A/N: I owe a lot of thanks to a lot of people for helping me through this. Life is chaos and I don't have time for anything and honestly, it's a relief to have this on paper. It's really due to the gentle (heh) prodding of my dear friend Wendi (holygoof101) and our obsessive attention to lyrical detail. If anyone else knows where I got this title from, I will give you a gold star. The story and various ideas were taken from Fall to Pieces by Matt Nathanson. It's post 4X04, so if anyone is possibly not caught up to that point, it might not make sense. And I'm gonna call it now - this is AU.

Please enjoy. Review, reblog, let me know. I love reviews, even if they're critical. Thank you.

Disclaimer: I own nothing.

It takes him a really, really long time to move.

Like… at all. He can't even completely bring himself to cry. He did the swallowing thing; she was a mess and she was yelling and she was walking away, and he just sort of stood there. She said she'd never break up with him. Yeah, he promised too, and he's broken that promise more than once. He just remembers she said she'd never break up, never give up, never do things without him—and she's gone. It feels a lot like she's giving up because of the words she used and the way she used them and how she walked away.

She walked away to get back to her life and what's he doing? He's standing on the stage at McKinley. He's back where he started—no her, no job, nowhere to go, nothing to do. It's hard to move when nothing is the only thing behind you trying to push you forward. Nothing doesn't push very hard.

Even when he does move, it's all slow and shaky and everything looks different and he hates it. He hates it here. He hates himself, he hates her, he just sort of hates everything and he can't really stop himself. That's the problem with moving. Once you start you can't really stop it, and moving and hating aren't really that different in that respect; hating himself for hating in general is gonna get old really fast.

He survived on his own for two months while he was backpacking. He did some sort of nasty jobs in the name of earning money, stuff like on farms and things he doesn't really wanna think about too much because afterward the best payment in the world was a shower (horses, for example, smell really, really bad. He crossed being a jockey off his list, okay? Well, he would have if it'd ever been on there in the first place.) He more than survived—he actually liked it. There was something pretty awesome about not knowing where he was gonna end up. For the first time, it was kind of cool instead of terrifying. It felt like he was in control of it in a really sort of disorganized way. He learned that he's really good at negotiating things with people and it blew his mind; he can get them to trust him and let him work for them and just keep going.

His backpack is mostly full of clothes or whatever before he thinks about it too much.

When he got home from New York (from the Army – kinda the same trip home really), there was an envelope sitting on the desk in his room; it was full of cash. It was only like $450, but it was his half of the money that he and Rachel had saved when they were stupid and actually thought getting married would be a good idea. Okay, he doesn't think that was stupid. He's just doing the whole hating thing right now and it's easier to put that word onto it, instead of the words that say what it really was. Those words hurt too much. If he lets himself think on it for too long, he starts thinking about the sweet things and the innocent things and how it was like that. He was like that. He was different. He wishes he was different, but he's not. So. He has this cash and he has no idea what she did with hers and he's not gonna ask. He's not gonna talk to her. He's just gonna take his and go. That's the easiest way for him right now, the only thing he can do.

His mom is really not that happy with this plan. She was so relieved he was back. No really, that's how she said it and it made him realize how stressed out she actually was that he'd enlisted. She said she was okay with it, even if she did it with tears in her eyes and not much of a voice, but really she was worrying over him the whole time and she flat-out says she'll worry more about his lack of direction in this sort of scenario because she has no idea where he'll be or what he'll be doing. At least in the Army, she knew he was on-base and that there was some sort of structure. She's worried that he's lost. She's worried he'll always be lost if he goes now.

To be honest, he's worried too. He is lost, he just doesn't wanna be lost and trapped because he's pretty sure, after all the failure and heartbreak and disappointment, he can't even handle that. He's having a panic attack (whatever, he doesn't actually know what one is, he just has an imagination. An overactive imagination. And some trouble breathing or sitting still and a heart that won't slow down in his chest. Is that a panic attack? Then maybe he's having one.) just thinking over staying in this stupid freaking place. He never wanted to be here. He never, ever wanted to stay here. So he's not going to, it's that simple.

He kisses his mom, because she's probably the only one who even gives a shit if he walks out that door right now, and he goes.

He has enough money that, really, he could hop on a plane if he wanted to. He could go somewhere far and work his way back. He could cross borders; the military made him get a passport. He's not so sure he wants to do something like that, burn through everything he's got in his pocket just for travel. He should probably stretch his money out a little and he's gotten pretty decent at doing that. Well, at least he was in Georgia. And he ended up being okay at saving when they were planning the wedding. He thinks that if he tries and plans, he'll be okay money-wise for a while with this cash.

