Hello everyone! As promised, I bring to you the next, and final, chapter of this story. The response and alerts I received were amazing and I am so thankful to each and every one of you who have taken time to read this. Thank you! Thank you! THANK YOU SO MUCH!
Credit to miss I. Weaver :)
Finn wrapped his arms around Rachel's hips and tackled her to the ground. Bullets struck the dirt beside them. He clamped his hand above her elbow and dragged her underneath the van with him. "Slide to the driver's side and get in," he ordered. "I'll distract them."
"No! I won't leave you."
"Dammit, Berry. Just do what I say for once, okay?"
"But I wouldn't be able to start the engine, anyway. There's no key."
"Hell, you think I'd let you drive?"
"Make you go first?" he finished.
"Because otherwise, I might trample you. Hasn't anyone told you that you run like a girl?"
A bullet struck close enough to send a spray of grit against her bare feet. She pulled herself forward with her elbows and inched past him on her belly. "Fine. Just don't try to do something noble."
He stretched his arm in front of the rear wheel. He appeared to be reaching for the crowbar he'd used to unlock the gas pump. It was lying on the ground half a foot from the van. "No problem. Chivalry is highly overrated."
She hesitated. Self–preservation was trumped by her fear for Finn. "That crowbar's no match for a gun."
"If we had a bullhorn maybe you could talk the cartel's boys to death."
"You don't think they're police?"
"No, there aren't enough of them. And I didn't hear sirens."
He was right. From what she'd seen of the low–budget local authorities, they wouldn't have weapons with laser sights, either. "Where's that pistol you stole?"
"In the van." He wedged his shoulder against the tire and made another quick but unsuccessful snatch for the crowbar. Bullets hit the dirt where his hand had been. "But it's empty," he added. "Just in case you had any ideas about playing Annie Oakley."
She pressed her cheek to the ground to look behind the van. Muzzle flashes pierced the darkness on the far side of the gas station with each round that was fired. They seemed to be drawing nearer. "Finn…"
"Got it!" He finally grabbed the crowbar. An instant later, he sent it skimming across the ground and into the gas pump. The impact knocked the hose loose. Gasoline trickled from the nozzle to the dirt.
A fresh volley of bullets hit the back bumper. One struck the steel frame, raining sparks from the undercarriage.
Rachel looked from the sparks to the spreading puddle of fuel. Understanding dawned. "You're certifiable, Captain Hudson!"
He groped for a rock and flung it at the nozzle. The trickle of gas turned into a gurgling flow. "I do my best."
As quickly as she could, she slithered the rest of the way from beneath the van and threw herself through the open driver's door.
Finn was right behind her. She was still scrambling over the gearshift when he crammed himself behind the wheel.
The engine roared to life just as the gasoline puddle ignited.
Flames whooshed from the gasoline–soaked dirt. "Finn!" Rachel screamed.
"I see it. Brace yourself!" He popped the clutch and fishtailed out of the lot.
Her head hit the roof as the van bounced onto the road. She twisted to kneel on her seat, and looked through the bullet–pocked windows in the rear doors.
The flames had spread along the hose to the gas pump. It was glowing like a torch. The gunfire had stopped. Maybe the men from the cartel had given up.…
The hope was short–lived. A set of headlights appeared on the far side of the gas station. A black SUV burst from the shadows. It was nearly to the street when the station's underground reservoir exploded.
Rachel covered her face with her hand to shield her eyes from the fireball. The force of the blast lifted the rear wheels of the van off the ground. The black SUV was tossed into the air.
Finn slung his arm across her back to hold her in place. "Hang on!"
She hugged the seat. Her teeth clacked together hard as the van thumped back down. The SUV cartwheeled past them, spinning like a giant toy, until it crashed into a palm tree.
Finn swerved around the wreckage and sped out of town.
It took a while for Rachel to uncoil from her crouch on the seat. It took longer for her heartbeat to steady itself. She stared at the empty road in front of them, distantly aware of her scraped knees and ringing ears.
But the physical discomforts meant nothing. Against all odds, they were still alive.
