A.N.: I decided the universe from The End and this little ditty splits off after "Nationals", Season 3, Episode 21. Shelby/Puck happened (sorry!), Rachel and Finn almost got hitched (really really sorry), but after Nationals she told Finn she realized she said yes for all the wrong reasons, and she was going to NYADA and letting him go. All that said, please enjoy…

The Beginning

Puck swore under his breath as they hit the sidewalk, following the furious blonde through the club. "Damn it, Quinn, what the hell are you doing here anyway?"

"Me? " Quinn scoffed. "What about you? What are you doing here?"

"I have a reason to be here, and I didn't know it was Rachel's club." Sweet Caroline...He shook his head and cursed again. "I was opening for a show at 54 Below, and her business manager gave me his card, told me to come by."

Quinn rolled her eyes, stalking away from the door. "Right, of course that's how it happened."

Puck kicked at a rock on the curb, listening to the chatter of it off through the night. "Yes, Quinn, that's what happened, but who the hell cares what I say? You're gonna believe what you want anyway."

Quinn spun. "Can you blame me? We've been – you've been -" She froze as a couple walked past them quickly. "Let's just...let's get out of here."

Puck shook his head. "Yeah. At least we can agree on that." They walked back to the subway in silence.

Rachel hung her head in her hands, swearing softly. "Of all the clubs in all the world..." She leaned back in her chair and took a deep breath. "That's what I get for giving Allen full control to bring people in..."

On cue came a knock on her door.

"Come in, Allen."

Her business manager entered the office and shut the door behind him. "Rachel, are you...are you all right? You disappeared so quickly for a minute I thought – but then Aiden told me he left with some...blonde?"

"Yes, that's it exactly." Rachel gave a bitter laugh. "You had no way of knowing."

Allen raised a brow. "So that was the guy?"

Rachel paused, quirking an eyebrow back. "What do you mean?"

"Sweetheart, look at your albums, all right? There's always this guy on every one, whether we release the single or not." He chuckled. "Just never thought I'd meet him." He sighed. "I'm sorry, though, Rachel, I didn't mean to open an old wound. I'm guessing he's a no?"

"I'm guessing..." She bit her lip. That I shouldn't decide anything right now. "I have some paperwork to do to clear my head and then I'll let you know. Fair?"

Allen nodded. "Beyond. If I didn't think he was talented..."

Rachel raised a brow. "If I didn't trust you were only interested in that, I'd accuse you of trying to get me dating."

"Well, it's true the blonde was no where to be found at 54 Below, but honestly, it's his music. He just handed me all the songs he brought that night." He waved at her desk. "I'm sure it's in there somewhere."

Rachel laughed. "I'll try to find it. Thanks, Allen, and don't worry about me, all right?"

Allen nodded. "I wanted to come straight to you with this one, honey. Got up from my dinner and everything." He wagged his eyebrows and patted his ample stomach. "That should tell you something."

Rachel rolled her eyes. "Good night, Allen."

"Good night, Rachel." Her business manager retreated, shutting the door behind him again.

Puck opened the door to the apartment in silence, tossing the keys on the side table near the door. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you I was going to a club tonight. That's where Allen told me to meet him."

Quinn sighed and locked the door behind them. "I'm sorry I went a little crazy. It's been – we've been -" She pressed a hand to her eyes and shook her head. "I thought moving to New York would be easier for us. Better. Get you away from Ohio, finally, and me back to civilization."

Puck barked a laugh. "I don't remember when anything was easier for us."

"Junior year," she muttered. She straightened the runner on the kitchen table, adjusting the bowl in the middle. "We're here following your dream, Puck, I don't – I don't know what else you want from me."

"How about you finally stop calling me Puck, to start?" He shook his head. "I actually got used to being Noah in the five years between high school and when I saw you again at the reunion."

She rolled her eyes. "I'm sorry, okay? It's such an old habit I just didn't see the reason to change it."

"No kidding," he grumbled. "Because in your head I'm exactly the same."

"You – you were still in love with me five years later. You were the same guy," she protested, frowning.

"I'm not in love with you, Quinn." Noah ran a hand over his head. "I'm not in love with you, and you're not in love with me. I don't know if we've ever been in love."

"How can you - how can you say that?" She wrapped her arms around herself. "I - I asked you, while we were standing there looking at – after all that mess, and you...you said yes."

"Because I thought I was in love with you. I looked at you and I thought it was that kind of love." He blew out a breath. "But come on, Quinn, this...this hasn't been working for years, if we're honest. We barely even talk to each other!"

She sniffed. "You certainly didn't tell me you were playing High School Musical with Berry tonight."

"I didn't tell you anything about tonight because I didn't want to hear you!" He closed his eyes and shook his head. "But what does that matter when you followed me anyway? What, did you take the address out of my phone?"

She faltered. "I - I was just -"

"You were just thinking you were gonna catch me with another woman so we could finally get this out of the way." He threw his hands up. "And you did . You happy? I didn't so much as touch her except to shake her hand, but I'm sure in your head it's all a long affair, or some big plot to get to her when I didn't even know it was her club." Why Sweet Caroline? He scrubbed his hands over the back of his head. "Between seeing me and just hearing your voice, she's never going to sign me now."

"That's what you were there for?" Quinn raised a brow. "Rachel's going to sign you?"

"That's what Allen was trying to make happen, but she went blank already when she saw me and white as a sheet when she heard your voice." Noah snorted. "I don't see that as being particularly helpful in a recording contract."

"So that's why you're doing this now, to get signed?" She folded her arms and glared at him. "You figure you get rid of me and she'll want so badly to be with her old boyfriend that she'll give you a contract to keep you?"

Noah rolled his eyes, raising his gaze to the heavens. "You are un be liev able." He stalked to the piano in the corner, flipping the bench and pulling out sheet music. "You think that's why I'm doing this? So she can sign me? She's not even going to fucking call me, let alone…" He flung the pages at her. "Look at the date on that, Quinn, and read the words. Here, you want me to play? Piano or guitar? I know it all by heart, it's one of the best pieces in my portfolio..."

He set his hands to the piano keys and started to sing.

"I'm aching and you're aching with these dull and empty hearts,
We're waiting for somebody to rip our ribs apart,
And to seize with a steady hand our dull and empty hearts,
Our hearts...

I'm taking and you're taking, we've forgotten how to give,
I'm faking it, you're breaking it and it's just the way it is,
So we'll leave here tonight but not before we give each other back our hearts."

Quinn turned to him, her eyes full of hurt. "A year ago? Before we came here?"

"'Cause our love,
Left us long ago,
When we were both asleep,
Leaving blood stains in the snow,
Leaving blood stains in the snow."

He stilled his fingers on the keys. "Longer than that. A year ago is when I got the a copyright on the song. Takes about six months to go through."

Quinn threw the music to the floor. "So you came here with me knowing..."

"That we were dying? That we just forgot to lay the fuck down and die? Yes , Quinn, I did. I'm sorry for that. I thought maybe a change of scenery would help clear my head, bring us closer, but...with no one here making it make sense to be together, I realized we don't." He stood and turned to meet her gaze. "I don't love you, Quinn. Not like that. I'm sorry."

Quinn turned away from him, walking into their bedroom and slamming the door.

Rachel shifted the papers on her desk until she found the manila envelope filled with sheet music. No wonder it didn't tip me off. She ran a finger across the label – Twenty to One Publishing. Smart of him to secure his copyrights. She blew out a breath and opened the envelope, pulling out the first song. She sighed. "Oh, Noah..."

"I, I keep on running
I'm building bridges that I know you never wanted
Look for my heart
You stole it away
Now on every single road that I could take
Listen, I want you to burn my bridges down
I said, I want you to burn my bridges down
Set me on fire
You set me
Set me on fire..."

"You may make me wanna set myself on fire, Berry, but you're the best person I know."

She swiped at her eyes and kept reading.

Noah shoved his hands in his pockets and blew out a breath. Fuck, that was so not how that was supposed to happen... He looked back up to their light in the window. But being with Quinn wasn't supposed to be like this, either. He hopped in the car, turning it on and shaking his head. Don't even know where I'm going, but I just...can't be here. He pulled away from the curb and turned on the radio. "Good thing I still like a drive," he muttered.

"Tonight you're not alone at all...this is me sending out my satellite call..."

He jammed on the brake, cursing. That's not – He checked the song display and swallowed hard. Fuck, come on.

Satellite Call
Rachel Berry
Berry Flavored Crazy

"From her third album, that's Rachel Berry's newest single, 'Satellite Call'. We had her in studio here at XM100 and here's what you need to know..."

