You say, "Maybe it'll last this time"
But I'm gonna love you
You never have to ask
I'm gonna love you

It all starts with that phone call. She doesn't understand what made her call him. What made her talk to him when he answered instead of hanging up like usual.

She goes out with Brody that weekend. It's just to Callbacks. They sing and drink and he drops her off at her apartment afterwards with a simple kiss on the lips. It's easy and almost safe, in her eyes. He likes her, she likes him and where's the harm in having a little fun?

Rachel doesn't know what she should've expected. (Her thoughts whisper memories of bowling alleys and empty auditoriums. But, she bats them back for now, at least. She can't possibly imagine why they're coming back.)

Finn gives her space after that day and she doesn't try and call again. Kurt tells her that the club is still going to happen, all thanks to Finn, and she gives a silent sigh of relief. (She almost remembers what is was like, just a year ago, to be captain of the glee club with Finn. Almost, because her head is filled with praise from her classmates about the Showcase and her very first semester of college is coming to an end.)

The days go by quickly, sliding past in a New York blur. She and Kurt decorate the apartment in some tacky Christmas lights and she buys a cheap menorah at the store. Rachel's not going back to Lima (It's not home. It can't be home, not anymore.) and nor is Kurt. So they decorate and make do, just like they had for Thanksgiving.

She lights a candle each day and buys frozen latkes at the bodega down the street on her way home from school and Kurt gamely celebrates the winter holiday with her.

But, she forgets about her birthday.

Rachel wakes up on the eighteenth of December to a few neatly wrapped gifts from her dads on the table and french toast made by Kurt. She goes to class like normal, enduring practice with Cassandra July and accepting grins from Brody.

No one at NYADA wishes her a happy birthday. No one even knows that it's today. Not even Brody.

Her old friends do, though. Quinn sends her a text and Santana calls her during lunch. Noah messages her on Facebook and all of the members of New Directions still at McKinley post a video of them singing "Happy Birthday" on her wall.

It's late at night when she gets Finn's voicemail. His voice is rough, tired and full of both hurt and love. The message is simple and short and very, very Finn-like, but it sends her back twelve months. To the hallways of McKinley and big smiles on both their faces and chocolate cake and a date at Breadstix and she sighs loudly when she realizes all she has to look forward to for her eighteenth birthday is endless dance practice in her room and the leftover Chinese takeout in the fridge because Kurt is working late at Vogue tonight and Brody is, well, busy.

"Happy eighteenth birthday, Rach," says Finn on the recording. There's a few seconds of silence as if he was debating whether or not to add anything else, before the line goes dead.
She cherishes it though, those few moments of communication between the two of them and she clutches the phone in her hand. She doesn't practice Cassandra's latest routine that night. Instead, she scoops ice cream into a bowl and places a single lit candle in it.

Make a wish, she thinks as she shuts her eyes tightly and blows out the candle, Finn's words still a haunting whisper in her ear.

They don't see each other at all over break. Brody remained in New York and Rachel traveled with her dads and surprisingly, she doesn't miss him half as much as she thinks she might have.

They talked, traded text messages and a few Facebook posts. But, he never actually called. They never skyped. She thinks that maybe this is how adult relationships are. That they're so confident in their relationship that they're okay to be on their own.

(She ignores the nagging voice in her head reminding her of the holidays last year and how she had tears in her eyes when her dads assumed she wanted to spend their two weeks in Europe - far, far, far away from her then-boyfriend.)

He takes her out, when the semester begins again. To an NYU-produced production. She's silent while he critiques the performance under his breath the entire time.

They last a month, her and Brody. Until the new wave of NYADA students enter the school and suddenly he's sniffing around a new girl, a new talent, a new star-in-the-making.

Rachel doesn't know how she's supposed to feel about it. Heartbroken, she assumes. Instead, she feels free. Kurt's at school with her and she managed to survive Cassandra July. She's moving up, things are looking up.

(She still deletes Brody's number from her phone. And removes all the pictures of him. Her fingers hover over the one's of Finn. Of him drumming and singing and decorating cookies with her. She flips through them, sitting on a bench at Washington Square. It's something she hasn't allowed herself to do in months, since the breakup, since the no-communication rule. Kurt says she has an air of melancholy about her when she returns to their place. He asks if she needs Barbra and cheesecake after Brody.

