Hello! At long last, I'm delighted to finally post the longest chapter I've written for any of my stories, ever. I hope it makes up for the wait.

Emily and Eera both deserve medals for looking over this monstrosity and helping me iron out a major kink that was preventing me from finishing and posting. That said, I don't think any of us looked it over with a fine-toothed comb, so I take responsibility for all typos and stuff like that.

See prior chapters for disclaimers. This is still AU, picking up just prior to the beginning of junior year. Oh, and this installment is rated M. ;-)

/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\

Rachel sat in the backseat of her parents' car, growing more and more apprehensive as they passed the familiar sites of Lima. She was returning home after having spent eight weeks away at Northwestern University's musical theater summer workshop.

"So, sweet pea, what's the first thing you'd like to do after you unpack? See your girlfriends? Or Finn?"

"Hiram!" Leroy growled quietly through gritted teeth.

"What?" the other man protested innocently at a similar volume. "They've been best friends since they were in kindergarten. She might want to see him despite recent... events."

"It's fine, Dad," Rachel insisted from the backseat. (What is it about parents that makes them think their kids can't hear their lame attempts to whisper?!) "Perhaps after I get situated and make more definitive plans with Mercedes and Kurt for tomorrow I will go over to see how Finn's summer was." She said it confidently, and didn't miss her Papa's gloatingly raised eyebrows as he steered the car into their development. Once they moved on to discussing the grocery list for the week, though, she allowed the feelings of anxiety to return.

The day prior to her departure for the program in early July, Finn had insisted that they break up. Not having expected it at all, Rachel had been completely caught off-guard.

"What?! Did I – did I do something to upset you? Is it because I decided to go with bangs in the spring? Or because I'm too short? Or due to my overly driven actions as glee club captain?!"

"No, Rach, you're perfect," Finn placated her sweetly. "Which is exactly why you need to go off to this program without my Lima Loser ass weighing you down."

Rachel had obviously assured him that he was not a loser, and that their relationship was going to play a key role in her future success. But he held fast to his conclusion that she'd have a better time if she wasn't preoccupied with someone five hours away.

"How about this: We take a break for the summer. When I get back, we'll see where we are."

"A break," Finn repeated, then pursed his lips in thought as he pondered the suggestion. "That sounds... okay. Just... promise you'll wow the pants off of the Chicago fuckers, without worrying about me."

Rachel rolled her eyes at his use of crass language, but stepped forward to take his hand. "I promise – but you need to promise me that, whatever happens, we'll always be friends."

"Rach..." he said softly, clearly choked up. "Of course."

That's how they'd left things. Rachel hated the Northwestern program the first week. She missed Finn, her friends, her dads, and it was jarring to be surrounded by so many similarly driven and talent people who her Papa would describe as "Type A". But once she got used to the environment she made a few friends and felt comfortable enough to throw herself into her vocal seminars and musical auditions.

Unpacking took her through various mementos from the experience – her name tag from orientation day, ticket stubs from the college-level production of Hamlet, a strip of photobooth images from a day at Navy Pier.

Of course, she cringed at the memory of what happened later that same day. While on line for the ferris wheel, Rachel and her friends met some guys studying at University of Illinois-Chicago who invited them to a party that night. Still a little homesick and trying to find her way, Rachel went along with the other girls who wanted to accept the invitation. She then proceeded to drown her insecurities in something called "jungle juice" and kissed some boy whose name she didn't even remember in the morning.

It was supposed to make her forget about Finn, but that didn't exactly go as planned since the next day she saw that he called her during the party. She didn't remember speaking to him but evidently she'd answered the phone and their call lasted for 27 seconds. They hadn't defined what sort of communications they would engage in during their summer "break," but from then on they exchanged only occasional brief meaningless small-talk text messages.

Nonetheless, she'd gone on to have an amazing and successful summer as per their promise. She came in second in the end-of-summer vocal competition, and earned the role of Tzeitel in the program's production of Fiddler on the Roof. Now that she was back, it was time to reassess.

Mercedes informed her that Santana was having a party the following night, and they made plans to spend the day together, along with Kurt, prior to the affair.

With that squared away, Rachel slid her now empty suitcase under her bed and put away a few stray items before descending to the living room and informing her dads that she was going to Finn's.

The walk down the street seemed endless but then she was ringing the doorbell and finally, there he was: tall, broad, messy-haired, and kind-eyed, right in front of her.

"Hey Rach," he said, pulling her into a tight hug that made her whole body feel warm all over. But when she leaned up to kiss him he craned his head back, patting her shoulders a little and laughing awkwardly.

