this was written over the course of four days for the second week (AU) of finchel month! it's also for the prompt 'sun kissed' on finchel prompts :)

dedicated to the lovely miss mary gael as always, who's always incredibly encouraging :)

title from 'ho hey' by the lumineers


you belong with me, my sweetheart

i.

Puck only has that smile on his face when he's up to something, so Finn is instantly wary when he comes in to the shop with a wide grin on his face.

"Wipe off all the grease, Hud, because we're going to California," he grins, leaning on the desk in the front of the tire shop.

Finn just raises his eyebrows, picking up a spare rag and running it over his face. He had been fixing a carburetor in the back, so he knows he probably has grease all over. Thankfully, running the shop usually fell to Burt, his stepdad, so he didn't have to worry about what he looked like dealing with customers. "Since when?" he asks his best friend.

Puck's smile widens. "Since Uncle Hiram and Uncle Leroy entrusted their beach house to me, that's when."

Finn raises his eyebrows. "Really? They trust you with their house?"

"'Course," Puck says with a roll of his eyes, picking up a wrench and seemingly inspecting it closely. "They know I'm responsible."

Finn snorts then, earning a glare from Puck.

"And you want me to come with you?" Finn clarifies.

"Duh," Puck says. "I need my wingman to help me score all the hot Californian babes!"

It's Finn's turn to roll his eyes. "And when would we be leaving?"

"Two days, give or take, and we'd be gone for two weeks. You can get time off from here, can't you? One of the perks of working for your stepdad?"

Finn sighs, knowing that if he doesn't ask for the time off, Puck will just do it for him. He really has no interest in chasing after girls in California (he hasn't really dated since his last girlfriend, Santana, turned out to actually be a lesbian, which is a long, painful story he doesn't really like to get into), but he knows that Puck will coerce him into going anyway. Since Finn goes to school in New York (while Puck chose not to go to school at all), he's always guilt-tripping him by saying they don't spend enough time together when they're supposed to be best friends.

"Yeah, sure, I'll ask Burt," he says, recognizing defeat.

"Fantastic!" Puck grins wickedly. He drops the wrench, coming over to clap Finn on the back. "We're gonna be the kings of Cali, dude."

Finn gives him a small smile, but inside, he's kind of filled with a sense of dread. Somehow, he doesn't see this being as fun for him as it will be for Puck.

Puck goes to leave then, but once he gets to the door, he turns back. "Oh, I almost forgot, there is one little catch."

Finn sighs. He should've known. "What's that?"

"We have to take my little cousin Rachel with us."


ii.

When Puck said "little cousin Rachel," Finn figured he was talking about a twelve or thirteen year old girl, not a girl about to be a freshman in college who's also really, really pretty, but not in like, conventional way. Her long, dark hair cascades down her back in waves, and her brown eyes are wide and bright, except for when they're narrowed at Puck (or Noah, as she insists on calling him by his given name, much to Puck's chagrin). Her nose is a little large, he supposes, but it looks perfect on her.

She insists that she meet Finn before she agrees to let him come with them, and he agrees because he figures it's a reasonable request. Puck however, does not.

"I still don't see why we had to do this," he's grumbling, looking through the Neil Diamond albums at the music store where Rachel works. She's currently on break, and she's glaring at Puck, which Finn has quickly learned seems to be something she does often. "'S not like Finn's a serial killer."

"Well, knowing you, it doesn't hurt to be safe," Rachel snaps.

Finn laughs a little bit, but quickly tries to disguise it as a cough as Puck shoots a glare his way. Rachel walks over to where he's standing, leafing through a bunch of old Journey albums.

"Classic rock fan?" she asks.

He nods. "Yeah, I grew up with it, I guess."

She purses her lips. "I'm more of a Broadway girl myself, but I like a good rendition of 'Don't Stop Believin'' just as much as the next girl."

Finn laughs, and Rachel gives him a small smile. He takes that to mean he passes the test.

"So is he good, or do you have any other tests you need to conduct?" Puck deadpans.

Rachel wheels around to send him another glare. "Can someone take your place on this trip, Noah? Because Finn's in, but I'm not sure if you are."

"Good thing I'm family, then, which means you don't have a choice," he says smugly, grabbing Finn's arm. "Let's go, Hud. I'll pick you up tomorrow, Rach, about nine?"

"Our flight is at ten!" she says in dismay. "We have to be at the airport by at least five, maybe five-thirty!"

"In the morning?" Pucks asks incredulously.

"Yes!" Rachel insists exasperatedly.

"Fine, we'll be there at four-thirty then," he grumbles, ushering Finn out of the shop.

"Don't be late!" Rachel shrilly reminds them.

Puck gives her the finger as they leave, and Finn can hear her gasp of indignation as the door closes behind them.


iii.

Sure enough, he's in the front seat of Puck's SUV in front of Rachel's (well Rachel's dads') house the next morning, his eyelids half-closed.

He jumps as Puck lays on the horn, and then Rachel's coming outside, clad in pajama pants and a t-shirt, pulling a little pink suitcase behind her.

"Is that all you're taking with you?" Puck asks skeptically as she puts it in the vehicle.

She shakes her head. "I have three more, so which of you gentlemen would like to assist me?"

