A/N: Sort-of prompt by CSM, who convinced me to let the angstmonster play. A tale told in four parts. This will be a bumpy one folks!
Also, in a completely unrelated topic, for anyone who's interested in a soundtrack, I have compiled a fanmix for Nerve Damage which can be found at tiltingaxis(dot)tumblr /post/15128909216/ nerve-damage-fanmix. Thanks to CarmenMauri for the graphic!
"Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering."
-Nicole Krauss, The History of Love
It was supposed to be perfect.
He had everything planned, perfectly timed, down to the tiniest details.
But of course, he fucks that up.
The glass is cool against his forehead as his body slumps even further against the large window. He doesn't know how he's still standing, because his mind is barely working right now as he waits. It's quiet where he's standing, and Finn Hudson slowly lets himself slide down to the ground in exhaustion.
He looks a mess. He lost his best jacket hours ago in the flurry of his panic, his white shirt sticking out of his pants. The red splotch near his waist is such a stark contrast to the rest of the fabric and as his eye catches the stain, he almost throws up again.
This isn't the way it's supposed to go.
His foot taps nervously against the cement as he leans against the brick wall. He's nervous, but he's not supposed to show it, and other than his uncontrollable foot, he's got it down. But she knows him better than anyone, better than he knows himself, and if he doesn't keep the damn foot under control this instant, he'll completely blow his cover. So he clenches his toes and focuses all his energy on not making a single move. There. It's not that bad. He just looks like someone is controlling him with a pause button. Damn it.
"Get it together Hudson," he mutters to himself, rolling his eyes in annoyance at his own awkwardness. "Be cool."
He tries to relax himself, moving his arms out and shaking his whole body as he takes in the cold weather. He can do this. He can be cool. He hears the latch of the double doors, and the exit door opens as she walks out, casually talking to one of her cast mates.
This is it. Look alive.
She looks up and sees him, and just like that, every single doubtful thought leaves his body as he waves at her with one hand, grinning wide at the beam that's growing on her face. She says a quick goodbye and he reciprocates the other woman's wave before his attention goes back towards the tiny woman jogging up to him.
"What are you doing here?" she asks breathlessly as she reaches him, stopping just short of running him into the wall. "I thought you won't be back until tomorrow."
"Don't you want me here?" he teases. "I can come back tomorrow if you'd like."
She rolls her eyes before she squeals and jumps him. He grunts, staggering against the wall as her legs go around his waist and her arms wrap themselves tightly around his neck, his arms wrapping themselves firmly under her legs to hold her steady.
"Don't you dare," she whispers against his ear, her breath warming his cold skin. He smiles against her shoulder and says nothing as he squeezes her tighter against him.
"I missed you so much," she mumbles, leaning back to kiss him firmly on the lips before unwinding her legs from around him. She laughs when he refuses to let her go, letting her legs suspend a few feet off the ground.
"Put me down Finn."
"No," he murmurs, leaning forwards to kiss her forehead. "I missed you too, and I don't wanna."
"That's real mature," she teases, giggling as he sticks his tongue out before grinning at her. She reaches to take off the cap he's wearing, putting it on her head instead. "Fine. We'll just stand here at the back of the studio for the rest of the night."
"I can do that."
"I'm real heavy," she warns. He laughs at that.
"Please. Rachel Barbra Berry, you barely weigh anything."
"Well the coat is really heavy you know. It's freezing out here."
She leans forward to kiss him again, and he lets her down gently, threading his fingers through hers once she's standing.
"I'm taking you out tonight," he tells her. She raises an eyebrow as he playfully pushes the bill of his cap down to hide her eyes.
"Where are we going?" she asks excitedly.
"You'll see," was his mysterious answer, ignoring her pout as he pulls her along.
"How's Lima?" she asks as she buckles her seatbelt.
"Lima's Lima," he answers, shrugging. She rolls her eyes.
"I know that. I mean, how's Carole doing? Is she okay?"
"Mom? Of course she is. She sent you that recipe you asked for by the way. Remind me to give it to you later."
"So her back's doing okay?" she asks, turning to look at him.
"Yeah, of – I mean," he switches quickly, catching himself. "She's doing great. It wasn't as bad as we thought it was going to be, just a minor sprain."
"Thank God," Rachel says, relieved. "I was so worried."
"Yeah, nothing to worry about," he tells her, smiling.
"Is that why you're back early?" she asks. He wishes she'd stop with the questions. It's messing with his concentration.
"What?" he asks distractedly. He checks the time. It's 8.30. He's right on schedule. He runs through the mental checklist once again. Rachel, check. Reservation, check. Flowers, are in the trunk of his car. The ring is-
"I said, is that why you're back early- Finn, are you okay?"
"I- I- I'm fine," he stammers, one hand holding the wheel as his other tries to covertly slip into his the pocket of his pants. He holds his sigh of relief as his fingers touch the velvet box. He turns to shoot her an unassuming grin. "I came back early 'cause mom didn't need me anymore, and I figured I wouldn't want you to miss me too much, you know?"
