Spoilers: Season 3, mentions of Brody Weston
A/N: Honestly I was just sitting in my car when suddenly inspiration struck me. The title is from the song "If You Ever Come Back" by The Script.
Hello, my name is Rachel Berry, and I'm not in love with Finn Hudson.
She'd been saying it over and over for the entire time she had been in New York. Hoping maybe she'd eventually believe it. So far she hadn't. NYADA is wonderful—challenging and frightening, but completely wonderful. Her original vow, to swear off men of any kind and focus on school, had been holding steady since the moment she moved into the dorms. Too bad her roommate didn't feel the same way. Neither did the appallingly attractive upperclassman she bumped into in the coed bathroom at the beginning of the year. Brody Weston asked her out for six months, and when she finally said yes it was just to make him stop asking. It was nice to be chased, nice to be wanted. Even Santana and Kurt said that it was time for her to move on. No one had heard from Finn except Carol, and all she knew was that he was alive.
It lasted six months. Brody was this perfect mixture of all the male companions she'd had over the years. He had Jesse's drive, Noah's bad boy charm, and Finn's rock anthem voice. He had one flaw. He wasn't Finn. But she honestly tried, because Kurt and Santana encouraged her, and because she felt like she was holding onto a ghost. It lasted just six months, and, while they were not unpleasant months, they were not exactly blissful. He was kind and romantic. He treated her well. He tried to win her heart. But how could he win something that belonged to someone else? Kissing him was alright; she could kiss him and not feel like she was cheating on Finn. But after that it was a disaster. Four months into their relationship they were making out on her bed, sheet music forgotten, when his hand tried to slip under her t-shirt and she pulled back as if she'd been burned. It felt wrong, completely wrong. But the deal breaker was at the exact six month point, when she had finally let him touch her and the wrong name fell from her lips. Brody didn't want to compete with another man for her attention when the other man wasn't even there. She couldn't blame him.
It had been a long year of changes. Most of them made the move to New York and toward the future that much more final. Kurt had arrived in the city two months after she did, waving an NYU acceptance letter because he'd forgotten that he even applied to the school when the letters started arriving and NYU's hadn't shown up at all. Santana blew into New York like a whirlwind, carrying not much more than a suitcase because she said everything stank of Lima. The three of them made plans to move into an apartment as soon as possible because Kurt hated dorm life and Rachel hated her roommate. New York took over their lives. Kurt insisted that Rachel allow him to give her a makeover, and a new sophisticated Rachel Berry was born. Santana and Brittany broke up because Brittany didn't seem to understand that long distance didn't mean you were still allowed to make out with other people, and Kurt and Blaine decided to see other people for awhile. Well, Kurt announced that he and Blaine needed to grow up and make sure that they weren't settling down simply because they were the first people they fell for. Rachel's engagement ring came off her finger, and she couldn't bring herself to wear it around her neck; his name became hers on her necklace. Everything moved on in a disjointed mess, as if there was something broken or missing. But life got better.
She was moving into a sixth floor walk up with Kurt and Santana was when he visited New York City for the first time since they broke up, and he didn't know what to do. He was on leave for a week, but he had no right to blow into her life when he was going to deploy overseas. That wasn't fair to her. It was probably best if he didn't see her, if he stayed away from her and her new life. He refused to even call Kurt because Kurt might tell Rachel that he was in town. And that explained why Kurt was shocked and angry when he bumped into him at the coffee shop. It was the first time Kurt had actually tried to punch him.
"What the hell?" Finn's coffee nearly fell to the floor when Kurt swung at him. "Where the hell have you been? Scratch that, why the hell are you here now?"
"I'm on leave. I deploy next week. Not sure when I'm going to be back." He swallowed, stepping back. "Don't worry; I'm not going to try to interfere with her new life. I'm going to stay as far away as possible."
"Good! Because the last thing she needs is more heartbreak. She hasn't seen or heard from you in over a year. I'm still trying to get her to say your name without bursting into tears." Kurt snapped, his eyes narrowing dangerously.
"I get it. I'm not going to try to get back in her life. I just—I don't know why I'm even in the city except that I wanted to see what it would've been like if I hadn't enlisted." He already regretted coming at all. "Has she? Has she found someone else?"
"It really isn't your business, but she's dated, Finn. Santana and I encouraged it. She couldn't sit around here pining for you until she was old and gray, and you know it. She had to start living again sometime. You clearly weren't interested in living with her."
Immediately he began to regret asking; it wasn't true—Kurt's statement about not being interested in living with Rachel. But it didn't matter now. None of it did. Everything was different now. He was being deployed in just a week. It was possible that he might not return. He could be gone from her life forever, and maybe she'd be better off without him. He should stay as far away from Rachel as possible. Coming to New York was the biggest mistake he'd ever made—next to letting her go.
It was raining so hard that by the time he found his way to the apartment Rachel shared with Santana and Kurt he was soaked to the bone, his clothes clinging to him and making him shiver despite the fact that it was early August and hot as hell. He wasn't sure what he was doing, not really. Going to that apartment was a mistake. Fear had settled into his soul, and there was no turning back. What if he died out there in the desert? What if he was killed? What if he went to his grave without seeing her again and without telling her that he loved her? He had to see her. The door swung open at the first knock, almost as if she was expecting him. Her eyes were swollen with tears, and it was clear that Kurt had let it slip that he was in the city.
