My take on one of these "five times" prompts, though I just made this one up.
For Cory and Lea.
Disclaimer: I don't own Glee, or any dialogue you recognize. All mistakes are mine.
"Just because I can't be with you doesn't mean I don't believe in you."
Five other times this was true.
It's quiet for a long time as Finn steers his truck carefully back towards the highway. Rachel's always appreciated his careful driving – during the brief few weeks after Sectionals when she thought she could call him her boyfriend, she'd imagined he was doing it for her, like he considered her and her talent precious cargo, but she's since heard Puck tease Finn about his "grandma driving" enough times to know that's just how he is. She's especially grateful for it now, since it leaves her free to think and process, undisturbed while he concentrates.
But eventually, she realizes that her thoughts keep circling back to the same question, one she needs him to answer.
"Finn," she says, "why'd you take me to see Sean?"
He shrugs, keeping his eyes on the road. "Because he's one of the strongest people I know, and he's helped me with stuff before. He's great at finding the bright side to things. Guess he's had a lot of practice."
"No." She shakes her head, turning to look at his profile. "I get that, and he actually did help put things in perspective for me. What I meant was, why are you helping me at all? I know you're still mad at me over the whole 'Run, Joey, Run' thing – and I'm really sorry I hurt your feelings – but you came with me to the doctor and then –" She looks at her lap as her cheeks heat up, remembering how publically and passionately he'd performed for her, to her.
He clears his throat next to her, and she looks up to see him smiling and blushing too, like he's embarrassed by his own romantic gesture.
"It was amazing," she assures him.
"Yeah, well, so are you," he says easily, and she warms all over. "Even without your voice. Someone had to remind you of that. And, of course, your boyfriend's off partying, but I'm sure he'll make it up to you when he gets back." His voice takes on that hardened edge she's beginning to recognize whenever Jesse is mentioned, and she sobers up immediately, looking out her window at the trees speeding by.
"Look," she says finally. "I want us to be friends and I appreciate everything you've done for me this week, but I'm not going to apologize for my relationship. I won't let you make me feel guilty for meeting someone else after you broke up with me."
He sighs and takes his eyes off the road for a split-second to glance at her. She can see the remorse in his softened expression.
"I'm sorry," he says. "I just want to be there for you, and I'm afraid he's going to break your heart."
She nods, and her fingers itch to take his hand in comfort, but he has both clutching the steering wheel. And she knows she shouldn't anyway. He's not the only one having problems maintaining their friendly boundaries. "Please just keep trusting me and believing in me. You're kind of my best friend. We should be supporting each other."
She sees him nod, smiling tightly. "Agreed."
"Okay then," she says, determined to establish some kind of normalcy as quickly as possible. "And as my friend, I'll need your help over the next several days. If there's any chance of recovering my voice in time for Regionals I need to start resting it immediately and stock up on lemon and herbal teas. In the meantime we have a glee assignment in progress so I'll be handwriting my critiques for you to read out loud. And while my antibiotics take their dear sweet time kicking in I'll need to minimize my exposure to more germs which means I can't touch doorknobs or water fountains or –"
"Yeah, yeah, I got it. I'm your pack mule until Jesse gets back. Anything else?" She can see him roll his eyes, but he's smiling.
"Yes, one more thing and then my voice is officially on bed rest."
"Oh, yeah, what's that?"
"Thank you," she tells him, and he turns his whole head to grin at her. "Eyes on the road," she reminds him. "You're carrying precious cargo here."
He smiles again, and she settles in next to him for the rest of the silent ride.
"Rachel, please don't do this. You're beautiful."
Hours later, it's still all she can think about.
She honestly thought the club would want her to get this nose job, or else just not care either way. Quinn and Santana have been making fun of her nose since her first day at this school – obviously they thought she'd be better off without it. And despite the way they've all come together as a team, Rachel knows her main usefulness to all of them lies in her voice. If it could improve her talent and thus their chances at competitions, wouldn't they see that as a win-win?
