Hey guys! Before you read this fic, I need your attention. Because this isn't a stand-alone piece, and you should really go read what inspired it first, okay? So all of you need to go read The Lightning Strike by pen-name navigatethismaze. It is a beautiful, beautiful fic that I love more than any other fic I've ever read EVER. So go read it right now. Then you can come back and read this. Because apparently I'm good at getting inside of Jesse's head and then this happened.
And before anyone freaks out, yes, Jamie has read this and yes, me putting it on here has her okay. Enjoy.
Jesse has never believed in soul mates.
Why should he? Growing up, he'd seen those stupid timer things cause enough trouble, even when they were pointedly ignored, so why on earth should he subject himself to that? The last thing he wants was for what happened to his parents to happen to him, or the girl he falls in love with, for that matter. Because everything had been fine and dandy until one day the entire family had been at some social for his fathers' work, and his mother had shook hands with his father's boss, and suddenly everything was different.
He saw his mother a grand total of four times after that. Apparently she was too busy "making up for lost time" to care that she had children and a husband anymore.
At the age of fourteen, Jesse couldn't quite understand the fact that some people were simply born without a match. He stared at the timer, shown off proudly for the world to see, on his father's wrist while the man slept, wondering if maybe it had made a mistake. Maybe his father had met two people at the same time, and thought that it had been Pamela when in fact it had been the other girl. And then he stared at his own timer, lifting the band he'd used to cover it since he'd been old enough to understand what it was, looking at the little numbers and wondering if they would be the source of heartbreak for him, instead of what the numbers were intended for.
He stops looking after that. It was silly, to put your faith in something as seemingly inconsequential as a bunch of numbers, a bunch of numbers that could probably be surgically removed if you knew the right doctor or maybe you could burn them off if you didn't mind pain, and he supposed there were people out there who had gone mad and even cut their own hands off rather than spend another day waiting. No, it was just a load of rubbish, and Jesse St. James does not put his faith in rubbish.
He ignores his wrist, only taking the band off in the shower, and never looking even then. It is just some stupid birthmark, and like all other birthmarks, it's only consequential if it turns out to be a dangerous mole you could get skin cancer from. And while these timers might be the work of the devil, they are not malignant. Nothing to worry about, then.
Rachel Berry comes into his life on the cusp between childhood and adulthood. She is loud, ambitious, daring, and yet ever so polite and charming, and even from the opposite end of the theatre Jesse is completely taken with her. He'd formed relationships before, mostly meaningless ones that wouldn't last more than a week, but there was something in Rachel draws him in. She is different from all those other girls, different because she's just like him. They share the same dreams and the same promised future, and yet they are complete opposites at the same time. He is willing to cross into morally dubious ground, whereas Rachel keeps two feet in her goody-two-shoes at all times. She is the good girl and he is the bad boy, and for all intents and purposes, they shouldn't work.
But when he goes over to say hello, their eyes meet and their hands just barely touch, and it feels like all the air had been sucked out of the room. Jesse never got star struck, had never before met someone who could render him speechless, but being in close physical proximity with Rachel Berry does just that.
So he thinks that all this silly timer stuff is over. He's heard the stories, of course, heard about how the world was supposed to still on its axis and everything outside of your soul mate would cease to exist. Supposedly there was supposed to be some sort of alarm, if the harsh-sounding beeping that had echoed from his mother's wrist around the room had been any indication, but Jesse marks that off as something particular to each case. His mother's finding of her soul mate had been a re-awakening, so of course there had been the sounding of an alarm clock. But he and Rachel? They didn't need a wake up call to show them they belong together. So of course their wrists remain silent.
Rachel is the one who checked, of course. She lifts up the thick lace bracelet she wears to cover hers, peeking at the numbers and smiling radiantly at him once receiving the answer they both know she would find.
From that point on, they are inseparable.
Jesse takes Rachel home with him that very night, and while most of his previous girlfriends would have jumped him right then and there, Rachel instead asks for the grand tour of his apartment, following him around as he shows her the two small rooms, telling her story after story as she points to every decoration, every piece of clothing, every keepsake he owns. Rachel isn't interested in physical intimacy; she wants instead to know everything about who he is as a person first.
It is nice, unbelievably nice, to start off slow like that. Rachel puts much more faith into the timer on her wrist than Jesse, and she confesses – as they lie together on Jesse's bed, fully clothed and whispering together – that she has been planning this moment since she'd been a little girl. She's wondered who it was that she would find, what he would be like, what she would then learn about him. But that is the one thing she's always wanted: to learn about him.