"Satellite Call is...it was one of those late nights, where I was on the roof at the studio just looking up, and I was thinking about all of the people who helped me get to that moment...the ones who lifted me up, the ones who kicked me down, the ones who loved me and the ones who I loved...I was all alone up there and there was just something about that moment where I was reaching for all of them and...well, I wrote Satellite Call in about ten minutes after I got back into the recording booth. But it's for all of you, you know? We're all those people – the lonely, the lost, the ones who made a mistake - and we're all loved, even if we can't hear it or feel it. We're all loving someone, somehow. We're all a part of something special."

Rachel...Noah swallowed hard and punched the GPS back to the club.

Rachel sighed and stretched. Time to call it a night. She swallowed hard and shook her head, grabbing her bag. In fact, beyond time. She closed the office behind her, looked around the club and nodded . Seems like everything is going smoothly till closing. She sat at the bar and gave Aiden a smile. "Any problems before I go?"

The Aussie shook his head. "Not with us, Rachel, but what about you?" He raised a brow. "Who was tall dark and broody?"

Rachel snorted a laugh. "You must mean Noah." She shook her head in return. "That story requires several cocktails and more time than I'm willing to give tonight."

Aiden rolled his eyes. "You live upstairs, and I'm the bartender." He poured a vodka cranberry, adding a lime and setting it in front of her. "You looked like you were going to pass out when you saw him."

"Old boyfriend." She took a sip and sighed. "Old, old boyfriend. High school."

"Right, all, what, four years ago for you?" Aiden snorted. "Five?"

"Seven," she said with a look of challenge. "And it was junior year, so eight."

"Oooo, eight years." He raised a brow. "So? Why'd he hit you so hard?"

Because he was probably... She shook herself. I refuse to think about that again. "We didn't – the way we ended, it wasn't really by choice for either of us. There were – it was – complicated."

"Complicated. That means drink number two." Aiden turned for his shaker. "A real cocktail."

Rachel held up a hand. "No, complicated means complicated . I'm heading to California in the morning for Ryan, one drink was all you were getting in any event." She drained the glass and pushed it back across the bar. "Thanks, Aiden. I do appreciate the concern."

He shrugged. "You know I'd do anything for you, Rachel."

She gave a tight smile. "I do. And thank you." She grabbed her bag and the envelope beneath it and stood. "Have a good night. I'll see you Friday."

He waved as she headed up the back stairs to her loft.

Noah drove past the club and swore again. Am I really going back in there? He checked the clock and shrugged. It's Manhattan at midnight, they're just getting started. He glanced around the street and sped up the block. At least it's easier to find a spot. He parked and hopped out of the car before he could change his mind. What the hell was in the envelope I gave Allen anyway...

Rachel sighed as she kicked off her shoes and dialed her cell. "Hi Allen, it's Rachel. Yes, I know it's late. I'm just leaving Caroline's. Anyway, I've – I found the portfolio. And, of course...you're right. Tell him – tell him to come in for a demo. Set it up with Jesse while I'm in California. And do me a favor? There's...there's some history there too. Don't introduce him to Jesse, bring him into the booth, and I'll talk to Jesse myself." She winced at the realization. That ought to be horribly painful..."Thanks, Allen. I'll text you from LA. Good night." She hung up and tossed the phone into her bag, pouring herself a glass of wine from the fridge and sitting at the counter with a sigh.

Rachel caught her breath as Carmen Tibideaux walked away. "I'm – I'm going to NYADA!"

"You deserve it," Jesse said quietly.

Rachel spun, frowning. "Is this – is this some trick? She's going to call me tomorrow and tell me it was all a mistake, or...or that they filled the class while she was here today."

Jesse shook his head. "No trick. Just...you deserve a chance to be happy."

Rachel eyed him skeptically. "Since when do you actually care about me being happy?"

Jesse shrugged. "For longer than I was supposed to." He sighed. "I'm sorry, Rachel. You didn't deserve the garbage I put you through, and this is my attempt at apologizing. Here's your clean slate. Go get 'em." He turned to leave the lobby.

Rachel grabbed his arm. "Jesse -"

He grabbed her hand, tucking her arm under his to pin it in place and scrutinize her left hand. "What in the world is that."

She flinched. "I – it's -"

"It's only one thing if it's on that finger. I know you well enough." Jesse turned back to look into her eyes. "You're engaged? To – to who? The jock or the delinquent?"

"Noah?" Rachel shook her head. "Finn. The – the jock. The quarterback." She sighed. "What does it even matter to you?"

Jesse raised a brow. "It matters because I just put my reputation up with yours, Rachel. I need to know that you're still Rachel Berry, not..." He frowned in disgust. "Mrs. Quarterback."

She bit her lip and looked down at the ring on her finger, all the doubts she'd been fighting screaming forward. "It's – I -"

He waved her off. "Look, honestly, I don't care what the deal with that is, that's your business. But you might want to take care of it before you make it to NYADA."

She swallowed hard and kept staring at the ring.

Noah blew out a breath and opened the door to the club. He showed the treble clef stamp on his hand and headed for the bar.

"What can I get for you?" The bartender looked him up and down. "You were here earlier."

Noah nodded. "Yeah, had to get my girlfriend – well, I think now she's ex-girlfriend – home."

The bartender chuckled. "In that case, pick your shot – one on the house."

Noah smirked. "Sympathy? You don't even know if I deserve it." He scanned the shelves. "I wouldn't say no to a Scotch, neat. Doesn't have to be on the house."

Aiden grinned. "Fair enough. I'll just give you an upgrade." He poured a Balvenie, charging for a Glenfiddich. "So what brings you back?"

"I, uh...I was hoping to see if Rachel was still around." Noah took a sip and gave a small sigh. "I'm – I'm an old friend from high school."

"Old boyfriend, you mean." Aiden scoffed. "This is her club, we take care of her, and that means knowing who's who." He turned his back to start polishing glasses. "She went home."

"It's not like that," Noah protested. "I'm not – it's not like I'm trying to get back with her. I just – was she okay?"

Aiden scrutinized Noah's reflection in the mirror, noting the tangible worry in his eyes. "What was your name again?"

"Noah Puckerman." He held out his hand. "Noah, or Puck back in high school. Noah, now."

Aiden shook the proffered hand and gave a short nod. "Rachel was fine. She just needed to go home." He raised a brow. "She also said she'd need more than one cocktail to tell the story of you two. Wanna fill me in?"

"Not really," he muttered. He took another sip of his Scotch and rubbed a hand over his mouth. "It's...complicated."

Aiden laughed. "You know, that's what she said too? Damn." He shook his head. "Never mind, I'll stay the uncomplicated one, thanks."

Noah froze as a stab of jealousy pierced between his eyes. "You – you and Rachel –"

"Whoa, whoa, no." Aiden shook his head again. "She's the boss, she wouldn't –"

Noah snorted. But that doesn't mean you wouldn't, he filled in. Then again, what right do I have to say anything? "Yeah, that's Rachel. She always does the right thing, no matter what it means for her personally." He gulped his Scotch.

"Go talk to her, Noah." Rachel poked him in the side. "We're graduating, now or never."

Puck jammed his hands in his pockets. "Why isn't never an option?"

"Because you're going to burn a hole in her cap staring. As always." She pushed him lightly. "Go talk to her."

He smirked, looking around at the bleachers and back to Rachel. "Feels familiar. This conversation. Just, y'know, no Beth."

She shook her head. "No, not anymore. Beth is with Shelby, you are not -" She made a face. "Thank goodness. And Quinn is leaving for Yale and you might not see her for years. Go talk to her, Noah."

He raised a brow. "What about you? You gonna talk to Finn?"

She sighed. "He's - he doesn't understand, and the only answer that he might believe is one that would mean he'd never speak to me again." She arched a brow. "Finn, I didn't think I was going to get out of Lima, so I said yes to marrying you. I wanted to have something, at least."

Puck winced. "Yeah, maybe not." He looked at Finn talking with Kurt and Blaine. "You sure you're gonna be okay?"

Rachel smiled. "I'll be fine, now stop making excuses and talk to her."

He took a deep breath and considered her. "You may make me wanna set myself on fire, Berry, but you're the best person I know."

You'd better do this before you lose your nerve. Rachel swallowed hard and dialed Jesse's cell. "He'll hate me for waking him, but he'll hate me more otherwise," she muttered as it rang.