She turned her head to watch Finn drive. The binding over the gash on his left arm was dull with dirt. So was his chest. The bruise on his cheek appeared darker. The moon was beginning to set, so she couldn't see much of his expression. Yet there was enough light to see the gleam of his teeth.
He was smiling. What an impossible man. Before she could stop herself, she punched his shoulder.
"Hey, what was that for?"
"You could have barbecued us!"
"I didn't," he pointed out.
"Remind me never to let you plan a distraction."
"It was spectacular. Admit you enjoyed it."
"Enjoyed it!" She hit him again. "I should have held out for hazard pay."
He caught her fist in his hand. "Don't worry. With any luck, I'll have you home in time to feed your cat."
She looked at the darkness beyond their headlights. "Do you know where you're going?"
"Sure. You showed me a map on your phone, remember?"
"My cell phone! We must have left—"
"Relax. It's in my pocket." He pulled her phone from his jeans and passed it over.
It still carried the warmth of his body. She swallowed. "Thanks."
"Thanks for pushing me out of the way when the bullets started flying."
"What are friends for?"
Finn's smile faded. He yanked the wheel hard to the right and drove off the road.
Finn steered across a rock–strewn hillside and coasted into what looked like a bean field. Clouds of dust drifted past the headlights. The crest of the hill concealed them from the road. Rachel barely had time to absorb the fact that they were no longer moving before the headlights flicked off, along with the engine.
"What's wrong?" she asked. "Why did you stop?"
"Give me a minute."
She laid the backs of her fingers across his forehead. "I could drive for a while if you need a rest."
"I'm not tired."
It sounded as if he had spoken through his teeth. She dropped her hand to his shoulder and found his muscles were humming with tension. She kneaded the knot at the base of his neck. "You've done more than enough. I wasn't counting on your help when I planned this rescue."
"If you believe I would have let you do it alone, then you don't know me at all."
Oh, she knew him. Every proud, stubborn inch of him. "Okay, blowing up the gas station wasn't that bad an idea. I'm grateful for your, ah, creative thinking."
"Hey, what are friends for?"
That was what she'd just said to him, only she hadn't said it as if she were chewing a mouthful of broken glass. Obviously, he was angry. She caressed the place where she'd punched him. "I'm sorry I hit you."
"Did it make you feel better?"
She considered the question. Yes, acting on her impulse had made her feel better. She wasn't sure why. "I didn't want to hurt you. I guess I needed a…an outlet."
"An outlet," he repeated. His voice sounded strained.
"Sometimes in tense circumstances, emotions can get confused."
He fisted one hand on the steering wheel. "I'm not confused. I'm thinking more clearly than I have in years."
By now, her eyes had adjusted to the darkness. Though the moon was almost down, stars still twinkled above the field, lending a silvery sparkle to Finn's eyes. She touched her fingertip to one of the lines that bracketed his mouth. "Don't be angry with me."
"If I'm angry, it's at the situation, not you."
"No, I don't think you do, Rachel."
"Then explain it to me. We can spare a few minutes to talk this out. I can feel how tense you…" Her voice trailed off.
He'd called her Rachel.
That was a first. He'd called her Berry from the time Quinn had introduced them. He'd joked that it was to help him remember her. She'd never asked him to call her anything else, because she'd hoped that his use of her surname would mean he would treat her like one of the guys. It also would be a constant reminder to her of the distance she had to keep between them.
But she'd always longed to hear her given name on his lips.
She looked at Finn's mouth.
It was only inches from hers.
Rachel moistened her lips. They tingled. Merely having them so close to Finn's made her breathing hitch. She'd yearned for his kiss for so long, how could she be sure this wasn't more wishful thinking?
She'd kissed him in her dreams countless times. There were no barriers between them then. Cocooned in the safety of sleep, she was free to drop her armor and show him all the feelings she'd been guarding in her heart for over a decade.
Even when she'd been awake, she'd fantasized how his mouth would feel—strong, honest and sensual. Those were some of the aspects of Finn's character that she loved the most. She'd imagined exactly how his lips would settle against hers because she'd memorized their shape. She knew the dip in the center of the upper one that formed a perfect bow. She knew the way they narrowed and tilted in at the corners. His lower lip revealed his mood more easily than any other part of his face, curling in when he was worried, stretching generously when he was pleased.