She hadn't seen him in over a year; just seeing him standing there in her doorway made her feel a whirlwind of emotions. How dare he just show up with no warning? How dare he stay gone for so long and then just appear in her life as if nothing had changed? She wanted to hate him. She wanted to scream at him and tell him that she never wanted to see him again. But the words died on her lips. It broke her heart to see him standing there. His hair was so short, military short, and the little fin was gone. It was as if her Finn had gone with that fin.
"Rach—" Her hand shot out, cracking against his cheek.
"Don't! Don't you dare!" Her voice shook. "I don't want to hear it. I don't want to hear any of it."
"Please, ba—" But she cut him off again.
"You don't get to call me baby anymore. You don't get to come here and call me baby and pretend like everything will be ok again. It doesn't work that way." He took a step forward, only to be stopped by her small hand on his chest; flashes of the day she helped him find his heart filled his head. "You broke us. We were going to be married, and you put me on a train to New York alone instead. It hurt so much. I've tried so hard to hate you. I tried so hard to make myself stop loving you. I hate that couldn't. I hate that I still—"
Suddenly his lips were on hers, and warmth rushed through her, filling her with something she hadn't felt in what seemed like forever. Slender hands explored the familiar expanse of his back, slipping beneath his t-shirt to find new muscle. The kisses became more urgent, hands exploring each other as if they'd never touch again, and Finn hated that he was worried that it might be true. They melded into one, fitting together as if they'd never been apart.
Three weeks had passed, and classes had begun. Finn was gone. Life continued. Except that now everything reminded her of Finn, and that made it all hurt. She hated it—hated that she let him leave. She woke up to find him gone, nothing but a note on the pillow by her head saying he loved her. She'd cried so much that the paper was wet and torn by the time Kurt took it away from her. Finn was gone again, and she was lost. It wasn't fair. Kurt promised Finn that he wouldn't tell her that he was actually deploying, and he kept that promise. Though Rachel knew what had happened. Her dreams were filled with explosions and gunfire and calling out his name. Fear filled her, and it was all she could do not give up again. She was sure that he was somewhere overseas now, and all she could think about was that she might never see him again. Kurt insisted that maybe it was time to move on for good, but she couldn't. How could she move on when she still felt him in her very bones?
At first she thought it was a bad case of the stomach flu because apparently it was going around NYADA like a plague. Nothing she ate stayed down, not even soup. On top of that she was moodier than normal, bursting into tears or exploding about stupid things. She was pretty sure she had accidentally shrunk her favorite skirts and jeans because they were all becoming too tight. But when Santana said the 'P' word, she adamantly denied it. There was no way that she could be pregnant. She was a sophomore and barely starting her year; a pregnancy would simply be inconvenient. Besides, she could think of only one time in the last year and a half that she'd had sex. It was too cruel for fate to do that to her. When she realized that she was two weeks late, it was time to face the music. She was without a doubt pregnant, and Finn was somewhere fighting, not knowing that he was going to be a father.
"I hate him!" She screamed, throwing a very large purple teddy bear across the room and nearly hitting Santana in the face. "I hate him so much!"
"You don't hate him, Berry. You may wish you did, but you don't." Rachel threw herself onto the bed, crying quietly.
"I'm pregnant, Santana. I'm pregnant, and he's gone. I don't even know where he is. He could be dead for all I know. He could be dead, and he's left me alone here." She pulled her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around her legs. "I need him, and he's not here. Where is he?"
Santana gave her a sympathetic smile, unsure what to say; she wasn't great at being comforting. That was Kurt's department. She delivered the sarcastic but affectionate barbs and insults that kicked asses into gear. She rushed out to find Kurt, hoping that the male member of their trio would be able do something to help. Together they managed to get her out of bed and to a doctor's appointment, but from there they were lost.
He'd slipped out of her bed in the early hours of the morning, not daring to stay longer. It was the coward's way out—leaving nothing but a note—but he knew that if he stayed he might not be able to make himself leave. It was better this way. It was a clean break, or at least it would have been if he hadn't left that note. The fair thing to do would be to let her go and try to forget. He left for Afghanistan two days later when his unit shipped out early, and he was glad to leave if only because he hoped the distance would help him let her go. She was supposed to be free, and she couldn't be free if she was tied to him. So maybe the desert would help him forget.
And yet she was constantly on his mind. Rachel kept him alive without even knowing it. No matter how scared he was or how many times he thought the next bullet was meant for him, if he thought about Rachel's smile he knew he could make it. If he remembered the way her voice sounded the first time he heard her sing he could survive. It was easier to risk everything if he could believe that somewhere she was laughing and that there was even the smallest chance that he could come back to her. He forced himself not to think about the big question that echoed in his mind. Would she be waiting for him if he made it back? He had no right to expect that from her. He had absolutely no right to even hope that she would wait, not after he had left her not once but twice.
