"our time is waiting in the wings of uncertainty..."
"What time is your audition today?"
"Is it the..."
"Cat food commercial, yeah." Serenading a cat to entice it to eat the company's brand of tuna flavored treats, to be exact.
"I know you'll get it!" She says that every time. "Cats love you."
That's true – there's one sleeping on his chest right now. He has half a tail and a scar where an eye used to be.
"You should come with me to my 'Show Boat' audition today, it's at three," she says, scooting closer under the blanket so she can pet the cat, making him purr and stretch.
In fact, today is her first audition for a major Broadway show. Not Off-Broadway, not Off-Off-Off-Off Broadway, not a singing telegram gig or a cheesy commercial, but The Broad Way. She's been practicing for three weeks straight – he knows every "Show Boat" song by heart now and he'll never get "Can't Help Loving That Man" out of his head. He even caught himself singing it on the subway yesterday, to the delight of a very very tall "lady" wearing very very large high heels. "But I thought they had all the guy roles cast," he replies, frowning.
"Well, yes, but..."
"I dunno, Rach," he demurs. "I should probably swing by the restaurant, try to pick up a few more hours' work. Rent's due next Friday."
It was her force of will, her tunnel vision, her bone-deep certainty that got them here, he knows. Left to his own devices, would he have ever actually done it – moved to New York right after high school, tried to break into the Broadway world? He thinks not. If not for Rachel, he'd very likely still be in Lima, flunking out of community college, holding down some random, futureless job. In fact, he'd probably also be wasting away in a lifeless marriage of obligation, saddled with a toddler, living with "his family" in his mom's basement. If not for Rachel, he'd be the quintessential Lima Loser.
If not for Rachel.
"But if, say, we just happen to be rehearsing 'Make Believe' together where the director will happen to be having his daily three o'clock cigar on the fire escape above the alley behind the theater, he might happen to hear how amazing you are and change his mind about his male casting selections."
He grins. Of course she knows the director has a daily cigar break – why wouldn't she know that?
She was always going to get here, he knows. And she would've done it with or without him. He's eternally glad it was "with" though. He sometimes wishes he had the balls to have done it on his own, but only sometimes because he knows she's his strength and his soul and his guiding light, his bright star, his biggest fan.
She props herself up so she can look at him directly, the blanket slipping down to her waist, her hair falling over her naked breasts, the soft ends brushing against his chest. He expects to see that bright gleam in her eyes, the one she gets when she envisions her dreams and schemes coming to life. But instead he sees something else - fear. The nerves she lets only him see, him and no one else, not the casting people, producers, agents, directors, other performers, audiences, not even her dads. "Will you come with me?" she asks, her voice small and soft, her brown eyes huge and liquid.
He smiles at her and touches her face. She presses her cheek into his palm. "Of course, honey bear." She beams, radiant and relieved, and falls upon him, kissing him, displacing the sullen cat as she slides her body on top of his.
It's okay that he's leaned on her to get here because she leans on him, too.
"I can't do this anymore," he says as he comes through the door, dropping his duffle bag on the floor.
Rachel looks up from her script – some experimental piece involving a lot of black lights, a warehouse in Queens, and video projection of a dog giving birth. He doesn't get it, like, at all, but it's an Equity gig so that's good. For her.
"What happened?" She's still mad, he can tell. No one else might see it, but he can read it clear as day – the way she doesn't put down her script but is still half-reading it, the flat tone of her voice. They've been fighting a little, bickering usually but sometimes more than that, over stupid stuff. The milk, the thermostat settings, the recycling – stuff they never used to give a second's thought about. This morning was the worst – they started yelling at each other about what he should wear to an audition for a frickin' Rogaine commercial. Rogaine! He's twenty-three, he doesn't even need Rogaine.
"That's not the point!" she'd shouted, waving a sweater vest in his face. "You need to dress like someone who does need Rogaine!"
"I hate that stupid vest!" he yelled back, pulling it out of her hand.
"My father bought you that for Christmas!"
"He re-gifted it, Rachel!"
The look on her face – like he'd just slapped her.
He'd blown the audition – the producer said she'd never before seen anyone so angry about hair loss. And to add some extra fun to the day, he'd had to go to his paying gig for the week – birthday party clown. For a fifteen-year-old's party. What kind of horrible parent hires a clown for a teenager's birthday party?
It didn't go well.
He had a long ride home on the subway to think about why they've been fighting so much, to think about the last five years of their life together in New York, to think about what the next five years might be like. To think about a lot of things.
"Nothing, like, specific happened," he replies, flopping down in the comfy chair. He watches her as she frowns and makes a note in the script. She's so smart – to him, that crazy theater piece may as well be written in Chinese, but she loves it, she's passionate about it, she's committed to it. She's a hundred percent about it, and for the millionth time he envies that about her.
"It's time, Rachel," he says seriously.
Her eyes snap up, hearing the tone of his voice. She puts the script down. "Time for what?"
"Time for me to move on."
Her lip wobbles.
"to the start of forever, it's the start..."
"See, these go on first, under the gloves." Rachel nods seriously, touching the white fabric. "They're wool, which is naturally flame-retardant."
"Doesn't that get very hot?" she asks Capt. McManus. "There's a risk of heat-stroke, isn't there?"
"That's why we train the hardest in the summer," the Cap responds. "So the men get acclimated."
She nods slowly, glancing across the way, catching his eye. He smiles and gives her a little thumbs-up, trying to reassure her. She shoots a smile back, but he can tell she's still not convinced.
Maybe if she sees the jaws of life. The jaws of life are rad.
Suddenly, a heavy hand claps down on his shoulder – Rodriguez, one of the senior men in the company. One of the less haze-happy, too. "This is your day off, rookie," he says. "Can't keep away?"
"I brought my girlfriend Rachel," he answers, gesturing to where the Cap is now showing her one of their fire coats, putting the huge, heavy thing on her tiny frame. He smiles – she looks about twelve years old wearing that. Adorable.
"Ah, the famous Rachel Berry, currently playing Liesl in 'The Sound of Music' at the Lyceum Theater."
He may have mentioned her a time or two around the station. "She's amazing!" he beams proudly.
"So I've heard."
"It's her first starring role on Broadway and she's the best one in the show. And she's understudy for Maria now." He'd never admit out loud, but every day he hopes the lady currently playing Maria gets hit by a taxi. Just injured though, not killed. Maybe put into a coma for a while, but that's it.
"Me and the Mrs. have tickets for next Thursday."
"Awesome! You'll love it. I've seen it fifteen times."
Rodriguez smiles, shaking his head. "She here signing autographs?"
"She wanted to see everything to make sure it's safe and in proper working order." Roddy gives him a look - is he trying not to laugh? He shrugs at the older man. "She worries about me."
"The only unsafe thing here is the food," he comments.
"That's what I told her!" They watch as the Cap puts a helmet on her head. It makes her laugh – a good sign.