Their relationship progresses naturally despite the fact that it is expected of both of them to simply accept their fate, marry, and live happily ever after. No, Rachel is determined to take things slowly, and because Jesse loves her more than he's ever loved anyone, he agrees. It's easy to just hold her hand, easy to brush back her dark hair and kiss her softly, easy to look at her in those short skirts and not imagine what was underneath them, because he's finally found the woman he doesn't mind waiting for.
It is probably a blessing in disguise, then, that she has always wanted to wait until marriage for sex. Because what is to come, unbeknownst to them, would be even more painful if they hadn't agreed to wait. Unlike Jesse, who doesn't put much meaning into the physical aspect of a relationship, Rachel sees it as something to be treasured, only to be shared with the one person with whom you were meant to be, and only after you'd pledged your lives to each other. Sure, they come close more than once, but never manage to go all the way.
They've been together for two years when Jesse proposes. It is the opening night of Rachel's second Broadway show, and he comes up onstage after the curtain call and proposes to her in front of the sold-out audience. It is the perfect proposal for the pair of them: for Jesse, who never does things halfway, and for Rachel, who has never been one for half-hearted romantic gestures anyway.
When they kiss for the first time as the other's intended, in front of that cheering crowd, Jesse feels certain that this was what he was meant to be. He has been destined to be Rachel Berry's husband from the moment he'd been created, and if some stupid timer on their wrists is what was needed to prove as much, then so be it.
And for the first time since he'd seen how much pain could come from these timers, he is okay with that. Maybe he had been too quick to decide they held no meaning and could only bring pain. Many times he finds his fingers pulling at the band he still wore, as if to double-check and be sure, but he always stops himself. No, he doesn't need a timer's approval. He only needs Rachel, and Rachel needs him, and they would have found one another even if those stupid timers hadn't pointed them in the right direction.
They start planning their wedding, Rachel chattering excitedly to anyone who will listen about how happy they both are and how wonderful it will be. She's nervous, he can tell, but she's always compensated by being even louder than usual, and that's one of her many quirks that makes her so beautiful. Sometimes Jesse stops and thinks about all the things he should hate about Rachel, should find annoying and painfully dull, except she's Rachel and he could never find anything about her anything less than perfect.
She starts writing out a guest list, coming up with names he's never heard of before, names from her past that she's neglected to mention because until now, she had no reason to think of them. But now he's suddenly hearing all about someone named Finn Hudson, with whom she had a rather embarrassing romance in high school, another classmate Quinn Fabray, with whom she had always butted heads, and then she remembers Kurt Hummel and lets out a little squeak, informing Jesse that they simply must get together sometime.
He agrees. He would agree even if it means traveling to the other end of the country to meet this Kurt Hummel, instead of just the short subway ride they take almost every day. Even though he's been planning on surprising her the very night she proposed for this meeting, because that would have been their two year and four month anniversary, which wouldn't be significant except her fathers have been married for twenty-eight years and he figures that twenty-eight months would be a nice mark to celebrate, too.
In retrospect, he probably should have confessed as to why he'd thought it could have been the two of them instead, let Rachel kiss him for remembering such a detail, and put off meeting Kurt and Kurt's boyfriend for another day. He should have kept putting off meeting these two until he and Rachel were both married and happy and old and wrinkly, because then they would have had that full life together they were both planning on, instead of just twenty-eight short months.
Because what happens at that dinner is exactly what Jesse has been dreading for as long as he can remember.
Blaine Anderson. It's a nice name, one that he'd had to commit to memory before going to meet this man, one that he may have said aloud once or twice, but only because it sounded nice rolling off his tongue.
Blaine Anderson. He seems nice enough, standing next to Kurt Hummel in that restaurant, waiting patiently while their other halves greet each other fondly. He looks a bit nervous, but Jesse's used to that, of course. It's normal for people to get nervous around him and Rachel.
Blaine Anderson, who has dark eyes that remind him a bit of Rachel's.
Blaine Anderson, who should absolutely not look as handsome as he does, just standing there, not even doing anything.
Blaine Anderson, who is staring back and making Jesse feel a bit too hot under his collar for this to be normal.
Blaine Anderson, who, when their hands touch, makes the world around him rush away, his legs trembling because he can't remember what it feels like to stand on solid ground, and suddenly those eyes don't look like Rachel's at all, because Rachel has nothing on these eyes, and if anything, it's Rachel's eyes that remind him of Blaine's.
Blaine Anderson. The man who makes his wrist sing.
But… no. No.