"Um, hi," she replied, trying to smile through her disappointment. "How was your summer?"

Finn shrugged, taking a step back so they could both enter the house. "It was all right, I guess," he began as he led her to the living room. "I didn't exactly have high hopes for the job at Sheets N' Things but it didn't totally suck. Football's been a bitch, though. Beiste says we weren't tough enough last year so she added extra weight training." With that he sat down at one end of the couch.

Rachel followed suit and sat at the opposite end.

Her stomach clenched at the memory of lazy afternoons spent cuddled up on that same couch, and the palpable uneasiness that distinguished this instance from those before.

"How about you?" Finn asked, absently toying with a loose thread on the couch cushion between them. "I'm sure you killed the Northwestern program."

Rachel smiled, blushing. "Well, I did get one of the lead roles in the musical."

"That's awesome, Rach." The pride on Finn's face was evident, and her heart swelled in the way that only his support could make it.

They chatted pleasantly, sharing more details of their summer experiences. In some way Rachel felt like she was re-entering her body, never before having gone so long without talking to him (texts about the weather aside). After a while, though, she was tired of ignoring the tension between them.

"So... where does this leave us?" she asked, her face innocent and calm despite her anxious heart.

"Aww, Rach, I don't know..." Finn began, his face falling.

She steeled herself, trying to cope with the reality that Finn no longer wanted to be her boyfriend.

"I just... We both have so much going on, like glee club, and your zillion extra-curriculars and performing stuff, and me with football... and Miss Pillsbury came in to talk to all the junior athletes about how this is a big year for grades and SAT prep and resume-building in preparation for applying to college." He was picking at the thread vigorously. "I don't want to get in the way of all of that for you."

"Finn, is that what you think? That you just 'get in my way'? I'm sorry if I ever gave you that impression because it couldn't be farther from the truth. If anything, you support me and make me do everything better." She was starting to panic, not sure what she had to do or say to convince him.

"I know, I know, and I'm glad you feel that way. But that was before, and things are about to get busier, and more... complicated. And I think that we'll be better as friends while all of that is happening."

Rachel took a deep breath, studying his winsomely pained face.

The fleeting thought entered her head that he had hooked up with someone else while she was away, but she tried to trust her gut instinct that the boy on the couch with her was still her sweet and innocent Finn. Although she was suspicious about the reasoning behind everything he'd said, she quickly banished the mental image of him pulling into the school parking lot with Quinn Fabray in the front seat of his truck.

"If that's how you feel, I suppose I'm not going to be able to change your mind," she said calmly. "I'll see you at Santana's tomorrow night?" she asked, standing.

"Uh, yeah, I'll be there," he answered quickly, getting up and following her as she walked back towards the front door.

"Great. So, tomorrow, then."

"Yeah," he replied, a small smile not quite reaching his eyes as he opened the door for her. "Bye, Rach."

"Bye, Finn." She quickly strode down the steps, not looking back as she allowed the tears to sting the backs of her eyelids.

By the time she reached her own front door, though, she had found a new resolve.

If this is what he wanted, space so they could pursue their passions separately, then that's what she'd give him.

/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\

Finn swallowed a generous gulp of beer, hoping it would numb the uneasy feelings overtaking his body amidst the chaos of another loud house party at Santana's. He'd just taken his turn in beer pong and was waiting for Puck to do the same. Across the living room, he saw Rachel, Tina, and Mercedes passionately singing along with a pop song playing over the stereo.

He'd been laying low most of the summer, focusing on football practice and working as many hours as he could manage. If he had a prayer of going to college it would be on an athletic scholarship, and even that wouldn't cover all the expenses so he needed to start saving.

Puck took a step back from the table and followed Finn's gaze. "Yo, I was surprised to see Berry roll in with Jones and Hummel before," he commented as they waited for their opponents to shoot. "Figured you and her would be attached at the ass – or lips – now that she's back from her summer thing."

Finn winced as he took another swig of beer, still looking in her direction. "Heh, well, we're not back together, if that's what you mean."

"All right, Hudson!" the other boy exclaimed, slapping him on the back. "I like Berry because she's a fellow Hebrew and kinda sneaky-hot, but I'm glad you finally want to embrace your QB-stud status and play the field a little. If I can offer any pointers, you know—"

"Nah man, that's not it at all. It's... complicated."

Puck nodded absently before abruptly turning toward him. "Oh! Hey, does she still not know about your—"

"Shhhhh!" Finn cut him off, smacking him in the arm for good measure. Thankfully, Rachel was totally absorbed in her activities and paying absolutely no attention to their game or conversation. "Nah dude. I couldn't tell her. I said that we should stay broken up because we'll both have too much going on this year and stuff."

