A/N - What can I say. This one grabbed a hold of me and wouldn't let go. It's only been percolating since the end of 7 Steps, after all. Hope everyone enjoys this extremely long one-shot.
Disclaimer - Don't own Glee, make no money off of this, RIB are masters of this universe. You know, the usual.
YEAR - 2016
Finn cracked open a sleepy eye, looking up at the iPhone nestled into the stereo docking charge on his bedside table. The screen indicated he had a new text message. He wondered idly if he should read it or leave it until later. The clock registered eight in the morning, and normally that would be reason enough for him to ignore it and continue his slumber. This time, however, something pulled his eyes over to the phone. Something about this text message seemed to suggest he should open it sooner rather than later.
He sighed at the urging in his mind to look at this and picked his phone up quickly, turning it in his hands and opening the appropriate app. Instantly the message appeared on his screen. He rubbed his eyes a final time to remove any leftover sleep before reading the text.
Finn smiled a bit. He'd signed up for these notices from NYADA three years ago when Rachel had started attending and despite their breakup months later he'd never cancelled the text subscription. Most of them were unread and deleted, which he figured was probably easier than unsubscribing. For some reason though he decided to open this new message.
NYADA is pleased to announce their Senior's production of Oklahoma!, starring Lee West as' Curly Maclain' and Rachel Berry as 'Laurey Williams', will be opening on Friday, April 1st at the NYADA Grand Auditorium. Friends, family and alumni are encouraged to attend for minimal charge by showing this email...
She'd done it. Rachel had won the lead in her school's senior production. Finn couldn't help but give a silent, lopsided smile as a salute, even as he felt that familiar tightening in his chest whenever her name flashed across his eyes. The pain had lessened since that fateful day three and a half years ago when she'd ended things with him, but upon reflection, he knew it was best for her. She was a star meant to shine brightly in a universe full of stars. Her dreams and ambitions were far too great to keep her chained to small towns like Lima, Ohio. She deserved a partner like Brody or someone similar who could match her for talent and ambition.
Swallowing his laments, he punched in a message to send to Kurt in New York, who no doubt would see his ex sometime in the next week.
[ Tell Rach congrats 4 me on getting the lead. ]
He sighed, threw the phone on the nightstand and stretched his arms above his head, figuring he'd better get his day started. He and some classmates had an assignment on progressive rock music they needed to finish and it involved a demonstration and presentation for later in the week. Finn quickly pulled on his bathrobe and shuffled over to the common area bathroom in his dorm unit, hoping that his melancholy at seeing her name again wouldn't affect the project. Just as he reached the bathroom door, a knock at the entrance alerted him to someone's presence. He sighed and opened the door, still dressed only in his bathrobe.
In front of him stood an average height young woman with light brown hair, blue eyes and an impish grin. Her eyes went wide at seeing him only in his bathrobe, and she smiled more genuinely. "Hi Finn. I...uh...is Stacey around?"
Liselle. She was Stacey's best friend, Stacey being one of 3 other students (besides himself) who shared their dorm unit. Finn smiled a bit himself, happy for the distraction of the lean, attractive woman in front of him. Back in September Stacey had introduced him to her bestie Liselle at their housewarming party.
"Hi." He greeted her warmly that night as he served some drinks to the guests.
"Hi, yourself." Liselle returned, her direct look and lick of her lips unmistakable to him. Stacey had turned towards her boyfriend leaving Finn and Liselle alone for a moment. "So, you live here too?"
Finn motioned with his head. "Stacey's roommate. I'm the token senior in this dorm unit."
"Hmm." Liselle nodded, sipping her beer but keeping an eye on him. "What do you study?"
"Music. My focus is on percussion, at least for the performing classes." He smirked at her with a lopsided smile. "Seems to have worked for me so far."
"Wow, so you're good with rhythms and timing."
The way she said it caused Finn's cheeks to redden, and he took a long sip of beer to try and put out the flames below his belt line. "I've had a lot of practice." He finally said.
He had to admit, he was enjoying Liselle's very direct look, and she made him blush slightly by bringing her gaze up and down his entire body. "And where's your girlfriend?"
Finn swallowed, pushing down the pain from the memory of the breakup two years ago. It had lessened considerably, but the memory of how painful it had been remained. "Nah. Besides, school's so busy, I'm not sure I'd want the commitment."
Liselle nodded even as she smiled seductively. "Don't you get lonely sometimes, though?"
Finn returned her look with a small grin. He had a feeling he knew where this was going. "Sometimes. Why, do you?"
"Sometimes." Liselle echoed. She glanced back at Stacey, who was busy cuddled up on her boyfriend's lap, and then shrugged. "I might be lonely later tonight, actually. Think you could help me with that."
Finn almost pumped his fist in victory, but remained cool and composed. Instead, he licked his lips a bit and nodded. "Totally."
He'd never pegged himself to be the 'friends-with-benefits' type, but he and Liselle agreed that what they did between the sheets was simply for mutual relief and satisfaction. No strings attached. They weren't exclusive to each other, and there were never any hard feelings on either side regarding their arrangement, which they used at times throughout the year for both occasional companionship and stress relief.
It was an agreement which had been dormant the last two months when Liselle decided to date her classmate Jake, so Finn was surprised at the flirty look she was giving him. "Hey there yourself, Lis. I honestly didn't know you'd be here too."
"Got back late last night." She shuddered a bit. "Trouble with the ex."
"An ex of yours bothered you and Jake?"
"Jake is the ex."
"What? When did this happen?"
"Last night." Liselle said nonchalantly with a shrug. She stalked towards him seductively. "Turns out the jerk was cheating on me with a waitress five years older than him, so I dumped his sorry ass. The problem though," Liselle licked her lips as a hand tugged at the knot on his bathrobe, "is that I had certain plans with him that were shot to hell once I found out. I'd been looking forward to them all week." She arched an eyebrow at him and scraped her nails up his chest over the bathrobe. "Want to know what those were?" She paused, gauging his reaction. "Same rules as before. Promise."
It wasn't the best idea, Finn reasoned with himself, to be the rebound sex object for a girl who'd just ended a relationship. But the clench in his heart from reading about Rachel was still present, and Liselle's stare was causing a major reaction in certain areas of his anatomy. Eventually nature and hormones won out, and Finn's defences dropped. "I was about to shower. Are your plans adaptable to water?"
She grinned wickedly. "Totally."
YEAR - 2019
"Ugh! This DJ is horrible! Why did you drag me here, Kurt?"
"You just won your first professional role, Miss Thing! We have to celebraaaaaate." Kurt told her, tipsy from his Mudslide. He patted her on the cheek before smiling appreciatively at one of the waiters who walked by their spot at the bar. Rachel sighed and rolled her eyes, ignoring her best friend's flirtatious behaviour towards whom ever caught his eye. Kurt wasn't the promiscuous type behind closed doors, but he flirted outrageously with anyone he could, especially now that he and Blaine had parted ways. At least Kurt could recognize men of similar orientation more easily now.
"Would you like another drink?" Kurt asked, motioning towards a rare empty spot that appeared at the bar.
She sighed and shook her head. "No thanks. I'm just going to use the washroom, and then we're heading out. I honestly can't stand this music."
"Party-pooper!" Kurt chastised her loudly, making her think he was starting to feel the effects of the alcohol. "Learn to live a little, Rachel!"
She scoffed at his comment and proceeded through the club, using her small size to her advantage and avoiding most of the customers who were dancing, talking or (in a few cases) grinding and making out on the dance floor. Eventually she pushed past a final group of college aged men (receiving a few cat calls in the process) and made it into the hallway by the bathrooms.
These bars and clubs were all the same, and she'd already become tired and jaded of them since graduating NYADA. Ever present was the stale smell of alcohol, the constant pulsing beat of music which never varied in tempo, the disco / strobe lights flashing in all directions, and of course the multitude of bodies pressed together and dancing on the floors. At one time it seemed enchanting and adult, a far cry from the high school dances or NYADA mixers she was used to. Now, it seemed to have lost its lustre and appeal. Maybe she was just too old for these places, though that seemed unlikely to her since she was only twenty-four.
As usual, there was a line-up to use the women's washroom, so Rachel gathered her composure and stood dutifully. She sighed and tucked her hair behind her ear when one of the young girls in front of her squealed a bit, startling her.
