Title: With This Ring
Author: TheMastress here, smartalli on lj & AO3, weaponsofclassdestruction on tumblr (Good lord, I'm everywhere.)
Characters/Pairings: Puck/Rachel, Puck/Sam, Kurt/Puck, and Mike/Rachel friendship
Warnings: It's Puck, guys. He swears.
Summary: AU future!fic. It's time for Puck to buy Rachel's ring.
Disclaimer: Don't own it. Not mine. Don't sue.
A/N: This is a (very late) birthday present for my buddy Lori (wickedmessenger or the joker to the thief), and therefore, I dedicate this to her. Babe...I'd proudly fight off an oncoming zombie horde with you any day. I hope you like it.
"No. No! Put it down and slowly, slowly, back away from the hideous ring."
Puck rolls his eyes. "Alright, so that one's a no."
"Unless you'd like someone to accuse her of wearing a ring you purchased from a gumball machine...then yes."
Puck puts the ring down and leans forward, dropping his elbows onto the glass case. He starts rubbing his forehead and says, "How long have we been at this now?"
Kurt looks down at his watch and says, "Oh...approximately twenty minutes."
"Shit." Puck looks up and turns wide eyes on Kurt. "That's it?"
Kurt straightens his vest and says, "I know this seems overwhelming, but that's exactly why you brought me along. There's no use in having a gay friend if you don't call on his expertise once in a while. You know Rachel,I know Rachel, and I have a superior taste level. Together, we'll find her the perfect ring. I promise."
He sighs and stands up straight. "It can't just be any old ring. It can't just be good, okay? It has to be-"
"Perfect, I know."
"Yeah, but...no, not perfect. It just...it has to be Rachel's. It has to be her ring. I made her wait so fuckin' long because we barely had five bucks to our name and she deserved more than some pawn shop ring and a lame courthouse ceremony. And she's been a fuckin' saint about it. She's watched everyone else we know get married and she's never said anything, even though I know it has to be bugging the shit out of her that I haven't asked. So, the ring...it has to be hers. I've made her wait way too long to get this shit wrong."
Kurt levels him with a look and says, "You're not going to get it wrong. You are going to find just the right ring and she's going to get the little blue box that girls the world over dream of getting, and it will be the most important, most precious gift you could ever possibly give her." He pauses, waves his hand through the air and hastily adds, "Until, that is, you give her the three gorgeous, talented babies you've already planned on having."
He shakes his head. "It's the least I could do after you so gallantly came to my aid in the bar the other night." He holds up his left hand, tilts his head to the side, and says, "Some people just don't understand the concept of married, even when it's staring them right in the face."
Puck shrugs and says, "I should actually be thanking you for that. First time I've had an excuse to punch a dude in years. I kinda missed it." He turns, braces his hands on the edges of the glass case, and says, "Alright...what about that one?"
Kurt looks down and gasps in horror. "No! Certainly not!"
"But it's big and sparkly and expensive. Isn't that what chicks want?"
"Maybe if she were a Real Housewife of New Jersey, but this is Rachel we're talking about. She needs something classic and distinctive. Something that just screams...Rachel. And something that doesn't require the use of a forklift to lift her hand. I didn't spend years carefully honing her style to have you mess it up with a single piece of gaudy jewelry."
"I have no idea what classic and distinctive look like, Kurt."
"It means stop looking at the price tags and start looking for something that you can imagine seeing on her finger for the rest of your lives." When Puck opens his mouth to speak, Kurt says, "I know you want to pay her back for being patient by buying her the most expensive ring you can afford, but Rachel isn't going to care how much you spent on it. She's going to care that you're the one giving it to her."
Puck's shoulders slump and he says, "I suck at this."
Kurt scoffs. "Of course you suck at this. You're a straight man. Straight men don't spend much time thinking about cut or color or clarity. That's why you have mothers and sisters and gay best friends. And then you pay us back by helping us out when our pipes start leaking or the hot guy down the hall wants to talk sports with us." He shrugs gently. "It's a mutually beneficial relationship."
Puck stares down at the glass case, at the dozens and dozens of rings it holds, and starts to feel a little sick. How in the hell is he going to find Rachel's ring in all of this?
"Okay, why don't you start here and I'll start down there, and we'll work our way towards one another. Don't even look at the price, just focus on the ring. If anything strikes you as being particularly Rachel, give me a shout and I'll come running."