Puck groans, but Finn gets out of the car good-naturedly, yawning and rubbing his eyes. He follows Rachel just inside the house, picking up two of the three remaining suitcases. She grabs the third one, then she beams up at him.

"Thank you for your assistance, Finn," she tells him, following him outside. "It's incredibly chivalrous of you to do this for me."

"No problem, Rach," he says, and he's not even sure what chivalrous means, but he decides not to tell her that. It seems to be a good thing.

He helps her load her suitcases into the car before opening the back door so she can climb in herself. She gives him another blinding smile, and he knows it's way too early (both in the literal and figurative sense) for this, but his stomach flips. He gives her a hesitant smile in return, getting back into the passenger seat.

He nudges Puck, who appears to be dozing against the steering wheel. He jerks awake, wiping away the thin line of drool protruding from his mouth.

Finn glances back to see Rachel rolling her eyes.

"Let's go, Noah," she says tersely. "You can nap on the plane."

Puck just scowls at her before putting the car into drive.


iv.

Their plane is delayed, which makes Puck even angrier than he already was that Rachel wanted to get there at five in the morning.

"You can never be too safe about these kinds of things!" Rachel insists, but Noah just glares, spreading out across four chairs in the lobby area nearest their terminal, pulling a hat over his eyes and declaring that he's going to sleep, since someone prevented him from doing so this morning.

Rachel mutters something about him being a big baby before digging around in her purse. (Well, at least Finn thinks it's her purse. It's really large, but it has like her phone and wallet in it, so he's gonna assume it's her purse.) Finally, she seems to find what she's looking for, brandishing a small, paperback book.

She thumbs through it before she finds a page to stop on, and her brow crinkles slightly as she reads.

Finn knows he could get his iPad out or something to occupy his time, but he finds himself watching her as she reads instead. He can't make out the title from where he's sitting, but he figures it must be pretty good. Her lips are parted as she reads, her nose slightly crinkled, her brown eyes moving back and forth as she follows the words.

She seems to notice him staring after awhile, and she looks up, giving him a puzzled smile.

He reddens slightly at being caught, but he clears his throat, asking, "What're you – what're you reading?"

"An unauthorized Barbra Streisand biography," she says, the corner of her mouth turning up. "I've read almost all of them, I think, authorized or not. I'm sort of a Barbra junkie."

Finn just nods and raises an eyebrow, because he honestly doesn't know how else to react. He settles on, "Oh, um, cool," and she just nods before going back to her book.

He sighs, actually digging into his carryon to find his iPad. He kind of wants to just watch her, just focus on the beautiful serene expression on her face, but he knows he really shouldn't. He doesn't want to be labeled as "Noah's creepy best friend, Finn." Besides, it would just be sad if she catches him staring again.


v.

They finally board the plane at around noon, Puck still managing to find plenty to complain about, but then he sees the "smokin' hot" stewardesses welcoming them onto the plane and promptly shuts up about the "poor service" they've been rendered thus far. Once they pass, he calls the aisle seat, and then Rachel calls window, so Finn's stuck in between the two of them in a seat that's much too close to the seat in front of it for his long legs.

Puck immediately tries to flirt with one of the stewardesses, laying on what he likes to call "The Puckerman Charm" quite thick, and Finn decides he's going to try to sleep, leaning back as much as he's permitted and closing his eyes.

He must drift off at some point, because when he wakes up, he's being gently nudged by Rachel, who's asking him if he wants anything from the snack cart. He blinks over at her blearily, making out only the white of her teeth and the softness of her lips, forming words. Finn. His name looks really nice coming out of her mouth, he decides.

"What?" he manages to get out.

She giggles, and it's a really beautiful sound. "Do you want anything from the snack cart?" she asks again.

He glances over to the aisle way, where a stewardess is standing with a cart, smiling eagerly at him, and he shakes his head, saying, "Oh, um, maybe later."

"You can get me some sugar, though," Puck says cheekily, sending the stewardess a wink. She just rolls her eyes before continuing onward.

Puck turns to glare at Rachel, who's doing a poor job of stifling a giggle. "I'm gonna go take a piss," he says hotly, clearly not amused with her laughing at his failure, and then he gets up.

"There's a movie on, if you want to watch," Rachel tells Finn, gesturing to the headphones on his seat.

"Are you gonna watch with me?" he asks, giving her a smile.

She gives him a small, apologetic smile in return, holding up her book.

"Oh, right." He awkwardly clears his throat.

Puck comes back then, immediately launching into a description of the girl he passed on his way back from the bathroom, and Finn gives a little sigh.

He turns to look back over at Rachel, wondering what she could possibly think of this, but she's ignoring them both, engrossed in her book.

"But her rack, bro…" Puck gives an appreciative whistle, and Finn really wishes he could just go back to sleep. Not that he doesn't like girls, because he does, he just doesn't like the graphic way Puck describes them, almost like they're things, not people. Like maybe he wants to get to know a girl before he has sex with her, you know?

Puck, obviously, does not share the same sentiment, as he's moved on to what he thinks her ass must be like, since she was sitting down, and Finn sighs, jamming the headphones onto his head and starting the movie.

If this is any indication, this trip is going to be one of the longest of his life.


vi.

They rent a car at the airport, and as they make their way to the Berry's beach house, Finn comes to a conclusion: California is beautiful. It's definitely different from Ohio, and he thinks it'll be a welcome change.