Yet she couldn't see his lips at all now. He was leaning so close to her, they had blurred.
"Talking's not the best way to explain it," he murmured.
Her mind went blank. "Explain what?"
"Why I pulled off the road."
The road. Right. "I said we could spare a few minutes, but it's too dangerous. The cartel's not going to give up. We have to reach the rendezvous by dawn."
"We'll make the rendezvous, even if I need to carry you the rest of the way."
He skimmed his thumb over her lower lip. "Do you remember what you said about outlets?"
"For emotions." He sifted a lock of her hair through his fingers, then cupped the back of her head. "To relieve tension."
"Uh, I think so."
"Good. Because I can show you something that will feel a lot better than hitting me."
"Finn, maybe we shouldn't—"
"Shut up, Berry."
He'd returned to calling her by her last name, but the tenderness in his voice had made it sound like an endearment.
This was no dream. It appeared he was going to kiss her for real.
Then again, would it be real? Or would it simply be an outlet for his tension, no more genuine than the punches she'd given him?
She'd known all along that these few days of imprisonment would have stirred up painful emotions for Finn. She'd seen evidence of that in his brief displays of ill humor, and in the way his muscles had hardened whenever she'd touched him. The last time he'd escaped from a prison, he'd come home to loneliness and heartbreak.
Was that why he wanted to kiss her? Was he confusing her with Quinn? Was he trying to purge his emotions?
Did it matter?
Hell, no. Rachel would take whatever she could get. Sure, one kiss wouldn't change the pattern of a decade.
But it was a start.
Rachel laid her palms on Finn's chest.
"Don't push me away, Berry." His lips brushed across hers as gently as his whispered words. "Please."
She slid her hands to his shoulders. "Not on your life, Captain Hudson. This could turn out to be one of your better ideas—"
That was all she had time to say before he tightened his grip on the back of her head and fitted his mouth over hers.
Dreams couldn't compare to reality. In Rachel's fantasies, Finn had never had a three–day's growth of unshaved whiskers that bristled against her skin. There hadn't been a scabbed–over split in his lower lip. He hadn't smelled of dust and gasoline, nor had they been parked on a bean field in a bashed–up, bullet–scarred van.
Yet it made no difference. This was the man she loved. She greedily absorbed every sensation, unlocking her heart to store each detail of the kiss inside. She knew that things could revert to normal when they got home, but she wouldn't think about that now. She didn't want to consider where they were or how much time they had, either, so she laced her fingers behind his neck and pulled him closer.
The van rocked as his knee clunked hard against the gearshift and one elbow tapped the horn. The kiss became a shared smile. Finn drew her lower lip between his teeth and bit down gently. She countered by pinching his earlobes. He licked her nose. She tickled his armpit.
With a growl, he threw one leg over the console, clasped her face in his hands and kissed her as if…
As if he really meant it.
Rachel no longer felt like smiling. She closed her eyes against a rush of tears. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. Now that she'd tasted him, how could she be content to be merely his friend?
Finn lifted his head. His breathing was as ragged as hers. "Do you feel that?"
Yes, Finn, it's love. Two hearts beating together…
Gradually, she became aware that it wasn't her heartbeat she heard. The van was squeaking. The bumping she felt wasn't from her pulse. It was from the tires rolling across clods of dirt.
"We're moving," Finn said. He pushed himself off her and climbed back behind the wheel. "Guess I knocked it out of gear."
So much for their romantic interlude. She wished she could have laughed. Instead, she wiped her cheeks. "We should get going, anyway."
"Yeah, we—" He swore as he pumped his foot to the floor. "We've got no brakes."
"The fire must have melted the lines."
The van nosed downward. Rachel heard the whistle of air past the windows. They were rolling downhill, picking up speed at an alarming rate.
He flicked on the headlights.
They had gone past the field. The headlights reflected from bare rock. Beyond that, there was only darkness.