For whatever reason, this means he hops the (not at all straight route, by the way) bus to Louisville to see Santana. It's a starting point and he thinks that he might be able to find something there to do that would cover the cost of the bus trip before he figures out where else he wants. He's also hoping that Santana will maybe spare a couple of hours and give him those oh-so-awesome insights she's known for. She won't hold back like his mom or Rachel (the 'you have the best thing in the world – yourself' garbage was enough he had to bite his tongue to tell her that didn't feel like much of a gift, really. It felt more like abandonment and exhaustion, like he finally just wore her out); she'll be straight up and he thinks he could probably use a dose of that honesty right about now.

He doesn't have her new phone number or anything (or even a phone of his own anyway) but it's not that hard to bump into her. Really, he does it accidentally enough. It's cold as hell and rainy and disgusting the day he rolls into town, so he stops for coffee. He sort of gravitates toward people his own age, which is apparently the college campus, and she walks in while he's staring out the window. She looks confused and he wants to laugh at her a little 'cause that's his normal expression, not hers, and he knows it. She asks what the hell he's doing here and he just shrugs a little. The confusion on her face fades to sympathy and maybe this wasn't the right place to come because he can tell that, however it happened and even if it's weird, she already talked to Rachel. Plus he didn't want that look. That was specifically why he came to her.

So he says that.

"If I wanted to see any more of the look on your face, I probably would've stayed in Lima, you know." She laughs so hard she's grabbing her sides and tells him to sit tight while she gets her drink.

In the end, she's on a short break from cheer practice on account of the rain, but she has to be to the stadium for the football game that night and tells him that he either needs to sack up and look at a football field (he hasn't really been paying attention since his whole recruiter fall out thing) or, like, go sleep under a bridge.

"They have bridges here?" He's a little too busy thinking on that and burns his tongue drinking his refilled coffee and she laughs at him again. It looks like he's going to see Cincinnati versus University of Louisville and even if he's in the stands alone, it's not the worst thing ever. It's sort of weird to see a team he almost idolized in action (Cinci) but to be kind of rooting against them. They are not the Buckeyes and never will be, though, and you can't live where he lived and not grow up watching OSU. It just doesn't happen. Anyway. He barely (totally) misses playing football, but as he's watching the quarterbacks specifically, he's pretty sure he can quit being all hurt and sad about that not panning out. He had fun playing football and felt like he was pretty good at it, but obviously he wasn't good enough and hardly anyone is to do this and he thinks he can be okay with that.

Crossing things off, though, really doesn't help that much. It's just more of the telling him what he shouldn't do or can't do. But at least he doesn't have to feel like a total failure for not doing this one thing anymore because, even if could, this is the first time he's sure he doesn't want to. He's almost as sure of that as he is that Santana belongs here, just from watching her. (He knows she's not completely settled and happy leaving Brittany behind for this, but on the whole she's doing really well here.) And it's not watching her be a cheerleader, necessarily, because he's seen her do that for years and that part really isn't a whole lot different. Watching her in the coffee shop, though, when some guy she told him was in her sociology study group came in or… or when they stop at the dorm so she can change out of her uniform before the football after-party. She smiles when she sees some people, but she's still herself because she looks at him after a couple people pass and rolls her eyes. It makes him laugh because apparently some things will never change.

Like her weird preoccupation with him needing to have sex and needing it yesterday, for example.

It's hard for him to argue because he's not attached anymore and she gives him beer before she starts talking about it and how, now there's more to his world than Rachel, he can open himself up to other people. Only she says it a lot dirtier and between that and the beer, hooking up with the hot brunette junior on her squad that's been giving him eyes seems like a pretty good idea.

When he starts feeling sort of bad about it the next morning, she gives him the rundown of one-night stand guidelines and a box of condoms he can't explain why a girl who sleeps with other girls would have in the first place. She also gives him a couple suggestions for things he can try, life-wise, over breakfast before the train leaves.

He leaves Louisville with what he came looking for (and more, but he's not gonna tell her that.) It's a nice feeling and maybe, really, the first time he's ever felt that way when he leaves a place.

He ends up in New Orleans with tickets to a Saints game. It sounds really, really stupid but the girl he hooked up with at Santana's school is from there and she wasn't going to make it home for the game so she said he should go. He's really…the whole thing is totally weird but it works. Santana's idea was that he catch up to Puck in California. That had its strong points and he'll get there but this whole thing wasn't supposed to be a tour of just visiting all the people he knows who made it out of Lima on their own. The whole point was he's doing his own thing and it looks like his thing is going to send him to Louisiana for a bit. He's not stupid, he knows Louisiana and Georgia are totally different places but he liked Georgia so he thinks maybe he just likes the South. Once you get used to breathing water, it's not so bad. Well and the heat. And the bugs. The bugs are huge. He has football tickets so he's going and he doesn't even care.

