bread and cutting cucumber slices.

It's not too bad though. And it's always nice to have a little extra money. The road to fame can be a pricey one sometimes. Plus, she's seen a really cute pink top with a bunny on it that she really wants.

Two days after her first day on the job it gets even better. Looking across the small court at the Dairy Queen, she spots a very familiar, very cute, six-foot-three quarterback looking a little bit lost as the manager is explaining things to him.

He looks up and she knows he's recognized her from the way one of his eyebrows quirk and a small half-grin tilts his lips. She waves timidly and she can feel her heart beating faster as he waves back.

About an hour later, as she's idly twiddling her thumbs – Lima doesn't have that many vegans – a soft voice breaks through the dullness.

"Uh… Hey Rach."

Her head snaps up and she can't help the smile that rapidly spreads across her lips. She doesn't fail to notice the little nickname as it slips from his lips. "Hi, Finn," she says, "So, you're working at DQ I see."

"Yeah," he answers, rubbing his neck in that adorable way he does sometimes, "I almost got a job at Olive Garden as a busboy but they thought I was too tall. This is pretty sweet too though. I mean I can get like one free Blizzard every day if I want and that's pretty cool. But Dough, that's my manager, he gets his undies in a twist if I don't scoop the ice cream exactly the way he told me to, so that's a little annoying you know."

She giggles and he stops rambling, the tips of his ears glowing scarlet. "I can relate," she says, smiling, "Patty, my manager, is very particular about the way she wants the vegetables cut. She is lucky that I have such a steady hand that I always manage to cut the carrots into perfect half inch sticks. "

He raises one eyebrow, looking a little confused, and she worries that she said something terribly inane. But his lips quirk and she releases the tiny puff of air she's holding in, returning the smile ten-fold.

"So," he says, shifting his weight from his left foot to his right, "I was just wondering when your lunch break is?"

"Oh." She's surprised. Not only is this the second conversation she's having with him in less than a month but he seems to want to spend even more time with her. "Uhm, I have a thirty minute break in an hour."

"Sweet, me too," he says, "Uh, I thought we could eat together since, you know, you're the only one here that I kind of know and I don't really want to spend it with Dough so…" he trails off.

"Oh." Her heart drops a little. He's just nice to her because he doesn't want to eat alone. She swallows a sigh and looks him in the eyes. "I'd love to share my lunch break with you, Finn," she says. She knows that it's pathetic. That she shouldn't be acting so lovesick over a boy. She should be using her lunch breaks to learn new lyrics and practice monologues. But he's so sweet and goofy and she can't help herself. She just wants to spend a little bit of time with him. Even if she's there as a replacement for his other friends.

"Awesome." He gives her one more lopsided smile before walking back across the food court and butterflies flutter in her stomach no matter how hard she tries to chase them away.

vi.

Rachel sits at a table at the far back, half hidden behind a large potted plant, and picks at her salad as she waits for Finn to show up. Her left foot taps impatiently against the tiled floor and she cranes her neck to see if maybe she can spot him.

Her heart dips a little as she wonders if maybe he came to his senses and decided that she's not worth spending time with. He has a ton of friends. He's the most popular guy at school and from what she knows cheerleader Quinn Fabray – the one that has spent the last two years calling her every mean name in the book – is his loving girlfriend. He doesn't really need her friendship.

She doesn't really dare think yet that he actually wants to be her friend.

"Hey."

She's startled by the sound of his voice. She was so far inside her own mind that she didn't notice him coming up next to her.

"Sorry I'm a little late," he says, "Dough insisted on giving me a lecture on the differences between ordinary vanilla and French vanilla." He shrugs and sits down opposite her, placing his homemade sandwich on the table in front of him.

Still a little shaken by the paths her mind had started taking before he showed up she smiles as widely as possible at him. "That is quite alright," she says, "no harm, no foul."

He smiles at her and takes a bite out of his sandwich. She can't control her curiosity any longer. And she's having a hard time controlling her nerves as well, her foot is still tapping restlessly against the floor. She knows she has to ask him, but she doesn't want to come off as too eager.

"So," she says, gaining his attention, "uhm, can I ask why you are not enjoying your lunch break with one of your friends… or your girlfriend?"

For a brief moment he looks like a deer caught in headlights and she worries that some of her resentment toward Quinn Fabray managed to shine through.

He shifts uncomfortably, takes a sip of his Coke and clears his throat. "Uh, well, Puck's doing his pool cleaning business, Mike's at Asian camp and Matt has to help his parents prepare for their move." He takes another swig of Coke. "And, you know, I don't really hang out with anyone else on the team so…uh…"

She looks at him. Waiting for him to continue. He did leave someone out, didn't he?

He must understand that she's expecting him to continue because he looks down at his food and then he rubs the back of his neck. He seems to be choosing his words.

"And, uh, Quinn and I, we kind of broke up."

She gasps, one hand coming up to cover her mouth. He looks sad and lost and she wants to kick herself so hard for the giddy butterflies that fill her stomach. "I'm so sorry," she says.

"It's okay," he answers, "I just don't really feel like talking about it, you know."

They spend the rest of their lunch break in silence. To Rachel's surprise and pleasure it's not a weird silence, but actually a comfortable and friendly one.

vii.

About a month into the summer Finn decides that getting a summer job, no matter how crappy it can be at times, was probably the best thing he could have done. Sure, he doesn't really get to see his friends that much – except for a few Fridays and Saturdays when he hangs with Puck outside the 7-Eleven – but he does get to spend time with Rachel.

He's not really sure what they are. They spend most of their lunch breaks together. They talk – well, she talks and he just kind of sits there and tries not to zone out too many times. She talks a lot about Broadway and musicals and Barbara Streisand and how she's going to be a huge star one day. He likes her confidence. He kind of hopes that he'll play college ball one day, but he's in no way sure that he'll do it in the way that she's positive that she'll be on Broadway.

She doesn't only like musicals though. She likes classic rock too and he thinks that's kind of great. They even spent one whole lunch break discussing the amazingness of Journey's "Don't stop believing". Then he told her that he plays the drums and she got so excited that she was literally bouncing up and down in her seat. And she said that she'd love to hear him play sometime.

He hasn't plucked up the courage to actually play for her yet. And he doesn't really want to invite her over to his house yet either. He's not ready for the third degree that he would get from his mom if he brought a new girl home.

His mom would assume that they're dating and then he would have to tell her that they're not and then she would ask what they are. And honestly he doesn't know. He thinks Rachel's cool and she's really nice and she's actually pretty sneaky hot. Yeah, he's noticed that her butt is kind of awesome. But he can't stop thinking about how much crap he'd get from Puck and the other guys on the team if he shows up first day of school with Rachel on his arm. He'd definitely get slushie facial and then tossed in the dumpster.

But he and Rachel can be friends. Like friends that hang out outside of school. That wouldn't be weird. They can like catch a movie or go bowling together. As friends.

He tells Dough that he's taking his ten minute afternoon break and makes his was across the food court to The Pita Place. Rachel's at the cash register ringing someone up so he waits a few feet back, shifting from his left foot to his right and back again.

When her eyes fall on him a minute later and her face lights up his stomach feels all twisty inside and has to smile back.

"Finn, what a lovely surprise," she says, "How may I help you?"

"Uh." He still gets a little confused at how formal she can sound even after having known her for over a month. "I was just wondering if you had any plans tonight?" he says.