The beach house is in Santa Monica, and Finn navigates the Los Angeles freeway system without too much trouble. Rachel's up front (after a very vocal protest from Puck) because she's the only one who knows where they're going. It's thankfully not too long of a ride.

It's just a little before four when he pulls into the driveway. Rachel insists on having the room she's had every time she's come here, and Noah calls the suite usually taken by his uncles, which leaves Finn with the smallest room, but it's fine by him. The room's not even that small anyway; it's certainly bigger than his room back home. Finn's exhausted and thinks he might just take a nap (he's kind of messed up because of the time difference, because they left Ohio at noon but somehow landed in California at a little after two, which is just weird seeing as they were on the plane for almost five hours).

He throws his suitcase into the corner of the room before flopping down on the bed with no intentions of unpacking any time soon. He feels like he's just shut his eyes in preparation to cure his exhaustion when he hears his door squeak open.

He opens one eye to see Rachel, blushing furiously. "I – I'm sorry if I'm disturbing you—"

He waves her off, sitting up with a little sigh. "'S fine," he tells her.

"I was just, um… I was just wondering if you wanted to go see the sunset?"

He crinkles his brow in confusion, glancing at the clock next to his bedside table. It reads 7:30. He guesses he must have fallen asleep after all.

"Finn?" Rachel tries. "I can go myself, it's fine…"

"No, no, I'll go," he assures her, and he sits up with a little groan. "Just a little jetlagged, that's all."

She gives him a small smile. "I'll just wait out in the living room, okay?"


vii.

The sunset is beautiful, the rays of light reflecting off of the water as the sun sinks into the horizon. He rests his forearms on the railing of the back porch, tearing his gaze away momentarily to glance over at Rachel. Her hair is blowing gently in the salty breeze, her eyes seemingly darker in the contrasting light of the setting sun.

Finn's about to say something – anything – to her when the sliding glass door leading to the back porch bangs open.

"There you are," Puck says, coming over and throwing an arm around Finn's shoulders. "You ready to hit the town tonight, Hud?"

Finn just raises an eyebrow. "I don't know, dude, I'm pretty beat…"

Puck rolls his eyes. "Whatever, don't be a pussy. I need my wingman, Finn."

Finn hears Rachel sigh as well as the sound her light footsteps as she heads inside, closing the door softly behind her. Finn really just wants to follow her, but Puck's still trying to convince him to go out.

"It's our first night here—"

"Exactly," Finn cuts him off. "It's our first night. We're here for two weeks. And I'm tired, dude. We were on a plane for almost five hours, and then I drove here, and I really don't want to go out tonight, okay? No matter how horny you are."

Puck surveys him carefully for a moment, then lowers his arm. "Okay," he allows, "but we're heading to the beach tomorrow, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. And tomorrow, we're both gonna get laid."

Finn just rolls his eyes.


viii.

Puck's flirting with a woman who's more than likely twice his age in the shallow water, practically leering at her from behind his sunglasses. Finn can't say he's really surprised, knowing Puck to have chased a few cougars back in Lima. Puck usually just goes for anything with boobs, so he stopped being surprised a long time ago.

Rachel, apparently, has too. She's reading another book as she lies on her stomach, the sun soaking into the bare skin of her back. Finn's kind of mesmerized, actually, because her skin's like naturally this olive tone, and it looks really smooth. He has to stop himself from reaching out and running his finger down her spine, because if he does that, he'll probably creep her out, and secondly, he might just cream his swim trunks, which would be rather embarrassing.

Puck comes back, apparently either turned down by or just bored with the cougar, plopping down next to Finn. Some sand flies in Rachel's direction, and she glares at her cousin over the top of her sunglasses. Puck ignores her.

"Dude, there's a whole bunch of sorority sisters down the beach," he tells Finn in a low voice. Finn sees Rachel frown out of the corner of his eye, but she doesn't do anything else. She just turns a page in her book. He can't even be sure she heard anything at all. "I saw a couple of leggy blondes that have your name written all over them."

Finn rolls his eyes behind his sunglasses. He really doesn't want to do anything but relax, doesn't really care to go attempt to score some random hookup. "I'm gonna pass."

Puck stares at him incredulously. "But… blonde sorority girls."

Finn shrugs.

"God, Hudson, if I knew you were gonna be such a buzz kill I would've invited Evans instead." When Finn doesn't react to this, he continues, his voice barely louder than a whisper, "Look, I know things ended kind of badly with Santana because you caught her in bed with one of her cheerleader friends. Yeah, that sucks that she's actually a lesbian. But you've got to get over it eventually, bro, and now could be the perfect time!"

Finn glances over at Rachel. He really hopes she didn't hear any of that. She doesn't show any sign that she did.

"I'm gonna stay here with Rachel," he says decisively, "but you go have fun bagging those sorority girls."

Puck shrugs, dusting sand off his ass as he gets up. "More for me then, I guess," he allows, and he starts to walk off. Finn sighs, leaning back in the sun.

"Not going to accompany Noah to help entertain those poor blondes?" Rachel comments, flipping another page of her book. She's not looking at him, but he smiles.

"Nah," he says easily, "I prefer brunettes."

He can see her blush even through his sunglasses, hastily flipping another page of her novel.


ix.

