Disclaimer: All characters and anything affiliated with Glee belong to FOX and Ryan Murphy! I own nothing. (But oh, how I wish I did.)
AN: I've been turning over this idea in my head for a while and finally got to write it all out. Story + title inspired by Jack Johnson, "Do You Remember".
Thanks to Naomi (nomesters) for being a fantastic beta. :)
His mom kneels down in front of him in the front yard and helps him balance on the new two-wheeler she managed to buy him a few months back for his sixth birthday.
"Finn, sweetie, I'm babysitting this weekend for the new neighbors in the house behind us—"
She smiles and nods. "Yes. They just moved here from Cincinnati. I think their daughter just started school with you?"
"Yeah. She sings a lot."
"Well, she'll be over here until tonight."
"But mom!" Finn's mouth drops in protest as he stammers, "But—but she's a girl!" His stomach churns at the thought of what Puck and David would have to say on Monday if they knew Rachel Berry was at his house all day.
"I realize that, Finn. But it'll be good for us if I pick up an extra job. It's only on the weekends for this month while her dads get settled in."
"She has two dads?"
"Yes, Finn, and you'd better not use that voice when you ask her about it. Or when you talk to her at all. Do you understand?"
He cringes. "Yes, ma'am."
No sooner has he spoken when a white car pulls up at the curb of their driveway. A tiny girl hops out of the back seat, a long, dark brown, shiny braid swinging behind her as she follows his mom briskly up the driveway.
"Finn, this is Rachel."
"I know who she is," he mutters. His mom shoots him a look that makes the blood drain from his face. "Hi, Rachel," he adds, suddenly much more cheerful, and waves. Rachel gives him a bright smile.
"Hi, Finn. I like your bike."
"Finn," his mom says, "can you two stay outside for an hour while I finish some papers inside?"
"Can we go to the park around the corner?" He widens his eyes pleadingly for effect, and it works.
"My dads told me that you and your mom are nice," she tells him as they start their journey. "I think they're right. You guys seem really nice. Do you like music? I do—I love it. My dream is to be a Broadway star. Do you know what Broadway is?"
"In New York City, they put on these musical plays and the stars of the shows are some of the most talented people in the whole world. You'd like New York City; anyone would like it, really. Anyways, I'm gonna be one of those stars on Broadway one day. My dads bought me gold star stickers. Wanna see them?"
She pulls them out of the small backpack she's brought along, and he smiles when he sees them, all shiny and perfectly lined up in rows of five. "Those are really cool."
"Thanks! My dads thought so too. What about your dad? What does he do?"
"I don't have a dad."
Her face falls and her step falters as they round the corner, the playground coming into view. "Oh," she almost whispers, her eyes on the concrete while her face turns furiously red. "I'm sorry. I didn't know."
"It's okay," he says with a small smile. "Thanks for showing me your stickers."
"I'm glad you liked them."
"I'll race you to the swings?"
Her grin returns full force and they take off together. He sputters and protests when she truly, honestly beats him to the swing set, and she starts to laugh—a bubbling, bell-like, musical sound that tugs at the corners of his mouth, until there's nothing he can do but laugh along with her and think that he's found a pretty cool friend. For a girl, at least.
Even though there are all sorts of cootie jokes that circulate their school as the first few weeks of first grade pass, no one really gives Finn or Rachel much grief once Finn hits Noah Puckerman at recess for calling him a baby for being friends with a girl.
So it all just falls into place and stays that way—Finn and Rachel, groveling their way through elementary school and then middle school like everyone else. They kind of save each other—like in second grade, when she helps him for hours with multiplication using clusters and grids of her gold star stickers; or in fourth grade, when she accidentally drops the class's pet lizard, and Finn somehow manages to find it and play the whole thing off as an accident to the teacher, just so Rachel won't get in trouble for taking the lizard out in the first place. (In her defense, she was only trying to prove to Quinn Fabray that she's not a wimp.)
Later on in fourth grade, Kurt Hummel makes the duo a trio when his dad marries Finn's mom. Finn is glad to have Kurt, because as much as he loves hanging out with Rachel, he's not at all the musical genius that she is, and it's nice to have Kurt to pick up the slack.
Some nights, Finn crawls onto the roof outside his bedroom window and watches the stars whenever the stress from school and sports and his mom is too much for him to sleep. Rachel's bedroom window faces his across their backyards; when he goes out on the roof she'll usually see his bedroom light on, sneak downstairs, cross the grass, and then climb the tree just next to his roof. He does the same for her whenever she's had a bad day—usually due to cruel jokes and whispers behind her back (and sometimes to her face)—and they'll lie side by side on the giant trampoline in her yard.
A chilly night in November of seventh grade is one of those nights when she goes to him.
"Hey," she says quietly as she plants herself beside him, trying not to wake his sleeping family in their rooms down the hall.
He hugs his gangly, awkward knees to his chest and smiles faintly. "Hey, Rach."
After a short silence, she sighs. "I'm sorry about basketball tryouts."
"S'okay," he mumbles. "I still have football."
She adds carefully, "And you know, you could always try choir with me. Our Saturday afternoon jam sessions? You have a nice voice."
"Thanks, Rach, but I don't think I could make it in choir. It's full of people like you—you all sing great. Besides, I guess I can always try out for basketball again next year."
She hesitates before answering, "Well, that's good. You should stay determined. You're very talented." Her eyes get that wide, bright, shimmering quality that's so familiar to him but that he always loves to see. "I would know," she asserts. "I'm very talented, too."
He chuckles and nudges her, and she reciprocates with a push of her own before laying back and stretching out her short frame on the roof, her tiny hands folded primly across her tummy. He follows her, but somehow he can never be as graceful as her. They lay that way for a long time in silence, before he breaks the moment.
"I wish I was as talented as you," he says softly. Out of the corner of his eye he sees her turn her head to the side and study his face intently.
"You are talented. I just told you so."
"Yeah, but the difference is you're gonna get out of here one day; I'm just gonna be here." Rachel is silent, and he can only continue, "You've known where you're going since you were born, Rachel. I've got nothing."
"You've got everything!" Her voice is suddenly, uncharacteristically sharp. "You've got sports, you've got girls, you've got popularity…all I've got is music. Everyone just thinks I'm weird."
"It's better than everyone thinking you're stupid."
"They don't think you're stupid! Not the ones that matter!"
Her bright eyes lock with his. "Yes," she says firmly. "Like me."
There's something else in her eyes, something that he's never seen before, or maybe he just never noticed—something warm and steady and unyielding.
"You're my best friend, Rachel," he blurts.
Her face softens, and Finn thinks for a moment that she looks like she might cry, until she smiles serenely. "You're my best friend, too, Finn."