"There, right there!" A young bleach-bottle blond woman gestured dramatically at a poster, turning her brunette companion around and forcing her to look. "That's the band I was talking about. Fast Practice. They were awesome! Just, like, a total throw back to the rock music our parents listened to. And they were all so hot. The drummer even gave me a hug and I tried to invite him over to our table, but there were too many fans around for him to hear me."
The brunette studied the poster for a moment then turned back to her friend. "My God, he is gorgeous. Why didn't you invite him home?" The two laughed and moved ahead in line, chatting happily now about the band and their brand of 'retro' rock music.
As Rachel stepped forward in line, she peered over curiously to see the poster of the band they were talking about. She'd gained an appreciation for classic rock through Glee club and wouldn't be averse to hearing what a new group could do writing songs that channelled old school sounds.
She was not prepared for the photograph on the poster.
'Fast Practice' consisted of four band members. Three of them weren't familiar to her in the slightest, each of them with long hair, beards (or both) and the typical clothing associated with bands these days. The fourth one, however, was very well known. He stood second from the left in nothing but torn jeans, a t-shirt and leather jacket. His hair was short and he sported stubble on his face. The glint in his eye showed both confidence and happiness.
It was Finn, alright. He was all grown up, out of college, doing his best to make a name for himself and his band. She smiled fondly and with regret as she let herself get lost in the photographed image, remembering with clarity how at one time those eyes gazed at her lovingly, as though she were the centre of his entire universe.
Eight years ago she'd ended things. When she'd first arrived in New York, some days the only thing that kept her going was the thought of Finn serving his country, sacrificing their married life to ensure her success and believing that, once he was able, he would join her in New York. When he revealed he hadn't followed through with his enlistment, it was the straw that broke the camel's back. He'd ambushed her on their wedding day and shipped her off to New York without him. He'd lied to her about enlisting for four months and not contacted her once. With her trust in him destroyed that night, she refused to continue their relationship and angrily told him never again.
Things with Brody had begun soon after parting ways with Finn. He'd been good to her and treated her well, but in the end it didn't last. She and Brody had grown apart once he'd graduated and was out in the real world while she still had two years left. His promising career took him overseas and the practicality of their relationship suffered due to his travels. Nearly two years to the day after she'd ended things with Finn, she'd been almost as heartbroken after a long phone call from Brody had him ending things gently, admitting he was falling for his co-writer. That night while crying, curled up on her bed, she realized she mourned not only for the two years with Brody that were now over, but also (again) for the two years in which she'd been too angry to even keep contact with one of her first true friends.
Her relationship with Brody died, but the brunt of her anger towards Finn also disappeared. In its place was simply regret. She had finally decided a week later to break her vow of silence
She was curled up on the couch, opposite from Kurt, in their small living room, de-stressing from the demanding rehearsals for Oklahoma! The TV was on though neither was really paying attention. She absently began playing with her hair and asked the question before even thinking. "How's Finn doing?"
Kurt stopped flipping through the latest published edition of Vogue and looked up at her in surprise. "Forgive me, but isn't my brother persona non grata during everyday non-emergency discussions?"
Rachel sighed and leaned her head back on the couch. "I…I'm tired of being angry, Kurt. I'm not saying I wasn't justified in my reaction four years ago but…he was my first real friend, right? It can't hurt to ask how he is, can it."
Kurt gazed at her for a long while before finally nodding his acceptance of her answer. "He's doing well. He's studying music in Cincinnati. Believe it or not, he's getting mostly A's and B+'s. He's focusing on percussion, of course. His teaching practicum just ended, but he told me he might wait on following through with teaching since he and some friends have made some good money doing the rock band thing. He has a part-time job at one of the nearby auto shops there, and as far as I know, he has no official girlfriend."
Rachel raised an eyebrow. "Official girlfriend? He has unofficial ones?"
Kurt smirked a bit. "Well, one at least. Let's just say when I last talked to him a few weeks ago I heard a happy feminine giggle and him whispering the name 'Liselle'. But he hasn't spoken of her to Dad, Carole, or me, so…" Kurt shrugged. "Boys will be boys."
Rachel turned back to the TV, wondering why knowledge of Finn's seemingly casual relationship was like a sucker punch to the stomach. Was it perhaps because she didn't have a boyfriend at the moment? She hadn't really expected Finn to never be with another woman, had she? Had she broken up with him thinking she'd punish him by having someone better to move onto while he remained alone and miserable? Hadn't high school taught her well enough that if it wasn't her, there was no shortage of women who'd love to be with him in any way, shape or form imaginable?
She huffed a breath of discontent and got up from the couch. "I'll be in my room." She said quickly to Kurt.
Kurt's gaze followed her as she walked the five paces to her door. "Am I allowed to talk about my brother now, or was this a one-time thing?"
Rachel paused at the door before glancing back over her shoulder, shrugging. "I'm not sure."
She hadn't asked any further questions about Finn after that, but didn't balk from any information Kurt had given her, either. She was surprised however that Kurt hadn't mentioned Finn's band had played a show at this club just last week. She wouldn't have objected to attending, if for no other reason than to support Kurt supporting his brother. After all, their parting had been years ago. Surely they could just be friends now, couldn't they?
Glancing at the website listed on the poster, she quickly punched it into her phone to check on the band's status. It looked like they were touring across the entire eastern coastline. Tonight had them in Richmond, Virginia.
After finally having a chance to use the washroom, she made her way back to Kurt, who was busy talking with a couple of other men. Upon seeing her he turned back around. "Long line-up?"
Rachel shoved her phone in front of Kurt's face, a photo of the poster displayed on the screen. She was quite satisfied to see him freeze in his tracks and sporting a look of dread. "I thought you said last week Thursday you had to work late."
Kurt sighed and inclined his head in acknowledgement of getting caught. "Okay, fine. I was here cheering on my step-brother. Their music is good and they're getting closer to signing with a label. So sue me for wanting to support him."
"You could have told me. I'd have come with you."
"Seriously, Rachel? You two haven't even texted each other directly let alone talked to each another." Kurt shrugged a bit. "I thought it best to let sleeping dogs lie."
Rachel sighed and looked back down at the phone, not having a good answer come to mind immediately. "He looks happy. How is he?"
Kurt smiled at her. "He'd be happier if he wasn't eating Ichiban noodles five times a week and free pub food the other nights, but overall, yes, I think he's good."
Rachel turned off her phone and dropped it back in her purse. "We really weren't meant to be, were we?" She shook her head. "So much for 'tethered'."
"You're the one that ended things for good in New York, Rachel, and moved onto Brody soon after." Kurt reminded her gently.
"And he's the one who sabotaged our wedding day and then lied about enlisting." Rachel fired back.
"I'm not defending his actions, Rachel, just pointing out your own part in things."
She huffed out another breath and fought back against the familiar feeling of being close to tears whenever talking about Finn Hudson. "I know. I just...I thought we were meant for so much more."
Kurt put an arm around her and pulled her close to her in a side hug. "You two had a wonderful, loving high school romance, Rachel. Remember the purity of those feelings and the innocence of that relationship. You never regretted being with him, and I know he never regretted being with you. But, real life happened. Most people don't stay with their high school sweetheart, you know. And maybe someday you two will be comfortable enough to just sit down and talk it all out over a nice tofu steak dinner and be friends forever afterwards."
Rachel smirked as she glanced back at him. "Finn hated tofu steak."
Kurt smiled at her. "He still does."
YEAR – 2021
The TV blared away in the background as Finn slipped on his jacket and grabbed his keys. The band plus their significant others were all packed into his tiny, one bedroom apartment, an impromptu little party that gathered upon finding out their first single off their second album debuted at number 12 on the Billboard Top Forty list, their highest debut yet. Bonus points because he actually co-wrote it. Despite providing the venue, he still somehow became the food bitch for the evening. This entailed running out for pizza, wings and a two-four. It was nice to get together with the guys and their gals for something not related to performing but really, when had he become the pushover in the group? And couldn't the girls have brought over a friend or two to help keep him warm later? The other guys were pretty much guaranteed a sure thing at the end of this night. Would it have hurt anyone if they'd brought along a few groupies?
"Ugh! Turn off that crap show!" Jim, his guitarist, waved towards the TV set. "Can't stand Upstate High."
Finn smiled and tossed the remote over to him from where it sat on the nearby table. "Find something you like. I'll be back in a few."