Santana, at least, acted predictably. But apparently Tina thinks Rachel is a cautionary tale for her own self-esteem, while Mr. Schue is afraid of the risks, and Puck sees it as a direct offense against their religion, of all things.
But Finn – she can't wrap her mind around his reaction. They've been apart for months; he has Quinn now, and to all appearances they seem happy. Rachel could almost convince herself the six months he spent with her were a just blip for him, that he thinks things are back to the way they're supposed to be now with Quinn, except that Rachel knows what those six months were like. She's never been so happy before or since, and she wholeheartedly believes he felt it too. He had his chance to get back together with Quinn when school started back up, and he chose Rachel.
Of course, that was before she betrayed him in a weak moment of hurt and insecurity. She just assumes he must hate her now – well, not hate. She doubts Finn is even capable of hate. But clearly he thinks she's somehow unforgiveable or irredeemable. It can't just be his pride keeping him from forgiving the girl who so personally wronged him (which she would understand) or else he wouldn't have gone back to Quinn.
But if he thinks so badly of her now, why would he say that? Why would he care if she gets a nose job or not? It makes no sense. It can't. Because then the only explanation is that he still has feelings for her, still cares about her, and he's choosing Quinn anyway. And she thinks that realization would shatter whatever stability she's rebuilt since they broke up.
Unless maybe he thinks he owes her something. They used to be the best of friends, back when he was with a very pregnant, moody Quinn and Rachel knew anything more with him was out of reach. He has to know that she has no one else now that they've fallen apart. Even her blossoming friendship with Kurt, stretched thin across the miles between McKinley and Dalton, can't hope to fill the enormous Finn-sized hole in her life. Maybe Finn is just telling her what he thinks a true friend would – certainly no one else in that choir room will.
But then why would he say it like that? It was beyond conviction, like a creed he couldn't hold in anymore, even with Quinn looking so confused and hurt next to him – he sounded like he meant it. He begged her not to get a nose job. He told her she was beautiful. She wants to take him at his word, but if that's true, and he doesn't want her to change, why can't he forgive her? Why aren't they together?
She has to put this out of her mind. He can't just say things like that and play with her heart. And just when she's started to put her focus back on the music and move forward – it isn't fair. She can't reconcile her Finn, who made her believe she held the greatest place in his big heart, with this Finn, whose heart is as big as ever, but doesn't want her anymore.
But she's afraid it's true, that he's the same loving and lovable guy he's always been, still looking out for her above all else. And if he is, then that means she's the one who's changed, who's back to square one – an insecure, talent-obsessed Jewish girl trying to claw her way to the top, and back into Finn's heart. It was a miracle the first time it happened, and she's not sure lightning can strike twice.
But, God, she wants to believe him. He told her she was a star, and she can't think of any other reason why he ever fell in love with her in the first place. She needs this pain and heartache to fuel her music, but she can't help it if she sort of hopes it'll bring him back to her.
But maybe there's a brighter side to this. Maybe her talent is so undeniable that even though Finn can barely look at her right now, he still thinks she's going to make it. Well, fine. If he wants her to focus on achieving her dreams, then a nose job is her best change to get there. She's always appreciated his optimism but he simply doesn't understand the narrow-mindedness rampant among casting directors today. She'll be a star, no matter what, but she can't barrel blindly into the business. She can't have it both ways, and neither can Finn.
She doesn't know if she'll ever stop crying.
The last thing she remembers seeing is Madame Tibideaux walking out of the McKinley auditorium, her silhouette blurring as tears filled Rachel's eyes and spilled over onto her cheeks, down her chin. Has it been minutes, hours, or maybe days since then? She doesn't know. But her face hurts from crying and her chest feels sharp with the force of her erratic breaths between sobs. Her whole body hangs limp and exhausted. She doesn't know how she's not on the floor. But there are arms around her. They must be holding her up.
She remembers now. She remembers Finn helping her to his truck, driving her home. She heard both her dads' voices as Finn nearly carried her to her front door – they'd planned to come home early so they could celebrate. But there's nothing to celebrate now. She can't tell them – the Rachel Berry they raised doesn't choke.
