This is a bit of an epic one shot, especially compared to my recent published one-shots. All standard messaging rates apply (I DON'T OWN GLEE) and this piece is inspired by 'Mary's Song' by Taylor Swift.

Dedicated to my home gurl Rachel, SHANNA because she found a RED link; Jenna, Jess and Tori because this prompt comes from their singular brain and because they were my cheerleaders through the LONG TIME that I have been working on this fic, so thanks to y'all for your cooperation I hope you love it!


i.

Rachel is just seven years old when she ascertains that she is going to marry Finn Hudson. She's practically known him her whole life, and he's the only cute boy she's ever seen, besides Aladdin. Other boys are less than satisfactory. Those boys don't have freckles dotted across the bridge of their noses or messy brown hair. Those boys don't play house with her and hold her hand during the pretend marriage ceremony. In fact, those other boys don't even bother learning her name and are much more content to give her their own names and to throw dirt at her.

Finn is a whole two years older than her and the coolest fourth grader in school, and he still plays with her on the weekends and saves her a seat on the bus if she's running late. He's really very quiet most days, but she always gets him talking. He likes talking about music and movies, and when they play on Saturday afternoons while her daddies and his mom talk about grown-up stuff, she reads to him once and awhile. He tells her he's not so good at reading, and he wants to be good like her.

It makes her smile, because boys just aren't nice to her. Girls aren't either, for the record, and she supposes that must be because of the undivided attention she receives from Finn. He really is the cutest boy in their school, and all the girls like him.

She doesn't, though. Like him. Having a crush is gross, and very dumb. He's her best friend in the whole wide world – the whole wide universe, even – and she is going to marry him because he's her best friend. Obviously. All the married couples she knows kiss only sometimes and otherwise are very best friends. She thinks she could handle kissing Finn once or twice, if only to make babies.

Finn's mama and her dads are best friends. They have been forever and ever, and she barely remembers Finn's own daddy dying, just putting her hand in Finn's at the funeral. And the crying. She really hates crying. Anyway, because of the friendship, Finn comes over with his mom every Saturday and they get to play all day long.

Usually, they start off playing Cinderella and Prince Charming, which she knows Finn isn't the biggest fan of, but she makes it up to him, because she agrees to be the bad guy to his good guy. And then after lunch they watch a movie and then play more in her backyard.

Today, they're playing pirates, and one of their pirate games is to play truth or dare. These days, they don't play pretend much and instead they play random sports or she swings while he balances a soccer ball on his knee, his elbow, his head.

"Rachel," Finn repeats, waving his hand in front of her head. "Okay. Truth or dare? Don't be a baby this time."

"Umm," she wants to take a dare, really, she does, but, "truth."

He sighs. "Fine. Who do you like?"

She rolls her eyes. "You said that already."

"I don't care! Tell me!"

She wants to tell him she likes him, but she makes up a boy from her class he won't know and he just nods, looks a little nervous or something. She wonders if he ate something bad. "Truth or dare?"

"Dare."

It's out of her mouth before she thinks, "I dare you to kiss me."

She's seven, but honestly. And he looks really confused, but then he leans in just a little and she darts away, down the slide of her playground.

"Maybe if you can catch me!" She taunts from the ground and runs away as he slides down.

He calls her name, threatens to beat her up (he never will) and she really doesn't want him to kiss her, she doesn't even know why she said that and she regrets it because Finn's a boy, and Daddy tells her boys really like kissing, and she should've known he'd be all excited to kiss her. He's really good at running and he almost catches up to her so she runs inside to where their parents are sitting and talking.

"…bet now. Ten years, she'll be begging us to let her marry him."

"Daddy?"

"Oh! Sweet pea, I didn't hear you come in."

"What're you talking about?" She clambers onto his lap. "Who's gonna get married?"

They laugh, Papa and Daddy and Finn's mom and they roll their eyes. "No one," Papa supplies. "At least not yet."

ii.

She's ten when Finn starts to change. Not in a bad way, necessarily, but he's just – he's different. First of all, he grows really quickly so that by the end of the summer, he's at least a foot and a half taller than her. Secondly, he acts different. Even around her. She can't quite put her finger on it, but he's not mean to her like the other boys in his grade. He doesn't stand up for her like he did when they were younger, but she won't hold that against him. She thinks he's giving into peer pressure, which her fifth grade teacher recently gave them a lesson on. Rachel will never give into peer pressure, or peer pressure someone else. She's a good girl, you see.

Rachel finds herself staring at Finn a lot more, now. Boys are still not her favorite creatures, simply because they smell and they like to make fun of her. She doesn't cry in front of them anymore, though. She's getting good at being less sensitive. But Finn isn't like those other boys. He's in seventh grade and he's almost a teenager, which is probably the coolest thing ever. She cannot wait to be a teenager.

Finn still sits with her on the bus, even though all his friends sit in the back and make a ruckus. Even when she tells him he doesn't have to sit with her – she's a good friend – he shakes his head, says he wants to sit with her.

"Why do you want to sit with me? I'm just a fifth grader."

He shrugs and looks at her from the corner of his eye. He really does tower over her. His mom told her he's over five foot tall, now, and Rachel is barely even four feet. Her doctor says she'll probably only grow a little more, but she likes being small.

"You're my favorite girl," he explains. His voice is different, too. Lower, deeper, and sometimes it cracks, and when it does, he blushes so bright.

She blushes around him sometimes, like when he says nice stuff like that. Or when she sings when they're hanging out – they don't play anymore – at their houses, he tells her she's so good, and she'll blush. She's not really humble when it comes to her voice, but there's something about the sweet way Finn compliments her that makes her blush.

See? He's really not like the other boys.

One thing she prides herself on is her eavesdropping skills, especially when her dads hang out with Carole, that's Finn's mom's name. They're always sitting around with these glasses of wine and talking and laughing. She, like, needs to know what they're talking about.

So, one afternoon when Carole and Finn are over, while Finn is sprawled across her bed, asleep – he really can never make it through to the end of Funny Girl – she tiptoes downstairs and strains her ears to hear their conversation.

"They really would be so cute," Carole says, sounds like she's agreeing with something.

"Fifty dollars, when she's sixteen," Papa says, and she can imagine his smug smile.

"I say she'll be fourteen."

Who are they betting on? She hears Carole agree with Daddy, and then they start talking about the upcoming election, or something. She doesn't really care about that, she just wants to know about their bet.

A hand lands on her shoulder, and she would shriek in terror if she weren't trying to be stealthy. "What're you doing?"

Finn's got this tired look on his face. If she were like those boy crazy girls in her grade, she'd call him cute. And he is cute, but he's also Finn. It's really very confusing.

"Eavesdropping," she whispers, presses her finger against her lips. He nods and leans against the wall in the hallway.

After not even a minute, "I'm bored. Let's watch a movie."

"So you can fall asleep again?"

"Funny Girl is boring, sorry. Let's watch Harry Potter."

"You know those movies scare me." But he's getting to his feet and he pulls her with him.

"I'll make sure Voldemort doesn't come get you, 'kay?"

"Always?"

"Well, yeah. I mean, you're my best friend. Who else would wade in Tucker's Creek for frogs with me? Puck's afraid of 'em, you know."

"Really?" Puck – Noah, really – is Finn's other best friend. And he doesn't even deserve the title, because he's so not nice to Rachel, and also, he is a boy, and is nothing like Finn. They play a sport together. Basketball, maybe. Finn really is so tall.

But she hates Noah. And Noah hates her, and that is that.

"Yeah," he says and ruffles her hair. She hates when he does that, but she doesn't bother saying anything to him. "He's a total wimp."

They're watching the movie in silence, at opposite ends of the couch, and she knows the terrifying snake scene is coming up and she needs him to distract her.

"Hey, Finn?"

"What?" He's smiling even though they both know the snake scene is his favorite. He never, ever gets mad at her, though. Even for stuff like this.

"Let's go outside, please!"

"Rachel, it's like…forty degrees out," he whines, but she's standing and she holds her hand out and he breathes out in a huff before taking it. And he doesn't let go until they put their shoes on, which is new. He's never held her hand that long before, and she doesn't want to, but she thinks she actually likes the way his fingers fit between hers.

"You can wear my Gryffindor scarf," she tells him almost shyly. It's his anyway, technically, because he gave it to her last winter for her birthday. She wraps it around his neck and ignores the pink that diffuses over his skin.

He thanks her quietly and she calls to her daddies that she's going outside with Finn. She's wearing mittens and a hat and a scarf, and she doesn't ever remember an October this cold, but Finn just tells her it's 'cause her body's so used to the hot summer weather it feels colder than it is. She thinks that's viable. He is in seventh grade.

"You're so smart, Finn," she says. She hopes that isn't inappropriate.

"No, 'm not. I've just been in school longer than you."

She rolls her eyes and elbows him in the side. They're getting close to the end of her neighborhood, the part of town that's being deforested slowly as they put in more houses that'll look just like hers. Finn's house is different, real small, but shrouded in the woods, almost, like something out of a fairytale. It's even got a porch that wraps around and she absolutely loves it, even when Finn blushes when they're in his room because it's so small, and she has a feeling when he gets big, he just won't fit anymore.

He gets a little ahead of her and begins heading into the woods. "Finn, don't you think we should head back?"

"Why?" He holds out his hand for her to take. "C'mon, I'll protect you or whatever you're freaking out about. Pinky promise."

"It's getting dark," she whines but he's already grabbed her hand and leads her into the woods. "Finn…"

"Just five minutes. I've never been in this part of Lima before."

They come to a bit of forest where the foliage isn't quite so dense, where a long, thick tree trunk lays on the ground, and the rest of Lima sort of just spans before them. It's not too hilly, really, but the ground is still elevated.

"Cool," he says and steps away from her and sits atop the log. "C'mere, Rach."

Hesitantly, she sits beside him. The log is damp and cold beneath her thighs. "I'm cold," she complains. "We'll come back another day, Finn."

He glances at her and sighs. "Okay, Princess." He offers her his hand and she hops down from the log, knocks a little into him.

"Oops," she giggles. He doesn't say anything, just wordlessly guides her out of the forest, her fingers wrapped around his elbow so to avoid getting left behind.

