Date With Destiny
Rachel pushed through the crowd at the Lima Bean and snatched the cup from the barista as a few people stared in shock at the crazy midget who seemed to be in desperate, borderline-obsessive need for caffeine. Uncharacteristically, she glared at each and every one of them before stomping off and primly dropping into a chair at an empty table near the back of the café. She was just not in the mood today.
She'd been stressing about it and making pie charts and flow charts and pros and cons lists, and she was honestly all out of problem-solving strategies. The truth was right in front of her.
She could do it.
She could marry Finn and live the Broadway dream.
She was Rachel Barbra Berry, damn it! If anyone could do it, it would be her. She would break the yolk people had shoved onto her to be some washed-out dreamer. She would be the loser theater geek who married the popular quarterback in high school and became the star. She could and she would do it.
She took a sip of her drink, relishing the burn and sharp tang of pure, unadulterated coffee. If she couldn't take a swig of whiskey at this hour of the morning, this would have to suffice. She was contemplating the merits of drinking coffee without cream and sugar when a voice forcibly wrenched her out of her thoughts and slammed her back into reality.
"You, my dear, are way too beautiful to look that troubled."
Rachel froze and slowly tore her eyes from her coffee to drag her gaze up to the man in his late twenties or early thirties who stood behind the chair in front of her. Blue-gray eyes stared down at her intently, gently framed by wispy dark brown hair. The smirk on his handsome face could only be classified as devilish. His stance was relaxed, one hand lazily wrapped around a coffee cup and the other hidden in the pocket of his cleanly-ironed back slacks.
"Like what you see?" he asked in his smooth, deep voice.
Rachel balked up at him. "Wha—I-I j-just—"
She prided herself on being the girl who wasn't easily flustered by the opposite sex—especially now that she was engaged, but this man was so obviously different. Everyone in Lima was bundled up in parkas and thick, fleece coats and scarves, but he looked like he'd swaggered right off a New York City or Los Angeles billboard. His black coat was long and open, revealing a black scarf lackadaisically slung around his neck and a deep, dark red button-down shirt and black tie.
What in God's name was he doing in Lima, of all places?
"Relax," he said reassuringly as his smirk widened into a warm smile when he swept his coat back and sat down in the chair. "I look like such a fish out of water, huh?"
All she could do was nod at the Abercrombie & Fitch model who'd decided to invite himself to her table.
The man took a sip of his own drink before setting it down and holding out his left hand for her to shake. "I apologize. My manners seem to have shriveled up and died. I'm Lucas."
She hesitantly reached out and took his hand, but instead of shaking it, he twisted and pulled it up against his lips, dropping a very warm, very electrified kiss on her skin and making her jump. If it had been anyone else, she would've ripped her hand back, jumped up, and sprinted away, but there was something about this man—something strange and alluring that kept her rooted to her seat.
"I-I'm Rachel," she answered as he rubbed her knuckles once before releasing her hand. "Rachel Berry."
"It's nice to meet you, Miss Rachel Berry," he said good-naturedly. Then he leaned forward in his seat and asked, "So because I was raised with a certain set of morals, I'm obligated to feel concern over the fact that you are, for all intents and purposes, currently a damsel in distress."
She stared at him in disbelief—at him, at what he said, and the completely and utter appropriateness of the situation. Her eyes darted down to the ring on her finger, and she noticed that his eyebrows shot up.
"So, Rachel Berry, tell me about him," he said with a small, knowing smile.
She blanched. "A-About whom?"
He smirked. "About the boy who tried to stake a very valuable claim with a very cheap ring."
She swallowed and blindly reached for her cup to take another drink only to find that her coffee, which had been scalding hot not one minute ago, was now lukewarm as if someone had dropped a couple of ice cubes into it.
"Is it really that obvious?" she asked, trying to exert as much calm into her tone as possible.
He chuckled and patted her hand consolingly, seeing right through her feeble attempts at acting in real life. "Don't think you're so transparent. I just have a knack for noticing things. Couple that little talent with a few too many episodes of Criminal Minds, and you've got a man with too much time and skills on his hands."
She narrowed her eyes at him suspiciously, but she couldn't stifle the smile that crossed her features as she studied him.
He cocked an eyebrow at her expression. "Do I have something on my face?"
She shook her head. "No, I'm just—"
"Gauging whether I'm an overly-concerned citizen or a flat-out creeper?" he finished candidly.
She bit her lip and shook her head in amusement. "Yeah, sure, I guess."
He shrugged unaffectedly. "You're right to think so. I promise you, though, I'm not a creeper."
She stamped down the urge to reply with a "that's what they all say."
"I just knew a couple of other girls like you," he explained. "Got married straight out of high school or before they even graduated."
She frowned. "And…?"
He studied her carefully, and she broke eye contact under his inscrutable gaze. Then he finally answered, "And they're not exactly in the happiest of situations. I'll admit that I'm a sucker for an angst-ridden story once in a while, but with society's current fascination with bittersweet endings, I've developed a craving for a good old happily-ever-after."
"That's the thing," she said emphatically. "I'm not even looking for a happily-ever-after. I just…I just want to have a good, happy future."
"Isn't that what a happy ending is?"
"No, a happy ending is a fairy tale. I want the fights, I want the love, I want the bad times, and I want the good times. I want the whole spectrum—what makes up a good relationship."
"But I want the good times to outweigh the bad, and the more I try to pull myself back and analyze my relationship, I realize that I'm constantly forcing things to work. I'm taking the bad things and rationalizing to make them into good aspects."
"Well, you do have to put a certain amount of work into a relationship."
"But not like this," she countered. "When two people love each other, they'd naturally drift together, right?"
"But what I'm doing is pushing off from the banks to get to him or he's dragging me against the current, and I'm worried that even though everyone has to put in a certain amount of effort into their relationships, we're putting in too much. And I can't afford to bring that kind of issue with me to New York City, to my dreams."
Lucas blinked. "Well, it seems to me like you already know the answer to your problems."
"But I don't."
"Because I love him."
"And love immediately erases all your problems?"
"So if your parents abuse you, you'd stay with them? After all, they are your parents, and you do love them, right?"