Her cheeks turn pink and she quickly glances down at her feet before she looks back up at him with wide eyes. "Oh, I am completely free," she says, beaming brightly at him.

"Cool, I was thinking that maybe we could go bowling." His lips tilt in a nervous smile and for some reason he feels that it's necessary for him to explain further. "I mean we've both been working hard for a month now and I thought that we could, you know, do something fun for a night. I've always thought that bowling is relaxing and stuff and it helps me take my mind of things. And it's fun."

She smiles back at him but he thinks that he can maybe see something in her eyes that tells him he should have kept his big mouth shut. But she nods happily and says; "I would love to Finn! I've never been bowling before but I've always thought it sounded like a delightful activity."

"You've never been bowling before?" He raises an incredulous eyebrow. "Really?" She gives a tiny bob of her head. "It's a good thing I'm taking you then, because it's awesome and I'm a pretty good teacher. Do you want to go when our shifts end?"

"That sounds perfect."

"Cool." He gives her a final smile and walks off, silently wondering if this is the way your insides are supposed to feel when you make plans to go out with someone who's just a friend.

viii.

Rachel sings loudly along to the radio inside her tiny Prius on her way to her first day of junior year. She has never ever before been this excited about going back to school. She is practically buzzing with excitement.

She's managed to spend some time with both Kurt and Mercedes during the summer and they have all become a little closer. Kurt still makes fun of her clothes and calls her a diva, but at least he feels like a real friend now. They've even discussed approaching a few teachers about organizing a school musical. They both want to attend a New York City based performance arts school after high school and realize that they need something more to put on their resumes other than a two-week long Glee Club.

No matter how much she loves Kurt and Mercedes there's no reason for her to lie to herself – the foremost reason why she is so excited about going back to school is her and Finn's blossoming friendship. They really have spent a lot of time together during the summer and she can't wait for them to grow even closer during the fall. She tries not to get too carried away. She really does, because Finn has never said anything to indicate that he thinks of her as anything more than just a friend. But sometimes she just gets this feeling that is exactly what he thinks of her. And she is a little bit psychic after all.

She can feel the excitement bubbling inside her, threatening to spill over, as she makes her way toward his locker. She's arrived at school early – as she always does – and hopes that she will catch him before first period. Not that it's her intention to follow him around like a lost puppy – she just wants to say 'hi' and wish him luck on the first day of school.

She has to forcibly stop herself from running up to him as she spots him standing by his locker. She's seen him several times a week throughout the summer but somehow he still manages to look even better than he did the last time she saw him. Maybe it's something about the lighting in the halls but he looks tanner and his hair looks even more effortlessly rumpled and his eyes seem to sparkle more than they ever have before.

Her knees go weak. Just like they always do.

She stops next to him. He hasn't noticed her yet so she clears her throat, all of a sudden feeling a little shy. "Hi Finn," she says.

He turns around. "Oh, hey Rach," he says. He doesn't really sound thrilled to see her and he's rubbing the back of her neck.

"How's the first day back so far?" she says, even though it might be a stupid question since they've only been back for about fifteen minutes.

"Uh, it kind of sucked having to wake up early but other than that it's okay, I guess."

He's looking over her shoulder as if he's looking for someone and her heart breaks a little at his apparent disinterest.

Santana Lopez struts by them in her short red shirt and with what seems like a brand new set of boobs on her ribcage and Finn's eyes follow her instead of Rachel.

"Finnocence," she pretty much purrs, then her eyes harden as they land on Rachel and she adds with a look of disgust; "RuPaul, no visit from the nose-job fairy yet?"

Rachel feels those tears that she thought was a thing of the past prodding at her eyes as she looks up at Finn. He's just staring down at his shoes, seemingly very interested in the way his laces are tied. She swallows the hurt feeling, thinking that it's just being back at McKinley, and back with the meatheads on the football team, that has him a little out of sorts.

Deciding to ask if he wants to maybe go catch a movie or go to the music store later she opens her mouth but is rudely interrupted.

"Hudson!" Noah Puckerman clamps a hand over Finn's shoulder and gives his upper arm a punch. Turning toward Rachel he looks her up and down with an infuriating leer on his lips. "S'up, Berry," he says.

"Noah," she responds with as much venom in her voice as she can produce but he just laughs at her.

"What's this?" Puck waves his hand between Finn and Rachel. "Did you decide to slum it? It's a definite downgrade if you ask me."

"Shut up, dude," Finn mumbles, "We're just friends, sort of. We worked at the same food court this summer."

Rachel flinches at Finn's quiet words. She didn't think he'd be that quick to dismiss her and the great time they had together. He makes it sound as if they've barely said two words to each other during all those weeks.

Puck just laughs, holding his hands in front of his chest in some sort of defending gesture. "Whatever you say, man," he chuckles.

She doesn't give Finn the chance to answer. Instead she interrupts them with a cheery – much too cheery to be sincere – "Anyway, I just wanted to say hello… I really have to leave now or I'll be late. See you around, Finn."

She turns around and storms off before neither Finn nor Puck has the chance to say anything else. She doesn't want them to see the lone tear making its way down her cheek. She only allows one tear to fall. If Finn Hudson wants to dismiss months of friendship then he can just go ahead and screw himself. She certainly doesn't need him.

ix.

He knows that he's the biggest ass in the world. Rachel's the nicest person in the world and just because he was afraid of what Puck would think he made it sound like she was just some random girl and not his friend. When in reality he really likes her. Maybe he even likes her a little more than just as a friend. Maybe that's really what scares him.

She hasn't said two words to him in a month. He's tried really hard to just get her to listen to him so that he can apologize but she's been avoiding him like he's got some weird zombie disease or something. Whenever she sees him she just turns around and storms off.

He even tried asking Kurt for help. Their parents have been dating for a while and though he at first was a little intimidated by Kurt and the way he looked at him, they've grown to kind of become friends. And Kurt is friends with Rachel too, so he thought that maybe he could just deliver a message or something saying that he wanted to talk to her. But Kurt refused. He said he was not getting in the middle of their lovers' spat for all the Gucci loafers in the world – whatever that means. He tried to explain to Kurt then that he and Rachel were just friends, but Kurt just raised an eyebrow at him and left him standing alone by his locker.

He misses her. She's actually really fun to be around – even if she does talk a little too much and mostly about herself.

So that's why he's standing outside her house for the first time ever. When they hung out during the summer they usually did it at the mall, or the bowling alley or sometimes at the park. Never at her house. He knows that she has two dads. Not one but two. She talks about them all the time and they seem really cool, but he still worries what will happen if it's one of her dads that open the door.

He pushes the doorbell carefully and waits, his heart beating rapidly against his ribcage. After a minute or two the door opens and Rachel is standing there looking at him with her big, brown, beautiful eyes.

He smiles. He can't help it. "Hey," he says, sounding like a fool.

"Finn, hi," she says, her voice a little breathless, "What are you doing here?"

"Uh, well, I wanted to talk to you, but you have kind of been avoiding me at school so I looked up your address and here I am."

"So I see," she says and her eyes grow even wider and her mouth tilts in a little smile. "Do you want to come in?"

"Sure," he says, and follows her into a bright, airy living room.

She sits down one end of a large plushy sofa and he sits down on the other end. He's nervous and he feels like he's not sure if he knows all of the reasons why he's nervous. He knows it's because he wants her to accept his apology and become his friend again. But maybe there's more.