"Rach?" Jesse's voice was hoarse with sleep. "I didn't think we were keeping our usual nightcap tonight, you've got a flight in the morning. You okay? Aiden again?"

She winced and shook her head. I should never have..."No, Jesse, that's not – that's not why I'm calling."

He cleared his throat. "Uh-oh. Do I wanna know?"

She sighed. "Maybe? Probably not." She rolled her eyes. "No, you don't , but I'd rather you hear it from me than from Allen." She blew out a breath. Plus, our friendship deserves me asking you myself. "I – Allen and I have someone we want to cut a demo. I want him to work with you , but...I don't know if you're going to be willing to work with him."

Jesse groaned. "Please tell me it's not...what's his face...the jock."

"Finn? No!" Rachel laughed. "Absolutely not, Jesse, he's teaching back in Lima and is happy to do it." She pursed her lips. "What if it was someone from New Directions, though? Is there anyone you wouldn't –"

"It's Puckerman, isn't it." Jesse's voice was flat.

Rachel flinched. And this is what I get for letting him become my best friend and songwriting partner... "Jesse..." He knows entirely too much of my heart...

"Don't you use that tone with me, missy." Jesse rolled his eyes. "Puckerman. Seriously?"

"I didn't do it! It was Allen, he saw Noah at 54 Below and suggested a meeting." She sighed. "I nearly passed out when I saw them."

"Them?" Jesse raised a brow. "Rach, do you want me to come by?"

Yes. No. I don't know. "I have an early flight, Jesse, it's fine. I just – I wanted to ask you to please just...give him a chance?" She pursed her lips. And there's a sentence I never dreamed I'd utter..."Allen isn't even going to bring him in, it's going to be a blind session for him. All you have to do is give him direction from the booth."

"Yeah, that and not kick his ass." Jesse frowned at the phone.

Rachel rubbed a hand over her forehead. "That's...that's not necessary, and you know it." Not after all this time.

"Only because he's an idiot . Them means her, right?"

Rachel walked into the hall, smiling vaguely as she scanned for familiar faces. "Only I would manage to be so late to my own five year reunion..." She squealed as she spotted Tina and Artie in a corner. "Tina! Artie!"

"Rachel!" Tina ran over, Artie wheeling behind. "Welcome back!"

Rachel hugged them both, still looking for the rest of the New Directions crew. "Thanks! I'm sorry I'm so late, my flight out of New York was delayed, I ran straight here..."

Tina laughed. "Relax. Finn is talking to Mr. Schue – did you know Finn's taking over Glee? Brit, Santana and Mike are on the dance floor –" She pointed to the dance circle. "I know I saw Puck and Quinn somewhere, but..." She paused, looking around. "Huh. They're both missing."

Artie chuckled. "Betcha I know where they are..."

"Yes, her. Still her." Rachel sighed. "Listen, the portfolio actually looks good, Jesse. We've been looking for something a little more acoustic, and I think Noah has it. Just – can you give him a chance? For me?"

"Fine. For you." Jesse sighed back. "But just know it's against my better judgment."

Rachel snorted. "Against mine too, Jesse, but I always believed he could do this." She paused before continuing softly. "I just – I want to give him the chance."

Jesse groaned. "You're too good, you know that? Way too good. You always have been."

Rachel grinned. "Thanks, Jesse."

"Thank me when you get back from Cali," he retorted. "I'll clear my calendar. You owe me a night out after my breakup with Tom."

Rachel scoffed. "I told you, you only slept with Tom. That doesn't rate a night out."

Jesse sniffed. "Whatever, Rach, you need one, okay? Especially if you had a Puckerman encounter."

Rachel rubbed a hand across her eyes. "All right, fine. Drinks. Soon." She took a breath. "Just...please don't –"

"Tell him he keeps popping up in your songs? At least once an album?" Jesse shook his head.

"That diary was good ," she murmured. Thank you for that, at least, McKinley High.

"Damn good," Jesse agreed. "But he doesn't get to know that."

Rachel exhaled. "Thank you, Jesse. And thank you for giving him a chance. Have a good night."

"Good night," Jesse replied. "Fly safe."

"Thanks." She disconnected and poured herself another glass of wine, sitting at the counter and opening the envelope again.

Aiden nodded thoughtfully. "Yeah, that's our Rachel." He searched the face of the man across from him. "You know, the way you talk about her...you two knew each other well."

Noah shrugged. "I don't know how well I know her anymore, but back then...yeah, I like to think I knew her pretty well."

Aiden raised a brow. "I know I said I wanted uncomplicated, but there's some history here I'm obviously missing, and I'm actually curious."

Puck groaned as his phone rang. Don't people realize it's too fucking early to call after Nationals? Shit. He groped on his nightstand for the phone. "What."


He sat up in bed, rubbing his eyes. "Rachel?"

A hitching sob was his answer.

"Aww, shit, Rachel. Where are you?"

"I'm - I'm f-f-fine, I just - F-Finn and I - I told him - I said I - I couldn't - and he - he -"

He swore again, throwing off the covers and dragging on jeans. "Tell me where you are, I'm coming to get you." He grabbed a flannel and shrugged into it while grabbing his keys.

"No, you don't - I don't - I shouldn't have called you, I'm -"

"Where are you, Rachel." He ran down the stairs.

"Out-outside?" she whispered. "I'm - oh, Noah, I shouldn't -"

He threw open his front door to find her car parked in his driveway. "Let me in, Rach," he said quietly, hanging up the phone. He rounded to the passenger side of the pink Prius and climbed in beside her.

"Yeah, Rachel and I have history for sure." He sighed. "But that's why I wanted her to know I didn't - I had no idea who Allen wanted me to meet, or I wouldn't have just...I wouldn't just show up like that."

"That's why I don't understand what happened." Aiden raised a brow. "You both obviously have something. She said when it ended, it wasn't by choice?"

"There were...things. They're -" Noah shook his head, exhaling slowly. "I really don't wanna talk about them, to be honest." 'Cause now I'm wondering whether it was worth it at all...

Aiden held up his hands. "Fair enough. I'm just prying. Rachel is something of a mystery - I see her, I like her, but I won't pretend to understand her." He gave a small smile. "It's part of her charm."

Noah snorted and shook his head again. "I don't know if I'll ever understand Rachel Berry, but...whether she knew it or not, she was one of my best friends." He drained his glass and sighed. "I'm just glad she's okay. If you see her or something before she leaves, tell her I'm sorry about Quinn." He rolled his eyes. "Should've gotten out of that two years ago, just didn't have the will."

Aiden nodded. "I get that a lot. One of the hazards of the job."

Noah laughed. "Yeah, I bet. Anyway. Tell her I'm sorry about everything." He threw a twenty on the bar and stood. "Thanks for listening and not beating me up or poisoning my drink."

Aiden chuckled. "Yeah, well, I reserve the right to deck you once Rachel tells me her side of the story." He gave Noah a serious look. "And she will, when she gets back."

"She's heading out of town?" Noah barked a laugh. "Figures."

"Just till Friday. So maybe come by Saturday." Aiden held out a hand. "Good meeting you, Noah Puckerman. I'll see you around."

Noah shook his hand. "Thanks - I never got your name?"

"Aiden Mathis." The bartender saluted him. "Get home safe."

Noah nodded and waved, heading for the door.

Rachel sighed and drained her wine glass, slipping the envelope into her carry-on. "He only got better," she murmured.

"I don't know what to - how to - what do I do now?" Rachel rubbed at her naked ring finger. "I don't know what to do now - where do I go? What's next?" Who am I now?

Puck rolled his eyes. "I don't know, NYADA? New York?" He strummed idly on his guitar. "You've got the whole world in front of you, without being chained to Hudson." He smirked. "I think St. Douchebag did you a favor."

Rachel winced. "I wish I didn't agree," she murmured. "I think that makes it worse." In fact I know it does...She sighed. "And it's not even like there's Glee or anything to distract myself with. I just...sit. Until I leave."

"Yeah, 'cause it's not like we're graduating or anything." He started picking out a melody. "We gotta figure out a song for that, right?"

She inhaled shakily. "Yes, I suppose. But that's still not today. And I don't -" She bit her lip, looking at him and shaking her head. "I don't know how to get through today, Noah. I didn't mean to hurt him, I - I love him, I just - there are so many things I haven't - haven't done, haven't seen." She pressed her hands to her eyes. "I should never have said yes, I just - I didn't think - " She exhaled slowly. "I didn't think I'd get a better offer than that," she admitted quietly.

"For a smart person, you're really dumb." Puck shook his head. "You gotta stop thinking like that about yourself."

