previously posted on tumblr! prompted by mary gael, who said i should write an AU from my favorite time period, so i picked world war i :)

title from the song 'always' by panic! at the disco :)

i'm the light blinking at the end of the road

A war is coming. And it's not just the whispers that say so, not just the papers and the people. No, there's a tangible feeling: a sense of tension that wasn't there before.

Rachel knows that the United States aren't directly involved, but she can't help but feel terrified. Once the war is actually underway, she knows that it probably won't be long before the US joins.

The year is 1914, and Rachel Berry is terrified.

"Everything's gonna be fine," Finn tells her when she expresses her fears to him, pressing a kiss to the top of her head. "America's not joining the war, Rachel. And there's not even a war yet to worry about!"

She gives him a small smile, leaning into his side. "I sincerely hope you're right."

"I am," he says confidently, fingers combing through her hair. "You know what you should be worried about, though?"

She crinkles her nose, shaking her head. "What's that?"

He grins, taking her tiny hand in his much larger one. "Our wedding."

She beams as they continue walking down the street, looping her arm with his. "Oh, I'm not worried about that, Mr. Hudson," she tells him easily, eyes shining. "I know that it'll be grand. Absolutely perfect."

"Good," Finn murmurs, pressing another kiss to her hair. "Now let's get you home before dark so your parents don't retract their blessing."

Rachel giggles, practically skipping as Finn escorts her home. Surely he's right – she has nothing to worry about. Everything will be just fine.

Finn and Rachel get married on a nice, spring day in 1915. The flowers are just beginning to bloom, there's a slight breeze, and Rachel feels absolutely beautiful as she walks down the aisle, Finn misty-eyed and smiling, waiting for her at the end, just like always.

They grew up together, her and Finn. He's always been her best friend, and then it suddenly shifted into something more; and now, here they are, ages eighteen and nineteen, about to embark on the rest of their lives together.

And he really is looking at her like she's the rest of his life. She feels the butterflies flutter in her lower abdomen, clutching her bouquet a little more tightly.

Her daddy kisses her cheek before he gives her away, his eyes shining with unshed tears, and she gives him a big hug. She knows this is where she wants to be, and it's how she wants to spend the rest of her life: By Finn's side.

She clasps his hands firmly in her own, giving him a small smile as the priest welcomes everyone to the ceremony. He mouths that she looks beautiful, his thumb skirting over the back of her hand, and she blushes, her heart pounding frantically in her chest.

It seems to only be a matter of minutes before the priest is pronouncing them to be man and wife, and then Finn's grabbing her hand and everyone's clapping as they head back out of the church.

"How does it feel to officially be Mrs. Hudson?" Finn asks, his smile so wide it practically threatens to break his face in two.

"Perfect," she replies. "Absolutely perfect."

She stands up on her tiptoes to press her lips against his, her heart soaring when she feels him smile against her mouth.

She's a bit nervous for the implications that come along with her wedding night and her bridal bed – her mother did sit her down and tell her what was expected of her – but Finn immediately puts her at ease, running his hand soothingly up and down her arm once he shows her the room, assuring her she doesn't have to do anything she doesn't want to do.

She just smiles at him, says that she wants to, and then she leads him to the bed, pushing him back onto it gently.

She feels embarrassed at first, wearing so little clothing in front of him and knowing that she's about to be wearing nothing at all, but he just cups her cheek, running his thumb over her skin and whispering that she's beautiful. She doesn't feel so shy after that.

It's not really like her mother described it all – it's so, so much more, and it's definitely better. It hurts a bit at first, but once she becomes acquainted with him – all of him, around her, inside her, filling her up completely – and once they find a rhythm, she thinks this is actually the best feeling in the world. She truly feels like she's one with him, completely his and his alone, just like he's hers.

Afterwards, she curls into his side, and she feels like nothing can possibly go wrong, because in this moment, everything is perfect. In this moment, she's completely and irrevocably happy.

