thanks so much for the overwhelming response to this story! i really hope you enjoy this final installment as well :)
dedicated as always to my awesome bff mary gael
i would've married you in vegas (had you give me the chance to say i do)
((part three of three))
It's impossibly hotter when they stop at Lake Mead just outside of Las Vegas. Quinn insists that she can't have packed her bathing suit for nothing, so she kicks everyone out of the car as she changes into it. Finn just stands next to a trashcan a little farther off, hands in his pockets, and Rachel joins him.
"Going to swim?"
He shrugs. "It's hot enough to. I just don't know if I really wanna, I guess."
"Well, I'm swimming," Rachel declares.
"Really?" Finn asks with a raised eyebrow. "You really think that lake is sanitary?"
"I'm living life in the now, Finn, don't you know?" she teases. She winks at him before walking back towards the car, since Quinn appears to have changed into her swimsuit successfully. She sees him visibly swallow, his Adam's apple bobbing, before she slides into the backseat to change.
When she emerges five minutes later, her bikini on instead of her jean shorts and tank top, she's greeted by the sight of a shirtless Finn gaping at her, jaw practically hitting the ground. Noah punches his shoulder to snap him out of it.
"You act like you've never seen a half naked girl before, Hud," he says, eyes glinting.
Finn just glares at him in response.
Noah seems to take the hint and heads after Quinn, who's already halfway to the water.
"I… Rach, I just…" Finn swallows again. "Wow."
She blushes, glancing down at her pink bikini covered in gold stars. "Well, c'mon, are we swimming or not?" she says, and she reaches down to lace her fingers with his as she drags him toward the water.
All of the bad feelings between the four of them seem to melt away as they splash around in the lake, and Rachel hasn't seen Finn smile like this since Arizona, so big it practically blinds her and she nearly has to look away.
He grabs her around the middle then, and she can't help the laugh that escapes from her throat as he throws her over his shoulder.
"Finn!" she manages to get out through her giggles. "What are you doing?"
He doesn't answer, just carries her further into the water.
"Finn!" she whines.
She cranes her head to see him smirking, and then he dumps her into the water with a resounding splash.
She comes up sputtering, but she's laughing as well, smacking his arm. "I can't believe you did that, Finn Hudson!"
He just smirks at her.
Noah mimes vomiting behind him, and Rachel shoots him a glare. He just winks, looping an arm around Quinn's waist. Quinn shoves him, but he pulls her more tightly to him, pressing a sloppy kiss against her cheek.
"Gross!" she exclaims, but Rachel notes she's giggling.
She glances back over at Finn to see him watching Quinn and Noah as well. He swallows, but then he glances back over at Rachel, giving her a small smile.
She smiles back, placing at hand on his bicep, his muscle smooth beneath her skin. She gently squeezes.
"You're a great girl, Rachel Berry, you know that?" he asks, his eyes twinkling in the bright Nevada sun.
She just gives him a coy little smile, the water undulating around them.
They stop about half an hour after they've cleaned all the sand off from the beach, just outside Hoover Dam. They're almost in Arizona once again, but this time they'll be heading up through Utah and Colorado on their way back home.
"This is amazing!" Noah says, flinging an arm around Quinn's shoulder as they head to one edge of the dam. He leans against the concrete wall, shielding his eyes from the sun with one hand. "Someone should take a fucking picture, because this is some badass shit."
Quinn rolls her eyes, but she raises her camera to her eye anyway, stepping back so she can take a picture of Noah, who is now posing by the wall, hand under his chin in what is presumably a thinking position.
"First time for everything," Finn remarks dryly. Noah glares at him right as the camera snaps.
"Good one," Quinn laughs, and Noah pouts until she sighs, raising the camera back up to her eye to take another one.
Finn grabs Rachel's hand, guiding her to the edge of the dam. He just grins at her, leaning against the cement, his fingers still laced with hers. "This is kind of amazing," he notes.