He rubs the back of his neck. She doesn't say anything, she just looks at him with those big doe eyes and his stomach is twisting itself into tight knots. "Uh, I wanted to say that I'm sorry, Rach," he says, "Puck's kind of an ass and he makes fun of everyone – me included – and I guess I just didn't want to give him another reason to give me crap."

She looks hurt and he kicks himself hard. Why isn't his brain connected to his mouth?

"You didn't want him to make fun of you for being friends with a loser, you mean?"

"No! No, Rach," he says, scooting a little closer to her, "You are not a loser! Not even close, you're the most talented person at McKinley. But to Puck and most of the other guys on the football team, and to the Cheerios, if you're not a part of them then you're not accepted. And I let my stupid need to be popular take over and I suck and I apologize. I really want us to be friends Rachel. I like you. You're really cool."

He looks up at her and he sees tears falling down her cheeks. He made her cry. He is such an idiot. He opens his mouth to apologize again for being an idiot and saying the wrong things, but is cut off as Rachel flings her tiny body against his in a tackle hug.

"I forgive you, Finn," she mumbles against his shoulder. She glances up at him from under her eyelashes and they are wet from her tears and she just looks so pretty. "I really missed you, Finn."

"I missed you too, Rach," he says, wrapping his arms around her. He can't get over the fact that she fits perfectly in his arms. Just as if she was made for him.

Before he leaves, a few hours later – she made him stay and watch Funny Girl with her – they promise to never avoid each other again. And to not let silly things such as Puck or Santana get in the way of their friendship.

x.

A few weeks before Christmas Finn's mom and Kurt's dad get married. Rachel is invited both as Finn's and as Kurt's guest. She's not sure how it happened but the three of them have become an admittedly rather unlikely group of friends. But they're friends. Finn and his mom has been spending time at the Hummel household and sometimes when she's there to see Kurt – to watch a movie or have karaoke night – Finn joins them.

He still seems a little uneasy around her at school, especially when Puck's around, but they've both kept their promise not to avoid each other. So, she has decided to have an open mind. She knows that not everyone can be as confident in themselves as she is, and she should let Finn take the time he needs to become comfortable outside of his popular jock persona.

She will wait for him. She knows that he is worth it. She thinks that she's known that ever since she first saw him. Maybe he never will look at her the way she looks at him but she can't deny her feelings. She's in love with Finn. She has been for a very long time and she probably always will be.

Walking into the large hall where the wedding will take place, she has never been more excited about attending an event. Mrs. Hudson-soon-to-be-Hummel has even asked her to sing a song at the reception.

She tried convincing Finn to sing the song with her. She overheard him singing to himself once and he really has a lovely voice. It's of course not trained like hers, but it's filled with raw talent and emotion, and she could listen to it all day long. She even suggested that they sing "Faithfully" – a song she knows is one of his favorites – together but he refused. He said he wasn't good enough and nothing she could say would change his mind. So instead she's singing a duet with Kurt and then she will end with a heart wrenching rendition of "My heart will go on".

She cries during the ceremony as Finn and Kurt's parents exchange their vows. Everything about it is absolutely beautiful and to her the most beautiful part is Finn. He looks dashing in his dark tuxedo, his eyes sparkle and he just looks so proud standing there next to his mother. Her heart flutters as he turns toward her and catches her eye and she gives him a wide smile.

The reception is in full effect. A DJ has taken over the musical duties after her celebrated performance. Kurt is dancing with Mercedes. Mr. and Mrs. Hummel are swaying softly to the music, lost in their own little world. She looks around, trying to spot Finn but she can't see him anywhere.

Feeling disappointment creep over her, she brushes her hands over the skirt of her red dress, and starts walking towards her table to get her purse. A hand clasping gently around her right forearm holds her back and her cheeks burn as he stage whispers against her ear; "Want to go somewhere else?"

She turns around and he's grinning at her, one eyebrow quirked in question, and he discreetly holds up a small bottle of champagne. She just nods and he takes her by the hand and leads her to one of the backrooms, the one where he and Kurt changed before the ceremony. He takes off his jacket and spreads it across the floor.

"Sorry," he says, with a shrug, "I don't really have anything better to sit on."

"This is perfect," she says and she sits down, carefully tucking the dress around her legs. She smiles up at Finn and he plops down next to her, only leaving a handful of inches of space between them. He hands her the bottle and she takes a dainty sip. The bubbles tickle her nose and she giggles softly. She gives back the bottle – she's only ever had one glass of champagne before, at her cousin's wedding, and this isn't really the time or the place to have her first drunken debauchery – Finn takes one sip and puts the bottle on the floor next to them.

"I thought your speech was very moving, Finn," she tells him and he blushes and looks down at his hands.

"Thanks," he says, "Uh, Kurt actually helped me with it a bit."

"Maybe so," Rachel smiles and reaches out a tentative hand to pat his knee, "but I could tell that they were all your thoughts that you were sharing. It really was beautiful."

His ears grow even redder and he smiles, a dimple creasing his cheek. "I really liked your song," he says, "You were great Rach."

"You really think so?" she says, she's sung in front of him many times before but he has never really complimented her before

"Yeah, your voice is like the best I've ever heard and when you sing," he sounds nervous, "I can feel it. It touches something in me, right here." He places his hand over the right side of his chest and she can't help but smile at his adorableness.

"Your heart's on the other side of your chest," she says, placing her hand over his and moving it across his chest. Her fingers graze his chest and she can feel firm muscle. Her stomach does a little flip.

"Oh, it's beating really hard." He almost sounds out of breath. "You're cool, Rachel."

A smile spreads across her lips, her tongue slips out to wet them, and her heart beats frantically. She can see his gaze fall down to rest of her lips. She feels giddy and nervous and maybe even a little faint because what she's wanted for so long might actually be happening right now. Most of all though she feels bold as she leans a little closer. "You know, you can kiss me if you want to," she quietly whispers.

"I want to."

He closes the tiny patch of air that still exists between them and she closes her eyes, waiting with her breath lodged in her throat. Then finally his lips are pressed against hers. They're a little chapped, but gentle and pliant as he slowly sucks on her bottom lip. It's the most all-consuming feeling she has ever felt as his arms circle her waist and her hands find their way around his shoulders.

He pulls away for a second, giving her the chance to fill her lungs with much needed oxygen. The second kiss is rougher and laced with more need. She tugs on his lip and he grunts into her mouth. She doesn't think she has ever been this aware of every single cell in her body and they are all humming with anticipation and lust. She wants to pull him closer but with another muffled grunt he's pulling away from her, pulling his lips from hers.

She looks at him, concern and confusion filling her eyes, as his face scrunches up painfully. Did she hurt him? Did she bite too hard?

"Oh!" he exclaims, pushing himself off of the floor and standing up. "Rachel, I'm sorry. I have to go." He looks as though he wants the floor to open up and swallow him whole as he backs away from her. "Uh, just please don't tell anyone about this."

He races through the door and all she can do is look on as she feels the tears slide down her cheeks, leaving salty wet tracks on her flushed skin.

A few minutes later, when she's composed herself enough, she's back in the reception hall looking for her purse and her wrap. She doesn't see Finn anywhere and her heart sinks a little more with every step she takes out of the building. She should have known it was all too good to be true.

xi.