The football game is awesome because Drew Brees and Marques Colston are awesome together… and he really wants to text the girl and thank her for the tickets, but he can't. He lets it go. He's weirdly okay with it, the fact that he won't see this person ever again. He's pretty sure next week he won't remember her name.

Okay, he knows it's stupid and it takes him a minute so maybe he is too, but when he realizes he won't remember her name, he feels less okay. He buys a notebook that's about the size of his wallet and he starts writing things down. He writes down the score of the game, her name, and her phone number. Details. He feels better.

He ends up with a job selling t-shirts for a concert at a bar after he sat by the bar owner at the football game. It's not as bad as it sounds. Also, some random lady in the parking lot said she "has a thing for strays" and her brother is trying to get some sports thing off the ground in Colorado. Finn apparently looks "too nice" to do stuff like this for a living and she doesn't want him to get into drugs or something. Okay, honestly, he hasn't showered or shaved since he was at Santana's apartment and it's warm enough out he slept on some sort of a bench rather than spring for a hotel and so he's not sure where she's getting any of her information. He takes her brother's information though because really… why not? She bought three t-shirts for it too. They tell him maybe he's good at selling stuff because he sold a lot more than the last dude they hired to do this and they give him kind of a lot of money for it, which is really great. (He writes down how much money he made selling t-shirts in his notebook. The amount is actually a little shocking.) It buys his ticket to Colorado to meet… Dane. What kind of a name… okay. His name is Finn. He's not gonna make fun of someone who might give him a job.

As soon as he's in this city called Greeley, he gets a hotel room so he can clean up a little and… okay. He breaks down and calls his mom. The first thing she does is starts crying. It's been a little over a week since he left and she's apparently been crying a lot. He does feel bad. He doesn't ever want to make his mother cry. The second thing she does is tell him to call Kurt. Apparently Kurt called home right after he left to break the news about his and Blaine's… breakup? No one is really clear with what's going on there. Kurt flipped some shit when he asked to talk to Finn, though, and was told Finn was gone. The third thing she does—right after he says he guesses he can call his brother 'cause he doesn't want to tell his mom 'no' about things—is she asks him to get a cell phone or something so she can contact him. She sort of made it easy for him to say no right after he told her he didn't want to do that. It starts over and she cries some more. He isn't gonna get a phone because he doesn't care if people can get in touch with him. He's not gonna call collect just to make it more often.

How is he supposed to, like, find himself if he's caught up in what everyone else is doing? He thinks that might've been the problem before—or at least part of it. Out here, he's on his own without anything like that. One by one, he feels like he's lost all the people who gave him support anyway so he can do it on his own. He doesn't have a choice. He's sort of surprised to realize when he's on the phone with her that he doesn't really mind this life so far. He doesn't mind figuring out things as he goes and sort of going with the flow. He's actually up like $60, too, so he thinks this gamble might be paying off.

"What in the name of hell do you think you're doing, Finn?" is the first thing Kurt says when he realizes it's Finn on the other side. His voice is low and he sounds really tired.


"I have a feeling your hearing works just fine."

He licks his lips and sighs. "I'm getting unstuck."

"Where are you? Just...come back to New York if you don't feel like staying in Lima. Saying New York isn't the place for you is ridiculous. There are two million people here; that means there are two million different possibilities for things to do. There is no way you ruled all that out in one week."

Finn waits a long time and irons out his wrinkly, shaky breathing before he talks. "Yeah, I did." He clears his throat. "I ruled it out before I left. Doesn't matter. I mean, Rachel kinda…" he shakes his head even though Kurt can't see it.

"She's sort of falling to pieces about all this," Kurt says quietly.

"Don't. Could we not? Please?" He cuts in immediately, begging. "This is why I'm… I'm not gonna call. And I'm… just I'm gone. She was moving on and better that way. She's happier when I'm not there, Kurt. I don't fit. She does. That's it."


"No." He swallows hard. "I don't wanna talk about me. I called 'cause my Mom said you needed me to. She said you were really upset and I just…I'm sorry. Anything I can do?"

"Come back," he protests immediately.

The words are low and immediate. "I'm never coming back."

There are more words, but nothing really… major. Kurt hangs up pretty fast after that. It almost feels like another breakup.

The job in Greeley is really not bad. The town itself kind of makes him want to jam a pen in his eye just to get away 'cause it's so much like Lima. Plus, he's like recruiting high school teams to buy all their shit from this Dane guy, so he's spending time in high schools with kids who aren't that much younger than him.

It sucks though. Not that long ago, he was like this and it really sort of throws him into a funk. He misses some parts of high school. Specifically, he misses the Rachel parts, where she was all certain and love and a hundred miles an hour in the general direction of New York. He really misses her and he can't lie—it gets him down finally. The nice thing is that no one knows him and he doesn't have to tell them. So he doesn't. He works through it on his own and in his own time. By the time he's ready to go a couple months later, he really thinks he's let go of a lot of stuff. He doesn't want to be better for her anymore. He wants to be comfortable in his own skin and that's for him. Not anyone else.