His unit was assigned to protect a small village where a school was being built, and they'd been dealing with some trouble with insurgents. Reports came back that there was a camp just outside the village, and he volunteered to go with the team to assess the threat. It was pitch black when they climbed into the humvee for the reconnaissance mission, and they could barely see beyond the few lights. It was supposed to be simple—just scout the area and assess the number of hostile individuals and get the hell out of there before anyone got hurt. But then everything went to hell.
Suddenly everything exploded in white light and heat, the humvee lifting from the ground and fell onto its side. Adrenaline pumped through him, and all he could think about was getting his unit out of the vehicle before it burned. The last thing he remembered before everything went black was yanking Greg and Chuck out of the wreckage despite the fact that his right shoulder blazed with pain and his left leg was on fire. Rachel's face flashed before his eyes as the rest of the world disappeared. When he woke up two days later, he found himself in the hospital, shoulder and knee wrapped in bandages, and everything was a fog. But he was alive. He'd saved his friends. He'd survived, and so had his friends. He'd earned the right to go back home. He'd earned the right to go back to Rachel.
Physical therapy sucked. For the past two months he'd been learning to use his knee again. The force of the explosion thrown him out of the humvee, and his knee had split open. There was so much damage that the doctors hadn't been sure he'd ever walk again. His shoulder hadn't been so bad really. Mostly shrapnel from the bomb had sliced him open and torn some muscle. How stupid was it that the first thought that crossed his mind when they told him how bad he was injured was that he'd never play football again? But his shoulder healed, and he regained most of his range of motion. They told him the stiffness would fade. It was his knee that gave him trouble, and every day was a battle to walk again.
He was making progress, way more progress than he expected to, but he still felt like half a man. He couldn't go back to Rachel like this, unable to stand on his own two feet without crutches or a cane. She deserved a man who could walk by her side into award shows and give her standing ovations. She deserved a man who could carry her over the threshold into their home, and he could barely support of his own weight. His knee was full of metal and plastic; he'd always walk with a limp. He was never going to be good enough, and now he was never going to be whole again. How could he go back to her now? Every day he went to therapy and fought to walk, and every night he fell asleep wondering what she was doing and if she thought about him at all.
Wake up, eat, cry, vomit, go to class, eat, cry, vomit, fail to sleep, and have nightmares about Finn. That was the progression of her days. Kurt and Santana thought she was crazy when she told them that she was going to keep the baby. They'd assumed she would give the baby up for adoption because it was only her sophomore year, and raising a child would interfere with her future plans for her career. But she couldn't do that. She couldn't give up a piece of herself and of Finn, especially since she didn't know if she'd ever see him again. She'd dreamed of a family with him, living in a brownstone somewhere near their friends, managing to balance it all, and having their happily ever after together. Now she wondered if that would ever be possible. Now she feared that it wouldn't be. He'd said that if they were meant to be, they'd be together. But now her nights were filled with terrible dreams about his death, and when she awoke crying or screaming, Kurt found her and wrapped her in his arms and whispered that it was just a nightmare. She wished that it was Finn instead, and that made her feel guilty.
She was three and a half months pregnant, and she'd sworn them all to secrecy. No one was to know that she was with child or that Finn was the father. It would be impossible to keep things a secret forever, but with no news of Finn, she couldn't bear to tell her fathers or Carole. Thanksgiving was rapidly approaching, and it wouldn't be long before she was actually showing. Then there would no hiding from the truth. But how do you tell your fathers that your unborn child might not have a father, but you are going to raise him or her anyway, in spite of the difficulties? How do you tell the mother of your soul mate that you are having his child even though you haven't spoken in months? Especially when you aren't sure whether she even knows where her son is.
It was the first time she'd been back in Lima since her fathers' anniversary, and even then she was there for only a few hours. Kurt made her promise that she would tell at least her fathers and Finn's mother about the baby, but she wasn't sure how to do it. When they arrived home—could she call it home when she didn't live there, and Finn was nowhere to be found? Did she have a home?
"Papa, Daddy, I'm pregnant."
The words simply fell out of her mouth when her papa wrapped his arms around her, and she couldn't seem to stop crying. Hiram Berry held his daughter close, letting her settle into his lap as if she were five years old and missing her favorite stuffed rabbit again. She sobbed openly, her small frame shaking. Her face was buried in his shirt, and he gently stroked her hair, murmuring that it would all be alright. LeRoy paced nervously, unable to come up with the right words to say to his distraught daughter.
"Bunny, is the baby Finn's?" LeRoy's voice shook slightly. "Have you told him?"
"I don't even know where he is or even if he's alive, Daddy." She looked up, her eyes red and swollen from the tears. "He could be dead."
"Shh, sweetheart, don't think that way. I'm sure Finn is fine." Hiram kissed the top of her head, hugging her tightly. "Maybe Carole has heard from him. She told me he was deployed a few months ago, and maybe she's heard something. You need to talk to her."