With that, their opponents sank a final shot to win the game. They celebrated their victory by high-fiving and chest-bumping.

"That doesn't sound 'complicated' so much as it sounds 'super lame,'" Puck opined while he and Finn divided up the beer remaining in the wake of the defeat.

"Something like that," Finn muttered before trudging over to another adjacent room where the OSU game was playing on a big-screen TV.

Later that night, as things were quieting down a bit, Finn was in the kitchen rinsing out empty beer cans and dumping out half-empty red Solo cups and generally trying to be a good guy about the mess they'd all made.

He was searching a cabinet for an empty garbage bag when Kurt sauntered in.

"You looking for a new trash bag?" the well-dressed teen asked after looking for a place to deposit some used cups and dishware.

"Yeah," Finn answered, steadying a stack of Tupperware containers before closing that door.

Kurt started opening some of the lower drawers until he came to one containing the bags.

"I had an interesting conversation with Rachel earlier today," he said casually as he took a bag out of the box and opened it up.

"Dude!" Finn exclaimed in a whisper. "You said you wouldn't!"

"Calm down," Kurt insisted, holding the bag open while Finn deposited some dirty plates inside of it. "I'm merely referring to the fact that she said that she saw you and recounted your conversation, but it seems a certain topic didn't come up."

"Uh, yeah," Finn answered awkwardly, busying himself by the sink once again.

"Finn! You specifically said that you were going to tell her, because of how important it is to your relationship that she find out from you."

Finn whirled around. "It is important, Kurt. I just couldn't bring it up yesterday." His face softened. "It was just... too hard."

Kurt took a deep breath and gave him a sympathetic gaze. "Well, please just keep in mind that it's very hard for me to avoid discussing something so significant whenever Rachel happens to be around."

Having said his peace, Kurt set the newly-started trash bag down on the floor and walked out of the kitchen, leaving Finn alone with his conflicted heart.

/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\

Determined to stick to her guns, Rachel threw herself headlong into performance activities and other extracurricular clubs as soon as the school year began. As she was now finally approaching the proper age, that included driver's ed. She also began studying for the PSATs to improve her outside chance at a national merit scholarship. She found that studying vocabulary flashcards while on the elliptical each morning made for a fantastic multitasking arrangement.

As he'd anticipated, Finn was also very busy. Rachel often left school while afternoon football practice raged on, Beiste working the players mercilessly. Apparently she viewed their abbreviated playoff run the prior year as something of a fluke, and didn't want them to get complacent. As someone who believed that achievement results from pushing oneself (and others) to the max, Rachel appreciated the approach. One particular day, though, she happened to pass by the field during a rare water break. In seeing Finn's pained, sweaty, exhausted face, she wanted to shout encouragement or comfort him with an affectionate gesture. Instead, when they made eye contact the best she could do was a simple wave and small smile. Finn nodded back sheepishly in response.

They still saw each other at glee rehearsal, but the football players were only able to attend once per week. The arrangement had worked pretty well the year before, with the group members' various talents coming together under Mr. Schue's at-times brilliant tutelage to handily win sectionals. Regionals, though, was another matter. Rachel thought they'd given the performance of a lifetime, but evidently the judges preferred the melodramatic antics of Jesse and Vocal Adrenaline.

With Jesse having graduated, Rachel saw the new year as an opportunity to make a better showing. Realizing that this effort started with her, she pressed on with her individual vocal practices as often as she could amidst her other activities.

One Saturday morning she was taking advantage of her fathers being out at a company picnic and running through her scales. This peace and quiet was interrupted, however, when she heard the telltale beeping of a truck backing up down the street. She waited as patiently as she could for that to cease, but after a moment of quiet an incessant banging noise replaced the beeping of the truck.

Annoyed, Rachel trudged out of her house and followed the sound of the banging, which was apparently coming from the vicinity of Finn's yard. As she got closer, she saw that a large wooden post was being planted right into the middle of the front lawn, with something attached to it.

The something was a sign for a local realty company, the big "FOR SALE" below it sending invisible arrows into her heart.

Out of pure instinct she looked up to Finn's bedroom window, where she saw his withdrawn face gazing down on her.

After that she just tried to make it back to her house before becoming completely hysterical.

/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\

"Rach! Rachel!" Finn gulped, choking back his own tears as he rang the Berrys' doorbell repeatedly. "Please just let me in so we can talk! Please..."