"That's not the same—"
"Oh, yes, it is, sweetheart."
"But the fact of the matter is that even though I'm going against the current or pushing off the banks, we're still on the same river. We're still…in love, and I can't just try and cover that up with the bad things. Every relationship has its ups and downs."
He suddenly held up a hand and fixed her with a very intense stare. "Stop."
"No. Do you see what you're doing? You're arguing in circles. You're rationalizing and realizing what your problems are only to rationalize them again. You're turning yourself around. On one column, you have the entire world against your relationship, and on the other side, you see exactly how much you love him. Now put both sides on a scale. Which one outweighs the other?"
"Love," she answered simply.
"Now take off the world and put your dreams in its stead—put down the one thing you want most in the world. And which one outweighs the other?"
She grimaced. "I don't know…they're…the same. Which means that I have the determination and the drive to have both, right? To be able to work at it enough to achieve my goals?"
He frowned at her. "You can't function on drive alone, Rachel. You'll burn out."
"But I can do it."
"You can. But think of what you're sacrificing. Out of everything you've told me, it seems to me that you're the only one working in this relationship. You're the one swimming around while he's just there."
"But that was a metaphor. He does a lot for me."
"Oh, really?" he asked skeptically, a bemused smile suddenly appearing on his face. "Think real hard. What has he done that was so significant as to warrant your love? What has he given up for you?"
Her mouth opened and closed for three full seconds before he held up another hand to stop her again.
"I'm going to give you something," he said, holding out an open, empty palm. "I'm going to give you a formula—a structure in which you can plug in all the information of your problem to find your answer."
"Lucas, I've made enough lists, charts, and graphs to rival NASA. I don't—"
"This isn't a list, a chart, or a graph, Rachel," he said with a sly smirk and a dangerous twinkle in his eye. "This will give you a real, legitimate answer to what you should do with your relationship. It won't be another variable, it will be an actual number."
She frowned at him suspiciously. "Okay, what is it?"
His smirk grew. "You have to give me something first."
"What do you want? Biscotti? More coffee?"
He laughed—deep and infectious. "No. That's an obscenely unequal trade."
"So what are you asking for? My soul?" she teased.
He shook his head and leaned forward, shocking her into immobility by reaching out and lifting her chin with a finger. "A kiss."
Then he bent and pressed his lips to hers. She expected a jolt of lightning—much like what had happened when he kissed her hand. Instead, a slow warmth spread across her face before a ripple of energy seemed to course through her body.
Her eyes snapped open, but instead of seeing Lucas's face, she saw Finn's. She jerked back in surprise only to clamp her hand over her mouth when she saw that she was no longer in the Lima Bean but rather in the middle of the living room of a home she didn't recognize.
"Happy Valentine's Day, Rach. Sorry I'm late," Finn said, handing her the box of chocolates the bouquet of roses. "Work was crazy."
He set his bag down on the couch before turning back to her and sliding his arms around her waist to drop another kiss on her cheek. He looked…older.
And then she realized that she was dreaming. She had to have been dreaming. Because if she was now having a glimpse of her future, she had to be dreaming. Because this was all too damn surreal for words.
"Are you ready to go?" he asked, snapping her out of her reverie.
She glanced down to see that she was wearing a short green dress and platform heels. "Uh…yes?"
He shot her a funny look. "Aren't you gonna put the flowers in a vase?"
She stared at him in confusion before snapping to attention and walking out of the living room to try and figure out the layout of the house. Thankfully, the kitchen wasn't too far, and she was able to immediately locate an empty vase in a cupboard. She used the time it took to fill up the vase and set the roses to calm her racing mind and heart.
This was all a dream, and all she'd have to do was go along with it.
That's why her coffee got cold so quick. Lucas spiked her drink with some…liquid that made her…have some funky dreams…and…
Strong arms suddenly wrapped around her middle again, and she turned to see Finn smiling down at her warmly. And if this had been a normal situation, his gaze would've been more than enough to calm her nerves, but this was just a whole new level of crazy. And no amount of fond glances could keep her hands from shaking.
"Hurry up," he said, patting her butt affectionately. "We're gonna be late for our reservation."
Go along with it, she chanted in her head. Go along with it.
"O-Okay. Let me just…grab my coat then?"
He shot her a funny look and a goofy smile. "If you don't feel like freezing your skin off, by all means. Honey, are you okay?"
She nodded vigorously. "Of course! I'm fine! I'm great! It's Valentine's Day, we're going out, we're going to have a wonderful, romantic evening, and—oh, look!—we're married and everything will be perfect!"
Clenching her left hand and feeling very aware of the wedding band on her finger, she dashed back out into the living room as fast as the platform heels would let her. She needed to get out of this house as quickly as possible before Finn realized exactly how lost she was in "her" own home.
"Rachel, honey, are you okay?" Finn demanded worriedly, chasing after her.
"I, uh, just had one too many espressos earlier, and now I'm all hyped up for Valentine's Day! Yay!" she babbled nervously, grabbing her coat off the arm of the couch. "Let's go!"
She practically dragged him out the door and froze on the stoop because she remembered that she had absolutely no idea where to go after that.
Finn wrapped an arm around her shoulders and checked his watch. "I called the taxi already. He should be here in a couple of seconds."
Apparently his "couple of seconds" translated into a solid twenty minutes—fifteen of which Rachel spent sitting on the couch in the living room debating with herself on whether or not to start exploring the place.
"Rach, I'm really sorry about this," Finn said morosely. "I called them early, but…"
"It's Valentine's Day, Finn. Cabs are probably going nuts chauffeuring around the couples," Rachel pointed out soothingly. "Uh, which restaurant are we going to again?"
He grinned and stuffed his hands into his pockets sheepishly. "Sardi's—just like when we were here for Nationals junior year."
Okay, good. Her location was established—New York City, just like she'd hoped. What she didn't think to hope for, on the other hand, was that Finn had grown up a little more. She didn't think it was possible for anyone, but either he had the worst luck or his reservation skills were horrendous. Or…you know, completely nonexistent.
She supposed her apparent successful career was the saving grace to keep from being publicly humiliated when the maître d' approached them and asked for their reservation. There was a two-second pause after Finn said her name and the maître d' frowned in confusion because he couldn't find their name on the list. And then the rest of the patrons broke out into applause and brava's.