"You should marry her as soon as possible, Hud." His cheeks start to burn but before he can answer, Rodriguez adds, "Oh, um, by the way, don't show her your locker."
"Huh? Why not?" His locker's the coolest part! It has his name on it and everything.
"Because we filled it with gay porn this morning," Rodriguez tells him, walking away.
His knee is bouncing like a rubber ball but his mind is focused, sharp, running down an ordered checklist. The truck rounds a corner and suddenly he can smell it – smoke; burning wood like at camp; burning plastic, acrid and sharp; melting metal like pennies in his mouth. Under the wail of the siren he can hear the crackling, the blistering.
He knows what to do.
He knows how to do it.
"You ready, Hud?" Rodriguez shouts at him.
It's five a.m. when he gets home, tired to the core but still thrumming with adrenaline and a little bit of celebratory scotch – his first real fire and he saved a life! A woman trapped in her top floor apartment. In the moment, he didn't even think about it, just did it, did what had to be done. But apparently, it was a bit of a big deal – there were news people at the station and his fellow firefighters were giving him a hard time, "rookie's luck" and all that, but he could tell they were proud of him.
The lamp by the couch is on, Captain Hook sitting on the arm rest, licking his paws and cleaning his scarred face meticulously. "Morning, Cap'n."
"Whoa." The cat just talked to him! Maybe he had more scotch than he thought. But then he realizes there's a body under the afghan spread across the couch cushions. "Rach?"
Rachel's dark head emerges, her hair messy and sexy. She blinks and smiles languidly. "Hey, baby."
"Why aren't you in bed?" he asks, dropping his duffle bag, taking off his jacket and shoes. "It's cold out here."
"I saw the news," she says, her grin just as sexy as her hair.
He grins back. "Oh yeah?"
"Yeah." He stops dead, one shoe still hanging off his foot, when she flings back the afghan and gets up, revealing herself. Clad only in the tight little pink FDNY t-shirt he bought her and a tiny pair of white panties, her skin flushed to a golden hue, her hair and her smile, her glowing eyes... His blood surges, his heart speeds, his stomach flips. "I tried to stay up so I could congratulate you."
He trips over his shoe and stumbles forward, taking her in his arms, lifting her up, flooded with emotion. "Rachel, I love you so much..." He's crying now and he doesn't even know why.
"You're a hero, Finn," she murmurs, kissing his cheek and his eyes, kissing his tears, her legs wrapping around his hips. "I always knew you would be because you always have been."
"I was just doing my job," he says softly, honestly, nuzzling her neck.
"But it's more than just a job," she answers, seeing right through to the center of his heart. He nods, his eyes welling up again, and he suddenly, finally, understands what it's like to be Rachel Berry – passionate, committed, a hundred-percent about his career. No, it's not just a job, like being a party clown was just a job, like going on auditions day after day seemed to be his job for a while. No, it's his calling.
But then he realizes he's always been passionate, committed, a hundred-percent. About her.
She wipes away his tears. "Mmhmm?"
"that's a long time, such a long time, to be waiting in the sun..."
She likes to try different things sometimes. Toys. Restraints. Costumes, oh how she loves costumes. Food – a particular pleasure. She really likes trying different positions, too. Some are hard for him because he doesn't do the yoga like she does, so it takes some practice to get it right, so he doesn't hurt himself. He eventually started wondering where she learned all these things. Maybe it's a weird kind of yoga they practice. It worried him. Then he found a stash of Cosmo magazines in a big shoebox under the bed when he dropped his phone and accidentally kicked it under there. He spent an hour and a half reading back issues until his head started to hurt from perfume inserts. Mystery of her sexual technique education solved. Well, that mystery solved – a thousand others of the female psyche opened up by the pages of that publication. Talk about head-spinning. He put the magazines back the way he found them and never mentioned them to her.
Sometimes a wife needs her secrets, he figures. And god knows he enjoys the creative fruits of her secret studies. Like, a lot.
But in truth he prefers times like just this – making slow, simple, thorough, indulgent love to her on a late Sunday morning. No props, no bendy pretzel moves, no broken kitchen chairs or cracked wall plaster to mend, no maple syrup to wash out of the sheets. Their bed is warm and the light from the window is pale, pure. Her hair is a dark shining pool against the white pillowcase. Her lips are rose red from his kisses, the tips of her breasts dusky pink. He likes the quietness and softness of right now. Her little moans and sighs. The sweat slowly beading on her neck. Her hands lightly tugging his hair, her calves sliding over his ass. Hovering over her little body with his huge one, sheltering her, protecting her. They even talk as they make love, a conversation with their mouths as their bodies sing.
"Remember our first time?" he murmurs, pushing deeply, slowly into her. "On my bed. We skipped school."
She keens, high and breathy, her eyes fluttering, taking a moment before answering, "Of course I remember. I was so nervous."
"Me too." He kisses her, smiling against her lips. "I was crap."
"You were sweet and...eager," she amends, lifting her hips to meet his.
He groans softly and rewards her with another delicate kiss. "No question."
That was ten years ago. They were just kids. He couldn't last longer than twenty seconds and they couldn't get enough of each other – they had sex everywhere, as much as possible, fast and hard and explosive and fierce, like they'd die if they didn't come right fucking now. It was intense and almost scary how much he needed her body back then.
In truth, not that much has changed, he realizes. She still makes him nervous – she's so beautiful, more so than ever, her distinctive features sleek and striking, all traces of adolescent awkwardness gone. And she's famous now, actually famous; nearly every day someone stops her on the street to ask for her autograph. "Oh, I loved you in 'Sound of Music'!" or "Oh you were so evil on 'General Hospital', is your character coming back?" No, her character isn't coming back, she was eaten by lions, duh! It cracks him up. Not even soap opera people can come back from that. Presumably.
It's still pretty intense and scary how much he craves her. At twenty-six, he thinks about having sex with her just as much as he did when he was sixteen. But now the actual act is way way way way better than it was when he was sixteen. Sometimes she asks if he slipped a Levitra because he lasts so long. That wins her a lot of points.
He feels it – she's going to come. Her eyes clench shut, her brow furrows, her teeth gnaw her lip, her whole body tightens like a drum as she loses control, as he pushes her slowly, gently, inextricably over. He lets himself go, claiming her, and they fall together, beautifully. He murmurs words of love, faith, and devotion to her as they crash.
It scares him how much he loves her because he knows he's the only man she's ever been with, and he wonders if she wonders what it's like with others. She knows a lot of fancy people now, smart people, good-looking men, famous men and charming men. And who is he? Just a fireman. Just her husband. Just a lughead. Ten years with one person is a long time, especially at their age. Does she think of them when he's making love to her? Does she sometimes imagine she's with them instead? Rachel Berry Hudson has always been, will always be, enough for him – more than enough! But he has to wonder, he can't help but wonder, it kills him to wonder if he's really enough for her now.
"I'm trying to recapture the grittiness, the immediacy, the stylized languor of masters like Antonioni and Truffaut, but with a modern sensibility, esprit de Rattner et Bay, si vous voulez," their dinner host, Mr. Harrick – oops, sorry, Blue, his name is Blue, Blue Harrick – says, smiling. The table erupts in laughter.