"Talk about what?!" she called from the other side of the door, her voice audibly reflecting the distress he couldn't see.

Finn exhaled, trying to will himself into being strong. "E-everything," he managed with a wince.

The door opened just a crack at first, as if he might be a serial killer and she was afraid to let him in. Then she opened it the rest of the way and flung herself at him.

"Hey..." he said soothingly, cradling her to his chest as he stepped into the house and closed the door behind them with his foot.

Her only response was sob and a sniffle.

"It's gonna be fine, Rach," he added as he stroked her hair. "Let's just—let's just talk, okay?"

Rachel nodded, biting her lip and motioning to the living room.

He let her sit down first, giving her the opportunity to set the tone for their discussion so he didn't accidentally upset her even more.

"So... just... give it to me straight," Rachel said, turning towards him. "Is it California? Florida? I figure it can't possibly be somewhere further away than that... Can it?!"

"Uh, no..." Finn began. "It's, uh, the other side of town. In Lima."

He almost laughed at the confused look she got on her face.

"My mom, um, has been d-dating Burt Hummel the past few months." He still wasn't used to the idea and it was so weird to say out loud.

"Kurt's dad?!"

"Yeah," Finn replied, smiling through his own persistent disbelief. "I didn't believe it either at first, since it seemed like too odd a coincidence. But she had to get some work done on her car, they got to talking, and... yeah." He shrugged sheepishly.

"And now they want to move in together? Why didn't you mention any of this? Is that why you broke it off with me before I went away?!" Rachel's voice was on the verge of her scarier tone.

"No," he insisted, trying to remain calm so that she did too. "I didn't even know about it until after you'd left for Chicago." He swallowed. "I called you the night I found out, but you must have been at a party or something because it was really loud and the only thing I could hear you saying was something about how the jungle juice was pink."

"Ohhh, Finn," she drawled, her voice laced with despair and remorse while she buried her face in her hands. "I'm so sorry. The jungle juice was pink and it seemed like a good idea at the time but that stuff is strong and I don't even remember talking to you when you called and I'm just awful."

"Rach, it's okay," he assured her, smiling meekly at the memory of how cute she'd sounded slurring her words. "It confirmed that you were out doing your own thing in Chicago like we'd planned. No harm, no foul."

"Still, I should have been there for you as a friend," she insisted, taking a deep breath and wiping her eyes. "That's why you were so distant for the rest of the summer," she added softly, as if to herself.

He shrugged. "I didn't want to bother you and your big-time experience with my small-time problems."

"Finn," she said firmly, reaching over from across the couch to take his hand. "Your problems are never too small for me to care about, no matter where I am."

"Yeah, I get that now," he admitted, feeling both grateful and confused by the fact that he had the support of such an amazing girl even though he could be such a dope. "But when you first got back... it just seemed easier to keep that distance while all of this was going on. Which was also stupid, I realize now," he explained, squeezing her hand.

"Pft, yeah," she scoffed, rolling her eyes.

The rare sarcastic moment made him smile.

"I don't want to be distanced from you if it means you need to go through such a big life-change on your own," she added, moving closer to him on the couch as if to emphasize her point. "You talked with someone else about it before now, I hope?"

"I mentioned it to Puck. He said his mom never had any interest in dating anyone, and that he'd love it if she got out more."

Rachel smirked a little. "What about Kurt?" she asked curiously. "He didn't mention anything about it to me, either."

"Yeah, I, uh, asked him not to." Finn rubbed the back of his neck at the admission. "And you know how he is. At first he made a lot of sarcastic comments about the situation being like something out of a sitcom. Now, he's mostly just all afool, like he doesn't care about it at all."

"Aloof, Finn. The word is 'aloof'," Rachel corrected him through giggles, playfully kicking his shin with her tiny sock-covered foot. He laughed as well before they both grew silent. "And how do you feel?"

Finn sighed, releasing Rachel's hand so he could wrap his arm around her shoulder.

It felt so good to have her pressed up against him again that he couldn't believe he'd tried to cast her off.

"It's just such a big change, you know? Burt's cool and everything, but I was just getting used to having him – and Kurt, I guess – around in that way. And, I mean, we've lived in our house since as far back as I can remember. To just pick up and move across town like it's nothing..."

"You and your mom discussed it at some point, right?"

He swallowed uneasily. "She sat me down when I figured out they were seeing each other. I guess she realizes how awkward it was for me when she was kinda dating Rod, that guy who did the lawn, only to have him disappear one day. She said that I'm growing up to be a great man, and that she's not trying to replace me, or my dad, but just trying to be happy."