All the crap she ever said – the 'you're my home' and 'without you' stuff, the 'love of my life'—it's just sort of nothing. He doesn't have a real attachment to it anymore. He thought it would hurt, letting go, but he just sort of woke up one day and that feeling in the pit of his stomach was gone. All the crap he ever said—the 'beacon of light' and the 'I wanna be a better man for you' and even the stuff from the train station—it was sweet or something and really, he meant it when he said it but… letting go was scary for him. Letting go of what he'd known was almost as bad for him as he thinks it might've been for her. He was scared of it for a long time until, like, one finger at a time, it just sort of happened.

He knows by the time he starts toward L.A. (and God, he's hitchhiking and it's winter and he knows he's being an idiot even as he's doing it but he doesn't care enough to stop) that he's a different person. He's not sure if Puck will recognize him. He's not sure if he wants him to anyway.

He gets there in one piece and he only has to break down and take public transportation in, like, middle-of-nowhere Utah because those people are not chill and don't wanna give some tall kid who looks like he maybe slept in a gutter (he didn't) a ride. He means… he has to wait around an extra day when the busses don't run on Sunday and there's nothing to do and it sucks. So he breaks down and finds a Greyhound or whatever and hops a bus to Vegas.

He's over Vegas in about five minutes but he finds a ride to L.A. from there with a lot more luck than he was having before. It's kind of complicated how he manages to track Puck down, and it probably involves some weird favors to Quinn that… well. He's not even gonna get into that. He hasn't talked to her in close to a year and that conversation was just weird. She kept trying to pry information out of him about where he was and she sort of wondered if she was working for his mom or something. He about dropped the phone when she mentioned telling Rachel and…

…okay. He doesn't care if she knows where he is or what he's doing. He doesn't really pay much attention to mentions of her. They happen when he talks to his mom because the girl lives with his brother. It doesn't mean he appreciates fishing, though. He doesn't really have a lot of use for that sneaky bullshit and Quinn gets sort of quiet when he tells her that. Maybe he should apologize but he doesn't. He thanks her for Puck's details and hangs up thinking it'll probably be their last conversation either for a while or maybe ever. Considering the way the last few have gone, he's okay with that. He thinks their time as even friends is up and she seems happy and he's happy for her.

He's not happy, exactly. But he's not miserable and that's a hell of a lot better than he was a few months or a year or a year and a half ago.

Puck hugs him until he can't breathe. In bare feet. In the middle of an apartment complex sidewalk. It's weird, but in some totally jacked up way, it works.

"I fucking told you to come out here with me," Puck says. With a cigarette in his mouth.

"Why do you smoke?" Finn asks him and laughs when Puck rolls his eyes even though it was a serious question. It's almost like old times when Puck offers him one. It's definitely like old times when he chokes so hard he drops the damn thing and decides to just stick with being a non-smoker so he doesn't kill himself anyway.

Puck looks torn between choking on his own laughter and maybe helping Finn try to breathe before he dies. "This is gonna be epic."

The pool cleaning thing has treated Puck pretty well, actually. He does some guitar playing in the studio and stuff on the side, but mostly he just sort of cleans pools and fucks around. And when Finn says he fucks around (he accidently says it to his mom in those exact words, actually, and he remembers that she hates that word by the way she tells him you can't smack someone through a phone so she'll have to owe him), he means it in all possible senses. Puck is still himself just… with a wider audience. He hooks up with a lot of older women, and women his own age. He's like a hippie in modern times and it works for him. He's barefoot a lot, really tan, and has a couple of tattoos that Finn probably would've seen coming if he thought about it.

Even though Finn is way more relaxed about life in general, he's not into a lot of that stuff. He thinks that it kind of disappoints Puck that he'll never be the guy who's a good wingman for all that. Sure, they do it sometimes and Finn's not exactly a saint or anything but… he's got nothin' on Puck in terms of volume. He's still sort of working off the one box of condoms from Santana and he still doesn't like the empty feeling from hookups. It's like they leave a bad taste in his mouth; he likes being in a relationship.

Well that kind of changes things, doesn't it? When he figures that out, that is. He likes relationships better and maybe he'll even know when he's ready to be in one again.

"Dude. I got sharked," Puck says one day when he comes in like two hours late. Finn has learned not to ask where he is when holes in time pop up, though. The details are usually sort of uncomfortable and make him want a shower.

Finn's sort of… well. He's looking for a real job online. He has no idea what to do or what he likes. There's a half-full notebook that rules out a bunch but maybe something in sales? He just needs money because now that he's living with Puck, he has rent to pay on the regular. He's not cool living off someone else anymore. He is cool with working his guts out if he has to.