He sits up and hugs her tiny body against his massive chest. People always make fun of him because he shot up like a tree last year and he towers over everyone else, but she's never made a single comment about it, and that's just one more reason why he loves knowing he has a friend like her.
"Also," he says quietly as she slowly extracts herself from his arms, "I'm sorry about what Quinn and Santana said to you at lunch today. That was out of line."
Her eyes fall and she tucks a lock of hair behind her ear. "It's okay, Finn. I'm used to it."
"But you shouldn't have to be."
He holds her gaze in his for a long moment before she smiles weakly and shrugs, finally answering, "Well, nothing makes for a great Tony acceptance speech like a powerful message about overcoming adversity." He releases her completely from his arms then, laughing because that's just so like her. That's his Rachel.
They stay there together until she yawns and panics because it's past 11:30, and her dads will be furious. He watches her scamper across the yard. Her pretty hair streams behind her, loose and free, until she turns and waves to him from her back porch before disappearing inside. He waits until her bedroom light flickers off to go back into his own room. He dreams about his drum set, and there's Rachel, singing "Don't Stop Believin'" (a favorite of theirs), her voice pure and sweet and strong and deep, just like her eyes. Just like her.
"Are you even kidding me right now?"
"Quinn Fabray, Finn? Her?"
"I'm telling you, she's different. She's changed."
"Oh, please, do enlighten me!"
"Cut it out, Rach. We hung out at the summer bash last Thursday—"
"The one that I wasn't invited to."
"It's not your type of scene anyway!"
Her mouth drops, and her eyes are wide, injured. "What does that mean?"
"It means that everyone's shitfaced and acting like idiots, and you're better than that, Rach!"
She argues fiercely, almost shouting, "So are you, Finn!"
"She and I were both almost sober, and everyone else was still hammered, so we just started talking, and by the end of the night we had a date for the next day. She's different now, I'm serious. She's nicer."
"So you're telling me," she snaps, standing in the middle of his room with her fists clenched at her sides, "that in the three months we've been on summer vacation, she's gone from queen bitch to nice?"
"People can change, Rachel."
"People don't get a clean slate just because they're starting freshman year! It doesn't work that way!"
"Maybe it's not just her that's changed, Rachel. Maybe it's me! Did it ever occur to you," he starts to yell, "that I'm doing this because I want to have a girlfriend? Because, you know, I can actually do things myself; I can decide what I like and what I want by myself, despite how stupid people think I am!"
She stops and blinks, her teeth clamping down on her lip. Her eyes get that look in them, the one that makes him want to tear his heart out.
"I'm sorry," he says immediately, earnestly.
She's quiet for a long moment, and then her shoulders sag. "No, I'm sorry, Finn."
"I was afraid you'd be upset like this, which is why I wasn't going to tell you first, but then of course you found out from Kurt, and…Rach, your feelings and your opinion of me matter so much, you have no idea…"
"You should know by now that I would never, ever judge you, Finn."
Her eyes still have that look. He hates himself just a tiny bit for it.
She sighs heavily pushes her hair out of her eyes, kicking off her All-Stars and climbing onto his bed to sit cross-legged next to him, staring at the Beatles posters on his closet.
"Do you really like her, Finn?" He looks her in the eye and nods, and she smiles faintly. "Well, then, I support you."
"Thank you so much, Rachel."
They're quiet for a long time, until he glances over to see a new expression replacing the old one, a different look in her eyes, one that he's never seen before. It makes his heart twist unfamiliarly.
"What's wrong?" he asks softly.
"Just…" she trails off in thought. Her eyebrows furrow and she blinks rapidly, clenching her jaw briefly before turning her head to look first at his hands and then his eyes. "Just don't change too much. Okay?"
"I won't, Rachel."
"Swear you won't."
He nods slowly, reaches over and grabs her hand. "I swear."
He hears her rustling the leaves and grunting in effort to hoist herself up the tree. Now that she's grown some, it's gotten harder for her to pull herself up between the branches.
"Finn?" she calls quietly, warily. "Finn, please talk to me."
He stares at his hands clenched around his knees, ignoring the stars and the stupidly pretty late-autumn night around them as she finally pulls herself onto the roof.
"I just want to be alone, Rachel. It's nothing against you."
"But it's because of me, isn't it?" She stays where she is at the corner of the roof. He glances over and sees her pleading eyes; the sight mixes with flashes of two sharp green eyes gazing at him the same way not six hours ago. He looks away. "I know you're mad, Finn. You have the right to be mad. What they did was awful; and what I did, the way I handled it, wasn't the best way to go about it."
Deep down, he knows he's not mad at her. He's just pissed at Quinn and Puck and himself and every other person who knew and never told him, because he's just a stupid jock. He's so goddamn stupid for thinking that maybe joining glee club would be the solution to everything just because of how beautifully happy Rachel looked the day he walked into the choir room for the first time. Because then Quinn had joined because she's a bitch and Puck joined because he's a dickbag and then Santana and Brittany joined because they're bitches too. Finn squeezes his eyes shut. Right then, when he first joined, is when he should have realized that all he was doing was intruding, ruining everything for Rachel, polluting her safe haven with the people she so regularly tries to avoid, ruining it with their drama and their lying and their stupid stupid stupid awful horrible back-stabbing games.
"Finn," she snaps, "listen to me!"
"I am listening, Rachel."
She stays there, staring at him, dumbfounded because this is not her Finn, not the best friend she knows, with his hard eyes and his angry voice.
"You know what, Finn?" Something breaks loose inside her chest, stored and built up since the beginning of freshman year. She curses the choke of tears building in her throat and forces it back down. "I told you about Quinn and Puck because I care so much about you; and even though I know it really, really sucks, it's what's best for you."
He can't meet her eyes.
"I have never done anything for you that I didn't think was in your best interest. I knew you weren't happy anymore, Finn. You hadn't been happy with her since the summer, and it only made you that much more miserable when she told you that you were going to be a father. I held you while you sobbed that night, Finn! I was there for you the whole time, and it killed me seeing you so upset. So when I found out you weren't the father, I knew I had to tell you. I couldn't stand to see you live the rest of your life tied to someone that made you that miserable. Because I just want you to be happy, Finn! Okay?"
She stops, catching her breath and maybe hoping he'll say something. He doesn't.
"And you have the nerve hold that against me! You're selfish, Finn!" She's crying now. "Of all the good that I see in you, sometimes I really fucking hate how fucking selfish you can be!"
The swearing is what gets his attention, because she never, ever swears. He explodes all at once. "I'm hurting, Rachel! Why can't you understand that?"