Over the next few days, Puck keeps trying to get Finn to go hit on girls with him, but Finn always manages to find something else to do. On Thursday, he goes grocery shopping with Rachel as a cover.

"So do you really care about what I stock the house with or are you actively just avoiding Noah?" Rachel asks, picking up an orange and inspecting it closely.

Finn sighs. "I'm not avoiding Puck, I just… I don't really wanna do what he wants to do, I guess."

"Is it because of that girl Puck was talking about? The lesbian?"

"Wh – no!" Finn sputter, embarrassed that she did hear that after all.

Rachel sets down the piece of fruit, looking at him carefully. "Then why did you come?" she asks.

"It's… complicated."

Rachel just crosses her arms, pursing her lips. "Try me."

"Okay, well, I guess… I felt guilty, because he's still stuck in Ohio while I'm in New York going to school, and, I mean… He's my best friend. And I, like, hardly ever see him. I've been in New York for two years now, going on three, and I feel bad that I'm actually going to school and I know what I wanna do with my life. And he asked me to come here with him, and I agreed because, like I said, I see him maybe every few months, but he's still Puck, and all he wants is to – to chase after girls, and that's fine, but…" Finn takes in a deep breath. "I'm not him. We're two different people. And… maybe I'm growing up, or whatever, and he's not, I don't know."

Rachel just nods, her expression pensive. "Noah is quite immature," she tells him knowingly. "I know he's your best friend, but maybe you're right, and you're just different." She shrugs. "You came with him, and that's good, and hopefully he'll appreciate that and stop pressuring you into doing something you're clearly not comfortable with."

Finn gapes at her. "Have you met Puck?"

She laughs, the sound kind of angelic. "Well, I guess that's true." She turns back to the oranges, brushing her hair behind her ear.

"Why didn't you bring a friend along, Rach?" he asks, genuinely curious. "I mean, I really doubt you wanted to spend two weeks with just Puck and me for company."

"Oh, well, I…" Rachel looks flustered, and she's blushing. "I just… I don't have many friends, I guess." Her eyes are cast downward, at the produce display. "Actually, I only have one friend, Blaine."

Finn furrows his brow. "Oh, is Blaine, um, your boyfriend, or…?"

Rachel shakes her head. "No, Blaine's gay."

"Oh, that's cool. My stepbrother Kurt's gay."

Rachel just kind of nods before continuing on. "Yeah, Blaine's my only friend because a lot of people find me intimidating because I know what I want and I'm not afraid to go after it. Like my dreams. I've wanted to be on Broadway since I was a fetus, practically, so I'm going to the New York Academy of Dramatic Arts in the fall. And since I'm moving there, it won't really matter that I never had friends, because now I'll be surrounded by people just as dedicated as I am."

"Well, you'll have at least one friend when you get to New York," Finn tells her. "Me."

Rachel blushes again. "You'd consider us friends?"

"Sure, Rach," he says easily, "wouldn't you?"

She smiles. "Yeah, I guess I would."

"Well, good," Finn says decisively. "So, musical theater, huh?"

Rachel nods. "What're you studying? You go to NYU, right?"

He nods. "Education."

"That's really great," she tells him earnestly. "I bet you'll make a great teacher, Finn."

"I can only hope you're right," he says with a laugh. He pauses, then he says, "Hey, I know you're a vegetarian, but we can still get hamburgers, right? Like, for me and Puck? It's not against some moral code?"

She laughs. "Finn, I'm not going to keep you from consuming meat."

He pretends to let out a sigh of relief. "Good. I was worried there!"

She just laughs again, shaking her head, walking over to a display of strawberries. He feels bad that Rachel doesn't have that many friends, because she's awesome, and he figures all those other people were just idiots to not be able to see that.


x.

Puck has apparently had little to no luck in his plan of bagging as many girls as possible, so he stays in the next night, sulking on the couch as he flips aimlessly through the channels. Rachel's already turned in for the evening, so it's just Finn and Puck.

"Not going on the prowl tonight?" Finn asks, his tone teasing.

Puck just shoots him a glare. "Not that you would notice or care, seeing as you've been making goo goo eyes at my cousin the whole time we've been here," (Finn blushes, because he has not been 'making goo goo eyes at Rachel), "but the Puckzilla hasn't been doin' too hot, probably because his wingman has been MIA, all because of one girl that happened to like chicks—"

"That's not why I haven't been trying to score chicks with you," Finn tells him heatedly. "Seriously, Santana doesn't even have anything to do with it, alright?"

"Then what is it?" Puck fires back.

"Maybe there's more to a girl than her boobs or her hair or her ass, you know? Maybe I don't want to just hump and dump. Maybe I want the next relationship I have with a girl to be that – a relationship. And I'm not saying that you should want that, too, because you do what you want and I respect that," Finn adds hastily, "but dude, please stop trying to make me feel bad about wanting something real for the first time in my life. Like, show me some respect in return. Because you're my best friend, okay? And it's okay if we don't want the same things. You're still my best friend."

Puck just looks at him for a second, then he slugs him in the shoulder. "You're still my best friend, too, Hud. And I promise I'll stop pressuring you, okay?"

Finn laughs. "Good."

"It's pretty clear you have the hots for my cousin anyway."

