A/N: Longest one-shot ever. It is FINALLY done. Special thank you to ja9toextremes, iwillalwaysbeyourlight and thisismyprayerforsilence for all your inputs and feedbacks.


Baby you're the words and chapters
The sweetness in the morning after
You are the cry that turns to laughter
You're the hope that ends disaster


The room has been tilted sideways, or maybe she's the one tilted sideways, she can't be sure because the blurry outline of bodies that she keeps running into aren't kind enough to make room for her body to go through, or to even stop and tell her if the world has tilted off its axis, as they bump against her. Rachel Berry prides herself in being a lover of all music, but the loud pounding of the drums is currently rivalling that of the pounding of her brain against her skull, and if she doesn't find an exit soon, she will surely be throwing up the God awful thing she has been consuming all night on the next poor soul that gets in her way.

Mercifully, she feels a gust of wind in her face, before another faceless body shoves her straight through an open door. Vaguely, she hears someone snickering as she pushes past him or her, making a beeline to the edge of Santana Lopez's porch. The environment around her calms down just slightly as somebody closes the door, but it's too late for her. Grabbing the banister, she leans over Mrs Lopez's prized rose collection, dry heaving as she tries her best to get the alcohol out of her system.

"Whoa there," she hears someone mutter from behind her. The tone is low, gravelly, and it belongs to either a man, or a very manly woman. She feels an imprint of a hand against her back, thumping it repeatedly while she heaves, and the force and the size of it all points to the former. She groans, her face slick with sweat as her stomach caves in on itself, its contents refusing to leave her body.

"You need to calm down," the voice continues, and the thumping against her back turns into a gentler movement, a palm that practically covers her entire spine rubbing softly in a circular motion. "Forcing it won't help."

She moans again, leaning her body against the railing while she turns and finds herself staring at a chest connected to the voice. She looks up, squinting, and barely sees the dark brown hair and chocolate hazelnut eyes. She makes out the dimples on his face, and she knows who this person is.

"I know you," she mumbles. "You're Finn Hudson."

She hears Finn Hudson chuckling.

"You got me," he says, and if her brain isn't so unreliable right now, she could almost swear that she sees that infamous half smile aimed specially at her.

"What are you doing talking to me?" she mumbles in confusion.

"Actually I was already sitting over there when you whirled out of the house," he says, pointing to the porch swing she never noticed before. The slight movement causes a shooting pain between her eyes and she groans, pinching her forehead.

"Oh. My head hurts."

"Yeah. I can kinda see that."

She snorts at his pointed tone. She's an idiot, really.

"I don't even know what I'm doing here."

She hears him snorting and frowns.

"Yeah. You and me both."

"I don't know what's happening to me."

"I think you're drunk." There's that smile again. She sees before she feels Finn Hudson wrap a hand around her arm, gently pulling her towards him. "Maybe you should sit down," he continues, pulling her along with him. She staggers against him and another arm comes around her, securing his hold as he walks them towards the porch swing.

"You know you're very chivalrous," she mutters as she holds on to him.

He pauses as she sits down, leaning back and closing her eyes.

"That's a good thing right?"

"Hmm?"

"Being chivalrous."

"Oh. Yes. It's very good."

"Awesome."

The swing creaks under their combined weight, and she doesn't really know what's going on, but she feels terrible and Finn Hudson is nice, so she leans towards him, leaning her head against his shoulder, not noticing the way his body tenses against hers.

"I just wanted one night, you know?" she mumbles, barely aware of her words. "To like, be normal. Feel like I belong. But I don't even know what I'm doing here."

"I don't think belonging is all it's cracked up to be actually," he says quietly.

"What made me think that I could do this anyway? Go to a party I was barely invited and just fit in? That never happens."

He doesn't say anything, but he shifts closer and his scent fills her. He smells nice, like-like boy, and freshly mown grass and Summer.

"You smell nice."

"Erm. Thanks, I guess."

"I just wanna go home."

She lets out a loud, ungraceful yawn, blinking up at him sleepily. From the porch light, she sees his brown eyes. She likes them. They look kind.

"Can you remember your address? I can give you a ride."

xxx

Her head is still pounding when she wakes up hours later, her face smushed into her pillow, her comforter cocooning her. Her eyes flutter open by degrees, infinitely grateful that the curtains are closed so she's not blinded by the sun. Sitting up, she spots the glass of water and two aspirins on her bedside table, and two pieces of paper which she could only guess is a long note from her fathers. Her eyes skim through it as she drinks, making out the fact that they are both disappointed to find her in their front door last night, clinging in a drunken mess to the young man who was kind enough to drive her home.

She reads that part twice.

Her memories of last night are still hazy, but she remembers strong arms around her, the smell of boy and grass and summer mixed together. She remembers brown eyes, kind eyes.

She sits up straight, her daddy's note dropping on her lap as her eyes widen.

She remembers Finn Hudson.

xxx

She has been sitting in her car for close to fifteen minutes now, staring blankly at the sign that says "Hummel's Tire and Lube" while her mind vacillates constantly between wanting to just reverse her car and walk away, to just killing her engine this very second and walking in. Maybe she could pretend like she needed help with her Toyota Prius? She shakes her head, rolling her eyes. Rachel doesn't know the first thing about how to make a car work, but she's guessing that anyone who works in a garage would know when a girl is lying to him about it.

Stop being a chicken, she tells herself firmly. She's Rachel Berry, star in the making, NYADA accepted, New York bound, Mckinley High survivor. An eighteen year old boy with whiskey brown eyes and a beautiful smile, that she may or may not admit to stare at sometimes, is not going to be a cause for concern.

Nope.

Rolling her eyes, Rachel turns off the ignition, unbuckling her seatbelt and grabbing the paper bag from the passenger seat before she loses her confidence. She walks briskly through the entrance of the workshop, standing in the open doorway to look around her. She spots a person about three feet away, hovering over the open hood of a truck. From the long limbs and the uncomfortable way he's hunched over, she's guessing that it's Finn Hudson.

"Hello?" she calls out tentatively. He starts, his head popping up and banging against the hood. She winces as he lets out a string of expletives, grabbing his head and turning around.

"Sorry. We're closed for lunch-"

He stops talking when he sees her, straightening up to stare blankly with his hand still on his head. There's a smudge of oil across his cheek, and it doesn't color the confused expression on his face any less surprised. Nodding firmly to herself, she walks up to him quickly, pasting a smile on her face that belies the way her heart is pounding furiously in her chest.

"Hi!" she greets when she reaches him, holding out her hand to grab his free one before shaking it enthusiastically. "I'm Rachel Berry."

"Yeah I know."

"I just came here to thank you- what?" Finn Hudson has seemed to found his bearing as his hand comes to life, wrapping around hers with a smile on his face. "You know my name?"

"Rachel," he says, amused. "You're our Valedictorian."

"Oh. Yes. Right."

"Also, 'cause you're in the drama club with Kurt."

Oh yeah. Kurt Hummel. Finn Hudson's stepbrother and Rachel's frenemy. Most importantly, her main leading man in most of the school productions. Kurt wasn't around yesterday. Kurt won't be around for weeks because he's actually doing something this summer as he backpacks through the Midwest with his boyfriend and the guy's family, some boy from Dalton she's never met but has heard enough of to last her a lifetime.

"You're very good," he continues, cutting through her straying train of thoughts. "You know, with the acting."

She beams up at him, and he looks a little taken aback before reciprocating more cautiously.

"Thank you, Finn Hudson."

"You know you can just call me Finn."

"Right, right," she mumbles, her cheeks growing warmer. "Sorry about that. It's just, this feels a little surreal. Talking to you for the first time in the four years that we went to school together, it's just- it's just a little weird."

"Yeah. I guess. So what are you doing here?"

"Oh!" She thrusts her left hand up at him, startling him again when it goes right up in his face. "This is um- it's for you. I guess as a thank you. For last night."

He gives her that smile again, and she blushes as she takes it from her hand to peer inside.

"Cookies. Sweet! Why do they have letters on them?"

"It um- it's supposed to spell out thank you. I meant to say "Thank you for saving me from a DUI or a bad drunken mistake", but I didn't have time to make that many cookies."

She thinks she sees mirth coloring his eyes as he shifts closer towards her.

"These are awesome," he tells her, grinning. "You didn't have to."

"I know. I just- wanted to thank you, I guess. I hope my fathers didn't give you a hard time. They can be a little overprotective sometimes."

"Nah, they were cool," he dismisses through a mouthful of cookies. She holds herself back from suggesting that he wash his hands. She nods dumbly instead, standing awkwardly in front of him as they fall into silence, the sound of his chewing becoming louder by the second. Is she supposed to leave now? But she doesn't really want to.

"Do you um," she finds herself saying before she could stop herself. "Is it your lunch break?"

"Yeah."

"Would you like to have lunch with me?"

He looks doubtful, and of course. This is Finn Hudson. School quarterback, homecoming King two years in a row. He was the most popular guy in school, and she was the reigning Queen of Slushies. What made her think that he would, in any way, be interested in becoming her friend? School just ended about two weeks ago anyway, and-

"Yeah, sure. Okay."

She stares up at him, surprised. He's smiling again.

"Okay."

xxx

They find themselves at the park with her sitting primly on the bench of a picnic table, and him beside her, sitting on the table itself. She's not really sure how it happened, but Breadstix felt like it would be a little too much, and the diner around the corner of the garage was closed, and Rachel hates McDonalds. They almost stopped at the Lima Bean, but Quinn Fabray was there, wrapped up in Noah Puckerman's arms, so she didn't argue when he suggested something else. That something else happens to be the microwaved Hot Pocket that she has in her hands right now, he has two, and the bottle of water that they got from the nearest convenience store.

While she stares hesitantly at the food in her hands, he's already starting on his second.

"You've never had one before, have you?"

She looks up to find him grinning down at her and smiles back, shaking her head.

"Just try it. It's really good." He smiles at her encouragingly and so she shrugs as she takes a bite. She doesn't mention that she's a vegan because she was never really a strict one to begin with, and really, it doesn't taste that bad.

"It's okay," she says and he chuckles. She eats quietly while he chugs on his drink, and the bizarreness of the situation hits her once again. She's at the park, eating Hot Pockets with Finn Hudson. Never in a million years could she have even dreamed up this situation.

"So," Finn starts.

"So."

"How's your summer?"

Horrible, she thinks. All her life, she remembers her summers as two weeks at Bubbe's, a month at Summer camp/acting camp/ballet camp/singing camp/activities-to-make-Rachel-Berry-standout camp, and two weeks of family time. This year, before graduation rolled around, when she found herself at prom, singing on stage while Finn Hudson and Quinn Fabray danced the night away, she made a determined promise to herself that this summer will be different. Her one last summer, before Lima turns into just another scenery from her metaphorical sideview mirror, is going to be awesome. And so far, all she has to show for it is one drunken night of barely-there memories. And no fun. Absolutely no fun at all.

"Uneventful," she answers. "You?"

"Well I'm working, you know. Saving up for college and stuff."

"Yes. Kurt told me you're going to Ohio State. Congratulations!"

"It's a football scholarship," he mumbles, embarrassed. "So it's not like I know what I'm going to do there anyways."

"Well," she answers ruefully, smiling. "You'll figure it out."

"You think so?" His scrutiny overwhelms her. It's almost like he's actually waiting for her answer like it matters.

"Of course," she says confidently. "It'll take you no time at all."

He smiles quietly at her and she fiddles with the label of her bottle, blushing. His smiles fluster her.

"I," she says, looking up confidently at him. "am going to NYADA. That's the New York-"

"I know what it is," he interrupts, grinning. Oh. Right. Kurt got in too. "You're gonna kill it there. Burt took us out to visit one weekend, and you look like you're gonna fit right in."

"I do?" she asks dumbly at the warm look on his face. How would he even know this?

"Of course. I mean, the people there are like, crazy talented. Like you."

"Me?"

"Yes you," he says, grinning as he nudges her side with his sock-clad foot. "I mean, I've heard you sing you know. You're amazing."

Well, she won't deny that. But-

"You've heard me sing?" she asks in surprise. It's his turn to fiddle with his bottle cap as he looks away.

"Mom makes me go to all of Kurt's shows, at least once," he explains.

"Oh."

Awkward silence ensues again. She finds it odd how easy it is to talk to him when she's not trying, and how hard it is when she does try.

"I think you're like, the most talented person I know," he says, looking at her earnestly. Their gazes hold for a few seconds, and she loves his kind eyes. She loves the way they're looking at her.

"Can we be friends?" she blurts out without thinking. He looks surprised again.

"What?"

"Us," she says, ignoring the warmth of her cheeks as she shuffles closer to him. "I mean, we never were. We never even talked to each other, but you never Slushied me, or called me names, or even laughed at me, that I know of. So it stands to reason that you don't hate me. It's just, this is my last summer Finn. My last summer to- to feel like a normal teenager, you know? Do normal things that teenagers do, things I've never done before. I don't want to live Lima without any good memories when it comes to my adolescence. I just- maybe if we could be friends, it could be a step you know? To having one first and final, great summer."

He's looking at her incredulously, and oh God. He probably thinks she's crazy. He probably thinks she's a complete maniac right now, Crazy Berry, as some of the popular kids used to call her. What was she thinking? How is she going to fix-

"Okay," he says. What?

"What?" she asks, staring up at him with wide eyes. She watches as he scoots down to sit on the bench next to her. He smiles again, those kind brown eyes crinkling as he looks at her.

"Let's be friends," he tells her

xxx

"So," she starts, her voice giddy with excitement. "Where do we start? What happens now?"

They're back in her Prius, and she feels a little bad that he has to push the chair all the way to the back to fit, and even then, she's pretty sure he's trying to ball himself so as not to take up too much space. His knees are already touching the dashboard as it is. He chuckles next to her.

"Now I gottta go back to work," he tells her, amused.

"Oh I know that," she answers airily, rolling her eyes. I mean, for summer Finn. What are our plans?" She turns briefly to beam at him before turning her attention back to the road. from the corner of her eyes, she sees him shrug his shoulders.

"Well, you've already crashed a party and got drunk off your ass, that pretty much covers half the summer to be honest. But," he continues, glancing at the wrinkle of her nose. "I'm guessing that's not really your thing?"

She shakes her head.

"I don't really plan my summers. Shocker, I know," he jokes at the incredulous look on her face. "Let's just, I don't know, take it one day at a time or something. I mean, what do you wanna do?"

"I don't know," she answers honestly. "I've spent my whole life with all of my summers filled with activities. Not knowing what's coming next is a little unnerving. I admit, it does feel quite exhilarating at the same time."