Rachel dug her fingernails into the dashboard. "Uh, Finn, is that a cliff?"
"That's a cliff, all right!" Finn stomped on the clutch, started the van and jammed the gearshift into reverse. The engine screamed. Pebbles and dirt flew from the tires.
For an instant they hung motionless. The edge was no more than twenty yards ahead, a pale line against the dark void of the sky. Rachel tried to convince herself that it would be all right. They'd broken out of jail. They'd dodged bullets. They'd escaped an explosion. There was no way they were going to be done in by gravity. Especially after they'd finally…
She gritted her teeth. She would not think about that kiss.
The darkness was drawing nearer. They'd started to slide forward once more. Finn goosed the engine. He managed to slow their descent, but it was clear now that he couldn't stop it. The tires had spun down to bare rock. They had nothing to grip.
Rachel pushed her feet to the floor, as if she could will the vehicle to stop. She shouted over the noise of the engine. "If you have any more brilliant ideas, this would be a good time."
"Jump. I'll try to keep it steady."
"Did you say—"
"Jump!" he repeated. "Flatten out when you hit. Grab whatever you can."
"What about you?"
He fought to keep the wheel straight. "Tell Eagle Squadron the cartel hired El Gato. He's going to kill our envoy to Rocama."
"I don't give a damn about your mission!" she shrieked. "It's not worth your life."
"Get out now. I can't hold it much longer."
"I'm not going anywhere without you."
"Open your door, Finn."
"Dammit, the longer you argue, the less chance you'll have."
"I won't leave you!" She pushed her door open. Its weight ripped the handle out of her hand as it fell forward. "We go together or not at all."
"On three. Ready?"
"Okay, okay." He was practically standing on the gas pedal now. He shoved open his door. "And you called me certifiable!"
She gripped the doorframe and balanced on the running board. "One! Two!"
Before she could get to three, Rachel felt a hard shove in the center of her back. She was propelled clear of the van. Even as she flew through the air, she realized what Finn had done.
She hit the ground on her side and skidded across the rock until she came to a stop against a jutting boulder. She rolled to her knees just in time to see the van's taillights disappear over the edge of the cliff. "Finn!"
There was no reply. Only the sound of tearing metal and breaking glass. It seemed to go on forever, echoing from the darkness. She crawled to the edge and looked over just as the gas tank exploded. For the second time that night, she had to shield her eyes from a fireball.
Flames lit the floor of a narrow valley. There was no sign of movement among the rocks and scattered wreckage.
No sign of life.
Rachel stared at the burning wreck below until her eyes stung and her throat swelled shut from the smoke. No one could have survived the fire or the fall from the cliff. In her head, she knew that, but in her heart she wouldn't accept it.
She didn't care how things looked. Finn couldn't be dead. The connection they'd forged was too strong. She would know if it had broken. She would have felt it snap, wouldn't she?
You'll come back to me, Finn. Just as you did before. I won't give up.
She pushed to her feet and looked around, searching for a way down to the valley floor. The light of the fire didn't reach this far, yet she was able to distinguish more shapes than she had earlier. Streaks of orange tinted the eastern sky. Dawn wasn't far off.
Almost forty–eight hours had passed since she'd heard that Finn had been captured. Two days of agonizing, desperate hope. They couldn't end like this. She wouldn't believe it. "Finn!" she shouted.
Her voice was as raw as her emotions. Nevertheless, she continued to call as she moved along the cliff until she reached the spot where the van had gone over the edge. She traced a skid mark with her toes.
He lied. He never intended to jump with her. He only wanted to give her the extra seconds that had saved her life. The stubborn, maddening, ridiculous man. When she saw him again, she was going to punch him so hard…
But first, she was going to kiss him senseless, as she should have done a long time ago.
Her tears overflowed. They dripped from her chin, they trickled under her collar and they seeped into the corners of her mouth. What a fool she'd been. For ten years she'd been playing it safe and biding her time, but all the armor in the world couldn't protect her from the pain she felt now.