"If you're hurting, then tell me! Let me be there for you, like I used to be able to do! But for god's sake, don't sit there and act like I'm the one who did something wrong!"
"Please, Rachel, I just want to be alone." His voice is weak. "I know you didn't do anything wrong. Just leave me alone."
His words stun her a bit, because he's never, not once, said those words to her in the ten years she's known him. When she speaks again, her words are low and quiet, her strangled voice making her tears evident even though he doesn't look at her.
"You know, you broke your promise."
"What do you mean?"
"You think your 'friends' never talk about me and do stuff to hurt me behind my back? Of course they do. And I actually was stupid enough to support you when you dated Quinn, even though she goes out of her way on a daily basis to make me miserable. Do you know how many times she's insulted me in front of the entire glee club? Of course you do, you were standing right next to her. But you never stand up for me. You never do anything about it." She swallows hard. "You changed. You broke your promise."
Just like that, with a rustle of branches and leaves, the padding of footsteps through the grass, and a slam of her door, she's gone. And that's what finally gets him to cry.
She doesn't talk to him, won't even look at him for two whole months. It's the longest they've ever gone without speaking; in fact, it's the first time they've ever gone without speaking. He's miserable and so is she, but they're both just as stubborn as the other. Finn guesses this would classify their first real "fight", only he's not quite sure if it can even be fixed (and that's what kills him the most).
Two days after school restarts from Christmas break, Finn turns his back from watching Rachel at her locker (which he finds himself doing a lot lately). In the two seconds that he reaches for his history book, there's a splash and a scream, and laughter from every side of the hallway. Finn whirls around again to see Puck walking away triumphantly with an empty plastic cup in hand, and Quinn walking past a blue slushie-covered Rachel, his ex-girlfriend narrowing her eyes and sniggering.
The next thing he knows he's halfway down the hallway, slamming Puck against the lockers, blood flowing from Puck's nose and covering Finn's knuckles, the blows punctuating the only words he can think to say.
"You're a fucking asshole! Noah!"
Mr. Schuester chooses that exact moment to pry Finn away, holler some sense into him, and shove both him and Puck toward Figgins's office. Finn cranes his neck to look behind his shoulder, but he can't find the brown eyes he seeks.
He doesn't find them until the following night, towards midnight, when he treks through the fresh snow across his yard and into hers, after seeing her tiny frame huddled on her trampoline while he studies for Mrs. Pollard's bitch of a math test. Winter nights have always been her favorites, because those nights are always clearest, and she can see the most stars.
His heart jumps into his throat, surprising him as much as she does when she initiates the conversation.
"Hi," she murmurs. Even in the dimly lit space around them, her eyes pierce his. She doesn't look upset, but she's not happy either.
She shifts her weight a little and sways on the trampoline.
"Sorry about the scene in the hall yesterday," he mumbles, his face heating with shame as he rubs the back of his neck.
After a beat, she answers cautiously, "It's okay. Despite your unnecessary use of violence, it was actually a bit chivalrous of you."
He hesitates. "That's a good thing, right?"
She blinks, the corners of her mouth tugging up just slightly, almost a small smile, before she trains her eyes to the ground next to his feet and nods. "Yeah, it is."
"But I'm still sorry," he says earnestly, and she finally meets his eyes again, her cheeks flushing. "You know? I'm still really sorry."
Her lower lip wobbles, and when she blinks a single tear escapes down her cheek. She brushes it away hastily and nods. "It's okay," she breathes.
There's a pause, and then she slides herself to the edge of the trampoline. She barely gets one of her fuzzy pink slippers onto the ground before he engulfs her. His arms could probably circle twice around her, and he loves that about her, and he's missed that and everything else about her. How nice her arms feel around his waist; how soft her hair is; how warm she is, such a contrast to the winter air; and just how terribly, terribly much she means to him.
She sucks in a sharp breath, just ready to speak, but the rapid beating of his heart pushes him to say, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Rach. You're my best friend."
He feels all the air dissipate from her lungs and her shoulders fall, her arms tightening around him.
"You're my best friend, too," she whispers, pressing her face further into his chest.
They sit together on the trampoline, talking and sometimes not talking until almost one o'clock. Before they part he hugs her tightly again and wonders silently why she still looks upset, and he can't get back to sleep because he just wishes that he knew how to make whatever-it-is better for her.
A few weeks into junior year, she pops up next to him at his locker with an excited grin on her face.
"I met a guy!" she squeals. "He asked me out!"
"Whoa, slow down," he says with a laugh that doesn't feel completely genuine, if only because the smile on her face doesn't completely reach her eyes. "What's his name?"
"Jesse St. James. He's a senior at Carmel High."
"Carmel High, Rachel? They're our rivals in everything!"
"He's not an athlete, don't worry. He's from Vocal Adrenaline—"
"Rachel! Those assholes that robbed us at Regionals and trashed our choir room?"
"Finn, he's not like them. And he didn't take part in that."
"And you know this because…?"
"He told me."
"You are such a hypocrite!" She stomps her foot for good measure, and the adorable frown on her flushed face makes him stop his stupid mouth from opening until he blinks the anger out of his eyes.
She doesn't look mad, just disappointed. Her face looks the same as it did at the end of sophomore year, when he confessed to her that he'd gotten drunk at Puck's birthday party and had sex with Santana Lopez in the bathroom. He'd been crying because it wasn't at all how it was supposed to have been. Losing his virginity was supposed to actually mean something; with Santana it had all been a shit show. Rachel had hugged him and held him and talked him through it, but that expression still hadn't left her face. And it's haunting him now.
There's a flash of her yelling at him in his bedroom at the start of freshman year, back when blonde hair and light green eyes were enough to make his heart race, before the baby fiasco and their fight on his roof. She's right; he's a hypocrite. All she's ever wanted is for him to be happy, and he's selfish.
"I'm selfish," he murmurs, cringing as the guilt seeps in, pressing a hand over his eyes. "I'm sorry, Rach. If this guy makes you happy, then I'm happy for you."
"Thank you," she says quietly, pointedly. "I was just excited and I wanted to tell you. I promise you, though, he really is nice."
"Yeah, well." Finn shrugs and rubs the back of his neck. "Tell him if he hurts you, I promise I'll beat the shit out of him."
"Sorry." There's a pause between them, until he places one gentle, callused hand on her soft shoulder. "But I'm serious. He's a year older. And I'm not trying to be a jerk when I say that older guys are, well, smarter than you think."
"I'm smart too, Finn."
"Trust me, I know." She smiles and shoves him playfully. His face flushes as he hears the rest of his own words. "Rach, I just really care about you, okay? I don't want you to get hurt."