"That sounds like what she'd say," Rachel commented, leaning her head on his chest. "Very heartfelt and wise but also practical."

"With the move, she basically said that she didn't want to cause me any trouble, but that she and Burt are getting pretty serious and 'consolidating households' makes sense. And she said it could be much worse, like if she had taken a job in another state or something."

"That's true," Rachel remarked. "Seeing that sign sent the absolute worst thoughts flashing through my mind, of you and your mom moving to Texas or Alaska or Guatemala!" she explained with a flourish.

Finn chuckled sheepishly. "I have no idea where that last place is."

"I know," Rachel laughed, playfully patting his knee.

Then they were silent for a moment until he spoke again.

"So... what does this mean?" They were snuggling as if they were dating again, even though he wasn't sure if she was still mad.

While those thoughts swam around in his head, Rachel sat up and turned to him. He studied her face as she seemed to be studying his, before she suddenly leaned in and pressed their mouths together in a searing kiss.

When they pulled apart for air, she stared at him again, a tentative smile on her face.

He brushed a few stray hairs away from her eyes. "I missed you so much, Rach."

Her smile grew to its usual megawatt proportions. "I missed you too, Finn."

/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\

They fell back into their old habits and patterns pretty easily, or at least as much as their busier schedules allowed, and Rachel couldn't have been happier. It had been quite the roller coaster what with her summer away, her first attempt at reconciling with Finn only to be shut out by him, and the shock of learning that he and Carole were moving. The upside, of course, was that they were only moving across town, and that her momentary panic had led to her and Finn becoming a couple once again.

With that settled, she was determined to help Finn through the transition in any way she could.

Which was why she was ringing his doorbell at 10 AM on a Sunday, armed with a legal pad and colored pens.

While she waited for someone to answer the door, Rachel observed that Carole's car was gone from the driveway and that in all likelihood it would be Finn greeting her.

Sure enough, she heard the telltale signs of his enormous body descending the stairs. The the door opened to reveal his pajama-clad, messy-hair, half-asleep state.

"Good morning!" she exclaimed with unbridled enthusiasm.

"Mornin', Rach," he said through a yawn as he stepped aside to let her in, rubbing his eyes in childlike fashion before he leaned down to kiss her softly. "Uh, what are you doing here so early?"

"Early?! Finn, it's 10 AM. You texted me goodnight at 12:15 last night, meaning you've gotten well past the AMA-recommended eight hours of sleep per night," she insisted. "As for why I'm here, I thought I would help you organize your belongings in anticipation of your move. I realize that there's no need to box everything up yet, but I was reading about this online and it seems that pre-packing organization, chiefly the discarding of unwanted items, is the key to easy packing success."

Finn exhaled, his eyes wide as he absorbed all of the information she had dispensed. Then a smile settled onto his face. "Thanks, Rach. Can I just have, like, a few minutes to wake up, maybe shower and eat something?"

She smiled back. "Of course! I'd be more than happy to get started while you accomplish those tasks."

Finn rolled his eyes a little before he started up the stairs, with her following behind. "You're so weird," he joked.

"I know."

When they reached Finn's room, Rachel made herself comfortable at his desk chair, surveying the surface of messily piled papers.

Meanwhile, Finn stripped out of his James Garfield Middle School football t-shirt and flannel boxer shorts, leaving him completely naked. It was the first time Rachel had seen him in such a state in the light of day, and she tried not to stare as he casually threw a bath towel over his shoulder.

"Sure you don't wanna join me?" he asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Finn! Your mother could come home at any moment; I do not want to be found in such a compromising position," she explained, trying to keep from blushing in the face of his stark nudity. "Besides, I already showered before I came over."

"Fine..." he said, feigning insult before he stepped towards his desk and kissed the top of her head. "I'll be back in a few minutes... unless you decide to take me up on the offer."

Rachel chuckled impatiently and shook her head. "Go," she urged, giving a little pinch to his hip and a gentle shove. He fought through it and kissed her lips softly before finally exiting his bedroom and trudging down the hall.

Once she heard the bathroom door close, she exhaled and closed her eyes, willing herself to think about what she was doing and not her boyfriend's bare... everything.

By the time Finn returned from the shower (the towel safely around his waist this time) Rachel was completely absorbed in clean-up.

"Okay," she began while he got dressed, "I made a pile of old school-related papers that you can probably throw out – mostly just old fliers and silly worksheets I'm not even sure why you saved. Then I organized all of your more serious work-product by year, broken down by subject, in reverse chronological order. Everything is listed here." She patted the pile, at the top of which was a sheet from her legal pad adorned in her neat handwriting.