Finn's been avoiding Rachel. He knows that it's a super douchey thing to do and it's eating him up inside because they made a promise and he is breaking it. But at the same time he is so confused. And he is just so, so embarrassed. He likes Rachel. He really likes her and he is obviously attracted to her. But how is he supposed to tell her that he ran away from her because he is so attracted to her that he can't even control his own stupid body?

And he and Rachel are so different. She's going to be a big star. He's most likely going to be stuck in Lima the rest of his life, so why even bother? Maybe it's better to just move on. But he doesn't want to do that. He doesn't know what he wants.

He doesn't miss the way her sad eyes follow him sometimes. Whenever he spots her he can feel the guilt burning through him like acid. Puck never fails to spot her either and he seems to really be enjoying making Finn aware of the fact that Rachel Berry – the biggest loser at McKinley – has a crush on him.

He doesn't even want to know what Puck would say if he knew that the reason Rachel looks at him like that is because two months ago he ran out on her after they'd shared the most amazing kiss ever. The best kiss of his life actually. A kiss that set fire to his entire body and left him wanting so much more. It only lasted a couple of minutes but was still enough to make him cream his freaking pants. Another thing he absolutely cannot tell Puck. He would have a field day with that little tidbit.

He sighs, rubbing his face vigorously, and sinks onto his bed. Maybe if he closes his eyes hard enough the whole situation will just dissolve into nothingness and he can go back to last year when nothing was this complicated.

Yeah, not even he is dumb enough to believe that.

There's a quiet knock on his door and he sits up. He's pretty sure who it is. There's really only one person it could be at nine pm on a school night. He kind of wishes it were Rachel though. That she would show up and force him to talk to her.

"Yeah, come on in," he says. "Hey, dude." He smiles, even though it feels really forced, as Kurt enters holding a glass of milk in each hand.

"Good evening, Finn, Kurt says as he sets one glass down on his nightstand and then sits down on Finn's desk chair, crossing one leg over the other. "How was your day?"

"Uh, pretty good," he answers, taking a small sip of milk. It's still a little weird drinking warm milk, he's not quite used to the taste yet, but he doesn't want Kurt to feel bad. He eyes his stepbrother warily; he definitely looks like he has something on his mind.

"So you're not tired after another full day of avoiding Rachel?" Kurt asks, simply.

Finn doesn't know how to answer that. He's only had vague conversations with Kurt about this topic before. He hasn't told him what happened the night of their parent's wedding. But he has a feeling Kurt knows anyway. Maybe Rachel told him, after all they seem to have grown even closer over the last two months. Luckily though, Kurt hasn't tried to pull the truth from him. He has merely pointed out to him – on several occasions – that he thought Finn and Rachel seemed to have a lovely friendship and he should really try to regain what they had.

"What do you mean?" he says finally, realizing that obviously Kurt knows that Finn knows what he meant.

"Oh, please," Kurt says, "it's been two months, Finn." Apparently he is going to get a much larger piece of Kurt's mind than usual tonight. "That's two months that I've had to look at those big, sad, brown eyes and listen to "Why won't he talk to me Kurt? Why?" over and over. I don't know if you've noticed but Rachel is a bit of a drama queen."

He can't help but chuckle because that is like the biggest understatement he has ever heard. No one is more of a drama queen than Rachel. He gets that some people are a little intimidated by that side of her personality and they call her a diva. He kind of likes it though – it just shows that she's passionate.

"Look," Kurt continues, "Rachel and I are going out tomorrow night as two singles trying to ignore the whole hype of Valentine's Day – "

"Wait. Tomorrow's Valentine's Day?" Finn cuts him off.

"Yes, Finn, tomorrow's Valentine's Day," Kurt sighs, "Anyway, as I was saying, Rachel and I are going to Breadstix and I was wondering if you'd like to come?"

"Uh, I don't know Kurt," he says, drawing out the words, "Is that such a good idea?"

"Of course it is," Kurt says, affronted, "Look, Finn, I know I don't have all of the information, but I do know that you're miserable and she's miserable and even if you're not sure of what you're feeling right now that shouldn't stop you from spending time together. You can see her as friends and maybe then everything else will become clearer. You're not seeing her now, so what do you have to lose?"

Finn thinks about what Kurt is saying for a few minutes. He does have a point. Maybe he doesn't need to know exactly what is going on – or at least what was going on a few months ago – between him and Rachel. Maybe if they're friends everything else will work itself out in the end. He doesn't know how Rachel will feel about it. Maybe he's hurt her too much. But he has to try. "Okay, I'll come," he tells Kurt, who smiles a self-satisfied smile back at him, and takes a sip from his glass.

xii.

Rachel fishes her iPhone from her purse and checks the time. She glances over at the door for what feels like the fiftieth time. Kurt knows very well how she feels about punctuality and she is starting to get a little annoyed.

"Sorry, sorry." She hears Kurt's flustered voice. She's about to turn around as he adds, "We're here now." She freezes. Wait, did he say "we"? Did Kurt bring a date to their singles' night?

She doesn't have to wonder much longer because Kurt slips into the booth next to her and is followed by Finn who takes a seat across from them. He looks at her with a little worried wrinkle between his eyebrows and he looks so adorable she has a hard time remembering that she's upset with him. "What are you doing here?" she says.

He looks confused at first, and then he aims a glare at Kurt. "Didn't you tell her I was tagging along?" he says.

"No," Kurt says, fiddling with his silk scarf, "I wanted to be sure that you'd both show up, so I thought it was safer not to mention it." He turns to Rachel. "You don't mind, do you? That Finn's here."

For a second she feels betrayed. She doesn't like being lied to. But in all honesty all she's wanted over the last two months has been for Finn to just talk to her. Of course she is upset that he ran out on her. But he's the closest thing she has to a best friend, not counting Kurt of course, and she doesn't want to lose him. To others she might seem like a push-over and a tad desperate, but she doesn't care. She wants Finn in her life and if she has to fight for him then she will.

She gives Kurt her bright trademark smile. "No, of course not," she says, "the more the merrier." She turns to Finn and her smile grows, if possible, even wider. "I'm glad you came, Finn. I've missed you."

The guilt is all over his face, seeping out of every pore, as he smiles back at her. "Cool," he says. He's about to say something else but is cut off by Kurt abruptly standing up.

"Oh my," Kurt says, a hand to his chest, "I completely forgot! I made plans with Blaine tonight. I must get going." Without another word, giving neither Rachel nor Finn any chance to argue, he rushes away and out the door.

Rachel looks across the table at Finn. "What was that?" she says. "Who's Blaine?"

Finn shrugs. "I think he's some guy Kurt met at the Gap a few weeks ago." He shakes his head. "Either way I think we've been set up."

Rachel giggles quietly. "Yes, it does seem like that is the case." She looks up at him through her lashes. "I hope that's okay. Spending the evening with me," she says in what's supposed to be a teasing tone but his face turns solemn and she can feel her stomach drop.

"Rach," he says. His voice is barely above a whisper. "I know I fu – screwed – up again. I don't know why I act like such a dick. I'm sorry, I – "

"Finn," she says, cutting him off, "Don't apologize. It's… it's okay, I know why you did it."

"You do?" He looks genuinely surprised and a little worried too.

"Yes," she says, even though she doesn't really, "we had a really great friendship going and I don't want anything to ruin that and I don't think you want that either. I really want us to be friends, Finn."

