Noah Puckerman has done a lot of regretful shit over the years, but crashing a jet owned by the United States government kind of overshadows everything else.

To be fair, none of it is his fault. That's what he tells the Air Force brass that visits him in the hospital less than three hours after he's out of surgery. Even though he's groggy from the anesthesia, he tries to explain that the systems shorted out, that every fucking screen inside that high-tech jet went dark, but they just scowl at him, let him know that he's now under investigation and that, if it comes back that he's responsible for the crash, he'll be court-marshalled. They leave him there, his legs in traction thanks to the fact that his ejector seat got jammed tight, leaving him stuck in a 138 million dollar meteor heading for the ground at just shy of the speed of sound. A mere eight seconds before impact, he got the damn seat unjammmed, flying from the cockpit and into the hot August sunlight without enough time for his parachute to deploy fully before he slammed into the ground. Hard. Landing on both legs.

His awesome life? Suddenly fucking sucks ass.

Puck's pretty sure that Karma is not only a bitch, but that she's gunning just for him. The day after the crash, when he's finally numb thanks to the really good shit they're pumping into his IV, he turns on the TV, only to see that Channel 9 has been playing video of the crash in a loop and the news lady (the one with the fake jugs and weird eyebrows) calls him a hero because he purposefully took the plane down in a mostly-empty area instead of slamming it into a shopping mall or, ya know, a playground full of third graders. As he watches the security camera footage from a paranoid homeowner that just happened to have caught the moment of impact, he can't stop wondering if this means the end of his career. He's been in the Air Force for seven years now, he's a squadron leader, and he's damn good at his job. He replays every moment up in that cockpit over and over again, white-hot flashes of anxiety making his mouth dry, and begins to doubt himself. Everything went blank, right? It wasn't his fault, right? As hard as he tries to remember everything, the medicine and the pain and the worry makes everything prior to waking up in the recovery room kind of hazy. He's trying not to think about what the restitution payments would be for 138 million dollars, and he's definitely not thinking about prison. He can't. Even though the shit is all a blur, he stands by his original assessment – it wasn't his fault.

"Jesus, Puckerman, you look shittier than normal."

Puck's lips curl into a grin when he hears Santana's voice, and when he finally peels his eyes open, he's surprised to see that she's not alone. Brittany is with her, of course, and so is Artie, who he hasn't seen in for-fucking-ever. Sam's standing there, too, his arm slung around some chick that Puck's never seen, but who he soon learns is Sam's new babe named Laynie. And peering around that strange chick is none other than Rachel Berry.

"Shit, Santana," Puck mumbles, his voice raspy from the dry mouth caused by the shit-ton of drugs they're pumping into him, "you didn't have to call in backup. I'm alive."

Santana lets out a snort as she moves toward his bed. "It's not every day that some bonehead I know makes the national news, Puck."

Puck lets out a groan and covers his face with his hand. "It's on the national news?"

"Matt Lauer keeps calling your mom." Rachel steps around Layla or Lacey or whatever her name is, a huge grin on her face that doesn't mask the worry in her eyes. "We don't know how he got her mobile number but he just called her literally about seven minutes ago. Again."

"Ma's here?" Puck vaguely remembers seeing her, but he's having trouble discerning between his drug-induced dreams and reality.

"She's in the waiting room. She got here this morning, about an hour before we did." Sam steps up to the bed and reaches over to bump fists with Puck. Artie rolls forward and does the same. Puck can't help but smile at the familiarity of it all. Even though it's been seven years since graduation and he hasn't seen Artie or Rachel in six of those years, seeing everybody again makes him feel like he's home.

"Has Quinn been here?" Rachel asks.

Puck snorts. "As if. Last I heard, she was living in the Hamptons with her new boyfriend. We haven't exactly traded emails since she dumped my ass." It may have happened two years ago, but that shit still smarts.

Santana, never one to mince words, rolls her eyes. "Like you weren't miserable with her ass before she dumped you. I've never seen anyone hold on to something that doesn't work as hard as you do, Puck. Your misguided sense of loyalty to your kid is ridiculous."

Puck tries to defend himself but finds that he's too damn groggy. Rachel, her brown eyes wide, takes pity on him, squeezing his hand and saying, "Let's let him sleep, everybody." She smiles at him and adds, "We'll be back later, Noah."

"How long are you here for?" Puck manages to mumble, drowsiness quickly taking him under.

"A while" is the last thing he hears before he passes out again.

He sleeps for about 12 hours, and when he wakes up again, his mother is in the room, talking quietly on her phone. She ends the conversation as soon as she sees that his eyes are open, and then she's fawning all over him. It should annoy him because, damn, he's 25, but it's fucking beautiful to have her worry so much about him. He tries not to think about how close to death he actually came, but when his mom is standing there with tears on her cheeks, he's damn thankful that he survived, even if he is broken and will probably have to learn to walk again.

A few hours later, as he's picking his way through a dry piece of chicken and bland green beans, the door to his room opens and Artie and Rachel come in. Puck gladly pushes away the food to give his visitors his full attention.

"Noah, you're looking better!" Rachel's so cheery, bouncing on her heels, and he can't help but smile. She's changed her look in the years since he's seen her, replacing her long hair with wispy, feathery style that barely brushes her shoulders. She's wearing a tiny sun dress that clings to her hips and leaves her golden legs on full display. In a normal situation, he's pretty sure that much leg would at least give him a little wood, but he's not even sure his junk works anymore. (That thought sends him spiraling into a moment of sheer panic before he reminds himself that he broke his legs, not his dick.)