Oh, Blue made a joke, it seems. Okay. He smiles and nods. It seems like the thing to do. Nod and smile, smile and nod. He's been doing it all night. His face kinda hurts. They've been here for hours. It's a vegan restaurant so he's still hungry – maybe she'll let him stop at the all-night pizza place on 54th on the way home. They have the best potato slice in town. Mmmm...potato slice. Garlic and pesto and potato and cheesy deliciousness. That thin layer of grease over the top, the way it dribbles down your chin as you take the first sweet sweet bite. Maybe he'll get two slices. And a diet Coke. Maybe he can convince her to get a slice - it's her favorite, too. Then they'll walk home, holding hands, and it'll be like old times, when they first moved here from Lima, walking together late at night, taking in the city. And then they'll put on their jammies and watch the Rangers game until she falls asleep in his arms. Make something of the night in the end. Oh, crap, did he set the DVR to record the Rangers game? Dung nuggets, please let it be there.
He surreptitiously sneaks his phone out to check the score. Down two goals in the first. Hmm.
The table erupts with laughter again. He missed something. Whatever. He doesn't bother nodding and smiling or pretending to understand or care what Mr. Fancypants British Accent Film Director Blue Harrick just said. No one's paying attention to him anyway – they're all too busy hanging on Blue's every word. He doesn't even know why he's here, this seems more like a business-type dinner – all these people are involved in Mr. Blow Hard Dick's upcoming film "Love In the Time of Anarchy". The producer dude, always checking his Blackberry. The other producer dude, drunk. The leading man, gay and closeted. The leading lady, showing a helluva lot of cleavage. Other people. He feels like the... ninth wheel. Who needs a ninth wheel?
But Rachel had really wanted him to come. "Blue is so fantastic, you'll love him! You liked his movie 'Killer of Death', remember? I really want you to meet him." He figured this Blue guy must be a decent dude if he cast Rachel.
But now he's not sure how decent a dude wearing fingerless leather gloves can really be. What, do his palms get really cold but his fingers stay warm? How does that work?
He feels a foot – Rachel's – nudge his under the table and realizes everyone is looking at him expectantly. "Sorry?" he asks vaguely, like he couldn't hear.
"I asked what you thought of 'Killer of Death' – your lovely wife said you liked it."
He glances at his lovely wife. She's giving him a lovely little smile but he can see the prodding in her lovely eyes – Say something, Finn! "Oh. Yeah. It was cool." Blow Hard Dick is still looking at him like he wants a longer answer. He saw it once, on cable, like a year ago, and he's trying to remember what it was about but he mostly remembers that Rachel was wearing a leotard and doing stretches while it was on. "I liked all the...killing and death and...blood."
"Yeah. It had a lot of good violence."
Blow Hard Dick's eyebrow rises. "Good violence." Blow Hard glances around the table, looking amused, then sets his lizardy gaze back on him. "The violence was actually intended ironically."
Can he hear crickets tweeting? Or is that the twitter of discreet laughter around the table? "Oh."
"It was a statement on just the sort of gratuitous violence one sees so often in mainstream Hollywood cinema. You see, I believe that we're so inundated-"
He frowns, confused, and interrupts. "But it had robots."
"Pardon?" Blow Hard Dick asks.
"'Killer of Death' had robots. CGI robots. They breathed fire. So how is that any different from any other mainstream Hollywood movie?" Now no one laughs. They're all staring at him again. Rachel is still smiling but it looks pasted in place. Blow Hard opens his mouth, but again he cuts him off, "I guess the robots were a satirical comment on the overdependence of Hollywood on digital imagery and modern technology?"
The producer, the drunk one, suddenly barks. Maybe it was a laugh. Hard to tell. Blow Hard gets splotchy, opening and closing his mouth a few times. Finally he says, "Yes. Yes it was."
He looks the guy right in the eye and smiles. "Cool."
"Well, that was embarrassing," Rachel says as their taxi pulls away from the restaurant.
"Why?" He knows why.
"Blue Harrick is a very important, influential-"
He rolls his eyes. "He's an asshole."
"He's my boss, Finn!"
"So I'm not allowed not have an opinion, I'm not allowed to have thoughts?"
"There's a time and place-"
He can't stop his mouth from running now, his anger taking over. "I'm just supposed to sit there and be pretty because I'm too stupid to talk to your friends?"
"Goddammit, Finn," she snaps, shaking her head. It shocks him a little - she doesn't swear that much, she thinks curse words taste bad in her mouth. "The only time you're stupid is when you call yourself stupid."
Well now he feels even more stupid. He stares out his window, silent. She's silent, too. The tension is making his skin crawl. It's torture. Even the cab driver can't stand it – he turns up the radio, NPR papering over the silence.
When she speaks again, he almost can't hear her, her voice low and tight. "Is it that you don't want me to succeed?"
"Now who's being stupid?" he shouts back, enraged, his voice filling the car.
That...that doesn't help things so much.
She goes straight to bed without another word to him. He sits on the living room couch drinking beer, watching the Rangers game alone, in the dark, staring at it but not paying much attention.
A commercial break. He gets up off the couch, wanders into the kitchen for another beer. He should go into the bedroom, instead. He knows he should. Go in there, sit on the edge of the bed next to her, stroke her cheek softly so she wakes up. Apologize. Beg forgiveness. "I'm sorry I'm such an insecure jerk, Rachel. I know this opportunity means a lot to you. I'm sorry that I embarrassed you. I guess I'm just scared. I don't want to lose you, honey bear. I don't know what I'd do without you." And she'd tell him that he'll never lose her and that there's nothing to be scared of because she loves him more than anything, more than anything, and then she'd take off his clothes and lay him down on the bed and climb on top of him to show him how very much she loves him. And everything would be okay again. He wants everything to be okay.
He shuts the fridge door, forgetting the beer, and turns to leave the kitchen, intent on making everything okay again. He kicks something in the dark, hears skittering and little bits rolling across the linoleum – the cat dish, cat food. "Shit," he mutters, switching on the overhead light to clean it up. Stooping down, he notices just how much cat food there is. Weird. The dish is usually mostly empty by now, Captain Hook having polished it off through the day.
"Cap'n," he calls softly, scooping up the cat food. "Cap'n, come here, boy."
He checks the window seat in the sun nook. No Cap'n. He checks the laundry room, inside the dryer – sometimes he sleeps in there. Under the couch in the living room. The cat tree in the den. The guest room. No Cap'n. Finally, the master bedroom, turning on the bathroom light so he can see, softly calling as he crawls around on the floor looking under the sofa and under the bed.
"What are you doing?" Rachel asks irritably, peering down at him.
"Looking for the Captain. I can't find him."
"The cleaning lady probably let him out." He crawls across the floor to the closet, switching on the light in there. "Can you look in the morning, please? I have to be up early for rehearsals."