Later, when they're back at her house and toeing off their boots, she asks him, "Are you mad at me?"

He looks surprised. "No, why would I be?"

She shrugs. "You weren't talking on the walk back."

"Neither were you," he counters, and Papa calls them into the dining room for dinner, and she decides to drop the matter.

iii.

It becomes their sort of Jerusalem, that small clearing in the woods. When she's thirteen and he's fifteen, his mom gets engaged to Burt Hummel, father of Kurt Hummel, who is in her grade at school. Rachel and Kurt are somewhat friends, but like most other boys, his friendship pales in comparison to Finn's.

Anyway, Finn is not taking this recent development well and has been very angry lately, and snappish, even with her. She knows not to be offended by it, of course, but she wants to make him feel better. She really does hate seeing him so angry. Finn is still her very best friend, though she's managed to make one real friend besides him. Her name is Santana, and it had taken Rachel a few days to get used to her sarcasm, but now Santana is her second dearest friend. Finn wins, of course. He always will.

Santana is always asking if she and Finn hook up, and the answer is no. Finn may be the cutest boy in the world, but he would never, ever be interested in her as anything other than his friend, as well as a future spousal candidate – you never know.

But when Finn gets like this – distant, avoids her calls and messages – his mom calls her, and she has to find him. And she always does find him, simply because she understands him as though he's a part of her, and maybe he is. She knows where she would go if she were upset, so she tells Papa she'll be back in a bit, wraps her Gryffindor scarf around her neck and heads east.

She steps on a twig, breaks it, and a scatter of crows fly up around her. She really hates coming here without Finn's guidance, simply because he's found shortcuts that she can't remember and provides a sense of protection. But Papa tells her she's pretty scrappy – whatever that means – so she think she'll be okay. Still, though. It's eerie.

She isn't surprised to find him sitting on the fallen tree trunk, his back pressed against the tree that stands beside the log.

"Finn," she says, "your mom is worried sick."

He sighs and she comes to stand beside the log. "She doesn't even care about me these days."

"That is not true." Her fingers just happen to press against the crook of his elbow. She's glad he had the foresight to wear his fleece coat, because it's starting to get very chilly outside. "How'd you even get here?"

"Mom's visiting the new place for the billionth time, I asked her to drop me at your place and just walked here," he explains, and she nods. They're moving into a new, big house, and she's really going to miss his little house. Perhaps when they are married they can live in a house just like that one.

She hums and runs her fingers up and down his forearm. His eyes fall closed for a moment. "Finn…"

"Huh?"

"I know you're worried, or whatever, but – your mom's not going to stop loving you just 'cause she's getting married. Think about it this way, you're gaining a step dad and a stepbrother and keeping your mom. All you're losing is your house."

"It's too much change."

"Finn, puberty was too much change, but you're getting through that, right?" Okay, so maybe that isn't the best analogy, because his face is turning all red. "And you still have me."

"That's true," he murmurs. She's still got her hand on his arm, and he looks at her, and he really is very cute, with these freckles and his eyes are always shiny, like city lights. "You're the best friend in the world."

"Better than Noah?"

He scrunches his nose. "Way better than Puck." He sighs. "Come sit with me, I'm not ready to head back, yet."

She sits across from him, leans back flat against the log, stares at the leaves like a ceiling over the forest.

"What're the eighth grade happenings?"

"I've been invited to my first boy-girl party," she boasts. She doesn't get to see Finn's reaction, too busy studying the dense greenery.

"Huh. You excited?" She hums in agreement. "You do know what goes down at those things, right?"

"Um," she pauses. She isn't actually sure. Santana hasn't told her much. "I don't know?"

"Spin the bottle, seven minutes in heaven, truth or dare. If you dare someone to kiss you, you can't run away this time," he teases.

"Finn," she whines. "I've never kissed anyone before."

"Uh…you will at your party."

She wrinkles her nose. "I don't want my first kiss to be with one of those miscreants in my class, unless it's Sam Evans. He's cute. But I'm pretty sure he has a girlfriend. Or something."

"Who do you want it to be with? Besides Sam?"

You, her mind hisses, but luckily her mouth doesn't move. "Someone I know, who cares about me."

She's sitting up now, facing him, and he's just staring out at the trees. "I care about you."

"You – you do?"

"Duh. You're my best friend. I wanna help you out."

She gets on her knees, crawls between his legs. They've been physically close before, but never like this. She feels so, so awkward, so young, so aware of her body; the knobbiness of her knees as they press against the rough bark, her hands as she clasps them in front of her, and the hitch of her breath as his mouth nears hers.

"Are you sure?" He whispers, and his breath pushes out right against her lips. She nods once, and then he's kissing her, hands squeezing her biceps. Her eyes flutter open, then closed upon seeing his clenched shut. She's holding her hands together real tight, and later, she'll marvel at the crescent shapes embedded in her palms.

But for now, it's the weird feeling of Finn's mouth on hers. It really is so odd, and brief, too, (but really very nice) because just as soon as she gets used to it, he pulls away, cheeks red and flushed, and he doesn't look at her for a minute.

"It's getting cold," he says, staring into the trees, but then he looks back at her, smiles just a little. "Was – did that – ?"

He helps her off the log as she tells him yes, Finn, it was perfect. They don't say anything else about the kiss, but when they're walking back to her house, his fingers brush hers and linger, just for a second.

iv.

She thinks she might be seriously starting to like Finn after kissing him, which is quite the problem.

They sort of begin to grow apart. She turns fourteen, they're both in high school, he's popular, a jock, into sports, and she's into musicals and theater and singing, with only a handful of friends. But he never stops smiling at her, and though they don't spend quite so much time together, she still sees him somewhat regularly. She's friends with Kurt, now, and she's still got Finn and Santana, and she even starts dating a boy in Finn's class named Jesse.

Things are nearly perfect (only when she ignores the parts of her that wants Finn like she should want Jesse).

Jesse breaks up with her on a Friday, on her doorstep, tells her it's just not working out, and then hops in his mom's minivan and leaves her heartbroken on the porch. If Finn weren't at a football game, she would most certainly make a call, but he's busy. She gets it.

Anyway. Jesse breaks up with her and she changes her Facebook relationship status and curls up on her bed and cries herself to sleep. Perhaps she is being a little hyperbolic, but this is her very first breakup. It warrants a little hyperbole.

Come to think of it, she doesn't want Finn right now, doesn't want to see his smug I told you so smirks, doesn't want to deal with the confusion that encapsulates their relationship. He really does act so oddly these days, especially around her. Santana tells her it's because he likes her, but Kurt tells her he's got a lot on his plate. He's working on getting his drivers license, you know.

The next morning, she wakes up, face slightly swollen and red under the eyes – she's trying to work on crying prettily – and heads downstairs. Papa and Daddy have gone out for the day and will be back with dinner, and she bursts into tears right there in the kitchen, because she didn't actually want to be alone today.

She considers texting Finn or Kurt or Santana but decides not to be a bother and instead curls into a ball on the couch. There's a marathon of Gilmore Girls on, so she brews herself a pot of tea and slips her most favorite wool socks on her feet. It's just now winter and she's so bad at handling the thermostat in her house.

The kettle whistles, and as she's padding into the kitchen, there's a knock at the door. For a moment, her heart leaps, soars, and she thinks it must be Jesse, come back for her. Unfortunately, she isn't appropriately dressed for reuniting with Jesse. Instead of her usual skirt and tights and sweater ensemble, she's wearing sweatpants and a ratty old shirt she's fairly certain belongs to Finn.

Anyway, her heart is in her throat as she swings the door open, and it doesn't sink but beats faster, somehow, upon finding Finn standing there.

"Hey, Rach," he says, and his smile makes her forget about Jesse's existence.

"Hi, Finn." She's blushing, and she scolds herself internally. Dating Jesse was supposed to suppress any possible feelings she'd had for Finn. It had worked for a while, certainly, but she should have known it wouldn't be permanent.

"You busy?" She shakes her head and steps aside to let him in. Suddenly, he wraps both of his arms around her middle. "I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"You and Jesse broke up?" He's still got his arms around her, and tightens them when he feels her nod against his chest. "That sucks."

She slips out of his arms and stares at him for a long moment, wishing her heart didn't feel so close to his, because he'll never look at her as anything other than the little girl who dared him to kiss her and ran when he tried. "I'll be fine," she manages to say after a while.

"Yeah, you will." He smiles, puts his hand on her shoulder. "You always bounce back. Anyway, I came here because I have a surprise – outside. Close your eyes."

"Finn…"

"No! Come on, Rach, please. It'll be fun."

Surprises are not fun. "Do I need shoes? Or a jacket?"

"Yes, and yes. It's kinda chilly out, and I'd offer you mine, but you've already stolen some of my wardrobe, I see," he says, slipping his thumb beneath the collar of her tee shirt and stretching it outwards.

"D'you want it back?" She's already shrugging into her pea coat.

"Nah." He looks her up and down and she tries not to blush. "Looks better on you, anyways."

She pretends he didn't say that and closes her eyes tight. "I'm ready!"

He grabs her forearm and guides her outside. "Be careful, it's kinda icy, okay, stop walking, Rachel, when I count to three just, like – open your eyes. Okay, one, two – hey!"

"I couldn't help myself," she shrugs, and he pushes at her arm a little. She stops laughing and stares at what's in front of her: a big blue pickup truck. "Finn?"

"Surprise! Well, for me. But this is mine, Rachel! And I get to drive you to school everyday!"

"You passed your drivers test? Finn, last spring you hit a mailman."

"Shh," he hisses, covering her mouth with his hand like the truck'll hear and drive off, or something. "C'mon. I'm a damn good driver, and you're about to find out. Wanna drive around Lima, or what? You gonna mope all day?"

"Shut up, I'll come along." She digs her elbow into his side and stares at him expectantly. "Well? I'm a lady. Aren't you gonna open the door for me?"

"You're no more a lady – "

"Don't say it." He rolls his eyes, bows, and opens the door.

"Does that suit your fancies, Lady Berry?"

"Yes, sir. Now, home, Jeeves."

He's slipping into the driver's seat, brow pinched in confusion. "We're at your house, though."

"It's an expression – never mind. Just drive."

v.