But, really, Rachel thinks she needs Finn.)

She's sitting at their table one night, running her fingers along the top of her mug. The apartment is silent except for the constant chatter of the city.

Kurt's fast asleep, worn out by the demanding NYADA schedule.

She keeps quiet, ducking in the shadows as she pulls out a small, dusty shoebox from the corners of her closet. It's filled with trinkets she wanted to forget about. Her pictures of Finn or them together. Her "Finn" necklace. Ticket stubs and her prom queen crown. Remnants of high school. Of that one perfect year.

She finds it hidden under a Nationals program. It still sparkles when she pulls it out, city lights filtering into her room from the window.

Rachel takes the ring and her cup of water and sits on the steps of their fire escape. There's a bite in the winter chill and she wonders if she should have brought out a blanket. She holds up it between her thumb and forefinger, tilting it one way and then another before slipping it on her finger. Her ring finger.

It still fit. Perfectly, in fact.

She wipes at the tears forming in her eyes. He had once told her she had four types of crying. Rachel wonders which type this one was. The silent tears filled with hurt and anger and longing and love. It was supposed to be different and it's the first time she's allowed herself to be angry at the hand life has dealt her.

She wants to fill the night with dramatics. She wants to fling the engagement ring into the Hudson River. She wants to scream and yell and fly all the way back to Lima to beg him to see it differently. To beg him to realize what a mistake this is and can't he see how much they're hurting.

But, she stops as if an invisible hand is holding her back. Because she made a promise and they both decided to surrender that summer day in the truck.

(Instead, she keeps the ring on her finger; the heat from her hand warming the cool metal. She sits on the steps and remembers this day last year. When Finn had bent down on one knee and proposed. When she had felt so completely loved and adored.)

A pair of tickets lay in front of her, reading direct flight to Lima, Ohio.

She booked them on a whim, fingers hesitating over the purchase button before clicking it. It's days before Valentine's Day. Days before Mr. Schue and Ms. Pillsbury's wedding. She and Kurt are invited, of course, all the members of New Directions - old and new - are.

She hasn't been back since the fall musical, however. Kurt's made the trip a few times. He's checking up on his dad, visiting McKinley and Blaine. He keeps telling her to come with, everyone would love to see her. But, every time she's declined, claiming homework or practice. Kurt can see right through her, though he never calls her out on it, always just commenting with a, "Next time then, Rachel."

Mr. Schue asked her to sing for them at the wedding. It's a simple song, she already knows the music by heart. She almost declined, however, at the knowledge that it's a duet. It's made for two people and Mr. Schue never said who the second singer is.

It's Finn, of course. She knows it is deep down in her heart because who else could it be? Who else harmonizes as perfectly with her voice as him? So, she's hesitant to say yes to the couple. She's hesitant to book her flight and pack her bags and head back home for the first time in months.

But, it's Mr. Schue and Ms. Pillsbury. The two teachers at McKinley who always had faith in her and in the whole glee club. She has to put aside her own feelings for them, for their special day. And maybe, just maybe, Mr. Schue asked Blaine to sing the duet. Or Noah, or Sam, or Artie.

(It's not until she and Kurt are thousands of miles in the air that she remembers... She remembers that Finn was asked to be the best man over a year ago.)

He's dressed in a suit and tie, white shirt neatly pressed and it echoes that day after regionals when he's walking towards at city hall or when he picked her up from her house in his Mom's SUV gallantly placing her suitcase in the trunk before speeding off to their wedding.

She can't stop the burning in her eyes as she plays with the hem of her dress. It's a light blue that Kurt helped pick out and Finn gives her a pained smile when he says, "You look amazing."

(She can't help but remember a wedding three years ago. It was glee-themed, just like the one they're at now. But, they were both happy and laughing and still so, so, so young. He had told her she looked amazing then, too.)

She says, "Thanks," before trying to escape into the lobby where Santana had said to meet her. A hand on her wrist, however, stops her. It's feather-light and sends sparks flowing through her arm. She glances up at Finn, curious as to his reason.

"Take a walk?" he asks, shoes scuffing the floor and with a sheepish shrug. She knows she should say no. In fact, she absolutely should not say yes because there is only one way this could end and she's betting high that it's in tears.