"So you don't care that our cat is missing?" he asks, standing up. "Great."
She throws herself back down onto her pillow, shutting her eyes, saying dismissively, "He's a cat. He'll be fine for one night."
He can't believe her indifference. The Captain is their baby, they've had him for more than seven years! And she just wants to go back to sleep? "What if he's run away?" he argues. She doesn't open her eyes but he hears her sigh heavily. "He probably went back to our old neighborhood. He doesn't like it up here, you know. It's too hoity-toity."
"Finn!" She half-sits up again. "I've had enough for one night! Can you please just stop!"
He wishes he could. He feels like he's been taken over by aliens or something. A childish, weak, jerky race of alien. They stare at each other across the room, the dim light making it hard to read her face, the moment stretching into something really unpleasant, something that feels...irreconcilable.
He grabs a coat from the closet, switching off the light and shutting the door too hard.
"Where are you going?" she asks sharply.
"I'm gonna go look for him." He opens his mouth to add to that, but when it starts to feel like something very ugly will come out, he shuts his trap.
"Fine, whatever. Turn the bathroom light off."
He walks and walks and walks, unmindful of the cold, calling for the cat – not too loud because cats can hear real good, he knows – and shaking a little can of cat treats. He attracts a couple strays, but no Cap'n. He walks all the way to the pizza place on 54th. He stands in front of the window, looking through the steam at the couple of people eating inside. He's still hungry, a raw emptiness inside him. Maybe not all hunger.
He goes in, orders two potato slices and a diet Coke. Sits at the window counter watching the passing car lights, ghostly and strange through the condensation on the window. The pizza looks the same - garlic, cheese, grease, pesto, potato - but it doesn't taste the same. It doesn't taste as good. It doesn't taste like much at all, in fact. He still feels hollow inside after the first slice so he leaves the second to grow cold and forgotten. He sips his drink and absently draws shapes in the steam – squiggles. Squiggles forming hearts.
Hearts forming the letter "R".
The letter "R" stretching out into "Rachel".
"feel I've been sleeping, might have looked but I've never seen..."
The timing isn't great. Two weeks later and it would've been fine – Rachel would be done filming and she'd have all the time in the world to play tour guide to an old friend and said old friend's daughter. But as it is, he's got a couple days off and Rachel is still working twelve to fourteen hours every day on Long Island. "I'll probably be able to get back here by seven, we can all have dinner together," she says, pulling on her boots. It's not even six a.m. – he's still half-asleep, not in any condition to disagree or argue. The intercom buzzes. "That's my ride. See you later. Give them my love."
And she's out the door. No kiss goodbye. Hasn't been one since the night the cat went missing. The cat's still missing. He put up fliers around the neighborhood, offering a reward – the couple of bites turned out not to be the Captain, just assholes trying to make some money. Rachel keeps saying he'll come back when he wants to. Who would want to come back here, to this cold place where two cold people share a cold bed and can barely string together a conversation anymore?
He rolls over to go back to sleep, dreading the day ahead, dreading having to play host to Quinn Fabray and her daughter Beth.
At worst, he's indifferent to Quinn now; it's been a long time since high school, a long time since he got over what she did to him. They were glee teammates and eventually she became friends with Rachel. He even used to go with Rachel to babysit Baby Beth – it was fun playing house together, playing Mommy and Daddy, and he cared about Beth, he couldn't help but care. But he was never Quinn's friend again.
Rachel has kept in touch with them, he knows, but he hasn't seen them since he and Rachel went back to Lima to get married. He remembers Quinn being there, how she came through the reception line offering congratulations with Beth, who was not a baby anymore but a tiny blonde replica of her mother. He remembers hugging mother and daughter and then promptly forgetting about them because he was so excited and overwhelmed by the fact that he'd just married Rachel Berry, that Rachel Berry was his wife, that she looked so gorgeous and happy in her wedding dress, that he couldn't wait to get her alone so he could take it off her and make her really happy. That was the best day of his life. He thought he was going to explode from the love he felt for her that day.
"Give them my love," Rachel had said. Yeah, give them her love. How about she gives it to him instead, her husband?
He sickly wishes for some major catastrophe, a bomb or a fire in some skyscraper, so he'll get called into work. Fighting fires, battling disaster, dodging danger – that he can deal with, gladly and efficiently. The rest of this shit is just...shit.
He falls asleep waiting for his beeper to go off.
New York City is catastrophe-free today, wrapped safely in the warmth of pre-Christmas and middle-of-Hanukah glad tidings and good cheer. And Quinn Fabray looks the same as she always has. Maybe a bit tired around the eyes, actually. And her hair is different than he remembers it – shorter, practical, mom-ish. Beth isn't the little blonde clone she once was; she's got a tomboy streak running through her now and when she smiles, it's actually more of a grin – Puck's grin. It's freaky but charming.
"Have you seen Puck lately?" he asks as they walk through a very snowy Central Park, Beth running ahead of them to see a couple of mounted policemen and their horses.
"I see him around town. And when he comes over to take her to soccer practice or choir practice or whatever."
"How is he?"
"He's...okay. Not good, not bad, just okay."
"And how are you?"
She half-smiles. "I'm okay, too. Busy with her, of course. I'm usually busy at Sheets 'N' Things this time of year, but when my cousin invited us up to Connecticut for the holidays, I just thought 'Why not? We need a vacation for once.' And the city is so amazing."
"Yeah. Best this time of year. Everyone's nicer to each other."
"Life in the big city seems to be treating you guys well," Quinn says sincerely.
"Things are really, really good with us," he lies convincingly, not sure why he feels the need to. "Busy, of course, like you said. But we're living our dream, so what could be better than that?"
Quinn nods, like she's absorbing his words. He feels like an asshole. "They did a story about Rachel and the movie she's shooting in the Lima Lancer-Gazette."
"Oh, yeah, I saw that. Her dads clipped the article and sent it to us." He smiles to himself, thinking of it. They used an old yearbook photo of Rachel in the story. She looked so perky and cute in it. But the best part of the photo was that her blouse was mis-buttoned in it, askew because they'd been having sex in the janitor's closet just minutes before it was taken. The evidence of their raging teenage hormones immortalized forever in the Thunderclap. If you look at his own yearbook photo, just a page and a half over from hers, the evidence is there in the huge, dopey smile on his flushed face.
His smile today fades when he recalls Rachel's reaction to the Lima Lancer-Gazette article. She didn't seem to remember why her shirt was mis-buttoned in that photo and was more concerned that they spelled Blue Harrick's name incorrectly. Twice.
"It sounds amazing, the movie," Quinn is saying.
He controls his features, the way he was trained to do in all those acting classes he used to take, so Quinn won't see him grimace. "Yeah, it should be awesome. I can't wait to see it. She's been working really hard on it." He knows she's about to ask more about it so he acts fast, calling out to Beth. "Hey, Beth, come here! I want to show you something."
Beth turns her attention away from the horses and runs back to them. "What is it, Mr. Hudson?"