"Uh, yeah," he says, "yeah, that's it. I didn't want to ruin our friendship. I want us to be friends too."

She smiles and reaches across the table to grasp his hand. Her fingers wrap around his and his skin is warm and a little scratchy under hers. She gives his fingers a squeeze.

"Well, well, well. What do we have here?"

"That's none of your business, Noah," she says, turning toward Puck who's standing by the edge of their table looking at them with a raised brow.

"Are you two lovebirds out on a date?" he asks, ignoring her.

Finn pulls his hand from Rachel's and she can see in his eyes that his confidence is failing him. He still doesn't dare to completely go against his friends. "We're just having dinner," he says, uneasily.

"So then nothing at all is going on between you two?" Puck asks, a flash of something, an idea maybe, in his eyes.

"No, you know we're just friends, man," Finn says.

Puck smiles and his eyes twinkle as he runs a hand over his head. "So, you wouldn't mind then if I ask out the Jewish-American princess here sometime?"

Finn's face falls. He closes his mouth and opens it, though no words spill out.

"That's not his decision, Noah," she says, getting annoyed with Puck and him interrupting their night. "If you for some reason want to ask me out then you ask me, not Finn."

Puck gives her a smile. "Maybe I will," he says, and then he struts off toward a waiting waitress, looking over his shoulder and giving her a wink.

"He can be so aggravating," she says, looking back at Finn. He hasn't said anything yet. He's still just sitting there with his mouth open. "Anyway," she says, "Want to order?"

"Uh, sure," he says, finally snapping to.

The rest of their night is tense and awkward. She tries her hardest to keep the conversation flowing but Finn responds with one-word answers. Sometimes he doesn't even respond and she has to ask her question twice. After a while she gives up and they hardly speak before they say goodnight as he drops her off outside her house an hour later.

xiii.

The first time he sees them together is a month after their Valentine's Day disaster dinner. They're walking down the hall together, her hand lightly clutching his forearm and his head bowed slightly toward hers as if he's really paying attention to what she's saying.

His heart clenches and falls into his stomach and he feels lightheaded. He's pretty sure that if he tries to move, he'll fall over. What the fuck is going on? When did that happen? When did Rachel – his Rachel – start walking down the hall holding onto Puck's arm like that?

He never thought that Puck was actually serious any of the times he told Finn that he was planning on "getting himself a piece of Berry pie" – Puck's words, definitely not his. He just figured that he was trying to get him riled up enough to admit that he was into Rachel.

Now, though, as they walk down the hall next to each other, coming closer and closer to where Finn is standing, it certainly looks like he was being serious. And Finn can't blame him even if he tried. Rachel is amazing – she is sweet, kind and just utterly beautiful. He's still really confused though, he doesn't understand how someone who just a few months ago took great pleasure in tossing sticky, half-melted goo in Rachel's face has done such a one-eighty. But he hopes that now that she's walking the halls on Noah Puckerman's arm the slushie facials will stop.

There's a nagging voice in the back of his mind that tells him that he wishes that he had been the one to make the slushies stop. But he tells that voice to shut up.

Rachel and Puck are just a few yards from him now and he's standing with his back against the lockers. He couldn't move even if he wanted to. It's as if his feet are glued to the floor. His heart speeds up, throwing itself against his ribcage, as they walk right by him. His mouth agape, his breathing is fast. He tries to catch Rachel's eye, but either she doesn't see him or she's ignoring him.

"Rachel!" Her name slips between his lips without his conscious permission. He has no idea what to say as she turns around and he can feel his palms getting clammy.

"Oh, Finn," she says, "I didn't see you there." Something in her eyes tells him that she did see him. "Did you want something?"

"Oh, uh," he stammers and he feels like an idiot, "Just to talk to you real quick. If that's okay?"

"Of course it is," she smiles widely and it almost reaches her eyes. "I'll see you later, Noah," she says, standing on her tiptoes to press a very chaste kiss to Puck's cheek. He responds with a "Later, Berry" and a nod toward Finn and then he's walking down the hall away from them.

Finn feels like throwing up. He's sure that the image of Rachel's lips pressed against Puck's cheek will be etched into the back of his eyelids forever. Hot, steaming jealousy surges through him, crashing through every limb and makes it hard for him to stand straight. He has to lean against the lockers behind him.

"So, what did you want to talk about?" Rachel asks, her hands twisting in the hem of her pink cardigan.

"Why are you dating Puck?" he blurts out. Tact and timing has never been his thing.

She flinches, her back straightening, and she press her lips together. "I don't know if that's really any of your business, Finn," she says, evasively.

"I thought we were friends," he says.

"We are," she insists, taking a step closer to him and he can smell her shampoo – it smells like vanilla ice cream. "Noah asked me out a few weeks ago – about a week after Valentine's Day actually – and, well, I accepted." She looks down at her penny loafers.

"Why? He used to throw slushies in your face, like till just a few weeks ago."

"He actually hasn't done that in several months," she says, defensively, "and he was very apologetic about that – very sincere – and I forgave him. He's really quite sweet, once you get behind the silly bad boy persona he likes to hide behind." She puts her hands on her hips and glares at him, kind of like she is daring him to say that she's doing the wrong thing.

He wants to tell her that she shouldn't be with Puck, so badly. That she should be with him. But of course he doesn't. He had his chance and he was too much of a coward to do anything about it and now she's with someone else. "Uh, that's great, Rach," he says, "I'm happy for you."

"Thank you, Finn. That means a lot," she says, closing the remaining distance between them and wrapping her tiny arms around him in a quick hug. When she pulls away from him the loss of contact feels like a slap in the face. He watches her as she walks down the hall, her head held high, and the further she gets from him the more he fears that that this is a permanent change to their relationship. He just has to get used to the fact that Rachel isn't his Rachel anymore.

xiv.

The first time she sees the two of them back together is a few weeks after that day when he found out about her and Puck. They're coming out of a classroom together and when she sees their interlaced fingers she almost drops the sheet music she's carrying.

She knows what Quinn did to him the last time they were together. He told her. She cheated on him. Why would he want to get back together with her?

She ignores the voice inside her that tells her it's because she is together with Noah. That's a foolish and conceited notion. He would never date someone just to make her jealous. Although, why not? That is after all the reason she started dating Noah. Because she was hoping that if Finn saw her with another boy that would shock him into action. But he was nothing but friendly and mellow about it. She was silly to think that he would pick her up, throw her over his shoulder and carry her off when he found out. Life doesn't tend to work out like that for her.

She looks at Quinn; her pink lips are tilted in a somewhat bored smile as she listens to Finn talk to her about something. Her blonde hair is pulled up in a high ponytail and her cheerleading uniform is just as snug and short as always. Her green eyes sparkle when Finn whispers something in her ear.

Rachel wants to scratch those green fake eyes right out of their sockets.

They turn, walking in the opposite direction of her, and she's relieved that she doesn't have to face them head on just yet. She studies their backs as they walk away. Her feet take a few tentative steps in their direction, trying to afford her a slightly better view.

Their hands are still linked together but they keep about a foot of air between them. She's not leaning her head on his shoulder. His arm is not snaking around her waist.

She doesn't know what to feel anymore. But the display at least tells her one thing. It tells her what she knows she doesn't feel. She thought that maybe she could force it. Maybe if she told herself to feel something for him then after a while she would. But she knows it doesn't work that way and she has only been fooling herself.