Puck looks up and sees Kurt walking away and he says, "Wait...how many rings does this place have?"
Kurt gives him an odd look and says, "Puck...we're in Tiffany's. It's the Engagement Ring Capitol of the World."
Kurt moves too far away to hear, and Puck grumbles under his breath, "Awesome. This is gonna be super easy."
Puck watches Kurt as he asks to see a ring and Puck looks back down at the rings in front of him and rubs the back of his neck. He looks at ring after ring after ring, and the more rings he sees, the more they start to blur together, until he can't tell if the diamond on top is a circle or a square or some weird blobby shape. And Puck might know jack shit about engagement rings, but he's pretty sure that last one doesn't actually exist.
"That one's nice."
Puck looks up at Sam, leaning into the glass case next to him with his hands in his pockets, and says, "What the hell are you doing here?"
"Kurt texted me. I had to see this for myself." He grins. "So you're finally biting the bullet, huh? Making an honest woman out of Rachel?"
Puck glares at him. "Leave."
He laughs. "Are they all starting to look alike to you yet?"
"Fuck. Yes." He points down at the case. "What shape is the diamond on that ring?"
"Uh..." Sam peers down at the rings in the case, practically resting his nose on the glass. "Oval."
He stands and Puck says, "Shit. Are you sure it's not a blobby shape?"
"Yeah, pretty sure."
Puck braces himself on the edge of the glass case and bows his head and Sam says, "Man, Puck...you need to relax."
"Relax?" Puck turns to him. "Relax? Lemme tell you something. Everyone talks about all the pressure chicks put themselves through to have the perfect wedding, but it's just as bad for the guys. First we have to find the ring, and we better make the right choice, 'cause if we get one that's too big or too small or the wrong shape or in gold when we should've gotten platinum, we're gonna be judged on it for the rest of our lives. And not by our girls. No. By everyone else they know, who'll take one look at a less than perfect ring sitting on her finger, and think "You can do better than this douchebag." And then, when we find the perfect ring, then we have to plan the perfect proposal. And a girl like Rachel, Sam? She's not the kind of girl you propose to on a jumbotron during the seventh inning stretch. You don't just take her out to dinner and put her ring in the dessert and get down on one knee. No. She's the kind of girl you plan a gigantic musical number in the middle of Central Park for."
"It's a big deal, I get that. But c'mon...Rachel loves you. She's going to say yes, no matter what you do."
Puck shakes his head. "Ten years, Sam. Ten years she's stuck up for me when everyone told her she was making the biggest mistake of her life, getting involved with me. Hell...people still like to remind her that I'm the dude who knocked up a chick he didn't even really like, just because I was too much of an idiot to wear a condom. But it's more than that. We could barely move in our first apartment without elbowing each other, and Rachel just smiled and called it quaint and baked a shitload of brownies to try and overpower the cabbage smell that always wafted up from the family that lived below us. She sold all her Streisand autographed memorabilia once so we could make rent, because she said if I pawned my guitar, then that would be as good as giving up on my dreams, and she never wanted to see me do that. She got a second job so we could pay our bills, even while she was going out for auditions and taking dance classes, just so I could have the time to perform in dive bars at night. She's worked herself to the fucking bone for me, Sam, and it's time to pay her back."
Puck looks to the side briefly, where a Tiffany's employee is cleaning the surface of a glass case. The dude is trying to look like he's not paying any attention and failing miserably at it, his eyes shifting up to track Puck's movements as he wipes the same, long clean spot over and over again.
Puck rubs the back of his neck and looks back at Sam, who takes a sip of his soda. "Okay?"
Sam says, "Yeah. Okay. We won't stop until we find the perfect ring for her."
He shrugs, and Puck hears the things Sam doesn't say, things like you're my bro and you don't have to defend yourself to me. "So what does she think you're doing right now?"
Puck turns and looks back down into the case in front of them and says, "She thinks I'm getting your opinion on my new song. By the way...you like the second verse and think the third needs work, but the chorus is catchy and the bridge is solid."
He smirks. "Yeah? And how do I feel about the chord progression from the bridge to the third verse?"
"Mock me all you want, but you'll be grateful when she asks and you don't have to pull something out of your ass at the last second."