She laughed. "Coming from you? That's something."

He rolled his eyes. "Come on, I'm serious."

"So am I!" She raised a brow. "No matter how talented we say you are, you refuse to believe it."

"You mean how talented you say I am. Come on, Rachel, no one else thinks about me like that."

Rachel sighed. "That's only because they didn't realize you got Sweet Caroline together in a night. And if you'd let more people know that, they'd understand."

Puck shrugged, still playing softly. "It's not something I really wanna share, I don't know."

"Well, you should. You're very talented." She frowned quickly. "What are you playing?"

He stilled his fingers on the strings. "Nothing. Nothing you'd know anyway."

Rachel raised a brow. "Something on the radio?"

Puck shook his head. "Told you, you wouldn't know it."

She narrowed her eyes at him. "Because it's not anywhere, is it." She smiled triumphantly. "You write music."

He ducked his head. "Rachel -"

"Let me see?" She crossed the room to sit next to him on the bed. "Please?" She pouted. "I need a project, Noah, you know what happens when I get bored."

He grinned. "Wanna make out?"

She slapped his arm. "Come on. Share."

He sighed theatrically, opening a drawer in his nightstand to extract staff paper. "Don't judge, okay?" He handed her the stack with shaky hands.

Rachel stroked a hand over the outer pocket of her carry-on and retreated to her bed.

Sunday morning

Noah winced as sunlight hit him through the living room curtains. Well, at least Quinn didn't kill me in my sleep. He sat up from his temporary bed on the couch and rubbed his eyes.

"You're awake." Quinn's voice came from behind him. "Good."

He blinked quickly and turned to see his ex-girlfriend at the kitchen table. "Hey."

"Hey yourself." She frowned at him. "You meant it. Last night."

He sighed and stood to take a seat across from her. "I did. And I meant I'm sorry too, Quinn. I shouldn't have let you move here - let us move here - when I knew I wasn't feeling the way I wanted to - the way you deserved me to." He swallowed hard. "I just got caught up in it, you know? I see you at the reunion, you look at me and smile, and you're actually willing to be with me…"

"You were the same, but you were different - I'm sorry I didn't see that." Quinn pursed her lips. "Maybe if I had we wouldn't be sitting here like this."

Noah shrugged. "There's no point thinking about that. In all the ways that mattered to you, I was the same. Just not as bad as I used to be."

She smiled softly. "I didn't mind you being bad."

He smiled back. "I know. And that made me feel good." He shook his head slowly. "But it's not enough."

Quinn sighed. "No. It's not. The first year was good but...we were trying to fix high school, I think. Trying to make sense of what happened. We had to love each other, it must have been an epic soulmates thing to have gone...that wrong."

"But we're not," Noah said quietly. "And we both know that."

She nodded shortly. "We do." She licked her lips. "And we both did for a while." She cleared her throat. "I - I started looking for doctoral programs in other places, too." She slid the envelope on the table towards him. "I got into one in Chicago that I...I'm going to accept."

"Quinn -"

"We forgot to lay down and die," she repeated. "But at the very least, the two of us still had enough sense to try to live." She stood, placing her hand on his. "I'm going to go to Chicago - I got a flight this afternoon - and look around, see what it's like. I don't know how long I'll be out there." She inhaled shakily. "And when l get back, we'll decide what to do about the apartment."

He looked up at her. "I might not be in love with you, Quinn, but I do really care about you. I'm sorry we let it get to this."

"Bloodstains in the snow," she said quietly. "It's a beautiful song. And an unfortunately apt description." She gave a wry smile. "You sure you shouldn't have majored in music instead of business?"

He ducked his head. "No, I'm not sure." He shrugged. "I've never been sure about that. I was just too scared to try."

Quinn squeezed his shoulder. "Then it's about time for the both of us." She took a deep breath. "I'm going to go pack."

Noah nodded as she walked away.

"Noah, this is - it's beautiful." Rachel looked up at him with a smile. "I like the line about you liking your kind of crazy."

"You think so? For real?" Puck shrugged sheepishly. "I've never - Rachel, you gotta swear not to tell anyone about this."

She shook her head, holding the music to her chest. "Not unless you gave me permission, you know that. But, Noah...you should share." She bit her lip. "Especially with Quinn."

He flinched. "Why would you say that?"

Rachel raised an eyebrow. "Noah, because I may be stupid, but I'm not dumb." She cleared her throat. "Want me to sing it for you? So you can hear it in a female voice?"

Puck raised a brow in return. "Would you?"

She rolled her eyes, and looked back down at the score.

"I break like a crystal cup
Into a million little pieces but I pick me up
Don't just stare at me, take care of me…"

Noah shook his head and sighed. "Why is there part of me that thinks I could've written that song for you , too…" He frowned as his phone started to vibrate across the table.

Rachel blew out a breath and flopped onto the bed in her hotel room. "I should have flown out yesterday," she muttered. And maybe skipped the three glasses of wine...

"That's why you have me, sweetheart." Melanie, her makeup artist, grinned and poked her in the side. "Anyway, was it worth it? The guy Allen wanted you to meet?"

"Do you break me open just to see if I still bleed?
Do you break me open just to see what's underneath?
Do you find in the way I never mind that you could never
Break me open, just you see, just you see
Just you see, just you see…"

Puck blew out a breath. "That sounded awesome. Thanks, Rachel."

Rachel smiled. "You're welcome, Noah. That was beautiful." She handed him the sheets. "You really should play it for her." "

Yeah, well, you came here for your stuff, so we'll save me for later." He raised a brow. "You feeling any more like yourself?"

She smiled. "Yes, thank you."

He chuckled. "You know, you made the call, Rachel. You knew this might happen."

She frowned lightly. "So?"

"So...maybe you don't know what to do 'cause...you're okay." He shrugged. "You think you're supposed to be all screwed up, but...you agreed Jesse did you a favor. You wanted out, you just didn't know how to do it." He rolled his eyes. "I guess I actually should be glad he got you to stop and think about it."

Rachel wrapped her arms around herself. "But...Noah, that's - that's preposterous, I - Finn and I are -"

"Epic. Soulmates. 18. Growing up. Take your pick." Puck gave her a look. "It's okay to be okay. It doesn't mean you guys weren't real, it just means not now. Right?"

"Well...I - yes, I suppose that's true." She fiddled with her finger again. "But it's - I won't seem like I'm a - a horrible person?"

"I think you need to get over being so damn fragile." He frowned. "Somewhere along the line you started caring about other people's opinions of you more than your own and it screwed you up in the head." He blew out a breath. "Geez, Rachel, I never thought I'd say this but I miss the old bossy bitchy Crazy. You kept saying you were gonna be a star and while no one would ever say it to your face, we believed you. We were all just waiting for you to blow up, like those supernovas in the pictures, taking over the sky. But it went black hole instead." He shook his head. "That's not right. You gotta shine, Rachel. We're counting on you."

He's always worth it, damn it, she reflected, biting her lip. "It - yes." Rachel gave a half smile. "It also helps to have a private plane get me out here. And you, of course."

Melanie grinned. "No kidding about that plane, though. Ryan's?"

Rachel nodded. "Yes, and don't look at me like that - we kissed, and...once, but...no." She shook her head. "I won't object to the amenities."

Noah picked up the phone. "Hello?"

"Good morning, Noah, I hope I didn't wake you. It's Allen, are you busy?"

"Allen?" Noah glanced back to the bedroom. "No, not busy at all, what can I do for you?"

"Well, you can tell me when you can clear some time to come to the studio to lay down a demo."

"What?" Noah ran a hand over his head. "You're kidding, right? Rachel gave me the go-ahead?"

Allen frowned slightly, noting the tone. "Is there a reason she shouldn't have?"

"No, sir. I have absolutely no problem with working with her, and I promise you I won't overstep myself with her."

"Why do I feel like I suddenly became her surrogate father for a minute?" Allen rolled his eyes. "You're both adults, and Rachel can handle herself. You, we have to find out about. So what works this week? She's out of town till Friday, we have some time to play with."

Noah nodded slowly. "Well, I'm doing consulting work in Brooklyn right now, so maybe after work, any day this week. After 6:30 should be perfect."

Allen glanced at the studio schedule in front of him. "We can do a late night session Tuesday or Friday, or a 6 o'clock Thursday - the rest of the week is booked except for during the day."

"How late is late night? And how long would the session be?"

"Wanna just go to Friday? I don't know if anyone can answer how long it'll be and we'd be starting around 10. The studio is actually down the block from the club. I'll text you the address if that's all right?"