The maître d' grinned and led them to a VIP table, passing patrons who congratulated Rachel on her Tony and praising her performance—what performance, she had no idea, but she was blushing and thanking them as humbly as she could.
If that was the end of the night, she would've been happy—perfectly happy with her "future."
Sadly, that was not the result.
Yes, he was sweet and ordered for her in such an authoritative tone that she brooked no argument, thinking he knew what he was doing.
"How long have we been married?"
He looked up from his wine to smile at her fondly. "Eight years."
She forced a small, tight smile out. "We've been married for eight years. Carbonara has cream in it, did you know? Cream and eggs?"
His eyes widened, but she knew it wasn't because he realized his mistake. He just realized that he'd done something wrong, but he still had no clue as to exactly what it was.
She blinked. Eight years. Eight years of marriage on top of the three years they'd been together.
And he still didn't know what being a vegan meant. He couldn't take two seconds out of his life to look up veganism on Wikipedia?
And she couldn't even use him being wrapped up in his job as an excuse for his negligence because EIGHT YEARS! That's like everyday information you didn't need to consciously call up in your memory especially after EIGHT YEARS.
Oh, my God.
She didn't understand why she was making such a big deal about this in her head as she ordered a more vegan-friendly meal. Out of everything else in their marriage—most of which she didn't even know, all things considered—she was just so damn fixated on the fact that he could not remember one of the most basic things about her. And then her thoughts wandered to how many times this may have happened before and if she'd eventually get used to it.
And then she grimaced because that was the sort of thing she didn't need to and shouldn't have to get used to.
She asked to leave before dessert. She blamed it on the already-surreal experience of being psychically thrown into some sort of potential future, but honestly, she just wanted to go sit in a bathtub and cry a little bit.
He was the perfect gentleman all night, but the damage had been done. She had to go back to real life now and figure out some way to fix her problems with Finn before it became irreparable in the future.
But dinner ended, they got back home, she took a bath, and she still did not wake up from the dream. She pinched herself, debated on touching the outlet with a watery finger, and even slapped herself in the face once. She was shampooing her hair when she had an epiphany about a myoclonic jerk—the sensation of falling that would immediately wake her up from whatever this was.
But then she wasn't exactly going to risk that theory by jumping out of her window.
So she resigned herself to end this nightmare the normal way—going back to sleep and hoping for the best. But then she remembered that she was married and it was Valentine's Day.
Okay, that wasn't happening.
When Finn met her outside the bathroom door and swept her up off her feet and started planting open-mouth kisses on her neck and collarbone, she had to push him back and blurt out, "I have my period! I'm so sorry!"
He flinched and looked a little disappointed, but he carried her to their bed anyway. She gave him credit for setting her down gently and tucking her under the covers before climbing in next to her and tugging her back up against his chest, though.
Then he leaned over, trailing kisses from her ear and across her cheek.
"Happy Valentine's Day, baby," he whispered before kissing her lips.
Even though he was still a dimwit in the future, he was still Finn, so she kissed him back as lovingly as she could until another ripple of energy thudded under her skin. Her eyes snapped open and she jumped back in surprise, almost tipping her chair back.
"Mike?" she blurted out in shock.
He lurched across the table and grabbed her before she fell back and kept his hold on her even as he skirted around the table to steady her better.
"You okay?" he asked worriedly, his dark eyes wide and emphasized by the candle on the table.
"Y-Yes, I'm okay," she said, patting his hands awkwardly.
He frowned at her, his worry intensifying. "Rach, are you sure? You feeling okay? We can go home, and I'll just cook you something there if you're not feeling okay."
What? What? WHAT?
She looked down at her left hand, and there it was—another wedding band. Finn's had been gold, but this one was either silver or platinum, she wasn't entirely sure. And previous encounters had exposed her to the Chinese symbol for love etched onto the ring.
Oh, my God, whatwhatwhatwhatwhat?
It was drugs. It was definitely drugs. Lucas had most definitely spiked her drink; she was sure of it at this point. Because Mike? She was Rachel Berry-Chang now? What the hell?
She looked around at the dimly-lit, high-ceilinged restaurant with a set of spotlights beaming down on the ballroom floor in the middle of the room. Lights covered with multicolored gels shone down on the band playing a soft melody. She didn't recognize the interior, but the garden motif reminded her very much of Harmonia Gardens from Hello! Dolly.
"No, no, Mikey, I'm fine," she said reassuringly, the nickname slipping out spontaneously, but he seemed to warm at the sound of it and grinned at her.
"You sure?" he asked one last time, rubbing slow circles on her bare back.
She nodded and kicked on her acting skills as she grinned up at him and stroked his cheek. "Yeah, that was just—forget about w-what just happened. That was me having a weird moment."
He shrugged and kissed her temple. "Don't apologize. I fell in love with those weird moments."
The smile she shot him wasn't acting though. "Really?"
He held his hand out to her and winked. "They're one of your best attributes. Dance with me, my Valentine?"
She grinned up at him and took his hand. "It would be my pleasure."
He lifted her off the seat and spun her onto the ballroom floor next to the dining area, her floor-length dress fanning around her dramatically. The band's song shifted into a slow waltz as a few of the other patrons drifted out onto the floor too. Mike pulled her up against his chest, his hand on the small of her back—his thumb rubbing the skin above the low cut of her dress while the other fingers made little circles on the silk fabric.
"Where's your head been all day?" he asked, his breath tickling against her neck. "You seem distracted."
She shrugged. "Got a lot on my mind."
He chuckled, and she felt it reverberate through his chest and into hers. "You've always got a lot going on up in your head, baby. You gonna be a little more specific?"
Mike had always been too perceptive. If she was going to lie to him, she'd need to do it flawlessly. So she didn't lie.
"Just the future," she replied, "and how to deal with it."
He pulled back to study her face, and the love she saw on his face took her breath away. Tina was so very blessed. She'd always thought that, but now, seeing it up close and personal, she would stand by that fact and defend it. Tina was blessed.
"You don't deal with the future, Rach," he said sagely. "You take the cards it gives you and play them to your advantage."