So Jesse pulls his hand away, because there has to be some mistake, has to be some kind of mix-up, because he loves Rachel Berry and he's probably always loved Rachel Berry and this fucking disfigurement on his wrist is now telling him that no, actually, you love this stranger who looks almost exactly like a male version of Rachel, so how's that for a trick of fate for you?
It's so completely unfair that it's all Jesse can do not to punch this idiot Blaine Anderson in the face. This has to be some sort of joke, some sort of set up. Maybe that's why this restaurant is so popular; they play jokes on the people at the back table, making the tile beneath your feet rumble and play music from speakers hidden in the chairs, fucking with you for the amusement of its customers, until they write up your bill with a note saying, "Gotcha!"
He remembers holding onto Rachel, wondering that maybe if he holds tight enough the two of them will fuse together and become one being, that his wrist will stop telling him to go with this man he's never met before in his life and stay with the woman he loves. The woman he's loved for twenty-eight months. The woman he wants to marry.
He remembers panicking. Because all of a sudden, it is like Rachel is distancing herself from him, telling him to go be what his wrist is telling him to be, and all he could suddenly think about is how much he doesn't want this at all.
Yes, he can certainly admit that Blaine is conventionally attractive. He's well-groomed and he certainly paints a nice picture to look at, but the idea of holding him and kissing him and touching him makes Jesse's stomach turn over. He's never been attracted to men, not once in his entire life has he possessed any curiosity to kiss a boy and see if it was the same as kissing a girl. He is not by any means homophobic, and he would tell anyone that met him to be with whoever they want, regardless of gender, but the fact of the matter is that he doesn't find men appealing.
So he says as much, still panicking because he doesn't want to lose Rachel just as much as he wants to lose Blaine, and both of them seem to want for him to do the opposite, and he wonders why his word doesn't mean as much as some stupid alarm bell. Are his feelings so meaningless that they automatically get trumped by a bunch of numbers?
He runs. It's easy to run, so easy that he doesn't even notice how sad he's feeling as he leaves Rachel and Blaine behind, not quite sure which of them he's feeling the most upset about.
He can't even remember what he said and what was said to him by the time he goes back inside that restaurant and all but collapses next to Rachel. He supposes he was still waiting for a waiter to come out and thank him for putting on such a good show, now let me take you back and show you how we rigged this booth and have a nice life with your beautiful fiancée, but nobody comes out. So he leaves, realizing as if he's watching from far away that Rachel doesn't hold his hand on the way home, that she doesn't fall asleep beside him, that she spends the entire night finding everything of hers in his apartment and packing it back up, willing but probably not ready to move on.
He doesn't stop her. He just lies there in his bed, one hand clenched around the bottom of his pillowcase, bunching it together, as if holding onto something might stop him from slipping back into his thoughts. But of course it doesn't work; it never works that way, after all.
So Jesse slips into a dream of dark hair and dark eyes, of a distinctively male face, of Rachel's hair whipping around the corner, its flowery smell filling his nose as he chases after her. He knows he's dreaming and wonders if he's smelling flowers because Rachel's shampoo dripped onto his carpet as she cleaned out his bathroom, but he doesn't open his eyes to look.
He dreams of having Blaine beside him, of waking up next to him, and the image of having another man in his bed is so vivid, so realistic, that it is this image that makes Jesse shoot up, panting, staring blankly around his dark bedroom and patting the spot next to him as if searching for a person he knows isn't there.
He isn't prepared for the sense of loss that sweeps over him when he realizes the bed is empty, save for himself, and he knows he should be mourning the slight, feminine outline that was Rachel Berry, but no, he's feeling it because there is no Blaine Anderson there.
It's terrifying and confusing, having such strong feelings for a stranger and for a man, because yesterday he was Jesse St. James, Rachel Berry's fiancé and one of the most arrow-straight performers on Broadway, but now he has absolutely no idea who he is. He's pining away after someone he hasn't even known for twenty-four hours, and it would be easy if he could at least accept that and figure out what to do about it, but he just can't.
There is a light on in the other room, so Jesse picks himself up, scrubbing at his face with his hands, and walks in to find a very tired-looking Rachel sitting at his tiny kitchen table, a suitcase beside her and a mug of tea between her hands.
"Don't leave," he tells her, and the words are hoarse and weak.
"I have to," she smiles up at him, her eyes red.
"I don't want him," Jesse argues, but even as he says the words he can feel his resolve slipping, can feel a pang of terror at the idea of not having Blaine. That's the worst part about all of this, too, the fact that he can't even rely on himself anymore.