"I love you," Finn murmurs against her hair, his hand trailing down her bare back, his fingers rubbing small circles against her skin.

She beams, turning her head to kiss his chin. "And I love you."

She really doesn't know how things can get any better than this.

The Lusitania sinks a few months after they get married, and Rachel becomes even more fearful. She knows that now that American lives have been claimed, it's only a matter of time before the United States join the fight. And she knows that when they do, Finn will probably feel an obligation to go fight, feel that it's his patriotic duty.

She knows it's probably selfish, but she can't stand the thought of him going away and potentially never coming back. She's heard about the war in the papers, knows about all the terrors it involves, and she can't – won't – let Finn get in the middle of that.

She begins to have nightmares, nightmares where she's all alone, calling out for Finn, but he's not there. Suddenly, she's in the middle of the battlefield: She's in the barbed wire between the fences, grenades going off all around her, gunshots firing overheard, and she's running, tripping over the wire, trying desperately to find a way out. She trips over something more solid, falling to the ground, and she screams out in horror as she sees Finn beside her, his eyes lifeless, staring past her.

And that's when she wakes up, tears staining her face, struggling to breathe because the tears clog her throat. Finn's strong arms wrap around her, and he holds her tightly, whispering that everything will be okay. He knows by now that the dream's always the same, so he just says, "I'm here, shh, I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere."

She touches his face in the darkness, traces his features with her fingers, making sure it's really him. She kisses him feverishly, desperately, and he pulls away at first, studying her as much as he can in the dark.

"Please, Finn," she whispers, pressing her mouth back against his. "Just… please."

He doesn't try to resist after that, resting his hands on her hips and kissing her with less care and more passion. It's what she needs right now, and she's glad he seems to understand that.

They make love, but this time it's different: It's not slow and caring; instead, it's fast and frantic. She needs him like this, needs to feel him, to know that he's here and he's fine.

"I'm yours forever, Rachel," he breathes as he slides inside of her and begins to move, "and even if I do go somewhere, I'll always come back. I promise."

"Oh, Finn, I love you so," she gasps as he attaches his lips to her neck, pressing his hand between their bodies, and then she's seeing stars and feeling fireworks coursing through her veins.

She curls into his side afterwards, pressing a kiss against his chest. "Thank you, Finn."

He runs his hand over the top of her head. "For what?"

"For loving me."

"How could I not, Rachel?" Her eyes flutter closed, and she focuses on the beating of his heart, steady beneath her head. "How could I not?"

America officially enters the war on April 6, 1917. Rachel hears over the radio as she's making dinner, and the knife she's using to cut up the vegetables falls to the ground with a clatter. She raises one hand to her mouth, and she knows that this won't end well, that it can't. Surely her nightmares were an indication of terrible things to come.

Finn gets home a few hours later, and he immediately sweeps her up into his arms. "I'm not leaving you, Rachel," he promises.

She just nods, still numb, because ultimately, how can he promise her that?

"I'm not leaving," he repeats.

She just hugs him tightly, hoping that he's right.

Things aren't that simple. It's wartime now, and the draft is put in place. Finn gets drafted in June of 1917, and surprisingly, Rachel doesn't cry.

Finn seems shocked, rereading the letter multiple times, but Rachel just holds his hand, running her thumb back and forth over his knuckles.

"Rachel..." he murmurs, and then he swallows, setting down the piece of paper.

"Oh, Finn." She leans over to kiss his forehead, and he holds to her him, pressing his face against her neck. She feels him breath in, and she knows that this time, she needs to be strong for him, but she can already feel her bottom lip trembling. "We – we'll be okay. You'll come back to me, just – just like you promised."

He just squeezes her tighter, and she combs her fingers through his hair. "It's all going to be okay," she whispers. "You – you'll see." A single tear slides down her cheek. "Everything's going to be fine."

She knows that neither of them believe it.