"Let's just wing it," he says as she pulls up at the garage. "How 'bout you give me your number, and I'll call you once I think of something."

"Sure," she mumbles, rummaging through her bag for a post-it, pouting when she can't find any. Finding a sharpie at the bottom of her bag, she mutters a small "yes," before uncapping it.

"I'm going to write on your hand, okay?" she asks, looking up at him. He shrugs, holding out a giant palm towards her. She takes a second to feel the roughness of his palm, staring in awe at how much bigger it is from hers. She's not sure, but she thinks that she would need both hands to even cover one of his. Realizing that she's probably freaking him out, Rachel quickly writes down her number in bright purple ink, flourishing her name with a small star at the end. She looks up to find him raising an eyebrow and blushes.

"That's a metaphor," she tells him. "You know, for me, being a star."

She's never really actually said that to anyone before, except Kurt, who had looked at her like she was crazy. Maybe she shouldn't have said anything, because he probably thinks that she's even weirder now.

"Okay," he says, smiling at her. "Cool. So I'll see you later Rach."

He unbuckles his seatbelt, and has a hard time getting out of the car, but all she's really focused on is the fact that he had called her Rach. A nickname. Nobody ever gave her a nickname before. Of course, her fathers call her their little star, and sunshine and Ray-ray sometimes, but they hardly count, and Kurt hates nicknames, so nobody ever really gave her a nickname before.

She considers giving him a nickname too, but Finn is already so short, and they've only been friends for a few hours for her to think of anything more personal.

"Bye Finn," she says brightly when he clears his throat, his expression a cross between amusement and confusion at the way she was obviously spacing out.

"Bye," he says with a little wave before he closes the door. He waits for her to leave before going back in, and as she watches his retreating figure from her rearview mirror, she can't help thinking about what a gentleman that makes him.

Xxx

He doesn't call her on that day, and for a moment she's afraid that maybe he might have lost her number while he was working, because it seemed like he uses his hands a lot, and maybe it got smudged away or something. She considers calling Kurt to ask for Finn's number, but then thought better of it. She doesn't think he'd appreciate her disturbing his time with Blaine (that's his name).

Maybe he's just busy today.

Xxx

He doesn't call the next day either, and by the twentieth time she nonchalantly looks over her phone while waiting for her cake to set, she realizes that he probably won't.

Maybe he was just humouring her yesterday, being nice to the weird girl from high school because blowing her off would be too mean, and Finn Hudson is a nice guy.

And he really is, from what she saw anyway. Yeah sure, he used to let the jocks throw Kurt into the dumpster behind the school back before their parents got married, but he… changed, somewhere in the middle. Or maybe he just stopped pretending. Whatever it is, she always felt like Finn Hudson was different from the Noah Puckermans and Quinn Fabrays of high school. He was nicer, he cared more and he never really carried himself like he was the most popular guy in school, even though he was. Even Kurt thinks he's different. And Kurt used to hate him (Kurt also used to be secretly in love with him, but only she and Mercedes Jones know about this, and they've made a pact that this little indiscretion will forever stay in the cone of silence between them).

Finn Hudson is different from the rest of them, but maybe he's not different enough to be her friend.

She tries not to let this get to her. It shouldn't, really. New York is just a few months away, and it's better to remember that she'll never belong in Lima. She knows where her home is, and it's Broadway. She bakes another three cakes to take her mind away. The neighbors are surely missing her excellent baking skills anyway.

Xxxx

It's almost ten on a Wednesday, and she's just about done with her nightly routine, when her phone rings. She frowns, slightly annoyed at whoever it is disturbing her just as she's moisturizing her legs. She knows it's not her parents, because they won't be back until at least another hour.

"Hello?"

"Hey Rach."

Her eyes widen as she pulls the phone away to stare at the numbers.

"Finn?"

"Yeah, it's me. You okay? You sound funny."

"I'm fine. I just- I guess I'm just surprised to hear from you that's all."

"I told you I was gonna call." He sounds confused. She wonders if it's a normal thing for a friend to just not call a person for days to talk about their summer plans. She shakes her head.

"Yes, yeah you did. Hi Finn," she says again, her tone warmer this time.

"So what are you doing?"

"Getting ready for bed," she answers, walking back towards her vanity table to resume with her schedule.

"It 's like ten."

"I know."

"So you're like, sleepy now?"

"Well, not really."

"Then why are you getting ready for bed?"

"I- Are you calling to talk about our summer plans Finn?"

"Uh, well actually I was calling to see if you wanna do something tonight?"

"Right now?" she asks in surprise.

"Well," she hears the hesitance in his voice. "I mean, only if you're up for it. If you like, wanna go to sleep or something than that's okay-"

"No," she says quickly, throwing the tub of lotion in her hand hastily back onto the table. "I mean, yeah, I'm free. What are we doing?"

"Get your swimsuit."

"My swimsuit?"

"Rachel, have you ever gone night swimming?"

xxx

"This is breaking and entering!" she hisses nervously as she trails after him to the community pool.

"Relax," he grins, looking at her over his shoulder as he throws their bags over the fence. "This is totally fine. You wanna know what normal people do during summer, right?"

"I doubt that breaking into private property is considered normal."

"Technically, it's a public place. C'mon, I'll give you a boost."

She looks at him incredulously.

"You expect me to jump over that fence?"

"It's not that high."

"I can fall and break my neck!" He rolls his eyes, but he's still smiling. She, on the other hand, is a nervous wreck as she looks skittishly around her. What if there's a security guard and he catches them and she goes to jail? She does not need a blip on her spotless record for the rabid gossip columnists to dig up once she's famous. She doesn't notice him moving until he has his hands on her waist and is picking her up off the floor. She squeals, punching him in the shoulder out of reflex as he curses.

"Ow! Stop that, Jesus! Look," he says, holding her tighter to stop her from moving around. "You trust me, right?" he asks quietly. She looks down at him, her hands on his shoulders to steady herself. His eyes are earnest, kind, as usual, and at this point, even if what's waiting for her on the other side is the whole senior class with hands full of Slushies, she'd still say yes.

"Yes," she answers quietly. He grins, his lips stretched up his left side, and she wonders exactly how many smiles that Finn Hudson has.

"Awesome. So I'm gonna give you a boost, okay?"

"Okay."

He lets her down, kneeling in front of her with his hands on his knees as she gingerly steps on him.

"Okay. I'm gonna lift you up, and once you get your leg over, you need to feel for the little indent on the wall, 'kay? It should be on your right."

"Okay. Don't drop me!"

"I've got you," he promises, chuckling as she squeals again. She's lifted into the air, and grabs the top of the wall to balance herself. Standing on his shoulders, she could see the other side, and so this is what the community pool looks like. She's never been here before. The compound was dark, but there are lights coming from inside the pool, and well, it doesn't look like she's that high up from here. She once spent almost a whole hour strung up in the air by suspension ropes only when she was fifteen and played Tinkerbell down at the Allen County theatre for children. This is nothing. Of course, as Tinkerbell she didn't actually have to jump to her potential death, she thinks wryly as she slings one leg to the other side and rests herself on the wall.

"Can you feel it?" he calls up. She looks down at him, smiling ruefully.

"How about I just wait for you?" she asks meekly and he laughs, nodding his head before easily holding on to a crook and jumping up next to her. For someone who's always so clumsy, he's pretty graceful. She watches as he easily jumps off, landing on his feet.

"C'mon Rach," he says, grinning as he looks up at her doubtful expression. "I'll catch you, I promise."

Shaking her head, she closes her eyes as she slings her other leg over and jumps at him. She thought she'd be in the air longer, but the next thing knows, his arms are around her waist and his laughter is in her ears as she holds on to him for dear life.

"See? It wasn't that bad. Now c'mon!" he exclaims, releasing her and making a beeline towards the pool, shedding his clothes along the way until he reaches the edge in his swimming trunks. She's down to the shorts she has on, looking down at the one piece swimsuit she wore under her clothes. It's bright pink, with an imprint of a rainbow in the middle, and she feels a little ridiculous in it now. But the only other option was that bkini she bought on a whim a few months back while on a trip to Cleveland, and she doesn't think there will ever be a time where that bikini will see the light of day. Finn turns around, and from what little light there is, she sees his smirk.

"What are you waiting for?" he calls out before he turns around, letting a loud whoop as he cannonballs into the pool. She grins. Yeah, what's she waiting for? This is Finn, her new friend. He's not going to make fun of her clothes, he doesn't even look like he cares. With a burst of confidence, she runs to the pool, pausing for just a second before she jumps in. She feels the rush of water in her ears when her feet touches the bottom of the pool, and her heart is bursting with exhilaration as she pushes herself upwards, breaking through the surface of the water.

She hears his laughter again, and looks around to find him a few feet away, grinning at her.

"Awesome, right?" he says. She nods enthusiastically.

Xxx

She loses track of time after he dared to question her swimming abilities and she deigned to show him all the strokes she knew ("Swimming happens to be very good for one's lungs," she tells him majestically once he concedes his lost), and by the time he's pushing himself out of the water, she knows that it's already late. She hopes that her fathers haven't realized that she's missing. She did a very good job disguising her pillows, and they never check on her anyways. Eighteen years without a social life has led to certain trust gained.

From the far end of the pool, she watches as he dips his legs into the water, his arms propped up on his knees as he stares into space. He has a frown on, and that's something she's not yet used to from Finn. She swims over to him, pulling at his foot playfully before she emerges with a beam.

"Help me up," she says. Dutifully, he pulls her by the arms, practically lifting her out from his force. He sits back down and she sits next to him, careful to mind the space between them. He doesn't say a word, and even though he's never been all that talkative, she gets the feeling that this is a different kind of silence.

"Hi," she says quietly, nudging his shoulder. He turns to her with a small smile on his face.

"Hi."

"A penny for your thoughts?"

"It's nothing," he mumbles. She stares awkwardly at her distorted feet in the water, unsure of what to do now that he's shot her down.

"We used to do this a lot, me and Puck. And Quinn," he continues, like she's an afterthought. "Ever since we were like, thirteen and he learned how to climb over a fence and his cousin started working as the bodyguard here. Steve is like, high all the freaking time so he doesn't even care anyway. He's probably high right now. Anyway, Quinn started joining us like, four years ago, when we- when we got together. Every summer."

He doesn't say anything after, his gaze still focused into the pool while she stares at his profile. She's certain someone with better social graces would know what to do at this situation.

"I- I heard about what happened."

"You were there?" he asks, frowning. " 'Cause I didn't see you."

"No. Kurt told me." She shrugs. "He said the reason why Noah Puckerman had a black eye that whole week was because of you."

Finn rolls his eyes, splashing his feet gently against the water.

"It was not a week."

"Well to be precise, it was four entire days before it went back to normal. Kurt told me that too," she explains when he looks at her. He shrugs, looking away again. Maybe she shouldn't have said anything. It was the biggest news that hit McKinley High since Coach Tanaka's sex scandal with the lunch lady. The Prom Queen cheating on her king with his bestfriend. She remembered feeling bad for him when she heard the news. Surprised too, because Finn Hudson never looked like he could hurt a fly when he's not on the football field.

"I guess they must have really hurt you. I mean, I don't have much experience with friendship, but I'd imagine the betrayal you felt must have been insurmountable."

He shakes his head in frustration.

"It's not that. I mean, yeah sure it hurt. It really sucked what they did, and I hate them for it. But like," he turns towards her suddenly, his entire body leaning forwards as he looks at her almost imploringly. "It just- the whole thing just made me think about everything else. All of it, high school. Do you ever feel like, like you're just stuck? Like you wasted away four entire years, and now, when you just look back and stuff, it just feels like- like everything you did just doesn't even mean anything?"

She stares at him, mouth agape as she struggles for an answer. He sighs and shakes his head.

"Forget about it. Sorry, I just-"

"I'm a loser," she blurts out. "Or at least, I was a loser in high school. I mean, the popular kids, your friends, gave me a Slushie facial practically on a daily basis. You, you were the most popular guy at McKinley-"

"I know-"

"You were the quarterback, the Prom King-"

"I know-"

"You had everything. At the end of this summer, I'm leaving Lima. I'm going to New York, and I'm never coming back, and I can't wait, because all those years of getting picked on and laughed at for being different will finally pay off, because I'll be going somewhere I finally belong. I guess- I guess I just thought that you won't feel this way, because- because I always thought you-"

"That I'd be the kind of guy that'll love to stay here forever?" he cuts in bitterly. " 'Cause I just fit right in."

He looks miserable, absolutely miserable, and for the first time ever, she thinks maybe they're not so different after all. She looks at him, scrutinizing his furrowed brows and the way his lips turn down, and she quickly decides that this look doesn't suit him at all.

"If I could go back," she speaks up, turning away from him to look down at her feet that are surely pruning by now. "I- maybe I'd try to fit in more. Be- be a little less me, because I'm overbearing you know. I'm actually quite delightful, as you can see, but I just can't stop my talent from eclipsing that, and then I just come off as that weird girl who sings too much and takes everything too seriously."

He's looking at her funny, and maybe she's said the wrong thing again. They really should come up with a proper handbook for being a good friend-

"I'd do the complete opposite," he says, holding her gaze. "I would- I would care less about what other people think, and like, just do what I wanted, like you. And Kurt. And I'd- I'd be brave enough to stick to my guns no matter what people say."

"You think I'm brave?" she asks quietly. She understands that in light of the circumstance, turning the conversation back towards her is quite selfish, but still. He thought she was brave? He thought of her? Finn looks at her solemnly, nodding his head a little.

"I always thought it was kinda cool. I also thought you had a death wish, which is kinda true, but still, you stuck to your guns, so that's awesome. The way you didn't give a shit about what other people thought of you I mean."

But she did. She just pretended like she didn't. She is quite a phenomenal actress after all.

"I didn't think you even noticed me." He shrugs, leaning back down to stretch on the floor.

"I didn't, in the beginning. But then, mom and Burt started dating, and she kept forcing me to go to all of Kurt's shows, and you were just always there, you know? And when you sing, I just- you make me feel something, know what I mean?"

She's been in approximately forty two plays (playing flower no. 1 at the ballet recital when she was three included), and she's been the leading lady in twenty of them, but when Finn Hudson looks at her with his beautiful eyes boring into her soul, and that almost shy smile on his face, Rachel thinks she finally understands what it means when all those scripts talk about getting swept off her feet.

"I think I do," she whispers, her cheeks warming up when his smile widens just a little. He looks up at the sky, seemingly unaffected by her silent revelation.

"If I could go back," he says quietly, resting his head on his arms, eyes closed. "I think maybe I'd be more like you."

"What would you do?" she asks, leaning down over him. His eyes open and he doesn't even bat an eyelash at their proximity.