"I could be a car salesman, right?" He asks with a frown, scowling at the computer screen. Puck's words sink in. "Wait, what?"

"I mean, I found a shark in a pool I was cleaning. Sharks are awesome. I know we can't do dogs and stuff, but do you think they'll let us keep it? We don't use the bathtub anyway."

That's how they end up in San Diego. No, seriously. Puck closes his pool business and starts studying, like, marine biology. He's really, really good at it no matter how much he bitches about school, too.

Anyway, Finn's just sort of along for the ride and he's not really bothered that Puck figured out this totally random thing he loves doing. He stares at Puck one night, trying to figure out what's missing. He stares for so long Puck finally throws a pen at him and tells him to stop being a creepy fucker. Finn realizes he's not jealous. He isn't jealous another person has found their calling in life or whatever you wanna call it. Puck's going to swim and dive in a cage and study with sharks and it's totally boss. It's one of those tough guy careers that is just perfect for his friend and he's not jealous at all.

The reason he's not jealous is 'cause for the first time ever, he thinks maybe he'll find his place. There's a place for him and he'll get there in his own sweet time and the people who tried to rush or push or whatever… well they can sort of shut up now. And whatever it is, however long it takes… he's excited. And he'll be okay until he stumbles onto it, too.

He's not really used to being excited about something, especially when it isn't something specific. His grin is what gets a book launched at his head but that's alright because payback is a nasty bitch between friends. (He retaliates later by dumping taco seasoning over the door into the shower once Puck's been in there for a while the next morning. He can't explain why they have a fuckload of taco seasoning in the first place, but Puck whining about how badly it burns is so funny he doesn't actually care.)

He starts dating a 10-year-old on accident.

Okay, obviously, it's not that simple and he should probably somehow explain it. It's just that when he comes into the apartment super early one morning, Puck's up for some reason, and busts his ass hard. And Puck probably should because he does everything in life backward and this is no exception. His first real relationship in a long time – only a couple years after he was engaged by the way – and he has a kid on the hook before the kid's mother.

The thing is, Finn knows a thing or two about single mothers. And even though the perspective is different, he knows a thing or two about being in a relationship with one. He doesn't mean to get in with her because she has a kid. That would be just… he means, he has morals. You kind of have to date the kid and the mom, though, and it's… yeah.

It starts off when Puck gets kind of antsy to play again. They've been living in San Diego for like six months. Finn finds a job working in a microbrewery (which seriously blows when you're old enough to serve it but not quite old enough to drink it, by the way) with a bar attached. Puck is immediately buried in school. Puck writes like three albums worth of songs after his first group of finals and decides he wanted to make up a weekend garage band.

Yes, Finn's the sucker who agreed to be part of it. It'd been too long since he sat behind a kit, other than the music store he worked in right before they moved from L.A. Whatever, drumming will never not be fun and a good way to work out crap that you don't even know you need to work through. All of this in no way explains how he ends up teaching drumming lessons during his afternoons to a handful of kids, but one thing leads to another and he does. Some of them suck because they have no rhythm, some of them suck because they're lazy and, like, all entitled—to what he'll probably never figure out—and he wants to hit them with drumsticks. But for every five who he feels frustrated with, there's one.

So basically, because he's brewing beer six nights a week to keep the bar functioning, there's one. The kid's name is Patrick and he's a pretty cool little man. His mom has him in baseball to stretch his school hours so they match her work hours a little bit, but twice a week it just doesn't happen and he ends up taking drums from Finn.

His mom is a high-school drama teacher, though, and there are some problems when she's trying to put together the musical. Like, scheduling problems. Finn might handle crying girl okay but… but disappointed ten-year-old with a single mom who's gotta work so they can eat… maybe it's his weakness. Maybe it's because it sounds a little too familiar. He doesn't know.

He spends a lot of time with Patrick for like two months during the musical rehearsals. They go to actual games (baseball for part of it but it's World Series playoffs time and there's no way Finn can afford that.) Fuck around on drums. He helps with homework. He'll never admit to Chelsea how many hours they spend in front of a television. Whatever, it's cool. He likes Patrick. They understand each other.

The last real date he takes Patrick on, which is Puck's wording and not Finn's, is to see the musical Chelsea's been directing. It's West Side Story.

"I was pretty sure I actually saw you singing along," she teases him later. They're tucked in the corner at the cast party afterward but it's only because she insisted she had to stop by. Plus it's an ice cream shop and there's really no way Patrick wasn't gonna be on-board there. Finn still feels like he's watching the kid in case his mom has to work. They're hanging out. She's just sort of mingling. Whatever.

"You did not," he scoffs.

"I heard you," Patrick teases and the two sets of green eyes on him are just… he can't take it. With the three of them at the table, all he says is that they did the show in high school and whatever, he knew most of the cast.