He turned to leave when suddenly the station changed over and Finn heard a British accent call out excitedly. "And the winner is…Rachel Berry!"
The breath all came out at once and Finn stopped dead in his tracks, staring at the screen. Was it already the Tony Awards? Tonight? Finn glanced at his watch to check the date. Yes, sure enough, it was the day Kurt mentioned the Tony's would be broadcast.
Jim changed the channel too quickly, before the camera had a chance to give Finn more than a fleeting glimpse of Rachel, and Finn quickly turned round on him. "Back up! Back up. I wanna see that."
"What?" Reed, their singer, scoffed at him and Jim glanced back in surprise. "Seriously? You wanna watch that pansy-"
"Put it back!" Finn commanded with slightly more volume. "I used to go to school with her."
Jim shrugged and hit the 'recall' button on the remote just in time for Finn to see Rachel ascend the stairs at the podium, that massive, beaming smile on her face. She looked fabulous, with her hair done up in a folded bun and a black and silver shimmery dress adorning her, hugging every curve. As she made it to the podium and was presented her Tony Award by the previous year's winner, the screen flashed up her name and category.
Best Featured Actress in a Musical
Rachel Berry – Orbiting Life
"Thank you so, so much to the American Theatre Wing and Broadway League for this prestigious award, and may I just say I'm so honoured and privileged to have been nominated with such other incredible talents as my fellow nominees." This garnered a round of applause, and Finn smirked to see her dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief she'd pulled out of her glove. "I have so many, many people to thank. First my fathers, Hiram and LeRoy, thank you for raising me and your unwavering support. Also, Devon Smith, thank you for creating and directing this wonderful musical. You're a genius. To my agent, Grace, who took a chance on me. To my designer and best friend, Kurt Hummel, thank you for always standing by me. Also to our assistant director, Simon, who became my dear friend and so much more during this play. Love you!"
The camera flashed to an image of man who looked to be about thirty or so, with blond hair and green eyes, sporting a scruffy goatee. Finn felt his breath hitch in his throat a bit. He could admit to a flash of envy coursing through him, but unlike her previous relationships during college, this time he didn't feel any anger or resentment. He knew he just wished, in that moment, he was in that person's place. Otherwise, really, what did he expect? She was far too beautiful and full of life for grown men to not take notice of her.
"Finally," She said, asking for just one moment with an upraised finger, "I want to thank a special person who made a very selfless decision almost a decade ago." She looked directly into the camera, and sniffed a bit. "I was very angry with you for a long time after what happened, but one thing you were absolutely right about was shoving me back on course and encouraging me to follow my Broadway ambitions. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for pushing me towards my dream, even at the immediate cost of your own." She touched two fingers to her lips and blew a kiss towards the camera, even as a tear rolled down her eye and the music swelled behind her to end the segment.
Finn didn't even register the wetness that had trailed down his cheek until it touched his jaw line. Sniffing quickly, he wiped it away and nodded to himself before looking back up to the group. Everyone was stunned speechless at seeing his actions, and he figured it was for good reason; he'd never cried in front of the band. Actually, he probably hadn't cried in a couple of years. But now, here he was, evidently pushing away his own tears.
Jim cleared his throat a bit. "You okay, man?"
He nodded and gave them his lopsided grin. "Of course. I'll...uh...I'll go get the pizza."
Walking outside into the warm air, Finn felt a faint smile touch his lips. He'd always doubted whether or not Rachel would ever forgive him for his actions all those years ago. Seeing her give her speech and send him a kiss in appreciation showed that she had, which helped to ease his mind.
He drove over towards the band's favourite pizza joint, his mind seemed to formulate a line or lyric that wouldn't leave him alone. He started tapping a rhythm around the perceived guitar chords in his head.
YEAR – 2023
"Morning Ms. Berry."
Rachel smiled as she approached her favourite magazine stand. It was only a couple of blocks from her apartment building and had a fantastic selection of her preferred theatre magazines. "Hi Stan. You happen to have my usuals?"
"Of course, Ms. Berry." Stan was an older, African-American man who sported an old, black beret and a white beard to match his well worn trench coat and casual clothing. He shuffled along on his limp leg and began collecting them together. "You need a copy of the fashion ones, too?"
"All except Vogue." Rachel nodded, pulling some cash out of her wallet. It was an adjustment living back with Kurt as room-mates, her relationship with Simon having come to a screeching halt just two months ago when she forced him to admit he'd cheated with a barely legal college student. Though technically she could afford her own place, she still wasn't sure what the economic fallout would be from splitting up with her live-in lover of almost two years. She and Kurt had to get used to each other's habits and idiosyncrasies again, but a good start would be buying all the competition's magazines so he could study them and strike back in next month's issue.
As Stan continued to gather the other magazines together, she let her eyes wander along the racks towards the entertainment area. Perhaps she would find a gossip magazine that she could use for some light reading. She looked through them, unimpressed with what the covers boasted, until she came across a set of cinnamon eyes which were as recognizable as her own.
She reached up, grasping the magazine quickly as though it was about to fade out of existence, and pulled it down to eye level. It really was Finn on the cover. He sat in front of a large drum-set adorned with several cymbals, leaning his hands on his knees and hunched forward. Unmistakable, though, was the lopsided smile he wore while facing the camera. Rachel felt herself smile a bit as she glanced at the magazine's title and article headline.
Fast Practice's Finn Hudson
finds his voice.
Before even thinking about it, she turned back to Stan, who by this point had already gathered together her usual reading material. "When did this get in?" Rachel asked, holding the magazine aloft.
Stan peered at it for a moment before his eyes went up towards his forehead, as though accessing a memory. "Last week, I think. You're lucky to get a copy. Normally I don't even sell out of Modern Drummer but a lot of young ladies have been buying that just because of the band he's in." He gave her a sly smile. "You a fan of their music, or just their drummer?"
Rachel offered him a wan smile even as she pulled out her cash. "He's an old...well...let's just say I went to school with him. We kind of lost contact." She paid for her items and then stood for a moment, waiting for Stan to bag the rest while she held the drumming magazine in her hand, still staring at the picture. He looked so good. A black t-shirt covered a more muscular physique than she'd remembered, and there were trace little streaks of grey through his otherwise thick brown hair. And the sheer amount of confidence he exuded, even in photographs, was remarkable difference from the unsure, meandering boy she'd finally severed ties with so many years ago.
"I know it's none-my business, Ms. Berry, but you keep looking at the picture that way, poor boy's gonna catch fire wherever he might be." Stan regarded her with a knowing smirk.
Rachel blushed a bit and shrugged. "What can I say? He was always good-looking. See you in a few weeks, Stan."
The older man tipped his hat towards her and turned to another customer. Normally Rachel would just head home with her stash in tow, but the urge to sit down and read the interview article about Finn was too strong to ignore. She ducked into the closest Starbuck's to her building, ordered a latte with soy milk, and then sat down with her drink to commence reading.
The interview started off with mostly information she'd already gleaned over the last several years from Kurt. He'd attended school in Cincinnati, studying music, where he also met his fellow band members. Each of them had strong roots in classic and grunge rock, and so, combined with modern-day sounds and influences, they had based their music on that. Soon, however, they started asking some questions to which she didn't know the answers.
MD: The new album, Gone...Not Forgotten, is a surprising shift in tone from the straight ahead love, sex and party type songs of the last album. How much of that was a conscious decision?
FH: I don't know if it was intentional right from the start, but once we'd begun writing we were all on board for trying songs with a little more meaning behind them. Most of the bands who influenced us had songs which were quite political or addressed important issues. I think we were just channelling the more serious side of classic rock music for a change.
MD: The song 'Tethered' is the first song the band's produced with you on lead vocal. Was that also to emulate some of your influences, alternating lead vocals between band members?
FH: (laughs) Actually, Reed was all set to record it, but he came down with a nasty cold and stayed home for a couple of days. In order to get the rest of the music done, I recorded a scratch track of the vocals so we could work around where the other instruments would fit. When Reed came back, he wanted to hear what we'd done so far, and he loved the vocals so much he insisted I stay the lead and then he'd add in backup for a change. Guess it helped I wrote the lyrics.
Rachel was stunned by the revelations in the interview. He'd gone from being the band's drummer to their second lead vocal and songwriter. She knew logically she shouldn't have been surprised; after all, Finn had had plenty of song writing and arranging experience in New Directions. But the title of the song, 'Tethered', could logically only refer to one thing.