"Hmm?"

"If you were more like me, what would you do?"

He stares up at her, mystified.

"I don't know," he shrugs, smiling.

She doesn't believe him.

xxx

She sits perched on the counter next to the SUV, watching absent-mindedly as he fiddles with the carburettor (or is it the distributor? She never can seem to remember). It's lunchtime, and the garage is empty, which is the only reason she's allowing herself to swing her legs under the table. It's two weeks into their friendship when she realized that Finn spends almost all of his time in Burt's shop. He doesn't even stop for lunch, unless he was with her, and when she mentioned how unhealthy this was to his body, his only response was to shrug as he told her that time was money, and he's saving up all that he can for college.

"You're getting a scholarship," she told him pointedly.

"Well yeah," he said, grinning at her. "But you know, emergency money and stuff. You never know when you might need the extra cash. Like if I blow out my knee and they pull my scholarship or something."

"Have you always been this conscientious?" she asked admiringly.

"Huh?"

"Careful. You know, thoughtful about these things."

"Nope," he answered, grinning wryly. "Never. But I don't know. I guess some stuff's been happening, and it just made me realize that nothing's ever really set in stone, you know?"

She had nodded her head along, because aside from her Broadway destiny, she guesses nothing really is. She knows that 'stuff' is generally his code word for Puck and Quinn, because he always gets this peculiar look on his face that she doesn't call out on. So she decided that she'd help him with it, coming by the garage every day with lunch. She prefers the company anyway, since her fathers are never home during the day.

She teaches ballet down at the community theatre every Tuesday, but every other day, anyone can find Rachel Berry sitting on the counter top next to whatever car Finn is working on, waiting patiently for him to finish, their lunches by her side. She knows that some of the guys at the garage have been teasing him about her, and she wonders if it bothers him, but all he does is wave them off with his ears red before he smiles at her apologetically, so she decides to take it as a good sign. Besides, she knows they like her too, ever since she came by one afternoon with her infamous banana bread. Greg the head mechanic even told her that it was the best thing he's ever tasted.

"Can you hand me the wrench?" he calls out from underneath the hood, pulling her out of her thoughts. She looks down at the toolbox, frowning at all the foreign objects, before pulling one out.

"Is this it?" she asks sceptically. He looks up from behind the hood, grinning as he shakes his head.

"That's a plier. The wrench is that one, next to the paper bag."

"Oh. Here."

"Thanks Rach."

She watches quietly as he goes back to what he's doing. She hears her stomach rumbling and blushes, hoping that he didn't.

"Are you almost done?" she calls out hopefully.

"Yeah. Sorry. I just need to tighten the screws."

He fiddles with the carburettor/ distributor, giving it a little tap before he comes out from the hood, grinning at her, a streak of oil marring his left cheek.

"All done. I'm starving," he says as he wipes his hands on an already dirty handkerchief. "What have you got in there?"

"Tempeh pita for me," she says, rolling her eyes when he blanches. "And a chicken sandwich for you."

"Awesome."

"Finn, you need to wash your hands," she tells him, pulling the lunch bag away from his eager hands.

"They're clean."

"No they are not, they're filthy," she answers, shaking her head when he grumbles. He obliges, turning towards the sink to wash his hands. She smiles to herself as she watches him wash his hands, making sure that he uses that bottle of hand soap she left there for the whole garage to use last week.

"Happy now?" he asks as he walks back towards her, holding up his hands for inspection. She grins, shaking her head.

"Almost," she murmurs. Without thinking, she reaches for a clean napkin, reaching up to wipe away the oil on his face. He jerks back in surprise and she blushes, dropping her hand completely.

"You have a little smudge on your cheek," she says, embarrassed.

"Oh," he mutters, reaching up to rub the rest of it away. She doesn't mention that he's making his hand dirty again, unable to look him in the eye. "Thanks."

"Sorry. I just-"

"Rach," he says, amused. He shuffles closer towards where she sits, their legs almost touching, and she looks up to find him smiling at her. "Relax. It's not a big deal."

She's still blushing under his gaze, but the friendly smile on his face relaxes her and she sighs, reaching into the paper bag to hand him his sandwich.

"You just make me nervous sometimes," she tells him honestly. He sits next to her on the counter, slouching as he unwraps his food. He's not looking her in the eye, but she can tell he wants to say something.

"You make me nervous sometimes too," he finally admits.

"I do? But why?"

"You're just- you're different, you know? You're not like anybody else here. That's a good thing," he says quickly, when she starts to frown. "I mean, I like that you're different. But it's just, I don't know, you just make me nervous in a good way."

"Oh."

They eat in silence, taking turns to glance at one another, both unsure of what to say or what just happened.

"I think you're different too," she finally says, looking up at him. "The good kind of different."

"Yeah?" he asks, smiling. She nods, blushing again as she looks away.

"Yeah."

Xxx

"We're going bowling?" she asks sceptically, leaning forwards in her seat to look up at the huge bowling pins on the roof of Lima's bowling alley. Beside her, Finn nods as he pulls into the car park. "Is this really what people do during the summer?"

"Not just summer. You can bowl anytime. Personally, I try to make it at least once a month."

She turns back to look at him to gauge if he's kidding, but he doesn't seem to be.

"I don't think I like bowling," she tells him.

"Have you ever tried it?"

"Well, no-"

"Then how are you gonna know if you like it or not?" he asks, grinning at her. She rolls her eyes.

"It's unsanitary Finn. I've seen the movies. You have to share your shoes with random strangers you don't even know. And- and stick your fingers in those little holes. I mean, couldn't there be diseases in there?"

"Well if it makes you feel any better, they sanitize the shoes and stuff. And plus, I've never heard of anyone getting sick over a bowling ball. I mean, I've seen Burt dropped his ball on his toes once, but that was about it. C'mon Rach. Don't knock it 'til you've tried it, right?"

He sends her that incorrigible grin again, and she sighs, opening her car door.

"Fine. But if I don't like it, then we can do something else?"

"Deal."

Xxxx

"I suck!" she moans as she watches her ball falls into the gutter once again. She turns to Finn, who's looking back at her with a straight face, but she knows him well enough by now to see the small smile peeking out.

"You sure this is your first time?" he asks, amused. She glares at him, but it's half-hearted as it makes way for a small giggle while she nudges his side.

"Shut up."

"Look, you're not doing it right."

"I did exactly what you told me to do!" she exclaims, stomping her foot in annoyance.

"No. C'mon." He walks over to grab another pink ball, handing it over to her with an encouraging smile.

"But it's your turn."

"S'fine. I'm winning anyway." She sticks her tongue out at that, taking the ball from him. She holds her breath when he doesn't let go, covering her palm with his as he fixes the position of her hand.

"Hold it like this," he tells her, ignorant to the blush on her face, or the way her whole body feels like it's on fire when he stands behind her, right arm alongside hers, turning them towards the bowling lane.

"Okay, so you bend down like this, but not too much," he murmurs in her ear, bending them down and placing a hand on her stomach to stop her from bending too far. "Good, now cross your legs."

She does, mimicking the stance she saw him take earlier. She's disappointed when he suddenly pulls away, his hand leaving hers as he moves to stand beside her. Her heart is still beating too fast for her liking, and she wonders if he felt it.

"Now what?" she asks quietly.

" 'Kay. Now, you think about what you hate the most. I mean, it could be a thing or a person or whatever. Like if it's a dude, you just picture his head on those bowling pins, pull your hand back as hard as you can, but keep your arm straight, and just let it fly."

"Really?"

"Hey, I'm telling you. It works."

He's dead serious about this, so she nods her head and takes it seriously too.

She's a good actress. She once spent all of rehearsal passionately acting out a romantic monologue to a mannequin like it was a real prince charming. A few bowling pins are nothing. She concentrates, willing her mind to morph those pins into ten plastic cups of ice cold weapons of torture.

"Keep your arm straight."

She does, pulling back her hand with her target set before she lets go of the ball with more energy than before, watching as it whizzes straight into the pins. Rachel squeals, jumping up and down as she turns to him with a laugh.

"I did it!" she cries, jumping up to wrap her arms around his neck. She hears his muffled chuckle, and her heartbeats start up once again when she feels the firm grip of his hands on her waist as he holds her steady. She pulls back, sliding to the ground as she blushes. "I erm- it wasn't a gutter ball. "l

"I guess five out of ten ain't that bad," he jokes softly. She beams, trying to ignore the pounding in her chest. Having a crush on Finn Hudson would only be a serious hindrance to their budding friendship.

"So what was it?"

"Huh?"

"That thing you just bowled over. Crappy teacher? Creepy clowns? Oatmeal?" He shudders at the last word, while a slow smile creeps on her face.

"Slushies," she tells him, grinning.

Xxx

She would consider her first bowling attempt a success. Finn won, but she was catching up. "I'll win the next time," she told him determinedly while he just shrugged and raised an eyebrow. She keeps a list hidden in her desk drawer, crossing out and adding to the list of the things she's done with Finn this summer. So far they've gone through night swimming, Frisbee tossing at the park, bowling and Halo (for the lazy days, he told her. She dies within the first five minutes every time).

She can't think of a better person to embark on her summer with. Sure, the things she's doing are pretty common and aren't all that adventurous, but that's exactly the point. Rachel Berry had never allowed herself a moment to be just a normal teenager, and now that this part of her life is coming to an end, she's trying to fit as much in as she can. Finn is unassuming and easy-going, and he's up for anything, really. She never would have thought that talking to Finn Hudson could come as easily as it does, but sometimes it feels like they're old friends, like they've been friends for years. She thinks she could tell him anything, and she wonders if he feels the same way. Glancing sideways in his truck, she sees Finn bobbing his head along to the radio, his fingers tapping a melody along the steering wheel.

"You're really good at that," she comments. He glances at her and smiles.

"Really?"

"Yes. You're imitating the back beat exactly." He shrugs, embarrassed.

"I've been playing the drums my whole life. So-"

"You didn't tell me you were musical!" she exclaims with a gasp. He's taken aback by her enthusiasm, but she keeps on talking animatedly. "Kurt never told me you played the drums. We should do a performance together Finn. It will be great! Would you like to record a Youtube video with me? Finn- where are we going?" she asks, momentarily derailed as she watches him turn his signal on.

"I need to make a stop," he says, pulling up at the 7/11. "Wait here."

He hurries into the store, and she turns the radio up, smiling as she tries to figure out a proper time for the both of them to have a jam session. What song would do well with a drum solo? She's not worried about pulling off the genre, because her perfect pitch ensures her ability to sing to any kind of music. Maybe Finn would prefer classic rock? It seems like it from the songs he plays in his truck, and-

"'Kay," Finn says, opening his side of the door, startling her. "Let's go." She stares distastefully at the slushie in his hand as he closes the door. He catches her gaze.

"You know, " he says conversationally as he starts the engine. "Slushies are like the ultimate summer thirst quencher."

"Yes," she answers wryly, rolling her eyes as she leans back against her seat. "They're also the ultimate bullying tool, so no thank you. I've had enough slushies to last me a lifetime," she mutters darkly. He doesn't say another word, pulling out of the parking spot and driving in silence while she resumes her idea with him.

She's taking his silence to mean that he's on board with their upcoming collaboration.

Xxx

He pulls into the deserted school parking lot, finding a parking spot at the end of the compound, near the dumpsters.

"What are we doing here?" she asks, confused when he kills the engine.

"C'mon," he says, ignoring her question as he unbuckles his seatbelt and climbs out of his truck. She follows suit, pushing her door open to find him already waiting for her outside, slushie in hand. She eyes the drink warily as he helps her out of the vehicle. Finn closes the door behind him, turning to lean against his truck. Standing before him, she frowns.

"Finn, what are we doing here?" she asks curiously. He doesn't answer, avoiding her gaze.

"You know when we were at the bowling alley?" he starts slowly. "How you said that you pretended those bowling pins were slushies?"

She nods quietly. Finn grabs the back of his neck with his free hand.

"I'm sorry Rachel," he mumbles.

"What-" she starts, but he cuts her off like she never said a word.

"I never tried to help you or anything. I never tried to help anyone, because I was such a stupid coward about it-"

"It's okay-"

"It's really not," he says quietly, finally meeting her gaze. "It's not okay. I- I should have done something, you know? I should have done something to change that in high school."

"They would have just turned on you," she answers, shrugging. He shakes his head, brows furrowed together in frustration.

"Yeah, but that'd be better than regretting it for the rest of your life right? I mean, I try to be a good guy, you know? Like, I avoided all that crap 'cause I don't like being mean. But- I mean, I could have done more about it, you know?"

He looks really upset, and she won't lie and say she's never thought of the very same thing. But what would be the point by now? She almost smiles at the miserable look on his face. It's kind of endearing, if she was honest with herself, how much this is obviously affecting him.

"I forgive you," she says warmly. He looks up from the ground he was staring at. "On behalf of all the losers at William Mckinley, I forgive you, Finn Hudson, for not doing anything."

She shoots him a smile that he doesn't return. He shakes his head and sighs.

"I'm not even done yet."

"Finn, we're-"

"I threw an egg at you once," he says out loud, looking her straight in the eye. He looks almost terrified, really, but she's too busy trying to process his words to notice.

"What?" she whispers, eyes wide as she stares at the guilty expression on his face.

"I mean, I don't even know if you remember this, but we were in freshmen year, and you were walking home from school, and you were standing right there," he says, pointing to where she is. "And I- I threw an egg at you. "

"I remember," she says softly. She remembers that it had ruined her then favourite sweater, the dried yolk refusing to come off the pink and white garment. "I cried the whole way home."

"Rachel-"

"You ruined my favorite sweater," she continues, glaring up at him.

"I'm sorry," he mumbles. She doesn't answer him, a deep frown embedded on her face as the memory of that horrible day replayed itself in her mind. And here she thought Finn Hudson was the only popular kid who never did anything to her.

So much for that.

He thrusts his hand out, pushing the slushie in her face. She rolls her eyes, pushing his hand away impatiently.

"Finn, I don't-"

"Slushie me," he says calmly, thrusting it towards her again. She gives him a withering stare.

"I'm not going to slushie you Finn. Don't be silly."

"Do it Rach. C'mon, think of it as payback for all those assholes who has ever screwed with you, me included."

She pauses, staring at the melting beverage in his hands for a second or two before she shakes her head.

"I don't believe in revenge."

"Rachel c'mon. I-"

He gasps when a burst of blue ice explodes in his face, and so does she as she stares dumbly at the almost empty cup in her hand. She looks up to see him blinking rapidly, sputtering ice out of his mouth as he wipes his face with the palm of his hand.

"Oh my God," she whispers in horror.