Suddenly, she's sixteen and Finn doesn't really look at her like she's a little girl anymore, and the possibility of being something more – something special – with Finn is beginning to become a very real possibility. She can't say she's opposed.

It sort of happens in that last summer, after Finn's graduated from McKinley.

(And so what if she cried during the graduation ceremony? Finn's been her very best friend her entire life and she doesn't want to imagine doing anything without him, including driving to school, walking around school, Saturday mornings (ever since Finn got his license they've started having weekly breakfasts), and seeing Carole for monthly dinners. It's not like he's leaving her all alone, but there's something so special about Finn that even before he leaves, she can feel his absence.)

They spend a lot of time together, just them, in the summer. They don't, like, do anything other than hug or the few times she wakes up cuddled against him after falling asleep during movie night. But they're just best friends, as far as she's concerned, and while it could change, that doesn't mean it will. You know? Finn is pretty skittish when it comes to these things. She's pretty sure he only had one relationship throughout high school and it lasted two months.

He took her to prom, too, you know. Sophomores don't get to go to prom unless asked by a senior, and Finn had come up with the sweetest, most elaborate way of asking her ever. And he'd danced with her all night even though he absolutely hates dancing, and she keeps a picture of them from that night on her bedside table.

But the summer ends on a hazy late August morning when Finn and his mom and Mr. Hummel drive over before taking Finn to school. It's early, just a little after five in the morning and the sky is all light and orange and peach and slightly pink. It's pretty and kind of cold and she's trying her hardest not to cry, because she doesn't want to make Finn feel bad, or something. It's just all becoming so much more real to her, you know? That he's leaving. He'll be eight hours away in Syracuse, New York.

The car rolls into her driveway and Finn gets out of the backseat. He looks all sleepy like he's just woken up, and a little sad, too, and he comes and sits next to her on the porch step.

"Hey," he says nonchalantly, like everything isn't about to completely change. She knows what happens in college. Her cousin Andrea left for school with blonde hair and a wardrobe full of Ralph Lauren sweaters and polo shirts and when she came back for winter break, her hair was dark and she had a nose ring. And she knows Finn won't pierce himself – she hopes – but she knows he'll never ever be the same. That things between them are never ever going to be so easy ever again.

"Hi."

He breathes out in this really long sigh and rolls his shoulders back. "You'll come and visit, right?"

She nods slowly. "Yes, Finn, of course."

"Good." He leans sort of close to her and drapes his arm around her shoulders. "Fuck, I'm really going to miss you, kid."

"I'm not a kid," she whines, but she can feel her throat getting that weird choking feeling and her eyes burn, too, and her vision is a little blurry. She blinks really fast but he's already tightening his arm around her and rubbing his hand up and down and up and down on her shoulder.

"Don't make me cry, too," he murmurs and his voice wavers, too.

"I'm gonna miss you so much." It comes out as this wail and he leans his head against hers and his shoulder is shaking a little. "Are you crying?"

"No," he mutters but when she pulls back a little he's got tears on his cheeks. He looks out towards the station wagon, where his mom and Mr. Hummel are graciously avoiding their goodbye. "I've gotta go."

"Don't go." She wraps both her arms around his middle, squeezes tight. "Just stay two years, then take me with you."

"You're being unreasonable," he says softly, but he puts his arms around her too. "Let's stand, and you can give me a real, human hug."

He tugs her to her feet and winds his arms around her waist. They're long, his arms, and she feels so warm here, like this is where she's supposed to be. "Finn," she whispers, breathing him in. She wants to be a part of him.

"This isn't, like, goodbye. You know? Because I'm – I'm gonna be home for Thanksgiving. It – it's not forever."

"You're – you're right," she agrees. "I'll just miss seeing you every single day."

"Yeah, me too." He kisses her forehead. "You'll always be my favorite girl."

vi.

She falls asleep on the train. It's not that she means to, you know. It's just a long ride, and she's a little lonely and a little nervous about having to navigate the train station all on her own. She's meeting Finn at his dorm, and she absolutely cannot wait to see him in person. And weekly Skype sessions do not count, thank you very much.

Anyway, she is very thankful suddenly for the impressive lurch of the train as it rolls into the station, because without it she's fairly certain that she would have slept all the way to Maine. She's groggy when she wakes up and can barely shake the haze from her head as she gets of the train, bright pink duffel bag tossed over her shoulder.

Nerves settle in her stomach as she looks around the station, and she's not sure if she's nervous about seeing Finn in person for the first time since August, or if it's the prospect of having to find a cab alone for the first time. It certainly won't be the last, but there's something so nerve-wracking about firsts.

She's in the main part of the station when she sees it, her name in bold, familiar block letters on a white poster board. Her heart launches into her throat and all the nerves in her stomach diffuse throughout her entire body, setting every nerve ending on a live wire, because the person holding that sign also holds her heart.

And it's so embarrassing, because as soon as he's hugging her tight (and lifting her in the air), she starts crying.

"Hey, don't cry," he says. "This is a happy time."

"I'm so happy to see you." She looks at him, now, really looks at him in that probing way you do when you haven't seen someone in months. He looks so good, too. He's always been handsome, you know, with his hair and his freckles, but now he's just – he's just hot. "You look good."

His cheeks go pink. "So do you. Lemme grab your bag, huh?"

"Finn, you don't – " He's already got it tossed over her shoulder. She wants him to take her hand with his free one, but he tucks it into the pocket of his jacket.

"It's cold out," he comments. "I hope you brought mittens."

"Finn," she huffs like she's offended (she isn't), "I'm always weather conscious. I brought mittens, but I also brought some for you."

They're at his truck, now, and he opens her door and she hops in. He doesn't close the door and she doesn't either, and he just stands there looking at her, and he clears his throat before thanking her and closing the door. He's sort of quiet on the drive and he's playing quiet music she's never heard before, but at stop lights he glances over at her and gives her this sweet little half smile she doesn't remember him having before he left.

She was right, you know. Their dynamic has shifted, changed, but she thinks that maybe it's changed in a good way. That maybe someday she'll tell him she wants him as more than her best friend.

For now, though, she's going to sit here beside him, listen to his music, and revel in being in his company.

"Are you okay?" He says after a while. "You've never been this quiet before."

"I'm thinking," she explains.

He nods and he doesn't probe her. For a moment, she's so grateful. Santana and Kurt are always probing her for further information. Finn doesn't do that, and he never did, and she really loves – really likes that about him.

"You like this song?"

"Um," she bites her lip, "I've never heard it before."

He sings a bar or two along with it, and she thinks it might just become her favorite (non-Broadway) song.

vii.

"Mike, this is my – this is Rachel." His cheeks are all pink and she's got her hand on his wrist – she very nearly slipped walking up the steps to his dorm, thank you very much. It's December and so very icy.

Mike is nice, she thinks. He's got a poster of the galaxy beside his loft and a picture of a pretty blonde girl on his desk. "That's Quinn," he explains, pushing his hand through his hair. "She's visiting this weekend, too."

She's not sure what to say, other than, "Oh, that's nice."

Finn puts his hand on her shoulder. "Her parents are like, super Christian," Finn says. "So for them to even agree to let her visit, she has to sleep on the futon."

"I have to share with a stranger?" She thinks of herself as a fairly mellow girl, but the idea of sleeping on a futon in a strange place with a stranger makes her throat close up. "Finn."

"Nah. You can sleep on my bed, and I'll sleep on the floor."

"Or we could share," she blurts out. His jaw drops and his cheeks don't go pink, but red and Mike's just sitting on the futon, smirking at the exchange.

"Uh, yeah, um, s-sure." His stuttering is cute, she thinks. "Do you – are you, um, hungry? I'll take you down to the dining hall so we're not here when Quinn gets here."

"Okay, Finn. Do you think I need a hat?"

"Um," he looks at her, then outside. "Yeah, um…it might snow. I don't know."

She nods and pulls her hat out of her bag and tugs it on her head. Finn just stares. "Do I look silly? It's a new hat."

It's just a plain, white knit hat with these two long braided strands that have little pompoms at the ends. She likes it because it contrasts nicely with her dark hair, which has finally gotten long enough to brush against the small of her back. Finn's still staring, a little smile on his face.

"No, Rach, you look real cute."

She smiles and puts her hand in his, feeling daring for the very first time. "Let's go, Finn."

He takes a deep breath and intertwines their hands. "Bye, Mike. I'll text you later, yeah?"

Mike holds his hand up in dismissal and waves as they walk out.

Finn gives her a small tour of the campus, pointing out the buildings his classes are in, and then talks a little about his classes. He seems so grown up, here.

"Are you happy, Finn? At college, I mean."

He looks at her and squints his eyes a little bit, like he's genuinely thinking about it. "Yeah," he answers after a moment. "Real happy."

A particularly cold gust of wind cuts right across campus, then, and she feels herself leaning closer to Finn. "I'm happy, then. And proud."

"I want you to be," he admits. "Are you cold?"

"Freezing."

"It gets kinda cold here," he says and shrugs a little. "The dining hall is just up here, though. D'you think you can make it?"

She nods and he tugs on one of the pompoms on her hat. "Don't mess up my hair," she warns.

"It's so long," he marvels. "I like it."

They're inside, now. He holds the door and everything, and slips his hand right back into hers. She's not really sure what to do with this development, the strangeness of his hand in hers so familiar yet so very new. One thing she is sure of, though, is that she likes it.

Loves, it even. And maybe even loves him

"There's this party tonight," he tells her once they're sitting. "At my friend's place."

He doesn't say anything else, though. "Am I supposed to say something in response to that?"

"Well, I – I dunno. D'you wanna go? Or?"

"What else would we do?"

"Um, well. We could watch Netflix."

She looks at him, like, really looks at him. He's got a genuinely blank expression on his face, but she knows him. She can read him like a book. And he wants to go to this party. "Let's go to the party."

"Really?"

"No, I actually don't. I'm just toying with you."

"Okay, okay, Sarcastic Susan, we'll go to the party." He's smiling at her like he's never smiled at her before. "I'm so glad you're here."

"I am, too."

When they go back to Finn's dorm after eating, Mike and the blonde girl from the picture – Quinn – are sitting together on the couch. She's got a novel spread across her lap and he's playing a video game. They aren't really touching or talking or anything and she looks at Finn in confusion. He just shrugs and pulls her mittens off her hands.