Later on, though, after Patrick's in bed and Chelsea is coming back from the kitchen with a beer he's barely old enough to drink without getting her put in jail, he tells her more details because he realizes she doesn't actually know them.

"It's kinda nice," he admits, fingers running over the painted face of the beer bottle. "Your not knowing these things. I like telling you." He smiles and for the first time in forever, he really, really wants to kiss someone. Not just anyone, though—this pretty, stable girl who's brushing her hair away from her face and looking at him like he's great. She makes him feel great because she looks at him like that. "I like this getting-to-know-you part."

She likes telling him, too. She tells him some things and he doesn't really change his mind about her because of them.

He loves kissing her.

Plus, her last name is Dane; in spite of his initial need to make fun of the name, he's starting to think it might be something that marks a person who's going to change his life with realizations and things like that. He loves that she fits into that. He loves it enough that he still doesn't care the next morning when Puck is ragging on him for having an instant family.

Entertainment Tonight is such garbage. No, seriously, he's always thought that was true. It didn't mean he didn't get sucked into watching it sometimes with, like, his brother or his mom. God. There were a couple uncomfortable instances when he was sandwiched in between them and just… the bouncing. The chattering. It has never been, and it will not ever be, something he needs to see or talk about.

He and Puck might get a little carried away when they're half-dozing with a bag of Cheetos in the middle of them on some lazy Sunday. ESPN is on some girl break (no, seriously, they're talking about like women's golf or something and it's breast cancer awareness so there's a lot of attention on a lot of pink and… he doesn't wanna be a total jerk but pink and golf aren't his things and he's aware of breast cancer so he doesn't want to watch) and they're flipping through one sucky channel after another.

Finn will never know why Puck stops to take a leak on stupid Entertainment Tonight. That's not important and honestly, it will never be. The more important thing is that it's coverage from some stupid awards show. And shut up, they watch the whole thing. Because it's the Broadway awards show and Rachel is singing. Rachel has graduated from NYADA and has a supporting role on Broadway and is winning awards.

He sort of has a hard time swallowing. No, not swallowing that she's successful or that she's doing everything she wanted and said and he knew she would. Like, actually swallowing. He ends up choking on his own spit. Apparently her dating history is… according to the announcer… "surprising." They label her as the wild-card who will bring someone no one knows on her arm. She's with Kurt. She calls him (Kurt) the only man who's never let her down; he's not sure how true it is. He also doesn't know how he feels about it.

He might feel worse if he thought she was talking about only him. He should feel bad for hoping Brady… Brandon… what was that guy's name? (Brody Weston. He's at the awards show too.) Anyway, he should feel bad for hoping that guy let her down. It's not that exactly. He doesn't want her to hurt, he just… he doesn't know what he wants as far as that goes. He's not sure he's a big enough person he wants her to be happy with someone else. If that's the case, though, what's he doing with his own girlfriend? Does he need Rachel's approval to move on and be happy?

He turns Entertainment Tonight off when Puck really can't handle it and goes to the bathroom. He doesn't think he needs or wants Rachel's approval. That's sort of what he was saying when he walked out of her apartment without saying goodbye, and sort of what she was saying on that stage like a hundred lifetimes ago, right? They don't need each other for anything anymore—approval or otherwise. (He might not need it. That doesn't mean he doesn't want it. The approval, that is. The girl… well, obviously he doesn't really know her anymore anyway.)

He accidentally mentions Chelsea while he's on the phone with his mom. She's unclenched a little now that she knows he's not going completely off the grid or anything crazy so he calls home about once a week and sometimes he talks to her for long enough that Puck tells him to cut the cord. He'll usually spend around ten minutes wondering how they've stayed friends so long without hurting each other (seriously, though. Hurting each other seriously. Minor stuff has happened and is usually just not discussed later.)

It's a pattern. He likes it. Anyway. His mom comes out to visit, cries about how different he looks and how different he is, and he doesn't completely hate it. She tells him to be careful with this relationship and that he might be too young to have an eleven-year-old. She came during Patrick's birthday so it probably made things look more serious, he supposes. Then again, the kid's half his age and the kid's mom is seven years older than he is. It makes sense his mother would be concerned.

He and Chelsea have been doing their thing, low-pressure and slow going, because there's a kid in the middle and it's complicated. In some ways, he feels like he should keep wandering and he should leave. He's been here now for a couple years and he's not sure this is where he wants roots, but… they're already there. His mom kind of echoes the idea that he should come home and he tells her he doesn't want to. He's teaching more drum lessons now, and he's actually helping Chelsea with some stuff for work and he really likes it. Her students know him, they call him "Huds" or "Mr. H.", and they ask for his opinion on stuff. Mostly it's if he likes the way something sounds—their monologues and plays and stuff like that—but really, he likes it way too much. He finds himself spending more time at the school and it's only partway to do with Chelsea.