Thanksgiving was the very next day, and Carole Hudson-Hummel had invited the Berrys to dinner. But for the night, Rachel just wanted to sleep. It had been weeks since she had a decent night's sleep, and it wasn't good for the baby. She allowed her papa to tuck her into bed after some soup and curled herself around a pillow. Burying herself in the blankets, she closed her eyes and rested one hand on her abdomen, the tears stinging her eyes. Her voice was weak whisper as she spoke.
"I know you may not be able to hear me yet or even understand, but I'm your mommy. I'm scared, baby, but I love you. And your daddy would love you too if he knew. Where ever he is, he would love you so much. I just hope I get the chance to tell him about you."
She continued to murmur to her unborn child, whispering love and hope and reassurance, but she wasn't sure whether it was for her or the baby. Her eyes fell closed, and she hummed softly as sleep finally began to overtake her, praying that for once she wouldn't dream.
Early the next morning, Hiram found his daughter in the kitchen making pie from scratch, including the crust. Her hair was up in rollers, and her face was dusted with flour. He could tell she'd been crying over the apples as she cut them. She was muttering softly to herself—or maybe it was to her abdomen—about how much Finn loved apple pie as she carefully arranged the apples and neatly covered it with a top crust. He prayed that she didn't have some sort of false hope that Finn would be there because he knew that Carole would call if she knew anything about his whereabouts.
She knew she shouldn't be so disappointed, but some stupid part of her had hoped that Finn would be there waiting. Kurt greeted her with a hug and a kiss on the cheek, shaking his head before she could ask the question. The moment she laid eyes on Carole, Rachel began to feel guilty again. She was torn between begging forgiveness and throwing herself into Carole's arms. It was tempting to ask whether she'd heard from Finn at all, but from the look on the older woman's face it was clear that Finn's military service was weighing heavily on her. Carole wrapped Rachel in a hug, gently stroking her hair.
"Rachel, sweetheart, are you alright?" Rachel closed her eyes, pulling in a breath.
"I'm fine," she murmured, her teeth sinking into her bottom lip. "Just a little tired."
"Why don't you sit down and tell me all about New York?" Carole guided her to the couch. "It's been awhile since we talked."
It was difficult, but Carole kept the conversation light. Finn had begged her not to tell Rachel what had happened in Afghanistan, and she intended to keep that promise. She asked Rachel about classes and the apartment, anything to keep her from asking about Finn. No matter how much she wanted to tell her that Finn was injured but alive and recovering, she couldn't. Finn wanted to tell her on his own terms, if he ever told her at all, and Carole was doing her best to respect his wishes.
"Sweetheart, are you sure you're alright? You look a little ill." Rachel swallowed thickly, trying to come up with a viable lie to tell her.
"It's ok, Carole; I've just had a very long few days." But Carole was already feeling her forehead.
"You don't feel warm. Have you been sick lately?" Rachel pulled in a shaky breath, the tears stinging her eyes. "Rachel, you know that you can tell me anything, right? I've always thought of you as a daughter, and I will always be there for you."
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." The floodgates burst, and Rachel found herself sobbing against Carole's shirt. "Finn and I—we—I'm sorry."
"Sweetie, are you—are you pregnant?" She nodded, barely meeting Carole's gaze. "And Finn's the father?"
"I'm sorry. Finn doesn't even know. I can't even contact him. I don't know where he is or how to reach him." Her voice broke, and Carole pulled her into a tight embrace, murmuring that it would be alright. "He's going to be a father, but I don't even know if he's alive. I'm so scared; I don't know what to do."
"It's alright, Rachel; everything will alright." Carole kissed the top of her head, stroking her hair. "Finn will come home, and everything will turn out fine. I promise."
Rachel cried softly, her small frame shaking with her sobs, and Carole rubbed her back in slow circles. Everything seemed to be falling apart, and Rachel felt so lost and afraid. She wanted desperately to ask Carole how she knew that Finn would be home, but she couldn't. All she could do was cry and beg her not to tell Finn about the baby if she spoke to him at all. She had to tell him in her own way if she ever saw him again.
It was snowing at Christmas time for the first time in two years as he walked up the steps to the house. Lima was cold and empty. He hated that the weather made his knee stiff and achy. He hated that he felt so old and broken, even though he was only almost twenty. He was home for good—well, out of the army for good. He had been honorably discharged after he finished his physical therapy; his injuries had been too severe for him to return to active duty. He'd done what he set out to do. Sure his father was dead and there was no way to change his discharge to honorable, but maybe this made it right. As he reached the front door, he could almost feel his father's hand on his shoulder, telling him that he was proud.
He'd barely knocked twice when the door swung open, and Carole wrapped her son in a tight embrace, sobbing openly against his chest. She'd been so afraid that she would lose her son, and relief flooded her as she held him close. It killed her to see him walk with a visible limp as he walked into the house out of the cold. The urge to wrap him in a blanket and offer him hot chocolate and cookies as if he were six years old again, but she knew that wasn't the answer anymore. He looked so much older, more mature, and yet he'd only been gone a little over a year. It was like looking at Chris again, only this time she truly believed that he was going to be alright in the end.