So she broke away from Finn, pushed past her dads in the foyer and up the stairs, feeling the familiar way to her room, still blinded by tears. She remembers catching sight of her blurry reflection in her full mirror, recognizing the dress she bought specially for this occasion, and it was on the floor before she knew it. She didn't live up to the occasion. She couldn't wear it another second. She grabs something from her sick drawer and pulls it on. Now she looks the way she feels – a mess.
No, that's an understatement. She's been working and dreaming about this day her whole life, and she blew it. It's all over. The thought hits her like a physical blow, and she crumples. Arms catch her before she hits the floor – Finn's. He eases her down until she's sitting on something, something softer than the floor, and he pulls her into his chest.
His arms wrap tightly around her, she feels his head fall on top of hers, his lips against the back of her neck. Time is measured in pain after that, her leg falling asleep and her face swelling until her cheeks throb and the shock of her failure becoming the heavy weight of disappointment in her chest. She doesn't move, and neither does Finn, though his arms must be killing him and she's soaking his sleeve with her tears.
Eventually, she must run out of tears. She doesn't feel any better, but her cheeks dry and her vision clears. She sees that daylight has fled from her window. Her alarm clock says it's after ten.
Finn moves a hand from around her and smoothes her hair away from her face. "Do you want anything?" he asks. She realizes he hasn't said anything up til now. Or at least, she doesn't think so. She might've missed it.
She lifts her head a little, though it hurts – everything hurts – and looks towards her bedside table. But there's no glass of water. "Where are my dads?" Her voice sounds hoarse. But what does it matter now?
"They're downstairs," Finn says quietly. His breath falls across her cheek. "I think they mentioned something called 'sitting shiva' but I don't know what that means."
She nods against his chest. Her eyes slam shut. She can feel a second wave of tears coming, but she has to hold them back just a little longer. "You should go," she tells Finn. "I think I just need to be alone."
He doesn't let go. If anything, he pulls her closer. "Are you sure?" he says. "I can stay all night – as long as you want me. I know my mom will understand. I want to help."
She wipes her nose with her sleeve. She can't look at him. Her dads are literally in mourning downstairs. They don't know what to say to her – none of them. She's never failed at anything like this before. "I know," she says, and it comes out high-pitched from the tears collecting in her throat. "I just can't – I don't want to talk or – I can't. Please just leave me alone."
He rubs her back and kisses behind her ear. "Okay," he says. "Do you want to lie down maybe?"
She doesn't know, but she nods. He adjusts his arms and carries her around to her bed, tucking her in like a five-year-old. She wishes she was five again. Nothing was life and death when she was five, even when it felt like it. She sees him walk away, and then comes the glow of the bathroom light, the sound of the faucet. Both shut off and he brings back the cup she uses for rinsing, filled with water.
He leaves it on her bedside table, and then kneels down to her eye level. She can see his face now. Sad. Worried. Anxious. He looks like she feels, minus the crying, and even in this state, she thinks she loves him just a little more for it.
He smoothes her hair back again. He starts to talk, barely above a whisper. "Look, I know you need to deal with this on your own, but you helped me when I thought my dreams were over. So I want you know that I'm here, and that I love you. And we'll figure this out. It's not over, okay?"
She stares at him. She's not sure she believes it, but she can see that he does. She nods into her pillow, squeezing back fresh tears. She feels him press a kiss to her forehead, lingering like he doesn't want to leave. But eventually he pulls back and stands up, hovering silently – probably looking for something else he can do to fix this, to make it better.
She doesn't know what to do, or what else she could ask him to do. Usually when she's this upset she watches Barbra movies, but even the thought brings a fresh stab of pain now. She let Barbra down, or maybe Barbra let her down. Her trusty go-to song of over a decade – how could this have happened?
He presses her phone into her hand. "If you need me, even if it's three in the morning, I'll come back. Please just call me, okay?"
She nods again, but she won't. This is probably the worst day of her life, and despite the drama of it, the last thing she wants is an audience. Even if it's Finn. Maybe especially if it's Finn.