She nods, though, and let's him lead her in the opposite direction of Santana, outside into the garden still lightly dusted with snow. She shivers at the dip in temperature and Finn quickly drapes his suit coat over her shoulders. She burrows into the familiar warmth and scent, content for just a second to pretend that nothing has changed.

"Mr. Schue's gonna take his spot back," says Finn without preamble. "His thing is over, I guess, and since we're not competing it's not like they need me anymore."

He looks down at her and even in her four-inch heels, she's forgotten how tall he is.

"I miss you," is all she replies. "I'm done doing this on my own. Even when we were at our worst junior year, we were still friends. We still talked and we ran glee club together and we had classes and I just - I miss that."

The words come tumbling out and she knew this wasn't a good idea. She knew it, she knew it, she knew it. But, it's Finn and it's Lima and it's Valentine's Day and...

She misses him. She misses every part of him. From her best friend to her co-captain to her boyfriend to her fiancé. She misses how he could be the only person to cheer her up and how much he believed in her - still believes in her - and how he did so even when they had hurt the other so much.

Rachel misses Finn. It's as simple as that.

He's looking at her, brown eyes guarded and yet hopeful at the same time. They still have a lot of growing to do, together and apart. But, she thinks it's good enough that she might just have her best friend back.

Because even though there's Kurt and Santana and Quinn, nothing beats Finn's smiles and praise when she belts out a solo.

She grabs at his hand, "Don't you remember what you said? I remember all of it, every last word you told me when we broke up or fell apart and the most important one, the most poignant phrase you've told me, is that we're tethered and that of we're meant to be together we will be."

He squeezes her hand once before letting go and leading her back into the hotel. "I think Santana's sending out a search party for you," he murmurs.

(They sing "Faithfully" perfectly on pitch for the new Mr. and Mrs. Schuester and Kurt has to help a sobbing Rachel home that night.)

She asks Noah to break into McKinley the day before she leaves for New York. She just wants to walk the halls one more time, maybe even sing a solo on the stage. He's game to help and even makes sure the choir room and auditorium are open for her before driving away.

It's dark when she enters the school and it takes her a few moments to remember where the lights for the stage are. Finn's there, when she manages to find the right switch. He's sitting cross-legged on a picnic blanket, just looking at her.

"I thought about what you said at the wedding," he says, his voice hoarse. Rachel thinks he's been crying just like her, hurting just like her. "I miss you too. Every day, all the time. But, Rach, we can't - I can't -"

She walks down the center aisle, slowly, carefully, as if too much movement might cause her to wake up from this terrible and perfect dream.

"What?" she asks plainly. "Haven't we figured it out enough on our own?"

He has an envelope in his hands, he's turning it over, fidgeting with the flap. "I got into one of the city colleges, as a spring semester student. Don't have a place to stay, though."
Rachel reaches for the letter hesitantly, not quite believing the words coming out of his mouth.

"I wanna study education," continues Finn. "It was cool, doing all the stuff for glee and I think it could be fun doing it as a job. I mean it's not acting or performing or anything, but I was actually kinda good at it, y'know until we were disqualified and stuff." He's looking up at her now, she's managed to reach the blanket.

"It's a bit of a trek and we're not in the greatest of neighborhoods but the loft is always open," she says quietly. "Kurt wouldn't mind one more person. You'd love it."

Finn carefully tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, his hand lingering on her cheek. "I'm sure I would."

(He surprises her with airplane cups and a bottle of sparkling champagne and they talk and laugh and remember until Noah comes back and kicks them out for trespassing on private property.)

It ends at the airport. Finn's plane arrives at 11:10 AM sharp and Rachel and Kurt are impatiently waiting at the luggage carousel, bouncing on the tips of their toes to see over the heads of weary travelers. He's just as tall as always and dressed for the weather in a heavy coat and knit hat. They splurge on a taxi because none of them want to travel on the subway with Finn's suitcases and Kurt orders pizza when they get home and they eat on the floor just like that first night in the loft.

(Finn digs out her engagement ring three years later, when they're moving from the loft to a studio apartment in Greenwich Village. It's in the middle of their kitchen and Rachel's got dust in her hair from cleaning the windows and Finn's got a streak of something on his cheek from where he was fixing the pipes in the bathroom, but it's as perfect and memorable as his first proposal when she says, "Yes.")

this was written as part of tumblr's finchel secret santa. [also posted on ao3]