He points across the meadow to a hill on the other side. "See that? They have a toboggan run on that hill."
"Really?" Her green eyes light up.
"Yeah, you like sledding?"
"Totally!" the little girl shouts, jumping up and down. He laughs at her enthusiasm, catching some of it. "But we don't have a sled."
"You can rent one," he tells her. "One of the beauties of living in New York – you can rent anything."
"Can we go, mom?"
"Of course," Quinn answers. "I'll just watch, though. My sledding days are over."
"Will you go sledding, Mr. Hudson?" she asks hopefully.
He frowns, rubbing his chin very thoughtfully. "I dunno... Looks pretty scary. Will you ride with me so I don't chicken out?"
"Totally. I'm not afraid."
"Afterwards, we might have to get some hot chocolate to calm my nerves," he adds. Quinn smiles warmly at him and he winks.
"Come on, let's go!" It surprises him when Beth grabs his gloved hand and pulls, but he holds on tight as they run across the field together, Quinn following in her own time. He glances back at her, sees her smile, the light in her eyes. She doesn't look so tired anymore.
Quinn is greasing a pan for cornbread and he's showing Beth how to crack eggs without getting any shell in the bowl when his phone rings. He wipes his hands off and fishes into his pocket. Rachel. Probably calling to tell him she's on her way home. Inexplicably, he feels sorta odd about it, a little ambivalent. He's been enjoying himself more than he ever expected with Quinn and Beth, playing in the park, getting snacks after, going grocery shopping, cooking. He almost forgot Rachel was going to be joining them.
"Hey, Rach," he answers, trying to sound upbeat. "Where are you?"
"I'm still on set," she says.
He frowns. "But it's almost six-thirty now."
"I know, I know, but the director-" The "director", she always calls him now, instead of Blue, because she knows how he hates him. Like avoiding saying his name is the same as avoiding talking about him. "-needs to go overtime tonight to get the shot he wants. So I'm still here."
He doesn't answer for a long moment. "How long?" he asks flatly.
"Dunno. Maybe an hour, maybe two. No idea."
He doesn't even bother to let his anger flare – what's the point anymore? "Quinn and Beth are here. We're making chili and cornbread. You want to say hi?"
"Yeah, put them on. And Finn?"
"I'm sorry." She does sound sorry, her voice heavy with emotion. She sounds tired.
"Doesn't matter," he answers automatically, dismissive. He thinks he hears her sigh. "Hang on." He turns to Quinn and Beth, sees their disappointment. "Rachel isn't sure she'll be able to make it, but she wants to say hi," he says, holding out his phone.
Quinn takes it, her fingers barely brushing his as she does. Their conversation is all pleasantries and quick catching up and regrets that they might not be able to see each other. He listens as Beth tells Rachel how she hoped they could sing Christmas songs together when she got home, how Beth listens to her cast recordings all the time. He listens as Rachel has to ring off, being called to set.
"I really wanted to see Aunt Rachel," Beth says sadly after she's hung up.
"I know, baby."
He beats the cornbread batter hard, but keeps his voice light as he promises, "We can have fun, even if she's not here. Do you know how to play...Rock Band?", knowing full well she does because Quinn told him she's getting Rock Band Miley Cyrus for her Christmas present.
"I love Rock Band! I always beat mom when we play."
"Because you never let me sing," Quinn defends. "I always have to play the guitar or the bass."
"But you can't sing!" Beth argues, her callowness innocent.
"She can too sing," he says. "She's an excellent singer! We were in glee club together in high school, so believe me, I know." He leans down on the counter, so they're on the same level now. "Why don't we let mom sing a few tonight and I'll show you how to play the drums."
"Okay," Beth agrees, grinning.
He grins back. "Cool."
"You seeing anyone these days?" Wow, he does not know why he asked that. They were just washing the dishes, cleaning up after dinner, Beth in the den updating her Facebook status, having soundly beaten them both at Rock Band earlier - they certainly weren't talking about her love life. They were talking about the old days, laughing about how they all used to play Rock Band at Artie Abrams' house. He didn't mean to ask her that, no way - even if he has been wondering about it all day. She seems surprised, too, blushing, looking down at the soapy dishes. "Sorry. It's none of my business."
"It's okay. I haven't really been," she says slowly. "The dating pool in Lima is a bit shallow."
"Ah. Yeah." It sorta makes him sad, actually, that she's all alone. Whatever past lays between them, she deserves to be happy. And Beth is fantastic – cute and spunky and smart. They deserve to have someone there for them. Everyone does, he knows. He tells her so.
"I am happy, Finn," she says quietly, rinsing her hands, done with the dishes. He hands her a towel, stepping closer.
"Are you?" he asks, briefly touching her shoulder.
She shrugs and won't look up at him. "What is happy? If anyone were really happy, what would we have left to aspire to? I'm...okay, remember?"
"Do you ever wonder..." he starts softly, leaning down a little. He hesitates, making her look up. She blinks a few times, her pretty eyes uncertain. He sees fine creases around them. "Do you ever wonder what woulda happened if-if-"
"If we hadn't broken up? If we'd been a family?" He touches her shoulder again, leaving his hand there.
"If you had never learned the truth, you mean?"
"If things had worked out differently."
"We were never meant to be, Finn. You and Rachel were-"
"Do you ever wonder?" he interrupts, insistent.
She blinks again, her eyes moist now. Ever so slightly, she nods, whispering, "Yes."
So he kisses her.
Her lips are warm and soft. But they're not full and ripe and thrilling and perfect. They're still, immobile. So he kisses her more firmly, his lips moving over hers, his hand sliding up to cup the back of her head. He can't remember the last time he kissed her – where it was, what it was like. He wants her to kiss him back and make him remember.
But then Quinn is leaning back, pushing his hand off. "Stop, stop," she says, stepping away from him. "This isn't happening."
Fuck. He squeezes his eyes shut, feeling sick to his stomach. "I'm sorry," he mutters miserably, opening his eyes. "I'm sorry." But she's not looking at him, she's looking past him, her face stricken and pained. His stomach falls to the floor and he turns around, already knowing what he'll see. And he does.
He sees Rachel. Standing at the kitchen door. Still wearing her heavy winter coat. Snowflakes clinging to her hair. Her cheeks flushed red. Staring at him. Her stare is colder than the weather outside.
He stares back. No words come. He's frozen.
"We're gonna go," Quinn says quietly, trying to slip out of the kitchen. But she pauses before Rachel. "I'm so sorry, Rachel. We weren't...it wasn't-"
She's still staring at him, even as she says plainly, conversationally, "It's okay, Quinn. Wait for me, I'll walk down with you."
Quinn goes. He can hear her call for Beth.
He feels...nothing. He feels like nothing. "Rachel," is the best he can manage to strangle out. It's pathetic and useless.