Finn pulled his shirt down over his head and stared at Rachel like she had three of them, but she was undeterred.

"I also went through your school supplies and knickknacks and isolated things that you might want to save as memorabilia but not necessarily in your desk." She gestured to the surface of the desk, which contained a neat pile of movie ticket stubs, name tags from school events, and small figurines.

"Hey, I forgot I had these guys!" he exclaimed, reaching for a fake tarantula and waving it in Rachel's face.

"Eww, Finn, no!" she insisted, swatting him and the offending toy away.

"C'mon, Rach. It's fake," he said soothingly.

She scoffed. "Still gross."

After kissing her temple sweetly, Finn went to his closet and retrieved a shoe box, into which he placed the stray items on his desk. With that they moved onto his bookshelf, which was strewn with similar random items that found their way into the trash or the shoebox.

"Ooooh, yay!" Rachel exclaimed when she came across a small box of photos. She situated herself on the bed to begin leafing through them. Finn sat behind her and she leaned against his chest so that he could look over her shoulder while she did so. The prints were like a flip-book of their childhood, with shots of Finn and Rachel around their houses, at various neighborhood events, and with their parents at joint family outings throughout the years. Rachel ooh-ed and aah-ed through shots of them on hay rides, making snowmen, giving impromptu performances, playing in the kiddie pool...

Her breath hitched when she came to a set from their middle school graduation celebration. In one of the photos, Noah was teasing Rachel while Finn stared at her adoringly. In another, the two boys were posing for a semi-serious shot (likely at the behest of their mothers) while Rachel gazed at Finn with stars in her eyes.

"I guess we felt this way about each other before we even realized what it meant," Finn said softly, tightening his arm around her shoulder.

When she turned to look at him he was smiling sheepishly, his lopsided grin and kind eyes setting her heart ablaze.

In that moment, she found herself overcome by every emotion possible – lucky to have found a romantic partner in her best friend, sad that he was moving to a new house and that their lives were destined to change, excited at the possibilities that the future might hold for them, lust from the way he was holding her, desperate to try and hang onto every last possible memory of their current circumstances...

With that she kissed him, hard and deep, shifting her body so she could sit on his lap. He hummed into her mouth and their kisses quickly grew feverish. She could feel him hardening underneath her and the reminder of the effect she had on him never failed to stoke the fire within her.

Her fingers played in his soft hair while they got lost in each other.

"We should have sex," she mumbled against his lips between heated kisses.

To her utter dismay, Finn pulled back, his hands cradling either side of her jaw. "What? Now? Here?!"

"Well, yes," Rachel answered matter-of-factly, sitting up a little straighter and smoothing her hair behind her ears. "Why—do you not want to have sex with me?" She tried to stop her lower lip from quivering while she asked the dreaded question.

"Rachel. Of course I do," Finn insisted, gesturing to the situation that had developed in his pants.

She failed to see his point, considering they usually solved that another way. "What, then?"

Finn exhaled. "I guess I just don't want to rush it. I always figured I'd make it special for you, like on your birthday or after prom or something. I wanted to save up money for a hotel." He looked down shyly before a smirk crossed his lips. "Besides, weren't you worried about my mom coming home and catching us in a tranquilizing position?"

Rachel burst into laughter. "Compromising, Finn!"

"Whatever..." he said, playing with the ends of her hair.

"This would be special," she went on. "We've been reminiscing about our past all day, and who knows how much longer you'll be living here in this house, and then after that everything will change..." she let herself trail off, gulping back the growing lump in her throat.

"Hey," Finn said, trying to comfort her. "We've talked about this. I'm just moving across town, and we'll see each other at school every day like always. Plus I have the truck now, so I can come hang out or pick you up whenever you want." He wrapped his arms around her again. "Whatever changes are coming, we'll deal with them. My moving shouldn't be a reason to... rush anything."

Rachel sighed in recognition of his well-reasoned point. "I suppose we should give a little more thought to something so important," she conceded. "Who knew I could be so spontaneous?" she added with a giggle.

"Mmm," Finn responded, kissing her behind her ear. "It's totally hot..."

She allowed herself to get lost in his attention to her body. A half-hour later, when they were re-dressed and snuggling in front of Braveheart, she wasn't necessarily disappointed that they'd stuck with their usual activities and saved the bigger step for another time.

/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\

The rest of the fall was a complete blur, including Finn's leading the football team to the conference championship game and another sectionals victory for New Directions.