One by one, the excuses she'd hidden behind peeled away. So what if Finn had chosen Quinn first? That had happened before he'd met Rachel. Quinn's connection with him couldn't have been as strong as hers. The fact that Quinn hadn't waited for him proved it. What if Rachel had listened to her heart and had fought for him from the beginning? What if she'd won? She could have saved them all years of heartache.
It wasn't only Finn's fault he continued to view her as a friend. Rachel had never encouraged him to see her any other way. They both were responsible for the pattern of their relationship. For all she knew, he was as dissatisfied with it as she was.
Love, like war, was no place for cowards. She'd been so afraid of losing Finn that she'd never tried to win him.
Too bad the realization had come too late.…
"No!" she said. "I won't believe it." She backed away from the edge of the cliff.
And tripped over Finn's legs.
Rachel windmilled her arms but couldn't regain her balance. She came down beside Finn's hip with her legs draped over his.
He lay on his back in a patch of low brush. Blood smeared a rock beside his head. He looked as lifeless as he'd first seemed in the jail cell.
"Don't you dare die on me, Finn Hudson!" She knelt beside him and touched her fingertips to his neck, searching for a pulse. But her hand was shaking too badly to sense anything. "No way. We're not done yet, baby."
His arms were flung out to his sides, his fingers lax.
"Wake up. It's almost dawn." She grabbed his hand and squeezed it between hers. "We've got to make the rendezvous."
Though he still didn't move, his skin was warm. That had to be a good sign. Sobbing, she pressed her ear to his chest. "Finn, please. Don't leave me again."
There was no mistaking the heartbeat that thudded beneath her cheek. She felt its echoes all the way to her soul.
Her tears flowed faster, soaking into her hair and mixing with the dust that covered his skin.
She lifted her head, and found herself looking into a pair of brown eyes. "Finn!"
He touched her face. His brow furrowed. "You're crying. What…"
"Are you all right? No, that's a stupid question. Of course, you aren't. You hit your head. There's blood on the rock." She shoved herself off him and dried her face on her sleeve. "I shouldn't be lying on you. You could have broken bones."
He lifted his hand and cautiously probed the back of his head, then flexed his arms and legs. Ignoring her protests, he pushed up on his elbows. "I'm fine. I just got knocked out."
"Like I'm supposed to believe anything you say after you promised you would jump with me."
"I did jump."
She pointed past him. Her arm trembled. "Do you see where you landed? Another split second and you would have gone over the edge!"
He shrugged. "So I can't count."
"You—" The pattern was starting again. Rachel swallowed the retort she wanted to make. Without another word, she braced her hands on the ground beside Finn's shoulders, leaned over and kissed him.
She tried to be careful. He likely had a concussion, and the split in his lip must be sore. But how on earth could she hold back when she'd wasted too many years already?
Finn responded with more enthusiasm than she would have believed possible. In spite of what they'd just gone through—or maybe because of it—he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her firmly down on top of him.
Their bodies nestled together as naturally as if they'd been lovers forever. For a few priceless minutes the world faded…
"What the hell?"
The man's voice had come from directly over her shoulder.
Finn rolled Rachel off him and sprang to his feet.
Rachel had been too immersed in the kiss to hear anyone approach. Evidently, so had Finn. Two people stood not two yards away from them. They—and the rifles they held—were silhouetted against the dawn sky.
Had the cartel found them? This was her fault. She'd known they were a long way from safety. She should have realized the potential danger of indulging her feelings. She scrambled to her feet.
Finn placed himself in front of her, shielding her with his body. His fists tightened, but the rest of his muscles seemed oddly relaxed. "Your timing sucks, Chang."
"No, I'd say it was perfect. Better me than Puck. You're already beat up enough."
Rachel belatedly recognized the voice. She looked past Finn's shoulder.
Sergeant Mike Chang gave her a two–fingered salute along with an easy smile. "Hey, Rachel. Is this guy giving you trouble?"
She clutched Finn's arm, her knees suddenly weak. After all the emotions she'd had to deal with in the last forty–eight hours, who would have thought that relief would hit her the hardest?
These people weren't from the police or the cartel. They were soldiers from Eagle Squadron.