"Just don't change too much."
Her laugh is a little breathy when he squeezes her shoulder. "I won't. I promise," she assures him, patting his hand with her own and then kindly removing it from her shoulder. He thinks for a moment he sees a bit of pink on her cheeks.
He watches her retreat down the hall to her next class, and he frowns to himself, because none of this should be bothering him. It doesn't. It doesn't.
When he sees her again at lunch, his tongue is stuck to the roof of his mouth while she and Kurt chatter away about the details of her date—how Jesse St. James is keeping it all a "surprise" and being all flirty and mysterious.
It doesn't bother him. It doesn't. It doesn't it doesn't it doesn't.
So why does it bother him?
"Hello?" he croaks and rubs the sleep from his eyes, squinting at his alarm clock. 1:37 a.m.
The blasting music coming from inside the Carmel prom after-party is muted in his ear. "Rachel?"
"Can you come pick me up?"
"Rach, have you been crying?" Worry seeps into his voice before he can stop it.
"I'm not! Hi Finn!"
"Rachel, what the hell—"
"Shit," she slurs, followed by a strangled, humorless laugh. "I am, like, so-so-so drunk, Finn."
"Just—just please come pick me up," she says feebly.
He throws off his bedcovers and tiptoes around his room to find his pants and jacket and keys, whispering, "Where are you?"
"I'm at Jesse's house. Well, outside his house, really…" she trails off, sucking in a shallow, shuddering breath.
"Rach, you're freaking me out—" He silences himself abruptly and slips down the hall and out the door, not even daring to speak again until he makes it inside his truck and starts the engine. He curses the noise, because his mom will flip her shit if she wakes up and he's gone at this hour.
"Are you still there, Finn?"
"Good. Just stay on the phone with me."
And he does, holding the phone to his ear for the entire 3-hour drive to Akron, even when they're not speaking anymore and all he can hear is her starting to cry. When he finally pulls up to the curb in front of the address she remembered to give him, her tiny frame is huddled on the sidewalk, shivering in her stunning rosy-pink strapless dress. She doesn't give him the chance to get out of his truck and help her before she wobbles to her feet, manages to walk by herself to the passenger side, and drags herself in, slamming the door behind her.
"Just drive!" She starts to break down as he pulls a fast U-turn; by the time he makes it to the highway, she's sobbing.
"Rach, please, tell me what happened."
"He broke up with me," she whispers. He can somehow understand her even through her tears and her still-tipsy slurring, and his heart clenches when her voice breaks. "He broke up with me in front of everyone. We argued earlier this week because I didn't want to have sex yet and then tonight he was making a big show of making out with me in front of everyone, that asshole, and at first I laughed about it because he was drunk and so was I, but then he kept doing it and started feeling me up and—and—and we were in front of everyone! What could I do? I'm not some…starry-eyed schoolgirl slut!" She pounds her fist against the arm rest. "So I finally just told him to cut it out, and then he got all mad and started yelling and calling me a prude and stuff, and pretty soon everyone was watching and he just dumped me, right there in his own house, and threw me out. In front of everyone." She starts to cry harder, burying her face in her hands, rubbing her forehead wearily. "And shit, I drank so much of that shitty vodka."
"I didn't mean anything to him. I never did."
"Rach, he's a dick." In reality, he's thought that exact thing about Jesse St. Jackass since he met him over spring break, but he would never have admitted it to Rachel. She'd seemed happy. That's all he wants. (So much for that.) He tries, "I'm proud of you for sticking to your morals, at least."
"I didn't give him everything. I couldn't, I just couldn't. I don't know why."
"It's okay, Rach," he whispers, keeping his eyes on the road but reaching over to take one of her hands in his.
"But there were a few times…" she trails off and hiccups while his throat constricts at her words. He's not sure why it does that. "There were a few times where I…and he…oh my god. Oh my god." She groans and pulls her hand from his to cover her mouth. "Pull over, Finn."
He slams on the breaks and obeys her. As soon as the truck has almost stopped moving, she thrusts open her door, slides onto the ground, and promptly vomits.
"Shit," he hisses and cuts the engine, clambering out of his side of the car and jogging around to where she's crouched on her hands and knees, the smell of digested alcohol making his stomach turn. He grits his teeth against it and kneels beside her, holding her pretty, delicate curls away from her face while she heaves and retches into the grass along the shoulder of the road. When she's finally finished, he scoops her up, places her gently back into the passenger seat, and then climbs into his side. She tugs on his sleeve until he gets the hint and he scoots toward her, pulling her onto his lap. She curls into his chest then, gripping his shirt and starting to cry again softly, and this time just a bit more soberly.
"I gave him so much, Finn," she breathes into his shoulder, and he brushes soothing circles across her shoulders. "I didn't give him everything, but I gave him so much. Too much."
Feeling her perfect, baby-soft skin beneath his fingertips, he wishes there were some way—any way—to erase her memories from it, to erase the touches and kisses left there by the asshole who hopefully is drinking himself to death back in Akron.
Something clenches in his chest, swift and strong and much more painful than he expected, as she presses her face into his shirt and coughs up a quiet sob.
"I'm sorry, Rach," he whispers. "I'm so, so sorry."
"Thank you for picking me up," she says weakly.
"What are friends for?"
"That's why I love you." Her head lolls to the side as she blinks and looks blearily at him. "You always try to do the right thing, you know?"
He smiles and breathes a laugh. She won't remember any of this anyway, so he presses a short, soft kiss into her hair. "But I don't succeed a lot."
"I think you do more often than you realize. Plus, you try, and that's what counts. You know?"
"And that's why you're my best friend. You know?"
He smiles faintly and nods, pressing his cheek against her hair. "I know. And I love you too."
"Because I'm your best friend?"
His mouth opens to say something else—he isn't even really sure what it is he might say—but then he nods again. "Yes. You're my very best friend."
She wakes up on his couch, covered in some spare blankets from his closet, a glass of water and some aspirin waiting for her on the coffee table, and Finn snoring lightly on the floor in front of the couch. She snuggles deeper into the blankets, and one of her hands slides over the edge of the cushions to stir him awake gently.
"How do you feel?" he murmurs and squeezes her hand once before pulling himself up from the floor. She buries her face into the pillow beneath her head, one that smells an awful lot like his room, and groans when he flips on the light.
"I have a headache from hell and my whole body hurts, but I think I'll survive."
He smiles that lovely sideways grin of his as he plops onto the floor beside the couch again. After seeing that smile for over ten years she'd have expected to be used to it by now, but her heart—battered as it is—swells pleasantly without fail.
She hesitates, and then peeks up and adds, "Thank you for taking care of me."