It took a while for his mom to find a buyer for the house, which he didn't mind so much since it meant things stayed the same for a little while longer. Rachel had agreed, but in a moment of anxiety she exclaimed that she was tired of waiting for the change to take place so they could move on to the next phase. He let her rant about "the purposeless extension of a futile status quo" until she admitted that she was just stressed about her physics midterm and he did his best to comfort her about that, too.

Finally, the sale was made, with the closing date set for the week right after Rachel's birthday. She'd grumbled to Finn about the irony; he merely kissed the top of her head and let her sigh into his chest before they got started on packing up his room.

"What do you want to do for your birthday, anyway?" he asked one afternoon in the car on the way home from Glee rehearsal.

Rachel shrugged. "Nothing special. I'm sure my dads will want to bring me breakfast in bed and spend the day watching Barbra movies, but in the evening..."

"I'll take you to dinner?" he interjected, glancing at her quickly before returning his eyes to the road.

"That would be lovely," she answered, resting her hand on his forearm in appreciation.

By the time the day arrived, most of their stuff had been boxed up and moved to the new house they'd be sharing with Burt and Kurt. The only few remaining items were in either of their bedrooms. Luckily, Finn's TV and X-Box were still there and he used them to pass the time that afternoon.

Around 5, his mom came in to say goodbye before her usual Saturday evening dinner-and-movie date with Burt.

"What time are you picking Rachel up?" she asked, sitting next to him on his bed.

"6," he answered, without looking up. Then the silence got to be too much and he paused the game. "What?" The way his mom was looking at him made him oddly nervous.

"Oh, nothing," she remarked with a sigh. "I sometimes can't believe you kids are growing up."

Finn shrugged, unsure if he needed to say something to prevent his mother from becoming emotional. Luckily, she seemed to snap out of it on her own.

"Well, give Rachel a birthday kiss from me," she said, leaning over and kissing Finn's cheek.

"I will, Mom," he assured her. "Have fun."

"You too, sweetie," she said as she stood to leave. "Oh, and Finn?" she asked from the doorway, waiting for him to look up at her. "Don't do anything stupid."

He felt his ears burning, embarrassed at having been given an impromptu Sex Talk... even if it was restricted to four words.

Once he heard his mother's car pull away, he set his plans for the evening in motion. By 6, the time he was supposed to be picking Rachel up, everything was in place.

/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\

Rachel was finishing the application of her lipstick when her phone rang and displayed Finn's picture to indicate that he was calling.

"Hello?" she answered, putting the cap back on the tube and returning it to the proper place in her makeup bag.

"Uh, hey, Rach," Finn began, "I know I said I'd pick you up, but do you mind coming over here before we leave? I need you to look at something. It'll only take a sec."

"Of course," Rachel replied cheerfully. "I'll just get my coat on and come over."

As she walked towards Finn's house she ruminated about what he could possibly need so urgently. She knew that the move was likely to overwhelm him on some level, so she wanted to be as supportive as possible... even if he merely wanted advice on how to pack his last remaining belongings.

She rang the doorbell, a shiver running through her as the late-fall chill bit into her bare face and stocking-clad legs.

After a few seconds, the door opened.

"Hey," he said casually as she stepped in before planting a kiss on her cheek. "That's from my mom. She says happy birthday."

"Oh, is she gone already? I was hoping to say hello," she said, disappointment in her voice before she looked around. "Finn, what...?"

The first floor of the home was nearly dark, the living room illuminated only by the light of the crackling fireplace and numerous candles spread throughout the empty space. There was a picnic blanket spread out in the center of the room, complete with two place settings, wicker basket, and champagne chiller (containing a bottle of what she presumed to be sparkling cider).

"I thought instead of going out, it might be nice to... stay in," Finn explained, helping her out of her coat and leading her into the room. "I got some of those veggie paninis you like, and some other good stuff for dessert. I know it's not that fancy but especially since I won't be living here for very much longer I thought–"

"It's perfect." In one motion she spun around to face him and stretched up to plant a soft kiss on his lips. "Really. I love it."

Finn smiled. "I love you."

"I love you too," Rachel responded, her cheeks now ablaze as they sat down on the blanket.

It wasn't until halfway through the meal that Rachel recalled their conversation of several months prior, about Finn's intent to make their first time coincide with a special occasion.

She glanced cautiously at Finn, catching his eye just as he was finishing a sufficiently large bite of panini and a bit of balsamic vinaigrette dribbled down his chin.

Embarrassed, he quickly grabbed a napkin and wiped his face while he swallowed. "Am I good? Did I get it all?" he asked, sticking his chin out as if for her inspection.