"Damn, Rachel Berry," Finn says once his vision returns. His face is still blue, but there's something like a smile on his face. "You sure know how to aim."

"Finn, I-" she stammers, dropping the cup like it's hot potato. He grins at her, blue liquid running down his face as he blinks and she can't help herself. She breaks into a fit of giggles.

Xxx

"I'm sorry," she murmurs as she takes out another moist towelette from her purse, leaning towards him in the bed of his truck. There's already a small pile of dirty tissues next to him, and she starts on the crown of his head, expertly running her fingers through his hair to drag out the stubborn pieces of slushie still left behind. Luckily for Finn, his attacker just happened to come well-equipped with years of experience in getting corn starch out of her hair.

"Don't be," he says, rolling his eyes up towards her with a smile. "I deserved it."

She chuckles, shaking her head ruefully.

"I suppose you think we're even now?"

He shakes his head, his forehead brushing against her knuckles.

"Not even close," he murmurs. Their close proximity is throwing her off, and that smile on his face is not helping at all. Rachel purses her lips in annoyance, ignoring the blush that's growing throughout her body as she takes his face in her hands to do a careful inspection.

"You're clean," she announces, heart thumping dangerously when his hand comes up to wrap around one wrist. He grins.

"Thanks."

"No problem." She releases his face before he releases her hand. He jumps off the bed of the truck then, turning to hold a hand out for her.

"We should do something you like next," he says nonchalantly as he helps her down.

"Really?"

"Yeah. I mean normal people like to spend time doing stuff they actually like too," he tells her teasingly. She beams as she stares up at him.

"Well, Ohio State is putting on a production of Hairspray, and I've been trying to talk my fathers into taking me to see it. The first showing is in four days. But it's all the way in Columbus, and-"

"I'll get Greg to cover my afternoon shift."

"Really?"

"Yeah, sure. Why not?"

"You really want to see a musical with me?" she asks doubtfully. He grins at her, shrugging.

"It's important to you, isn't it? I mean, that's what friends do, right? Support each other. You know, kinda like how you were cheering me on the other day, when I was killing those zombies."

"Yes, you're very good at that."

She climbs into the truck, turning to smile at him.

"So it's a date," she says giddily, realizing five seconds too late exactly what she said. She fights the urge to hide her face in the palm of her hand as she stammers. "I- I mean, not a date per say, just you know, a date. Like, a date in your calendar, or-"

"Yeah," he cuts in. "It's a date."

She could practically feel her eyes bulging out of their sockets as her head swivels in his direction. Finn's staring straight ahead, completely focused on the road before him. His entire demeanor is portraying someone who is completely unaffected by what he just said, and she would have been fooled, if she didn't catch the markedly ruddy hue of his ear.

She smiles to herself, quietly leaning back into her seat as she looks out the window, letting out a silent scream of excitement.

Maybe she's not the only one who's anxious about where this friendship is heading.

xxx

She sits quietly in her seat, glancing sideways with complete interest. She has been through five different productions of Hairspray, one of them was on Broadway, one in which she gave a raving performance of Penny Pingleton, and thrice more just because. She finds this particular performance slightly less than subpar to be honest. Link was half as charismatic as he should be, Penny doesn't seem to have the sass that should have come with her character and Tracy is in a fat suit, for God's sake.

Regardless, Rachel is still quite certain that this might be the most riveting musical she has ever attended, and it has everything to do with the young man sitting next to her, eyes glued to the stage in the utmost concentration. His every emotion plays on his face as he watches the show, and it surprises her. She never thought Finn Hudson would be one for musicals. But then again, this boy has spent their entire platonic (as yet) relationship surprising her.

As if noticing the fact that she has been blatantly staring at him since almost when the show began, Finn finally turns towards her, a bemused smile on his face. She blushes, embarrassed at having been caught, but he's still smiling, his eyes crinkled in amusement while she giggles and nudges his shoulder.

"Enjoying the play?" she asks quietly, leaning close to him to whisper in his ear, He nods enthusiastically.

"This is awesome. It's so much better than the movie. Kurt made me watch it with him," he finishes in slight embarrassment when she looks surprised. She grins, warmth filling her from the pit of her stomach up to the skin of her cheeks. Everything about this boy is wonderful, how did it take her so long to realize that? Oh right, she was in the sub-basement of the food chain and he was Homecoming king. She starts when she feels the rough pads of his fingers against her skin. She looks up towards him immediately, but his eyes have returned firmly to the stage.

Their fingers are linked together, two of hers with every one of his larger ones, and as his thumb grazes against her knuckle every so often, Rachel figures that this is probably the best night she's ever had in all of her eighteen years of living.

Xxx

The ride home is quiet, both of them seemingly consumed in their own thoughts. Hers lie in the single pink tulip she's currently twirling in her hand and the warmth of her hand in his that she can still feel long after the play ended and he had let go. She doesn't have much experience to measure by, but as far as first dates go, she's pretty sure she's having the best one ever. He had been perfect, right from the moment he rang her doorbell to politely greet her fathers (She's pretty sure daddy is halfway in love with Finn by now, if not completely). He had been nervous, she could tell, stuttering his way through his promise to keep her safe. It probably had a lot to do with the glare her dad was sporting. Finn is a very tall boy, but so are both her fathers, and maybe he isn't used to being glared at by fathers who are as tall as he is.

He even took the time to take her to dinner before the play, at a small restaurant near the campus that sells vegan food (he checked). Everything is perfect, basically, and she's too afraid to open her mouth lest she might ruin the moment. She glances sideways at Finn, watching as he focuses on the road in front of them, his fingers tapping absent-mindedly along to the beat from the radio. Half of her feels like pinching herself. Is she really in Finn Hudson's truck right now? Did their date really happen? Did Finn Hudson really spend his whole evening watching Hairspray with her? Discreetly, Rachel moves her right hand up to her thigh, gathering a small piece of flesh before she pinches it.

"Ouch!"

"Are you okay?" Finn asks, turning towards her. Yep. That concerned look on his face is real. One hundred percent real.

"I'm fine," she assures him, a slow grin spreading across her face. "Just- whiplash."

He gives her a slightly skeptical glance, before he shrugs and smiles. He makes a left turn, pulling into her neighbourhood, and she tries to tamper down the disappointment she feels. The drive home wasn't nearly as long as she thought it would be.

"We're here," he says as he pulls over in front of her lawn. "And with about ten minutes to spare."

Finn is giving her that look again, the one that makes her entire body feel electric, from the tips of her toes to the roots of her hair. Self-consciously, her hand goes up to her head, wondering if there is any static charge messing with her hair.

"I had a really good time," she says, almost shyly as she looks down at her lap. "Thank you for taking me."

"No problem. That was awesome, by the way. I mean, I've seen you guys perform at school and stuff, but I've never been to a real live show before."

"Did you like it?" she asks, excited. There's a twinkle in his eye as he nods, and she can't be sure if it's because of the musical, or just because he finds her amusing. But she doesn't care either way, because she watched him during the performance, and she knew that look he was wearing all too well. It was the look of someone who was absolutely smitten by the wonders of musicals, and she's an expert on such looks herself, being merely four years old when she first wore it.

"You know," she says nonchalantly, playing with the edge of her skirt. She looks up to find his gaze intent on her fingers and blushes, continuing quickly and looking away when he finally looks up. "I think I know what you would do if you could do it all over again."

"Yeah? What's that?"

"You would join the drama club."

He grins, amused, as he nods.

"Yeah, I guess I could do that."

"I'm serious! You never know Finn, maybe there's a budding actor in there just dying to be let out."

"Maybe," he murmurs, a small smile on his face. The mood in the truck seems to shift when his gaze falls to her lips, and she sucks in a breath when he leans in just a little bit closer. "Rachel-"

The sound of her ringtone is like a blowhorn, springing them both apart as she rummages through her handbag to look for her phone.

"It's my dad," she says breathlessly, quickly rejecting her father's call before looking back at him. Finn's leaning against his seat now, a wry smile on his face when he looks at his watch.

"Wow, your dad really meant it when he said be back by midnight, huh? Is that him?" She looks towards where he's pointing behind her and feels her face heat up with both anger and mortification when she sees her dad's silhouette through the curtain in their living room.

"Oh my God," she mutters, cringing when Finn chuckles. "I better go," she says glumly. She turns to the door, glaring at her father's shadow one last time as the truck door opens.

"Rachel, wait."

"Yeah?" she asks, turning back towards Finn.

"So are you free tomorrow?"

"Why?" she asks, trying to contain her excitement. He shrugs.

"I thought we could hang out. I mean, I'm helping Bieste with some of the juniors tomorrow morning at school, but after that-"

"Sure!" she answers quickly. In the back of her mind, she's aware that she's probably being a little too obvious, but really, Finn knows her well enough by now. She doesn't have to pretend with him, so who cares?

"Awesome," he says grinning. "I guess I'll see you tomorrow."

"Pick me up in the morning," she tells him. He nods, and she sends him a small wave before she jumps out of the truck. She walks up the pavement to her house slowly, her mind playing back that moment before her dad had so rudely interrupted them. Was Finn about to kiss her? Or was that just a figment of her imagination?

She looks up to see that her father's silhouette is gone, and at the sound of Finn's engine, she turns around quickly, running back towards the driver's seat.

"Wait," she says quickly, her breath caught in her throat, when she reaches his door. Sticking his head out, he looks down at her, slightly bemused, and before she can chicken out, Rachel gently pulls him down by the neck, jumping up to kiss his cheek.

"Goodnight," she mumbles, her face burning as she turns away and runs back to her house.

Xxx

She's sitting next to Tina Cohen-Chang, absently listening to the girl's chatter about her acceptance to Stanford while her eyes stay on Finn's figure out on the field. She's never been to a football game before, but she can see why he's been the big man on campus all these years. He's standing next to coach Bieste, hands on his hips as he yells something out to the team. From where she's standing, Finn looks like a natural born leader.

Mike, Tina's boyfriend, stands in the middle of the group of boys in front of them, all in their football gear. She watches, impressed when they all suddenly drop to the ground and start doing push-ups.

"Rachel!"

She starts, tuning towards Tina with a guilty look on her face. But Tina only looks back at her knowingly.

"Sorry, I was um-"

"Distracted?" Tina asks wryly. She blushes, wondering if her face looks like the color of a fire hydrant at this moment.

"Yeah."

"So, you and Finn, huh?"

She looks cautiously at the girl in front of her. She doesn't know Tina very well, but they were partners on a History project once, and Tina was nothing but nice to her. In fact, Tina is probably one of the few people in school that she actually talked to every once in a while. She likes Tina. But it's not like they're friends or anything like that, and the way the girl had opened up the discussion could lead to anything, you know?

"Yeah?"

"I mean, what's going on with you two?" Tina asks, nudging her shoulder. "You've been spending a lot of time together." Rachel relaxes, allowing a small, shy smile to grow on her face as she looks back at Finn. He's still yelling something she can't hear, and now the boys are up on their feet, running in one place.

"We're friends," she says.

"Just friends?" Tina asks curiously. She turns to look at Tina next to her, and she is wearing this knowing smile on her face. Rachel thinks of their date last night, and that kiss she gave him. Is it weird that she can still remember exactly the texture of his skin? It was barely a second, but she's pretty sure that she won't ever forget it. He texted her once he got back to his house too, he'd never done that before. Told her he'd made it back safely and wished her goodnight.

"We're just- hanging out, I guess. I mean, we didn't really know each other before, you know?"

Tina nods.

"You know, he's a really nice guy. I mean, before I started going out with Mike, I thought he was like all those other guys, like Puck and the rest of those idiots. But he's not."

"I know."

"It really sucks, what Puck and Quinn did. He was really bummed for a while. But he looks really happy now."

"Does he?" she murmurs, smiling to herself. Tina nods, and says something else, but she's distracted again. He looks up at that moment, his head cocked to the left, before his attention turns back to the juniors. She wonders if he was looking at her, but maybe she's just being too presumptuous about everything.

"So," Tina starts, and Rachel forces her attention back on the girl next to her. "We never really hung out much in school, you and me." She nods in agreement, shrugging.

"We weren't really in the same circle of friends, I guess. I mean, you were kind of a popular girl, and I was, well, not."

"Forget high school," Tina says impatiently. "We should hang out more now!"

"Yeah," she agrees, smiling. "We should."

"Let's get together tonight!" Tina says decidedly. Rachel looks at her, slightly startled. "Mike is having a party at his place. It's supposed to be his going-away party. He's leaving for New York in two weeks."

"Already?" Rachel asks, surprised. Tina's face falls just a little, but she recovers quickly with a smile.

"Yeah. Julliard won't start in another month, but he says that he needs to get ready for everything, and he's booked studio time with this really great dance teacher, Cassandra July. He says that it's a once in a lifetime opportunity, and his parents are using this as some family vacation time too, so."

"Mike is going to Julliard? I- I mean," she continues hastily, when Tina's eyebrow starts to rise at her bewilderment. "I just- I thought he'd be going to somewhere else, like- like-"

"Somewhere with football? Like Finn?"

"Yeah."

"He's a dancer," Tina says helpfully. "He does it after school. He hid it from his parents for a while too, so I wouldn't expect you to know about it."

"Oh."

"I guess we're not all that we seem, huh?"

"I guess not," she murmurs, turning to look at Mike Chang. He's still standing in the middle of the small group, gracefully throwing a football into the air.

"So come to the party," Tina urges.

"I don't know," she starts slowly. "I went to one party this summer, and it wasn't really my thing."

"C'mon, it's going to be awesome. I'll be there, and Finn will be there. We're all leaving in a month anyway, don't you think we should finally start getting to know each other before that?"

xxx

"Tina just invited me to Mike's party," she blurts out. Finn is sitting on the bench, leaned back against the bleachers with his eyes closed, sweat drenching his shirt. Mike and Tina has left, and so have the rest of the football team, but Finn has yet to move. She's been sitting next to him in silence for almost half an hour. He smells sweaty, and a little like grass, but he told her that his routine every Saturday morning after practice is to just lean back and catch the rays, whatever that means He invited her to lean back against the bleachers next to him, but she wasn't about to put her head anywhere some stranger's feet has been, thank you very much. So she's been quiet, for exactly half an hour. He opens one eye to look at her briefly, before he turns his face back towards the sun.

"Do you wanna go?"

"I- You're going, right?"

Finn shrugs, wiping the sweat from his temple.

"We could do something else, if you don't feel like going," he says.

She stares at him, mouth slightly agape. She must stare for a while, because he finally opens his eyes and sits up.

"Rachel?"

"I just- I figured you were going anyway."