Rachel just sighs, leaning out over the water, her elbows pushing against the hot surface of the wall. She's too high up to feel the spray of the water, but she can see it as it rushes past.
"Rach," Finn murmurs, and she squints up at him in the sunlight. He's looking at her, not the water. "I just… I need to do something, I think."
Subconsciously, her tongue darts out to wet her lips. His gaze doesn't leave hers, his hand still squeezing hers tightly in his own. She anticipates what he's going to do, so she whispers, "You know, you can kiss me if you want to."
He smiles, the corner of his mouth turning up. "I want to," he breathes, and then he leans down, pressing his lips gently against hers.
Her eyes flutter shut and she takes in the feel of him: the firmness of his bicep beneath her fingers, the way his lips shape perfectly to hers, the way his hand settles on her waist, his fingers splayed across her side. She feels the butterflies flutter in her stomach, and she wants to stay in this moment, halfway between Arizona and Nevada, her thoughts filled with nothing but Finn, forever.
He pulls away, resting his forehead against hers. "Sorry," he murmurs.
"No," she mumbles back, "don't apologize," and then she's standing on her tiptoes to press her lips back against his, her hands moving to grip his shoulders.
There's a series of loud coughs then, and Rachel breaks apart from Finn to glare at Noah. He's smirking, but she doesn't find it amusing.
"Can I help you?" she asks pointedly.
"Yeah, you can stop sucking face with Hudson."
"A little hypocritical, don't you think?" Finn asks, his hold tightening on Rachel's waist. She leans further into his side. "At least I don't make out with my friend's girlfriends."
Noah's mouth hardens into a line. "Dude, I – I'm sorry, okay?"
"So you'd take it all back?" Finn asks.
Quinn glances between the two of them, her eyes wide.
"Well," Noah answers slowly, "I mean, not really. I care about Quinn, dude. Like, I'm sorry you got hurt in the process, but…" He shrugs. "I love her. And, like, no offense, but I think I love her more than you ever did."
Finn stares for a second, pursing his lips, then he sticks out his hand. "Then I think we should call a truce."
Noah eyes his hand warily.
"Look, you love Quinn, she obviously has feelings for you, I care about Rachel, she cares about me. That's everything of importance, isn't it?"
"Then let's shake on it, and we can stop this petty fighting about things we don't even really care about."
Noah obliges, taking Finn's hand in his own and giving it a firm shake. "So, we're cool?" he clarifies.
"For the most part," Finn concedes. "I mean, I'm not gonna be singin' your praises any time soon, but… we're still friends."
"Cool," Noah says, and that seems to be the end of that.
Rachel shares an amused glance with Quinn (because she thinks Finn's little speech has somehow made it okay between them as well) before glancing back up at Finn. "That was very big of you, Finn," she murmurs.
"I just wanted him off my back so I could continue doing this," he grins before leaning down to press his lips back against hers.
Her hand is on his knee as he drives, rubbing small circles against the fabric of his jeans. They're just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, and Quinn and Noah are asleep in the back, Quinn's head on Noah's shoulder, his head on top of hers.
It's sweet, Rachel thinks. Maybe this trip made everything work out after all.
"How many days until we get home?" she asks Finn quietly, squeezing his knee.
"Four, maybe five," he answers.
She nods, licking her lips. She doesn't know why, but the thought of going home makes her anxious. Maybe she's afraid everything will change, that once they're home, things will go back to the way they were, not the way they've come to be.
That thought terrifies her. She's come so far in a matter of a week, and she can't possibly go back to the way things were.
"We'll be okay, won't we?" she murmurs. "When we go back?"
"'Course, Rach," Finn says easily, and he links his fingers with hers. "We'll be just fine."
She bites her bottom lip, and in a moment of weakness, she aks, her voice small, "You promise?"
Finn glances over at her. His thumb skirts along the back of her hand. "Promise," he murmurs. He lifts her hand to his lips and kisses it. "We're not gonna go back. We're just gonna go forward."
"Together?" she asks.
He smiles. "Together."