"You love him," Rachel tells him, her gaze steady though her eyes are so tired and red it makes him want to cry. "You may not understand it now, but eventually you'll get over the shock, you'll get over the fact that he's a man, and where does that leave me? I won't let you turn me into an excuse, Jesse. I lost you last night. I'm not sticking around just so I can keep losing you over and over again, every single time I feel you hesitate to touch me."
That's when he realizes her ring is lying in the middle of the table, sparkling innocently in the dim light. He wants to put it back on her finger, swear that he loves her and only wants her, but he finds himself paralyzed. Rachel just keeps looking at him.
"See? Yesterday you would already have me in your arms. Today you're too afraid of leading me on, because you know what we had was never the real thing."
"No," Jesse shakes his head, falling to his knees at her feet, too worn and tired to keep himself upright any longer. "I don't care what a bunch of numbers on my wrist says. I love you, Rachel, and that is never, ever going to change."
"But you'll soon love him more," she reaches down to cup his cheek. "You probably already do."
He doesn't deny it, and she doesn't ask him to.
He doesn't remember her leaving, just suddenly finds himself kneeling painfully on his own kitchen floor, very much alone.
For a while, Jesse stays there, concentrating on the pain in his knees and wondering if that's what it feels like to have your heart broken. If it eventually turns into a dull ache, if by simply collapsing and accepting it you could end it. Then his legs wobble and he has collapsed onto the floor, but his knees still hurt and are locked in place and he says a silent prayer to whatever cruel deity who decided to put this timer on his wrist, asking to please wake up, because he doesn't think he can handle much more of this.
Instead, he finds himself asleep again, dreaming again of dark hair and dark eyes, but this time there are hands, too. Hands that hold his own and brush back his hair and are impossibly gentle. Hands that aren't dainty by any means, but strong and masculine but are somehow comforting instead of frightening. His heart is struggling in his chest, every beat feeling labored, as if his heart is punching his ribcage in protest, but doing so without any real desire to escape. One of those hands covers his heart, fingers splayed out across his chest, and Jesse's own hand is just about to cover it when he wakes up.
What was nice in theory is terrifying in reality. Jesse may have been able to accept hands that were so clearly Blaine's in a dream, but having to contemplate holding them and looking at them and actually loving them in reality is completely different. He doesn't want those larger hands with little tufts of dark hair showing up against skin that is still pale, even if it is darker than his. He wants the similarly darker than his hands that are smaller than that, because attached to those hands is a very female body, and inside that female body is the mind of the woman he loves.
He wonders vaguely how he would feel if Blaine were a woman. Would it have been just as hard to leave Rachel? Would he be lying here, sore and knees almost throbbing in pain, a complete emotional wreck, if he'd been destined to find love with a different woman?
Gender suddenly seems so shallow, so stupid a thing to worry about. Can this all be his past sneaking up on him? Is it possible that falling in love with someone else isn't what frightened him, but instead the possibility of finding himself attracted to another man? All of his past relationships had been physical, based more on the compatibility of two bodies than their minds, but with Rachel, it had been the complete opposite. Would it really be so terrible to do that all over again, just with a man instead?
Why is he so afraid?
He is afraid. He starts laughing, burying his face into his hands and laughing, laughing so hard he soon starts crying. Jesse St. James is afraid. Of what? He's no longer sure. Because it's just so stupid, so ridiculous, to be afraid of what another person has between their legs.
Except he is.
He is absolutely terrified of everything that Blaine Anderson is and everything he represents. Jesse could say with complete confidence that, had Rachel and Blaine been placed side-by-side in a lineup and he hadn't been told by his timer which one to choose, he would have picked Rachel. He is the type of man who acts of his own free will, who doesn't let anyone make decisions for him, and now one of the biggest decisions of his life has just been taken out of his hands. He has just been told, without any smidgen of doubt, who he is supposed to spend the rest of his life with.
And he knows absolutely nothing about this person, other than the fact that Blaine is – or maybe was, if their situation had ended like his and Rachel's – Kurt Hummel's boyfriend, and that he probably isn't currently in the fetal position on his kitchen floor, scared out of his mind.
That makes him feel, if it is possible, even worse. He isn't afraid of anything, and yet here he is, afraid of the person he's supposed to fall in love with.
Jesse picks himself up off the floor, his legs unsteady and his head pounding, and stumbles his way into the bathroom. He showers, scrubbing at his wrist under the hot spray, watching the skin around all those zeros turn red, but nothing happens to the zeros themselves. Experimentally, he tries to pick at one of them, wondering if maybe it could peel off if he managed to scrape at it at just the right angle, but this sends white-hot pain all through his body, stilling his other arm and making him scream out of both frustration and how badly it had hurt.