He reaches out and brushes her hair out of her eyes lightly. "I guess that's just what you and I do."
He tries to keep her distracted, to speed the healing process a bit. He sings duets with her for glee club, which never fails to cheer her up. Singing with him is like sunshine for her—she feels all warm and smiley when they practice and rehearse and perform. And even though she's still hurting, she has her best friend. Her dear, sweet Finn. Just like always. And that is the most soothing thing to know.
She knows their singing has the same effect on him. He's so stressed lately. She's pretty sure that it's starting to hit him that he's supposed to have some sort of plan for college established; but he doesn't, not in the slightest. She keeps telling him to consider performing, because he shines whenever he's singing—she can see it whenever he sings solos for her (another thing he's started doing to cheer her up)—and when he's performing in general, really. Her heart aches for him, this boy with so much talent and good inside of him who can't even believe it's there to put it to use. She wishes he could see it like she does.
But when they belt the final notes of his latest self-written song—his latest hobby—and the whole club applauds, she's beaming. He sees it. It makes his chest nearly burst with pride. She nods at him, her eyes flickering boldly for just a moment before softening again.
She knows she'll be all right. And he knows he'll be all right. Because, yes, taking care of each other is exactly what they do best.
"Finn, I swear, it was only one date—"
"And then promptly stopped."
"Rachel, you know how much this upsets me and you know exactly why! How could you…just…no!"
"God dammit, Finn, I was just happy that someone was interested in me!"
"He's interested in a certain part of you, I can tell you that much!"
She could slap him. "How dare you!"
"And yeah, I know I'm being selfish this time, but I have a right to be mad! You're my best friend and you know why I have a problem with you dating him, after what he did with Quinn!"
"And I don't have the right to want to feel like someone finds me attractive?" She yanks open her locker. "I'm a teenage girl, Finn! And I'm not popular like you, and I'm not pretty like Quinn or Santana or Brittany, so pardon me for wanting to go on a date with a guy who says I'm attractive."
"Puck thinks anything with boobs is attractive. I know you're not that concerned with how I feel about it, but for god's sake, don't settle for someone like that just because…" he stops himself.
"Just because what? Just because Jesse screwed me over?" she snaps. "Just because I'm not pretty?"
"I never said that." His face heats all the way to the tips of his ears as soon as he hears himself say the words.
"And I never said I didn't care how you felt about it." She takes a long, deep breath, attempting to calm her temper. Finn can bring it out in her more than anyone she knows. "Puck and I stopped kissing because it was weird, okay? There was nothing. Not like there ever is."
"Guys just don't like me." She stares at the ceiling and blinks again, clenching her jaw. "People just don't like me."
"I like you."
She smiles faintly at him.
"I shouldn't have gotten mad at you, Rachel."
"No, you shouldn't have. You're a mighty big hypocrite, getting mad at me over this when you're the one going to prom with Quinn."
He kicks the locker next to him lazily and trains his eyes to the wall. "Don't talk about that."
"Why not? Because it's true?"
"Because this whole thing is so annoying. She's kind of pissing me off about it."
"You're the one who let her put the moves on you and then started going out with her again."
"She's just all caught up with prom." He rolls his eyes. "I don't even think it's about us anymore. You know?"
Rachel doesn't have the heart to tell him that she's fairly certain that, for Quinn, it never was about them.
"I don't even know what I'm doing with all the flowers and the tux and crap…"
"Hey," she murmurs, hugging her books protectively to her chest. "Just get her something simple. A wrist corsage." She shrugs lightly. "With girls like Quinn, you don't want to do anything that's going to distract from her face, so…ask for a gardenia. With a light green ribbon wrapped around it to match her eyes." She nods assertively. "Okay?"
He can't stop his brows from knitting together at the sadness that escapes into the corners of her deep brown eyes, but he nods anyway, and she smiles softly before turning and hurrying down the hall for class.
He chooses not to wonder whether her voice sounded just a little wounded.
"I'm sorry Blaine couldn't be in town tonight, Kurt," she says around a mouthful of ice cream, her eyes never leaving Fanny Brice on the TV screen.
"It's fine." Kurt probes the couch for the remote and turns down the volume. "We're going out next weekend to make up for it."
Rachel sighs. "At least one of us is happy."
"Darling, be serious. You, happy with Puck?"
"Shut up. That's not what I was talking about," she mutters. "And for the record, I'd finally gotten over Jesse, and I was…I don't know what I was."
"Shut up!" She whacks him with a pillow from the couch. "I already got enough grief from Finn about it. He's probably still mad at me and just not saying anything about it because he's too preoccupied with Quinn and prom…"
Kurt blinks and then coughs up a laugh. "Is that bitterness I detect?"
"Well, it would have been nice to have gotten asked to junior prom at least…"
"I understand. I was surprised you didn't get asked, actually…your little one-date stint with Puckerman seems to have given you quite the reputation in the guys' locker room."
Rachel groans, burying her face in her hands. "I actually think that's more cause for me to be alone on prom night. Even if he weren't dating Quinn, Finn wouldn't have asked me after our argument about that whole—"
"I never said Finn."
Rachel's mouth opens and clamps shut again.
"Did you want him to ask you?" Kurt presses, his eyebrow raised, a wry smile playing at his lips.
"I think you did."
"Do you like Finn? Oh god, this is gold!"
"I don't like Finn!" she insists and shakes her head furiously. "No! Ew! Why, Kurt? Why would you even suggest that?"
"Because right now, your face is the color of Finn's football helmet. I'm at least assuming you know the color. You've been to every one of his games with us."
"Kurt." She takes a deep breath to quell her aggravation. "Finn has been my best friend since we were six; of course I love him, but not like that. I only meant that he was probably the only boy in school who would consider asking me to prom, but then Quinn snatched him up again."
"Snatched him?" Kurt pauses, and then his eyes grow impossibly wider. "Again? How long has this been going on?"
"Cut it out, Kurt. You know what I meant."
"Oh, I know exactly what you meant."
"Shut up! Shut up! I know how you get when you come to one of your supposed 'discoveries,' Kurt, and I'm telling you to knock it off, right now. Finn and I could never have those feelings for each other. We're too close for that." She folds her arms and returns her attention to Fanny Brice.
"Well, Carole seems to think otherwise."
"I'm choosing to ignore you."
"Everyone thinks it, really; but she's the worst. She bugs Finn about it all the time. It's actually pretty comical how similar his reaction is to yours."
"You're being ridiculous," she mutters. Kurt sighs and turns the volume back up, but Rachel's mind isn't even on the movie anymore.