He wrote a song about them. About her.
Rachel sipped her coffee quickly to push back the lump forming in her throat, not able to concentrate on the rest of the article. Instead, she quickly pulled out her phone and pulled up her Youtube app. Searching for the song Tethered, she noticed the first entry was by Fast Practice, but had no corresponding video. She pulled up the first generic lyric video and put her ear buds in her ears. Taking a deep breath, she hit the play button and allowed Finn's words and voice to wash over her.
Directionless, adrift out on the sea
I was consigned aboard this aimless ship, another exiled deportee
A guiding star appeared out in the night
Helped me chart a course to the source of a destiny the felt so right
The wounds inflicted have all healed
But the memories refuse to yield
You proved to me no dream's too great
As long as we don't hesitate
To capture all that we desire
Be the voice that sings above the choir
As we continue down this road
Where the future leads us, no one knows
But I'll feel inside my heart forever,
All the lessons, the very essence, the lingering presence
Of that tether
Rachel couldn't listen to anymore of the song. She pulled out her ear buds quickly and dropped them where they may. Though she closed her eyes against the images of the video, the words flashed through her mind and taunted her endlessly. They reminded her of everything; his voice, his arms, his scent, his strength, his smile, and most of all his eyes which showed such affection and adoration as they stared at her meaningfully. Wetness streamed down her face and her heart was beating furiously. Rachel wiped away the moisture uselessly, as each wipe of her cheeks was replaced by even more tears. She clutched her leaden stomach with both arms and hugged herself, trying to force the overwhelming emotions to subside. They were so strong she couldn't identify what she was feeling other than to feel everything all at once; love, fear, anger, pain, desire, regret, they battered at her defences like a hurricane.
She turned her eyes up to see her room-mate and best friend standing over her. As usual, he was dressed impeccably with a white shirt, black vest and dress slacks with polished shoes. Kurt looked at her with a concern and quickly grabbed her hand in his and sat down. "Sweetie, what's wrong? Were you talking to Simon?"
Rachel shook her head and pushed her phone across the table towards him. Kurt was taken aback by the gesture but tentatively picked up the phone to look at the screen. He sighed and closed his eyes, replacing the phone on the table in front of her. "How did you find out?"
Finally drying her tears, Rachel still didn't trust herself enough to speak, so pulled up the Modern Drummer magazine from the bag of others she had by her chair. Kurt frowned slightly and nodded, but otherwise remained stoic. The lack of reaction on Kurt's face told her he already knew about it, and the song. "Did you want to talk to him about it?"
Burying her face in her hands, Rachel swallowed and sniffed, trying to regain some semblance of control over her emotions. "I don't know, Kurt. It's been so long, now. There's probably nothing left there."
"Says the girl who burst into tears after hearing a song he wrote about you for the very first time." Kurt rolled his eyes and shook his head.
"That's why I don't trust myself to have a normal, decent conversation with him right now. It just...even after all these years, the regret of how things ended just...everything just always comes flooding back. What he did, how we parted...it's still so overwhelming."
Kurt nodded thoughtfully, then hopped up from the chair and grabbed the bag of magazines Rachel had placed on the floor. "C'mon, Diva. You have to have a makeover before your show tonight, because one thing you can't deny is how all this crying is ruining you for acting happy-go-lucky all night. Let's go consume vast quantities of vegan hot chocolate and criticize all the fashion faux pas I'll find in my competition's magazines. We can talk about my brother on your day off this weekend."
Rachel was dubious about how Kurt's plan was going to work, but shrugged a bit and got up with him. She linked her arm in his as they walked back to their shared apartment, but the words in Finn's song remained locked in her memory.
I'll feel inside my heart forever,
All the lessons, the very essence, the lingering presence
Of that tether.
YEAR - 2024
Finn slapped the icon on his phone to end its incessant ringing and activated the speakerphone. "Hudson speaking."
A gruff, low voice echoed through the phone's speaker. "Finn! My man! How's it going out there in Cincinnati?"
He frowned at the voice. It was recognizable and clear, even if Finn hadn't heard it since college. "Cody? That you?"
"The one and only, buddy!" Cody's smile could almost be heard through the phone, his mood and positive demeanour infectious. Finn pulled himself up on the coach in his new (and much larger) apartment, feeling Cody's mood starting to wear off on him. "What's it been, five years or so?"
"Ha! Try eight! Eight years since you went and beat me for top marks on that epic percussion assignment in our performance class. I'm still mad at you about that."
"I can't help it you didn't have the left foot clave part down pat, man." Cody joked. "Besides, I'd say you got your revenge. I don't know many other drummers who've sung lead vocals on Billboard's number one song three weeks in a row."
Finn smirked, chuckling. "Really? You've never heard of Phil Collins, Dave Grohl, or Don Henley? Ringo Starr, maybe?"
"Those are drummers I know of, not drummers I know." Cody took a breath. "And why the hell are you living in Cinci? Shouldn't you have a big fucking mansion out in SoCal or something, like all other super rich people?"
"Ha! You're funny. You know as well as I do that there's almost no cash to be made in music. It almost all goes back to the record companies nowadays. We have to wait 'till all the payments for our tour have been made before we actually see any real dough. I'll be lucky to get a royalty check before next month. 'Till then, I'm probably just gonna hire my services out to the local scene, or maybe hit up Morgan and Lincoln from 'Looks of Scorn' to do a side project. I haven't done metal in forever."
"Don't phone them yet. How about trying something completely off your radar?"
Finn frowned a bit. "Like what?"
"Theatre work, my friend. I need a fill in for the next week."
Finn mulled it over in his mind. Fast Practice was still on their yearlong break since Reed wanted to do a solo album and Jim had his own side project he wanted to do club tour with. The members of his band weren't slated to get back together for another couple of months, so he really didn't have anything to lose. True, Kurt was currently in Europe on some fashion show or exhibit, but he could take in the sights he hadn't seen when there last year. His band wouldn't have the ability to sabotage him and drag him to yet another stupid nightclub this time. They'd gotten old when Fast Practice was still doing their own club tours.
Making a decision to try something different, Finn spoke again. "It's mostly rock oriented, right? I'm not sure I could pull off swing too well."
"Rock or shuffle." Cody confirmed. Finn could hear him tapping the keys on a computer or something. "It's called Fate's Embrace. About a girl who's wrongly convicted of a crime, sentenced to prison, winds up making everyone else's life better while serving her sentence. A real character piece, you know?"
"Sounds captivating." Finn yawned on the other end, timing it perfectly with his comment.
Cody scoffed at the dig. "C'mon, man. I got a chance to study for a week in the Middle East with a djembe master. Chances like this don't come along every day. It's just for the week and pays well. You can even stay in my apartment, 'kay? I'll send you the time and place and all that. The music's mostly four four, but there are some tricky twists in a few songs. I'll send them and the sheet music to you tonight so you can study them."
Finn sighed dramatically, just to get a rise out of his friend, but finally acquiesced. "All right, but you owe me dude. And normal sub-rates apply, despite the fact I'm in a world-famous band." He hesitated.
"Yeah yeah yeah. Whatever, doofus." Cody agreed. "Oh, and one more thing; be very sure when you study, you watch where the vocals are. The lead vocalist is probably the pickiest female performer ever when it comes to drumming. She actually came up to the drum booth one time and went over a song with me in detail for, like, twenty minutes to make sure I didn't do fills on any of her 'important musical transitions'. If she wasn't already a Tony winner I'd tell her to focus on her own performance, but I'm pretty sure the producers think she's more important to the show than I am. I'm not a complete idiot."
The hairs on the back of his neck began to rise slightly, and his mouth opened of its own accord. That sounded very familiar. The pieces were all lining up, one after the other, and Finn felt his mouth go dry. "Who's the singer?"
Cody chuckled. "Her name's Berry. Rachel Berry."
Finn sat down at the drums in the booth, sticks in hand and ready to go. With a flip of a switch, he turned on the monitors in the booth that allowed him to follow the conductor and also watch the actors on stage. Many productions on and off Broadway required drum sets, but usually they were considered far too loud and space consuming to be put in with the other instruments in the orchestra pit. As a result, he was high above the stage and audience in a completely enclosed room. The drums were all mic'd and anything he played would sound simultaneously with the band in the pit far away from him, but for all intents and purposes he was completely alone save the headset through which the conductor could speak to him. It was a musical miracle of technology that he could play a full drum kit hundreds of meters away from the band in the pit and still have it all sound as one combined group of musicians.