It was three days before Christmas, and he was wandering around Lima. He used to hate the small town, but it seemed even smaller now. At least there was peace to be found, and Rachel wasn't there to remind him of everything he'd lost. He wondered if she was coming to visit her fathers for the holiday, and a part of him hoped that she wouldn't so that he didn't have to face her. It was freezing outside, so cold his knee didn't want to move. The Lima Bean was warm, and coffee seemed like the ideal solution. He hadn't expected to see Rachel, Santana, and Kurt at their usual table, talking and laughing as Blaine joined them. Kurt lit up like a light when Blaine kissed his cheek, and Finn felt a pang of jealousy. He couldn't bring himself to join them, but as he passed the table he heard Blaine mention the word pregnant. It stopped him dead in his tracks.
"Rachel, I can't believe it. What are you going to do?"
"Hey, Hobbit, you want to keep that voice down. It's not like Berry here wants everyone in Lima to know about it." Santana narrowed her eyes over her coffee before turning her attention to Rachel. "You, little miss diva pants, need to figure out what you are going to do about all this. Especially since Kurtsie here says that Frankenman is back, and you are very preggers."
"Good heavens, Santana! I have no idea what I'm going to do. I'm three months pregnant, and I haven't spoken to Finn since he—well since he left. What should I do? Just go knock on his door and when he opens it simply say 'hello Finn, I haven't seen you in awhile, good to know you're alive. Oh by the way, I'm pregnant with your child.' I can see that going well."
"Well you certainly can't hide it. He has the right to know about the baby." Kurt was all business. "Maybe this is a sign. Maybe it's the universe slapping you in the face and saying that you and Finn are meant to be."
"Just because it worked out so simply for you and Blaine doesn't mean that it's going to be easy for Finn and I. Regardless of my feelings, a baby complicates everything." She nearly dropped her coffee in her lap trying to stand up from the table. "I'll be right back."
In her rush for the bathroom, she ran straight into a hard chest, coffee spilling down their fronts. Hissing at the heat, she took three steps back, her eyes widening when they fell on Finn. Words turned to mush in her mouth, her cheeks flushed bright pink, and she feared that he had heard the entire conversation she'd just had.
"Finn, I—" Her voice died on her lips, and she closed her eyes. "I'm sorry, I have to go."
"Rachel, wait!" But he was too late.
She grabbed Kurt and Santana, dragging them out of the coffee shop with Blaine in tow. He stood there, dumbfounded as he watched them leave. Everything slowly pieced together, and he couldn't believe what he was hearing. Rachel had gotten pregnant that night in August, and she hadn't told him about it. How could she do that to him? And how could she keep hiding it after she knew he was back home? It wasn't like her, but maybe he didn't know her anymore. The coffee was beginning to soak through his shirt, and now he just wanted to go home and hide. By the time he made it home he felt his phone vibrate, and he breathed a sigh of relief at the sound of Rachel's voice.
"Finn, I just wanted to tell you not worry."
"What do you mean, Rach?" His relief quickly turned to worry. "If this is about—"
"Listen, it's ok. I want you to know that you are under no obligation to support the baby or become involved." Her tone was so very business-like, but he could hear the tears and the way her voice was cracking. "I don't want to invade your life, or make your return home stressful. I know it wasn't planned or something you wanted, so I understand if you just want to move on with your life and forget about this and me."
Before he could speak Rachel had hung up the phone, and he was dumbfounded. How could she believe that he wouldn't want to be a part her life? How could she think that he wouldn't want to help her raise their child? Had he really given her that idea? He knew he was an adult, a grown man, but he simply threw himself on the bed and cried. Somehow he had imagined that he would just come home and Rachel would be waiting to welcome him home with open arms and they'd just be happy again. It was childish and stupid. The point of letting her go was to do the grown up thing.
"Finn?" His mom's voice filtered into the room, but he couldn't bring himself to look up from the bed. "Sweetheart, are you ok?"
"She's pregnant, mom. Did you know that?" His voice was muffled by his pillow. "She's having my baby."
"I know," He felt the bed shift as she settled next to him.
"I'm a father; I've been a dad for almost five months, and I never even knew it." Slowly he lifted his body off the bed, only to allow his mom to wrap him in her arms. "She said I don't have to be involved. She said I didn't have to help or support the baby at all. I'm pretty sure she believes I don't want any part of this. She thinks I'd abandon her. What kind of man am I? What kind of person am I if she thinks I'd do that?"
"Shhh, sweetheart it's not like that. I'm sure she doesn't think badly of you." Holding him against her chest, she murmured against his hair. "She's just very scared and confused."
"What do I do, mom? What am I supposed to do now?" He felt like such a child, crying into his mother's shirt the way he had when he found out that Quinn was pregnant. "She'll leave for New York soon. She'll be gone, and I'm here. I'm not even completely whole anymore. My knee's all busted, and I limp around like an old man. She won't even want me anyway."
"You don't know that, Finn." His mom sighed, stroking his hair. "Maybe she's waiting for you to come home. Maybe she's waiting for you to be ready."
"Someday Hummel, you better be able to afford the good shit. You too Berry."