When she can't sleep that night, she peeks out her window, and sure enough he's there, in his tux, on his roof. He waves and gives her that boyish grin of his when he sees her slip out of her back door quietly.
"How was prom?" she asks from the ground before starting to pull herself up the tree.
"It was fun, I guess. Until Quinn threw a fit in the car on the way to the after-party because we didn't win. Not like I was really shocked by us not winning…but she was."
"Clearly." Rachel's melodic giggle floats from somewhere in the leaves, making him smile for what feels like the first time all night, despite the infinite pictures taken at Quinn's house and at the dance.
Just as two big brown eyes meet his when she emerges from the tree, he says, "We broke up before we even made it to the after-party, actually."
Rachel falters as she crawls carefully to him, but then closes the distance quickly. "Oh, Finn," she whispers. "I'm so sorry."
He shrugs. "She was being really mean. She basically told me I was stupid and that it was my whole fault."
Rachel knows what part of that upsets him the most, and she places a warm hand hesitantly on his shoulder. When he leans into her touch a bit, she links her other arm through his.
"You're not stupid," she says firmly. "You know that."
"Well, you always say so, at least."
"I don't say things I don't mean, Finn."
"I guess all this is just kinda…foreshadowing? Is that right?"
"Yes, that's a word," she says softly, smiling and squeezing his arm in reassurance.
"It's foreshadowing. I have 'high school hero, life zero' written all over me. If the whole 'high school hero' thing even really applies." He shrugs and swallows hard, pinching the bridge of his nose. "You know, on the drive home, I was thinking about college. Rach, I'm not good enough to play football in college, I'm not a good enough performer to go to New York, I'm…I'm nothing is what I am."
"Stop it. Look at me." She twists around to kneel and face him, and then shakes his shoulder until he obeys her. "You're special, Finn. I'm not going to let you give up on this. I wouldn't just leave you here."
"So you'll help me?"
She grasps his shoulders gently. "Absolutely."
When Carole opens the back door, she's not surprised to see Rachel waiting on the porch.
"Hi, Carole," she says quietly, her eyes giving away the anxiety in her voice. "Is Finn—?"
"He's in his room."
Rachel nods a little. "I guessed he might be." She hesitates and then opens her mouth to add something, but Carole cuts her off.
"Go and talk to him," she says with a heavy sigh. "He won't talk to me. Burt and Kurt have tried, too."
Rachel crosses the threshold into the house slowly, watching Carole as she does. They can read each other better than most mothers and daughters, and Carole sees no point in pretending at this point around Rachel. Rachel reaches out and takes her by the shoulders, hugging her.
"It's not your fault," she murmurs into Carole's familiar, soft shoulder when it begins to shudder slightly.
"I just wanted to protect him," Carole whispers.
Rachel gives her a soft kiss on the cheek, hugs her quickly again, and then hurries up the stairs. She skips knocking on his door (not that she ever knocks anyway); pushing the door open and slipping inside quietly, she pauses at the edge of the room when he stirs slightly, his head rising a bit beneath his pillow.
"Don't take this the wrong way, but it's really not a good time, Rach."
"Why else do you think I came over in the first place?"
He doesn't answer, so she crosses to him, places one hand on his back and shakes him gently. "Finn, please take your head out from under the pillow. It makes conversation difficult."
"Why else do you think it's there in the first place?"
"Finn," she says intently. "Please talk to me. You need to talk to someone. Kurt already told me what happened, so there's no use pretending it's not happening."
After a long moment, his dark hair emerges, and then his eyes greet hers when he turns over and lies on his back, facing her. She chuckles lightly and straightens his rumpled hair. "There," she tells him, "that's better."
He smiles a little at the sound of her kind laugh, but his face falls quickly, and when she notices, her hand moves to his shoulder.
"It's just not fair," he finally says, his throat tightening. He presses his fists to his eyes, his face heating, because he will not cry in front of anyone right now. "How could she do that to me? How could she keep something like that from me for that long? And how could she choose now to tell me? I was finally figuring out what I thought I wanted to do with my life. Do you know how hard it's been for me to figure it out, Rach?"
"Yes, I do know," she murmurs and sits against the backboard of the bed, stretching her legs across the bed beside him when he shifts over to give her room. "Your mom just wants to protect you. You're her baby boy. She thinks that the army isn't the best thing for you." She hesitates before adding carefully, softly, "And deep down, I think you know that that's true."
His silence is all the confirmation she needs. They remain the way they are on his bed for a long time, until he finds his voice, whispering, "He was supposed to be a hero."
"He was a hero, Finn."
"He was dishonorably discharged…and then, god dammit, and overdose, Rachel! My dad was a drug addict!"
She's quick to answer, "He wasn't always. Your mom wouldn't have fallen in love with him if there wasn't so much good in him to begin with."
He presses his face into her thigh, starting to cry softly, his pride be damned. She refuses to acknowledge the faint blush creeping up her neck and brushes her hand soothingly over his shoulders.
"You know," she murmurs, eyeing the crumpled, stained wallet photo on his nightstand, "I've always thought you look like him. You have his eyes."
"I'm gonna end up just like him," Finn says faintly, his shoulders shaking.
After another moment she breathes, "Is that what this is about, then?" He doesn't answer. "Finn, please…listen to me. You won't end up like him." Feeling brave, she puts a hand on his face and guides his eyes to hers. "I won't let you end up like him. Something good will come out of this. You"—she takes a breath to steady her voice when it wavers emotionally—"you are everything good there ever was in him."
"I'm a screw-up."
"No, Finn. A screw-up is someone who gets lost and doesn't care enough to try to find their way back. But you." She smiles tenderly, and all at once he sees a new look in her eyes, and he feels something strange and wonderful swell in his chest. "You're a leader, Finn. A leader is someone who gets lost, finds their way back, and then keeps going. They're someone who doesn't let a wrong turn or a stumble discourage them from moving forward again."
It takes him a moment to think of a coherent response, because she is so stunningly, perfectly smart, all the time. "No, that's you, Rach. I see it. I know you better than anyone."
"Then maybe that's why you don't see it in yourself, too." She squeezes his shoulder.
"I'll never be a hero," he mumbles, his eyes falling closed again. He almost adds, I'll never be like you. Because that's what she is—she's a hero in his eyes. A heroine. She saved glee club, she saved the team at regionals, and she sure as hell saved him.
She bites her own tongue, the timeline of their friendship briefly flashing before her eyes. The words threaten to spill out, You already saved me.
"You're going to be great someday, Finn," she finally says gently. "I know it."
"You are. You're gonna go to New York with Kurt, and I'm gonna be stuck here the rest of my life."
"No, you're going with us."