"Mike," she said. "What are you doing here? How did you find us?"
"We followed your phone."
"We put in a tracking device along with that map."
She looked at Finn. He didn't appear surprised by Mike's revelation. "You guessed?"
"It's what I would have done."
She poked him in the ribs. "That's why you gave it back to me, isn't it?"
"I wanted to make sure you were found," he said, catching her hand. "Where's the rest of the team, junior?"
"Scouting the area," the second person replied. It was Sergeant Santana Lopez, Eagle Squadron's new ordnance specialist. She nodded toward the hill behind them. "Someone else might have noticed the trail of explosions you left. The chopper's waiting over that rise, so if you two are ready…?"
"Let's go," Finn said, scooping Rachel into his arms.
She was too shocked to struggle. "What are you doing?"
"What does it look like?" He started up the hill. "I'm carrying you."
The two commandos took up protective positions a few strides away, scanning their surroundings methodically as they moved.
Rachel brought her head closer to Finn's. "Don't be absurd. You're hurt. You probably have a concussion."
"You have no shoes."
"I can walk."
"You'll slow us down."
"You told me chivalry was overrated."
"I like holding you. You got a problem with that?"
The muscles in his arms flexed across her back and under her thighs. Her body rubbed against his chest with each step he took. The scent of warm male enveloped her. She sighed and looped her arm around his neck. "I suppose I could put up with it."
"Good. We need to talk about that kiss."
She glanced at their escort. "Uh, maybe we could discuss it later."
"Not a chance, Berry. This has waited long enough."
Rachel knew how Finn felt. If the last forty–eight hours had taught her anything, it was that time was too precious to squander, and so was love.
The sun crested the horizon, bathing the hillside in warm gold. In its light, Finn's injuries were more apparent than ever. They didn't detract from his handsomeness. To her, they were physical evidence of the strength he had inside. She laid her hand against his cheek. "I've waited a long time to be honest with you, Finn."
He kissed her palm. "You've always been honest."
She shook her head. "You're wrong. I never told you the truth about how I really feel."
He stopped moving and set her on her feet. "You did tell me. You just never put it into words."
"I work in Intelligence, Rachel. I figured it out years ago, but I'm through waiting for you to face it."
"That you love me."
"Excuse me, folks. Our ride's set to leave in six minutes."
At Santana's voice, she started. She'd momentarily forgotten about their Eagle Squadron escort. The helicopter was already warming up. The other members of the team were converging on the hill. She spotted her cousin Noah in the distance, his rifle slung over his shoulder.
Finn must have seen him, too. "Do me a favor, Lopez? Keep Puck busy for five."
"That'll be tough. He wants to kill you for getting his little sweet cousin mixed up in your latest prison break."
Rachel whirled on her. "You tell him to mind his own business. This was my choice."
"Some choice," Santana put in. "You threatened to come on your own if we didn't help."
Finn looked at her. "Did you?"
That wasn't all she'd done. The strings she'd pulled to rescue him had reached to the White House. "I might have."
"That proves my point. You've shown me in a hundred different ways that you love me. Coming to rescue me was only one of them."
Mike winked as he moved off. Santana gave Finn a slap on the back that would have felled a smaller man. "You have five minutes," she said. "Make them count."
Finn waited until the pair of commandos had left, then linked his hands behind Rachel's waist and drew her against him. "I don't know why you persist in this friendship thing, but it stops now, understand? A friend doesn't make my blood heat every time she touches me. A friend doesn't haunt my dreams. You love me."
For almost a decade she'd wondered how she'd confess her love to Finn. She'd never imagined he would be telling her. "I love you," she repeated.
"Damn right." He rested his forehead against hers. "In case you haven't noticed, I love you, too."
"You love me?"
"Of course! I have loved you for so many years. I wouldn't drive off a cliff for just anyone, you know."
She choked on a sob that turned into a laugh. "Oh, Finn. Let's go home."
"As long as I'm with you, Rachel, we're already there."
Look out for upcoming Finchel/Monchele stories in the future. I have another one in the works and hopefully, when everything is all settled, I can post it up here. Once again, thank you for reading!