"I love you," he says, and then she hears him walk slowly to the door. Moments later she hears the front door, and then his truck engine, loud as ever. When the sound dies away, she stops fighting the tears, and her pillow is soaked in minutes.
She heard what Finn said about figuring it out, about believing in her still. She can't believe it right now, but she's holding onto it. After she's cried everything out, after she's grieved, he'll come back, he'll say it again. And she has to believe she'll prove him right.
She's finally here.
She's all moved into her dorm, and her roommate finally made an appearance during daylight hours (before leaving again not five minutes later). Classes start tomorrow. If only she could sleep.
Rachel's been at NYADA for weeks now, gone through pre-orientation and orientation and read all the helpful pamphlets from Admissions on tips for adjusting to life in the city and NYADA's demanding curriculum. Her dads call daily to check in on her, and she talks to Kurt nearly as often – more often if she's counting texts.
But it still feels wrong. Her mattress has a suspicious dip in the middle from years of past occupants (Eww!). Her room at home is perfectly arranged so that her fan and her window exchange the gentlest of cross-breezes throughout the night, filling her lungs with the freshest air possible. Here, she doesn't have much choice but to press her bed all the way into the wall, and the noise and smell that would filter in through this window are enough to warrant some kind of seal around the cracks.
She's visited New York at least once a year her entire life. Before, in her plush hotel room above Times Square, the sounds of the city had been exciting, even soothing when she thought about returning forever and making this magical place her home. And now that she's here, she finds them all unfamiliar and loud – car horns and shouting and breaking glass and sirens. The city doesn't sleep, and now neither does she.
Her roommate brings back company every single night, and when Rachel sees the shadows moving across their partition, she knows it's time to make herself scarce for a while. She explores the dorms, takes her laptop into a study room, showers and moisturizes in peace. It's the only time the dorms are empty enough that the pairs and groups of newfound friends she sees can't remind her how utterly alone she is.
She wishes Kurt were here. She wishes Finn were here more. She worries about him – probably off in Basic Training in some barren, dusty desert. (She's watched nearly every army movie available on Netflix since she's been here – which of course only made her worry more.) She likes to imagine he's making friends there, and that it doesn't stop him from looking at her picture as he goes to sleep at night, just like she does for him. It's better than the other images that creep into her mind late at night, about what might happen if he's deployed to a combat zone on the other side of the world.
She'd like to think he'd call her if he could. The separated lovers in those army movies always sent terribly romantic letters back and forth, but she thinks she'd rather hear his voice, his laugh, his singing voice. She wants to hear for herself that he's okay, and that he still has faith that this was the right choice for both of them. Then maybe she could sleep.
Her classes start tomorrow, bright and early with Dance 101. Finn would chuckle at that –better her than him, he would say. He'd tell her that she was going to make everyone else look bad on their first day, and to make sure she sent him a picture of herself in her leotard (one of the new ones she bought just for her new classes) so he could see how adorable she looked.
No one has ever believed in her the way he does. No matter how many times she told him that everyone at NYADA is the best of the best, he remains convinced she'll still outshine them all. However badly she screwed someone over in the name of competition, he believed she could make it right, that she is better at heart than those weak selfish moments.
He sent her here because he believes she's special. More special than them, even. And she let him, even though she disagrees. (She probably would have skipped onto that train three years ago, but Finn opened her eyes, showed her that she was capable of loving more than just her voice.) But that doesn't matter now. What's important is that if she doesn't succeed, she'll prove him wrong. She'll disappoint him, and herself. He would think all this pain and sacrifice was for nothing.
She can't do that to him. She'll make him proud of her. Finn loves her, and he wouldn't have tried to send her away unless he believed it was the right thing. She loves him – it scares her how much sometimes – and she trusts him. So she has to believe too. She has to believe just as fiercely as he does so that when he comes back, they'll both be ready to start a life together.
She knows how good she is, and just because she's not a valiantly struggling newlywed in a shoebox apartment the way she pictured doesn't mean everything's ruined. Or that she should be so miserable. (But Finn knows how selfish she can be. Should he really be surprised that she wants it all?)