He studies her face for a long moment, searches her eyes, and then says quietly, "How are you so sure?"
She breathes deeply, taking a moment to respond, because even she isn't completely sure why. Finally she answers, "Because you're my—"
"Right." That actually draws a laugh out of him, and she smiles reassuringly. "We'll figure this out together, okay? You and me, Finn."
"Just like always."
Carole pokes her head in an hour or so later, only to see the two teenagers sound asleep, Rachel slumped against the headboard and Finn clinging to her legs, his head nuzzled against the side of her tweed skirt. Rachel's arm lies around Finn's shoulders easily, naturally. Both of them are peaceful, smiling even.
Carole considers waking up Rachel since it's near her curfew, but then smiles to herself and closes the door silently on her way out.
Kurt breezes into Finn's room and plants himself in front of his step-brother. "We need to talk," Kurt says, holding his hands behind his back, tapping one foot impatiently.
"Can it wait?" Finn responds weakly as he looks up from his exhausting history homework.
"No, it can't, Finn." Finn frowns and straightens himself up against the backboard of his too-small bed. "I found this"—Kurt pulls a slightly-bent application to the City College of New York from behind his back—"in the trash can this morning."
Finn sighs heavily and rakes a hand through his hair.
"Finn," Kurt snaps, "you told all of us you were going to really try this."
"I did really try!"
"Apparently." Finn glares at his brother, who tosses the paper onto the bed and crosses his arms tightly. "More than anything, you told Rachel you would try."
Finn rubs his eyes wearily. "I know, I know. I know."
"Finn, you have to do this. If not for yourself, then do it for her."
"I do want to do it for myself, Kurt!" he counters, raising his voice. "I want to think I'm able to do what you and Rachel are capable of, but I can't, okay? I just wish everyone would stop trying to force me into a future that I wouldn't stand a chance in!"
"Do you honestly think," Kurt says severely, "that Rachel would have spent hours helping you with all your applications if she thought you didn't stand a chance? Which reminds me, that application for the Actors Studio is due in three days."
"How did you—"
"I had to borrow some socks."
"You snuck into my room again, didn't you?"
"That's beside the point." Kurt snatches up the stack of applications from his desk and flips through them. "Actors Studio, SUNY…why haven't you finished any of these?"
"I just haven't had time, Kurt!"
"This is so like you," Kurt says and throws the applications onto Finn's lap. "You're so blinded by your own lack of self-esteem that you set yourself up for failure before you've even taken a chance!"
Finn slumps a little lower, hiding behind his history book, which Kurt promptly tears away from his hands. "Kurt, come on!"
"Finn! I will not let you do this. I will not let you disappoint your mom, or my dad, or Rachel. And I most definitely will not stand by and let you screw yourself over!" Kurt pauses, and his voice softens when he adds, "She needs you, Finn. She's told me so. She could survive in New York if I didn't get into NYADA with her. But she couldn't without her best friend; not without you. You'd break her heart, you know. If she ever found out you didn't even apply to these schools, it would kill her."
Finn swallows the small lump in his throat, imagining the look in Rachel's pretty eyes if she knew.
"She sees so much in you, Finn. And honestly, I do too. You owe it her, and you owe it to yourself to strive for it. I think you know what you want, deep down. And I think that what you want is in New York, too."
Finn nods slowly, and then finally answers, "Okay."
"So you'll finish these?"
"Good." Kurt turns on his heel but pauses in the doorway. "By the way, I approve if you ask her to prom."
"Your 'Ideas to Ask Rachel to Prom' list. It was right next to the stack of applications. They're clever ideas, even for you."
"Kurt," he warns.
"Don't worry, I won't tell her. She prefers to get flowers as a surprise, anyway."
Kurt dodges the pillow aimed for his head and shuts the door quickly behind him.
"How'd you enjoy prom?" he asks and climbs onto the trampoline, joining her in the middle and laughing softly with her as they bounce up and down for a moment like they did when they were younger. The music coming from inside her house mixes with the muted, tipsy laughter coming from the glee club members her basement.
She tucks the dusty rose ruffles of her dress beneath her legs and leans against him. "Well, it was certainly better than my last prom experience." She smiles gratefully when he takes off his tux jacket and drapes it over her chilled shoulders.
"Same here," he says with a soft smile, and for a moment her eyes transport him a few hours into the past, when her slender frame fit perfectly in his arm and her tiny hand held his while they swayed slowly, smiling and not talking. For a moment he'd almost thought he could have bent down and pressed his lips to hers, and he'd thought she maybe could have been stretching upward to do the same, if the song hadn't ended.
"Thank you for asking me, Finn. Tonight has been a pleasant distraction from everything that's been happening lately."
A flash of her bedroom, with her curled up in his lap, shaking with sobs. "It was awful, Finn—I choked, I just choked, and she left before I could even get another chance. It's all over, Finn. I'm not getting into NYADA. I'm not going to New York. It's over."
"I'm glad I could help," he murmurs and puts his hand comfortingly over hers. They lie back together in perfect tandem, the trampoline swaying them gently.
"I wish time would stand still," she whispers. The thickness in her voice makes his arm move automatically to give her space to curl into his side. "I just want to stop everything. Figure it all out." He brushes his hand back and forth over the smooth skin of her arm soothingly. "I mean, I'm actually happy in high school for the first time in four years, Finn. And I want to keep that feeling. But at the same time I don't want to stay here. I can't stay here. I don't even know what to do anymore."
"You're going to figure it out, Rach. You're Rachel Berry. It's what you do best."
Her soft, breathy laugh tickles his neck, making his stomach swoop. Here again he could tilt his face just a little to the side and kiss the soft skin of her cheek, but he scolds himself for even thinking about it in the first place, because he may or may not really want to, and she's in no frame of mind to deal with that situation. But he does know that she's always so pretty and believes in him so much and makes him smile when she smiles at him and makes everything in his world just work the way it's supposed to.
"We'll figure it out together," he whispers, and her lower lip wobbles. "You and me, Rach. Just like always."
Rachel wakes up a few hours later to the first streaks of daylight, the trampoline beneath them and Finn's arm tucked securely around her. She presses her tear-stained cheek deeper into his chest, and tries with all her might to not let her heartbeat accelerate at the sound of his.
"Where are you taking Rachel on your date?"
"It's not a date, mom." He pulls a handful of forks from the soapy water in the sink and hands them to her. "It's been twelve years; you know she and I hang out all the time."
"My apologies." The smile in his mom's nonchalant voice irritates him even more because she won't look up from her drying towel.
"We're just doing our usual thing."
"Takeout and a movie?"
"Yeah." They've both decided a bad movie night—a particular, favorite tradition of theirs—is the best thing for them the night before graduation.