Finn still has his notebook and the notes from Greeley and he remembers from just the few jotted down things how uncomfortable he felt in those high schools. It's not like that now. He likes his patterns, his life.

He likes how it's going.

The last couple of pieces fall into place, starting with how he wants to be a teacher. Chelsea is pressed up against him in her (their) bed and she gives him a quiet kiss and says the words in a soft voice. Patrick's asleep in just the next room and even though everything inside him kind of jumps and settles and it feels like it should be a loud thing, it's really not.

"You're really great at it," she says. "My students love you and you're not even officially their teacher." His heartbeat picks up.

"It's just… it's been right in front of me for a long time. How did I not…"

She kisses him again, but this time he thinks it's mostly to shut him up. "You see the things you're ready to see. No one else can really show you or point the way when it's your path."

"You're smart sometimes," he says, grinning at her and trying to ignore the feeling in his chest. He flips them so he's half on top of her.

"Just sometimes?" She raises her eyebrows and sounds a little offended. Not actually. Just playing. It's hard to be totally serious when they're both undressed and the sheets are sliding over their skin as they move.

He nods then laughs when he realizes how that sounds. He corrects himself before he kisses her. "Yeah, like all of them." He doesn't really need her to reassure him that he's smart or that he can do all the school stuff or anything like that. He knows. She doesn't need him to reassure her either. That's another thing he likes. Neither of them needs things, but they want them really hard and it fits.

Patrick's dad is in the air force and his travel schedule is a huge part of the reason he hasn't been around. He sends letters and emails and that kind of stuff, but he's basically never been a physical presence in Patrick's life. That is, until he gets stationed at Fairchild AFB and asks Chelsea to consider moving. Finn realizes how serious they are because the whole thing throws his world—their world—into complete chaos. It's the first time in a long time he's felt like everything is up the air; he's sort of lost his ability or desire to go with the flow. He wants plans. He likes that they're stable.

He goes with her.

"Stayed in Lima for a chick; goin' to Washington for chick." Puck shakes his head. "If you weren't following your dick around, you wouldn't be you, Hudson."

(He's smiling as he says it and hugs him so hard they both almost choke.)

It does not hurt that he's pulled really good grades at the community college and can transfer to Whitworth which is, like, a really, really good college for teaching majors. He gets in and he never thought he'd say it about school but he loves it. Seriously. He loves college and even though the school is really hard, he does a good job and it comes pretty easily to him. Except the biblical study part, since it's a Presbyterian private school. After the brief stint in high school as a praying man, he never really felt that click in his life in quite the same way. (To Chelsea's credit, she mostly keeps a straight face when he tells her something that could be really embarrassing and a big deal. Her ideas for helping him remember what he has to learn are probably not appropriate, but they're completely effective.)

Anyway, their routine is pretty simple there. He comes home from school and helps Patrick with his math homework, which will never not be at least a little weird, and a lot of times he cooks dinner and it's just this really sort of domestic and easy life they get going. Patrick's dad, Jason, is actually a decent guy, and after a couple of hangouts that involve way too much beer, he sets Finn at ease a little with the whole military failure and also with regards to his dad (Finn talks just too much when he's drunk and sees dog tags, apparently. It's a combo he's never experienced until then but Jason is chill and it doesn't occur to him to be embarrassed until he's piecing it together for Chelsea later.)

The thing was that Jason and Chelsea were seniors in high school when she got pregnant and they were just too young. Finn sets Jason at ease about that. They have a friendship going. Is that weird? Also, Chelsea's not super excited to find out what Finn got up to his senior year of high school but it's not a big deal really, either. At least it's not a big deal yet.

It takes him just a little extra time to graduate because he messes up what he wants to major in. They're basically really specific at the point he's at when he does it so he has to backtrack a little. He thinks he wants to teach band or something 'cause, y'know, drums. But once he gets out of the percussive techniques class…not so much. He's really not interested in the rest of, like, an orchestra. So, he backtracks and instead does the choral one that would let him teach choir or maybe…Glee club. The counselor's eyebrows go up when he double minors in physical education and athletic coaching. He's laughing when he mentions it might just be the weirdest degree he's ever signed off on. He uses the term "divergent abilities" and tells Finn that he, Finn, is "remarkable."

He didn't need to hear that, really, but that doesn't mean it wasn't nice.

So he's done this massive degree, basically. He leaves the counselor's office once all the stuff is signed off and he's set to graduate. The first person he calls is Kurt. This isn't totally out of the blue, exactly. He called when he decided on a job he wanted, called when he got into school. Actually, all those times and this one too, he even calls Kurt before his mom.