She chances one last glance at Finn and Quinn, they're almost at the end of the hallway now, before she turns toward the boys' locker room.

Puck doesn't react the way she thought he would when she tells him she thinks they should break up. She had hoped for something with a little more feeling, perhaps a scene where he throws himself at her feet and begs her to reconsider. But all he does is shrug and tell her that he was going to break up with her anyway. She knows that's not the truth, but she keeps her mouth shut.

"He's back with Quinn, you know," he says, just as she's about to leave.

"I know," she answers.

"They're not going to break up this time," he says, and she can see the resignation in his eyes, "she's the head cheerleader and he's the quarterback, they're like this perfect couple out of a fucking movie or something."

"Maybe," she says, we'll just have to see, I guess." With that she leaves, her words sounding a lot more confident than she's feeling on the inside.

xv.

Rachel is spending the summer before senior year with her dads in New York. They left a few days after the last day of school and won't be back until a week or so before school starts again. Finn hasn't seen her or heard from her in weeks. He spends most of his time working at Burt's tire shop.

He really misses her. He tries to convince himself that it's the tentative new friendship they formed after she broke up with Puck that he misses, but no matter how many times he says the words silently inside his head they still sound false.

He knows her and Kurt text each other at least once a day. He's heard Kurt sigh about the injustice of it all. How Rachel who "dresses like a mixture of a grandmother and a toddler" is allowed to go to such a fashion capital and he isn't. Kurt has earned himself a few smacks over the head for comments like that because; one, if there's anyone who belongs in New York it is Rachel and two, he likes the way Rachel dresses – he thinks her sequined legwarmers are cute.

He thinks about her a lot. He wonders what she's doing. He wonders if maybe she's thinking about him. She probably isn't. When she left for New York he was still dating Quinn. He still is dating Quinn; they just haven't spent that much time together over the summer. He's tried to pick up as many shifts as possible at the tire shop. He told Quinn he does it because he needs the money, but really it's more so that they don't have to spend that much time together. He knows that eventually she will see right through him.

He wonders sometimes why Rachel broke it off with Puck. He actually manned up enough to ask Puck about it once as they were standing outside the 7-Eleven on a Saturday night, but he couldn't get a satisfying answer out of him. He does not for one second believe that Puck broke up with her because she was a "fucking prude".

"Hey, Finn!" Burt's voice breaks through his Rachel induced fog. He looks up into his stepfather's eyes which are peering at him laced with amusement. "Where'd you go, buddy? Looked like you were a million miles away."

"Oh, uhm, just daydreaming, I guess," he says.

"About anything in particular?"

At least Burt's voice is light, so he doesn't have to worry about the fact that he was pretty much sleeping on the job. "Uh no, just you know, football and lunch and stuff." He kind of wants to tell Burt that his mind really was in New York with Rachel. Maybe if he tells him that then he could help him sort out the tangles inside his head.

He pauses, standing with his mouth open to speak but just before the words come tumbling out he changes his mind and closes his mouth. He just can't bring himself to tell anyone that he's screwed up everything so badly. That he is such a screw-up. That he's dating one girl and at the same time only ever thinks about another girl. They – his mom, Burt, Kurt – would be so disappointed in him.

"Okay, well don't get too lost inside your own mind, son, we still have a lot of work to get done today." Burt gives him another smile, one that definitely can be described as knowing, and makes his way over to the back office.

Finn stands motionless, watching his stepfather. Maybe Burt knows. Maybe he knows that the real reason he's picking up so many shifts isn't because he needs the money, it's because he's hiding out. Hiding from one girl while he thinks about another. That just makes him sound like the biggest douche ever.

He has to focus on Quinn. She's his girlfriend, not Rachel.

The rest of the summer he tries to make sure he spends at least a couple of days each week with Quinn. They go for walks in the park, they drive out to the lake together and they go bowling. And every time he has to try to drown out the voice in the back of his mind that tells him he's doing all these things with the wrong girl.

At the end of the summer he has finally managed to convince himself that the voice isn't anything more than a distant mumble that he can barely hear.

xvi.

Her hair bounces around her shoulders and she can't stop the smile on her lips as she walks briskly down the hall toward Kurt's locker. She is ecstatic. Their senior year is only a couple of weeks old but already it is the best few weeks of her life. She knows this year will be fantastic. The summer she spent with her dads in New York was amazing. She absolutely loves every single little thing about that city – even the dirt. She loves the neon signs and all of the people and the way it always smells like it's wet. And now she's one step closer to her dream.

She has never before been any surer in her conviction that New York City is where she belongs. She is Rachel Barbara Berry and she is going to be on Broadway and she is going to be a huge star. Nothing is going to change that, not even beautiful boys with amber eyes – boys that attach themselves to her heart and refuse to let go.

A little bit of her excitement fails as she thinks about him. He's with Quinn anyway. Even if she wanted to pursue something she couldn't because he is not hers to pursue.

No, her future is Broadway and she's taken another step toward it. After months of trying to recruit a teacher for a school musical, Coach Beiste – Finn's football coach – and Miss Pillsbury have both agreed to help. She just talked to them and now she's on her way to find Kurt to share the fabulous news. She knows Kurt will be as excited as she is – New York is his goal too. After graduation they're moving there together. She can't imagine going there without him – her best gay.

She spots him in the distance and she quickens her pace. He's leaning against his locker talking animatedly about something with the new transfer student – Blaine – the same Blaine that he left her and Finn for on Valentine's Day. She knows they have been seeing each other all summer, Kurt has told her so through several elaborate texts over the last couple months.

She is of course exceedingly happy for Kurt, but right now her news is so much more important than anything he and Blaine might be talking about.

"Kurt!" she says, her voice breathy, as she stops next to the two boys. "Blaine," she adds, smiling at him as well. "I have the most exciting news!" She bounces on the balls of her feet, clapping her hands.

"You've burned your collection of animal sweaters and are finally going to let me take you shopping for big-girl clothes?" Kurt says, raising a brow at her poodle-printed dress.

"No," she huffs. "Hold on to your hats boys," she smiles, "because this fall McKinley High will be staging a production of," she pauses for added drama, "West Side Story!"

Kurt squeals, she squeals and they clutch each other in an embrace and jump up and down, much to Blaine's amusement. "That's great, you guys," he says, "I've always wanted to be in that musical.

Rachel beams brightly at him. Anyone who can appreciate the wonders of a Broadway musical is a friend of hers. "That's great, Blaine!" she says, "We really do need as many male students to partake as possible."

"Uh, hey guys." The sound of a third voice startles her and she spins around, coming face to chest with Finn who has crept up behind her. For someone that large he is deceptively quiet. "What are you all excited about," he asks.

"The school musical," Kurt answers, sparing Rachel. Kurt knows all about the very complicated relationship between the two of them. "You should audition. You do have a really nice voice."

Finn's ears grow pink and he looks down at his hands. "Uh, no, I don't think so. I don't think I could sing in front of other people."

Rachel reaches out and grabs Finn's hand, surprising even herself. "You have a great voice Finn," she says quietly, just for him to hear, "I believe in you."