He wonders if anyone else had tried to get rid of their timer like this. There has to be some sort of manual to how it worked, a website where people talk about successes and failures, and explain exactly how to resist the pull you felt when you met your supposed soul mate. He can't be alone, be the only one. It just isn't possible.
He dresses and leaves his hair to dry on its own at whatever angles it deems necessary, quite the departure from the careful way he takes care of it most days. He is sitting down in front of his computer, the words "how to get rid of a timer" typed into the search box, when someone knocks on the door.
His immediate thought is that it is Rachel, so he's up out of his seat and has taken two steps towards the door when he realizes that there is a whole number of people that it could be, and one of those people is Blaine. He looks down at his own feet, wondering if his footsteps had been heard, if maybe he could just pretend not to be home.
Apparently not, because Blaine decides to say something, making his presence known. He doesn't want to talk to Blaine and he doesn't want to figure this out; he just wants to sit alone in his apartment with his computer until he finds out whether or not timers can be destroyed. He's frustrated and angry and hates how his hands are twitching, like they'd love nothing more than to open the door and find out if Blaine's hands are anything like they were in that stupid dream.
He wants to ask why Blaine cares so much, why they can't just go find Kurt and Rachel and live happily ever after with the people they've chosen for themselves, but he already knows the answer. Blaine is the romantic one, the one who put the most faith in his timer, who probably checked it after meeting every single boy in high school, even though the numbers continued to tell him it would still take years to find the one who was apparently made for him. He had kept his covered out of a desire to forget about it; Blaine had kept his covered to stop him obsessing over it.
He just wants Blaine to leave him alone, to agree that they will both go back to Kurt and Rachel and forget that this ever happened, but it seems that Blaine has already moved on. He has already resigned himself to being Jesse's soul mate, and he wants his chance at that happily ever after.
His feet move on their own, carrying him closer to the door, his head pressing up against the wood, softly and without making a thud, turning so that his ear is pressed completely against it. His eyes close and he keeps his breathing soft, torn between wanting to hear Blaine's voice again and wanting him to just turn and leave.
And then Blaine is singing.
He's singing and Jesse is wondering if the universe is trying to make this funny, because he's had that show and that role marked down in his list of parts he's wanted to play since he was sixteen, and now there is a man singing it to him outside of his door. It makes him wonder if Blaine loves theatre as much as he does, if Blaine maybe shares his dreams of seeing a Tony Award shining on his mantel, if Blaine keeps each new show he discovers as a treasure to lock away, only to be shared with those he trusts with such beauty.
There is so much he now wants to ask, wants to know, and he's terrified all over again because he's never been serenaded before. It had always been his job to do the serenading, to do the seducing, and now the roles are reversed and he's the one listening to a beautiful song sung by a beautiful man with a beautiful voice.
He likes it so much more than he should.
A lump forms in his throat, because he's always wanted someone to sing to him, just always felt too silly to ask. Besides, you're not supposed to ask for a serenade anyway, it's just supposed to happen. That's what makes them so special.
Maybe the universe does know what it's doing, after all.
So he opens the door, now standing far enough away from the doorway that the light from the hallway doesn't touch him, so he's standing far enough away that Blaine can't see his face properly. He doesn't know what to think or what to feel anymore, because he's still scared and angry and doesn't quite buy into the idea that his soul mate is a man, but part of his resolve to shut Blaine out has been snapped in half. He does want to figure this out, he realizes, because he isn't the only one who has lost everything because of this. Blaine lost Kurt; otherwise he wouldn't be here.
His chin tilts up slightly when Blaine finishes singing. It's a reflex at this point, something he does when he wants to feel more in control than he really is. He wants to tell Blaine about the list that says 'Jamie, The Last Five Years,' halfway down the page, wants to tell Blaine about just how much he loves Jason Robert Brown, wants to tell Blaine about how he'd met both Norbert Leo Butz and Sherie Rene Scott at the opening night party for his last show.
But he doesn't.
"Jason Robert Brown," he says simply, just enough to show that yes, he does know where that song comes from. "I'm impressed."
Because he is impressed, even if part of him is still saying there's nothing to be impressed about, that any theatre fan worth his salt would know the composer and it's not all that meaningful that Blaine knows the man's work. But that simple statement has Blaine smiling, and Jesse already loves Blaine's smile, wants him to never not be smiling because his face that is so clearly a male face is so beautiful like that, so beautiful that he can't quite bring himself to care that it is a male face.
He's scared and he's still angry and he still wants to come to the agreement that they are to find Kurt and Rachel and leave each other alone, but for a moment his determination trips in its haste to remind him of that, and he lets Blaine inside.