"Hey, Quinn," he says, a little off-handedly, "good to see you again."

"You, too," she responds. Her voice is sort of monotone.

"This is Rachel," he introduces. Quinn doesn't look up. Finn just smiles at her. "Mike, are you going to Jackson's tonight?"

"Maybe." Mike looks at Quinn quickly. "Q, you wanna go?"

She looks up at Mike, then at Finn, and finally at Rachel. "Sure, why not?"

viii.

Finn introduces her to a bunch of people who all nod knowingly and smile at her. And then he takes her into the kitchen and he opens the fridge and she just stares, wide-eyed, at the beer stacked on the shelves.

"You want one?"

"Um."

"We can share the first one." He grabs a bottle of something called Yuengling and she thinks that's a very peculiar name for a beer but decides not to say anything to Finn. She doesn't want to embarrass herself or anything.

He opens it and they find a seat on the couch and she curls into his side, only slightly. She grabs the bottle a little nervously and he's smiling at her encouragingly and she takes a long sip and very nearly spits it out, all over Finn.

"That is incredibly unpleasant."

"This is pretty expensive beer," he frowns, "but it's kinda gross at first. Do you want me to get something else?"

He looks so – so nervous, or something. "No," she answers, takes another long slip. It's not so bad the second time.

"Okay." He's staring at her and she's taking a third sip and she can't control her mouth from turning down when she swallows. "That's, like, the cutest face I've ever seen you make."

Gently, he tugs the beer from her hand and takes a sip. She becomes mesmerized by the way his mouth presses against the glass lip of the bottle, fascinated by how he shifts so that he's completely leaning against the couch cushions, by this freckle on his neck. She wonders what he would do if she just leaned down and put her mouth right there.

Tonight, she's wearing this black skirt from H&M. It's sort of short and kind of risqué, but she's glad she's changed into it from the leggings and sweater she wore on the train. She wants to astound Finn, you know? And she thinks she has, because he can't really tear his eyes from her legs, covered in stockings from the cold.

They're on their third beer – her fourth, considering she drank most of the first one – when he tells her, "You look real pretty tonight. I mean…you always do. But especially tonight."

She's tipsy, or drunk, maybe, and she leans over and kisses him right on his rosy cheek.

"Rachel," he murmurs. "Rachel."

"You're always so nice to me," she tells him. "The nicest boy in the entire universe."

"I think you're a little drunk."

She gasps. What a horrifying accusation! "Don't accuse me of…things."

He puts his hand on her neck and just leaves it there. She's nearly in his lap, now, legs draped over his thighs. His other hand is pressed against her thigh, his thumb rubbing slow little circles.

"Hey," he says, "we should get back, now."

"No," she whines, but he's already grabbing her coat and helping her into it. "My hat!"

"Got it." He shoves it on her head and caresses both of her cheeks. "Honestly. The prettiest."

It's snowing when they walk back to his dorm, but she doesn't feel quite so cold. Finn's got his arm around her shoulders, but she thinks it's the alcohol, too, and the happiness. Happiness makes you warm. That's a scientific fact, she's pretty sure she read it online somewhere. Like, Time or National Geographic or something, you know?

Finn says something and the vowels and consonants all slur together. His voice is low and soft and she wants to stop and just wrap herself in him.

"What'd you say?"

"That I'm hungry," he repeats. He runs his hand up and down on her arm, brushing the ends of her hair slightly. "I have pita chips in my room. I don't even like those."

"I do!"

They're at his dorm and he releases her from beneath his arm and unlocks the door. She doesn't want to let go, though, and slips her index finger through his belt loops.

Eventually, though, she needs to brush her teeth and put her pajama shirt on and then she finds herself crawling into Finn's loft. He's sitting cross-legged on the floor eating Easy Mac and watching a rerun of Hoarders. She curls beneath his blankets, delighting in the smell of him inundated on his sheets.

After awhile, though, she knows he's finished with his food. "Finn," she whines, "come and join me up here."

He huffs dramatically and next thing she knows, he's climbing the ladder and slipping beneath the blankets right next to her.

"Fuck," he murmurs, shifting around for a bit. "Thank god you're a fucking munchkin, or we'd be in serious trouble."

"You left the light on," she giggles.

"Too late for that shit," he mutters, putting both of his hands on her waist, beneath her tee shirt. His skin feels rough, but so right and good that she presses herself closer and slips her thigh between his.

"Finn," she murmurs, putting her hands on his chest and rubbing her thumb in these really small circles. She doesn't ever want to stop touching him.

"You don't still feel super drunk, do you?"

"What are we doing?" His mouth is on her neck and she doesn't think she's ever been this close to him in her entire life. "Finn."

He pulls his mouth away from her neck and his lips look all full and pink and she wants them pressed against her own. "It doesn't feel wrong, does it?"

She doesn't even get to breathe out an answer before he's kissing her. And it feels so much like the first time and also so very new, like every single piece inside of her suddenly fits together.

It's a chaste kiss, really, and he pulls away and it's sort of dark, up in his loft, but she can see his smile, can see his eyes shining and he kisses her again, softly, quickly, and, oh, she loves him.

ix.

When she wakes up, she's still cuddled against his chest, and his mouth is slightly open and he's snoring. She's never really been this close to him while he's sleeping, before. It's so warm, right here, tucked under Finn's chin with the blankets cocooned around her shoulders.

He hums a little and his fingers start to move up and down, pressed against her skin beneath her tee shirt. Her head feels sort of heavy and a little cotton-y and she can't stop squirming. She kicks her leg out from beneath the blankets, but her foot gets cold, and then too warm.

"Baby," he whispers, "stop squirming."

She turns on her side and stares at him. He's got the slightest bit of stubble on his cheeks and his eyes are opened like crescents. She wants to kiss him again, for being so cute in the morning, for calling her baby, for running his thumb down her spine.

So she pus her hands on his cheeks but doesn't kiss him because she's sure her breath will smell terrible.

"Last night," he murmurs and he puts his hand on her wrist, "we kissed."

"Mhmm."

His fingers start to trace small circles on her arms. "How do you – like…are you – happy?"

She forgoes modesty and kisses him right on the mouth and pulls away before he can start to respond. It's the first time she's taken the initiative and kissed him first, and he's smiling when she pulls away. She thinks she might be, too.

"Does your head hurt?"

She shakes her head and puts her hand over her mouth. "My teeth."

He groans. "I don't wanna get up yet."

"You don't have to," she says, "but I do."

"No," he protests. She's already climbing down the ladder, though. It's not that she doesn't want to cuddle with him anymore – she does – but her teeth feel far too fuzzy for any sort of further snuggling.

Quinn is sprawled across the futon, fast asleep. She doesn't really remember hearing them come in last night, but figures she must have been asleep by that time. Hopefully they didn't come in while she was making out with Finn before she fell asleep.

She's so, so glad they're on winter break at the same time, that tomorrow morning they'll drive back to Lima, glad that she doesn't have to say goodbye again just yet. Especially now that everything between them has changed and flipped upside down.

Her toothbrush nearly slips out of her hand when she realizes. Everything has changed. And for a moment, she panics, because what if he doesn't love her like she loves him? Or what if he's just looking for a hookup?

But then she pauses for a moment, spits into the sink, and looks at herself, remembers the way he'd held her close last night, remembers his mouth on her mouth, how he'd kissed her right on the forehead before falling asleep and she shakes her head, because he must feel something. He wouldn't risk their friendship just to hook up.

When she gets back into the room he's still in his loft. It's only just nine thirty now, so she climbs back up and huddles beneath the blankets with him. He kisses her and he tastes like mint.

"Did you brush your teeth too?"

"Mhmm, can't have my favorite girl kissing me when I've got morning breath," he responds and kisses her again. She decides abruptly that mornings are her favorite, the muted grey light, the warmth of his body beside hers, his mussed hair and flushed skin.

She sighs when she pulls her mouth away from his and nuzzles her head into his neck. "Don't let me fall asleep," she breathes. "I'm just going to rest my eyes for a minute."

After a moment, he nudges her side. "Rachel," he says softly. "Wake up."

She blinks, confused for a moment at the shift of light in the room. "What time is it?"

"Almost eleven thirty," he confesses.

"I told you to wake me up," she whines, sitting up and stretching. She does feel much more rested, now. "You're the worst – "

She breaks off suddenly, unsure how to proceed, and climbs down from the loft. He's standing beside the ladder and puts his hand on her back.

"The worst what?"

"Um." She avoids his question and searches through her bag for clothes. "I'm gonna change."

She makes a move towards the door, but he stops her. "You can change in here. Mike and Quinn are gone."

"Um…"

He looks concerned as he settles on the futon. "C'mere."

Sighing, she stands in front of him, and he pulls her down so she's sitting atop his lap. "Finn…"

"Maybe, um…maybe we should, like, talk or something."

"About what?" She knows she's being deliberately naïve. She wonders if he can tell, too.

"This – uh, us." He puts his hand on her thigh, runs his fingers up and down on the bare skin, and it sends a jolt of electricity that courses all through her body and she wants him to stop so she can think straight, and conversely, to continue, wants his fingers to run higher until –

"What about us?"

"Rachel," he says and his voice is all exasperated. He takes a deep breath, and continues, "You've been, like, my best friend – my best person – my entire life. But I've always, for, like, the longest time, felt more for you than just, um…normal friendship."

"Me, too."

"Always?"

She leans down and presses her forehead against his, repeats his always in a voice like a prayer, and then she's kissing him right on his mouth.

x.

He's home for the summer and they're making out in the back of his truck when she tells him she wants to have sex with him. He pauses and he's on top of her so she's kind of, like, crushed beneath him.

"Finn," she murmurs, "come on."

He groans because she's pressing her hips right against his. "Here?"

"Anywhere." She starts kissing up and down his neck, sucks at the junction of his neck and shoulder, feels him so hard against her.

"It has to be special," he says breathlessly.

She shifts a little so that she's sitting up, and he lies on his back, staring at her. He looks at her like he loves her, and it feels right. He's special.

"It will be," she assures him, and puts both of her hands on his chest, leans down and kisses him. It's hot outside, but there's this slight breeze that just sort of lilts in the air and cools her neck very slightly.