"Just make sure her dads aren't home. You know how they have a shotgun…"
"I should've never even mentioned that I thought she looked nice at prom."
"If I remember correctly," his mom mumbles, "you thought she looked stunning."
He sends a tidal wave of dishwater onto her face for good measure.
Halfway through Nicholas Cage getting burned alive because of some stupid honey, Rachel announces that this movie is shit and if they watch another minute of it she'll have to stab her own eyes out, so they turn off the DVD and walk to the park instead.
"If that movie scares you, I don't know anything that won't scare you. You're gonna have to toughen up a bit if you're gonna take on NYADA, Miss Berry." She smiles at him then, her eyes as wide and bright and pretty as ever. He nudges her and grins, murmuring, "I told you everything would find a way of working out."
Her face softens and flushes again when he brushes her hand with his. "Yeah, you did tell me that," she murmurs, turning her eyes up to the early-June night sky overhead. After a moment she lazily, effortlessly loops her arm around his hips as his winds around her shoulders. She laughs softly.
"What is it?" he asks. His feet crunch along the edge of the parking lot by the old play ground until he comes to a stop with her.
"Nothing," she whispers, but then nods toward the swing set. For a moment, she stops imagining the sea of red caps and gowns awaiting them the next day, and she can just see her and him, barely acquainted but maybe already aware of something more—something special—barreling across the playground together. "Race you?"
He nods with a grin and takes off, grabbing her wrist.
"This is supposed to be a race," she yells and laughs. He pulls her closer to him as they come to a stop, and she leans against the side of the jungle gym, catching her breath and trying in vain to ignore his fingers lacing through hers.
He watches her head fall back against the wall of the swing set, her eyes closing as she smiles demurely. His eyes trace her lips, her cute nose, her impossibly long eyelashes, and then her eyes, deep like the sea, when they flutter open and meet his hesitantly.
She is beautiful. It's as simple as that.
"Rach…" he trails off, his brow furrowing in thought as he inches closer to her, because suddenly, as he takes her other hand in his, everything is so astoundingly clear.
She licks her lips and a fiery blush spreads from the tips of her ears down to her lovely, slender shoulders.
"You know you can kiss me if you want to," she tells him, her words a rush of nervous breath she hadn't realized she's been holding. He can't help but smile, because this shyness and this uncertainty are so very much like her, the Rachel that she will only ever let him see—vulnerable and precious and wonderful.
He breathes in reply, "I want to," bends down, and touches his lips softly to hers. It feels like every nerve is electrified, like his body is flying apart and piecing itself together all at once. Her tiny hands clasp the back of his neck, pulling him closer with a gentleness that overwhelms him. Her warmth, her timidity through all of it—it's her, Rachel, Rach.
Her knees wobble slightly, and she scolds herself while his mouth moves against hers in his tender, Finn-like way, because she shouldn't be this nervous when his hands hold her this way. But it's a good nervous, a breathtaking nervous; and the familiar pattern of calluses brushing over her shoulders is soothing, certain. He is the safest place she has ever known.
His blood surges with a wave of emotions, and he wonders whether or not they're really as foreign to him as they seem. (He thinks they may have been there all along.)
He holds her shuddering frame tightly to his chest, their rhythmic movements slowing and then stopping altogether as she collapses onto his chest, the sheen of sweat on her forehead mixing with his when she kisses him deeply, softly, so very like the kisses they've shared since that night on the playground—so different from the kisses they shared not five minutes ago, during the accumulation of clothes at the foot of the bed.
"Finn," she breathes into his neck as her head drifts back below the clouds. Her silky hair fans out across her back and over his shoulders, and he runs his hands through it, still wanting to feel every inch of her, always.
They're still trying to get the hang of it, still getting used to each other's bodies; and it's thrilling and terrifying and beautiful all at once to realize that, even after knowing each other for fifteen years, they can somehow have so much ground left to cover. Now, after their third time being together like this, after she finally reaches her climax for the first time, there's a feeling of newness, wholeness. Finn—her dear, sweet Finn—presses light kisses on her shoulders, each one so simple and tenderly familiar that tears prick at her eyes.
"I love you," he murmurs into her cheek before capturing her lips with his, cradling her face in his hands.
"I love you too," she whispers. "I never…" she trails off, tries again. "I didn't…" Her breathing is staggered, her voice thick. His arms tighten gently around her. "Before we—I mean, before us…I didn't know it could be like this, Finn."
He kisses her deeply because, until her, neither did he.
"You ready?" Kurt asks, helping Finn adjust his bowtie for the twentieth time before motioning to the door of the dressing room. "You've got a whole crowd of witnesses waiting out there; I think it's best if we get the show on the road."
"I'm ready," Finn breathes. "Where are the rings?"
"Blaine is with Bradley. He has them." Kurt smirks kindly and raises one eyebrow. "You're brave, Finn Hudson. Then again, so is Rachel if she's willing to marry you."
Finn punches his stepbrother's shoulder.
"But," Kurt sighs and grins as they exit the room, "I'm pretty sure no one else could put up with either of you. So, this is all pretty fortunate, wouldn't you say?"
For an instant, Finn is six years old and racing across the playground after a long dark braid.
Yes, he thinks. Fortunate indeed.
They sit on their blanket beneath the stars, in the middle of the rooftop patio of their tiny, cozy Manhattan apartment building. Her tiny body fits perfectly between his legs, crossed Indian-style.
"What do you think?" She hands him the fuzzy black-and-white photo and then imagines the mantel on the wall of their living room, seeing the two Tony awards sitting there in all their glory, envisioning the picture framed and sitting between them. She twists her wedding band pensively around her finger. "Do you think it'll clash too much with the furniture?"
"I think," He murmurs and chuckles, kissing her neck and rubbing the just-barely-raised area between her hips, "that it'll be perfect, Rach." She smiles one of those glowing smiles that make his breath catch in his throat, and he places a long, slow, gentle kiss on her grinning lips. She leans into his touch, craving the closeness, the naturalness.
"It's kind of amazing," he breathes, resting his chin over her shoulder and holding the photo up again, both of them unable to tear their eyes away from the tiny feet and hands visible through the static. "Like…that's us, Rach."
She smiles a watery smile. "It's beautiful," she agrees, taking his free hand in hers.
"Are you nervous?" he asks quietly.
She takes a moment before leaning further against his chest, letting her head fall into the crook of his neck and answering honestly, "Yes. And no." She pauses. "We'll just have to figure it out together," she says with a twinkle in her eye.
He kisses her forehead, murmuring into her skin, "You and me, Rach."
"Just like always."
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