It's kind of a mindfuck, really. He knows his mom will always be proud or, generally, will always say that to cover up the shock or anything else until she is proud. He doesn't call her first because he doesn't have to worry about her, like, signing off on what he's doing. Maybe it's because of the way they broke when he first left, but he always needs to feel like Kurt might be okay with what he's doing. It's probably because he completely respects Kurt in so many ways. He just wants Kurt to respect him, too, and he knows that Kurt was on Rachel's side in the mess and so he's got to make up for all that at some point. Whatever it is, whyever it happens that way, he calls Kurt first, almost always.

"I think you should come to New York. It can finally be the four of us like we planned," Kurt says as soon as Finn drops down on to the steps outside the admin building.

"I…um. My life is here, though. I have a family," he admits. Even though that's how it is and how it's been and how he's happy… the words feel a little weird leaving his mouth.

"Yeah, well. The one you left behind is here waiting for you," is the quiet reply and he just spends way too much time thinking about it. He doesn't really have much of a reply and they don't really have much more of a conversation, but Kurt does say he's proud of Finn and that Finn sounds happy, like, settled somehow. Kurt's set to graduate from NYADA right around the same time so there's some awkward joking about sharing flights and then they hang up and it doesn't really sit quite right. Maybe it's not that he needs approval from Kurt; maybe he just needs Kurt to stop asking questions that don't have answers.

There are a lot of things he's been thinking about for a while. He's been thinking that he and Chelsea should pool their money and get an actual house if they're really staying here. They're in this townhouse thing that works fine for the three of them but…he doesn't wanna live here forever and he knows she doesn't either.

That in no way explains why she walks in from a late dress rehearsal for a student production to see him looking at apartments in Manhattan. (Patrick's with his dad for the weekend because it's Friday and that's about to be a very good thing, probably.)

"Why?" She asks with a laugh in her voice and a little squint to look at the screen on his laptop before she turns her head to kiss his cheek.

He gives her an honest answer. And that's pretty much the end of that.

(It's not totally that simple but they take the weekend plus a few to sort things out and say goodbye and it's really sad. He might not have had that many but he's really sick of sad goodbyes.)

He's started this story about a hundred (thousand) different times in his head. The start is seriously the most awkward part. He sort of knows the ending by heart. Then again, the start is a lot like the other start. The other starts. The start is the part that's sweet and always the same. The end always catches him by surprise and well, he thinks if he gets this start right he won't need another end.

Plus his heart is still a little bit of a mess while it's catching up. He has some trouble with that part. Always has, always will.

He runs into her in basically the dumbest way possible. Look, it's probably dumb and makes him look like a major suck up but he does not care. He's taking flowers to the principal at this middle school he's basically begging to hire him. It's something that makes him different, he knows. Aside from the random mash-up degree and the fact that Patrick wrote one of his recommendation letters. The kid just turned fifteen so it felt like high praise, really. Anyway.

They reach for the same bundle of… he's not gonna pretend he knows what they are, okay? He just likes the colors and the flowers look interesting because they aren't roses or daisies. The tag says Peruvian lilies. They're really pretty. Doesn't matter, though. He jerks his hand away and looks over to apologize.

"Sorry, I—" and he runs out of words right there. She kind of has the effect on him.

"Finn?" She asks. She takes a step back and brushes her hair off her face. "What are you…"

He eases his hand over his neck. They were going to get married. Now she makes him nervous. Apparently.

"Hi," he says.

"You can't just bring me flowers and win me back or something ridiculous," she says. He… swallows. She keeps going. "Showing up here is rude and presumptuous unless you've finished what you were doing. I meant I was done until you were done growing up."

He's not sure he can handle this. He's really not. He didn't expect it. He wasn't trying to bump into her. He's kind of putting pieces back together. He swallows hard and he nods. He's not the same person he was six and a half years ago. God, has it really been that long?

Anyway, he's not that guy. She doesn't get to do all the talking and then walk away. "Rachel," he says. He runs his hand down her arm. "Relax and breathe. I like to take flowers to job interviews, and I have one in about twenty minutes. I wasn't trying to run into you. I was planning on getting your number and asking to see you once I'm a little more settled."

"Oh," she says finally. She steps back. "You should take the flowers then, I suppose." She grins a little. "I guess I'll speak with you in a few weeks then."

It feels like a test; she doesn't have a lot of reasons to trust him with the way he jerked her around though. He knows that. A test and a second (or, like, eighth) chance could be the same.

It kind of… takes them some stops and starts to get it right. There's a lot of talking. He shares the stupid notebook he wrote it up until he and Puck were in San Diego with her. She's not thrilled with the girls' phone numbers in it. He just tells her he found a lot of things along the way and some of them he kept and some of them he didn't. She's the same. They're both the same and different and they have to get to know each other again. They try something new; they take it slow.

They try something else new once they get going. They don't break and bend. They're cast and iron, solid and steady, from the start. They aren't pieces; they're just finally whole people. There really is no end.