"You really are stupid," she says bitterly. Quinn used to call him stupid all the time. Everyone did. Some still do. He's used to it. He calls himself stupid regularly. Rachel never has. Never, in all these years together. Not once has she ever called him stupid the way she did just now. Like she really means it. He feels like she just punched him in the throat. It buckles his knees. It's a shockwave, leaving him breathless and blind.
She turns away, leaving him there alone in the kitchen. Leaving him alone. Leaving him.
"your soul so peaceful, how could I have been so mean..."
"Hud, are you coming, going, or something in between?" Rodriguez asks, striding into the kitchen.
His head snaps up from his cup of coffee and he tries to focus in. "Huh? What? Huh?"
"Three excellent questions. Are you just arriving, just leaving, or neither?"
Maybe he's had too much coffee. Or not enough. Words aren't making much sense right now but he tries to cover, sitting up straighter and taking a stab with, "Neither."
"You been picking up a few extra shifts, I hear."
He shrugs and buries his face in a long sip of sugary coffee. "A few."
"Three shifts in a row ain't a few, son," Roddy retorts. "That's overkill."
He shrugs again and gets up, scraping his chair on the tiles. Pouring another large cup of coffee, his ninth? tenth? of the night, he tries to explain. "Lots of guys needing extra time off to get their Christmas shopping done, I guess."
"Mm-hmm," he hears Roddy grumble. "How about you? Your Christmas shopping done?"
He dumps a heap of sugar into his cup and stirs, playing dumb – easy for him. "Yep, all done!"
"Yeah? What'd you get Rachel?"
"Oh, you know...this and that. Jewelry?"
Roddy is staring at him, squinting, waiting for more. But he's not going to elaborate. Nope, denial is the best medicine. Denial and lots and lots of caffeine. And keeping busy busy busy. Gotta keep moving.
Roddy takes a step closer, lowering his voice, sounding concerned. "Everything okay at home, Finn?"
Roddy reminds him of Mr. Schuester right now, strongly and unexpectedly, and he feels something well up inside him. It squeezes his chest tight. The words tremble in his throat – he wants to tell him everything, like he used to tell Mr. Schue things, laying his problems out for his mentor, asking for his help and advice. Ask him how things got to this point - so fucked up, so backwards. This isn't how their dreams are supposed to go!
The air is split by a shrill ringing – the fire bell. It startles him and he nearly drops his coffee, but at the same time it's a relief. Back to work. Action. Saved by the goddamn bell. "That's us, dude." He dumps his cup into the sink and spins around, giving Rodriguez a big grin, feeling it stretch uncomfortably over his mouth. "Let's hit it!"
He jogs out of the kitchen and pretends he doesn't see the worried, grim frown creasing Roddy's face.
He hears Roddy bark at him to "Wait, goddammit!" but he doesn't wait, he runs on ahead and he knows it's a mistake but momentum, and something more desperate and illogical than that, carry him through, right on through the door, because he heard shouts inside, he knows he did – they're trapped, he's gotta reach them, he's gotta save them, he's gotta be a hero.
The wood splinters beneath him as he crashes through and fire spreads up his shoulder and arm just as fire spreads all around him, sudden and engulfing, the flames heretofore trapped and starved, given life and breath by his entrance.
He hears the woosh and feels the heat and sees orange, only orange, no one trapped and needing saving, and he thinks to himself "This is it."
The painkillers don't do much to lessen the sting when the back of Roddy's hand connects with his face.
"Ow! What the hell, man!"
"That's for being stupid," Roddy rebukes him.
"Stop calling me that!" he roars, sitting up fast in his hospital bed, sending sharp pangs shooting up his arm and shoulder and into his neck, making him wince.
"What am I supposed to call you when you disobey my command and go charging off like a madman?"
"I thought there were people trapped up there." He glares, but Roddy knows how to glare like a mofo, so he's outmatched. And he knows the older man is right. Of course he is. So he slowly sits back again, careful of his arm in the sling. "You didn't have to hit me. I'm injured here."
"You're suspended for two weeks."
"What?" He looks down at his sling. It's just a sprained shoulder and a few cuts, not even thirty stitches in total. "I'm not that injured."
"No, Hud. Not medical leave. Suspended. A black mark on your record."
He frowns. "My permanent record?"
Roddy nods. "The Captain will be around later to tell you so himself."
Oh shit. This is bad. If he learned anything from Rachel during their high school years, it was the grave seriousness of one's permanent record. "But I-but I can't! I need to work, man!"
Roddy sits down in the chair next his bed, leaning forward, saying not unkindly, "No, what you need to do is go home and straighten things out with Rachel."
He looks away, eyes darting to the TV hanging on the wall - three a.m. infomercials for craptastic junk.
"Hud. What happened?"
He stares at the TV, stubborn. What are they selling? It's either work-at-home work or Jesus, it's not clear to him.
"Okay. Well. If you're not gonna talk to me..." Roddy gets up from his seat, heads for the door. "I'm just gonna go call her and tell her you're here, injured, in the hospital, being a baby, and that she should come get you-"
"She left me," he blurts finally, flatly.
That stops Roddy. He comes back to the chair, rubbing his hand over his face. "Why?"
He shrugs – more fire races up his neck. Shit. "It's complicated."
"Usually is." Roddy sits, letting out a long breath, looking at him sadly.
"Has Jen ever left you?" he asks, curious.
"No," Roddy answers immediately. "Know why?"
"Because I'm not stupid."
He scowls, still annoyed. "Thanks."
"Lookit. They're discharging you in a couple hours. You have two weeks now. Go home. Call her, see her, beg her forgiveness, whatever you have to do. Just sort it out," Roddy advises.
Sort it out. Sure. Simple. Why didn't he think of that before?
"I'm not going to your funeral if you get yourself killed next time around, you hear me, Hud? And Rachel will kill me if I let you get killed. Sort it out. That's an order."
When Roddy drops him off at home, it's just barely light out, the sky leaden and heavy. It's going to snow today. His friend doesn't say much but leaves him with a look – a reminder. Yeah, yeah – sort it out. He's got it. He just doesn't know how to do it.
He's picked up the phone to call Rachel exactly three times since she left. The first time, it rang and rang and finally went to her voicemail. And he hung up. She would see that he called and she could call him back if she wanted to. And she did. He missed it – he was out on a run, a car accident in midtown. She didn't leave a voicemail either.
So he picked up the phone a second time. Scrolled down to her entry in his phonebook – "Honey Bear". Stared at it. Couldn't think of a damn thing to say. Felt like he was paralyzed inside. No emotions. No pain. No soul. Empty, hollow, barren, all those other adjectives. So he closed his phone.
The third time he only got as far as opening his phone.
He goes into their building and waves off the doorman's concerns about his very apparent injuries, smiling at him reassuringly, cracking some joke about getting "hazard pay", hardly knowing what he's saying, on auto-pilot. He's been on auto-pilot all week, fueled by coffee and adrenaline. As soon as the elevator doors close, he feels his face fall back into place, back into stasis-mode.
The painkillers are wearing off and he's suddenly bone-tired. Auto-pilot has now malfunctioned and he's going to crash, it seems. He needs to sleep. He'll sleep. Then he'll sort it out.