They were sitting around the television, sipping champagne and watching the New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square; Rachel absently swirled a champagne glass filled with sparkling grape juice. Last year they'd spent their holiday in the city, laughing and drinking, and they'd watched the ball drop as they danced through the snow. But this year, despite Blaine's arrival in the city and temporary residence in the apartment, no one had gone out to celebrate. No amount of insisting from Rachel, who declared that she had nothing to wear and no need to freeze in the city, that they go on an enjoy the holiday had made a difference. Rachel and Kurt were eating marshmallows and chocolate cake, laughing as Santana did an impression of Nicki Manaj, and Blaine threw a marshmallow at her head. The buzzer startled the four of them, causing Blaine and Santana to spill their champagne.
"I'll get it. I need more booze, and it's over there anyway." Santana stood, pointing her glass in that direction before moving to the door and pressing the button. "Who is it?"
"Lopez, it's me." Her eyebrows lifted at the sound of Finn's voice. "Santana just let me up; I need to talk to Rachel."
"Hold up, Frankenman. I'm buzzing you in now."
Five minutes later, Santana let Finn into the warm apartment, and Kurt immediately rushed to embrace him, followed quickly by a handshake from Blaine; both men nearly knocked Santana over where she stood. Finn wrapped her in a hug, and, while she made a big show of resisting, she returned the embrace with a smile.
"Finn?" Rachel was looking up at him with wide eyes. "What are you doing here?"
"Why do think?" He tried not to stare; she was beautiful, even dressed in a ridiculously oversized shirt to hide what he could only assume was her baby bump.
"I told you there was no obligation. You don't have to do any—"
"You think I'm here because I think I have to be? Rachel don't you know me at all?" He tried not to snap, especially when she looked up at him with teary eyes. "I want to be here, Rach. I want to be with you, and I want to help you raise our baby. I'm here because I love you."
"You don't get to come back here, say that you love me, and expect things to just go back to the way they were. You put me on that train and told me to let go. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do. But I made myself do it because I knew it was the right thing to do. I knew you were right." Her eyes dropped as she tried to hide the tears. "You can't just fall back together, Finn. Things are different now. We aren't teenagers anymore. It won't be like it was."
"You're right. It won't be like when we were in high school. It'll be better this time. Because I know now what I want out of life. I know who I am, and I know where I belong." He lifted her chin, forcing her to look at him. "It'll be better this time because we've grown. I'm ready to be with you forever. If you still want me."
"Oh for the love of God, Berry; just say yes." Santana gave her a small push toward Finn, who collected her in his arms as she stumbled. "You two idiots deserve each other."
The clock struck midnight as he wrapped his arm around her and kissed her softly, and she melted against him, her eyes falling closed. He could feel her trembling against his body, and he held her closer, gently stroking her hair.
"It's alright, baby girl. I'm home now." He murmured into the top of her hair. "I'm not going to leave you ever again."
The tiny apartment was beginning to feel incredibly crowded. Finn had moved into Rachel's room, raising the number of residents to five, and Santana was talking about moving into a place of her own. No matter how many times Finn assured her that he would move out before she did because he was the intruder, Santana had already found three available apartments that were both affordable and nearby. She wasn't really the large family type, and now that there were significant others involved she felt crowded and trapped. They couldn't afford a new apartment, not with all of them only working part time. If Santana picked one of the three, she planned to move out within the month.
"Maybe I should get a fulltime job instead of going to school. I'm the one showing up and making things more complicated and expensive." Finn made the offer over his coffee, glancing over as Rachel tried to quietly sneak a piece of Blaine's bacon; from the look on her face he knew it would be best not to mention it. "I'm sure I can find—"
"Absolutely not!" Kurt cut him off almost immediately. "We'll just manage in close quarters and this apartment for awhile longer."
"We'll just budget better, spend less on luxuries, and save our money." Blaine remarked. "We're all working part time at least, and I don't see the point in anyone giving up their education for us to survive. We can handle this."
Rachel hurried off to take her shower so that she wouldn't be late for work at the diner, and the conversation turned to plans for the next year as they finished their breakfast. Finn had been accepted at CUNY and was going to study music education in the fall, and until then he'd gotten a job working at a record store. Kurt's internship was going to begin soon, and Blaine was well into his first semester of pre-law at NYU. By the time Rachel returned to the kitchen everyone was rushing about, concerned that they might be late for work. Life had taken on a comfortable routine, and it almost felt as if things were as they should be, even after all they'd been through. They took turns with the cooking and cleaning and grocery shopping, managed their bills, and even had a bathroom schedule. For Rachel it seemed as if they'd finally begun to live their dreams.
Later that night as they lay together in the darkness of their bedroom, Finn rested his head next to Rachel's abdomen, one hand spread across her belly. His eyes lit up when he felt the baby kick, and Rachel practically glowed.
"Hi, baby! It's your daddy." He murmured. "I love you very much, baby, and I'll always love you. I'll always be here for you."
"I love you." Rachel's voice was a soft whisper. "I love you so much, and I'm so glad you're home. I missed you."
"I missed you too, Rach. I'm not going anywhere. I promise."