"She's not going to ask."
Puck shoots him a look. "Dude...she's Rachel. If she thought it wasn't overstepping some line, she'd probably ask you to write an essay on my use of metaphor or something."
Puck moves slowly down the case, his fingers trailing along the edge, mentally dismissing ring after ring for being too big or too small or the wrong color or just...not right.
Seriously...who knew diamonds came in something other than clear?
"Can I see that one?"
A woman behind the counter smiles and pulls the ring out, setting it on top of the case, and Puck picks it up and holds it up in front of his face, grasped between his thumb and his pointer finger.
"That one's nice."
"Yeah." Not too big, not too small... "But it's not right."
When did he become fucking Goldilocks?
He sets the ring back down and moves a little further along the case, peering down through the glass.
The first time Puck saw Rachel Berry, she was five years old, wearing a little red dress, and scolding a group of stuffed animals in the woods at the edge of Sutter Park, doing her best impersonation of a tiny dictator-in-training. She walked around them in a circle with her hands on her hips, telling off the elephant for being too slow and the bunny for being too fast and the bear for trying to eat the mouse when he should have been doing a step ball change, and told them that if they ever planned to make it to Broadway, they'd have to do a lot better, and start taking their practices seriously.
So basically, she was completely nuts.
Puck wanted to talk to her, find out what her deal was – and what the hell was a step ball change anyway? – but Finn distracted him by shouting his name, and when he turned back to look for her she was running in the opposite direction with her stuffed animals in her arms, toward a black car.
It was the first of many times that Finn Hudson was responsible for cockblocking him.
(Puck has resolutely decided not to think about the worst of those times, when Rachel was falling all over herself to be with Finn, treating herself like garbage just because he was obsessed with a bitchy blonde and wouldn't give her the time of day, and she thought that made her less than worthy of him, when really it was Finn who didn't deserve any of them.)
The second time he saw her, she was standing in the front of his kindergarten class, waiting to be introduced by Mrs. Henderson. It was also the first appearance of The Rachel Berry Showface. Kids tend to be brutal as a rule, especially to new kids, but throw in Rachel's declaration of "I'm going to be a big star on Broadway one day!", and her fate was pretty much sealed. It wasn't hard to see the smirk growing on Lopez's face, even from across the room, and judging by the sudden too-bright smile on Rachel's face, Puck knew she'd caught it too.
And that could've been it; that could've been the entire story of Rachel Berry's slide into loser status. But fate decided to do her a solid and stepped in to give her an alphabetical advantage, seating her next to the only kid guaranteed to be nice to her: Mike Chang. By reading circle they were already best friends, and since no one ever had a bad thing to say about Chang, Rachel was pretty much immune from loser status from that day forward.
(It didn't hurt that Mike had a protective streak for Rachel in him a mile wide, and he wasn't afraid to let it come out and play. Karofsky found out pretty early about Chang's right hook.)
That should've made it easier for Puck to get to know Rachel, to figure out why it was his eyes tracked her whenever she walked in the room, why he always seemed to know when they were in the same room, and why he wanted to beat Karofksy's face in whenever he so much as looked at her wrong, but Rachel still wasn't technically cool, and Puck was already too worried about where he stood in the class hierarchy to do anything other than watch her with Chang from a distance.
And that was pretty much the way it went for years until high school happened, when even Chang's influence couldn't stop the slushy showers and she developed that stupid crush on Hudson that would take her years to shake. Puck dreamed about her, he watched her from afar, he resisted the urge daily to punch Finn in the fucking face for screwing with her like he did. He screwed Quinn to screw over Finn. And then he finally got over himself, grew a set, and asked her out, only to have her try to end it a week later.
Uh uh. No. Fuck that shit.
It was hard, especially when it came out about the baby and Rachel couldn't even look at him. And especially with nearly everyone around them telling Rachel constantly that he was a deadbeat, that she could do a fuckton better than him. (Including Finn, and yeah...wasn't that a hilarious conversation to witness.) But that only seemed to spur her on and make her more determined to prove that she wasn't an idiot, that he wasn't a deadbeat, and that they'd eat their own words one day.
Puck always liked the sound of that: one day. Like she knew where they were going and what was going to happen to them. Like she knew they'd survive the long haul, even when Puck was privately petrified that one day she'd wake up and agree that she could do so much better than some kid who'd been half in love with her since she'd had the balls to stand up in front of a room of piranhas and tell them she'd be something some day. Just fucking watch her.