"Rachel," he mumbles as she's moving her mouth around his face. "Babe, wait, hold on."

"What?"

"I don't think we should do this now."

"Excuse me?"

"Rachel, let me take you home."

All of her breath heaves out of her lungs in a sigh and she crosses her arms over her chest. "Fine, Finn."

He slides out of the bed of the truck and holds out his arms to help her down and she doesn't want to take them, doesn't want his help. It sucks, you know. Not being wanted like that. She knows he loves her in so many words but she's always going to fear that the love he has for her is going to slip right back into platonic, that he'll tell her he wants to be her friend, and he's sorry.

They're halfway to her house when he breaks the tense silent. "What's wrong?"

"Pardon?"

"Baby, you're like…silent. You're always talking, pretty much, so…"

She rolls her eyes. "I'm not always talking."

"Yeah, you are, you talk so much I barely get a word in edgewise."

"I'm sorry I'm so annoying, then."

"Okay, hold on. I didn't say you were annoying."

"Oh, you didn't? I'm so sorry that's all I could infer from your accusation that I'm always talking. You don't – we don't – you've been in college for the past year, of course I want to talk to you."

"Yeah, but a conversation is two-ways!"

"Do you really want to go down this road or can I go back to ignoring you?"

"Why are you ignoring me in the first place?"

"That light was red, Finn!"

"Rachel, really? You just got your license last month."

"Yes, really, Finn! You got yours two years ago. I'm a much better driver than you."

"Your dad tells me otherwise."

"Daddy just likes to antagonize me! And so do you, apparently."

"Just tell me what's wrong and stop being so fucking difficult."

"I would appreciate it if you would talk to me like you respect me, Finn Hudson, and no, I will not tell you, if that's how you plan on treating me."

He purses his lips, takes a fast turn into her driveway, and she barely waits for the truck to be parked before she hops out of it and slams the door shut behind her. She glances over her shoulder to find Finn following her out of the car.

"Rachel, come on."

She glares at him, stomps up the stairs, and slams the front door closed on him.

Papa and Daddy have been out of town this week for work and she's rather glad for that as she storms into her room, grabs her pillow, and screams into it. Really, she knows she's mad because she feels ugly, unwanted, undesirable. And she doesn't like feeling like this, doesn't like that rejection settles into her stomach and disperses through her entire system, and she absolutely hates that Finn has made her feel this way. She only ever wants him to make her feel good, and this is their very first fight.

It's scary, she thinks as she curls atop her bed and tries to fall asleep. She may lose Finn, now, all because of sex.

When she wakes up the next morning she's so exhausted but she rolls out of bed, takes a shower, and tiptoes downstairs for her morning tea regardless. It's so early and the sunlight is young and muted and grey and it's really pretty outside, the sky a mess of blue and grey and a little purple in the distance. She watches as the newspaper boy rides by on his bicycle, haphazardly tossing the paper into the yard.

She decides to grab it before the storm that's sure to come of the day and when she opens her door she shrieks in surprise.

"Finn!" He's fast asleep, half curled in the porch chair, goosebumps covering his arms. Her heart feels all warm and full seeing him there. She takes a few tentative steps until she's standing right on front of him, and she presses her fingers delicately against his shoulder and shakes slightly, trying to wake him up. "Finn."

He sighs a little, shifts, then his fingers find hers on his shoulder. He takes her hand and presses it against his cheek, and she traces her fingers over his scruff.

"Did you stay out here all night?"

He blinks sleepily and opens his eyes. "Mhmm. Felt awful. And what kinda guy would I be if I didn't stay out here and guard you?"

He looks as tired as she feels. "Let me take you inside."

She grabs his hand and slides her fingers in between his, and he stumbles a little but groans in appreciation when he drops onto his back on the sofa in the living room.

"I thought about it all night," he tells her with his eyes closed. She sits on the edge of the coffee table, watches him get comfortable. "I wanna have sex with you."

"You do?"

"Duh." He yawns. "I got, like, all caught up, though. I'm sorry you felt undesirable, baby. I didn't intend – "

"Shh." She presses her index finger over his mouth. "I know you didn't mean to, but you still did, okay?"

"Okay. I'm sorry. We can have sex whenever you want."

"Go to sleep," she says and kisses him on the forehead.

"Join me?" She sighs and nods and he scoots all the way against the back of the couch and she curls up right beside him.

"Thank you," she offers, and only one of his eyes opens and he hums in questioning. "For staying."

His mouth is soft when he leans down and presses it against hers. "I'll always stay, even when you storm out."

She smiles and presses her face into the crook of his neck, inhales deeply, and lets herself fall asleep right there.

xi.

One hot, early morning, she bounds downstairs, calls out a hasty goodbye to her dads and hops into Finn's truck. He kisses her hard right when she slides into the seat.

"I'm hungry," she tells him when she pulls away, and puts her hand right on his thigh.

"Did you just wake up?" He lifts both of his eyebrows.

"Perhaps." He laughs and puts his hand over hers on his leg.

"We'll stop at Convenient, then."

They stop and she eats a granola bar and he turns around and drives back into her neighborhood, past the houses that are all starting to look the same to her, and towards the very outskirts, where the pavement and houses give way to fields and trees and the forest.

He helps her out of the car and puts his hand around her shoulders. "Baby, why'd you wear a dress?" He tugs a little at the thin pink strap of her dress. "Not that I don't like it, 'cause I do."

"I felt pretty," she explains.

"You're always pretty, Rachel," he tells her and he kisses the top of her head.

For the rest of their walk, they're quiet, and not in an awkward way, or a tense way. But in that quietness that comes from a comfortable relationship, and when they get to their log, he lifts her up by the waist and sits beside her, and just like when they were thirteen he leans in slowly and kisses her.

"We kiss a lot," she says. "Remember when you kissed me for the very first time?"

He's leaning against the tree opposite her and presses his foot against hers. "Of course I do. I was so nervous."

"I could never make you nervous."

Finn's smiling and he laughs a little and taps her foot. "You've made me nervous, like…our entire friendship."

She shifts and gets on her knees, moves towards him. "Am I making you nervous now?"

He gulps because she settles into his lap, kisses below his ear. "M-maybe a little."

"Don't be ridiculous." She pulls away from his neck and he keeps her on his lap, wraps his hands around her waist. "You aren't nervous."

He sighs, gets comfortable, leans his head back against the tree. "Not now."

Later, he drapes his arm around her and thy walk together into the woods, to Tucker's Creek, and she takes off both her shoes and leaves them at the bank and wades in the creek, just like when they were younger and spent afternoons tearing up creek beds and looking for newts.

He's telling her some story, she's not sure if she's heard it yet or not, because she's really only focusing on the soft pressure of his hand in hers and the warm water around her calves.

"Finn, look!" She interrupts, "there's a frog!"

"Baby," he says, laughing just a little. She slips her hand out of his and picks up the hem of her dress so it doesn't get wet as she crouches and stares at the little frog.

"It's so cute," she coos, but when she reaches forward to grab it in her hands, it hops away. She pauses for a moment, searches the water for it, and upon spotting it, stands slowly and darts forward with her hands outstretched.

Except the floor of the creek is mostly mud and slippery mud at that. She loses her footing just as she grabs the frog, but Finn grabs her around the waist.

"You almost fell to your watery grave," he tells her, leaning his forehead against hers.

She kisses him on the mouth very quickly, and then pulls away. "Look, Finn, he's our baby."

"He looks just like me."

"What should we name him?"

The frog wiggles a little. "Toad."

"Finn, I think Toad is ready to leave us."

"Already? They grow up so fast."

Rachel crouches down again and releases the frog, watches it dart around beneath the water and she feigns a tear. "Now we're empty-nesting. Maybe we should adopt a tadpole."

Finn laughs and steps out of the creek and pulls her up with him. "Let's get going, crazy. I wanna take you out tonight."

He drives her home and she takes a long shower and decides that tonight she's going to tell him she loves him, because she doesn't know if he'll have sex with her yet but she just wants him to know anyway.

And he's early. She's just putting her hair into a ponytail and knotting the ribbon when Papa calls up the stairs that he's here, she slips her shoes on and makes her way downstairs.

She really likes how Finn looks at her on date nights. Like she's someone new and still entirely the same. They don't go out that often, but when they do he always manages to make it so special.

He kisses her on the cheek, mindful of Papa and Daddy watching from the living room. She misses their smug glances because she's busy listening to Finn.

"You look so pretty tonight," he says earnestly and grabs her hand. "Bye Mr. and Mr. Berry!"

He takes her to this café one town over and it serves all vegan food. She's not really a very good vegan, and Finn can attest to that, but she loves that he does what he can to support her lifestyle.

"I've never been here," Finn says, once they're sitting and poring over the menu. "But it got really good reviews on the Internet, so."

She puts her hand on his and smiles. "I'm sure it's lovely, Finn."

Usually, on date nights, they go to one of the two restaurants in Lima: the diner or Breadstix, and sometimes on afternoon dates they go to the Lima Bean. She's not sure why he's decided to find a new restaurant, but she really loves him.

It's really good – the meal. But she doesn't think she would even mind so much if the meal were terrible, simply for Finn's presence across the table. He pays for her meal and holds her and they've been on so many dates, spent so much time together this summer, but he's still the sweetest boy she's ever known.

Later, she puts her hand in the crook of his elbow and kisses his jaw, because it's as far as she can reach, and it just slips out, simply, "I love you."

His gait halts for just a moment, and then he responds, "I love you, too," like he says it everyday of his life.

Beneath a lamppost, he pauses and puts both of his hands on her waist and kisses her hard.

xii.

A few nights before he goes back to school, they're lying on a heap of blankets in the bed of his truck in the outskirts of town. They're watching the sky as it fades, the peach and gray hues dulling the atmosphere. Cicadas sing, crickets hum, a cacophony of sounds rise all above them but all she hears is Finn's steady breathing in her ear, the pounding of his heart against her chest.

She tells him she wants him and he wants her, too. He's so gentle when he tugs the hem of her tank top up her body, and his eyes are appreciative as he stares at the newfound skin. In this moment, she feels so suddenly lovely and new, but completely and totally loved and adored.