The elevator comes to a stop and he drags himself out and down the hall, digging his keys from his pocket. It takes too long to get the key working – he's not used to doing it left-handed and the pain is distracting. But when he finally stumbles through the door and into the entry hall, he stops dead in his tracks, the pain and sleep and a thousand other things forgotten, the keys falling from his hand and clattering on the hardwood floor. He'd given up hope, he realizes now, painfully. He'd given up.
Captain Hook is sitting in the middle of the hall, staring up at him through his one good eye, like the Captain has been expecting him, like he's been the missing one.
The cat pads toward him, rubbing his little cat head affectionately against his pant leg, all forgiven.
And the floodgates open wide, swift and powerful.
A great heaving sob wracks through his body, tears blinding him as he stoops down and picks up the Captain, burying his face in the Captain's soft fur, hugging the poor thing tightly. The Captain, independent cat that he is, usually cuddles on his own terms, squirming and fighting free if he doesn't want to be held. But today, he doesn't squirm, doesn't try to escape, perhaps sensing his owner's need for comfort.
And so he stands in the middle of the hallway, the door still half-open behind him, clutching their cat and weeping like a child.
"feel I've been sleeping, I'm born to be with you..."
He drives up to the security guard at the gate and pats the cat-carrier on the seat next to him. "Cat wrangler," he says absently. He doesn't care if the guard believes him or not – he'll run over the guy and bust through the gate if he has to. But the dude waves him through, telling him where to park.
As he pulls into the lot and finds a space, his knee bouncing restlessly, he's reminded of something from long ago. The night he drove to Rachel's house to pick her up after his mom explained how babies were actually made (how fucking embarrassing and terrible had that conversation been?). It was so late, the world asleep and quiet, but he'd been more wired than the Eastern power grid, vibrating from the inside out at the speed of light. He remembers how desperate and shaky he felt. Until the moment his new love Rachel Berry was in his arms.
He feels the same way now, but it's mixed with a strange combination of Vicadin, the stress of driving out of the city, and his lack of sleep. It's a miracle he made it here in one piece. Or however many pieces he's currently in, grimacing as he accidentally bumps his shoulder getting the Captain, in his carrier, out of the car.
He follows the yellow production signs to base camp, finding the cluster of trailers but having no idea which one he wants. And no one seems to be around to point him in the right direction. He figures it must be lunchtime and maybe that's a good thing, actually, because he must look like a crazy person, arm in a sling, both desperate- and glassy-eyed, hair gone wild, carrying a cat crate.
"Meow," the Captain complains.
"I know, I shoulda called ahead I guess," he answers. Shit, he actually has gone crazy. Maybe he should just start bellowing out her name as he wanders around. He auditioned for Stanley in "Streetcar" once – he didn't get it, but this is totally his Stanley moment come to life.
"You, young man!" he hears someone call out behind him. Ack, it's the fuzz! Turning around, he immediately recognizes the man – one of the producer dudes. The drunk one. The one who barked at him. He has no idea what the guy's name is. Alan? Ron? What's-His-Name is hurrying towards him, looking excited. "Just the man I wanted to talk to!"
He looks around – clearly What's-His-Name is calling to someone behind him. But no, the producer comes right up to him, smiling, like he really has been waiting to talk to him. "Me?"
"I'd shake your hand but you seem to be out of hands."
"I'm-I'm Rachel Berry's husband," he offers, trying to clarify the confusion.
"Oh, I know, I remember well! You are the man who gave Mr. Blue Harrick the verbal dressing-down he so richly and so long deserved." The producer claps him on his good shoulder. It only hurts a little bit. "You're my hero. And you're a genius, young man!"
Well. That's a first. "Um, thanks?"
"Can I tell you how long I'd been waiting to say exactly what you said? Christ almighty, I can't wait 'til this shoot is over," he mutters.
"Um, I really need to find-"
But What's-His-Name goes on, "Now then, I'm glad you're here. The project I'm developing next is about firefighters and I'd love to pick your brain about being a New York City fireman because you, in fact, are the perfect prototype for the protagonist, the hero of the piece. Let me buy you lunch and we'll talk about it, how would that be?"
He has no idea what to say to that at the moment, slightly overwhelmed and slightly out of it due to the drugs. "Uh, I appreciate all that and everything, but I kinda really need to find my wife right now."
"Oh, sure! No problem, I'll show you." The producer gingerly gets him pointed in the right direction and leads him through the maze of trailers. "Just let me tell you more about the basic idea of the story while we walk..."
With the producer's card jammed in his back pocket – Cal, his name is Cal, it turns out – and a promise made to have lunch with Cal in the city, he's finally alone before Rachel's trailer. He's nervous. Or excited. Or scared. Or manic. Or about to detonate. Or all of the above. He puts down the Captain's crate and knocks, his hand trembling.
"Give me ten more minutes, please!" he hears her shout from inside. It's hard to tell through the door, but her voice sounds strange to his ear. He's more anxious than ever now. He opens the door slowly. It's dim inside, the lights off. He can't quite see her. She shouts again, "I said I need ten more minutes!"
She sounds very much unlike herself. His eyes adjust and he can see her now, huddled on the little couch under a big blanket, her head turned away from the door. "Rachel?" he says, worried, stepping inside, shutting the door behind him.
Her dark head snaps around. "Finn?" She's suddenly on her feet, the blanket falling to the floor, and she's standing before him in her thick pink bathrobe, surprise written all over her pale, blotchy face. Her eyes, red and raw, are just as surprised as she takes him in, takes in his sling. "Finn, what happened!"
But he's speaking at the same time, his words echoing hers, "Rachel, what's the matter?"
Her eyes well up and overflow, tears following old tracks down her cheeks, but she doesn't answer his question, asking desperately, in a rush of words, "You're hurt—oh my god you got hurt, what happened, are you okay?"
He puts the cat down, ignoring his meows, and steps closer. He touches her face tenderly. "Why are you crying, angel?"
Her lip wobbles a little and the tears flow harder, her voice choked as she admits, "I don't know what I'm doing anymore! I don't know what I'm doing... I'm so tired, Finn."
He pulls her close as she leans into him, burying her face against his coat as he holds her with his one good arm, clinging to her as she clings to him, murmuring senselessly into her hair, his own tears getting it damp, "I'm sorry, Rachel. I'm so sorry, I'm so fucking sorry, I love you so much..."
They sit, facing each other on the small couch, knees pressed together, their hands brushing and touching as they pet the cat curled up in her lap. She speaks quietly, her tears dry now, telling him how hard the shoot has been, how it's gone over schedule and over budget, how big an asshole Blue Harrick really has been throughout.
"I've worked with assholes before, though," she says. "But I could always get through it because I had you to come to home to. You gave me the strength and reason to go on." Guilt, a hot, sharp blade, cuts through his heart and he's about to say something. She senses it and stops him. "I'm the one who left, Finn."