"Well, it could be fun. I haven't seen the guys since Santana's party, but I'd rather hang out with you anyway."

"Really?"

"Yes," he says, amused. "Why are you so surprised?"

"I don't know," she says, looking down at her shorts. "I've been kind of pushing this 'friends' thing on you. I don't want you to feel like you're stuck with me or anything."

"I haven't been doing anything I didn't want to do," he points out.

"Well, except eating that vegan burger."

"Except that," he agrees, shuddering at the memory. "I mean it, Rach. I like hanging out with you."

She stares down intently at the pattern on her shorts, the color on her face reddening until she feels her ears heating up.

"I like hanging out with you too," she says quietly. She looks up at him, beaming. "What's summer without a huge party, right?" she asks. He grins, nodding. "Let's go."

Xxx

Finn had picked her up after dinner (she'd only just managed to get out of her dad's lecture about her spending too much time out of the house), and she spent almost ten minutes asking him if she looked okay. She's wearing a floral print blouse (her most subdued floral print blouse), paired with a yellow miniskirt and her Mary Janes, sans socks. The last time she went to a party, she wore a yellow sundress and stood out like a sore thumb, so she just wants to fit in, you know?

It took Finn just as long to convince her that she looked fine. He took her hand when they were in his truck, because she couldn't stop tapping her fingers against her thigh. It made her blush, but it also made her feel a lot better, and she was sorely disappointed when he finally let go as they pulled up on Mike's driveway. Her eyes had widened when she saw the amount of people out on the front lawn, and they grew even bigger when she saw the size of his house. Mike lives in one of those mansions in town. His house has a gate and everything. She knew Mr. Chang was a doctor in Lima Memorial, she just didn't know he was that rich.

"Breathe," Finn had whispered in her ear when they were standing at the door. She knew he was probably laughing at her, but she really didn't want to make a repeat performance of the last party she went to, so she ignored him. Once they were inside though, things looked exactly like they had at Santana's party, complete with that one couple groping each other in full public display on the couch.

But Tina found her soon enough, and whisked her away to meet the rest of her friends. She had turned to look helplessly at Finn when the girl pulled her along, but he had grinned at her and waved before talking to Mike, so she assumed he thought she was in good hands. It's not that Rachel doesn't trust Tina, it's just that she also knows that at least three of Tina's friends had personally thrown Slushies in her face before. She even remembers the flavors.

They're really good at pretending though, smling and talking to her like they've never met her before, complimenting her outfit (one girl, Trisha, seems to have forgotten that this was the exact blouse she was wearing when she was attacked by that bluberry slushie), and asking her about Finn like they weren't the same heinous witches from high school who made her life unbearable. Having to smile at them and pretend that she doesn't secretly hate all of them made her feel a little sick. She lasted for almost thirty minutes before she finally extricated herself on the pretense of using the bathroom.

"Up the stairs, second door to the right," Tina whispered in her ear. "It's Mike's room. I'm pretty sure the guest bathroom is occupied right now," she continued, rolling her eyes. Rachel didn't know what she meant by that, but she nodded anyway.

And that's how she finds herself walking up the steps to Mike's huge mansion, narrowly avoiding a toy football from hitting her square on the head. To say that she feels a little out of place would be an understatement. She looks around for Finn, but she can't see him anywhere and sighs, continuing her trek upstairs. Maybe the party would be more fun if she had a drink or something, but she's definitely not touching a drop of alcohol tonight, not after what happened the last time. She sees Santana when she reaches the top step, her lips glued to some blond girl at the end of the hallway, and quickly turns away.

Out of every single witch to have ever bitched in high school, Santana was definitely one of the worst. Rachel had spent the whole time at Santana's party, other than getting herself drunk, trying to not run into Santana Lopez herself. In fact, she thinks, as she opens the door to Mike's room and feels the wall for the light switch, the only person worse than Santana was-

"Oh my God!" she gasps, closing her eyes immediately, trying to burn away the image currently seared in her brain. She hears the sound of zippers, before a decidedly hysterical female voice starts yelling.

"Get out!"

"S-sorry," she stammers, stepping out into the hall and closing the door behind her, her heart racing. Her eyes are wide, her head turning wildly as she looks around. Santana and her partner are gone, and it's just her now upstairs, and- and-

The door swings open, and Noah Puckerman steps out. He looks a little like a deer caught in headlights when he sees her leaning against the wall, but the expression quickly gives way to a predatory grin as he leans close to her. She presses herself closer to the wall, but that does nothing to tamper down his horribly drunk scent.

"Berry," he slurs while she holds her breath. "Never knew you were a peeper."

"I- I'm not-"

He leans closer and she turns away, before a small hand pushes him back. Noah laughs, putting up his hands in defense when Quinn steps out and shoots him an icy glare.

"Relax, baby. I was just messing around."

"Go downstairs, and get me some water," she tells him. Rachel watches as Puck moves down the stairs unsteadily, still holding her breath when Quinn Fabray turns her attention back her way. It's funny how she's graduated high school, and leaving for New York, but one glare from those cold green eyes still manages to make her feel like a stupid little freshman geek all over again.

"Treasure Trail," Quinn purrs, one of the many creative nicknames she'd bestowed on Rachel all through her miserable high school career. "What are you doing here?"

Well they're not in high school anymore, and she's Rachel Berry, New York bound and future NYADA golden child, and it's time she showed it. She stands a little straighter, pushing herself away from the wall.

"I was invited," she tells Quinn, looking the taller girl square in the eye. There's a flash of something she can't seem to read, before cruel mirth fills those green eyes again.

"You?" Quinn says, laughing just a little like it's the most ridiculous thing she's ever heard. "Let me guess, you're Finn's little pity date, right?"

"Your boyfriend's waiting for you," Rachel snaps, trying to manouver past the blonde girl to enter Mike's room.

"You know he's just using you, right?" Quinn continues, refusing to budge. Her words are like daggers stabbing into Rachel's skin, but she refuses to react. "You're just his little rebound girl before he goes to Ohio State. I mean, Finn's a nice guy. But you don't really think that he's interested in a midget Jew version of the Virgin Mary like you, right? "

"What is your problem?" Rachel asks through gritted teeth.

"Oh I don't have a problem sweetie," Quinn drawls, finally stepping back with a self-satisfied smirk. "Just a little friendly warning, is all. I just don't want you to get your heart broken, when summer's over and this- whatever this is between the two of you, ends."

Brown eyes meet green in a battle of wills, and Rachel forces herself not to cry.

"That's not an issue," she finally says, her voice loud and clear. Quinn smiles, and reaches out to pat her on the shoulder.

"Good for you, Man-hands," she says, before turning around to saunter down the stairs.

Xxx

She walks as fast as her feet will carry her, telling herself not to break out into a run, because she's Rachel Berry, and she refuses to be one of those crying girls who breaks out into a run and falls flat on her face. It's breezy out in Mike's front lawn, and she turns away in disgust from the boy that's currently throwing up in a bush. She has more grace and poise than that. She's Rachel Berry, and-

"Rachel!"

Oh no.

"Rachel, wait up!"

She picks up her speed, practically jogging by now when she hears the heavy sounds of his footfalls. She's in great shape, she has to be, to keep her stamina as a singer, but Finn is a football player, and catching up to her is inevitable. But she tries to delay it for as long as possible, pretending not to hear him as she tries to collect herself, immediately rubbing her eyes with the back of her hand.

She feels his hand on her shoulder and slows down, letting out a slow and even breath before she turns around. Finn is barely out of breath, his eyes narrowing in concern as he looks down at her, and it's that worry on his face that seems to get to her.

"Why are you following me?" she mumbles, pulling away from him. He gives her an incredulous look.

"Seriously?"

She looks away from him, crossing her arms in front of her chest protectively.

"Look, if you're worried for my safety, don't be. This is the safest neighborhood in all of Lima, and it's only a half hour walk to my house. I've been-"

"What the hell happened?" he asks impatiently, ignoring her.

"Nothing," she says quietly.

"Yeah, well, nothing somehow made you walk out of the party without telling me. I was looking for you, and Tina told me you weren't feeling well and had to go home. Obviously, you were lying about that."

"I was not!"

"You look fine to me," he says pointedly. She turns to him, glowering.

"I have stomach cramps," she grits out.

"No you don't," he says dryly.

"Fine," she snaps. "Don't believe me. Whatever."

She turns on her heels, meaning to walk away, but he grabs her hand.

"I'll take you home."

"No, thank you."

"If you have a stomach cramp, you can't walk that far."

"Let go of me!"

"Fuck," he curses when she yanks his hand off her. "Rachel, will you just tell me what the hell happened?"

"Nothing happened."

"I saw you."

"What?"

"I saw you, going upstairs."

"So?"

"And then I saw Quinn coming down."

She sucks in a breath, anger and sadness waging a war to overpower her. He steps closer to her a little cautiously.

"I waited for you to come down, and when you didn't, I went looking for you. But Tina said you already left. She said something, didn't she? Quinn."

She doesn't answer him. She tries to look away, but he has one hand on her chin, and he forces her to look up.

"Rachel-"

"Just take me home," she mutters. The back of her eyes burn, but her gaze doesn't waver, and if Finn is about to say something, he wisely decides against it. Gently, he lets go of her.

"Okay."

Xxx

The atmosphere in Finn's truck is tense. He doesn't turn on the radio, and she is too upset to do it, and five minutes later, they're both trapped in silence so thick, she feels like she's choking on it.

"You know he's just using you, right?"

She growls to herself, Quinn's words refusing to leave her brain no matter how hard she tries to push them away.

"You don't really think that he's interested in a midget Jew version of the Virgin Mary like you."

Finn sends a sidelong glance her way, but he says nothing. And for some reason, his tact, more than anything, is what finally sets her off.

"I hate her," she bites out. "I hate her."

He doesn't say anything, and she doesn't either, her anger not even close to dissipating along with her confession. Finn clears his throat, and the sound echoes off the silent truck walls.

"She wasn't," he starts hesitantly. " She wasn't always- she used to be different, you know?"

She turns her full body towards him, eyes widening in anger.

"Are you defending her?" she hisses.

"No," he says quickly. "No. I just-"

"You're an idiot," she tells him, trying to fill as much disdain in those three words as she possibly can. "She cheated on you, and you're defend-"

"I'm not defending her!" he yells. He turns towards her, glaring at her when he says this, his face red. She glares right back at him.

"I'm just-" He sighs, leaning back against his seat, eyes upfront. "Forget about it," he mutters.

"Fine," she spits out.

She stares out the window gloomily, ignoring his presence. It's just as well, anyway. She is not some rebound girl, and if Finn Hudson thinks that he can just swoop in and fool her into thinking that she's that easy, well then he has another thing coming. She will not be heartbroken, because there is nothing between them anyway. What in the world was she thinking, even entertaining the thought that someone who was obviously stupid enough to hang around Quinn Fabray for four years could ever be someone worth knowing anyway? They're all the same, aren't they? He was probably pretending all this while. All that talk about wanting to change things, wanting to be different. That was all just part of his bullshit story so he could use her, wasn't it? Obviously, he's still hung up on that- that-

"My house is that way," she says shortly. "Are you deaf?" she asks angrily when Finn ignores her. He drives past the junction to her street, speeding up. She keeps quiet for about five minutes, until he turns into the park.

"This is kidnap! You're withholding me-"

"Shut up."

"I won't-"

He stops the truck abruptly, and she almost bangs her head against the dashboard, but he holds out his arm to push her back in her seat.

"What the hell is your problem?" he spits out, his eyes flashing as he turns to look at her.

"My problem? You're the one kidnapping me-"

"Shut up."

"Stop telling me-"

"You're crazy, you know that? You don't just walk out of the fucking party and not tell me. Do you have any idea how worried I was? And what were you gonna do? Walk home?"

"It's not-"

"And you're mad at me? What the hell did I do?"

"Forget it-"

"No. Tell me. What did I do? What, did Quinn say something? She said something to you. I know she did. What-"

"It's not important."

"Like hell it isn't." His tone is impatient, but he's not yelling anymore. She keeps quiet, resolutely staring out the window. She sees that all the fight has left him when he lets out a deep sigh, turning to her like he's exasperated.

"I'm sorry," he finally says.

"For what?"

"For- for whatever it is that made you so pissed off. But for the record, I wasn't trying to defend Quinn-"

"I-"

"I was trying to defend me," he finishes quietly. Well. That was unexpected. She sends him a shrewd look, trying to gauge how earnest he's being. She can't tell, so she rolls her eyes.

"There," he says, pointing towards her.

"What?"

"That look on your face. "

"What look on my face?"

"That judgey look. That squinty, judgey thing you did when you said that you hate her. You were looking at me like you hate me too."

She stares at him. In the dark, it's hard to see the exact expression on his face, but his tone is serious enough.

"You were looking at me like I'm exactly like the rest of them," he mutters.

"And are you?"

"I don't know," he shoots back wryly. "You tell me. Am I?"

It's quiet in the truck as she collects her thoughts. She will concede that she's been acting a little… unreasonable, since her encounter with Quinn. But he'd also managed to say exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time, and can anyone blame her? Okay they can, just a little. She feels slightly sheepish, tucking her hair behind her ears before she speaks again.

"Tell me the truth, okay?" she says quietly. He doesn't respond, so she forges ahead. "Am I- Am I your rebound?"

"What?"

"Your rebound girl."

The silence in the truck is awkward, and she wishes that she'd turned the radio on before.

"You came looking for me," he finally says after a minute. She sucks in a breath like she's been sucker-punched, and nods curtly.

"So you feel sorry for me-"

"That's not what I said-"

"It's okay, Finn. You don't-"

"Stop saying things I didn't say like I said them!" She blinks at him in confusion. "You know what I mean," he mutters, annoyed.

"I-"

"Look, I've known Quinn for a long time, okay? Like, since before high school. She'd-"

"You don't have to-"

"No," he says forcefully, ignoring her. He reaches out to take her hand, and she almost pulls away, but his grip is firm. "Just listen to me, okay?"

She wants to say no, she doesn't have to listen to him talk about Quinn Fabray. She doesn't want to listen to him talk about Quinn Fabray.

"Fine."

"Good. Okay. Okay, so we've known each other for a long time, you know? She moved here the summer before school started, and the three of us, me and Puck and Quinn, we hung out a lot that summer. She was different then. She was nice, and- and really pretty, you know? She was-"

"Please spare me the lecture on Quinn Fabray's flawless beauty," she mumbles. She could swear that there's a smile on his face when she said that, but it disappears quickly.

"We- we started dating at the end of summer, and we just, stayed together. You know, until we didn't." he continues, evidently cutting his story mercifully shorter. "I- I thought I loved her."