She blinked at his metaphor, and suddenly his face broke out in huge grin. She couldn't help but grin back and shake her head. "And here I was thinking you were serious."
"Well, I am!" he said, pantomiming offense before pulling her closer and becoming serious. "But in all honesty, the future will be fine. Even we end up in some sort of zombie apocalypse, you gotta…live in the moment, right? You spend too much time worrying about the future and planning it that you forget about the present."
She nodded understandingly, and he spun her out once. "I guess you're right."
"Are you kidding? I am right," he said imperiously, his nose in the air. "That's why you married me—you wanted to make the right decision."
She ticked her head coolly. "Well, you've got to prove that to me for the rest of our lives, so the pressure's all on you."
His eyebrow rose. "You challenging me, Mrs. Chang?"
Her smile widened at the name. This was ridiculous.
"Well, if you can't do it, Mr. Chang…"
He narrowed his eyes at her, and she suddenly felt something shift in his stance.
"Oh, no. Mike, we're in public!" she hissed, squeezing his hand and shoulder.
He grinned evilly as he pushed her out and twisted her in a tight spin before yanking her right back up against his chest. The glint in his eyes told her all she needed to know. Straightening her right arm out to the side, she grabbed a handful of her filmy skirt with her left hand repositioned her hand against his shoulder blade, lifted her elbow, and smirked right back at him.
If it was a tango he wanted, she had to prove that she could rise to a challenge herself. She was Rachel Barbra Berry, after all, damn it.
The band took their cue from their movements to segue the music into a brass-centric instrumental version of a very familiar song. Mike glided her across the floor in a simple tango, their feet appearing and disappearing as her dress drifted around them. The other couples excitedly took their seats to watch the show as Mike started lifting her and executing complicated footwork that she found herself innately copying and countering. She never thought about a kick or a step. She'd had enough training and Mike was one of the most amazing dance partners any girl could have as he led her back and forth, his grip on her firm, strong, and gentle all at the same time.
He kept their upper bodies in such close proximity that every breath he took brushed across her face, neck, and shoulders sensually. He spun her so that her back was to him, and even though he was most definitely breaking a ballroom dancing rule (or a rule of propriety in general), he pushed her hips right against his as he swayed her smoothly, his hands drifting up and down her sides. She planted a hand on his chest and pushed him back as she crossed one foot in front of the other and kicked her legs over his bent knee, dragging her hand across his chest as she circled him. He twisted to face her and pull her toward him again as he twisted and kicked with her around the floor again.
She was blushing like a little boy in a whorehouse, but a dance was a dance. And apparently she was married to the man anyway, right? Damn it all to hell if she would probably never be able to make eye contact with Mike or Tina after this, but she'd long since dreamed of a man sweeping her off her feet and into an intricate, sensual dance. And this was her dream, so she'd seize the opportunity.
Mike seized the opportunity himself. Public or not, tangos were very sexual dances, and he used it as an excuse to brush his hands across every plausibly-touchable surface of her body. And her reactions throughout the entire dance was innate—as if she actually was Rachel Berry-Chang, the woman who married the man who was currently blurring the lines between vertical and horizontal dances.
By the time the song ended and he lowered her in a deep dip, her face was flushed and a fine sheen of sweat had broken out across her skin. The patrons and the band broke out into applause.
"Ladies and gentleman, world-renown choreographer Mr. Michael Chang, and his Tony award-winning actress wife, Rachel Berry-Chang," the pianist announced as Mike pulled her back up.
She threw an arm around his shoulder for support. Stiletto heels like these were not meant for dancing.
"Challenge met?" he asked, nuzzling her cheek with his nose.
She laughed. "Yes, Mike. Challenge met."
"Happy Valentine's Day," he whispered against her lips before tugging her all the way into a deep kiss.
When she felt the same jolt of energy that swept through her body, she pulled back, the dark brown eyes sparkling with mischief had disappeared and were replaced by clear, deep blue eyes shielded by glasses.
She straightened up from where she was bent at the waist, her arm—which had been thrown around Mike's shoulders—was now slung across the back of Artie's wheelchair.
Apparently she was going through all the glee guys? She'd never felt like as much of a whore in her entire life. And considering she helped Finn cheat on Quinn and had cheated on Finn himself with Noah…that's saying a lot. Dream or not, this was getting extremely awkward—especially after that dance. Goodness.
She tore her eyes away from Artie to study the darkened movie theater. "Artie, what are we doing here?"
"You'll see. Oh, trust me, you'll see," he answered knowingly as he tugged her onto his lap and wheeled his way up the aisle to the wide handicap area. She clasped her hands around his neck and leaned against his shoulder, the position familiar after all the times the gleeks had hung out over the years.
Once the chair was facing the screen, he raised his hand and snapped his fingers, and a film reel countdown began.
"Shhh, baby. You'll see," he said, grinning at her excitedly and tugging her closer to his chest. His upper body strength had built up considerably. She could feel an impressive set of abs, pectorals, and biceps from where she was positioned.
And she saw.
Oh, my Lord, she saw. And cried.
Every moment they shared in glee, and many other clips that she assumed was between senior year and whatever year they were in now played across the screen as Joe Cocker's "Feels Like Forever" played in the background. Every time they danced together (well, she danced, he popped wheelies), them getting in a little wheelchair race while rehearsing for "Proud Mary," them singing together, them fooling around in the choir room, them during music numbers, him wheeling her up and down the hallways as she threw her head back and laughed—someone had managed to capture them all, whether it was a low-quality camera phone or a high-definition camcorder. Every glance, every shared lyric, every kiss… She watched it all play across the screen, and even though only a third had actually happened in real life, she couldn't help but tear up.
She'd considered Artie a friend, but until she saw that video and knew that those things had actually happened, she never really realized exactly how friendly they were towards each other. Even though Mr. Schue positioned Artie in the middle during competition numbers for obvious purposes, she always made a point of getting close to him and singing with him. And as the clips and montages progressed through time, she saw glimpses of their life together—the director and the actress.