His ears grow even pinker and he mumbles something unintelligible. She reluctantly lets go of his hand, and he starts walking away slowly. Her eyes follow his back by their own free will until she can no longer see him in the sea of people. When her eyes land on Kurt he's staring at her with a raised brow and a knowing smile. "Don't," she says, not letting Kurt speak, "Don't say anything, we're just friends. Nothing more."

Her heart stings as she says the words, but she knows they're true, and that there is nothing she can do about it.

xvii.

Finn has absolutely no idea what he's doing. He is however positive that he's never been more scared shitless than he is standing on the stage looking at Coach Beiste, Miss Pillsbury and that kid in the wheelchair, Artie something or other.

"Whenever you're ready, Finn," Miss Pillsbury tells him and she smiles warmly at him but that doesn't really ease his nerves.

He opens his mouth and he can hardly believe that it's happening as the words to "Can't Fight This Feeling" leaves his mouth. At first they're a little shaky, but when he notices that the others aren't laughing or pointing fingers but actually swaying along to the music, he gets bolder and sings a little louder. He thinks that maybe he should move when he's singing or dance or something. But he knows his limitations and he does not want to fall of the stage.

As the song ends and the teachers and Artie actually applaud him he feels this warmth spreading through him. He feels really good about himself.

"That was lovely, Finn," Miss Pillsbury says, and Coach Beiste gives him a nod, "Who knew you had such a great singing voice." She pauses and looks down at her papers. "Now let's see, you never said what part you were auditioning for."

"Uh, any part," Finn says, shrugging, "I just, you know, want to be in the musical."

Miss Pillsbury smiles and nods, jotting something down in her notes, and he hops off the stage with a wide smile. The feeling buzzing inside of him continues throughout the day. He's excited. Even though he has no idea yet if they'll even give him a part he feels like he has accomplished something. He actually sang in front of people other than Kurt and Rachel. Because Rachel told him she believes in him.

That evening doesn't go as well as the day went. He's barely entered Quinn's room – her mom is on another Christian wine cruise so they're all alone – when she turns on him, her green eyes cold. "Did you really do it?" she says.

"Do what?" He has no idea what she's talking about, he hardly ever does.

"You're so stupid!" she snaps. "Did you audition for that sorry excuse of a school musical the freaks are putting on?"

"Uhm …" He was hoping he could wait till he knew whether he'd got a part before telling her about it. "Who told you?" he asks her.

"Puck," she says, shrugging her slim shoulders, "Apparently the Beiste wants some of the football team to join so that they have enough people. She told them you were doing it to get them to join."

"Oh," he says. A few beads of nervous sweat gather at the nape of his neck. He's searching for the right words but his mind is totally blank.

"Do you know what everyone will think now, Finn?" His silence only seems to aggravate Quinn even more as her voice becomes loud and shrill. "They will think that you're gay, Finn. And that will make me your beard. You can't do this!"

"But I want to," he says, finally finding his voice, "I actually kind of like singing, besides they need all the people they can get so that the musical doesn't get cancelled. Kurt and Rachel would be so disappointed." The last sentence just kind of slips from his mouth without him even noticing. His words don't register until he sees anger flickering in Quinn's eyes.

"So, that's why you're doing this. For her?"

He doesn't say anything. He can't, because she's right. He takes a deep breath. "We should break up," he says, finally.

"So, you can be with her?"

He sighs. "I doubt she'll want me," he says, "but either way, it's not fair to you or to me to stay together."

She's like a deflated balloon as she nods, all of the anger that was consuming her just a few minutes ago seemingly gone. "You should leave," she says.

He nods and walks from her room, a tear slipping down his cheek and his mind buzzing with everything that has changed in just the last fifteen minutes. He's not with Quinn anymore. Rachel's not with Puck. Maybe they have a chance after all.

xviii.

Rachel gets the part of Maria, of course. Blaine is Tony. Finn's not particularly upset that he doesn't get to be the male lead next to Rachel. He's decided that though he's okay with being in the spotlight he's not that okay.

But to his own immense surprise, and to Rachel's great delight, he gets the part of Bernardo. That's like an actual part – a pretty big one at that – and not like a tree in background or something which he was kind of thinking he'd be selected to play. Sure, he has to pretend that he's Rachel's brother, but he gets to spend a lot of time with her. They rehearse after school almost every single day and she's so excited and she works so hard and he just loves watching her and listening to her sing. Even now, when they're just rehearsing, she puts every ounce of herself into every song.

He doesn't, however, at all enjoy having to watch her rehearse love scenes and kisses with Blaine. He obviously knows that Blaine's gay – he's dating Kurt and has been for several months – but it still feels like a vice tightening around his heart every time he has to watch Rachel kiss him. And as with every other scene Rachel makes sure to practice diligently until everything is perfect.

She's much too good of an actress because she makes it look like all she's ever wanted in life is to kiss Blaine. And it makes him want to punch someone or something. Or like kick a chair really, really hard.

When he lies in bed late at night thinking about it every little part of him buzz with jealousy. He knows that he shouldn't be jealous but he can't help it. Because he wants to be the one – the only one – that gets to kiss Rachel like that. That gets to have Rachel kiss him like her life depended on it.

He doesn't know how long he has been feeling it. Maybe since that day when he accidentally knocked her over and then spilled a blue raspberry slushie on her legs. Maybe longer. Somehow it just feels like it's been there – this feeling – his whole life but he hasn't understood it till now. Now he knows that his feelings for Rachel run so much deeper than just friendship.

He's in love with Rachel Berry.

xix.

After months of hard work, hours and hours of rehearsal, Rachel is finally sitting backstage on opening night making a few final touch-ups to her make-up. From the stage she can hear Blaine's voice as it booms across the auditorium. Her hand trembles just the tiniest bit as she swipes a little more blush across her cheekbones.

She looks up into the mirror and sees Finn standing behind her. "Hi," she says, giving him a small smile. He looks great in his dark suit and red shirt.

"Hey," he responds, "You ready?"

She puts down the brush and gives him another, wider, smile. "Yes," she says, "I've been preparing for this since I was two years old. I'm ready."

"Cool," he smiles a little goofily at her, shifting nervously, "I know you'll be awesome, Rach." Then he has to run off so that he doesn't miss his scene.

She watches him, for a second wondering if it was only a bit of stage fright that had him nervous or if there was more to it. But then thoughts of her own performance take over her mind entirely and for a few hours she doesn't even think about Finn at all.

She's never felt happier than the moment she takes her bow and her Daddy rushes up on stage to shove a huge bouquet of roses in her arms. She smiles her widest smile at the audience, every single one standing up and applauding her and her friends. She knows that she will never ever tier of it. It's where she belongs.

She doesn't make it many steps backstage before she's stopped in her tracks by Finn's hand sliding around her arm. He's rubbing the back of his neck and looking down at his shoes. "You really were great – better than great, amazing – Rach," he says.

"Thank you, Finn!" she beams, "You were very lovely yourself."

He smiles, his lips tilting in a half-grin and a dimple creasing his cheek. "Thanks," he says, "Uh, Rach, could I… uh… could I maybe talk to you about something?"

"Of course, what do you want to talk about?"

"Uhm, could we go somewhere a bit more private? It's kind of important."

She nods and takes him gingerly by the hand, leading him back onto the stage, the auditorium is completely empty and silent again, and they sit down on the edge. She's more nervous now than she was a few hours ago when she was just about to go on stage. There's something in his eyes that she's not sure if she's ever seen there before – a sort of determination. Her heart pounds and the auditorium is so quiet that she can hear every beat against her eardrums. She puts her hand over his. "We're alone now, what was it you – "

"I love you."