Finn feels a blush settle in his cheeks, and he awkwardly rubs the back of his neck. "I – I don't—"

"You so do!" Puck yells triumphantly, jumping up from the sofa and pointing an accusing finger in Finn's direction.

"Shut up," Finn hisses, but it's too late; he can hear the creak that means Rachel's door is opening.

"What's going on out here?" she asks, crossing her arms, glaring thankfully not at him, but at Puck.

Puck shoots him a knowing look, and he opens his mouth, presumably to embarrass Finn, so Finn cuts him off with, "He was just really excited about something on the television."

Rachel turns to look at the tv, and Puck happened to stop on a rerun of Boy Meets World amidst his channel surfing.

"Cory and Topanga just got back together," Finn supplies.

Rachel just raises an eyebrow. "Okay…"

"We'll be quieter, I promise," he tells her, and she gives him a small smile.

"Thanks, Finn."

"Hey, what about me?!" Puck protests.

Rachel just rolls her eyes. "Good night, Noah."

Once she's gone, Puck turns to smirk at Finn. "Dude, you are so into my cousin, it's kind of disgusting."

"Just… please, I am begging you as your best friend, please don't tell Rachel."

Puck sighs. "It takes all the fun out of it, but… fine. I promise."

Finn sighs in relief, and he tells himself it's just a crush he has on Rachel anyway. She's pretty and nice and he's just attracted to her, that's all.

"But I have to warn you," Puck tells him, muting the television, "if you break her heart, I'm kind of in a position where I have to break your face."

Finn laughs nervously, but Puck just continues to look solemn.

Finn convinces himself he'll be okay. It's not like he's in love with Rachel Berry.


xi.

Puck doesn't even ask if he wants to go out the next night; he just disappears, leaving Finn and Rachel both wondering where he could've gotten off to.

Finn sends him a text, and it's a while before he replies.

"What did he say?" Rachel demands when she hears Finn's phone go off.

Finn laughs as he scans the message.

"What?"

"He said not to wait for him, because he might be going home with a girl tonight."

Rachel scoffs, rolling her eyes. "Typical Noah."

"Well, since it's just me and you," Finn says, trying to control the increased beating of his heart, "what do you wanna do?"

Rachel gives him a shy smile. "Finn, have you ever seen Funny Girl?"


xii.

He ends up watching three Barbra Streisand musicals back to back to back, and they actually aren't too bad. Well, he supposes "watches" is a loose term, because he pays more attention to Rachel than he does to the movies. She hums along to all of the songs, laughs at all the funny parts even though she's surely seen them a thousand times, and even lets a few tears slide down her cheeks.

They start with Funny Girl, then move on to Hello, Dolly! and finally wrap things up with Yentl. The last one's kind of boring and a bit over his head, but by the end of it, Rachel's practically in his lap, her hand gripping his and her head on his shoulder. The credits are rolling and he thinks she's just still really into it until he hears her labored breathing and realizes that she's fallen asleep.

Her eyes are closed, her eyelashes fluttering slightly. Her lips are parted, and she's just so beautiful.

He squeezes her hand, but she doesn't move, so he presses a kiss to the top of her head. She stirs slightly but doesn't wake.

He knows he should probably wake her up, but she just looks so peaceful, he can't. So he whispers, "Good night, Rach," instead, pressing his cheek against the top of her head before allowing himself to succumb to sleep as well.


xiii.

He wakes up when Puck slams the door as he comes back in. Rachel groans, stretching her arms, squinting in the sunlight streaming in through the window.

"Well, well, well, what have we here?" Puck asks with a smirk, crossing his arms as he stands in front of them.

Rachel's eyes widen. "Oh no, we didn't—"

"We were watching musicals and then we fell asleep—" Finn breaks in.

"Sure, whatever story you're stickin' to," Puck says with a wide smile. "Even if you two didn't get any last night, I certainly did, so I couldn't give a fuck about the two of you and what you did or didn't do last night, no offense."

Rachel snorts. "None taken."

Puck's still smiling as he heads into the kitchen, whistling as he goes, and Rachel looks over at Finn sheepishly.

"I can't believe Noah thought that we…"

Finn laughs awkwardly. "Yeah, that would be – that would be crazy."

Rachel smiles, but it doesn't quite reach her eyes. "Yeah," she echoes, "crazy. I'm gonna go shower, okay?"

He nods, watching her head down the hallway, and he tries not to get his hopes up that maybe, just maybe, she feels the same way about him as he does about her.

The couch shifts as Puck plops down beside him. "Dude," he tells him, looking at him imploringly, "you are so whipped already."

Finn throws a pillow at him in response.


xiv.

They've been in California for five days when it rains, liquid seemingly pouring from the sky, cascading down in buckets. It pounds on the roof, the sound seemingly deafening at the beach house. Puck calls to let them know that he's stuck at Melody's place – whoever Melody is – and that he won't be home that evening.

Rachel sighs when Finn tells her the news, and to his surprise, she adds, "I bet you wish you were with him, huh?"

"Um, no," Finn says slowly. "You know that what Puck's up to isn't exactly my scene. I told you that, remember?"

"Well, maybe it should be," Rachel says carefully.

Finn just stares at her. "Rachel, what—"

"Why are you here, Finn?" she asks bluntly. "I mean, guys like you don't go for girls like me, yet you keep looking at me like – like you want me."