He ships out at the end of the summer, and Rachel feels her heart sink as he prepares to leave the house. He didn't want her to see him actually leave, and she knows it's probably because they'll both break down if she does.

"I love you so much, Finn Hudson," Rachel murmurs, a few tears already skating down her cheeks.

He wipes them away with his thumbs as he cups her cheeks, replying, "I love you, too, Rachel Hudson." He kisses her, and she can taste her own tears as he does. She lets out a little strangled cry as he pulls away, keeping his hand against her cheek as he takes a step backward.

"Come back to me," she whispers.

He gives her a small smile, caressing her cheek one final time. "Always," he promises. He kisses her forehead one final time, and then he leaves.

They both agreed this wouldn't be goodbye, so they don't say the words. It can't be goodbye. He promised he'd come home, so he will. She knows it.

She doesn't let herself sob until the door closes behind him.

The months seem to drag on without Finn, but she tries to find things to do to keep herself busy. She visits her parents often, and her mother tells her that it's okay to be mourning Finn.

"I'm not mourning him," Rachel insists. "I just miss him, that's all."

Her mother gives her a sympathetic look, running her hand over the top of her head. "Oh, sweetie," she whispers. "Boys are dying over there every day. You've heard about it on the radio! Things aren't looking too swell, and you're going to have to accept that Finn might not come back—"

"Don't you dare say that to me," Rachel snaps, pulling away from her mother's outstretched hand. "Don't you dare tell me my husband's not coming home!" Hot, wet tears begin to slide down her cheeks. "He promised!" she insists, her voice cracking. "He promised he'd come back!" She dissolves into sobs, and her mother hugs her, trying her best to calm her.

She's not Finn, though. She needs Finn.

She just hates to think that maybe her mother's right, and that maybe Finn's not coming back after all.

She finds a friend in another woman whose husband is off fighting in the war. Her name is Quinn Puckerman. She lives just down the street with her infant daughter, Beth, and she and Rachel become fast friends. They bond over missing their husbands, and they also find ways to pass the time with them gone.

Quinn teaches Rachel how to sew, and Rachel gives Quinn a few singing lessons, using the old piano at her house. Somehow, Finn managed to scrape enough money together last December to buy it for her for Christmas, and it's quickly become her most prized possession.

Rachel likes having a friend. It makes her feel less lonely, and she really enjoys spending time with Quinn and Beth. Beth is about nine months old, Quinn tells her, and she's really a beautiful baby, with downy blonde curls and big green eyes.

Quinn says she looks a lot like her daddy, although her eyes and her hair are clearly inherited from Quinn, and Rachel can tell by the way she talks about him that she loves her husband, Noah, very much. Rachel's heart gives a pang because she really, really misses Finn. She hopes they can have their own children one day, children that look like mixtures of the two of them. She wants it so badly, but she can't let herself think about that until he's home.

Above all things, him coming home is most important.

Finn writes her letters when he can, but it's usually only one every two months or so, and they don't really say much except that he loves her, and that he plans on coming home.

They make her miss him even more, miss his smell, his kisses, and the curve of his lips when he smiles. But they're also a comfort, because they let her know that he's still alive, and he's fighting to come home to her.

She just loves him so much, and she misses him more and more every day.

She really hopes this war ends soon.

Quinn gets a letter in April of 1918, and her hands are shaking when she bursts into Rachel's kitchen, Beth on her hip and the envelope in her hand.

"I – I can't open it," she whispers.

Rachel looks at the return address and immediately knows why: It's from the United States Army.

"Please, Rachel, can – can you…?"

Rachel swallows, then she slides open the envelope. She scans the piece of paper, and tears fill her eyes.

"What?" Quinn asks frantically. "What is it? Is it Noah?"

Wordlessly, Rachel nods.

"Rachel," Quinn manages to get out, her voice breaking, "Rachel, please. Is my husband – is my husband dead?"

Rachel shakes her head. "No, he's – he's coming home, Quinn. He's missing a leg, from the knee down, but – but he's coming home."