And when the scene changed to her stepping out onto a stage in full Elphaba costume, belting out "As Long as You're Mine" with the actor who played Fiyero, she broke down in tears. How Artie managed to capture that scene from twenty different angles and have the audio absolutely perfect…
If it was possible to fall in love with a man while watching a fifteen-minute movie, she managed it.
"Oh, Artie," she muttered, wiping her tears. "That was amazing. I never..."
A bouquet of irises suddenly appeared in front of her, and she laughed at his sheepish expression. "Irises…you know, since…eyes and movie screens, and—"
She laughed even harder. "I know, honey, I know."
He grinned and rubbed her leg. "I know you work on a stage, so you don't really get to see the final product like we do in the movie business, but I wanted to show you exactly how magnificent you are. You have to believe you're amazing when you're in a play because you can only see it for yourself in a dinky little mirror or something, and you don't really get to see what the rest of us see. So I wanted to do that for you—show you how amazing and beautiful and inspiring you are."
She clamped her lips shut as a new wave of tears blurred her vision.
"Happy Valentine's Day, Rachel," he said, pressing his forehead against hers. "I love you."
She wiped her eyes and, for the first time since these ludicrous dreams began, was the one to drop a kiss on his lips.
She let the energy drum through her body again before opening her eyes and clamping down the shock when she saw bright green eyes. After the third time, she had to start getting used to this.
"I'm glad you like it," Sam said, stepping back and seating her at the table.
She stared in awe at the magnificently-decorated rooftop. Christmas lights twinkled around the ledge of the roof and was strung through the leafy wooden arch near the dinner table. The buildings and lights of New York City surrounded them, lighting up the cold evening. Three electric candles illuminated the heart-shaped ravioli on the plate in front of her, and she met Sam's eyes with a confused expression.
"They're pear-stuffed ravioli in a walnut sage white wine reduction," he explained, taking his seat opposite her. "You'll have to thank Stevie and Stacy for helping me because I nearly set the apartment on fire trying to make the first batch. You'd think that because I cook all the time that I'd be able to pull this off by myself, but for some reason, I have such horrible ravioli-making skills and—"
"Sam," she said, grinning hugely and trying not to laugh. She didn't think he could talk so much, but then again, she wasn't one to talk since they hardly interacted in real life. "Calm down."
He glanced up at her embarrassedly and ran his hands through his hair. He seemed to have given up on dyeing it, so his natural brown roots were showing, and now only the tips were blonde.
"Sorry," he muttered. "Just…I've never made such an elaborate date before, y'know?"
Glancing down at her ring-less fingers, she looked back up at him and nodded reassuringly. "It's okay, Sam. Everything i-is just perfect. Heart-shaped ravioli? Brilliant."
Oh, thank God they weren't married here. She already couldn't look at Mike, Tina, and Artie anymore. She didn't want to add Sam to the list.
He grinned at her, his eyes crinkling adorably. "Say that after you eat it."
She threw her head back and laughed before picking up her fork and taking a bite. She resolutely decided that she was going to look up "pear-stuffed ravioli in a walnut sage white wine reduction" as soon as this acid trip ended.
"This is amazing!" she cried. "Utterly—I can't—oh, my—Sam, I've never—I just—this is amazing!"
"And it's totally vegan, so no worries," he added, his grin widening. "I made some tiramisu too—but I didn't want to bring it up here, so we'll have to go back inside to eat it."
He didn't even have to specify the tiramisu was vegan-friendly too. They both knew it, and that made Rachel's smile widen as she continued eating. The whole experience…was amazing. It was about a thousand times better than her dinner with Finn. The food was amazing, the wine exquisite (of course she knew, her fathers had trained her well), and the company charming, sweet, and hilarious.
Almost too hilarious, actually. She nearly choked on her food about four times. She never understood why Santana and Quinn patronized Sam for his impressions because they were fantastic. Even if they weren't spot-on, they were absolutely hysterical. The only one he could actually do perfectly was Taylor Lautner, and that resulted in him reciting lines from the books and movies that nearly made her fall out of her seat.
When their laughter finally subsided and their food was finished, he pulled her out of her seat and led her to the edge of the roof, her back to his chest. She looked down at the city below, watching the people move like worker ants. They were up high enough so that the sounds were muffled and the gusts of wind were fairly strong.
"It's February, so I wouldn't normally take you up here," Sam said, his fingers clasped around hers firmly, "but I totally had a purpose."
She looked up at him to elaborate.
"I remember when you were drunk, you tried to jump off the couch because you said you wanted to fly, and I agreed with you because I totally wanted to fly my own Ikran, or Mountain Banshee, like in Avatar, remember?" he asked. And when she nodded, he turned back to look out into the night. "So I thought of taking you on a plane ride, but that wouldn't work as well. I thought of skydiving, but that wasn't really all that romantic either. Then Stacy was watching Titanic, and I totally got the idea to do this even though we don't have a ship. The winds are pretty strong enough to have the same effect so…"
He pulled her to face him, and he huddled her coat closer around her, tucking her hair into her hood and kissing her nose affectionately.
Then he turned her back to the edge, secured one hand around her waist, and nudged her forward until she was right on the very edge of the roof. She gripped his arm tightly, shaking from the cold and the fact that it was more than a hundred-foot drop.
"I've got you," he whispered over the wind, his warm breath gushing past her cheek as he squeezed her tighter.
She turned her head to glance up at him. He was smiling down at her.
"Go ahead," he urged playfully. "Be lame."
"What do you mean?" she asked, squeezing him again.
"Hold out your arms," he answered. "I've tried it before, and it's as close to flying as you're gonna get before you cross the threshold into falling."
She laughed and obliged, releasing his arm to throw her arms out to the side and letting the wind rush around her. Stray locks of her hair whipped around her face, and for a few seconds, she really did feel like she was flying.
It was lame and cheesy and cold, but the solid wall of warmth behind her and wrapped around her waist was enough.
She grinned into the wind and turned up to look at Sam again. He chuckled down at her and then bent to kiss her.
For the first time, the kiss lasted longer than a second. His lips were cold and just a little bit chapped, but after a few seconds, they were warm and moist and tasted like wine. The arms that were around her tightened, and she reached up to wrap one hand around the back of his neck, craning her head back as he bent closer to her and lifted her up to bring her back onto more secure footing.