"Someone's cocky tonight."
"I'm just telling it like it is babe."
"I barely missed you at all," she declares jokingly as he winks at her. "I only checked my phone three times today to see if you called."
" Only three? I'm hurt."
"Yep. And I didn't even call Kurt to ask him why I couldn't reach you."
He chuckles, grabbing her hand to pull it onto her lap.
"Okay fine," he relents, rubbing circles over her knuckles with his thumb. "I came home early because I missed you too much."
He turns to smile at her, and it's quiet for a while as her fingers toy with his.
"Where are we going Finn?"
He parks his car in the first secluded alley he finds and turns to face her after he unbuckles his seatbelt. It's 9.15. He's running a little late.
"Are we here?" she asks, slightly confused as she looks out the window.
"Remember our first date?" he asks quietly. She turns to him, smiling.
"Yes," she answers, amused. "We were supposed to go to Sardi's but-"
"I didn't know I had to make a reservation because apparently walk-ins are impossible-"
"And we spent the whole night in this very car, in front of the restaurant instead," she finishes, laughing at the memory. "Eating takeout, because you said it was the atmosphere that counts and the front door is good enough."
He shakes his head ruefully, grinning.
"It was a disaster," he murmurs. She shakes her head.
"It was perfect," she tells him.
"You're perfect," he says instead, a goofy grin gracing his features as she blushes.
"And you're cheesy. And for the final time, where are you taking me Mr. Hudson?"
"I thought we'd try it again," he says carefully, watching as her face lights up. "I made the reservation this time."
"You're pulling out all the stops tonight. Did you do something?" she asks teasingly.
"Just thought you'd enjoy going on a proper, disaster-averted date for once," he quips.
She frowns suddenly when she looks down.
"But I'm not dressed for the occasion. Finn, I'm in jeans-"
"You'd look gorgeous in a burlap sack."
"Well I'm glad you think so, but one does not step into Sardi's in casual jeans Finn Hudson, especially not one Rachel Berry."
"I thought you'd say that," he says, grinning nervously. His palms are starting to sweat as she turns to look at him curiously.
"What are you-"
"Look in the back seat."
She practically jumps into the backseat in her excitement as he continues to ramble on nervously.
"I bought it. For you. Duh. I mean, Kurt picked it out. He said you'll love it, but if you don't, you don't have to wear it. You don't even have to keep it. Like, I'll return it, or throw it away, or give it to the homeless or something. Okay this is stupid. You probably hate-"
He stops talking and turns around, startled to find her face inches away from him. Grabbing the back of his neck, she kisses him fiercely. He ignores the uncomfortable position they're in as he attempts to deepen it, but she pulls away, beaming at him breathlessly.
"Help me put this on," she whispers.
He feels a warm pressure pressed against his side and looks up from the ground he's been staring at.
Santana looks back at him, face grim, eyes bloodshot.
"When did you get here?" he asks, his voice raspy. She shakes her head.
"I just did. How-"
"I don't know."
She holds his gaze for a second longer before he looks away, the frustration returning just beneath his skin.
He feels her settling down next to him, replicating his slumped position on the floor. She says nothing as she takes his hand.
She's gripping his hand as tightly as she can.
She doesn't flinch when he does the same.
Her eyes are shining as she looks around, and the way the candle flames reflect in them makes him think of tiny little twinkling stars. He smiles to himself, because four years with Rachel Berry has turned every single star he sees into a metaphor for her.
Kurt was right, the dress is perfect. He doesn't know much about fashion, even less about dresses, but he knows her body like the back of his hand, and that dress, that dress is slowly but surely killing him.
It's getting closer to the end of the night, and he's still relatively on time. He still has no clue what the next step is going to be. Should he go down on one knee? Or would that make too much of a scene? He's pretty sure Rachel won't mind if it does, because she lives for being the centre of attention. It's him that's the problem, as he realizes the all too probable reality of him fumbling the whole thing up in front of a live audience.
Grow some balls Hudson.
God knows four years with her should be enough for him to swallow some of that male pride. They're at Sardi's and she's here and she's perfect, and she's the only person in this whole world that he feels himself with.
She makes him feel like he's home, and home is something you sacrifice everything for right?
And if she wants a big grand proposal, then damnit, he's going to give her one.
She catches him looking and smiles as she takes his hand.
"This is amazing," she tells him. "I love you."
"It's not over yet," he answers, trying to be as smooth as he can. Is that a knowing smile on her face?
He shakes his head as he stands. His hands are shaking just a little but he's still smiling as he reaches for the box in his pocket. The place is packed, and he gets why it's such a bitch to get reservations for the weekend. Nobody notices him anyway.
Her eyes are wide with anticipation as she looks up at him, and suddenly the rest of the world disappears as he drops down to one knee, his hands fumbling clumsily to open the box.
"Rachel Barbra Berry," he starts, "I don't have some big speech planned for this occasion, because you know, adding that on top of all this pressure will just make me screw everything up, and you'd know that more than anyone."