She'll take it one day it at a time. She'll find out what it takes to be the best and she'll do it. She'll thrive. But she wonders if it'll ever feel truly right and real until he's here.
This is it. Her Broadway debut is just minutes away.
The 'good luck' texts started pouring in first thing this morning, but they were making her too nervous, so she finally had to turn her phone off. Being in her apartment was driving her crazy after nightmares about gridlocked traffic and broken down subway cars, so she left for the theater about four hours early. She was first in line at the make up chair, and she's been pacing backstage, in full costume under her robe, ever since.
She just can't believe she's finally here, after months of rehearsal and years of dreaming. The rest of the cast knows she's a wide-eyed ingénue (her words), and she sees them shoot knowing, supportive smiles at her as they arrive. They've been slipping her advice all week. "Don't bother trying to eat, or it'll come right back up." "Make sure you eat or you'll pass out like I did." "You'll be great, just have fun." "It won't be perfect the first time, just try not to trip."
In the end, she knew she'd have to trust her instincts – they've gotten her this far, right? So she's using her nervous energy. She's given herself three different pep talks in the mirror. She's run through her lines and mimed her choreography, relieved that she doesn't miss a beat. She knows she's prepared, but the little Negative Nancy in the back of her mind remembers the last time she'd been prepared and choked anyway.
Things are different now, of course. This isn't a four minute audition solo. This is a marathon of a production with an entire cast and crew working tirelessly to make sure it runs smoothly. She's always wanted to be the star, been more concerned with her performance and her future legacy than with being a team player, but she takes comfort now in thinking of her role as a cog in a larger work – part of something special. She knows she has glee club to thank for teaching her that.
She wonders how many of them made it. Maybe they're sitting on the other side of that curtain right now, admiring her picture in the playbill or reading the dedication she wrote and rewrote until it was perfect.
Her performance has to be spectacular (she won't accept anything less), and she's never worked harder for anything. Fortunately the work barely felt like work because she's loved this show since she was two years old and she saw her future passion on her parents' living room TV. Her dreams started because of Fanny and Barbra, so it's seems only fitting that she's starting her career with them too.
Okay, so she's not actually playing Fanny, but she's convinced the part of Jenny was wildly underutilized in the original production, and Rachel plans to bring her to life like never before. Besides, she is the understudy for Fanny, so she got to rehearse all the big numbers and scenes just like she was the star. Plus, the girl they did cast as Fanny has a family with two young kids, and it's nearly November – flu season, parent-teacher conferences, vacations, holidays… it's only a matter of time before Lauren has to miss a show, and Rachel will happily fill in. Not that she's hoping for some disaster – she's not that girl anymore, and Lauren's actually been like a cool older sister, taking Rachel under her wing – but she still wants to be the star. Sue her.
Finn always told her she didn't have to try to be the star, she just shone anyway. She wishes he were here to see her, though she knew he wouldn't be. She knows he's proud of her, not just for making it to Broadway but for belonging in this cast. She owes him so much. He taught her how to work with people instead of around them, to care about something bigger than herself. She hopes he knows how grateful she is, how much of her heart and soul, bared every performance for the audience to see, still belongs to him.
He's never doubted for a second that she'd get here, and she never forgot it. She's always been a self-starter, driven almost to a fault. But the road to Broadway has been more brutal even than the horror stories, testing her in more ways than she was warned about. So when she was fifteen hours into a rehearsal or lonely from weeks of communicating with her roommates completely via post-its and all her energy seemed to run dry, the thought of Finn and his faith kept her going.
So tonight will be for him. Every line, every step, every note, will prove him right. She made it. She's a part of something special. Though, she knows, thanks to him, she always was.
A/N: Hope you enjoyed that. I intentionally left that last scene ambiguous as to where Finn was, which may be as close as I'll ever get to writing in a universe where Finn is dead. So I left it up to you guys to decide. Let me know what you thought.
I'm sorry for the angst-fest, but promise I'm working on something fluffy for my next one. I can't remember when I've had so many ideas hit me all at once, so they're just coming onto the page as they want. Thanks for reading. I'd love feedback/suggestions/ideas.