(He would have killed to see their faces the first time she appeared in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, singing a medley from West Side Story, or when she was interviewed on the Today Show. Killed.)
So yeah, he owes her, okay? He owes her for every time she stood up for him and told everyone they knew that he'd be something someday, just wait and see. He owes her for sticking with him through the craziness of Beth and his father coming back into town, and for figuring out how to calm him down when all he wanted to do was just punch someone. Hard. He owes her for existing, for giving him something to work for, for expecting better of him than anyone else ever has.
He just owes her.
He looks down into the case, his eyes trailing over each ring until they just stop.
That's it. That's the one.
Puck has to work quickly to get this done because, judging by the look on the face of the woman who sold him the ring, he doesn't have long before the paparazzi get wind of it. And yeah, he could have his publicist lie and say he was buying a gift for his sister or his mother or something, but he doesn't ever want to lie about Rachel, not when he spent years lying to himself about her. Rachel deserves better than that. She also deserves a fucking massive production of a proposal, and she deserves not to have the world looking in.
Which is why he's glad he's got Chang. Dude got exactly what he wanted and ran with it, made it into something he knew Rachel would love.
And it reminds him once again that even if everyone else thought Puck and Rachel would never work out, they've always had Chang in their corner.
Puck claps him on the back. "Thanks, man. I owe you."
"Keep making her happy, we'll be good." Puck nods and Mike turns, addresses everyone else. "Okay, places guys! She's almost here."
Puck takes his place in the wings, smiles to himself when he hears the heavy door at the back of the house shut and Rachel's footsteps as she gets closer and closer to the stage. "Hello? Where is everyone? Why is it so dark in here? Michael Chang...if this is an attempt to scare me, might I remind you that I wasn't the one who ran screaming out of the haunted house when we were nine."
Puck looks over at Mike, lifts an eyebrow with a smirk, and Mike mouths bite me before he signals to the other side of the stage.
Chang did his homework, because it's like a musical tour of their life together, only sung by all of Rachel's castmates, a capella, with pictures of them alternating on a screen in the back, and in between songs, videos of them, captured by their friends. It's awesome, and perfect – just what he wanted for Rachel. He seriously owes Mike. Because he knew his idea was good, he knew Rachel would love it, but Mike made it into something else.
If Rachel weren't already going to make Mike her Man of Honor, Puck would steal him for his Best Man in a heartbeat.
When Sweet Caroline starts, Puck slings his guitar strap over his shoulder and waits.
He knew Rachel would expect this song and there was no way Puck could propose without it – it's basically a constant reminder that pulling his head out of his ass and growing a pair was the best decision he could have ever made – but he and Mike agreed that he shouldn't sing it. That she'd be expecting that.
When the song tails off, the last video starts. It's Puck's favorite, one Tina took with her phone on their way back from Nationals senior year. Rachel has her head on his shoulder and she murmurs something into his neck that the recording doesn't pick up, her eyes heavy and barely open, exhausted and happy from a win she worked her ass off for.
I love you.
He steps out from the wings, starts playing. He can't see her yet, but like always, he knows she's there.
I wanna make you smile whenever you're sad
Carry you around when your arthritis is bad
She has her hand over her mouth, tears streaming down her cheeks, when he catches his first glimpse of her.
Oh all I wanna do is grow old with you
She lets out a happy little sob and he grins as he sings the next verse, all through the bridge, and into the last, when he gets down on one knee and sings up to her, her body so close to his she's almost in the way of his playing.
So let me do the dishes in our kitchen sink
Put you to bed when you've had too much to drink
I could be the man who grows old with you
I wanna grow old with you
The thing about Rachel is this: when they had their first real fight, she could have done what everyone else always had, and throw the things he's done in his face, use them to hurt him. But she didn't. She wouldn't. She couldn't. And that's how Puck knew he'd do whatever he had to to keep this girl, this woman. She's not perfect – he's not so stupid as to put her on a pedestal she can't even begin to keep her balance on – but fuck if she's not perfect for him.
She wraps her arms around him, kisses him through her tears, and he stands, his arms wrapped tightly around her waist, her feet hovering off the ground.
"I love you."