He slides his hand down her back. She tugs his jeans and boxers down his legs, and they're naked for the very first time together. Finn pulls a blanket over their bodies, because August is ending and autumn is coming and the air's already begun to carry that slight chill. She can feel the goosebumps prickling her shoulders and her chest, and his body is so warm pressed against hers.

"You're so beautiful," he whispers and kisses between her breasts.

It hurts. Santana told her it would, but she hadn't really believed her, but Finn's sweet about it. Well, as sweet as he can be, which really means he grunts something against her collarbone and pauses his hips and asks if she wants him to stop. She doesn't, because it has to get better after this and she doesn't want to wait until October to try again.

She cries a little and he brushes her tears away with the pad of his thumb and he keeps going. It gets easier to handle, him, there, the discomfort, and she thinks eventually it'll wane. But Finn's looking at her like she's his world, and she doesn't think any other boy will ever look at her like that. She kisses him on his cheek and he kisses her neck.

Her hands press against his shoulder and she tells him it's okay to let go and he does, crying her name, and it's started to feel okay – sort of good, even – and she wants to do it again. She loves him so much.

He rolls onto his back and turns and presses his face against her shoulder. His skin feels all hot and a little sweaty. She kind of wants to shower but she also wants him between her legs again and she's not sure what to do, because she feels sort of like he's set every nerve ending on fire and hasn't done anything to relieve it.

"Finn," she whines because he's touching her right along her collarbone and she wants him further down.

"You need something?"

"Finn." Finally, he presses his fingers right there and it's not even long before she's coming, too, his name like a prayer on her lips.

He brushes her hair back and kisses her on the forehead. "I'm sorry," he apologizes. "That was…"

"Perfect," she says, wrapping her arms around his shoulders. "And I love you very much."

"You're my favorite girl, baby. Always."

xiii.

He chooses to spend his fall break at Mike's in Connecticut instead of here, in Ohio, with her. She can't even explain to him that she's hurt because he's so excited about the trip he barely lets her talk when he tells her over Skype.

It kind of sucks, you know? Only being able to see her boyfriend over the computer while Kurt and Santana get to spend as much time as they want with their Blaine and Brittany respectively, because they're all in high school together.

"Babe?" He snaps his fingers. "You zoned out on me. What's up, how's school?"

"School's fine," she explains and leans forward on her elbows to let her chin rest on the heel of her hand. He whistles appreciatively and she rolls her eyes. "Stop."

"You're hot, Rachel," he says. "I really like your dress."

"It's new, you really like it? I wasn't sure, since it's black." He nods.

"Yeah, I mean, like, it's not like your normal stuff but you look really pretty in it." She feels herself flushing.

"I wish you were coming home."

He reaches his hand forward, like he's wishing to cup her cheek in his hand or something, but he draws it back and presses it against the edge of his desk. He and Mike live in an off-campus apartment, now, and she really can't believe her boyfriend (and very best friend) is old enough to live on his own in a whole other state.

"I do, too, but I can't afford another plane or train ticket, or, like, gas since I'm coming home for Thanksgiving and again for winter break, you know? Like, I'm really gonna miss you, but – "

She sighs and she can feel her eyes filling up with tears. "I understand. It's just…it sucks."

"It does." He pushes his bottom lip out slightly. "You really do look extra pretty tonight. You going out?"

"Yes. Kurt, Blaine, Santana, Brittany and I are going to get dinner and then maybe see a movie. I don't know. I would surely feel very out of place with them – they're all dating, now, you know."

"Yeah, I see their tweets and their posts on Facebook."

She wrinkles her nose. "Thank goodness you and I are not like that."

"Thank goodness," he echoes. Finn's face is like a book and his expressions like the words on the page, the metaphors and punctuation and diction, and right now, he looks so in love with her she feels like her entire body could erupt.

Her phone buzzes. "Oh, fuck, Finn, I'm late," she curses, pushing out from her desk and searching for her sweater.

"It's backless?" His voice sounds sort of choked and she turns and looks at him.

"Oh, yeah."

"Fuck. All right, baby girl, have a fantastic night. Don't fall in love with anyone else."

She blows him a kiss. "I could never. Love you."

He catches it, sends one of his own, repeats, "I love you, too," and then signs off.

xiv.

She can feel them growing apart and doesn't want to address it, so she throws herself into school. This year, her glee club must win nationals. Her entire future depends on it, you know.

And she really misses Finn. She knows he's sort of upset with her, except he'll never tell her expressly that he's hurt she isn't planning on attending Syracuse next year. It's not that she doesn't want to, that she doesn't want him, but her future's leading her elsewhere, and if she doesn't follow it, she'll never forgive herself.

She doesn't want to hate Finn, ever. He's her best friend in the whole world.

So maybe she clings a little tighter, calls him more often for longer conversations, but he never seems that bored. She never calls on Fridays or Saturdays and leaves him be on Sundays and usually he calls her.

In January, she auditions for the spring musical and begins to check the mail anxiously every afternoon for acceptance letters. Finn is busy with school, he's finally decided on his major – childhood education – and is excitedly taking classes for it.

"You think I'll be good?" It's rare that Finn is exceptionally insecure around her. She knows he is (he wears a swim shirt to the pool) but he very rarely lets her see that part of him. Is it odd that she wishes he would? That she wants to know every idiosyncrasy because she feels like he's a part of her? She doesn't think so.

"I think you'll be fantastic," she assures him. She wishes he were here beside her. "Really, Finn. You're so kind and – and patient, and those kids will be lucky to have you as their teacher. Promise."

She can very nearly hear his smile, and he exhales slowly. "Thanks, Rachel. I uh…needed to hear that."

"Anytime, baby." She sighs. "I miss you."

"You, too. Like, I wanna be there. Or I want you here."

"At least next year we'll be in the same state."

"Four hours, though."

"It's better than eight, Finn!" He's silent. "Look, I know – I know you want me to go to Syracuse. And I really – Finn. I'm really selfish, okay? You know that. You've known me my entire life. And if you can't accept that now, then…"

"No," he interrupts, "we're not – we aren't breaking up. God. I'm really sorry, like – you know I want you to be happy. I just want to be the one to make you happy all the time."

"That isn't fair, Finn. You have your dreams and I have mine."

"Fuck, I know. I'm selfish, too." She wishes he were here so she could see his face or kiss his cheek. That always makes him feel better. "I think I'm just getting anxious. Like, my future is here. Which is like really awesome and stuff but it's also really fucking scary."

"You're a man, Finn."

"I don't wanna be a man."

"Yes, you do. You have an apartment."

"You're really weird with pep talks, you know that?"

She laughs. "Come here."

"I wish. Hey, I've gotta go. I have this hug fucking paper due next week for my early childhood development class or whatever, and I should get started."

She tells him she loves him and they hang up. It isn't until she's starting to fall asleep that she realizes he never ever asked about her and she isn't quite sure how to feel about that.

xv.

Rachel gets the lead in the play, her duet with Santana is going to win them a national title, and she gets into NYU, Juilliard, and Carnegie Mellon. She wishes Finn were home to celebrate with, but he's not going to be back until May because he needs to work over spring break and she'll be in school.

He still tells her he's proud and that he's sorry he won't be there for her stage debut. She tells him it's okay, even though she wants him there so bad. She hasn't seen him since January and won't see him until May, and that's far too long, she thinks. Next year, they won't ever have to go this long without seeing each other.

In March she gets rejected from NYADA. She doesn't tell Finn. She cuts her hair and nearly drops out of the play, out of glee club, but Papa sits her down, tells her it's okay, she doesn't have to be perfect all that time, that NYU is a perfectly good school.

Life goes on, though she feels quite a bit like she's on autopilot. Dance through this number, sing this solo, eat, sleep, do homework, send enrollment papers into NYU, agree to live off-campus with Kurt and Santana.

"You've been off, lately," Santana tells her. They're in the dressing room. It's opening night, and she's feeling a little nervous and a little excited.

"Just stressed."

"Well, get un-stressed. It's opening night, Tinkerbelle."

"I'm nervous."

"You've never been nervous in your life, so suck it up, suck it in and get out there and sing your heart out."

She laughs and goes out and performs and finally feels alive again, like oh! performing is what she's meant to do. And she's forgotten how good it feels, the lights and the applause and the standing ovation at her curtain call and the flowers in the lobby from family members.

She doesn't think about how the most important person is missing until a familiar pair of arms winds around her waist and lifts her into the air.

"Finn!" It comes out in this shrill half cry half shriek and she hugs him so tight. "You're – how are you – ?"

"I only had two classes on Monday and I'm skipping them."

"For me?"

"Anything for my favorite girl," he says and he kisses her and she loves him so, so much.

He drives her to her cast party and sits on the sofa in Santana's living room with her and she gets mildly drunk and curls up against him and he just rubs her back and talks to Kurt about school. She just – she cannot believe he's here.

"I should get you home," he says. "Your dads might worry."

"Nooo," she whines, "they know you have me right here. Please, baby, please stay with me on this here couch and we can make out all night and I'll let you have sex with me."

"Babe, really. I'll take you home and we can make out in your bed."

"Then you have to stay and cuddle," she huffs. "Come on, take me home. You're so slow."

He laughs and guides her through the house to say goodbye to everyone and he even helps her into the truck, which he never does because she asked him not to when she was fourteen because, not because he isn't a gentleman.

As soon as he slides into the driver's side, she crawls onto his lap and kisses him until she can't breathe.

She starts putting his hands under her dress and his kisses slow until they're just these slow little pecks on her mouth and her nose and her cheeks, too, and his hands are rubbing slow circles on her thighs.

"Finn," she murmurs, pressing her body insistently against his. "Come on, let's do it."

"Rachel, you know I want to, 'cause, like…you're fucking hot. Always. And you were so amazing tonight, did I tell you?"

"Only a hundred billion times."

"Yeah. Well, you blew my mind – "

"So let me blow you – "

"Um – well, uh. No, no." He breathes out in this really long breath. "I wanna have sex. But let's do it tomorrow, or Sunday, or something. Not tonight, babe."

"Fine," she huffs. "Your loss."

He kisses her cheek, and she doesn't remember any of this the next morning.

xvi.