"Until she cheated on you," she says bluntly.

"Until she cheated on me."

"With your best friend."

"With Puck."

"So she broke your heart."

"Not exactly."

"Of course she did. You loved her, and she cheated on you. I mean, you gave Puck a black eye that lasted like, a whole month-"

"Four days-"

"And you were together all through high school-"

"We broke up before graduation-"

"So of course, she broke your heart," she finishes. He doesn't say anything to that, and she doesn't know why his silence hurts so much. What did she expect would happen anyway? Did she think he was going to deny it? Clearly, he's not over Quinn, if what he just told her is anything to go by, and- and she really was the one to seek him out, wasn't she? So she has only herself to blame for this- this ache in her chest.

"Can you keep a secret?" he asks suddenly. "I mean, you really can't tell this to anyone."

"Who would I tell?"

"Not even Kurt. Especially, not Kurt."

"I don't tell Kurt everything," she says, annoyed. In fact, the last thing she talked to Kurt about was NYADA, and that was before he went on his summer vacation with Blaine. Finn turns back in his seat. The only light around them is from the streetlight outside, and it bounces off his face like shadows. He frowns, his eyes pinched so tight together, she wonders how it doesn't give him a headache.

"Quinn was pregnant."

Those three words punch through the silence around them., almost like he had screamed them out. He refuses to look at her, choosing instead to stare at the steering wheel in front of him.

"She's having a baby?" she whispers. Finn shakes his head. "But you just said- oh. You mean she-"

"She didn't get an abortion," he says quickly. An image of Quinn forms into her mind suddenly. For the first two years of high school, the girl had been the president of the Abstinence Club before it disbanded in junior year. She doesn't know why she's thinking about that exactly, just that life is ironic, she guesses.

"Was it yours?" she asks carefully. He turns to look at her finally, a humorless smile on his face.

"She wanted me to think it was."

"I-"

"We were together for four years, you know? And I never pushed her for anything. And then it was senior year, and she was suddenly-" he stops. She can see him trying to form his words. "We had sex on prom night. I figured it was Prom, you know? Everyone does it on prom night. And-"

"You don't have to tell me this," she says quietly. Carefully, she reaches out to take his hand. His body is tense when she touches him, but he relaxes when she weaves her fingers through his.

"I want to," he says quietly. "I've never told anyone any of this. But I want to tell you."

"Okay."

"It was Friday. Date night and all that. Her parents were out of town, and I was at her house, and she told me that she wanted to tell me something. But then she just- she just doubled over, you know? She was screaming so hard, man, I thought she was going to die or something. I freaked out. So I took her to the hospital, and- and the doctor told me that she lost the baby."

"You thought it was yours," she says quietly. He nods, the lines on his face hard.

"For like, ten seconds, until the doctor said that she was three months along. Which, I may not be the smartest guy in the world, you know, but prom was just the week before, and we haven't been- we haven't been doing all that much the last few months, you know? I mean, I thought it was just 'cause we were both too busy, but apparently she was busy screwing Puckerman on the side."

"Finn-"

"So when she woke up, that night, I told her I knew what was going on, and I told her that we were done. And that Monday I went to school, and I beat the crap out of Puck, and I told him to stay the hell away from me. And I- I haven't spoken to either of them ever since." He looks at her, smiling sardonically. "So, really, Rachel, defending Quinn is probably the last thing I want to do."

"I'm sorry," she says softly. "I'm so sorry, Finn."

He shrugs, like it's not a big deal, but his face is still tense, and he's gripping her hand so hard that it hurts.

"I'm not heartbroken," he tells her. "I'm pissed off. I wasted four years of my life with them. He was my best friend. And she was- she was-"

"A bitch," she finishes helpfully. He snorts, but he doesn't argue with her. He loosens his hold, but he doesn't let go of her hand. She realizes that she had inched closer to him while he talked, and he's leaning closer towards her now too. Her heart beats a little faster.

"She said that you were just using me," she says quietly, focusing her attention on their interlocked hands. "She said that you're not interested in someone like me."

"Like what?" he asks quietly. She turns to look at him, a sour look on her face as she recites what Quinn said.

"A midget Jewish version of the Virgin Mary."

She knows that a smile is tugging at his lips, and starts to pull her hand away, upset.

"I like midget Jews," he says suddenly, grinning.

"Don't make fun of me," she mutters.

"Sorry," he says, sober.

"But she's right, you know. I mean, what are you doing with me? I'm not even- I've never even kissed a boy-"

"You haven't?" he asks, surprised. She feels her face burning as she shakes her head.

"I mean, I've kissed boys. I've kissed Kurt a hundred times on stage, and- and Jesse St. James once during A Christmas Carol. And- ugh, Jacob Ben Israel kissed me on prom night," she says, shuddering at the memory of those fish lips on hers. "Without my consent, might I add. But- but those don't really count, you know?"

She groans dramatically, letting go of his hand to cross her arms over her chest in a huff.

"I'm going to be the only 18 year old virgin in New York City who's never been kissed before. It's not funny!" she exclaims, annoyed, when he chuckles.

"I didn't say it was!"

"You were snickering at me."

"Sorry. I just- if you wanna kiss someone, then just do it."

"Yeah, it's that easy," she mutters.

"Hey, if you'd stayed at Mike's party and played Spin the Bottle, you could have kissed someone in five minutes, tops."

"That's not what I meant," she huffs. She's losing control of this conversation. How did that happen?

"Or, if your dad wasn't standing watch behind the window yesterday, it could have happened too."

"I- what?"

Her head snaps in his direction. He's not looking at her, and it's too dark to see whether or not he's blushing as furiously as she is right now. She thinks of that kiss yesterday, that small peck on his cheek. He hadn't said anything while she walked away, hadn't mention it at all since yesterday or this morning, and it was all she could think about, until Quinn had taunted her.

"Rachel," he says quietly, looking up at her. "I really like you."

"I really like you too," she confesses. A smile pulls his lips up and he takes her hand again, pulling her towards him. He leans in closer, until she feels the heat of his body closing in on her, and even though she knows what's happening, and even though it's stupid, she opens her mouth anyway.

"What are you doing?" she asks quietly. He chuckles, and she focuses her attention on the dimples on his cheek. He leans closer, and she stays still, closing her eyes when their noses touch.

"I'm kissing you," he murmurs against her lips, right before he does it. He kisses her, and she wonders if he could feel her lips the way she feels his, slightly dry and warm. Tentatively, she kisses him back, holding his hand tighter when she feels him smile. It doesn't last very long, which is a good thing, she guesses, because the butterflies in her stomach are threatening to tear right through her skin.

He pulls back, but she can still feel his breath against her lips, and it's making her dizzy. Slowly, she blinks her eyes open to see him grinning at her.

"Now you're just going to be the18 year old virgin in New York City who's kissed someone. I'm pretty sure there are still a few of those."

His teasing words break through the haze in her mind and she giggles, playfully nudging his shoulder.

"Shut up," she murmurs, leaning in to kiss him again.

Xxx

She finds out that kissing makes the days go by faster.

Kissing Finn, really, makes her whole entire world feel like it's spinning out of control, but that's okay, because he stands still, and she holds on to him.

She likes kissing Finn. She likes kissing Finn a lot, and he likes to kiss her too, if the number of times he'd pulled her in and planted one on her was anything to go by. Things aren't really different, she thinks. They do the same things that they've always done in the last month and a half. She hangs out at Burt's garage when he's working. They go to the park sometimes, and the bowling alley (she's still losing, but she's gaining her points), and they still play video games (and she still dies within the first five minutes). It's just that the in-between moments are now filled with Finn's lips glued to hers, and her tongue in his mouth, which to be honest, is much, much better than before. Much better.

Sometimes she felt like maybe his hand was touching her boob, but he pulled away quickly and she wondered if it was just an accident. The thought that she actually did want him to touch her boobs made her blush so hard that sometimes, he'd actually ask her if she was okay. They went to his house to make that Youtube video. Or at least, the plan was to make that Youtube video. They were going to sing a Journey song, and Finn was going to be on his drums. And honestly, she still doesn't know what came over her. It was just that watching him behind the drums, and the way the muscles on his arm moved with each beat left her a little hot and bothered.

So they didn't make that Youtube video, but they did end up making out on the floor of his basement for the next two hours, and he did end up really touching her breasts then, and she did finally figured out just why she wanted him to. Until she heard his mom come home, and Finn shot up and pulled her up with him faster than she's ever seen him do anything. It was a little endearing too, watching him try and fail to button up her blouse, his face white as a sheet.

She hasn't really asked him what they are. She's not sure if she wants to. She did ask him what they were doing once, when they were in her room and he had his hand up her shirt, which in retrospect, was probably the worst time to ask anyone anything. But because he's Finn, and he was used to her by then, all he did was smile and kiss her on the lips.

"We're having fun," he told her, that heart-melting grin on full effect. That was good enough for her.

Trying to put a label on their relationship will only complicate things. They have twenty days of summer left. She's leaving for New York at the end of it, and he's leaving for Columbus a few days after that, and summer will be over. She's not stupid enough to think that anything could come of it. They're going to be miles and miles apart, and she's hell-bent on never coming back to Lima until she absolutely has to, and Finn. Well, she's certain that it's only going to take him a little while to forget about her. He's going to be the big man on campus, just like he was in high school, and with all the girls that will be hanging off his arm, Rachel Berry will soon be just a distant memory.

She tells herself not to be hurt by this, because she shouldn't expect anything more. They're together now because it's convenient, that's all. They're together because they're both stuck in Lima with no one else who understands them. Once they both get out, once they both meet new people, it's only going to be a matter of time before they both move on, and this summer will be exactly what it was supposed to be for her. Her last, and only, great summer in Lima.

She tells herself not to get hurt by this.

But sometimes, when he opens doors for her, or when he laughs at her jokes (or even when she's not joking), or when he holds her close and tells her that she looks pretty with that small smile on his face, sometimes she just can't help that ache in her chest.

Xxx

She's been counting down the days until she leaves. She's been counting down the days since she was fourteen years old, if she were honest, but this time it's different. She's not counting down the days until New York.

She's counting down the days until she leaves Finn.

She watches him as he works on Mr. Ryerson's pink cadillac. As always, Finn is the last to leave the workshop. Greg left ten minutes ago, reminding Rachel to lock up before they go (because Finn always forgets). She likes watching him work. His face is always set in this grim, determined expression, his eyes focused and his hands almost graceful as he changes one car part for another. It also helps that he looks good in his coveralls. Really good. She smiles to herself when she remembers two days past, when Finn had allowed her to 'work' on a car with him. It was just a simple oil change, but he'd made her change into his extra uniform anyway.

"You don't want to get your dress dirty," he told her.

She had drowned in his coveralls, and had to roll up every sleeve until she came out looking like a little girl playing dress-up. He'd laughed at her, and she rolled her eyes, andopted to ignore his guffaws as she stood next to him at the hood of the car.

"You look good in my uniform," he teased.

"Stop ogling me," she joked.

Okay, so he did all the hard parts. All she really did was refill the oil and close the hood. And he taught her how to check the pressure and- well, and then they moved on to other things. She never knew that making out in a stranger's car could be so thrilling. She feels the heat move from her cheeks up to her ears when she thinks about the way he'd-

"What are you thinking about?" Her head snaps up to find him standing right in front of her, his hands on his hips. He's looking down at her in amusement.

"Nothing."

"Your face looks like a tomato right now," he teases. She rolls her eyes, decidiing to ignore him as she pulls him closer by the fabric of his uniform. He complies without fight, letting her pull him close until their knees are knocked together. Finn raises an eyebrow, stepping in to stand between her legs.

"Are you done?" she asks him, wrapping her arms around his waist.

"I was done like, five minutes ago. I've been talking to you, but clearly you haven't been listening."

He grins, resting his palm against the countertop on either side of her before he leans down to kiss her.

"What were you thinking about?" he asks against her lips. She shakes her head slightly, squealing when his hands travel up her hips to squeeze her waist. Did she mention how much she loves his hands? Finn is very good with his hands.

"You're going to get my dress dirty," she tells him as she pulls him closer, closing her eyes when his lips travel to the junction in her neck.

"So?"

"We're meeting Mike and Tina in an hour. I don't have time to change."

"We can cancel," he murmurs against her ear. She shivers involuntarily when his breath tickles her skin, and he holds her closer. She likes the feeling of his palm against her spine. His hands are big, and they make her feel safe when they cover the whole of her back. His kisses are starting to travel lower, and she knows that they need to stop before she loses her senses altogether.

"We can't," she tells him, pushing him back and ignoring his groan. "Mike is leaving tomorrow night, remember?"

His arms are still around her in a loose hold, and she giggles when he pouts.

"Poor baby," she teases.

"This is all your fault, you know."

"How is this my fault?"

"I can't help it if you're sitting there, fantasizing about me."

She gasps in mock outrage, even though her ears are starting to burn.

"I was not fantasizing about you!"

"Yeah, right. You know you have this look, right?"

"What look?"

"The look you get when you want me to kiss you. It's actually kind of obvious."

"Shut up," she mumbles, pushing against chest. "And go wash your hands."

"You don't have to be embarrassed about it," he teases, moving away from her when she tries to punch his shoulder. "I think it's cute."

"Go!" she exclaims, giggling. He turns to leave, acting like she just threw him out of the house.

"I'm going, I'm going. Oh, and Rachel?" he says, turning his head to look at her, a devious grin on his face. "You have grease on your nose."

He laughs as he walks to the sink and her hand automatically goes up to rub her nose. Sure enough, there's grease on her skin, and when she looks down, she notices his handprints on the sides of her dress.

"Finn!" she yells, annoyed. But there's still a small smile playing on her lips as she jumps off the counter to go after him. He's lucky that the dress she's wearing is practically black anyway.

Xxx

Their double date with Mike and Tina was cut short when Tina started crying halfway through dinner. Basically, it ended up being just a date, which was nice. She doesn't really know what it is about Finn that makes her feels so comfortable with him. Sometimes she feels like she's known him for years, and it's only been slightly more than two months. And in two weeks, this is going to be over, but she doesn't like to think about that.

He makes her laugh, and he likes to laugh at her. But not in a mean way, not the way some kids at school used to laugh at her. He laughs at her like he thinks she's funny, like she makes him laugh, you know? He has this smile, this small, beautiful smile he gets sometimes when he looks at her, and it makes her feel beautiful, and she's never ever felt beautiful before. He actually likes listening to her when she sings, and yes, she does have a spectacular voice, but not a lot of people do, you know, actually like listening to her sing. And when he kisses her, God. When he kisses her, he makes her feel like they're the only two people that exist in the whole wide universe. And, this may be entirely biased of her, being as inexperienced as she is, but she's convinced that Finn Hudson is the sweetest, most wonderful boy in the world, and she-

She loves him.