"Yes. You're perfect," she insisted, stroking his khaki-covered knee softly. He really was – his hair combed upward just the way she liked it, wearing the button-down shirt she'd gotten him for his last birthday, smiling sweetly at her in the faint glow of the fire and candles.

She fleetingly wondered if Carole would be coming home that night or staying at the Hummels'.

After they finished the sandwiches, Finn pulled out a tray of chocolate-covered strawberries that made Rachel's eyes widen in awe. Feeding them to each other quickly devolved into a heated makeout session. She was grateful that he'd thought ahead and saved a few cushions from his mother's now-discarded couch, so she was leaning against something soft instead of a thin blanket on hardwood floor.

Finn snaked his hands up under her dress and skimmed them over her stomach, but just before he reached the cups of her satin bra his phone beeped three times to indicate that he'd received a text message. He groaned and she whimpered as he pulled away to check it.

"Burt says my mom had two glasses of wine and is asleep on his couch so she'll be staying there tonight." He barely finished his sentence before he carelessly tossed his phone away and dove back in for an especially fervent kiss.

A surge of electricity ran through Rachel's body as Finn pressed her into the cushion. She swiftly threaded her fingers into his hair and instinctively arched against him in anticipation.

This time when his hands grazed her stomach they took the hem of her dress with them, exposing her already flushed skin to the warm air emanating from the still-blazing fire. Finn's long-sleeved shirt had found its way to the floor a while ago, and she managed to free him of his undershirt before he eagerly unhooked her bra and expertly palmed her chest.

"Mmmm," she sighed, lazily stroking his stomach and kissing his neck as he massaged her pert breasts. She playfully nipped his collarbone before he coaxed her face back up towards his and fused their mouths together again.

"Do you want to go upstairs?" he mumbled mid-kiss, his lower lip stuck squarely between her teeth.

"No..." she began, releasing his lip so she could snake her tongue into his mouth before adding, "let's just do it here."

Finn groaned into her mouth, rolling onto his back with Rachel clinging to chest and their tongues twirling in a passionate dance. He broke the kiss so he could whisk her dress up over her head, and they helped each other shed the remainder of their clothes in record time. Before tossing his pants onto the pile, Finn pulled a small square of foil out of one of the pockets.

He turned so they were both on their sides, facing each other, his eyes glued to hers. He resumed rubbing her breast with one hand while the other found its way between her legs. Rachel tried to relax, allowing the sensations to overtake her as she lost herself in Finn's loving gaze. His ministrations quickly had her chest heaving and her pulse racing with need.

"When- are you...?" he stammered.

"Ye-yes. I'm ready," she answered quietly, not so much nervous as overcome by desire.

Finn laid flat on his back, grasping her thighs and guiding her to straddle his legs. Rachel gave his gloriously rigid length a few strokes before she rolled the condom onto it and positioned him at her opening. Sinking down, she felt a twinge of pain at taking in his girth for the first time, but that quickly gave way to a feeling of exquisite fullness. Being so physically connected to Finn made her heart feel like it might burst, and she quickly became overwhelmed by the combination of searing heat in her loins and warm fuzziness in her chest.

"Finn..." she moaned as her hips rocked back and forth of their own accord, sending her slowly spiraling into a wondrous abyss of pleasure.

Finn started to thrust upward while she writhed atop him, gripping her hips and encouraging her to keep moving.

Wordless cries spilled from her throat as she tumbled through the ecstasy, fighting the instinct to close her eyes so that she could take in the experience with all of her senses.

"God, Rach," Finn grunted, pumping faster and faster until his entire body stiffened and shuddered and she felt him release into the condom.

She reached down, affectionately wiping the sweat from his brow while they caught their breath, eventually laying down on the blanket and snuggling into his side.

She thought about how crazy the last six months had been. It hadn't been easy, but the ups and downs had made their bond stronger than ever and this moment that much sweeter. Finn's upcoming move would be another challenge, but she felt confident that they could weather the next storm just as surely as those past.

"What are you thinking about?" Finn's soft voice interrupted her thoughts, his face looking especially angelic in the soft glow of the dwindling flames.

She couldn't have wiped the smile from her face if she tried. "How lucky I am."

/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\/\\

Phew. A lot going on for Finchel in this chapter. Hope you enjoyed! Your reviews make me squee.

Also, FYI – the hilariously brief, impromptu Sex Talk that Finn received is identical to the one that my mother-in-law gave my husband before our senior prom. The other day would have been her birthday if she was still with us and I miss her so much.