He swallows, licks his lips, then admits, "I do want you, Rachel."

Her eyes go wide. "You don't mean that," she says.

He furrows his brow. "Yes, I do—"

"You can't mean that," she breaks in, and then she begins to pace back and forth. "You're nice, but you're confused. The California air is clearly messing with your brain! We don't have anything in common, Finn. You were probably the quarterback in high school, and I was the drama nerd. You're supposed to be out there chasing blonde bimbos with Puck, not babysitting your best friend's cousin." She takes a deep breath, turning to look at him again. "So why are you here with me?"

Finn's heart practically beats out of his chest – because does she really think that any of that matters, that he considers any of that to be remotely true? – but he doesn't answer her. He just crosses the distance between them and takes her face between his hands, surveying her for a moment before he leans down and presses his mouth against hers.

Her lips move hesitantly against his for a moment, and he feels like he's on fire, but in the best way possible. A slow burn is building in his stomach and spreading to every part of his body when he feels her hands pressing against his chest. He pulls away, but he keeps his forehead pressed against hers.

"Wh – what?" she asks, her eyes wide and probing. "I don't understand…"

"I really, really care about you, Rachel," he murmurs. "Yeah, we haven't known each other that long, and you're Puck's cousin, but you know what? I don't care. I don't care about anything except for the fact that I really like spending time with you."

"You – you do?" Rachel squeaks out.

Finn smiles at her, brushing her bangs out of her eyes. "Yeah, Rach, I do. You're smart and funny and enthusiastic and – and like super pretty."

Rachel blushes. "But we – we're so different."

"Opposites attract," he tells her easily, and he kisses her again, letting the feeling of it – of her – wash over him. "Besides," he murmurs against her lips, "you can't tell me that you don't feel something between us, Rach." The pad of his thumb brushes over her cheek.

"Finn, I…" She bites her lip, then she stands up on her tiptoes to brush her lips gently against his, her small hands covering his, resting on either side of her face. She caresses the back of his hand lightly. "I'm – I'm not like other girls."

"I know," he says, "but I'm not interested in other girls. I'm interested in you."

She grins, a bright, blinding smile, and then she leans up to kiss him again, this time her kiss more forceful, and he takes the opportunity to hesitantly slide his tongue into her mouth. Her hand moves to grip the back of his neck, deepening the kiss, and the only thought he can formulate is that Rachel tastes awesome. And he definitely really likes kissing her. Like it might be his new favorite thing.

She sighs into his mouth, letting out this little moan, and he might lose it right there if he doesn't get himself under control, so he pulls back. They're both breathing heavily, and her eyes are bright.

"Wow," she whispers.

Finn smiles, pressing a kiss to the tip of her nose.

"We can't tell Noah about this," Rachel says decisively.

Finn kisses her again. "Okay," he agrees.

She pulls back to eye him suspiciously. "Really?" she asks, her tone incredulous. "You're okay with that?"

He shrugs. "I don't wanna press my luck by letting him know I made out with his little cousin, so…"

"Hey!" she protests. "I'm not little! I'm an eighteen year old woman, Finn."

He laughs. "Oh, baby, I know." He presses a kiss to the blush on her cheek, and she squeals when he sits down on the couch, pulling her down with him. "But let's not think about Puck right now, okay?"

"Okay," she agrees, and then she firmly reattaches her mouth back to his, her fingers tangling in the hairs at the nape of his neck.


xv.

He doesn't really know how to classify exactly what he and Rachel are doing, but he definitely likes it. It's strangely exciting, sneaking around with her: stealing kisses in the kitchen before Puck wakes up, discretely holding hands under the table when the three of them go out for dinner, sharing secret looks when they're in the living room watching television.

Rachel even sneaks into his room a few nights later, his eyes flying open when he feels the bed dip slightly as she slides in beside him.

"I didn't mean to scare you," she whispers as she curls her body into his. He lifts his arms so she can fit comfortably, wrapping one around her and pressing a kiss to her forehead.

"'S okay," he whispers back in reply.

She hums in contentment, her hand lazily running up and down his bare chest.

"Finn?" she asks quietly.

"Hmm?"

"What… what are we, exactly?"

Finn frowns. "What do you mean?"

"I mean… we kiss, and – and it's lovely, and you say that you have feelings for me but I'm just confused as to where exactly we stand."

Finn furrows his brow, and he runs his fingers comfortingly up and down her arm. "Are you asking if you're my girlfriend?" he asks finally.

He can see Rachel's blush even in the dim lighting of his room as she nods.

"If – if you wanna be, I'd really… It'd kind of be the best thing ever," he finishes somewhat lamely.

Rachel, however, seems to find it anything but lame, judging by the little squeal she lets out, leaning up and pressing her lips soundly against his. "I'd love that, Finn, you have no idea," she breathes, and then he grins against the curve of her mouth as he kisses her again.

They kiss for a little while longer, and yeah, his hands totally dip under her t-shirt at one point, but eventually she drifts off to sleep, her breathing labored and even. Finn wraps an arm around her waist, pressing another kiss to the top of her head before going to sleep himself.


xvi.