Rachel's hand gently stroked through Finn's hair, and he slowly moved up to press a kiss to her lips. She pulled in a slow breath, pulling him to her. His hands stroked down her body, making her tremble and sigh, but as he reached her hip and moved lower, she caught his wrist. His eyes widened with confusion, and Rachel chewed her bottom lip.
"Baby, what's the matter?"
"Am I so ugly and fat that you can't look at me?" She released his wrist.
"Rachel—where would you get that idea? You're beautiful; you're the most beautiful woman in the world." He pressed a kiss to her bare shoulder.
"You always make love to me in the dark, as if you can't stand the sight of me." The sadness in her eye broke his heart. "It's like you can't look at me, as if I'm repulsive to you."
"That's not true." He pulled in a shaking breath, reaching over to turn on the lamp by their bed. "It's not that I don't want to see you, Rachel. It's that I don't—I don't want you to see me. I don't want you to see them. It's why I don't take my shirt off in front of you, and I get dressed so fast in the morning. I know you see me limp, but I don't want you to see the scars too. I didn't want you to see how ruined I am."
"Finn, I—" She reached up, her fingers running over the marks that marred his right shoulder. "You aren't ruined. You're a hero, Finn; you've always been my hero. This is simply a reminder of your heroism. It doesn't ruin you. It doesn't make you less. None of it does."
"Rachel, I limp like an old man; when it's cold outside, I'm so stiff I can't move sometimes. I'm not exactly at my best anymore." She silenced him with a kiss.
"I don't care about that. I don't care about any of it." His eyes grew soft and filled with tears. "I love you, and that's all that matters."
"Why don't we just let it be a surprise, Rachel? Maybe the baby isn't going let us see." Finn dropped a kiss on her shoulder as they sat in the waiting room.
"Because it's almost April, and I'm seven and a half months pregnant. I'm starting to waddle around the apartment and to classes." She slipped her feet out of her flats. "We have to get the nursery ready, and Santana and Kurt are throwing me a shower at her new apartment."
"Baby, this is the third appointment in as five weeks, and the baby still hasn't let us see. Maybe it's supposed to be a surprise." But Rachel's narrowed eyes told him otherwise.
"I want to stop calling our baby an it, Finn." She squeezed his hand. "I want to know."
"Mr. and Mrs. Hudson?"
Neither of them bothered to correct the nurse when she called for them, and they followed her to the examination room. This was only a visit to determine the sex of the baby; they'd had their monthly check up two weeks prior, and everything was going well. The baby's heart beat was strong, and he or she was developing well. Dr. Brooks entered the room ten minutes later as Rachel was unbuttoning her shirt.
"Hopefully today we'll be able to tell the sex of your baby. If not, I'm afraid you may need to wait until the baby is born. It seems that you have a very stubborn child coming." Rachel shivered as the gel was smoothed over her abdomen.
"Just like mommy," Finn chuckled, reaching for Rachel's hand.
"Well, it seems that someone has decided that she will not be stubborn after all." Dr. Brooks announced before Rachel could say anything. "Congratulations are in order, Mommy and Daddy. You are having a little girl. She appears to be very healthy."
"Could we maybe get a picture?" Tears welled in their eyes as they smiled at each other, and Dr. Brooks nodded.
"I'll leave you to get dressed, and I'll be back in a moment with your copy." Left alone in the examination room, Finn and Rachel couldn't hold back their tears.
"That's our girl." Finn murmured. "That's our Sophia Marie."
"We're having a baby girl." He wrapped her in his arms and held her close, kissing the top of her head.
A week later Rachel found herself surrounded by the women in her life and Kurt, who'd insisted on planning the entire affair; Carole had flown in from Ohio and Mercedes from L.A., and Quinn had taken the train in from Connecticut. Tina had moved to New York after graduation, and she had moved into the same building as Santana. Rachel took a bite of the cake in her lap, laughing as Tina did a far too accurate impression of her waddling across the floor. She rested one hand on her abdomen and nearly choked on her cake with Santana shouted that the impression was only completely accurate if she was also stuffing her face.
"There's no doubt that Finn's the baby daddy—no offense mama Hudson." Carole just laughed and shook her head. "The way Rachie there eats you'd think she was carrying three babies instead of the one."
"It's alright, Santana. I swear I ate my body weight in pizza and peppermint ice cream while I was pregnant with him." Rachel giggled between bites of cake.
"For Rachel it's marshmallows, apples, and peanut butter; sometimes she needs it all dipped in chocolate. Last night I caught her with a bottle of Hershey's squirting it into a jar of peanut butter and eating it with a spoon." Kurt pointed his fork at his best friend, who ducked her head in shame.
"Alright, alright, let's move on to something more fun than picking on my eating habits. It's not my fault Sophia likes sweets."
"Presents! Let's do presents!" Tina laughed reaching behind her to get her gift. "I can't wait for you to see what Mike and I got for the baby."
"Thank you, Tina." Rachel carefully unwrapped the pink striped paper to find a mobile, with music notes hanging from it, and beneath it was small stack of children's books. "It's beautiful."