"That's fine, Friday it is," Noah agreed. "Thanks Allen. And is - I'm guessing there's no way to catch Rachel, right?"

"Unless you're calling into America's Top 40 or flying out to California, I'll just have to pass on your thanks."

"Then please express my gratitude when you talk to her. You both won't regret giving me a chance." He glanced back towards the bedroom. "Thanks again."

"We'll see you Friday, Noah."

"See you then." He hung up, placing the phone down carefully before heading towards the bedroom. "Quinn?"

She poked her head out. "Yes?"

He cleared his throat. "Um...would it - would you mind if I put the radio on out here?"

She narrowed her eyes at him. "The...radio? I don't remember the last time you listened to anything, but...I've got a car coming in twenty minutes, go for it."

"Thanks, Quinn."

She waved him off and closed the door.

"So, good morning out there...we're lucky enough to welcome Ms. Rachel Berry to the studio!" Ryan Seacrest turned to her with a grin. "Good morning, Rachel, and welcome to America's Top 40, again. Say hi to the world."

Rachel grinned. "Good morning, all, thanks for having me."

"Our pleasure, as always." Ryan gave her a wink. "So, once again, you've got another album, another bunch of singles, and a bunch of songs on the countdown. We should give you frequent flier miles at this rate."

Rachel laughed. "I can't say that I mind, Ryan. It's - it's been amazing. I never dreamed I'd make it this far."

Ryan raised a brow. "Really? Why not?"

Rachel shrugged, blushing. "Well, one album, sure. Sophomore album is always a dicey proposition. But to make it to three?" She shook her head. "That's beyond."

Ryan smiled. "Well, you deserve it. It couldn't have happened for a nicer person."

She blushed deeper. "Thanks, Ryan."

"Only speaking the truth. What do you all think? Tweet me, call me, let me know if you have anything you want to ask Rachel Berry, we've got her all morning here on America's Top 40."

Noah blew out a breath as the bedroom door opened.

Quinn swallowed hard and put her bags down. "So, I, um...I'll keep you up to date on my plans…"

He nodded. "And we'll figure it out when you get back."

She sighed. "Yes, we will."

Noah pressed his lips together briefly before speaking. "I don't - I don't know what else to say to you, Quinn, but I'm sorry."

Quinn held up a hand. "I think the apologies are already made. It's - we both - " She shook her head. "Just...let's just take this time to think, and we'll talk more when I get back."

He stood and picked up the bags. "Let me walk you down, at least."

She nodded quickly. "I'll take that, thanks."

Rachel smiled as the next song cued and made sure the mic was muted. "I just wanted to thank you again for the flight out, Ryan."

Ryan grinned. "Hey, my pleasure. It means we got to keep you on the schedule, that's important." He raised a brow. "Did whatever came up last night work out?"

She nodded. "It did indeed, I think we have a great new artist to work with for the label."

He chuckled. "You're a machine, Rachel. No one else could make the decision?"

She arched a brow back at him. "It's my name on the door, my name on the label. Would you let anyone make those decisions for you?"

He held up a hand. "Touche, Ms. Berry, touche." He shrugged. "I was just hoping to catch you for dinner last night."

She smiled again. "I know, I'm sorry - I'm in town for the week, though, we'll get it together sometime."

He gave her a thumbs up and pointed to the mic. "We're back on America's Top 40 with Rachel Berry, here to talk about her new album, Berry Flavored Crazy. Now, Rachel - that's a pretty odd name for an album, to label yourself crazy, isn't it?"

She laughed. "If you only knew how long that label was following me around...I had to reclaim it somehow."

"Crazy? Really?"

She rolled her eyes. "High school was not necessarily kind to me."

"I find that difficult to believe."

She raised a brow. "When you're a diva in small town Ohio putting gold star stickers next to your name?"

"Ouch!" Ryan gave a mock wince. "Okay, maybe that's a bit intense."

"Exactly." She shrugged again. "Not many people understood, fewer still were supportive. So Crazy became my nickname and I just learned to live with it."

"Well, if you're crazy, I'm a fan of crazy," Ryan teased. "And from Berry Flavored Crazy, here's Satellite Call."

Noah closed the door to the apartment, leaning heavily against it. "What a fucking mess, Puckerman." He threw himself down on the couch, closing his eyes.

"And from Berry Flavored Crazy, here's Satellite Call."

Noah opened his eyes and sat up.

"This one's for the lonely child...
Brokenhearted, running wild...
This was written for the one to blame
One who believes they are the cause of chaos and everything…"

He swallowed hard, frowning slightly. Couldn't possibly be.

Puck took a deep breath and considered her. "You may make me wanna set myself on fire, Berry, but you're the best person I know."

Rachel rolled her eyes. "Why thank you, Noah, what a rousing endorsement." She giggled. "I do appreciate the sentiment, though." She laid a hand on his arm. "You're a better person than you give yourself credit for, however. You always blame yourself when things go wrong, and that's not right. You're not the cause of all chaos in the universe, you know. Regardless of what you might think."

Puck shrugged. "Not the point. I just wanna wish you luck, okay?" He raised a brow. "Break a leg...or break someone else's if it gets you the lead."

Rachel laughed, the sound like music to his ears. "Thank you, Noah. And good luck to you too." She kissed his cheek. "I'll be waiting for your album."

He chuckled. "You keep saying that. Thanks, but –"

She shook her head. "Someday. I have faith in you, Noah Puckerman." She waved and walked away.

He rubbed a hand over his mouth. Maybe I should look up those lyrics.

"All right, Rachel, ready for some tweets?" Ryan smiled as they returned from the countdown.

Rachel nodded. "I'm always a little scared, but try me."

He scrolled through the feed on his computer, chuckling as he found one. "Let's go with this one, from Lea in New York - your adopted home, right?"

"Right, I've dreamed of being a New Yorker, so that's home now. Lima was a beautiful chapter of my life, but this one is even better," she remarked with a grin.

"Anyway, Lea wants to know what your favorite song to perform live is?"

Rachel laughed. "Oh, goodness, from all the albums? Um, tough to say since I haven't started touring on this one, but...I love Firework, it pumps me up, and I thrive on that kind of energy."

Noah scrolled through the lyrics. She's amazing. He went back to the full list, skimming song titles and clicking through. Should've been looking at these years ago...

"And Harry from DC wants to know if you're single, and if you're willing to date not famous guys. That's a direct quote there." Ryan quirked a brow. "Actually, I wouldn't mind the answer to that."

"Ryan!" Rachel giggled. "Um, well...I'm - I'm single, yes, and I don't need a famous boyfriend." She gave a wry smile. "Next question."

Ryan grinned and nodded. "Okay, follow up from me, then - what do you need from a boyfriend?" He gestured at himself. "Inquiring minds want to know. And if you're not inquiring, then please log on and click on the webcast, or google some pictures - Ms. Berry is berry berry fine."

Rachel rolled her eyes. "Thank you, Ryan." She sighed. "I - I don't know. A sense of humor. A love of music. Actually, fine, probably a musician." She smirked. "So that's strike one, Mr. Seacrest."

" - a musician. So that's strike one, Mr. Seacrest."

Noah tuned back into the radio show. Musician what?

"Ouch. I get three strikes though - so I might be your perfect boyfriend after all."

Rachel's laughter sang through the room. "I'll have to test that love of music, though. That one's important. In fact, mandatory."

Seacrest hummed into the microphone. "Want me to cuddle my favorite album?"

"What is it? How about that?"

"Turning the tables, ladies and gentlemen, Ms. Rachel Berry. Favorite album? Right now? Berry Flavored Crazy, of course."

Rachel and Ryan both laughed.

"Back to the countdown. Thanks for all your questions, we'll see what we can do about getting Rachel a date, or uh...or getting me a date with her!"

Rachel rolled her eyes as they muted the mics. "Smooth, Seacrest." She sipped at the tea Ryan's intern had brought for her.

Ryan laughed. "Hey, can't blame a guy for trying, right?"

She gave a light laugh. "I suppose not. It is flattering, and I do at least owe you dinner for flying me out."

"So, dinner then. You can even pick the place."

Rachel bit her lip and scrolled through the calendar on her phone. "It'll have to be later in the evening, I've got the circuit while I'm out here, as I'm sure you can guess."

"Whenever, you know we can make it happen. Thursday before you fly out? Considering you can make flight time on Friday whenever you want?"

She skimmed the itinerary. "Sure, Thursday night."