When he wakes up the next morning, his bed feels emptier. He realizes that Rachel must have left to return to her own room so Puck won't become suspicious, and he sighs. He knows it's the best idea, but he also really hates having to sneak around. It was exciting at first, but now, he just kind of wants to kiss her whenever he wants. Especially now that she's, like, officially his to kiss.

Maybe Puck wouldn't be so mad after all if he found out, as long as both Rachel and Finn were happy. Finn really does just want what's best for Rachel, wants her to be happy, and maybe Puck can appreciate that that's Finn.

He seemed supportive enough when he found out that Finn liked Rachel, and Finn just has to hope that he'll be just as supportive when he realizes those feelings have led to something very real between his best friend and his cousin.

He runs into Rachel herself outside of the bathroom, and she gives him a bright, white smile.

"Good morning," she says, looking around before she leans up on her tiptoes to kiss him lightly.

"Mmm, morning," he replies, and his fingers hook around her elbow.

She grins, and he's about to lean down and kiss her again when he hears footsteps in the living room, and they sound like they're headed toward them. He and Rachel spring apart just before Puck enters the hallway, and Finn does his best not to look guilty.

"Are we having a pow wow or something?" Puck deadpans. "And if so, why wasn't I invited?"

Rachel just rolls her eyes, crossing her arms over her chest. "I was actually just, um, heading to my room to get ready for the day," she murmurs, and then she brushes past Finn into her quarters.

Puck just stares at Finn for a moment, and he feels like he might throw up, because it's pretty obvious Puck's not completely oblivious to what's been going on.

"Hey, Hud," he says, and Finn gulps, "do you think I can talk to you for a second?"


xvii.

They've been in the kitchen for five minutes and Puck still hasn't said anything; he's just gone about with breakfast, putting some bacon in the frying pan.

Finn doesn't want to start the conversation; his heart's already pounding too loudly in his chest for him to form coherent thoughts and sentences.

Luckily, he doesn't have to wait too long before Puck turns around, his face still expressionless, and says, "So, you and my cousin, huh?"

Finn feels his face grow hot. "You know I – I like her or whatever, but—"

"Dude, clearly I just walked in on some intimate moment or whatever so cut the bullshit and just come clean."

Finn still can't tell what Puck's really thinking, but he figures he should probably tell the truth. They're still best friends, after all. "Rachel and I have been – well, together, I guess you could say – for a few days now. Since the rainstorm."

Puck just stares.

"Look, I know you're probably not that excited about this, now that it's actually happening, but you have to know that – that I really do care about Rachel, like a lot. Like I might actually be falling in love with her already, even though it's, like, entirely too soon and – and completely unexpected, but—" He pauses as Puck begins to smile, and then Puck's laughing, and Finn is utterly confused. "What?"

"You thought I was going to kill you, didn't you?" Puck asks between bouts of laughter.

Finn crinkles his brow in confusion. "You're not – you're not pissed?"

Puck shakes his head. "If I were pissed, I would've punched you when I found out you were interested in her. You make each other happy; that much is obvious. Who am I to stand in the way of that?"

Finn lets out a sigh of relief as Puck claps him on the back. "Cool. Wait, how long have you known?"

Puck smirks. "Since the moment it started, practically. I caught Rachel in your bed this morning, dude; I just went back to my room and pretended to be asleep. But besides that, you two were terrible at secret keeping. I literally knew the moment I came back into the house four days ago that you two had finally sucked it up and admitted that you wanted to bone."

Finn feels himself blush again, and he says, "Oh, we haven't—"

"Rachel was in your bed," Puck says with a raised eyebrow. "How dumb do you think I am, Hud? I mean, it's about time you got some, even if it's my cousin—"

"Dude, we seriously didn't have sex!" Finn insists, raising his hands defensively. "We just slept together, literally slept together."

Puck eyes him curiously. "Seriously?"

"Yes," Finn says exasperatedly.

Puck looks impressed. "You must really like her then."

"I do," Finn tells him.

"What's for breakfast?"

They both turn to see Rachel coming into the kitchen, and Finn can see the outline of her bathing suit underneath the thin material of her cover-up. He swallows thickly.

"Bacon," Puck says in response to her question.

Rachel wrinkles her nose. "And what am I supposed to eat, Noah?"

"Oh, right," he says, "I forgot you don't eat meat unless it's Hudson's."

Rachel's eyes go wide, and she turns to Finn.

"He knows," Finn tells her.

"Wh – how?" Rachel sputters.

Puck laughs. "Like I told my boy, Finn, here, you're not exactly subtle about it. Plus I saw you in his bed this morning, all curled up and domestic looking and shit."

Rachel blushes, glancing back over at Finn, but he only shrugs.

"I'm cool with it, in case your wondering," Puck tells her almost offhandedly, and then Rachel bites her lip almost shyly, before crossing the small space to press a kiss against Finn's cheek, opting to sit in his lap rather than the empty seat next to him. "Okay, okay, not that cool with it," Puck says hastily. "I mean, I'm fine knowing about it, but I don't want to see it."

Rachel laughs, resting her head against Finn's. He can feel the vibration of her laugh throughout his body. "Sorry, Noah, but it's all or nothing. You don't get to pick and choose."

Puck scoffs. "Well, then, I take back my blessing."

"Your blessing," Rachel snorts. She turns and kisses Finn on the mouth. "Too late," she murmurs when she pulls away. She grins, turning back to Puck. "It's nonrefundable."