"Mike wanted to find one that let your record your own music, so it would play 'Don't Stop Believing', but we couldn't. So this one plays Mozart." Tina giggled.
"Open mine next, Berry. There's a little something underneath it for you and Finn, but I don't want to hear about how you used it." Rachel blushed, finding a bit of black lace peeking from under the tissue paper at the bottom of the green polka dot bag, and she held up a bright yellow onesie that said 'Mommy's Little Diva'. "I figured like mother like daughter."
"San, this is perfect. I'd hug you, but it would require me to get up." Santana shrugged, and Quinn handed over a box neatly wrapped in purple and blue paper.
"Blaine said you wanted music related things." Rachel nodded as she pulled out a stack of CDs. "Baby's first classical music; I would have gotten some show tunes, but I figured that you'd want her to wait awhile before introducing her to Phantom of the Opera and RENT."
"Thank you, Quinn. This is wonderful. It will definitely go with the rock music Finn has been attempting to introduce her to before she's even born." Quinn reached out to squeeze her hands, and Rachel smiled brightly.
"Rachel, you have to open mine next! I know it's small, but it's important." Kurt handed her a simple card with a pink satin ribbon tied around it.
"I take it these are for clothes." Two simple gift certificates fluttered into her lap.
"No niece of mine will be wearing anything less than the very best, and you will need a new wardrobe." Santana and Tina clapped. "You will look fabulous!"
"You know that Burt and I are giving you a rocking chair for the nursery, but Burt has decided to make it himself, which means that it might be done by the time Sophia is born." Carole laughed softly as she offered Rachel a box wrapped in sparkling pink paper. "But I wanted you to have something just from me."
"Oh, Carole, these are lovely." She ran her fingers over the cover of a baby book that read 'Sophia Marie Hudson' in pretty script and a delicate silver picture frame. "And this quilt, did you make it as well?"
"I've been working on it since Thanksgiving. I wanted you and the baby to have something special." Rachel pushed herself out of her chair, and Carole embraced her. "You are my daughter, Rachel."
One moment she was listening to her professor lecture on the merits of method acting, and the next she was nearly doubled over in her seat. At first she thought it might be cramps or Braxton Hicks contractions, but the pain did not subside. She'd taken a seat in the back near the door in case of an emergency, and now she could barely move. Her hands shook as she dialed Finn's number and struggled to make it out of the room.
"Finn, the baby—she's coming. She's early, a month early." Her voice shook, and she leaned against the wall. "I'm outside the theater building."
"Hang on, baby girl, I'm climbing into a cab now." Rachel let out a soft cry. "Call an ambulance, Rach, and I'll meet you at the hospital."
"Hurry, Finn. Please hurry."
Twenty minutes and one ambulance ride alone later, the EMTs were wheeling her into the hospital; Finn burst through the doors and soon he was running alongside her to the delivery room. Sophia was a full month early, and Rachel seemed to be in so much pain. They stopped him at the doors, informing him that he had to wash up and put on scrubs before he could be with her. When he was finally allowed inside, he rushed to her side, taking her hand and squeezing gently.
"You are never touching me again." Her voice was hoarse and tired. "It hurts so much."
"I know, baby. I know." They'd been to all the classes, and he knew that he needed to be gentle and supportive. "But you can do this."
"I can't do this, Finn. I can't—oh god," her hand squeezed his so tightly that he visibly winced; he looked up to see that Dr. Brooks had entered the room.
"A little early, I see. Well, let's take a look." She offered Rachel a soft smile before examining her. "It looks like you're fully dilated. My, we are in a hurry. It's time to push."
"I can't." She squeezed Finn's hand tightly as another contraction washed over her. "I can't do this."
"You are strong, Rachel. You are so much stronger than this." He kissed her forehead. "Now, push. Baby, you need to push."
Tears welled in her eyes, and she laced her fingers with his, squeezing his hand and crying out. Finn murmured encouragement against her temple. It seemed like hours passed before Dr. Brooks informed her that one more good push should bring her daughter into the world, and Finn brushed her hair away from her forehead. With a final gasp and push, Rachel cried out, and she and Finn could hear Sophia's soft cries. She looked so small and helpless, almost too small, as Dr. Brooks placed her in Rachel's arms, and Finn gently stroked her tiny hands. They barely had time to hold her before she was hurried off to NICU. He wrapped his arms around her and held her to his chest, whispering that he loved her and that everything would be alright.
"She's beautiful. And she's going to be fine." Finn gently rubbed her shoulders as they looked through the nursery glass. "Even at a month early, she's incredibly healthy."
"I'm scared Finn. She's so tiny. The doctors said that her immune system might be weakened for awhile." Her voice broke. "What if I can't handle it? What if I'm a terrible mother?"
"You are going to be an amazing mother, baby. You don't have anything to worry about. Our daughter is strong and willful and stubborn, just like her mother. The doctors said she'd be fine; she's already growing stronger." His lips pressed a kiss to the top of her head. "I love you."
"I love you too." She murmured the words as the nurse beckoned them in, and Finn felt his heart swell with love and pride as she placed Sophia in his arms.