He grinned and pointed to the mics again. "Hello world, welcome back. we're still here with Rachel Berry, talking Berry Flavored Crazy and taking your questions. Tweet us, head to the website where you can see this gorgeous woman yourself and send us questions there, or call us."

Noah quirked a brow and opened a new tab on his computer, searching for the website. Webcast, huh?

"We're still on Twitter questions. Rachel, Jenna from Boston wants to know what's the story with 'Shine' and why has it never made it onto an album?" Ryan raised a brow. "Good pick on the question, Robin the intern. So? Now I want to know what this song is."

Rachel laughed, wagging a finger. "So much for our future together, Ryan, you just told me you've never stayed till the end of a show."

"Hey!" Ryan faked a flinch. "You mean to tell me you sing this song at the end of every show, but it isn't on an album anywhere?"

Rachel flushed slightly, ducking her head. She gave a sheepish look to the camera. "Well, yes, actually." She caught her lower lip between her teeth and sighed. "I love 'Shine'. I do. It's one of my absolute favorites. And I love what it says, I love the message. It's not on an album because...well, it's a piece of my hi - myself that I'm sharing with the people who love what I do enough to come to my shows and stay till the end." She raised a brow. "Remember how I said music is so important to me? Well, when I was younger, I would be offended - truly, deeply insulted - when people left a concert before it was actually over, before the encore. Performing 'Shine' is my thank you to the ones who feel the same way and stick around with me until the end."

Noah frowned. Why does that nag at me? He set to searching for lyrics.

Ryan nodded thoughtfully. "You know what I'm gonna have to ask, though."

She raised a brow. "What's that?"

"Can you at least give us a taste? Please?" Ryan gave a pout. "What about people who can't get to see you, or the kids who are too young, or the adults who are too busy? Would you keep a piece of yourself from us?"

"Ha!" Rachel scoffed. "I absolutely would, Mr. Seacrest."

He deepened the pout. "Come on, I'm pouting and I'm trying puppy dog eyes. Not even a snippet of the song?"

Rachel rolled her eyes. "So you can post it on the website later? It's between me and my fans, Ryan, you're just going to have to stay until the end sometime."

Ryan sighed theatrically. "So I suppose none of the rest of us deserve the wisdom you're sharing?"

She narrowed her eyes at him. "Oh, now that's just mean!"

He raised a brow. "And knowing you have some amazing song the rest of us are never gonna hear isn't?"

"And this is why I'm the performer and you're the host of everything." Rachel glared at him playfully. "Backed me right into a corner."

Ryan gestured to his intern. "Robin, is there a guitar hiding somewhere back there?"

Rachel folded her arms. "You're assuming I agreed to play."

"Give us a tidbit, then." He took the guitar from Robin and handed it across to Rachel. "The chorus. The first verse. Something."

She strummed lightly to check the tuning. "Fine…" She licked her lips. "Well, I can give you the core message that I want my fans to leave with, the reason I make it the last song they hear." She cleared her throat and started to play.

"Isn't it time you got over
How fragile you are?
We're all wait-
Waiting on your supernova
'Cause that's who you are
And you've only begun to shine...

Yeah, you've only begun to shine...
Won't you shine, shine, shine
Shine over shadow, oh, oh,
Shine, shine, shine
Shine over shadow, oh, oh…
Yeah, you've only begun to shine…"

Rachel let her fingers fall away from the guitar as her voice did.

That's - she - Noah frowned deeper and searched her face on the screen. Those lyrics ... Rachel…

Rachel inhaled shakily. "So, that's -"

"Gorgeous," Ryan interjected. "That's really a beautiful message. I think it's a shame it's not on an album, honestly."

Rachel tucked her hair behind her ear. "Well, like I said, it's - it's a piece of me, it's a song I wrote for myself, as a reminder of the love and support I'd gotten from the people who believed in me, the ones I truly love. Even though there was no one there to tell me those things when I was out on the road, I could tell them to myself in that song."

Noah swallowed hard, catching a flash of something in Rachel's eyes that set his stomach twisting. And I think that's gonna do it with stalking Rachel. He shook himself. "Demo. Focus. Pick a piece." He closed the lid of the laptop and shut off the radio. Friday's gonna get here fast enough.

Friday evening

Noah blew out a breath before ringing the bell. Down to two songs. Hopefully the producer can help narrow them down. He opened the door as the buzzer sounded.

"Noah!" Allen came forward to greet him. "Thanks for coming in." He shook Noah's hand and gestured him down the hall. "We're gonna go right to the booth, your producer is already in place." He smiled. "Any problems or issues before we do?"

Noah shrugged. "I wasn't sure what track Rachel wanted me to demo, so I narrowed it to two."

Allen blew out a breath. "She didn't specify, actually, now that you mention it, which is odd. She usually has something specific in mind she wants to hear." He raised a brow. "She must really trust in you."

Noah rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. "I mean, I know years ago she did, so…"

Allen narrowed his eyes at Noah. "Right...I forgot about that." He looked Noah up and down. "You mind yourself and we'll be just fine."

Noah held up his hands. "I'm just grateful to be here, Allen, I'm not trying to start trouble, I swear."

Allen nodded slowly. "Well, if the problem is picking a piece, I don't know what to tell you."

"I'll take it from here," Jesse said. "Noah Puckerman."

What the actual fuck. Noah swallowed hard. "St. James."

Jesse gave Allen a smile, squeezing the other man's shoulder as he joined them in the hallway. "I'm safe, Allen, promise. Rachel called. We'll both be on our best behavior, right, Puck?"

Noah held out a hand for Jesse to shake. "Noah, if you don't mind. I left Puck behind years ago."

Jesse snorted. "That's what you say. I'll have to take your word." He shook the outstretched hand and motioned to the studio. "Come on, we'll look at those two pieces and I'll tell you what we're working with today."

Rachel sighed, sinking into the backseat of the towncar. "Thanks, Michael."

"No problem, Ms. Berry. How was LA?" Her driver peered at her in the mirror. "I didn't catch all of them, but I saw you on Letterman."

She smiled tiredly. "LA was lovely, as always, and hectic, as always." She rubbed at her eyes. "I really could just sleep for a week, I think."

He nodded. "Well, you take a catnap, I'll get you home."

She took a deep breath and nodded. "Thank you again, Michael. I'm going to take you up on that." She tucked her travel pillow around her neck and shut her eyes.

"So, Noah Puckerman. Blast from the past." Jesse dropped into his seat at the boards, waving Noah over to the couch. "How'd you find your way back to Rachel?"

Noah shook his head. "I didn't. I found my way to New York, and to 54 Below. Allen brought me in - I didn't even know it was Rachel's label or her club."

Jesse raised a brow. "Didn't even occur to you?"

"Not even a whiff," Noah confirmed. Though now I feel like a dumbass..."Listen, if I'd known, I wouldn't have just come in, I would've made sure Allen talked to her or something." He met Jesse's gaze steadily. "I'm not trying to mess with her or with you."

Jesse frowned slightly. "With - " He laughed. "You couldn't mess with Rachel and me if you tried, Pu- Noah. I've been right here with her for years."

Noah nodded. "You know, I owe you a thank you."

Jesse only looked at him skeptically.

"Nationals. You kept Rachel from marrying Hudson." Noah shrugged. "So, thanks for that. It was a fucking disaster."

Jesse lowered his shoulders marginally and chuckled. "I hadn't thought about that in years, until this week."

"Yeah, well. Thanks." Noah shrugged again. "I knew it was a train wreck but who the hell was I to say anything back then?"

Jesse snorted. "That's the advantage of me not being part of New Directions at that point. I could call her on it much more easily."

"Speaking of that, I might still owe you a fist in the face too." Noah frowned. "I guess if Rachel forgave you for being an asshole, I can too, but just to put it out there."

Jesse laughed outright. "Oh, please. She already tore me a new one herself for that bullshit. Relax." He held out a hand. "Let's see those songs you're thinking of."

Rachel waved and blew a kiss as Michael dropped her off. Home sweet home... She peeked in the window of Sweet Caroline's and smiled. Everything's looking good. She unlocked her side entrance and headed up to the apartment.

"I like them both, I have to admit - I'm pretty impressed with your arrangements, actually - but this one is the one I want to hear." Jesse handed Noah back one of the two songs. "Mind if I ask when you wrote it?"

Noah looked down at the song Jesse had chosen. Of course. "About seven months ago, when we- I decided to move to New York."

Jesse smirked. "We, hmm?"