A shudder ran up and down her bones and then it wasn't cold anymore. The angle of the kiss changed, and the warmth that was pressed up against her back shifted to her front, and when she opened her eyes, the green eyes had morphed into a different shade.
"Jesse," she breathed.
He smiled down at her, one corner of his mouth turning up before the other, what little light in the darkness danced in his eyes.
It was only when he began to back away from her that she noticed she was in an auditorium. It was bigger than McKinley's, but she didn't quite recognize the setup to be able to put a name to the building.
Then she froze when she heard the soft woodwinds playing a very, very familiar intro. When she turned back to the stage, Jesse was on it, staring straight down at her as a single spotlight beamed down on him. The strings bloomed in accompaniment to the woodwinds, and the closed red curtains behind him swept back to reveal a full symphonic orchestra.
His smile widened enough to show a little bit of his teeth as he brushed a stray curl off his forehead before he sang, "No more talk of darkness, forget these wide-eyed fears."
His voice reached into the very recesses of her lungs and dragged out what little breath was left after the music had begun. "I'm here, nothing can harm you. My words will warm and calm you. Let me be your freedom, let daylight dry your tears. I'm here with you, beside you—to guard you and to guide you."
He held out his hand for her to follow him up the stage steps as the Broadway freak in her forced the song out of her empty lungs. "Say you'll love me every waking moment. Turn my head with talk of summertime. Say you'll need me with you now and always. Promise me that all you say is true. That's all I ask of you."
She'd said it many times before, and she would go to her grave saying the same thing. Music moved within her. But never before had a song sunk in so deeply through her skin, electrifying her very organs and pooling in her heart and making her chest ache.
She stepped up the stairs and laced her fingers with his, their wedding rings sliding against each other.
"Let me be your shelter, let me be your light. You're safe. No one will find you. Your fears are far behind you," he sang to her, running the backs of the fingers of his other hand against her cheek.
She reached up and squeezed his wrist, holding his hand against her face. "All I want is freedom, a world with no more night. And you, always beside me, to hold me and to hide me."
"Then say you'll share with me one love, one lifetime," he sang, leaning his forehead against hers for a second. "Let me lead you from your solitude. Say you need me with you here, beside you. Anywhere you go, let me go too. Rachel, that's all I ask of you."
"Say you'll share with me one love, one lifetime. Say the word, and I will follow you."
"Share each day with me, each night, each morning," they sang together, their voices melding in a way that neither of their voices could ever meld with anyone else's.
"Say you love me."
"You know I do."
"Love me," they sang softly, "that's all I ask of you."
And as the orchestra swept into the instrumental, Jesse stepped forward, bent, and kissed her, and she steeled herself against the energy, letting him drop soft, little kisses before pulling her closer and gently sucking on her bottom lip. Setting her hands on his chest, she pushed herself to her tiptoes and deepened the kiss, her tongue tracing a line across the seam of his lips. Her heart hammered in her chest at the familiarity of kissing him—the warmth, the dance, the feel of him against her.
And she remembered exactly why she'd honestly believed that he'd been her soul mate.
Lightning suddenly shot through her body, slamming against her skin and making her bones feel like they were on fire. Her chest pounded like huge gong with every heartbeat, and when she finally ripped her eyes open, all she saw was hazel green.
Puck jumped back, dislodging his lips from hers and looking twelve shades of awkward. He spun around to glare at his sister before turning back to Rachel.
"Sorry, Berry," he apologized haltingly. "I-It was—Bekah fucking tripped me and shit. Sorry. Just…sorry. Whatever. Yeah. Sorry. Totally didn't meant to—yeah. Okay. Jesus Christ."
Then he promptly stomped off down the hallway of what looked to be an apartment. Bekah—or at least, the tall young woman who looked a lot like Bekah probably would in a few more years—was grinning slyly and holding back her chuckles.
Rachel just stared at her in confusion.
Bekah threw her head back and laughed, her body shaking thoroughly as she stepped forward and threw an arm around Rachel's shoulders.
"Oh, God," she gasped through her laughs. "That was too funny."
"Bekah!" Rachel protested, nudging Bekah in the ribs with her elbow. "That was horrible!"
The younger girl bent and cocked a knowing eyebrow. "Me tripping my brother or the kiss?"
Rachel blushed furiously and ducked out from under Bekah's arm only to smack into a solid wall of man.
"Noah!" she choked out awkwardly.
He grabbed her shoulders to steady her and then let go to clench his hands and then drop them to his sides. "Uh, yeah. Um. Can we just go now?"
Oh, my God, this was just so awkward.
Another guy about Bekah's age walked out of the living room, hesitantly skirted around Puck, and then clasped his hand with Bekah's.
"You sure you wanna do this?" Bekah asked Rachel. "I mean, you totally don't have to."
"Shut up, squirt," Puck growled—only he was looking at the guy. Well, glaring. "We're going. All of us. Now move your asses."
"Noah," Rachel hissed. "I think you've fulfilled your quota for cursing for the next month."
He scowled down at her but a set a gentle hand on the small of her back to lead her out the front door.
"Rachel, thanks so much getting us that reservation," Bekah's nameless boyfriend said gratefully. "I didn't think it'd be that hard to get into a restaurant that's attached to an apartment complex."
"Jacob, it's still a famous four-star joint," Bekah pointed out as they headed to the elevators. "And this is totally the last time we're using Rachel to get us into a hot spot."
But then the younger Puckerman discreetly bent and kissed Rachel on the temple with a whispered thanks.
"And what about me?" Puck asked suddenly, having seen Bekah's small gesture of affection. "I'm the one who flew you out here to visit."
"Oh, yes," Bekah said exaggeratedly, her hand to her chest. "Thank you so much for taking time out from your Grammy award-winning songwriting to finally pay some attention to your one and only sister, jerkface."
Puck grinned and poked his sister in the ribs, and she aimed a jab at his kidney before grabbing his cheeks and planting a loud, smacking kiss on his forehead. It wasn't until Puck rolled his eyes, grabbed a handkerchief out of his pocket, and wiped the lipstick off his face that Rachel got a good look at him.