He'd studied the music meticulously, and had to admit he had a lot more fun practicing to it than he would have thought. Cody had always been a fantastic drummer, and trying to match him note for note was near impossible, though Finn revelled in the challenge. His band also had a few challenging songs, some sections in their non radio-friendly tunes which changed to 5/4 or 7/8 time, but the dynamics were usually just loud. Adding that twist to the mix for theatre was real work and flexed his chops.
Finn wasn't really sure what Cody was talking about in regards to Rachel being demanding of the drummer. In Glee club, the two of them had never had issues when it came to figuring out where the vocals or drums should be more prominent. Finn just naturally knew, no matter how brilliantly he might perform, the real star of any song they did would be her and her voice. The drums had to blend in and work around that; it wasn't an option. Ever. Adopting that policy, he found it quite easy to work the drums around her voice for all of the show's songs.
The tightness in his stomach and chest that first was present when he'd learned this was Rachel's show, however, had lessened as he learned the music. Knowing that he could sneak into the booth of the show a good fifteen minutes before the crew and performers even had to get there, Finn was assured of never bumping into Rachel. Sure, he'd thought about maybe calling her up and trying to reconnect, but the more he thought about it, the less he liked the idea. Other than being the star of the show, he didn't know much about her life at the moment, and he didn't feel he had any right to barge in and start being friendly when he wasn't sure she'd even welcome him talking to her now. Besides, Kurt had told him last year that she and Simon had split up, but was sure within the last year her single status would have changed quickly to 'taken'. Finn really had no desire to hear his ex-fiancé gush about a new boyfriend, no matter how many years it had been.
No, he would stick with his initial plan. Kurt wasn't in New York, and Finn hadn't told him he would be there for a week. Rachel didn't need to know he was drumming for her show. They didn't need to communicate in any way except through music. With any luck, he'd sound so much like Cody that Rachel wouldn't even be aware there was a different drummer in the booth. He could revel in the shared music of voice and drums between him and Rachel and simply enjoy those moments for what they were, without further emotional baggage getting in the way of that true, honest communication.
The lights came down in the theatre and Finn saw the conductor through the one way monitor. He put on his own headset and confirmed through the microphone he was ready. The conductor gave him a thumbs up, and started the show.
The swell of music for the up tempo introductory number soon gave way to the haunting, broody rock oriented songs showing the young woman's plight. Finn lost himself in Rachel's voice as he transitioned from one section to the next, being sure to maintain the tightest possible beats and rhythms. He was in awe of just how much Rachel had improved in her singing. The pitch never wavered by even by a fraction, and the sheer commanding power and presence of her voice held not only himself, but the entire audience captive. When needed, she could peel her voice back to be soft and sweet, soothing his soul of any pain or heartache he had from their breakup so long ago. A few more years of performances like this, and Rachel was assured to be hailed as one of the modern living legends of her time. She might even eclipse the status of Streisand or Lupone as the greatest Broadway diva in history. Finn ensured he guided the orchestra with a firm hand and strong back-beat on every song so as to support the show's superstar.
He was so enraptured from her performance and his own drumming that the two plus hours of the show were finished before he even realized it. The audience all leapt to their feet, giving Rachel an undisputed standing ovation. She accepted the accolades and flowers gratefully on stage, blowing kisses to the audience. Finn stood from his stool in the drum booth, drenched in sweat, and smiled in satisfaction at knowing he had even a small part in her fantastic performance. Without her singing, though, the familiar ache in his heart returned, and he decided that he no longer was needed for the evening. He needed to retreat to Cody's small apartment and collect his thoughts and emotions in time for them to be battered again by Rachel's stellar voice the next day.
One thing tonight proved beyond a doubt for him; Rachel was the star he'd always believed her to be. As such, she deserved to have him at his best.
Rachel all but skipped over to the conductor's prep room at the theatre. His name was Randal Toupe, or R2 as everyone always called him. He was a short but professional looking gentleman of about fifty with peppered hair, a square jaw and silver glasses. She watched as he took stalk of her demeanour and instantly smiled back. "Rachel, my dear. How can I help you?"
"I just wanted to let you know the orchestra has been phenomenal this week, and especially the drumming. I always knew Cody was good and loved his style, but this week it's just been...almost magical having him back there. Whatever he's done to help the show, tell him to keep doing it, because I've just been floored by how much more suited to my singing it's been."
R2 looked back at her, amused, and then shook his head. "I'd better not say anything then, I'm afraid. Cody's been absent this last week studying in the Middle East. He had a friend sub for him. Though I'm glad you like him. I'll keep him in mind if Cody needs more time off for his studies."
Rachel's eyes went wide with surprise and her mouth dropped. This last week had been a sub? She'd never have known if R2 hadn't told her. "He's fantastic. I'd love to have him back in Cody's absence. What was his name?"
"What?" R2 glanced at her, apparently pulled from his thoughts and the sheet music he'd been reading. "Name? Oh, yes, of course. Uh...he's normally with a really big retro rock band. Practice something or other."
Rachel's heart clamped up in her chest and she was speechless for a few seconds before finally finding her voice. "Finn? Finn Hudson?"
R2 snapped his fingers and smiled at her. "Yes, that's it. Finn Hudson. He and Cody go way back, apparently. Took the same classes in college and –
Rachel was already out the door heading towards the drummer's booth. Her heels, unfortunately, refused to cooperate with her, so she angrily kicked them off and let them lie where they were. With more freedom and mobility, she quickly ran to the elevator and began repeatedly punching the top floor button once inside, willing it to move faster. When the infernal contraption finally reached its destination, she burst from the sliding door and flew to the booth, practically ripping the door open.
The booth was empty. No notes, no sheet music, and no drum stick bag. All the tell tale signs that a drummer would be returning to do the performance that evening had disappeared. But his presence lingered. She walked into the room and closed her eyes, heightening her other senses. She could almost feel his aura still loitering there, teasing her with his absence. A soft sob escaped from her throat. She'd been so close to him and yet so far. Why hadn't he said anything to Kurt? Was he afraid to face her? Afraid to distract her from her show? Didn't he know by now that a professional like herself could easily compartmentalize all her emotions into a single box in her mind while she performed and then open that box later to deal with them?
Would you really have been able to do that with Finn?
Wiping away some moisture from her eyes before it threatened to become a tear, she was about to turn and leave until a small, white piece of cloth caught her eye. She turned to examine it, noticing at that moment that it was a small dish towel with a hook on one side. Carefully, she walked over and picked it up, instantly recognizing it. A drummer's towel. The only question was to whom did it belong; was it left behind over a week ago by Cody, or just recently by Finn?
She pulled it up off the floor and held it aloft, wondering exactly how she could determine its owner. It dawned on her then that the person's scent would likely be the most obvious way. If it had been left by Cody, it would likely smell strange, perhaps not even have a scent. But if it was left by Finn, it would have been used last night. And that meant...
Unsure she was ready for the onslaught of emotions it might generate, Rachel still carefully brought the cloth to her nose and inhaled gently. Her knees instantly went weak and she started trembling. Quickly she sat down on the drum stool to keep from falling. She'd recognize his scent anywhere, even in an old towel that had been left behind. The smell brought back the flood of happy memories she'd always had in Glee with him, how their tether had given them intuitive knowledge of how to sing and work around each other to best compliment each other's strengths and weaknesses. This time Finn had done that communicating through drumming, ensuring she could shine on stage more brightly than ever before.
And now, he was gone. Again.
With slight regret, she got up from the stool and glanced back around the room, still feeling the ghostly presence of the man who'd occupied it for the last six nights. Sighing, she turned and walked back out the door, her hand still tightly clenched around the towel he left behind.
Soon, she thought. Soon, we'll get this right.
YEAR - 2025
"Dudes, you'll never fucking believe this!"
Finn glanced up from his sub sandwich, the chosen lunch for the band in the studio that day. Their manager, Sid Charles, just shut off his phone and pointed it at the four of them. "That was Nickelback's manager, guys. They're organizing a farewell tour, and they need an opening act for the Midwest and US Eastern seaboard. We're their first choice. Thirty shows in twenty-three cities, not a venue less than fifteen thousand!"