She squeezes his fingers within her own, leaning over to press a kiss against his cheek. She believes him, and she knows that everything will be okay.
The mountain roads are winding and the incline is terrible. Rachel's grateful that Quinn is the one driving and not her. She's on edge just being in the backseat.
Finn seems to sense this, slipping an arm around her, dropping a kiss on the top of her head.
She gives him a grateful smile, snuggling into his side. His fingers move slowly against her arm, brushing over her skin lightly. She feels his lips press against her hair once more, and she sighs, moving her head so it's resting on his chest.
"How much longer do we have in the mountains?" she murmurs.
"A long time, baby," he whispers. "Sleep if you want, okay?"
She nods, and her eyes flutter shut. She almost misses the word that falls so easily from his lips – baby – but she doesn't; she just lets it soak in as her eyes fall shut, listening to the steady pounding of his heart beneath her ear. She feels his fingers brush against her shoulder, the car moving steadily beneath her, hears the light static of the fading radio.
Then she succumbs to sleep, hoping that when she wakes up, she'll be somewhere even more beautiful, although anywhere's bound to be beautiful as long as she's with Finn.
They make another stop to do some sightseeing the next day at Devil's Tower in Wyoming. Finn keeps going on about how awesome it is that this place was in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and when Rachel laughs and says she's never seen the film before, his eyes go wide.
"You have to see it, Rach," he insists, gripping her hand tightly in his as they step toward the large, stone structure. "It's one of Spielberg's first and, in my opinion, finest."
"Alright," Rachel laughs, "we'll have to watch it when we get home."
He smiles, raising her hand to his mouth, brushing his lips lightly against her skin.
The sun is setting and they'll have to find a hotel soon, but the Tower is quite a sight to behold. The stone sides are lined and jagged, the surface a rusty red, and it's certainly like nothing Rachel's ever seen before. The sun illuminates it as it sinks into the sky, making it even redder.
The shutter sounds as Quinn clicks the button on her camera.
"I can't believe this trip is almost over," she murmurs, glancing over at Finn and Rachel. Noah slings an arm easily around her shoulder, running a hand through his now-somewhat-unruly Mohawk. "I mean, we had our drama, but it's been pretty good overall, wouldn't you say?"
"You bet," Noah declares, placing a sloppy kiss on Quinn's temple.
"Yeah, I agree," Finn murmurs, and Rachel's stomach turns over as he looks down at her, her hand still in his own, his eyes warm.
She's overwhelmed with love for him in that moment, and love for Quinn and even Noah, but the love she feels for Finn is a different kind of love. It's a love she feels from the tips of her toes to the top of her head, a love that fills her heart and makes her want to sing.
And the way he's looking at her now makes her think he might just feel that way about her, too.
She's too scared to say it though, so she just smiles up at him, standing on her tiptoes to press a chaste kiss against his cheek.
They stand and watch the sunset for a few more moments until Finn sighs. "We really should find a place to stay for the night."
Quinn and Noah murmur in agreement, and Rachel lets Finn lead her to the car. He helps her into the passenger seat before going around and opening the driver's side door, clambering in himself. He starts the car, pulling back onto the dusty road that leads back to the interstate. Rachel puts her hand on his knee, and he smiles over at her.
She just smiles back.
Noah pulls into a McDonald's just a few minutes away from Mount Rushmore for lunch. Rachel rolls her eyes at his choice, and Finn heatedly reminds him that Rachel's a vegetarian, but Rachel just places a comforting hand on his arm, telling him she'll be okay.
"They have salads, after all," she says, but still he looks conflicted. "Finn," she adds, "it's fine. I'll be fine."
And it is fine. Noah and Finn get burgers, Quinn gets a chicken sandwich, and Rachel has her salad. They eat pretty quickly (compared to the other meals they've had on the road), and soon enough, they're headed toward Mount Rushmore, their last major stop before they head back home.