He sees the tears springing out of the corner of her eyes and out of reflex, his thumb brushes them away as continues to talk.
"And- and I'm trying to make this perfect, but it probably won't be because I'm me, and I'm the farthest thing from perfect. But- but you are. Perfect, I mean. You're perfect for me. And- and if you'll let me, I swear I'll spend the rest of my life trying to be perfect for you. So- so-"
He stops for a second as he focuses his attention on getting the box open, grinning in relief when it does and the simple, shiny ring he'd seen on his mom's finger her whole life shows itself. He vaguely hears her gasping, and he looks up, smiling.
"So will you marry me?"
He thinks this must be what it feels like when someone gets a heart attack, because he can barely breathe as her eyes grow softer when she looks him in the eye.
"Yes," she whispers.
"Yeah?" he asks, grinning. She nods furiously, the small smile on her face growing into a Rachel Berry beam.
"Yes, yes, yes!" she squeals as she leaves her chair and kneels next to him to pull him into her arms. He laughs as she squeezes him as tightly as she can, the ring crushed between their bodies.
They are making too much of a scene.
But he doesn't think anyone really minds. He sure as hell doesn't.
He doesn't mind at all.
"It's called a Claddagh ring," Rachel tells him as she holds up her hand once again, admiring the perfect fit on her finger. "Did you know that?"
He shakes his head as he swings their intertwined hands together. They're walking back towards the car, and the crowd is starting to thin out. It wasn't an easy exit, as Rachel insisted on showing her ring to anyone who asked, and there were a surprising number of women who did. Finn managed to steer them away after their waiter boisterously wished them luck, and she's been holding up her free hand to look at the ring twenty times in the span of five minutes.
"It's your grandmother's. Did you know that?"
"I do," he answers, amused.
"It's an Irish tradition," she continues happily. "I bet you didn't even know that your grandma was Irish."
"No clue whatsoever."
"Carole told me when I asked her about it. Did you know that your grandmother brought this ring with her when she moved to our shores? Yeah, and when your granddad proposed, and gave her a ring, she told him that it was swell, but that he had to do it again because she already had her wedding ring, she was just waiting for a groom."
"Gamma was a badass," he says, laughing at the enthralled look on her face.
"She really was," Rachel agrees. "I'm so proud to be part of the legacy of such strong women."
"Hey," he says, stopping them as they reach they curb to pull her into his arms. He leans his forehead against hers, grinning. "How come you know more about my family then I do?" he murmurs.
"Practice," she whispers back. She leans up to rub her nose against his and he pulls her up to kiss her. "They're going to be my family too you know," she whispers against his smile.
"Are they now?"
"Yup. I was just bidding my time."
"You knew I was proposing?" he asks. She just smiles knowingly. "How?"
"The same way I knew your mom didn't really fall and hurt her back."
"Kurt told you, huh?"
"No," she answers sheepishly. "I'm just a little psychic."
"Oh right," he answers sarcastically. "I forgot about that."
"Oh yeah? What does your psychic mind tell you now?" he asks jokingly as he releases her. She grins, walking backwards as she steps off the curb onto the empty street.
"It's telling me that someone is getting very, very lucky tonight," she tells him.
"Irish four clovers lucky," she jokes as he starts to follow her.
"That was lame Berry," he groans.
"Shut up," she answers, laughing. "That was cute, and you know it Hudson. Now I suggest you hurry up. You never know when your luck is going to run out."
She flashes him a come hither smile before she turns and runs. He grins, picking up his pace.
Life sometimes happens in slow motion.
Sometimes, it's like an out of body experience, where he sees himself as he acts and speaks and thinks.
Sometimes, life happens before you see it coming.
But sometimes, sometimes it's all three wrapped into one horrible, frozen, fraction of a second.
She was still laughing when that car came around the corner.
He groans when someone shakes him. His eyes flutter open by degrees, and he winces at the crick in his neck. His vision clears, and Santana's clear, brown eyes bore into his.
He runs to her room, Santana close on his heels, and stops short at the doorway, his heart beating furiously against his ribcage.
There's a nurse taking her temperature, and his heart constricts at the cast her left hand is currently sporting.
"Rachel," he whispers, his voice thick with all the emotion he's been keeping in check.
He hurries over to her and the nurse leaves to give them some privacy. Santana stands at the edge of the doorway.
She's looking at him without saying a word, but he doesn't care as his eyes scan over her face and his hands grip her good one. The warmth of her skin calms him.
"Thank God," he whispers as he leans a little closer. "Thank God you're okay."
"You," she starts, her voice scratchy. She winces from the strain and he waits patiently for her to continue.
"Are you my doctor?"
Sometimes life throws you curveballs, gives you something then takes it away in the blink of an eye.
He stares unseeingly as the doctor continues to talk, every single word sailing through his head except for four simple ones.
"She doesn't remember you."
Sometimes, sometimes life is just a fucking bitch.