Not that it's any of your business, but I understand why you're asking. Noah glanced at the sheet music Jesse still held before answering honestly. "We, until technically last Saturday night, and practically for about two years." Wanna check the copyright on the one you're holding?

Jesse's eyes flicked down to the music and back up. He gave Noah a long look and nodded towards the booth. "Wanna get in there and we'll see what we've got?"

"Yeah, let's do it." Noah stood and took his guitar to the other side of the glass.

Rachel flopped onto the couch and exhaled. What a week... She closed her eyes and slowly stretched. I should let Allen know I'm back, though. She grabbed her cell phone and dialed his number, heading to the wine fridge to crack a bottle of chenin blanc.

Allen picked up the call, glancing through the window into the studio. "Hello, my darling. Safe to say welcome home?"

Rachel gave a low murmur of assent, sipping at her wine. "Home again home again, jiggety jog," she confirmed. "Just treating myself to a glass of wine. How is everything?"

Allen watched as Noah moved from the studio to the booth. "Going well. We have your Noah here cutting his demo with Jesse."

Rachel winced. "He's not my Noah...and how is Jesse?"

"Jesse is actually behaving himself." Allen laughed. "That isn't to say that he hasn't been sizing Noah up the entire time - including intercepting us in the hallway, my dear, I didn't bring him in, but Jesse came right out."

Rachel took a long drink and shook her head. Should have known. "But they're all right?"

Allen peeked in the window. "Everyone is alive and well."

Jesse hit the intercom. "I want you to just play through for me to get a feel for levels and pickups, so don't be alarmed when I don't say anything. We'll record it straight and go from there."

Noah nodded, blowing out a breath. "No problem." He tuned quickly, looking up at Jesse. "Ready when you are."

Jesse started the recording and gave Noah the thumbs up.

Noah started to play.

"What if these plans are collapsible
Why don't we try to be responsible
For the other motherfuckers that were searching for the end of the rainbow

Ask me about the impossible
I tell you that everything is applaudable
For life is a proscenium stage and we are the stars
And the audience that we captivate is already ours…"

Rachel rubbed a hand across her eyes. "That's good. I was a little nervous."

Allen chuckled. "I know, honey, that's part of the reason I steered Noah to Friday. At least you'd be back if something went awry."

"Thanks, Allen." She scowled. "Now I'm back to being nervous!"

He rolled his eyes. "Relax, Rachel, Jesse just started recording, the light just flipped on. They're safe."

She made a face at the phone. "Gee, that's reassuring."

"What do you want me to do, babysit?" Allen rolled his eyes again. "Bad enough when I called Noah felt the need to tell me we wouldn't regret it, and he wouldn't overstep with you -"

"He did?"

"He did," Allen confirmed. "Then I stopped into Caroline's and had Aiden giving me an earful -"


"You're sounding like a parrot, darling, yes, Aiden, your favorite bartender? Apparently Noah came back to make sure you were all right that night -"

"He came back?" Rachel smacked herself in the forehead. "Sorry, Allen, I'm just -"

"Thrown." Allen shook his head. "I don't know the last time you were this flustered."

"My very first Grammys, torn between wanting and not wanting to win Best New Artist," she answered wryly. "There's just a very delicate line being walked right now."

Allen moved closer to the window. "Well, Jesse doesn't have his sour face on, so take that as a positive."

"Many disaster unnatural
We have the ability it's remarkable
To cycle through the seasons
adapting to the reason the waters low
If we listen to the sign of the times,
when she calls we'll know

That we're more aren't we,
Yes we're more aren't we all, we are…"

Jesse watched Noah curiously. "We might be able to work with this," he murmured. "Damn it, Rach, why do you have to be right..."

Rachel blew out a breath. "Good." She gulped her wine again. "So, Aiden?"

Allen rolled his eyes. "Noah came back to check in on you, Aiden wanted to make sure I check on Noah."

She shook her head slowly. "Of course he did."

Her business manager chuckled. "He'd rather check in on you, but we all know that's not happening."

Rachel sighed. "I probably should have let him go when he asked me out, shouldn't I."

Allen shrugged. "He makes a mean dirty martini, Rachel, I can't really complain."

She snorted a laugh. "Thanks, Allen."

"Anytime," he teased. "You're just a regular maneater, Ms. Berry, I've come to accept it."

She rolled her eyes in turn. "Definitely not my intention." She sipped her wine and settled into the couch. "I'm just going to relax, then. Caroline's looked good."

Allen nodded and walked away from the two men. "I'm probably going to stop in later tonight if you want to catch a nightcap."

She cast a look at the wine glass and the bottle in easy reach on the table. "I'll let you know. Are you staying in studio?"

He grinned. "Absolutely not, I'm going to grab dinner at Balthazar with Charles." He waved at the office as a whole and walked out. "I'll text you when I get to you."

Rachel laughed. "It's Charles - text me if you get back here."

Allen chuckled in return. "It's true, only I would manage to find a boyfriend with a more demanding job than mine. Crisis manager to the stars…"

"Who we've never had to actually use," she teased. "But I do appreciate the...thorough research."

His smile widened. "Oh, Rachel...thank you, darling, for giving me the excuse to meet him." He smiled as he spotted the town car. "Car's here, I'll speak with you later!" He hung up and tucked himself into the backseat.

"Say goodbye to your plans
And hello to a land
Where it won't take long to burn the motherfucker down
Say goodbye to your family
And hello to understanding
That it won't take long to burn this mother down

So collapse all your plans
And relax if you can
Cause it won't take long to burn this motherfucker down
No it won't take long to burn this mother down…"

Noah let the last chord hang in the air before looking up questioningly at the glass.

Jesse nodded slowly. "Nice. We've definitely got something to work with here, Pu - Noah." He shrugged. "Sorry. It'll take me a bit."

Noah shook his head. "The effort's appreciated. You were saying?"

"Let's go radio friendly, 'mother' instead of motherfucker. And a little clearer on the diction especially in the 'aren't we'." Jesse raised a brow. "Ready to go again?"

Noah strummed and nodded with a smirk. "Bring it," he replied.

Rachel refilled her glass and ran a hand over the envelope sitting on the table. I wonder what he decided to demo. She tugged the sheets free again, flipping through. He's been writing for years, I don't understand why he didn't pursue it more. ..She frowned. Except I probably do, from the tone of Quinn's voice. She curled her knees up under her and took another gulp of wine. So why is he still with her?

"Move your feet when you pray child
Are you ready to change the way that you've been living your life up til now
The danger is more than a rain cloud
Will you adhere to the new solution to use less the useless uses of pollution hell yes"

Noah closed his eyes, pouring himself into the break. How much time did I waste not looking deeper, especially once I suspected? It's Rachel, I should know better...

Rachel drained her glass again and considered the bottle. It's my studio. If I wanted to stop by…I'd be well within my rights…She set down the glass and slipped on her shoes. Just checking in. Seeing for myself that they're okay. She bit her lip. Right, because Allen's word is insufficient...She glanced up at the corner photo shelves, a picture of the group at the five year reunion striking her eyes.

"All right everyone, get it together. New Directions in the hizzouse!" Artie grinned as he wheeled around them, corralling them closer. "Where are Puck and Quinn?"

Santana rolled her eyes. "I bet I know. Find the nearest closet, bathroom, spot with a lock."

"Haha, funny," came Quinn's voice from the door.

"It was the truck," Puck answered. "There are good memories in that truck."

Rachel swallowed hard, blinking rapidly. "That's it, Artie, set it up, please." Because I don't know how long I can fake this smile...

She exhaled unsteadily and grabbed her keys and purse. No, I'm going because I want to talk to him. I want to know about his life, about him. She sighed at herself . I can at least admit that. She backtracked to the table to take a long pull from the wine bottle and cork it, stowing it in the fridge. Time to stop following misery's lead for real. She swept on her coat and made her exit.

"Move your feet when you pray child
Are you ready to change the way that you've been living your life up till now
The danger is more than a rain cloud
Will you adhere to the new solution to use less the useless uses of pollution hell yes..."

Jesse narrowed his eyes as Noah lost himself in the guitar break, considering the man in front of him and the sheet music to his left.

"So collapse all your plans
Like a map in your hands
Cause it won't be hard to spot that mother now..."

Rachel took a deep breath and opened the door to the office, smiling at her secretary. "Hi, Laurel, how's everything here?"

Laurel smiled. "Everything here is very good looking, thanks to you, Ms. Berry!" She glanced around and giggled. "I'm digging on the new guy doing the demo."

Rachel smiled tightly. "I'm going to head back and check on them now, actually."

Laurel waved her along.