She can't help but love him.

But he's not her boyfriend, you know. And she's not his girlfriend. They're not a couple, they're just dating. They're just two people coming together while they're passing through. He's not her boyfriend. He's just a boy. He's just the first boy who had ever given her all these butterflies in her stomach, the first boy who had ever kissed her like he wanted her.

He's just a boy, and it's better that way.

Xxx

They're lying side by side on her bed, and he's distracted, listening to the song she's playing on her iPod. She turns on her side to study his profile, the slope of his nose and the freckles dusted on his face. She loves the shape of his neck. Is that weird? Loving the shape of someone's neck? But he's not just someone, he's Finn, and she loves his arms and his torso, and every little thing about him. And right now, she loves that look of concentration on his face.

She fidgets closer towards him, leaning in to press her face into his arm.

Seven days. She's leaving in seven days, and she's trying not to think about it. He's trying to do the same. She knows, because they were talking about Broadway the other day (well, she was), and he said that he couldn't wait to see her on stage, which made her smile, but he'd froze then, for just a second before he changed the subject. He doesn't like to talk about New York. Or Ohio State. They've stopped talking about the future about three weeks ago. They both prefer to live in the moment, to just enjoy each other's company and have fun.

She loves living in the moment with him.

It doesn't really take all that much to distract him. She kisses his arm, trailing her lips up to his neck. He chuckles, staying still while she moves over him, sitting up on her knees so that she could straddle him.

"Hi," he murmurs, grinning when they're face to face.

"Hi."

Finn leans forward to kiss her, his hands moving from his sides to rest on her hips. She's feeling bold today, and so she takes his hands and pushes them up to the curve of her breasts. He grins and turns them around swiftly, eliciting a small squeal of surprise out of her when her head lands on a pillow. He's holding himself up by one arm, the other hand already snaking its way under her dress.

"Pay attention to me," she says, looking up at him in what she hopes is a come hither stare.

"Okay," he mumbles, the heat of his palm burning her skin. He dives in to capture her lips, and the music on her iPod plays on, forgotten.

She really, really loves living in the moment with Finn.

Xxx

"Let's do it."

"Do what?"

She rolls her eyes, but her heart skips a beat at his question. His head is hidden under the hood of the car, but she can picture the confused look on his face, and it makes her smile in spite of herself.

"Sex, Finn," she says wryly. "Let's have sex."

The sound of his head hitting the hood is drowned out by the loud stream of expletives that leaves his mouth, and about five seconds later, he finally pops out from behind the car.

"Rachel!" he hisses, his eyes darting around the garage.

"Everyone is gone," she tells him, struggling not to laugh as she jumps off the counter. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," he mutters as she steps closer. She reaches him while he rubs the back of his head, frowning.

"So?"

She looks up at him expectantly. Finn's expression is somber, his eyebrows knitted close together. The look he's giving her is inscrutable.

"No," he finally says.

"Excuse me?"

"No, Rachel. We're not having sex."

"Why not?" she asks with slightly more umbrage then she meant to show. He's looking at her like she's crazy.

"You're leaving on Monday," he says, like that explains everything.

"So?"

"Rachel, I am not having sex with you when we're- when this is going to end in five days."

Their gazes hold for a long time, until she looks away and nods curtly.

"You don't want to sleep with me," she says evenly, her tone belying the way her heart seems to have caved in on itself.

"That's not what I said-"

"No, I get it, Finn. You don't want me. That's fine."

"Rachel-"

"I have to go. I have to- I have to- I have to go."

"Rachel! Rachel, would you wait- Rach-"

She ignores him, walking swiftly out of the garage and making a run for her car the minute she's out in the open. She can hear him swearing behind her, his footsteps coming closer, but she's quicker than that, and by the time he reaches out the door, she's already backing out of the driveway.

Xxx

He calls ten times by the time she reaches home, and she ignores each and everyone of it. She doesn't read any of his texts either, and when her fathers ask her if she's not feeling well and why she's home so early, she tells them that she is fine. She ignores him for the rest of the evening, and opts to spend her time fussing over her parents instead.

But her dads decide to turn in early, and by 11, she's already in bed with nothing to do. She stays under the covers, her eyes occasionally straying towards the phone on her dresser.

In the darkness, it's still lighting up every ten minutes. But there's nothing to be said between them. She wants to sleep with him, wants to share that part of her with him, and he turned her down. It's as simple as that. He doesn't want her. He likes her, but not as much as she likes him. She-

She's already standing, striding quickly across her room to pick up her phone.

She ignores all the missed calls, because she knows it's only from him. She opens his messages, and scrolls through all of them, fully intent and sending him a simple text ordering him to leave her alone. But she gets to the last one, and she hesitates.

I do want you.

It's stupid, really. It's just four words. Four normal, unextraordinary words strung together in one small, simple sentence. But it makes her heart skip a beat anyway. He calls her again, and she counts to three before she answers.

"Hello?"

"I'm outside."

Xxx

They've been quiet the whole car ride to the pool, and it's still quiet as he gives her a boost to climb over the barricade. She waits patiently for him, and their eyes meet when he straddles the wall. But before she could say a word, he's already jumping over. He stands below her with his arms open, and she jumps down.

They undress in silence. She strips down to her bra and panties before she walks to the edge of the pool, sitting down to dip her legs in the water. He sits next to her, and never in all the time that they have known each other, has it ever been this quiet. He breaks first.

"I'm sorry," he says quietly.

"It's okay," she mumbles. Finn slides into the pool to stand in front of her. He catches her gaze, smiling in reconciliation. He's cautious as he steps forward, carefully setting his hands on top of her thighs. It's his peace offering, she figures. The ball is in her court now. She smiles at him. It's a small smile, but it's a smile, and he relaxes.

"C'mon," he says, gently pulling her into the pool by her thighs. "Let's swim."

Xxx

"Mom and Burt are going away this weekend," he mumbles against her neck.

"Oh?"

"You can come over. On Friday night."

The pool wall is slippery against her back, but her legs are around his waist and he's pinning her to the edge, and it's really, really hard to focus on his words when he's doing what he's doing with his tongue right now. Her pulse races, her arms tightening around his neck.

"Okay," she mumbles. She leans forward to kiss him, but when they pull away, there's a look on his face that makes her wary.

"What?" she asks, even though she's afraid to. He shakes his head, sprinkling drops of water all over her face.

"Nothing."

"Liar."

"I-" His grip on her tightens, his hands going all the way around her. "Are you sure?"

"Finn-" she starts, sighing.

"No, I just. I don't want you to look back on this, and- and have this be a mistake, you know? I don't want you to rush into this, because it's- it's important."

"I know it is," she says quietly.

"And it should be special, for you. Your first time should be special, and you should do it with someone you- someone you love. Because I know what it feels like when you don't, you know? It really, really sucks, and-"

"I'm not Quinn-"

"I know you're not," he says quickly. "That's not what I'm trying to say. I just- I don't want you to regret it, Rachel."

It's quiet, safe for the sounds of their breathing and the gentle waves of the water around them. The look on his face is telling, and her heart feels like it's about to burst. She hates it, she hates that he had just put his feelings out on the table. They had a silent agreement, didn't they? They're supposed to be living in the moment.

But he's not letting her get away with that, is he? He's not letting them move forward if she doesn't put her heart out on the line. They haven't moved for minutes, and his gaze is still intently on her. She takes a deep breath.

"I'm not going to regret this," she tells him softly. "Finn, I- It is going to be special."

His gaze is searching. She leans forward to rest her head against the crook of his neck.

"Okay?" she whispers. He lets out a slow breath.

"Okay."

xxx

It turns out that the days go by even faster when sex is on the agenda. Three days fly by in the blink of an eye. They don't talk about it, they don't even acknowledge the fact that Friday exists. It's weird, you know? This whole thing where you know what you're about to do. It's weird to be aware that your whole life might change in one night, and still go on living life like everything is still the same.

She contemplates the option of buying lingerie, but she won't even know where to start, and the idea of asking someone for help makes her skin feel like it's about to break out into a rash. The idea of anyone being aware that Rachel Berry is about to have sex weirds her out. So she rummages through her closet within an inch of its space to look for her nicest pair of underwear. Most of the ones she owns have prints on them, little hearts and flowers and baby animals. And it's not like he hasn't seen some of them (she remembers with embarrassing clarity, his amusement at the picture of a baby Tasmanian Devil stamped on her butt. She forgot what she was wearing, okay?), but she wants to look sexy this time. She wants to feel sexy. She doesn't have any black underwear, but she does have some in dark purple, and she guesses that they will have to do.

When Friday arrives, she tells her dads that she's sleeping over at Tina's. She goes through the rest of the day in a blur, her mind fixated on only one thing. She doesn't see Finn for the whole day, doesn't even send him a text, and he does the same. And when it's finally seven p.m., she finds herself standing on his front porch, ringing his doorbell. His truck is the only vehicle in the driveway (and her car, she thinks), and it's another reminder of the fact that Rachel Berry is about to have sex.

It takes him a few minutes to get the door, and her hands are starting to feel clammy when it finally opens to reveal Finn, standing in front of her in his faded jeans and a red button-up shirt. He looks so handsome, and it unnerves her.

"Hi," he says breathlessly when he sees her.

"Hi," she answers, her voice coming out squeakier than she would have liked it to be. He invites her to come in, and they're both awkward, both painfully aware about what's going to happen. She's wearing her favorite sundress, the light pink one with small white flowers as the buttons, because he told her once that she looked pretty in it. He takes her to the dining room, and she's surprised to see the table laid out before them, complete with two candlesticks illuminating the darkened room.

"I'm not a very good cook," he says sheepishly as he pulls out a chair for her. "Actually, I just know how to use the microwave. So."

"This is perfect," she tells him, smiling. He cooked for her. Or, well, at least he microwaved for her, and she can't help thinking that it's the most romantic gesture in the world.

Dinner goes by comfortably. It doesn't take long to fall back into that familiar pattern between them.

But when he stands up to clear up their plates, her nerves set in again. She sits on her chair, feeling inept, as she waits for him. A million different thoughts run through her mind. She's not really processing even one of them. What if he thinks her underwear looks childish? What if he thinks her boobs are too small? What if- what if she's bad at this? What-

He clears his throat, and she jumps slightly at the sound. Rachel turns to see Finn standing behind her, both hands in the pocket of his jeans.

"Do you want to go upstairs?" he asks softly. There's a burn that's starting in the pit of her stomach, and it's threatening to freeze her on the spot.

"Yes," she says quickly, standing up to take his outstretched hand. "Let's go."

Xxx

His room is dimly lit. When she asked if he could turn the lights off, he'd stolen Kurt's reading lamp, from the next room, "so we don't like, bump into each other or anything". They're both barefoot, sitting on top of his comforter in the middle of the bed.

"Are you okay?" he asks her. She nods, probably quicker than she should. "Good."

"Good."

He leans forward to kiss her, and she lets him wrap his arms around her to pull her closer. She knows this part. She's actually pretty good at this part. He pushes her gently so that she's lying on her back, his legs resting between hers, and she's vaguely aware that her dress has ridden up to her hips. His hand moves from its position at her waist up to the buttons of her dress while he kisses her, his tongue teasing the rim of her lips. She lets him in, opening her mouth to deepen their kiss. She feels the heat in her belly rising in time with the rapid beating of her heart and-

Finn pulls away, swearing. She blinks up at him, wide eyed, to find Finn glaring at her chest.

"Are these buttons glued to your dress or something?" he complains. She takes in the frustrated look on his face, his disheveled hair and the fact that she'd managed to get most of his buttons undone with no problem, and bursts out laughing.

"Now is not the time to laugh, Rachel," he mutters in annoyance.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry. It's just- your face-"

She tries to keep a straight face, but his peeved expression only serves to make her laugh harder.

"Seriously. Stop."

"Okay, okay. Sorry," she apologizes, grinning. She reaches for her buttons to undo them herself. "Okay," she says when she reaches the last one. "I'm ready."

She looks up when he doesn't answer her. His eyes are fixated directly on her chest, and when his eyes finally meet hers, the expression on his face makes her shiver involuntarily. She reaches out, trailing her fingers over his torso to pull his shirt out of his jeans, and he lets her pull it off him. She takes off her dress while he stands to take off his jeans, and when he sits back down, he reaches forward to unclasp her bra. She doesn't move when he pushes the straps down her shoulders.

They've done this before too, been this close to one another in only their underwear. But the charge in the room feels different this time, and when he lies on top of her, the heat of his body burns right through hers.

"Rachel," he murmurs, their faces so close together, his lips brushing against her jaw. His fingers trail down her body, dips into her bellybutton and continues until they reach the waistband of her panties. She freezes for just a second, and he stops.

"We don't have to do this," he whispers in her ear. "I can stop right now."

"No," she says, shaking her head. She widens the space between her legs, wrapping every limb she has around him as tight as she can to pull him closer. "I don't want to stop," she whispers against his ear. He nods, and this time, when his hand slips between the fabric of her panties, Rachel closes her eyes and allows herself to relax.

"I'm not going to hurt you," he promises, and she knows this, because he's Finn.

He moves cautiously at first, and more purposefully when she starts to moan, certain that the burn beneath her skin is going to incinerate her. The heat in the pit of her stomach turns into a mass of tension, coiled tight, waiting for- waiting for something. His hands and mouth are everywhere as she waits and waits and waits- and suddenly, his teeth drags against the tip of her breast, two of his fingers are pressing somewhere deep inside her, and she arches her back, every inch of her body pressed close to every inch of his as the knot in her stomach uncoils, and she finds her release.

Xxx

He's still inside her, and it feels funny. The feel of him inside her, now when it's over, feels weird. But in a good way. She likes this funny feeling. He's still trying to catch his breath, his body heavy on hers. His skin is slick with sweat as it rubs against hers. She runs her fingers over his back, hugging him close.

"Are you okay?" he whispers. She smiles against his cheek.

"You keep asking me that. I'm fine. I'm great."

"Does it hurt?"

"Just a little."

"Do you want me to move?"

"Not yet."

"Okay."

His breaths are slow when he pulls away to look at her. He looks concerned, and it makes her smile. She leans up to kiss him softly.

"Now I'm going to be just another 18 year old in New York City," she jokes quietly. He smiles, but it doesn't reach his eyes the way it always does.

"I'm going to miss you, you know," he says quietly, leaning forward to lean his forehead against hers. There's a lump in the back of her throat, and a burn in the back of her eyes that she has been holding back for weeks now, and her vision blurs when she nods.