This boy at NYU, Brody, he kind of starts to hit on Rachel. It's nothing gross, really, and she's kind of flattered, even though she knows as a young, modern feminist girl woman (she's in that hybrid state before adulthood has settled in) she is supposed to be disgusted. The nerve of those men!

See, she knows the mindset. But she's never been so shamelessly wanted by a boy before, besides Finn, and it feels good. Now, she doesn't want Brody. He's not her type in the least. He's too short and too pretty, and so – so not Finn.

Except when Finn visits Brody kind of inserts himself into their time together. Totally weird, right? But the way he looks at Rachel makes Finn feel all anxious and nervous and jealous and it isn't until he's kissing her goodbye that she realizes all the hickeys on her neck, her collarbone are all for Brody.

She doesn't need him to claim her, and it starts to build. The tension. But it isn't, like, good tension like before they dated but this awful tension that makes her not know what to say to him on the phone because she's so, so mad that he doesn't trust her.

Naturally, they fight. And he makes her so, so mad that one night, "Then maybe we should just break up, Finn!"

"Yeah? Fine."

"Fine."

"Glad to have finally pleased you." She hangs up and covers her face with a pillow and, like any dramatic film heroine, screams into it.

Santana looks at her uninterestedly until she sees that Rachel is actually crying, now, and in earnest too.

"I didn't wanna say anything. Did you and Gigantor just breakup?"

"Yes."

"For the first time?"
"Yes."

"Is it permanent?" Then, she starts wailing, and Santana very awkwardly pats her back. "Fuck, Berry. You know I'm not, like – good at this. Kurt's the nice one, I'm just a bitch. But I'm real sorry, if that's any consolation. You and Finn were really good for a really long time."

"I wanted it to be for forever!"

She can't stop crying because he didn't even bother stopping her. And he doesn't call for the whole next week, and it's really, truly over.

One night, she's practicing in the dance studio. Ms. July, her dance teacher, is always yelling at Rachel because she's not very good at ballet. And perhaps she isn't, or perhaps Ms. July is just biased against her.

Anyway, it necessitates some practice. Ballet is very hard, you know, so it's no surprise to her that she stays until even the custodians go home.

Except, annoyingly, Brody's there, practicing too. But she can see his eyes on her, can almost feel his gaze on her and okay, it was flattering but now it's sort of offensive, you know? Like, she isn't some object to be looked at.

"What are you looking at?" Maybe it's a little rude, but she's just so – she's frustrated. And his insistent staring isn't helping her get this choreography down.

"You just seem tense, is all."

"I am tense, so thanks, Sherlock."

"Wanna massage?"

"Not from you."

"C'mon." He steps closer and he puts his hands on her shoulders. "Tina told me your boyfriend broke up with you."

This feels decidedly awful, but she lets him knead the muscles on her shoulders and it hurts more than it heals. He tries to make a move and she elbows him in the stomach, leaves her handprint against his cheek, and storms off.

Oddly – or, well, not too oddly – all she wants to do is call Finn and cry about it, but she hasn't even bothered contacting him since the breakup. She misses him, and walking back from the dance studio she feels colder than ever and she's hit, suddenly, with this intense longing for Finn.

When she gets home, she falls asleep immediately upon slipping into bed and she dreams about Finn and she wakes up crying, so lame, she knows, but – she doesn't even have her best friend anymore, and she thinks maybe that's what she means.

It starts with a text message, hey and he replies hey, too, and it's so easy, falling back into their friendship. So easy she almost forgets how in love with him she was (is).

Almost. Almost, because after every phone call she wants to tell him she loves him, when he does something cute like scrunch his nose after she says something he thinks is unpleasant (namely, dance class) or when he laughs at himself so hard he snorts, she wants to smile at him like she's in love with him and say baby, please.

But it feels good anyway, being friends with him again.

xvii.

Finn comes and visits her (and Kurt, he tells her on the phone) over their spring break and he stays an entire week, sleeping merely feet from her every night.

He has a beard, now, and he looks so hot. And old, too, so much so that when she picks him up from the train station she almost doesn't recognize him. But he swings her into his arms and he kisses her cheek and he puts his arm around her while she walks him back to her apartment.

On the third night, Finn and Santana buy two bottles of wine from the liquor store that never ever cards (and wouldn't need to since Finn looks about twenty-five) and Tina and Mercedes, her college friends, come over with their boyfriends, Artie and Sam, and Kurt invites some people from the magazine he interns at and it's an almost-party.

She only ever wants to get drunk with Finn, she decides, because after four glasses of cheap wine she feels so, so drunk, but she takes a shot with Sam anyway, because why not? Finn gets drunk, too, because Artie brought this beer that Finn really likes and he has a bottle in his hand when he sits next to Rachel on the couch.

It's habit; she thinks when she curls into his side. The alcohol, the comfortable couch, Finn. He leans his cheek against her head, tells her honestly,

"I miss you."

She pulls her head away from his and puts her hand on his cheek, scoots in so her face is really close to his. She's looking for honesty.

"Get it, Berry," Santana calls from the kitchen.

Rachel doesn't look away from Finn, finds her hands pressing all over his face and eventually, she puts one on the juncture of his neck and his shoulder and the other on his cheek.

"I miss you, too," she says after a moment. "I am going to kiss you."

They're kissing and right now she feels like she could conquer the world. Kissing Finn is always good, she thinks, but right now it feels like coming home, because she's pretty sure her home isn't a place, it's someone.

It's Finn.

He kisses her just like always, with his tongue all gentle and sweet and Finn and she wants to stay right here forever, just like this, but eventually her lungs really want air and so she pulls away and breathes in heavily, her head all pressed against his shoulder.

"I should probably have more wine," she says and tries to slip off of his lap but he squeezes her tight to him.

"You shouldn't have anymore. You're gonna get sick."

"You shouldn't have anymore." He sighs and kisses her on the cheek. "Are you my boyfriend again?"

He sighs again, rubs his nose against hers. "Probably. Ask me again in the morning."

"Why?" He gets off the couch and picks her up and tosses her over his shoulder.

"Finn, where are you going?"

"I'm putting you in your bed," he explains, "and then I am going to go back and have all the wine."

"No!"

He sets her on the bed and crawls over her. "We should probably not have all the sex."

"Yes, we should." She pulls his mouth down and he kisses her for twenty-three years and she's about to push her hands under his shirt when he pulls away.

"Baby girl," he whispers.

"I never finished Charmed," she tells him suddenly. "I wanna finish."

"You can't watch without me."

"Then stay here and we can finish all of our things."

He pulls the covers over their shoulders and she curls beside him. "It's just, like…like a year, anymore. We can make it a year and then we'll get married and we can have sex wherever in the apartment."

She pushes out this really long breath and kisses him on the neck. He has these two freckles right there and it's probably her favorite spot to kiss besides his mouth. He runs his hand down her back and rubs between the blades.

"I need you to write that down," she says.

"Okay." He slips out of bed and she whines slightly and he grabs a notebook from off her desk, scribbles on it and brings it into bed. "Sign."

"I need my lawyer to overview this here contract," she tells him, giggling. Everything is still spinning, though, so her eyes don't really want to focus and she pretends to read it and signs her name sloppily.

"You and I are going to be friends forever," he says, "and you're gonna be my wife, and also, my lover."

"That's the plan." She hums a little and her eyes feel so, so heavy, so she just lets the eyelids slide closed and she curls up with the blankets around her shoulders. This is the warmest she's been in months, she thinks. "Love you."

"Love you more."

xviii.

In the summer, Kurt and Santana move out and Finn moves in. It's only for a little. Kurt has an internship in Boston and Santana wants to be with Brittany and Finn wants to be with Rachel. He's working at this camp in the city because he wants to be an elementary school teacher and she's working at this bookstore coffee shop and every night they come home and they're tired but they marathon old television shows on Netflix and have sex on the couch.

It rains late one night when she's walking home from work. Finn's on the phone because he always gets so worried she's going to get raped or die or something so he calls when she has to close at the store.

There's this box, though. And it's meowing.

"Finn," she whispers.

"Baby, why are you whispering?"

"There's a box. It's making small sounds." She moves closer to it, peers in, sees a tiny little cat standing in the corner and it's just this instinct, picking up the cat and holding it in both hands. She hangs up with Finn and closes her umbrella.

She's thoroughly soaked to the bone when she gets home, but it's warm in the apartment because Finn's so good about keeping the air conditioner off when they don't need it.

"Rachel, you can't just, like hang up!" He exclaims the moment she pushes through the door. He looks kind of worried and she feels so bad, but she holds up the kitten to him.

"Look, Finn," she says. "He's so lonely."

"Uh, sweetheart, I don't think – "

"Please? He can be our baby." The kitten meows softly. "He likes you."

Finn sighs and grabs his rain jacket. "I'll go to Walgreens."

She squeals and kisses him hard on the cheek. Her lipstick leaves a mark but he doesn't bother wiping it off. "I love you!"

He shakes his head and closes the door behind him. She is so pleased.

xix.

The year sort of flies by. Rasputin – the cat, of course – gets too big too fast and suddenly, they're flying home for winter break and then she visits Finn in Syracuse for spring break and then it's spring and the flowers are blooming and the air is sweet and Finn graduates college.

She's never been so proud of her best friend in her whole entire life. She cheers the loudest in the stadium, cries when he crosses the stage and smiles into the audience and kisses him hard on the mouth when she sees him afterward.

Now they finally get to start their lives together, even though she's still in school – she's going to be a star – he's moving into her bedroom in the apartment she shares with Kurt and Santana still, and Rasputin, too, and it's going to be fabulous.

How romantic, you know? Living with your boyfriend and not being able to afford wine and eating exclusively homemade meals in a cramped apartment with your best friends. It's all she could have wanted, honestly.

Also, it will make a very good piece in her memoir.

"When they make a biopic about my life based on my memoir, who do you want to play you?"

They're curled together on his mattress on his floor, an old vinyl playing on the record player she bought him for his twenty-first birthday. It was expensive and she'd saved up all year for it, but he loves it, so it was worth it.

"Um," he brushes his hand over her hair and blinks slowly. "Probably, like Johnny Depp."

"He's way too old. He doesn't even look like you!" Finn rolls them slowly so that he's on top of her and he starts kissing her face, her cheeks, her neck. "Finn, this is serious!"