Her mouth falls open. For once in her life she doesn't know what to say. She has wanted to hear him say that for so long. Probably ever since the first time she saw him all those years ago. It should be like all of the puzzle pieces of her life finally falling into place.

"Uh, Rach. " Finn is looking at her with worried eyes, his cheeks flaming red. "Is you not being able to say anything right now a bad thing or a good thing?"

She takes a deep breath, filling her lungs to the very brim, and slowly lets the air out in a drawn-out sigh. She cups his cheeks with her small hands and presses her lips carefully against his. "I love you too, Finn," she says and his face shines up but his smile falters as she continues, "But you have to know that I'm going to New York. I'm leaving after graduation and I'm never coming back." She sniffles, trying to hold back the tears that are threatening to spill over at any second. "I think it's best for both of us to just stay friends, Finn. You are my best friend and I don't want to lose that."

Tears flowing freely down her cheeks, she pushes herself off the stage and runs away. She has to get away from him quickly or she's sure that she will change her mind. She can't change her mind. She has to stay strong.

xx.

Finn clutches the envelope tightly, his fingers creating dents in the thick paper. It's so much more than just an envelope with a letter inside it. It's his lifeline. It's his ticket out of Lima and his way to escape the fate of becoming nothing more than a Lima loser. And hopefully it will be his way to convince Rachel that he is worth taking a chance on.

And even if he can't change her mind, even if she still wants to be nothing more than just friends, then she at least has to know that it was she who inspired him to try. When she told him that she was leaving and never coming back, all those months ago, he was completely heartbroken. For weeks he walked around sullen, wallowing in his own self-pity. But then the more he thought about Rachel moving to New York the more he realized that he didn't have to stay in Lima. He could leave too. He could go with her.

He steers his truck with one hand, because he can't convince the other hand to let go of the envelope, as he drives toward Rachel's house. He's pretty sure she's at home. He thinks he heard Kurt tell Blaine that she had declined his offer to go shopping. If she's not he'll just sit outside and wait for her to come home.

It feels weird pulling up in front of her house. He hasn't been there in a really long time. The last time he was there was during junior year when he and Rachel were still the kind of friends who spent time alone together watching movies and just hanging out. They still are friends, they're even close friends, but they don't hang out as much as they once did. If they do it's usually together with Kurt. The awkwardness that lingers between them is too much for both of them. It's been there ever since that moment on the stage, after the opening night of the musical, when he told her that he loved her and she said it back. But then she decided for the both of them that they shouldn't be anything other than friends.

He stumbles from his car, nearly tripping over his own giant feet, and wipes his clammy palms on his jeans. His nerves are slowly taking over.

He rings the doorbell and waits patiently. He can hear her feet against the hallway floor on the other side of the door and his breath stops. She opens, a look filled with surprise and confusion entering her eyes.

"Hi, Finn," she says, her brow furrowed.

"Hey." His eyes travel across her face and it's so pretty as it's illuminated by the late afternoon sun. He's never seen anyone as beautiful as she and he knows that he never will. "Uh, can I come in? I have something that I wanted to show you." The envelope feels heavy in his hand and his feet feel heavy against the floor as she leads him to the living room.

They sit down on the sofa they've spent many hours on together. They would always have a safe amount of distance between them, when they were just friends. Now, they're still just friends, but when he sits down next to her he sits so close that his leg is pressed against her bare thigh. She's looking at him with big, brown eyes. She doesn't say anything. She just waits for him to begin.

He shoves the envelope onto her lap. "I got in," he blurts out. There's still no connection between his brain and his mouth.

"What? Got in where?" She becomes aware of the thick envelope in her lap and slowly she pulls one of the pieces of paper from it. "Oh, Finn – "

"Fordham," he says, his voice rushed and breathless. He's not really looking at her because he thinks that maybe he can control the connection between his brain and his mouth better if she's not distracting him. "I got into Fordham, in New York, and uh, I have money saved from when I've been working for Burt and he and my mom has promised me that they'll help with tuition too and stuff so I… I'm going to New York." He stops himself, realizing that he's hardly taken a breath since he got there.

Rachel just sits there with her eyes wide and her hand clasped over her mouth. His blood is rushing through his veins. He wishes she would say something.

"I… I didn't even know you had applied there, Finn," she says finally, twisting a little so that she faces him and taking his hands in hers.

"Yeah," he says, looking down at their hands, her thumb is sliding along the skin of the back of his hand and he has to fight to not let himself disappear in her touch, "I didn't tell anyone, not even my mom or Kurt, you know in case I didn't get in."

"I didn't even know you wanted to go to New York."

"Neither did I, I just thought I was going to stay in Lima forever, you know. I'm the epitome of a Lima loser. But you inspired me, Rach. When you told me you were leaving and that you didn't want any relationship other than friendship, everything just got so real, it wasn't just your distant dream anymore. So I started thinking about leaving too. You inspired me to try. I… I don't want to lose you, so I thought that maybe we could move to New York together. I mean, we can just stay friends if that's what you want – "

She cuts him off with a kiss. It's gentle and searching and he wasn't at all prepared for that, so he kind of just sits there as she presses her lips to his. When finally his brain catches up, she's already pulling away and he fears that she's already changing her mind. That she's deciding that he still isn't worth it.

"You did that for me?" she asks.

"Yeah. Well, I mean I want to go to college, so you know I did it for myself too. But if you're going to be in New York then that's where I want to be too. I still love you Rachel and I really want another chance. I know I've screwed up this – us – so many times, but if you give me a chance I'll promise to prove to you that I love you and I want us to be together forever."

He leans in but she hesitates. He can see that small residue of doubt in her eyes. He doesn't know what else to say. Words have never been his strong suit and once again they're failing him.

"Please, Rach, take a chance on me." He leans in again and this time she doesn't hold back. He sighs into her mouth as all of the pent up anxiety slowly leaves his body as her lips molds against his.

When she pulls back a moment later he doesn't worry. His heart flips when she looks up at him, her eyes bright and her lips swollen. "I would be delighted to move to New York with you Finn," she says, and then she kisses him again.

xxi.

He's lying on the sofa, playing video games, when she bursts through the door. "I got it!" she exclaims, throwing herself on top of him. The game controller falls to the floor, forgotten, as he wraps his arms around her and pulls her close.

She snuggles against his chest, planting tiny kisses along his jaw, and takes a moment to breathe him in. Her hair frames her face, and she smiles the wide, beaming smile that she saves just for him, as she props herself up on her elbows. "You are looking at the new Velma Kelly of NYADA's spring production of Chicago!"

"That's awesome, babe!" he says, pressing his lips to her cheek, "I knew you'd get it."

"Well," she says, "of course so did I, the other girls auditioning does not have the vocal range that I possess, but I didn't completely dare think that I'd get it. They usually don't give sophomores leads."

He smiles crookedly at her and runs his hand – the one not stroking her back – through her hair. "They must just know great talent when they see it," he says, "It's their job, right?"

She smiles at him. He's still the most beautiful boy – well; now he's a man – that she's ever seen. She lowers her head onto his chest, her ear pressed against his beating heart, and she thinks that she'd be perfectly content to stay just like that forever.

Fin.


A/N: Thank you for reading! Reviews are love. :)