Finn just laughs, his fingers squeezing her hip, and he kisses her again, ignoring the groans Puck makes in the background.


xviii.

They go to the beach on their second to last day in California, and, once again, Puck is off hitting on girls, so that just leaves Finn and Rachel.

Finn can tell Rachel feels slightly uncomfortable in her bikini at first – especially compared to the busty blonde Puck's flirting with down the beach – but Finn just kisses her sweetly and tells her that she looks hot.

Rachel blushes, says, "You really think so?" and Finn nods.

She seems less self-conscious after that.

Finn talks her into wading out in the shallow water, her hand intertwined in his own. She squeals at first when the water touches her feet, claiming that it's cold, so he just smirks and sweeps her up off her feet and into his arms instead.

"Finn!" she protests, but she wraps her arms around his neck anyway, so he knows she really likes it.

He gradually gets into deeper water, up to his waist, and then Rachel's eyes widen as he continues walking. She squeals again when the water finally reaches her legs, her thighs, and she glares at Finn.

"Don't you dare," she warns him.

He just smiles, loosening her hold on his neck.

"Finn, no—"

He dumps her into the water.

She comes up sputtering, glaring through her damp curtain of hair, and then she tries to tackle him. He goes along with it, letting her dunk him a bit before he retaliates, dunking her under instead.

They go on like this for a while, just playing in the water, until she finally just wraps her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist, content to just float out in the ocean. Finn grins, because she just looks so content, and he's never felt this happy before. He feels like his heart is about to burst because he just feels so much for her, and somehow, he knows that this is it – this is the right moment. It may seem soon, but it's not; like them, somehow it's just right.

"I love you," he tells her, smoothing back a piece of her damp hair.

A smile spreads across her face, soft and slow. "I love you, too," she says softly back, her fingers playing with the hair on the nape of his neck. "Already so much."

He just smiles even wider and kisses her, and she tastes like salt water but still very much like Rachel, her lips soft and sweet underneath his own.

A large wave rolls in then, and Rachel shrieks as it thoroughly soaks them both.

"Ready to head back?" Finn asks, and Rachel only nods, still clinging to him.

He laughs, pressing a kiss against the damp skin of her forehead before turning to take them back to shore.


xix.

She sneaks into his room again that night, like she has every night since the first time, but this time, it's different. Her kisses are more urgent, her hands swifter, more sure as they slide under his shirt, pushing the fabric up, bunching it between her fingers.

His eyes fly open as he realizes what's happening – what this means – and he gently catches her wrist.

"Rachel," he murmurs, "are you sure about this?"

She nods, licking her lips. "I'm – I'm sure."

"Because we don't have to do this if you don't want to—"

She cuts him off by pressing her lips to his. "Finn, I want this. I want you, all of you." Her eyelashes flutter, and she whispers, "Don't you want all of me?"

"God, Rach, of course I do," he murmurs, and then she smiles, sliding her hands back under his shirt.

It all escalates pretty quickly from there: clothes are shed, hands roam, lips press against seemingly endless expanses of skin. He's pretty sure this is Rachel's first time, and he does his best to make it special for her. He tries to convey the love he feels for her in every touch, every kiss, every caress, and he tries to show her just how beautiful she is.

When he does finally slide into her, he tries to go slowly, kissing away the few tears that slide down her cheeks. He tells her he can stop if it's hurting her too much, but she just shakes her head, grabbing his hand and lacing his fingers with her own. She kisses him, then she tells him to keep going. So he does.

Once he settles into a slow, steady rhythm, she seems to relax, seems to enjoy it, and she even tells him harder, faster, so he obliges, kissing any expanse of her skin he can reach as he does. He kisses her nose, her neck, her collar bone, her breast, and finally her mouth.

He can feel himself getting close, but he wants her to be close as well, so he drops his hand between them, seeking her sensitive bundle of nerves, and she gasps into his mouth when he presses against it. It doesn't take much longer for her to fall off the edge, and he follows soon after.

Afterwards, she curls into his side. He runs his fingers softly down her bare back, and she smiles up at him in the dim light of the room.

"I love you," she tells him softly, "and that was perfect."

He just smiles, kissing the top of her head and whispering that he loves her, too. The sound of her steady breathing is the last thing he hears before he finally falls asleep.


xx.

The plane ride back to Ohio isn't nearly as uncomfortable as the first one. Puck actually manages to score the number of one of the flight attendants, and Rachel falls asleep with her head on Finn's shoulder for a few hours, so he figures it's a successful trip.

He and Rachel have already talked a little bit about New York in the fall, and since there's only one building of dorms on the small NYADA campus, she's decided that she'll talk to her daddies about possibly getting an apartment with Finn (or, rather, move into the one he already has) in order to save money.

"They'll agree," she tells him knowingly. "They never deny me anything."

He just laughs and says he sure hopes she's right.

"She is," Puck says, still looking at the stewardess' phone number.

Rachel's smile is practically blinding as she kisses Finn on the cheek.

As they're walking back through the Columbus airport, Rachel's arm linked through Finn's, he thinks that he's more excited about the future than he has been in a long time. He never thought he'd say this, but Puck was right after all: California was exactly what he needed, if not in the way Puck had thought.


thanks so much for reading, and i really hope you enjoyed it! :)