"Because I pushed you away," he answers.
Her brow furrows. She can't look at him. "I thought you were tired of me, tired of putting up with my brand of crazy. I know I'm high-maintenance. I know I've been busy and bitchy lately-"
"No! No, god no," he says emotionally. "Rachel, no. It was me. I was so scared to lose you that I did everything I could to make sure I did. I was scared and I thought-I thought you didn't need me anymore. I thought you'd outgrown me."
She looks shocked, horrified by his words. Her own words are blunt, honest, clear. "How could I not need my heart anymore? I can't live without it. How could I outgrow my soul? It's stitched to my bones."
Since that day she came up to him at his locker at school and told him he was special - this girl he hardly knew peering inside his soul, this so-called loser, this insane, terrifying, rather intriguing, surprising, shockingly talented girl - her words have had power over him. The power to make him more, the power to make him see, the power to move him, the power to make him whole. Such power. Nothing's changed from that day since.
"Don't let me be so stupid ever again," he whispers, squeezing her hand.
"And don't let me be so stupid, either," she insists.
He picks up the cat and sets him on the floor, reaching out and pulling Rachel closer, pulling her against him, because he can't take another second where he's not kissing her. Her lips, so full and ripe and thrilling as always, her mouth warming him, chasing away the last bits of cold emptiness. Their kiss igniting them both.
He leans back against the couch and she follows, half-laying upon him, making those soft sounds in her throat. "I need you," she murmurs, her hands moving to his hips, finding the closure on his jeans.
He shifts beneath her so she can better straddle him, saying between kisses, "I need you more."
He feels her smile. "No, I need you more," she argues, undoing the buttons on his pants, slipping her hand inside.
"I need you way...way more," he draws out, breathless, feeling her hand close around his cock, getting him hard, so goddamn hard. He opens her bathrobe and finds she's in her underwear, plain gray cottons. He rubs his hand over her breast and she leans into his touch, smiling in relief. He slides his hand down slowly, slowly, and under the waist of her panties, curling his fingers into her soft heat.
"Not as much as I need you," she groans, her hips grinding against his touch. God, she's so wet, and she's so beautiful, a rosy flush filling her cheeks, her tongue slipping out to wet her lips.
Her hand is skillful and fluid, moving faster, driving him mad, pushing him quickly to a very good place, and he matches her pace, his fingers plunging deep inside her, his thumb grazing her button. They're urgent, impatient, greedy, running as fast as they can, like they're going to die if they don't come rightfuckingnow. His voice is low and hoarse but he manages to say to her, "Let's only fight like this from now on."
There's a lot left to say between them, but they don't say it yet – there's time for that later, they agree. They're quite, enjoying the afterglow, and he holds her, feeling himself start to drift into long-ignored sleep.
"This couch pulls out into a bed," she says quietly. She always could read his mind.
A knock at the door rouses him and he feels how suddenly she tenses up. "We need you on set in ten, Ms. Berry." She sighs heavily, her breath hot on his skin. She doesn't answer, so there's another knock.
"Okay, coming," she calls tightly. He strokes her back, soothingly, trying to calm her. Trying to calm himself, too. It would be easy to blame that "director" for her wound-up state, his douchebaggery making her cry alone in her trailer, making her dread going back to work. But the truth is it's not all the director's fault, and that's what has him really upset. He's so angry at himself, first and foremost. But she doesn't need his anger right now.
"Baby bear?" she starts timidly. "Will you come with me?"
He hesitates. He wants nothing more than to go to set with her, hold her hand the whole way, kiss her softly good luck, plunder the craft services table, and, yes, punch the director really hard in the face.
"No," he finally responds. "No, I won't." She gasps a little and he sits up, making her sit up too so he can look at her, so she can understand him. "Rachel, you're RachelBerry. You're a star. Go out there and be the star you are, the star you've always been. I'll be here, I'll be right here. I'll be waiting for you. And when you're done out there, you can come back here to me and I'll take care of you. Come back and be my Rachel Berry." He smiles at her. "My sweet Rachel Berry Hudson."
Her smile grows slowly but steadily, quickly reaching her eyes and making them sparkle like sunlight on snow. Her smile lights up the room, his heart, his whole world, and it shines so bright. The smile of his one and only star.
"Always," she promises.
"our love is waking, you're born to be with me..."
"What time is your meeting today?"
"And Cal will be there?" The not-always-drunk-just-occasionally-drunk Cal. Not just a producer but also their friend, a good man hiding beneath some chemical dependency.
"Plus the executive producer and the director. Those two are gonna take some convincing. They're not a hundred percent sold on me."
"You'll win them over, I know you will."
"Well, from what I've heard, the director is a total asshole."
He grins. "'Asshole' must be in the job description for directors. Assholes only need apply."
She scoots closer under the sheet so she can kiss his cheek and then rests her head on his shoulder, her hand reaching up to lightly stroke the fine, dark hair of the baby sleeping peacefully on his chest. His smile is just as peaceful as their child because the two most important people in all the world are snuggled in his arms, their skin pressed to his. Even the cat is here, curled up between his feet. His whole world is in this bed.
He knows well that life isn't perfect. But sometimes it is. And he knows, too, that happiness isn't a constant. But for right now, it is.
He closes his eyes, his family's soft breathing lulling him to sleep. But then suddenly, something occurs to him. His eyes pop open and he could kick himself for nearly forgetting to tell her about it. "Oh! I just read something about the director guy in the trades the other day."
"Yeah?" she says idly, her finger gingerly tracing the tiny pink ear and the smooth, perfect, tiny pink cheek.
"He just gave a pile of cash to the volunteer fire department in his old hometown. Forktown, up in Vermont."
"He's from someplace called Forktown?" Rachel giggles.
"Pay attention to the wisdom I'm trying to impart here, mama bear," he scolds lightly. "They needed a new ladder truck and couldn't afford one 'cuz of budget cuts, so he bought one for them. Can you believe that?"
"So the lesson is he's not a total asshole."
"It's actually a two-part lesson," he says. She laughs again. "If you just happen to mention that your adoring, brave-"
"-totally rad husband is a firefighter, he'll totally be won over," he finishes, grinning.
She props herself up, looking at him with serious, radiant eyes, the pride and adoration he sees there making his stomach flip over. "That's a really good idea, Finn."
"Yes," she answers, smiling confidently, her hand moving away from the baby and traveling south, making his stomach flip over again, making him shiver all over.
"Let me put her down," he murmurs gently, slipping out of bed and padding across the room, laying their daughter Pink Lady Hudson in her crib, tucking her pink blanket securely around her as she yawns in her sleep. He bends down to give her a tender kiss before turning back to Rachel. She's kneeling on the bed, naked, pushing her long hair off her face, staring at him intently.
"And what are you looking at, mama bear?" he asks, giving her a lop-sided smile.
"Your smokin' hot rear end," she answers straightforwardly. He feels himself start to blush. "Bring it here, papa bear."
A/N: Thanks for reading and commenting!