"Whoo!" Finn cheered, raising his arms in victory, and soon the celebration between the four of them started in earnest. He turned to each of the other members and hugged or high-fived them in return, all of them giddy at the prospect of their first official stadium tour. They'd talked about doing a really large one, but it had never come to fruition due to unsure ticket sales. With a huge name like Nickelback to draw on, however, it was pretty much a guarantee this would happen and their label would sign off on it.
Turning from bumping fists with Reed, Jim and Dominic, Finn turned back to their manager. "When do we start?"
"Slow down there Mr. Finn-patient. Nothing's a hundred percent guaranteed yet. We still gotta sign the contracts and organize a ton of shit and-"
"Sid!" Finn interrupted him with a hand gesture. "Don't fuck with us. C'mon!"
After a moment's hesitation, his agent grinned and laughed a bit. "Fine. Pretty much as soon as you're done recording your album. Starts in Miami, up through Midwest, pops over the border for a couple shows in Canada, then back down the eastern coast. All ends on the big night in Madison Square Gardens.
Finn bit his cheek at the news, oblivious to the further cheers and celebrations the rest of the group were partaking in. Madison Square Gardens. Once again, life was bringing him back to New York City. Ever since his stint drumming for Cody he'd been there an inordinate amount of times. In the last year, there had been a record signing, a music festival, and another backup stint for Cody on a different show. Could this all be a coincidence? Was it a simple twist of fate that their tour, the biggest of their career, would put him in the same city as her again? Finn wasn't gifted at deciphering the meanings of life's quirks or flukes, but this, for some reason, felt significant. He couldn't understand why, but something, somewhere deep in his core seemed to click two or more puzzle pieces together.
Somehow, and some way, Madison Square Gardens would be important. Now he just needed to figure out why, exactly.
"You will never believe what I just got!"
Rachel glanced over at Kirsti, the second female lead in the musical, and smirked a bit before turning back towards her mirror to adjust her costume. "I saw you walking out with Trey the other night, so I'm assuming the answer is 'laid'."
"Oh my God! You did not just say that!" Kirsti swatted her on the rump with her wig, before huffing out a breath and affixing the hairpiece on her head. "No, I just scored two backstage passes to the Nickelback concert on Sunday night. Wanna come?"
"Wouldn't Trey prefer to 'come'?" Rachel chuckled at her own pun, checking the fit of the dress around her bosom. She was pleased that one saving grace of having small breasts was not having to worry much about them sagging with age.
This time, her co-star didn't react, and instead shoved her naturally blond hair underneath the black-haired wig. "Trey's busy doing some kind of charity work his agent hooked him up with. Besides, he's not big into rock music, but I know you like it. I saw your collection on your iPod. Lots of classic rock."
"Not sure I'd categorize Nickelback as 'classic'." Rachel retorted. "Longevity doesn't equal quality, you know. Take Madonna, for example. She's still trying to sell her sexy, and she's a grandmother!"
Kirsti sighed as she threaded out the wig a bit more. "And what else are you gonna do on a Sunday night? Your dating life is abysmal."
Rachel pouted a little. "That's not fair. I date."
"Rachel, you blew the last guy off because, and I quote, 'his ears were misaligned and it distracted me all night'."
"That wasn't the only reason," Rachel protested, her hands on her hips as she spun to her friend. "He also had a personality that was dryer than sandpaper."
Kirsti rolled her eyes and started applying some foundation to get ready for the makeup artist. "Just come with me, okay? Otherwise I have to waste my backstage pass on my roommate, and I don't want to hear her talking all night about her new girlfriend. Pleeeaaaassseee?" She clasped her hands and stuck out her bottom lip to imitate a child begging or pleading.
Rachel giggled at the sight of her friend in such a ridiculous stance. She sighed dramatically. "Okay, fine. If it'll keep you from anymore embarrassing poses."
Her co-lead smiled appreciatively. "Dinner and drinks are on me, Rachel. I promise you won't regret this."
Rachel 's eyes went wide as she watched the massive crowd in front of her cheering for the band onstage. It wasn't Nickelback as they weren't scheduled for another thirty minutes. No, instead the almost three-quarter full arena was yelling loudly for their opening act. A band Rachel had never seen live for fear of experiencing all the feelings currently coursing through her.
Fast Practice was on the cusp of rock greatness, that seemed certain. The way they held the crowd captive with their music, blending their retro and grunge rock influences with more modern musical sounds had garnered a huge and appreciative segment of the audience roaring in approval and applause. Rachel was glad for the box seats they'd managed to get so that she had an unhindered view of the stage, and she couldn't take her eyes of the band's drummer.
His set had gotten big, bigger even than the picture from Modern Drummer all those years ago. But that was only the first thing she noticed. She also recognized a true professional who'd excelled in his craft, his arms seemingly wild around the set but each stroke and hit on the drums coaxing out exactly the sounds he wanted. His skill and control had reached a level she'd only ever associated with true masters of their instruments, and the energy he exuded fed into the band members, who in turn fed into the crowd. In a word, they were extraordinary.
But all of that paled when finally, at the end of their set, their singer raised his hand in appreciation. "Thanks so much for that awesome reception. We have just one more song for you. It's a song that won us a Grammy not too long ago, ensuring that we'd never, ever fire our drummer. You all know which one?"
Rachel closed her eyes and dropped her head, despite the boisterous sounds of mass applause tearing through the stadium. She swallowed and looked back up to the microphone, watching as Finn came to the front of the audience and joined the other members onstage while someone else dressed as a crew member took over duties on his drum set. Finn glanced behind to ensure the other drummer was ready before turning back to the stadium. "Let's give a round of applause for my drum tech, Daryl Smid, who's probably played this song more often than I have by now." More applause sounded and Finn took a big breath. "If you know the words, feel free to sing along."
He began to sing, and as though compelled by some unknown force, Rachel's own voice began to match him. Without a microphone or spotlight, no one in the audience would hear her, but Kirsti beside her did and she smiled a bit, though remained silent herself. Rachel sang as much as possible, listening to how her voice and his still blended together into a sound greater than the sum of its parts. She had heard the song and relived those feelings for him so often that it surprised her that she was still susceptible to the tears it could evoke. Still she continued singing, letting the joy of his words and song, of her song, go through her and fill the ache still present in her heart.
She was sad as they came to the final lyric in the song, that the too-short moment when she could hear their voices together again was over, but still, she sang the final lyric with him.
I'll feel inside my heart forever,
All the lessons, the very essence, the lingering presence
Of that tether.
"Thank you, New York! It's been a blast, and we'll see you soon!" Finn waved a final time to the audience and retreated backstage with his band mates. A group of technicians and stage crew came out to remove the musical equipment for Fast Practice off the stage and prepare for the final act. Rachel realized suddenly that if she didn't get backstage now and waited instead until Nickelback was finished, there was no guarantee Finn would even be there anymore, his band not needing to stay any longer. She hadn't been sure when she first saw him come onstage, but now she knew, without hesitation, that she was ready to
She quickly turned to Kirsti. "We need to go backstage now."
Kirsti smirked as she sipped her beer. "Chill out, Ms. Thing. We go back there about a third of the way through Nick-"
"We need to go back now!" Rachel stressed, her hand on Kirsti's arm and squeezing frantically. Kirsti was about to respond but turned and saw Rachel's eyes.
Rachel was thankful her friend could read the desperation hidden there. After a moment where a hundred questions flashed across Kirsti's face, she pulled the passes out of her purse and nodded. "Okay. Let's go."
Finn sighed in relief as the last fan photo shot was taken and he bid the young parents and their ten-year old son goodbye. Although he was sad the tour had ended and they now had some downtime before proceeding with the music festival touring out west, he was relieved to step away from the screaming crowds and endless promotion. His real love was everything and anything to do with the creation and performance of music. All the legal and promotional stuff was a pain in the ass. He enjoyed meeting fans when it was one-on-one encounters. Finn wasn't thrilled with these massive 'backstage pass winners' groups all at once. It didn't allow him any time to try to connect or ask questions.
"Hudson!" Reed called out to him from across the room. "We're heading out to Mercury Lounge to see who's up and comin'. You in?"