Quinn dissolves into tears then, clutching Beth to her tightly, and Rachel begins to cry a little bit as well. She wraps her arms around Quinn, and the two of them just cry.

Rachel's happy for Quinn, but sad for Noah, who's lost something he literally cannot replace, and she's also scared still, because what if the next letter that comes is for her, and it bears bad news concerning Finn?

Noah is finally shipped home in June, and Rachel waits a few days to let him get settled in before she goes down to visit.

She knocks on the door the best she can with a pie in her hands, and a smiling Quinn answers.

"Rachel!" she exclaims. "I'm so glad to see you!"

Rachel gives her a small smile in return. Quinn already looks ten times happier; she doesn't have as many worry lines, and the smile definitely suits her face. Rachel doesn't know if she's ever seen her friend really, truly smile before.

Quinn gladly thanks her for the pie, taking it from her as she ushers her into the living room, where a man is sitting in a chair, Beth on his lap.

"Noah, this is Rachel, my dear friend. Her husband's fighting as well," Quinn says, and then she disappears into the kitchen.

"Hello," Rachel says, her voice somewhat small. She can't help but glance at Noah's leg, the other pant leg decidedly empty from what she can see. She knew about this, obviously – she read the letter – but it's still a bit of a shock to actually see.

"Grenade," Noah grunts. "They fixed me up the best they could, but my leg… They couldn't save it"

Rachel just nods, because she doesn't know what to say. An awkward silence falls, and then she clears her throat. "I heard – I heard on the radio the other day that they say the outcome looks good for us, in the war. That it might end soon."

Noah just looks at her.

"Would you say – would you say that that's accurate?"

Noah shrugs. "When you're out there, you only see the trench you're in, the battle you're fighting. You don't really see the bigger picture."

Rachel nods. She supposes that makes sense.

They sit in silence for a few more minutes until Noah speaks again.

"You said your husband was fighting?"

Rachel nods, trying not to let her lips tremble. "His – his name's Finn," she murmurs. "Finn Hudson." She feels the tears welling up in her eyes, the familiar ache in her heart, and she takes in a deep, shuddering breath. "And I – I don't even know if – if he's alive. He always wrote me letters, but… it's been months since I've received one." Rachel hastily wipes at her eye. "I'm so scared for him."

Noah purses his lips. "Hudson, you said?"

Rachel nods. "Finn."

"I know him. He was in my unit. We fought in the trenches together."

"You – you do? You did? How is he?"

"He's fine," Noah tells her easily, and Rachel knows he's not just saying that to appease her. "He misses you, though. Won't shut up about you."

Rachel feels herself smile.

"Rachel," Noah says that, leaning forward insistently, his eyes wide and earnest, "he's going to do everything in his power to get back home to you. You know that, right?"

Rachel gives him a watery smile. "I know."

Beth gurgles happily on Noah's lap then, and he gives her a small kiss on the top of her head. "Just – just believe in him, then. He'll be okay."

"Thank you, Noah," Rachel whispers, reaching over to squeeze his hand. "Thank you so much."

"Don't go getting mushy on me," Noah says, but he smiles.

Quinn comes back into the room then with slices of pie for all of them, and Rachel hopes that Noah's right, and that Finn will come home, and then she can have her own little happy family like theirs.

There's an announcement on the radio in the middle of November, one that makes Rachel drop the glass she was drying. It shatters into pieces, but Rachel doesn't even bother with cleaning them up; she's already out the door.

She runs down the street to the Puckerman house, and she fervently knocks, practically bouncing on the balls of her feet as she waits for the door to open. Noah's the one who answers, leaning heavily on his cane, and Rachel cautiously hugs him.

"I'm guessing you heard the news?" Quinn asks from behind them, Beth on her hip and a smile on her face.

"The war is over," Rachel breathes, letting go of Noah. "Finn's coming home!"