The landmark is already crawling with people, and the parking is atrocious, but eventually they manage to find a space. Finn grabs Rachel's hand as they start up the path leading to the giant stone structure, and she smiles up at him, her heart pounding out a familiar rhythm in her chest. With each beat, she seems to love him more.
They walk a little slower, letting Quinn and Noah get ahead of them. The sun beats down on them, but they walk in and out of patches of shade, so it's not too bad. They make their way up to the viewing point for the first face (George Washington), stopping to lean against the wooden railing.
"I think I can see up his nostril," Finn says, and Rachel laughs. They're completely in the sun now, and Rachel can feel the heat through the cotton of her t-shirt, feels a bead of sweat trickle down her neck.
"It's amazing, though," she comments, ignoring the heat and looking up at the monument instead, "how they created this from a giant rock. The details of the faces, the dedication it must've taken…" She lets out a sigh. "It's just incredible."
"It kind of reminds me of you," Finn admits.
Rachel looks up at him, scrunching her nose in confusion. "How so?" she asks.
"You're just – you're dedicated, too. I mean, you're going to New York in the fall, and you're going to be on Broadway, but it's not just something you decided randomly one day, you know? You've been working at it, striving for it, your entire life. And it shows. I mean, you're so talented, Rach."
She feels herself blush, but he's not done.
"And this is like a work of art, right?"
"Yeah, exactly," he says, waving his hand out in front of him, gesturing to the monument. "And – and you're like this work of art, too. I mean, you're just – you're special, and intricate, and you have all these little details that you don't notice at first, but when you do, it makes you that much more beautiful. And it's just – each time I find a new one, it just makes me fall in love with you that much more."
Her breath catches in her throat. He's still staring up at the monument, not seeming to notice that he just professed his love for her for the first time. Her eyes fill with tears, and her heart pounds against her ribcage. "You're in love with me?" she manages to say softly.
He glances down at her, frowning slightly. "I – yeah, Rach. I've kind of – kind of always been. Ever since we were kids. I mean, you're my best friend, but you're so much more than that. I was just always too blind to see it, but I see it now, see you standing in front of me like this big, gold star, guiding me through life, and how can I not be in love with you?"
A noise escapes her throat – half a laugh, half a sob – and she flings herself at him, wrapping her arms around his neck, pressing a kiss against the hollow beneath his ear. He catches her, arms wrapping around her, and he turns his head so he can capture her mouth with his own. He loves her. A tear streaks down her cheek, but she doesn't bother to wipe it away.
She melts into the kiss, her legs going weak, his tongue easily sliding into her mouth. It's the first time they've kissed since the Hoover Dam, and she knows that she could go her entire life getting kisses from only Finn. She clasps his shoulders with her hands, and his hold tightens around her waist.
She breaks away when air becomes a necessity, but she smiles as he keeps his forehead pressed against hers.
"Hi," he says quietly.
She laughs. "Hi," she replies.
"So does that mean you love me, too?" he asks, eyes twinkling.
"It means you're an idiot if you think otherwise," she replies teasingly, pressing a kiss against his neck. He just squeezes her side, and she says the words anyway. "Of course I love you, Finn. I've loved you since we were five years old, since before I knew what love was." His eyes soften, and she adds, "It's always been you."
He kisses her again then, and she smiles as he does, her fingers knotting in his hair.
"This trip has been perfect," she whispers against his smile as she pulls away. "Who would've thought that by the end of this, we would end up together?"
"I'd always kind of hoped," Finn says with a smirk, his fingers hooking around her elbow, and Rachel just laughs, looping an arm around his waist as they walk further up the path, arms around each other.
She feels light, happy, carefree. She wonders if the people they pass can sense her happiness, can sense how in love she is. She feels like it's radiating off her skin, emanating from her heart and resonating in the air.
She thinks that this is what it feels like to be completely, perfectly happy. She thinks she could get used to this.
The last hotel they stay in ends up being in Illinois. They have more than enough money left, so they decide to get two rooms. This time, instead of splitting into boys and girls, Noah and Quinn share one room while Finn and Rachel share the other.