"I'm going to miss you too."

She wants to tell him that she loves him, the words are just at the tip of her tongue, but she doesn't. He finally moves, slowly pulling out of her and rolling away. She watches as he stands to dispose of the condom and puts on his boxers before coming back to lie next to her. His smile is small, almost shy, when he snakes his arm around her to pull her close. He falls asleep in minutes.

She doesn't tell him that she loves him.

Xxx

She leaves his house at five thirty, tiptoeing her way out of his room in the same clothes that she wore the night before. She didn't try to wake him up, and she didn't leave him any notes. And it isn't until she reaches home, quietly making her way up to her room, that she lets her emotions take over. It isn't until she's lying in bed with her curtains drawn, that lets herself cry.

Xxx

She spends her entire Saturday with her fathers.

She spends Sunday morning calling Tina to say goodbye, and the rest of the afternoon making sure that she has everything packed and ready for New York. She can't afford to forget anything, after all. Kurt finally comes home from his vacation that evening, and she spends close to an hour on the phone with him while he gushes about his boyfriend. He ends their conversation with a "See you in NYC," and she laughs at the excitement in his squeal.

She wakes up early on Monday morning, rolling her eyes affectionately at every sentimental thing her fathers say on their way to the airport.

She boards the plane at 10 a.m., and everything goes according to schedule.

He didn't call her once in two days. And she didn't call him either.

And this is how they end.

Xxx

It took her longer than she thought to get used to New York City.

She spends the first week in awe of everything, and because her fathers are still there with her, she spends the first week going to every Broadway show available. Kurt comes five days later with his parents in tow, and they both spend the weekend as wide-eyed tourists, gushing at every sight and sound. She hears his name once on Sunday, when Kurt is on the phone with him, and she swiftly leaves Kurt's room to say goodbye to her fathers.

She spends the second week homseick and depressed, because she has no friends, and her dance teacher hates her. She thanks God for Kurt, because he's literally the only good thing left in her life right then. They both huddle together in the hallways of NYADA, and life is not as hard to face, when there's someone there to face it with you.

They managed almost two whole months in their respective dorm rooms before they both plead with their parents to let them move out and move in together. They find an almost run-down loft forty minutes away from school, and with Kurt's eye for fashion and her secret talent of bargain hunting, they make it feel like home in no time.

Life in New York is busy and competitive and fast-paced, and she has no time for thinking. Any time spent away from honing her craft is time wasted, after all.

But she thinks about Finn Hudson sometimes, and she wonders what he's doing.

She wonders if he thinks about her.

Xxx

A whole semester flies by, and she's a city girl now. She hasn't been back to Lima, not since she left it months and months ago. She's Rachel Berry, NYADA darling and Broadway bound, and she spends her entire semester break as Carmen Tibedeaux's personal assistant. The money is good and the connections are even better, and Rachel has nowhere to go but up, up, up.

She misses Kurt though, because he went back to Lima during the break, and so when she wakes up one morning and hears the shower running, it brings a bright smile to her face. She jumps out of bed, forgoing her morning ritual of stretching, to run to the bathroom, calling his name.

"I thought you weren't coming in until tomorrow!" she squeals when she reaches the toilet door, frowning when it's closed. Since when did Kurt close the bathroom when he's in the shower? She shrugs, opening the door and making a beeline towards their bathtub.

"Kurt! What-"

Her words die in her throat the moment she pulls back the shower curtain, and the soap that he's holding falls with a thud on the bathtub floor. She's absolutely certain that she has been frozen on the spot, and it isn't until he moves to snatch the curtain away from her to cover himself, that she moves again.

"Hi," Finn says, his face as red as she's ever seen it.

Xxx

"I told you that Finn was coming to stay over for a few days while he's looking for his own place."

"Kurt Hummel. You did not!"

"I'm pretty sure I did," Kurt says, rolling his eyes from his seat on her bed.

"You didn't. Okay? I would have remembered."

She refrains from telling him that she remembers any time Kurt mentioned Finn's name, and that Kurt has only mentioned Finn in direct reference a total of twenty times since they've moved in together, and not once, was it in regards of Finn being here in the flesh.

"Oh come on, Rachel. What's the big deal? You act like you've never seen a naked man before. I was with you when you worked on that senior's play last year. Remember?"

"That is not the point, Kurt Hummel, and you know it! I-"

"Guys?"

Her head swivels towards the sound of his voice, and her face burns when his gaze falls on her. Finn stands in her makeshift 'doorway', grabbing the back of his neck. He looks away and starts talking to Kurt.

"Look, man. I don't want to cause any trouble. If you don't want me here, I can call Mike and ask if I can crash on his floor for a few days."

He's talking to Kurt, but she knows that he's really talking to her. She doesn't say anything, crossing her arms over chest as she glares at the floor.

"Don't be ridiculous, Finn. Mike lives in a dorm room, and you're my brother. You're always welcomed here." Kurt kicks her in the shin and she yelps, narrowing her eyes angrily at the boy on her bed when he eyeballs her. "Right, Rachel?"

She looks from Kurt to Finn, knowing that there's really nothing she can do about it by now. Finn Hudson is going to be living under her roof, because the universe hates her.

"Fine," she grounds out. "Stay."

"Are you sure?" he asks quietly. She grabs her handbag and slings it over one shoulder, walking swiftly past him towards the door.

"Make yourself at home," she tells him with a forced smile. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have a date."

Xxx

She pretends to be interested in what Brody has to say, but she can't fool herself. Her mind is back at home, back on Finn Hudson and the knowledge that he is not only in New York City (her turf), but that he's also living on her couch and, what did Kurt say? He's moving here?

"Rachel?" Her head snaps up to find Brody frowning at her.

"Yeah?"

"You okay? You're not all here right now."

"Sorry," she apologizes. "I'm just- work is really crazy right now. Carmen is really piling it up at the moment."

"Oh. I know what you mean. Cassandra's been hounding me to take over more of her classes next semester."

She gives him what she hopes is a commiserating smile when he launches into another story. It's karaoke night at Callbacks, and some freshman is going old school country tonight.

She thinks of Finn in the shower this morning, and she hates the fact that she'd noticed how much he's grown. He's leaner now, and scruffier, and- Mac Davis' Baby Don't Get Hooked on Me starts to play, and she glares into her drink.

It just figures, doesn't it?

Xxx

She dreads coming home more than anything in the world right now, but she resents the thought of allowing him to dictate her life in this way. This is her house, and if there's anyone who should feel uncomfortable in it, it should be Finn Hudson.

But still.

She enters the loft quietly, tiptoeing her way across the hallway to make it to her room. But Finn steps out of Kurt's side of the loft, and she freezes. He mirrors her stance.

"I- I thought you were on a date."

"I was. Brody had a work emergency."

"Oh."

"Well. Goodnight."

Her heart is racing when she enters her room, and that, more than anything, really really infuriates her.

Xxx

She's starting to wonder if it was possible to go through her day without getting stuck in an awkward encounter with Finn Hudson at least once. Or did the world tilt off its axis some time in the past week and she's somehow landed in an alternate reality where Finn Hudson is just everywhere?

He's there when she wakes up in the morning. He's there when she comes home in the evening. And even when he's not there, his things are. His jacket in on her couch, his shoes by the door, and let's not even start on his toiletries, and how her bathroom is starting to smell like Finn.

It's driving her crazy.

And the polite way he tries to avoid her and talks to her like she's nothing more than his brother's best friend is driving her even crazier.

Xxx

Brody asks her to go steady.

Not seriously. He thought it would be funny to joke about it. They've been in this 'open relationship' for close to four months now, which she's always been fine with by the way. It's not that she's keeping her options open or anything like that, but she's certainly not up for a serious relationship either.

But they've been going out for four months now, and so she's fully on board with playing along and saying yes.

He grins at her from across the table when she opens her mouth to speak.

"No."

xxx

There is this itch just beneath her skin. It started when she found him in her bathroom eight days ago, and it's breaking out onto the surface as she makes her trek back home. If her emotional quotient when leaving Brody at Callbacks could be considered numb, then as she reaches the entrance of her home, Rachel Berry has reached the precipice of her boiling point.

She stomps up the stairs to her loft, slamming the door behind her.

"Finn!" she yells. She waits for three seconds, and she yells his name again. She begins to stomp towards Kurt's room, but the bathroom door opens, and out steps the bane of her existence in nothing but a towel around his hips.

"You called?" he asks, running a hand through his hair to shake out the water.

"Yes," she says tersely. He cocks his head to the left as if to ask her what's up, and she snaps. "You're ruining my life!"

His eyes widen just a little bit, but he doesn't move from his spot, and she lets out a loud sigh as she stalks towards her room.

Xxx

"Rachel."

"Don't talk to me."

"Rachel, what happened?"

"Go away, Finn."

"Rachel-"

She pushes away the pillow that's covering her eyes and sits up with the intention of yelling at Finn Hudson for standing in her room. He doesn't look as sorry as he should be. In fact, he has his hands are on his hips, and he's glaring at her.

"What are you doing in my room?"

"You're being a real fucking bitch," he bites out. "You know that?"

She gasps, affronted.

"Excuse-"

"Fine, I get it. You don't want me here. Well guess what? I don't want to be here either, so I'm leaving tomorrow so you can get your fucking house back. I have done nothing but bend over backwards trying not to bump into you or to piss you off, and you have been treating me like a total ass all fucking week. So congratulations, princess! I'll be out of your prissy little hair tomorrow. Thank fucking God!"

Words cannot express the rage contained in every fibre of her being when he turns on his heels and walks right out.

"You- you asshole!" she fumes. She jumps out of bed, roughly snatching her pillow with her as she runs after him. He's standing by the couch and with surprisingly good aim, she throws her pillow as hard as she can. It hits him right on his head, and she watches, satisfied, as he balls his hands into fists at his sides. He turns around, the anger evident on his face.

"What the hell-"

"You never called!" she shrieks. His eyes widen in surprise, but fury clouds his expression again as she keeps yelling. "You slept with me, and you never called!"

"You left in the middle of the fucking night, Rachel!" he yells back. "You slept with me, and you ditched me in the middle of the night!"

"I waited for you to call! I waited. You made me feel like an idiot!"

"Yeah, because getting humped and dumped made me feel like a million bucks," he says sarcastically. She marches forward, ignoring the slight alarm she feels when he strides towards her too.

"I did not hump and dump you, you idiot," she seethes when she reaches him, standing at her full height as she looks up. "I gave you my virginity, and you!" she screams, pushing his chest in anger with every word. "Didn't! Call!"

"What do you care?" he yells. "You were the one who wanted things to be simple. You didn't want a long distance relationship, remember? And stop pushing me!"

"You were the one who just wanted to have 'fun'! And I never said that!"

"You didn't have to! You know how I know? Because you fucking left me in the middle of the night!"

"I wanted you to call!" she screams, angry tears running down her face as she punches him in the chest again. But he blocks her punch, his fingers curving around her wrist in a deadlock.

"How the fuck was I supposed to know that?"

"You just are! Because we had sex! Because it was special, and because I loved you, you idiot!"

"Well I loved you too!"

"Fine!" she screams. "Let go of me!"

He does, dropping her hand like it burns. Her heart is racing furiously against her chest, her breaths coming in short heaves as silence overtakes them. He's leaning down so far, his nose is almost touching hers, and from where she's standing, she can see the red hue of his cheeks and the golden flecks in his eyes. She takes in a lungful of air, and he exhales, the sound bouncing off their vacuum of silence.

Her vision blurs. She breathes out, and turns to walk away.

She ignores her tears, letting them fall just as long as she can keep the sob in her throat down. She won't let him hear her cry. She won't-

She's yanked back against a solid chest, and before she could blink, he twists her body as his lips come crashing down against hers. She doesn't think, her brain must have melted, because she finds herself turning completely to throw her arms around his neck. She yanks at his hair and Finn growls, picking her up with one hand and wrapping her leg around his waist with the other. She pulls away when he pushes her back against the wall, gasping for breath when his lips move down her jaw and up to the sensitive spot at the curve of her ear.

"I've been wanting to do this since the moment I saw you," he breathes, hot air tickling her ear. His face is scratchy against her skin, and she shivers when he drags his nose down to the curve of her neck.

"What are we doing?" she murmurs. "I'm mad at you."

But she pulls him closer as she says this, pulling his head up to kiss him again while his hand creeps up beneath her shirt. He pulls back, but only far enough that their lips are still touching. She moans when his hand reaches up to her breast, ignoring the curve of his smile against her lips.

"No you're not," he murmurs. "Because you're still in love with me."

"I'm really not," she whispers back. She leans back, letting him pull her shirt up over her head. "I hate you."

"Yeah. As much as I hate you."

His palm starts from the edge of her skirt up to the bottom of her bra, the heat from his skin leaving imprints on hers when he curves his hand around the shape her spine and pulls her against him to carry her back to her room.

"I do hate you," she murmurs, her lips leaving a hot trail from his cheek down to his collarbone. His fingers reach up to unclasp her bra and she bites down gently on his neck. "I hate you so much."

"Rachel," he says, his amusement laced around her name as he throws her gently down on her bed.

"What?" she asks, a smile growing on her face when he presses his body close to her.

"Shut up."

He kisses her again, slow and long and deep, and she decides to listen to him.

Xxx

Kurt comes home to find her shirt thrown carelessly on the living room floor, her pillow wedged between the couch and the coffee table, and half of her bra hanging out of her makeshift doorway.

Kurt comes home to find Finn with his arms wrapped tight around Rachel's waist, fast asleep, and her face pressed against the crook of his neck.

They wake up to Kurt's loud and shrill screams, his eyes wild and crazy as he demands for an explanation, "right this fucking second!".

Finn bolts upright while she pulls her sheets up to her chest, and while his brother and her best friend is still screaming his head off, they turn to look at each other.

"I'm living here now," he tells her quietly. "I got my credits transferred to NYU. I figured it was time for me to make a change, you know? Be braver, more like you."

"You think I'm brave?" she asks him, smiling at the memory of their conversation by the pool months and months ago. He grins, and she remembers all over again why it's so easy to fall in love with his smile.

"You were brave enough to tell me you love me," he says quietly. His hand reaches out for hers under the covers, locking their fingers together.

"So were you."

She's vaguely aware of Kurt's presence in the room. All she sees is Finn, and all she can think about is the fact that Finn loves her, and that he's here, and that he's staying.

"Welcome to New York City, Finn," she whispers, leaning up to kiss him. They ignore Kurt's shriek, and he pulls back, tightening his hold on her hand.

"It's good to be here."


And I'm so glad that this has taken me so long
'Cause it's the journey that made me so strong