Finn arrives home on Christmas Eve. It's snowing, and Rachel finds herself waiting anxiously at the window, watching the snowflakes fall. The streetlamps outside are lit, but she doesn't see any people; just shadows.

She sighs, pressing her face against the cool glass.

Suddenly, she sees it: the shape of a man, just beyond the street lamp.

She hastily gets up, hurrying out into the street. She doesn't even bother to put on a shawl or a coat.

She bursts through the front door and she can see Finn a few feet away, his bag in hand, still dressed in his uniform. She sprints down the street, hardly daring to believe that he's real.

She slows down, coming to a stop just in front of him. He gives her a small smile.

"Where's your coat, Mrs. Hudson? We can't have you catch a cold!"

She just grins back at him, throwing her arms around him. He catches her, lifting her up into the air and twirling her around, pressing kisses across her hair, her neck, the side of her face.

Finally, he sets her down, but she doesn't let go of him, her hands still latched onto his arms.

"It's really you," she breathes. The snow is falling a little harder now, little flakes of white getting stuck in his dark hair.

"Of course it is," he says, cupping her cheek with his hand. "I told you I'd always come back."

Rachel lets out a little sob, grabbing his face between her hands and pressing a kiss against his lips, the first time she's kissed him in a year and a half. He still tastes the same, still her Finn, and she's glad that the war didn't take that from him, from her, from them.

She becomes aware that they're in the middle of the street where anyone can see them, and that this could be deemed improper, so she reluctantly pulls away.

"Oh, Finn, I love you so."

"I love you, too, Rachel," he whispers, taking her hand in his own. "Forever yours, remember?"

She squeezes his hand. "You must tell me everything, Finn! Every little detail! The good, if there is any, but the bad as well."

Finn just smiles, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. "I will, darling, I will," he promises. "But first, we really do have to get you in from the cold."

That night, long after Finn's fallen asleep, Rachel stays up, just watching him. She watches the rise and fall of his chest, how peaceful he looks in slumber. His eyelashes flutter, and he lets out a little sigh. She wonders if he's dreaming about her. She wonders if he dreamed about her often while he was away.

He draws her closer to him in his sleep, and she cuddles into his side. She still loves him so much, probably now more so than ever, and she's thankful that those feelings never changed.

She glances up at his sleeping face one last time to assure herself that this is real, that he's really here. She whispers, "Merry Christmas, Finn," before she succumbs to sleep herself, listening to the sound of Finn's strong, steady heartbeat.

A year later, Rachel's awoken by the smell of bacon. She rolls over to see that the other side of the bed is empty, so she knows Finn must be making breakfast. She gets up, stretching before throwing on her nightgown, walking across the hallway to the nursery.

Ava's already awake, her brown eyes wide, staring at the ceiling.

"Hello, angel," Rachel coos, scooping her daughter up. "Is Daddy making us breakfast?"

Ava gurgles, and Rachel presses her against her chest, pressing a kiss to the top of the downy brown fuzz on her head. "Don't worry, Mommy will get you your breakfast soon," she murmurs, heading back out into the hallway.

Sure enough, Finn is at the stove, bacon frying, and he turns to look at her, brown eyes bright and lips stretched into a smile. "Hello, beautiful!" he exclaims, taking Ava from Rachel and pressing butterfly kisses against her cheeks. Her tiny little hands rest on the side of his face, and Rachel's heart swells.

"And good morning to you as well, darling," he says, giving Rachel a kiss.

"Mmm, Merry Christmas," she whispers. "You made breakfast?"

He beams, clearly proud of himself. "I did."

"Well then, this will surely be the best Christmas ever," she says cheekily, taking the baby from him. "I'll just feed Ava and then we'll eat, okay?"

"And then we'll have to open up the presents," he reminds her, as if she could forget.

"And then the presents," she agrees. Ava starts to fuss, her tiny hands forming tiny fists. "Feeding first though."

Finn just smiles, turning back to the bacon.

Rachel has a feeling this certainly will be the best Christmas yet.

thanks so much for reading!