Finn flashed a thumbs up before jerking it back towards the band's change room. "Just gonna shower. I can't drum a show that awesome and not expect to sweat. I'll meet you guys there." He turned once he saw Reed nod in understanding and walked into the change room, letting the door close behind him. It wasn't a large room but there was ample space for four musicians to get dressed and it had two shower stalls in the back. Being alone in the room felt weird since he didn't think he'd ever been alone in his band's change room since the tour began, but it would be the perfect opportunity to unwind and relax before hearing some indie live music.
As he pulled together his toiletries, he noticed there was a large, extra lump in what should have been an empty compartment of his shoulder bag. Wondering what he'd packed in there and since forgotten (a common occurrence on tour, unfortunately), he unzipped it and pulled out the offending item.
Held aloft was a towel. A drummer's towel. He looked up to the hook and noticed a familiar pattern of wear and tear, some of the paint having come off the latch. Was this the towel he'd accidentally left behind last year when he subbed for Cody?
As he inspected it more closely, he noticed some writing now adorned the backside of the towel. Turning it over, he frowned at the letters, reading carefully.
From your biggest fan,
He let out an explosive breath he didn't even realize he was holding, and a lump formed in his throat instantly. Looks like Rachel had found out about his little sub session on her show last year, and had signed the towel as a way to...what? Reach out to him? Try to reconnect? Or was this simply a metaphor for how they would always admire each other's work, but nothing more? Finn frowned a bit, trying to decipher what it meant, exactly. He also had to wonder who had put it in his bag. Had she been here tonight? Did she manage to use her Broadway connections to weasel her way backstage to return this to him?
He jumped in fright, turning around and noticing a small, 5' 2" brunette standing in the room with him. Her hair was loose in a casual but classy manner, and she was dressed to kill with a sleeveless, off the shoulder black dress and white shoulder jacket. It took him a full minute to realize that the person before him was, indeed, the same person with whom he'd parted ways twelve and a half years ago. His eyes widened in disbelief as he took her in. "Rachel?"
She nodded, smiling a bit, before pulling a strand of hair back behind her ear. After a moment, her smile turned to worry. "In...in case you're wondering how I got past security, just...a friend of mine...well, co-star...and friend, of course...anyway, she won backstage passes for tonight. And for finding this change room, I" Rachel shrugged. "It's easy to get past bouncers and security guards when you're this small so..."
Finn stared at her dumbly, his mind completely blank. Never had he expected to ever be standing face to face with her again, and especially not after a final show at Madison Square Gardens. Didn't she have her own show to do tonight? Or rehearsal? Or some other workshop or something? Isn't that what Broadway divas do? His mind was still reeling at the unexpectedness of it all. Before he could think it through, he just uttered the first question that popped into his mind. "What...what are you doing here?"
Rachel's face was crestfallen momentarily, but she recovered quickly and plastered another smile on, even though Finn could tell it was only partially sincere. "This show I'm in...Sundays are off. Had the night off, thought I'd, you know, come see the band...your band...and all that." She produced her backstage pass on a lanyard from her purse. "I'm legit. Really. Didn't sneak. Well, I mean, I kinda did for the band room, but..."
He was still so stunned at her being face to face with him that all he could do was open and close his mouth stupidly, no words seemingly able to form or come forth. Her eyes met his, and the concerned look she gave seemed to clear the fog in his mind a bit, but he didn't know really what to say. How do you say anything to the woman you haven't seen for so long but who's owned your heart and cost you any chance at real, lifelong happiness? He scrambled quickly to think of something. Anything. "I...I wrote a song. About you. It...it won a Grammy."
His conscience kicked him mentally. Smooth, Captain Obvious. Real fuckin' smooth.
She smiled warmly but then lowered her head and closed her eyes, and Finn frowned as he saw her breath in deeply with a shuddering breath. Did he upset her? Maybe he shouldn't have said anything after all. He was always horrible with words.
"I know." Rachel finally answered, looking up at him, her eyes moist with tears but her voice steady. "It's a beautiful song, Finn. One of my favourites. Of course, maybe I'm biased."
They shared a laugh at her remark, but soon their eyes met again and their shared history, or lack of it over the last twelve years, quickly brought them back to reality. Rachel finally took a deep breath and stepped closer to him. His stomach tightened in anticipation of hearing what she was about to say, but he couldn't explain why it would make him nervous.
"I read your Modern Drummer article, you know." She said finally, wringing her hands together but looking up into his eyes. "I...I regret I didn't get into contact with you sooner, but-"
Finn stepped closer to her, grabbing both of her small hands in his large one. "It's fine. I mean, two-way street, right? I could have tried too. Kurt is my brother."
Rachel shook her head, trying to cease him from taking blame. "You had your band you were trying to get off the ground. It must have been an endless amount of work and-"
"And you were pursuing Broadway." Finn countered softly, interrupting her and staring into those big, chocolate brown eyes of hers. "You worked just as hard at your career, I'm sure. Tony awards don't grow on trees."
She paused, gazing at him, her mouth half-open. She closed it again and looked down to the ground, then back at him. Before he could even register what to think, she blurted out her next words. "Can we be friends again?"
Finn closed his eyes and bit the inside of his cheek. So this is what it all came down to. This was why she came tonight. She didn't say it directly, but she missed him, just as much as he'd missed her. But Finn had thought long and hard about what his answer would be if he was ever asked this question, and he knew his response. Their hands were still holding each other's, and Finn gave a wan smile and squeezed her hand before answering.
Rachel's heart froze in her chest. He was looking at her so tenderly, with such concern, passion and, dare she think it, love, that her mind literally couldn't fathom the one word answer he uttered. She pulled her hands away and her eyes widened in shock. "No? No? I go to all this effort to watch your show and sign your drummer's towel and...and...throw myself at your feet to just get a chance to reconnect, and you say no?" She shoved him against his chest hard, her anger bubbling up to the surface in waves upon crashing waves. "How dare you! You who sabotaged our wedding day! You who lied about enlisting and failed to contact me for months after. You who hasn't even deigned to send me one personal text in the last twelve years. I'm willing to wash that all under the bridge for the chance to be in your life again and you have the gall to stand there and say no?"
Finn watched her, unmoving, unflinching from his spot. He swallowed and allowed her to scream at him, but other than looking straight ahead from his spot or watching her as she walked around, he didn't move. The silence hung in the air between them and Rachel could feel the tears escape and begin to trail down her cheeks. Had she really done all of this for nothing? Was Finn so set in his life without her now that the mere thought of even being her friend didn't register as anything significant? Was he really willing to let the tether between them simply die with his song, refusing to pick up the slack again?
No, it wouldn't end like this. She wasn't going to storm out of here without some sort of answer or explanation. He owed her that much, at least. Rachel clenched her fists to her side and planted herself directly in his path, staring straight up into his eyes to ensure she had his attention. "Tell me then," she commanded in a tone of voice that brooked no argument. "Tell me why. If I'm truly going to turn my back on you for good then you tell me why after all this time we can't at least be friends. You owe me that much."
"Are you sure you want the answer?" Finn asked softly.
"I demand an answer!"
It happened so fast Rachel barely saw Finn move as he lifted her from her feet and slammed her against the door, pinning her there in his strong arms. His lips were crushed onto hers and his tongue immediately in her mouth, stroking hers fervently as his left hand gripped her hair and his right desperately flayed on her hip and abdomen. Before realizing it, her own hands were fisting in his shirt and pulling him closer to maximize the body contact, and she moved her lips in response to his. The kiss was hard, wild and passionate, and Rachel's soul ignited at the feeling of Finn's arms around her again.
Before she could truly relax into it, Finn pulled his lips away, and his eyes stared straight into hers, as though seeing directly through to her very core and knowing each and every feeling roiling through her in that moment. His voice was husky and soft, but still serious. "That's why, Rach. You were never just my friend. We've never been just friends. This was always underneath it. Always!"
Rachel was still out of breath, the heady kiss had fogged her mind a bit and she couldn't even think of any words to string together before Finn continued.
"I'm done with games, Rachel. I'm done with pretending. I'm done wondering if we'd ever actually see or speak to each other again, and I'm done with being just friends. I want you. I want this. I've always wanted this; you and me, together for good, as everything. What do you say?"
She swallowed, not believing she was hearing these words spill forth from him. The logical part of her mind screamed in protest, despising the fact she'd lost control of the situation so fast. His words, such sweet, wonderful, exhilarating words of want, desire and love were equally terrifying. This wasn't supposed to happen this way. It was supposed to be friendship first, building up trust again, knowing each other as adults, and letting it blossom into more, just as it had in high school. It wasn't ever intended for this to be an all or nothing moment.