All of the glee guys (and Jesse) had aged wonderfully, but Puck was hands-down the most handsome of them all. He'd gotten rid of his Mohawk and grown his hair out just a little bit. The small amount of scruff on his face gave him a sophisticated, roguish look. Long gone were the flannel shirts, thermals, and jeans—replaced by a dark blue pinstripe shirt and black slacks.
He looked good.
When he noticed Rachel's scrutiny, he winked and smirked, making her jerk and avert her gaze to the decreasing digits on the elevator display. All signs of the awkwardness of his accidental trip-kiss was gone.
The maître d' recognized both her and Puck the moment they arrived at the doors of the attached restaurant and immediately seated them in the VIP section, so Rachel realized that Bekah's sarcastic jab at Puck being a Grammy award-winning songwriter was all too true.
The dinner was…different, to say the least. There were jokes, funny anecdotes from their pasts and presents, and there was abundance of funny threats exchanged between Jacob, Bekah, and Puck. Rachel eventually gleaned that Puck had picked up Bekah and her boyfriend from college so they could have a legitimate Valentine's Day date, but when he offered to simply fund their outing, Jacob had insisted on asking Puck to double-date with them because he knew how much Bekah had missed her big brother and as much as he wanted a romantic date with his three-year girlfriend, he was more than happy to let Bekah spend a little time with Puck.
Puck, having lived in L.A. for a while now, had no clue about the ins and outs of New York City, so he'd sparked up the old glee phone tree to get in contact with Rachel, and since she was currently between shows, she'd gladly offered to show them around her city and to find them a restaurant with the best selection of pasta—Bekah's new obsession. The food was delicious, the company amazing. The only hitch?
It seemed that the lead singer was…"so drunk off his ass" according to Puck, and when the idiot finally staggered off the stage, leaving his band in confusion and the manager in a rage, Rachel felt obligated to prevent the complete ruination of the other patrons' evening.
She pulled her napkin off her lap, patted Puck on the shoulder, and weaved through the tables toward the stage.
"Berry. Berry! Berry!" Puck hissed.
She turned to throw a small smirk over her shoulder. "Come on, Mr. Grammy Award-Winning Songwriter. We've got a show to put on."
"Berry! Be—oh, Jesus," Puck sighed in defeat, tossing his napkin onto the table as the restaurant finally realized exactly what was happening.
Three-time Tony award-winning actress, Rachel Berry, and four-time Grammy award-winning songwriter, Noah Puckerman, were about to give an impromptu show to a raucously-applauding audience.
The bassist immediately pushed a stool onto the stage near the piano for Rachel, blushing the darkest red she'd ever seen a human face go, while Puck shooed the pianist off his bench.
"What song, Berry?" he asked with a sigh.
She grinned. "How about a Lady Antebellum cover? Just for old time's sake."
Something in the air between them suddenly shifted, and something twisted in her stomach when she saw his hazel eyes darken. He cleared his throat, shifted on the bench, and then began to play. The drummer caught on first and then the rest of the band. Rachel grinned hugely at the song choice and then turned to the microphone.
"Lying here with you so close to me. It's hard to fight these feelings when it feels so hard to breathe. I'm caught up in this moment, I'm caught up in your smile."
"I've never opened up to anyone. So hard to hold back when I'm holding you in my arms," Puck sang as Rachel pulled the mic off the stand, hopped off the stool, and came to sit next to him on the piano.
"We don't need to rush this," they sang together. "Let's just take it slow."
The draw was unmistakable. Just like the first time they'd sung together, they couldn't take their eyes off each other. She had to clench her eyes shut just to force herself to look back at the audience, and even then, it was only for a few seconds.
This was why she'd refused to sing with him again after "Need You Now." They had a few opportunities to sing together, but she'd discreetly turned them down every time. Because Puck had been right all those years ago—back in her bedroom. They were two hot Jews, but there was something about them—something natural—that transcended nationalities, ethnic groups.
She and Jesse may sound like soul mates, but Puck and Rachel had the physical draw. They understood each other even though they hardly spoke. And as she sat there, singing with him and watching his fingers deftly skim across the keyboard, weaving small segments of new intricate chords into the song and giving it a whole new depth, she thought back on all the times he'd actually been there for her. Out of all the boys in glee, he'd done the most for her. And this wasn't speaking in terms of these uncanny dreams—she was speaking from past experience. The Barbravention, "Need You Now," the apology, the slushy, Sectionals 2010, all the random little moments they shared where it was obvious that they were, in spite of what he said on the bleachers, friends.
Out of everyone else in glee, he was the only one who shared her desperation to get out. Everyone wanted it too, they had their own dreams, but she understood the deep, unquenchable thirst to be something more than people expected them to be. The difference was that she showed exactly how determined she was to reach her goals because she had a solid foundation of people to support her. He was always in the shadows—the badass who pushed everyone away, and the result was that he didn't have the support system to push him to achieve his own dreams. Instead of fighting for what he wanted, he sat back and craved a future while simultaneously tearing himself down and believing that he'd never actually get anywhere. He wanted everything but did nothing.
They were too alike and too different and too…magnetic.
It was undeniable, irresistible, natural.
So when the song ended, they'd bowed, thanked the audience, returned to their table to wish Bekah and Jacob a good rest of the night and that the dinner would be paid for, and calmly walked out of the restaurant.
Their pace was slow and leisurely as they made their way toward the elevator. They waited in companionable silence for the doors to open, and as soon as they did, Puck let Rachel enter first, with his hand on her back again. But as soon as they doors shut, she was up against the elevator wall, her arms wrapped around his neck as his arms boxed her in, their lips moving in a dance that only they could perform.
And while there was a buildup with the other boys—the dance with Mike, the movie with Artie, the dinner and Titanic re-enactment with Sam, and the song with Jesse—there was no preamble with Puck. From the moment she'd opened her eyes to see him, this was the only thing she'd wanted to do. The dinner, the song—she spent the entire time feeling the sensation of his lips on hers, remembering how it had been before and how it was less than an hour ago.
Because if an awkward press of the lips, the result of a trip, could be that electric, that fiery, that powerful…?