"You're welcome, Hud," Noah says with a roguish wink before following Quinn into their room.
Rachel's stomach flips. She knows the implications of staying alone in a room with her boyfriend (because that's what Finn is now, isn't it?), and she thinks she's ready for that next step, the consummation of their relationship. She doesn't know where Finn stands, but he's a teenage boy, so she's pretty sure he'll be on board.
(He does want her in that way, doesn't he? She certainly wants him.)
They're alone in the room, both sitting on the edge of the bed, but Finn's looking at his hands instead of her face.
Finn says that they don't have to do anything that Rachel doesn't want to do, that he doesn't want to pressure her into anything, and, really, he's so sweet that it just makes her want to have sex with him even more.
"Finn," she says gently, taking her hands in her own. He looks up at her, swallowing thickly, his Adam's apple bobbing in his throat. "I want to, I promise. I want you, all of you."
He cups her cheek and kisses her then, and that seems to be all he needed to hear.
He's gentle and perfect, and his feather light touch makes her breath catch and her body writhe in all the right ways. He kisses her soundly when he pushes into her, murmuring that he loves her, that she's perfect, waiting until she's absolutely ready before he sets the rhythm. His name is on her tongue as she comes, and afterwards, when she curls into him, she whispers that she loves him so much into his skin.
"I love you, too, baby girl," he murmurs sleepily against her hair, his fingers lightly dancing over her the soft skin of her arm.
She falls asleep listening to the steady sound of his breathing, the thrumming of his heart, and she feels at home, even though she's miles away. She figures it's because her home isn't a place at all – it's Finn.
They do say home is where the heart is, after all.
They get back home on a Tuesday in the early afternoon, and it's weird, knowing that she won't see Finn every day. She's the first one dropped off, and she hugs Noah and Quinn goodbye after she gets out of the car. She turns to Finn then, wrapping her arms around his midsection and placing her head on his chest. He kisses the top of her head as he hugs her.
"I'll see you later, okay?" he promises, and she nods. "We'll go see a movie or something. Have a real first date."
She just smiles, letting him kiss her. She squeezes his hand before she heads up her driveway, and it's familiar yet surreal at the same time. She's home, but it's changed. Or maybe she's changed. Maybe this trip changed her after all.
Her dads ask her all about her trip out west, and she tells them everything (save for her hotel rendezvous with Finn). She doesn't skirt over the drama with Quinn and Noah and Finn, tells them about Finn's standoffishness in California, about the admittance in Las Vegas and their first kiss at Hoover Dam.
Her dads are great listeners, and she can tell they're happy to see her happy. "So, you and Finn…?" her daddy asks, his gaze knowing.
She bites her lip. "He loves me, Daddy," she tells him, "and I've never been happier."
"Well, we'll have to have the boy over for dinner this week!" her dad declares, and she knows that means they approve.
She tells Finn this when they go to that movie later, and he pales a little bit when she mentions dinner.
"They already know you, Finn, and you know them," she points out, stealing some of his popcorn. "You'll be fine. They already love you as much as I do." He waggles his eyebrows, and she laughs, adding, "Not like that."
"I'd hope not," he murmurs, and then he kisses her. He tastes like salt and butter and yet there's something indescribably Finn about it all.
"We have a whole summer of this," she muses, and he nods.
"Nothing but love, love, love," he grins.
She can't help but agree.
She's anxious about what the end of summer will bring, about what it'll mean for her and Finn. He doesn't seem nearly as worried, and she knows she should take comfort in that, but she just can't.
She's unclear on where Finn's future is taking him, and he's always incredibly vague when she brings it up. She doesn't know if it's because he simply doesn't want her to know, or if it's because he doesn't know himself.
"Finn, we need to talk about this," she says one day at the beginning of August. "I'm going to New York in a matter of weeks, and I have no idea what you're doing, or what that means for us, and I'm so scared, Finn, because I love you so much, and—"
"Hey, hey, breathe," he says gently, massaging her shoulders until her heart rate goes back down and she's breathing normally again.