"Finn," she gasped finally, releasing a held breath at the same time as she spoke. "We...we haven't spoken for twelve years! You...you don't even know what kind of life I lead, my friends, my..."
"I'll learn." Finn gently said over her protests, his eyes boring into hers. "I have learned. I've learned I'm yours, Rach. I'll never be anyone else's, not in any real sense. So c'mon." He leaned in closer, his lips were just a fraction of an inch apart from hers, and his warm breath fanned across her eyelashes. "Take a chance on me, Rach. Please."
The words reverberated in Rachel's head like a beacon going off. A long time ago, Finn had said the same thing to her, in the same city, for the same reason. Her negative response had been hesitant, unsure, fearful, and she had lain on her bed sleepless most of that night wondering if she'd done the right thing. At the time she'd concluded yes since her heart and soul were still so focused on her Broadway ambitions.
But now those ambitions had been reached. Those dreams of Broadway stardom were fulfilled. The romantic relationships she'd had were fleeting at best, doomed at worst. And Finn was no longer the ambling, unsure teenager with no direction he'd once been. He'd achieved his own success and proven his own worth.
All that was left was them. She knew what her answer was.
YEAR – 2027
Finn cracked open a sleepy eye, looking up at the iPhone nestled into the stereo docking charge on his bedside table. The screen indicated he had a new text message, and he wondered idly if he should read it or leave it until later. The clock registered eight in the morning, and normally that would be reason enough for him to ignore it and continue his slumber.
Unfortunately, his decision to bury himself further into his bed and ignore the message was changed abruptly by the movement of the small woman lying next to him. She reached over and pulled the phone from its charger, then slapped it against his chest. "Answer your phone, Finn. It's rude to keep people waiting." She gasped a bit at reading the time on the screen of the docking pod. "Is it already that late? Finn, we have to get moving! We're expected at Kurt's at ten!"
Finn grabbed the phone quickly and read the message. It was from one of the entertainment reporters Kurt knew through his work, one of the few who actually verified his stories before printing anything and exercised some discretion about what should and shouldn't be set to print. The text was simple.
[ Everything is set. Good luck. ]
He smiled. Tonight was going to kick some serious ass. Finn turned onto his back, stretching and yawning as the woman beside him leaped to her feet and pulled on her over large Fast Practice t-shirt. The sight of her walking around their bedroom in nothing but the shirt was a major turn on for him, and he could already feel a stirring in the nether-regions. "Don't suppose I can convince you to put off getting ready, can I?"
She turned around with her jaw almost on the floor. "You're joking, right? Tonight are the Tony's, Finn, and I have to follow my routine very carefully if I want to win my award. It has to be exactly like it was back in 2021. First, my fitting with Kurt at 10:00, then lunch at Sardi's, then my hair, then the dress and makeup, and then we can arrive by limo to the awards ceremony. I changed the routine last time I was nominated for Best Leading Actress and I'm convinced that's what made me lose. I have no intention of blabbering on and on to the press again about how it's an honour to simply be nominated."
"What happened in 2024 that changed everything?" Finn asked, propping his head up on his arm as he lay languidly in the queen bed, still appreciating the sight of Rachel running around his – their bedroom and gathering things together.
Rachel shrugged as she started putting on some stockings on her side of the bed. "I wore a dress off the rack from one of my favourite boutique stores. No alterations. It was a really nice dress, but it didn't have Kurt's flair for showing off my bodily assets. It seems no one but Kurt ever does get it right with those."
As she rolled up her other stocking slowly along her tanned, muscled leg, Finn let out a soft groan of appreciation. Without even realizing it, he was suddenly behind her and kissing her on her pulse point as his hand fell over top of hers to stroke up and down her leg. She gasped at feeling his arousal press into her back, already, and he nipped along her neckline from behind until his hand was between her legs and rubbing her centre suggestively, toying with her. His mouth went up to her ear and she hissed in pleasure as he sucked on it between his lips. Already he could feel the beginnings of her getting wet and heated between her legs.
"You know," Finn whispered seductively, "the decision's already been made. Nothing you do today will change what's in the envelope. Since you're not guaranteed a Tony, why don't I guarantee you something much more...immediate?"
She groaned a bit more when his other hand came around and fondled her breast and nipple through the fabric of the t-shirt. He saw her open her eyes quickly and glance at the nearest clock for a moment, before turning and forcefully shoving him down onto the bed. In a split second, she was straddling him and the t-shirt had been removed, tossed on the floor. Her stockings, however, stayed where they were, just a few inches from where her she was grinding her increasingly wet centre against him. Her eyes clouded with lust and determination, and she spoke with authority. "You've got ten minutes, Mr. Hudson. You better make the most of them because if I lose tonight, you're cut off for at least a month for changing my awards show routine."
Finn grinned wickedly as he centred himself with her and pushed inside, enjoying each and every sound she made as her back arched and her eyes closed in bliss. "Yes, ma'am."
Neither of them needed more than five minutes before their cries were loud enough to be heard in the outside halls.
Rachel was ecstatic, fielding questions from reporters at the after party, holding her Tony Award proudly in her right arm while her left was linked through Finn's. As always, Finn was gracious and polite to everyone. He answered a couple of relevant questions about Fast Practice to the media, but for the most part waited patiently with her and let her bask in the glory of her victory.
"Ms. Berry! Ms. Berry!" A reporter that Kurt knew and worked with on occasion raised a hand to her, so she stopped again to field his questions. She wished she could remember his name off the top of her head, but at this moment, being so euphoric over her leading role in This Moment Here, she doubted if she'd even be able to remember the lyrics for the songs she'd sung almost every day for a year.
The reporter stepped forward a bit when she motioned for him to ask his questions, ensuring the camera angle was set and ready. "Dale Smith from the New York Times, Ms. Berry."
She smiled. "Right! Thank you for reminding me. How are you, Dale?"
"I'm good, thanks for asking. Okay, first question; how does it feel to win your second Tony award in three nominations?"
"Fantastic!" Rachel beamed brightly at him, and Finn chuckled at her enthusiasm. "Especially when my fellow nominees are so, so talented themselves. It's a privilege to be given this award."
"Any plans once your time on This Moment Here draws to a close in the next two months? Rumours are you'll be releasing an album of original material."
She smiled and pulled Finn closer to her a bit, ensuring he was part of the shot in the camera too. "Yes, I will be. My first studio album written by me and this wonderful man right here. I'm sure I don't need to introduce Fast Practice's drummer to the world, but if I do, well, his name is Finn Hudson, and I couldn't be happier to share my professional and personal life with him. This album actually marks the first time we've sat down and co-written songs together, even though we've known each other for years. I can't wait."
"Just one more question then, Ms. Berry." Dave spoke into the microphone quickly before suddenly smirking and saying his next words. "Will you marry Finn Hudson?"
Rachel was taken aback by the personal nature of the question. "I'm sorry?"
"Will you marry Finn Hudson?"
She swallowed and tried to maintain her composure, but she was sure her smile had slipped from her face. "Uh...well...that subject hasn't actually come up, but when the time is right I'm sure we can address it and-"
The crowd erupted in approval suddenly and Rachel looked away from Dave to notice everyone standing behind the reporter was applauding as they watched something behind her. She quickly turned to see what everyone was cheering about.
There, on his knee, was Finn, holding her left hand in his right as an open box was presented to her. His eyes were filled with love and hope, and unlike last time, his shoulders were pulled back in confidence. He sported a lopsided grin on his face.
Her free hand flew to her mouth in astonishment. In Finn's left hand was exact same engagement ring he'd presented to her fifteen years ago in Lima when neither of them had a certain future and nothing was on their mind except each other. They had become engaged far too young and early in their lives, and had suffered the natural consequences of a failed high school romance. Finn had proposed out of desperation to keep what he deemed to be the best thing in his life. Rachel had accepted out of the desperation of having nothing else worth looking forward to except a life with him. There was no logical reasoning behind either decision.
This time, Rachel could feel the click together of puzzle pieces, and noticeably absent was the lack of dread in her stomach or the heavy feelings on her shoulders. Gone was the indecision or hesitation. All that was left was the feeling that finally, after so long, Rachel had gotten everything she ever wanted. All that was left was to go home, into Finn's arms, for the rest of her life. A future she looked forward to above everything else.
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