He kisses her on the mouth. She can feel his mouth curling into a smile as they kiss and she runs her toes down his calf. His throat makes this really low humming sound so she does it again and again, feels him get hard against her thigh and he presses his hips against hers.

Afterward, when they're both dewy with sweat and the sheets stick to their skin because it's humid outside and in his apartment and it's late May, so close to summer all the trees are green.

She sings along a little to the record, quietly, of course, and he sighs and looks at her and tells her she's got the best voice he's ever heard.

"I know," she tells him and kisses his nose. She loves him so much she feels like they're perpetually in this state of being grossly in love with one another and she wonders if it'll ever even out. "You're my best friend."

He pushes out this long breath and he smiles at her. His eyes are all sleepy and it's past one in the morning and he cuddles her against him and before he falls asleep, he tells her, "You know you're my favorite girl."

xx.

"Baby, let's go to Lima," he says randomly, one hot July morning. It's a Friday and previously, she'd planned on tying her hair up and lying on the ground with Finn because they're not working today, or maybe installing that air conditioner that's still sitting in the corner of their bedroom.

She's not sure where Kurt and Santana are. They went out last night and never came back, so she's assuming they got lucky, or whatever, and gone straight to work.

"What do you mean, Lima?"

"We haven't been home since May," he says. "And I wanna visit. Come on, Rachel. What else were you gonna do this weekend? And, hey – the Fourth is Monday, so it's like a long weekend."

She looks at him and he looks so earnest, sitting at the kitchen table. He's got a bowl of cereal in front of him that he's barely eaten and she thinks, after a moment, he even looks nervous.

"Okay, Finn," she sighs. "Let's drive to Lima."

It's really a terribly long drive, but she falls asleep midway through, her cheek all pressed against the window. He's listening to some really quiet music, though, and when she wakes up he just laughs at her because she's all confused and mussed.

"You missed a lot of the drive, killer," he teases, threading his hand with hers and bringing it to his mouth. "I told you, you've been working too hard."

"No," she negates, "no, Rasputin was afraid of the storm last night. I had to stay up and take care of our baby."

Finn laughs and nods. "Always taking care of our baby."

He tells her about the camp he's working at again, this time he's getting paid as a full-time employee and he'll be back every summer, and in the fall he's got a job lined up at a local private academy. She's so, so proud of him.

And a little bit envious, too. His future's all bright and glowing and hers is still two years out of her grasp.

She's midway through a story about this customer at work when she reads a sign that says they're five miles from Lima. "I'm really glad we're doing this," she tells him suddenly. "I've been meaning to visit my dads."

"Yeah, me, too."

"My dads?"

He glances at her, eyes a little wide. "Uh, yeah, Rachel."

"Let's visit them first, please?"

"You know, you're gonna have to stay there."

"No," she whines, "Finn, we're practically married. They know we live together and share a bed in New York. Why can't it be the same in Lima?"

"'Cause, like…in Lima, we're like kids again."

She pouts and crosses her arms over her chest. "I don't wanna be a kid anymore."

He laughs and takes a left turn and then she's overcome with that deep feeling of home that always comes from Lima, and Finn, too. But there's something so sweet about recognizing the trees that line the sides of the street and the houses all in a line.

They get to her house and Papa and Daddy are out there waiting on the front porch. She almost cries when she sees them and they hug her so tight and Finn shakes both of their hands.

"We're so glad you came home," Papa says, pouring Rachel a glass of lemonade. Finn and Daddy are sitting in the living room. "It's so nice that you and Finn can do this sort of thing now."

"I didn't even realize I missed home until we were five miles outside of Lima." She hears Finn's laugh and Daddy's, too, and Papa puts his hand on her shoulder.

"So great to have you serving me lemonade again, strawberry," Daddy says as she puts the glass of lemonade before him.

She rolls her eyes and perches herself on Finn's knee. "Nothing like some good, old-fashioned misogyny to make me feel at home."

Finn still looks anxious when they leave, later. In fact, he sends her to the car first and hangs back to talk to her parents, like, what? He's back within minutes, though, and she asks him what that was all about.

"They asked if you were failing out of school 'cause they wanted an honest response. I had to tell them yes, baby. And I'm sorry for blowing your cover."

She shoves his arm. "You're so annoying."

He laughs and backs out of the driveway, but doesn't head towards his house. "Finn, honestly, where are we – ?"

She drops off short because they're pulling into that familiar clearing. He stalls the truck, leans across the center seat and kisses her hard on the mouth.

"Old time's sake, yeah?"

She nods and he helps her out of the truck like she's fourteen again and it's less hot here so she curls into his side while they walk. And they're quiet, too, so quiet she can hear each twig that crunches under her feet and even his slightly shallow breathing, and it hitches every so often and she really just doesn't understand why he seems so nervous, here.

"What's wrong?" They're at that log – their log – in the woods and for a moment, she thinks he's going to break up with her.

"Nothing," he says, smiling reassuringly. He climbs onto the log and she grabs his hand as an anchor as she joins him. He sits in the middle and she leans back against the other tree trunk and he puts one of his hands on her ankle. "This place is way nicer than our fire escape back in the city, huh?"

She smiles tenderly at him. "You're always going to be a country boy, huh?"

He laughs and leans forward and kisses her. "You'll be my city girl."

"Your favorite girl," she adds, putting both her hands on his cheeks and keeping him right there.

"Always." He puts his hands on her wrists and pulls away. "Remember when you first kissed me here?"

"You kissed me."

"Details." He smiles and he looks out into the dense woods around them. "You're always making me nervous."

She squints at him. "We've had this conversation before."

"Yeah, I know. And I'm nervous right now." He hops off the log and there's some moss sticking to his back so she brushes it off. "Don't cop a feel just yet."

"Why?" She giggles and pats his ass again.

"'Cause then I'm going to lose all my courage and we'll end up having sex in the place I'm going to propose to you."

"W-what?" He's down on one knee, though, and looking at her like she's the prettiest girl in the entire world, like – like she's his entire world. And she thinks that if she's the world, he's the sun and they'll always be in the same orbit.

"Rachel – baby girl – you're the best person I know. You're my person, my best friend, my favorite girl and I want to spend the rest of my life making you smile, so, marry me? Please?"

She jumps down, wrapping her arms around his shoulders, knocking him to the ground. She's crying and she kisses him and tells him yes, a million times over.

xxi.

"We always knew you'd marry Finn," Papa tells her, pressing his hand on her shoulder.

"Yes," Daddy acknowledges, "we even had a bet."

"I'll have you know I won," Papa says, "well, I won when you two would realize you were completely in love – you were sixteen, yes?" She nods. "Yes, and Daddy won the marriage age."

"I know my sweet pea, I knew she'd want to wait until she was out of college."

"A week isn't exactly out of college, but I'll give."

"Dads," she interjects, "I think it's time."

Kurt's been signaling madly at the door and so Papa and Daddy loop their arms through hers.

It happens in a blur. Papa and Daddy kiss her on the cheek and they're crying and so is Finn's mom, Carole, she can call her, now, and her hand's in Finn's and he's looking at her with his eyes all full and shiny and she thinks there's at the corner of his eye and she presses her thumb there.

They say I do and then she's Mrs. Hudson and he kisses her for the first time, her husband.

Later, when they're dancing together for the first time as husband and wife, she kisses him on the neck (it's as far as she can reach) and whispers in his ear, "I always knew you'd be mine forever."

He laughs a little and kisses her mouth, because he's so tall and he can bend down to kiss her there. "I love you more than anything."

"Impossible," she says, and he twirls her and brings her back. He's broad and warm and Finn and she's pinched herself on the arm so many times a bruise might form because it's all so perfect – he's so perfect – it feels like a dream.

But it isn't. She dances with her dads and Kurt and Santana and everyone who's there, but she ends the night where she needs to be – where she's supposed to be – and that's in Finn's arms.

Later, she's straddling him in the bed in the nicest hotel in Lima and he's got his hands rubbing these little circles onto her bare stomach.

"Hey," he says suddenly, interrupting her monologue about how much she loves him and all the reasons why she's always known they'd be here, "remember, when you were a little girl and you dared me to kiss you?"

She laughs and leans down, pressing her mouth sloppily on his. She's had one too many glasses of champagne, between the reception and this bed. "I ran away so fast."

"Yeah," he sighs, "that was like, my moment."

"You knew I was your favorite girl and you were going to marry me."

"I knew that no matter what Rachel Berry would always be ticking inside of me." She smiles and leans her forehead against hers. "And now you're Rachel Hudson."

"Not yet, legally. You have to take me to the DMV tomorrow to change it."

"Yeah, baby," he says softly and he's busy peppering kisses all over her chest. "Tomorrow, now, I'm gonna…"

He trails off and kisses her fiercely, pressing her under his body. "We're gonna do it all night long," she says and he grunts his agreement into her shoulder.

Oh, does she love him.

xxii.

It's a foggy December morning when she tells him she's pregnant. She's been on Broadway just three years and this past May won her first Tony Award. The baby feels like more of an award, honestly.

Anyway, it's early. She doesn't have rehearsal today but she's up with him, anyway, and she's perched herself on his lap and is maybe half-asleep when she just tells him.

"You're gonna need to save some of that bacon because your pregnant wife is desiring it."

He chokes on his coffee, sprays it all over her pretty white robe, and she sighs. "I'll get it cleaned," he gasps. "You're pregnant?"

"We're pregnant." She likes when people do that, include their husbands in the experience. She just thinks it's nice.

He swings her into his arms, twirls her around. "That's my girl," he says, laughing, because he's wanted a baby so bad in their three years of marriage and she's finally, you know, okay with letting her body blow up like a balloon.

Okay, now she's the one who is having trouble breathing. Finn just rubs her back and kisses her cheek again and again.

"I'm so happy," she tells him. He doesn't want to go to work, but she promises to bring him lunch because she's got a hair appointment in the area anyway. And she promises to make sure that the chemicals they'll use – it's just a trim, honestly – are pregnancy-friendly. He's just so cute and protective already that she kisses him on the mouth and waves him goodbye.

And years later, when she's pregnant again with two babies already, he's still protective, but when she complains he'll just kiss her, tell her he's protecting his favorite girl, and, oh, it's fruitless.

She can never stay mad at him anyway.