Jesse looked over his shoulder at Rachel, her eyes already passing him to lock on the booth. "I knew you wouldn't be able to stay away," he murmured. "Which is why I didn't let him hold on to this." He handed her the other song Noah had contemplated. "He wrote this one over a year ago. "

Rachel skimmed the page and caught her breath. "Jesse…"

Her producer shook his head. "I knew you'd be coming. I waited." He raised a brow. "You sure?"

She bit her lip and nodded.

Jesse hit the intercom. "Company, Mr. Puckerman. And she's requested a change."

Noah looked up and froze as he spotted Rachel through the window. "H-hi."

Rachel smiled tightly. "Hello, Noah. I'm - I'm glad to see you." She held up the song in her hand. "I'd - I'd like to hear this, if I could."

He swallowed hard and nodded. "I'd - I'd be happy to." Especially considering…

She cleared her throat. "Do you - do you need the score?"

"No." He shook his head. "Not at all."

Rachel took a seat next to Jesse at the boards and took a deep breath. "Whenever you're ready."

Noah nodded, catching her eyes as he started to play.

"I've been fascinated with lost love for sometime now
and I'm not quite sure why…"

Rachel grabbed for Jesse's hand out of Noah's view, squeezing.

"I've been waking up to the images that I thought I'd left behind
But they're just as clear,
and just as naive as they were before..."

Jesse kept his eyes on Noah and his expression neutral as he spoke. "They're broken up."

Rachel swallowed hard. "They're...really?"

"But now they seem more beautiful,
the past always seems more beautiful..."

"Ask me when," Jesse said quietly.

"I'm not the same child that I once was
I left my compassion on the side of the road
when I learned the power of ego and confidence,
all to please you..."

She looked at Noah steadily, and whispered, "When?"

"Last Saturday night." Jesse gave her hand an extra squeeze. "What were you doing last Saturday night, Rach?"

"But I'm sure that you regret it now
I'm sure that you regret me now
Because I do..."

"For...for Quinn? And...thinking about...me?" Rachel breathed. Maybe I'm not crazy..."Jesse, you can't possibly believe…"

"All my desire and all my innocence burned away
Just the evil remains, just the judgement remains..."

"I absolutely can believe that, Rachel," Jesse murmured. "You didn't see the look in his eyes when we crossed paths after...you know."

"And here I stand king of the mountain, all alone,
surrounded by pain that I brought on myself."

Rachel inhaled shakily. "You always told me songwriting was the purest art there was. My heart bleeding onto a page."

Jesse nodded and leaned to the intercom. "That was fantastic, Noah, let me talk to Rachel for a minute to decide what we want next." He released the speaker. "He insisted I call him Noah, by the way. Said he moved past Puck years ago. And didn't give me any attitude when I asked clearly inappropriate questions."

"Like what?" Rachel turned away from Noah to face her best friend. "What did you do, Jesse, you promised me…"

He shrugged. "I'm a producer, I need to know about the product, and in this case, the music." He nodded towards the sheet music she still clutched in her other hand. "I asked about when he wrote them, and why...called him out when he reflexively said 'we' and found out he and the Blonde Blunder have been done since he saw you again."

Noah watched through the glass, his eyes tracing Rachel's profile. She came to see me. Her - her first night back. He swallowed hard as he waited, strumming to keep himself occupied. I can't believe the songs I picked...If I wasn't trying to get her attention, I couldn't have done worse…

Rachel met Jesse's gaze with wide panicked eyes. "You didn't!"

Jesse shrugged again. "I did." He raised a brow. "So now what do you do?"

She turned to glance at Noah, their gazes locking. "I don't know." She squeezed Jesse's hand again and turned back to him. "But I know I don't do anything with that glass between us."

Jesse smiled at her. "That's true." He tilted his head to consider her and flipped the intercom. "Noah, why don't you come back in, we'll play them both back for Rachel."

She smiled and took a deep breath. "Thank you, Jesse," she murmured.

"Don't thank me yet," he whispered back. "You haven't seen each other in almost a decade."

She paused to consider. "If this song is a window, I want to peek in further." She waved through the door. "Hello, Noah."

"Hi, Rachel." Noah slung the guitar behind his back, and crossed the room.

Rachel caught her breath, the motion so familiar her head spun again. How is it all still so clear? She stood in a daze, holding out a hand.

Noah took it, leaning in to kiss her cheek. "Thanks for giving me the opportunity."

She shook her head, gesturing for him to take a seat. "Allen doesn't always bring me talent, and your portfolio…" She smiled. "It's only gotten better through the years."

Noah smiled in return. "Thanks for that. I've been sneaking writing around work, I'm actually..." He cleared his throat. "I'm, uh, a freelance PR consultant for a start-up non-profit in Brooklyn."

Rachel sat back and considered him. "I'm impressed."

"But not shocked." He chuckled lightly. "Everyone at the reunion looked at me like I had lost my mind.

"I'm sorry I missed that part," she offered.

"No, you're not," he teased. "You were...hosting something? Performing at something."

She giggled. "It was June. Performing at the Tony Awards in the opening. Co-hosting, for about a second, to introduce Patti LuPone." And then just missing that plane...

"Yeah, I don't think even our five year reunion rated anywhere close." He shook his head. "It just...if your flight wasn't..." Don't even finish that sentence, Puckerman...

Rachel swallowed hard, staring. Read my mind, why don't you...damn it, Noah...

Jesse cleared his throat. "So, shall we play them back?"

Rachel blinked, turning back to the board. "Yes. Yes, absolutely."

"Preference on which one first, Noah?" Jesse raised a brow over Rachel's shoulder. "Especially since Rachel puts such stock in her lyrics."

Noah rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. Now I really wish I'd stepped away to think it through…"May as well go chronological. The growth of the artist, right?"

"The growth of the artist by the growth of the man," Rachel challenged. "That's how I consider my own work." She traced an idle pattern on the arm of her chair. "I don't - I realize I'm assuming you've listened to my albums."

"I've listened to every single on the radio. Well, from the first two albums, I haven't heard much of the latest one." 'Cept for one key track...Noah gave a wry smile. "I like the title, though."

She flushed and tucked her hair behind her ear. "It was catchy. And by now, I can get away with a little more experimental work. It fit."

Puck licked his lips and smirked. "I always loved the taste of your lip gloss," he murmured as he released her.

Rachel touched her mouth lightly. "Noah -"

"I might stare at Quinn, Rachel, but don't think I don't look at you too." He tucked her hair behind her ear. "I just know you've got bigger fish to fry than me."

She blushed, shaking her head. "Noah, you're drunk."

He nodded. "Rachel, you're beautiful." He kissed her quickly again. "Berry flavored crazy. The guy who gets to taste that all the time is gonna be a lucky bastard." He smiled. "New York City just couldn't stand to let you go today..." He traced his thumb over her cheek. "See you in another five years." He stood from the stoop and walked away.

"It does, I just didn't know you...liked the label." Noah let his eyes roam her face again.

She gave a soft smile. "It stuck with me."

Jesse glanced between the two and cued the playback, spinning Rachel's chair around.

Rachel bit her lip and cast a look at Jesse from the corner of her eye.

Jesse gave her a small smile. "Trust me," he mouthed, and subtly pointed up towards the glass, reflective as a mirror with the lights off in the booth.

Rachel caught his move and watched Noah watching her as the songs played. The play of expressions on his face had her stomach in free fall. She swallowed hard and looked to Jesse again.

"No, it won't take long to burn this mother down…"

Rachel took a deep breath as the track faded to silence. "It's - you sound -" She turned to look at Noah. "You sound just as good as I imagined you would."

Noah searched her face, seeing a glimmer in her eyes that tightened his chest. "Thanks." He raised a brow at Jesse and Rachel. "So now what?"

Jesse shrugged at Rachel. "I see potential."

Rachel shared a long look with Jesse before meeting Noah's gaze. "So do I," she murmured. So do I. She stood and crossed to Noah, holding out a hand. "Allen will draw up a contract, but I'd love for you to join Gold Star Recordings."

Noah stood to shake her hand with a smile. "Can't wait to get started." On recording...and if I'm really lucky...maybe with you.

(ducks) I'll be back here, promise. They're starting to tell me their story, and I will return to tell it to you...

Bloodstains, Passenger
Burning Bridges (acoustic), Onerepublic
Satellite Call, Sara Bareilles
Break Me Open, Anna Nalick
Shine (acoustic), Anna Nalick
Collapsible Plans, Jason Mraz
King of the Mountain, Matt Nathanson