His mouth seared her skin as he dragged his lips across her cheek, sucked on her earlobe, and trailed down her neck. He hefted her up to wrap her legs around his waist as she leaned her head back against the elevator wall when he left gentle, sucking kisses all over the exposed portion of her chest.
She couldn't distinguish between the supernatural energy that transitioned her between dreams and the energy coursing between the two of them. Both of them were making her head spin dangerously as his calloused fingers kneaded into the bare skin of her thigh, making their way up, up, up.
"Noah," she exhaled.
His lips immediately detached from where they were kissing two inches away from her nipple to latch onto her mouth again, shushing her between kisses. He pushed her harder against the wall, and she could feel exactly why he was trying to stop her from making a sound.
Stars danced across her eyes as the hair on her arms and the back of her neck rose. The energy built, burning deep in her stomach as the fire licked her ribs and seared up her throat. She gripped the back of his neck tighter with one hand and dug her nails into his shoulder when kiss deepened and slowed as the fire burned hotter and brighter.
When her eyes snapped open, amused blue-gray eyes greeted her, and she wrenched away, her back slamming against the back of the chair as she gasped for air.
"Oh, my God," she murmured, raking her hands through her hair as her bass drum of a heart slammed out an erratic rhythm. "Oh, my God. O-Oh, my God. H-Holy shit."
Lucas actually had the gall to throw his head back and laugh. When he finally managed to speak again, he asked, "Got your answers, Rachel?"
She glared at him, grabbed her lukewarm coffee, and threw it in his face—cup and all. She just chucked it at him. Then she stood and attempted to storm out before her emotions turned her into a sobbing, confused heap on the floor of the café. His hand suddenly darted out and wrapped around her wrist.
For a second, she thought he was furious, but judging from the grin on his lips and the laughter bubbling out of them, her throwing her drink at him was just the cherry on top.
"Wait," he said, reaching into his coat pocket. He pulled out a long, slender red rose and held it up to her. "Happy Valentine's Day, Rachel."
Rachel's eyes snapped open in surprise, her hands unconsciously clenched around fistfuls of her comforter in white-knuckled grips. A fine sheen of sweat began to cool on her face as she slowly relaxed her hands. She sat up and brushed her damp hair back from her face as she looked around the darkened room.
According to the bright green digits on her alarm clock, it was still only four in the morning.
It was only a dream. It was just a dream…
And yet it was unlike normal dreams in that she remembered every detail. She could see each and every boy's eyes inches from hers, feel their lips, taste the way they kissed, and most of all, she could remember every detail of Noah's kiss and the revelation she had when she was with him.
But it was all a dream. A very enlightening dream, but a dream nonetheless.
She flopped back onto her pillows, but immediately clamped her hand over her mouth to stifle her scream as she reached underneath her left shoulder and felt a thorny stem come into contact with her fingertips. She held her breath as she pulled the rose out and held it up in the moonlight that filtered in through the blinds of her window.
A single red rose.
Her fathers had a superpower. She'd approached them the morning after her surreal dreamscape and simply told them about the conclusion she'd come to after a little help—she said nothing of the kissing, the dates, or of Lucas and the rose because honestly that was a pretty scary thing to think about so she continually blocked that out.
Anyways, back to the point—her fathers had a superpower. She didn't know if any other father had that kind of ability. They called Finn over after school on Monday, barricaded the three of them in Dad's den, and an hour and a half later, Finn emerged with the engagement ring in his hands and nothing but appreciation and understanding for their breakup.
Honestly? All she did was ask them for advice about how to do it. She knew they'd never say it, but they were obviously so overzealous for her and Finn to break up that they were more than happy to do it themselves. She'd badgered them with questions about how in God's name they managed to do it, but they both just winked, dropped a kiss on her head, and told her not to worry about it.
Later when she called Finn, she asked him too, but he said that her fathers had made him promise not to tell, and she was just so damn confused at this point. Finn, in a tone of pure affection and friendship, bid her good night and hung up.
She was convinced she was having another dream.
But when she woke up the following morning—Valentine's Day—and got to school, she and Finn were still broken up. He smiled at her in the hallways and gave her a bouquet of carnations before walking off. Their amicable breakup had spread around the school before second period, and by that time, she seriously debated on asking Puck for a favor—one that involved alcohol again.
Then she thought better of that decision when she realized that alcohol tended to lower her inhibitions, and adding Puck into the mix meant the potential lowering of her panties as well, so that just flew off the table.
By the time glee rolled around, everyone was in high spirits, dancing around with their inane love songs as she "danced" around with them, confused as all fuck. She also had to make a point of avoiding eye contact with Mike, Artie, Tina, Sam, and Puck. Honestly, she only ended up at the "Sugar Shack" because the rest of the gleeks had swept her up and essentially dragged her over there to "mingle" with the other singles now that she was officially engagement-free.
By the end of the night, the DJ had queued up the "last dance." She very nearly slammed her head on the table when the piano and drums began the intro to "Just A Kiss." Well, she just dropped it. She didn't actually slam… Yeah.
When there was a knock on the wood, though, she slowly brought her head up to meet a pair of hazel eyes that immediately made about eight hundred sensations run through her body.
"Come on, Berry. Last dance?" he asked with his trademark smile.
Something niggled at the back of her mind, and she turned to her left—to the back of the restaurant—and saw a face that very nearly made her pass out. Lucas sat in the very corner, a tumbler with two inches of amber liquid in his hand. His once blue-gray eyes were now black ringed with red and his devilish smirk had graduated to an entirely new level that consolidated evil, devious, and knowing into one facial twitch. He grinned at her and winked before fading into smoke.
She was so shocked out of her mind that she didn't feel Puck pulling her up from her chair and towing her to the dance floor. When she finally snapped back to reality, she stared up at him with wide eyes, very aware of the sensation of his hands and how they'd been in other places.
"What's your deal?" he asked. "You look like you just saw Casper finger a girl against the wall."
She smacked him in the chest, and he laughed, grabbing her hand and pulling her back into standard dancing position.
"Seriously though, Berry," he said. "What's the matter?"
She sighed and cast one more glance back to the empty table in the corner before looking up and meeting Puck's eyes again. "Maybe one day I'll tell you."
She grinned. "I may or may not have had a date with destiny."