"Please, Finn," she whispers. "Please talk to me."
He sighs, looking down for a moment. She has a brief flash of complete irrationality – he's joining the army, he's moving to California, he's breaking up with her – but then he looks at her, and he's giving her a small, sincere smile, and all of her worries seemingly fade to the background.
"I was going to keep it a surprise, but I should've known that you'd manage to get it out of me," he says, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear.
She furrows her brow. She still has no idea what he's talking about.
"I got into Pace," he says then, and she looks at him with wide eyes.
"Pace," she says slowly, almost as if she's trying out the word.
"Pace, as in Pace University in New York City?"
He grins, nodding again.
She lets it sink in for a moment. "You're – you're coming to New York?"
"If that's okay with you."
She launches herself at him, her arms wrapping around his neck as she plasters kisses to wherever she can reach: his neck, his chin, his cheeks, his nose, and finally, his mouth. He reciprocates eagerly, his fingers grabbing her elbows, laughing when she pulls away, still breathless.
"Oh, Finn, of course it's okay! How long have you known?"
"Since March," he admits. "But I was with Quinn then, and I knew she'd encourage me to stay here in Ohio, and I did get into OSU, but…" He shrugs. "Pace is where I wanna be. And you'll be in New York, too, so that's just icing on the already awesome cake."
"You're sure you're not just going to New York for me?" she asks, rubbing the skin of his arm with her thumb. "Because I don't want us to end up resenting each other, Finn, I don't—"
"Rach," he says firmly, cutting her off. He slides one hand up to her face, runs his fingers over the apple of her cheek. "I'm sure. I applied before this – you and me – was even happening. Yeah, I'm totally stoked you're going to be there, but that's not the only reason I'm going."
"Okay," she whispers, covering his hand with her own. She leans forward and presses her lips against his, her hand sliding lower until she's grasping the hem of his t-shirt. He moves his ministrations to her neck, and she sighs, tilting her head back.
She slides her hand up under his t-shirt until it's resting directly over his heart. She can feel it beating beneath her fingertips.
"It's yours," he breathes against her skin. "Always has been, always will be."
She smiles. "Mine, too," she promises, her fingers curling into the cotton material. "Forever yours."
She's briefly reminded of them singing "Faithfully" in the car in Texas, and she bites back a giggle as his hand cups her breast over her bra. They've come so far in such a short amount of time, and now they're going to embark on their future.
They've been in New York for about a month, and Rachel can't imagine a more perfect life. She and Finn share a small, shoebox apartment that's about equidistant between NYADA and Pace. They both picked up part time jobs to scrape by (him as a busboy, her working in a small music store down the street), and she has a lovely boy to come home to each night. She loves her classes, has already been cast in a few school productions. She's content, and better yet, she's happy.
It's the life she never dreamed she'd have because she thought it was out of her reach, yet here she is, in New York with the boy she's always loved.
She knows that going on the road trip to California was the best decision she's made, because it helped her be sure of who she was and where she was going, and it brought her and Finn together.
Sometimes he teases her about how she wanted to elope with him in Las Vegas, and she reminds him that he didn't say no.
"One day," he tells her, "I'm going to take you up on that offer."
"Okay," she says, but she laughs.
"I mean it, Rachel Berry," he vows. "I would've married you then, you know."
"I would've married you, too," she whispers back, pressing a kiss to the corner of his mouth. "There was something magical about that place."
"It was where I realized how I felt about you," he reminds her gently, and she smiles.
"Do you ever wish things would've happened differently?" she asks.
"No," he says, and he doesn't miss a beat, "I wouldn't change a thing."
"Me neither," she says. "I mean, all of it lead to here, this moment, and there's no place else I'd rather be."
i'll probably be posting an epilogue at some point, but this story will now be listed as complete! thank you so much for reviewing, favoriting, alerting, and any other way you've shown this story support and love :) you're all amazing, thank you!