"They found the black box today," Artie tells him. "It was about seven feet deep in the crater due to the impact, but they got it and the news said they're already running an analysis."

"Thank fuck," Puck breathes. "Hopefully they don't take forever. I know I didn't cause that jet to crash, Artie. I may not be a lot of things, but I am a damn good pilot."

Rachel puts her hand on his arm. "Noah, I have the utmost faith that you'll be vindicated. You needn't worry. You need to focus on healing. It's going to be a long road to recovery, considering you'll have to be casted for six weeks and then will have to go through intensive physical therapy."

Puck arches a brow and looks at Rachel, whose cheeks bloom a bright pink as she bites her lower lip. "I… I had a conversation with your mother and your surgeon. We're working to ensure you have the best care. Luckily, you have decent insurance."

"Santana, Brittany, and Sam are flying back to New York tonight. They'll stop by before they go to the airport." Artie tells him, then adds, "I'm leaving on Friday."

"I thought they'd be here longer?"

Rachel shakes her head. "No, they can't stay. I'm here for a little while, though, to help you and your mom out."

"You don't have to do that, Rach. I'm sure you have a ton of shit waiting for you back in New York."

Puck thinks he sees a flash of something in Rachel's eyes before it's masked by her bright smile again. "Nonsense, Noah. I have the time available and I'm here to help."

"You don't have to, ya know."

"Noah," Rachel argues, "we're friends. Shush."

It's amazing to Puck how quickly he falls back into such an easy friendship with Rachel. Six years can pass with only a few emails and texts shared between them, but as soon as it's just the two of them again, he's back to being as lewd and crude as ever. His legs may be broken, but that doesn't stop her from punching him in the arm at least three times by the time Saturday afternoon rolls around. She manages to keep his mind off the inquiry into the crash, which is what they're now talking about on the news, by telling him stories about the demanding assholes she's worked with on Broadway. She's elusive when he asks her questions about her career and what she's doing now, and he knows there's a story there, but he doesn't prod when she doesn't give up the information. The thing he knows about Rachel is that, eventually, whatever she's hiding will come spilling out. She's shit at secrets.

"You really need to shave." Rachel looks up from the magazine she's perusing and eyes him. "You're starting to look like a lumberjack."

"I'd get right on that, except…ya know… broken legs." Puck points at his casts. "Besides, I look badass with a beard."

"I beg to differ. Between the bruises, the scratches, and the beard, you look like a biker that was on the losing end of a brawl. And I thought you couldn't have facial hair in the military?"

Puck groans and points to his legs again. "Broken legs, Rachel. I don't really think they give a shit if I have a beard right now, considering my entire career and my freedom and the rest of my fucking life are all on the line right now anyway." The lightness in his chest gives way to tension as he thinks about the inquiry again. He hasn't heard shit. The men in his squadron have all stopped by, and his commanding officer has come by twice now, but everybody is so goddamned tight lipped that he's about to scream. He knows that the wheels of the federal government turn slowly, but it's not like he's waiting on a package from the fucking US Postal Service. He's waiting to find out if he's going to lose everything.

He slides deeper into his worries, his mind on what could happen if the data on the black box doesn't show what he knows he saw. He wants to clear his name, of course, but he's most worried about his career. He never expected to love the Air Force, but he really does, and he wants to make a career of it. He loves the discipline it's given him, along with admitting that enlisting made him finally have to grow up and get control of his life. He owes everything he has now to that military institution, and he's never even thought about what he'd do if he had to reenter civilian life because it wasn't even a possibility. Now he has an uncertain and, frankly, really scary future staring him in the face if the cards get stacked against him.

"Noah." Rachel says his name softly, and when he manages to pull himself from his worries, she's standing by his side looking concerned.

"Yeah?"

She outstretches her hand and strokes his cheek. He barely feels it because the scruff puts a damper between her skin and his, but then she moves her hand upward and swirls her thumb across the bruises peppering his cheekbone. "Everything's going to be okay. You're a talented pilot and you didn't do anything wrong. In fact, you did everything you could to ditch the jet in a safe area. You're going to be commended, not prosecuted."

He can't hide the desperation in his voice when he asks, "How do you know?"

She smiles a genuine smile. "I just do."

Puck finds himself clinging to those three words.

A week after the crash, he's released from the hospital. His mom and Rachel have gone out of their way to make sure his place is ready, considering he's in a wheelchair. He rents a small house about a half a mile from the entrance of Nellis Air Force Base, where he's been stationed for the past two years. It's not much of a house, more like a cottage, with a miniscule kitchen and living room area, one bedroom, and a bathroom. He doesn't spend much time there anyway because he's usually on base or with one of his buddies, but still, it's home.

It takes forever to get him out of the van that brings him and his mother to his door. By the time he drops into the wheelchair and his mom pushes him up the driveway to the front door, he's exhausted. His eyelids are drooping and he's dreaming of sleeping for at least a full day. When the door opens and he's rolled inside, the smell of food hits him. He shouldn't be surprised, but he is, to see Rachel standing in his kitchen wearing an apron with a print of a pink pig wearing a sparkling tiara on the front of it. She's wielding a wooden spoon, which he didn't even know he had, and she's beaming at him.

"Welcome home!" She practically jumps up and down, holding out her arms, which makes him take a good look around the place. It's completely spotless. All the pizza boxes and empty beer bottles are gone. The thick layer of dust that usually covers his coffee table is gone, too, and the thing is damn-near sparkling. He wants to thank her for everything that she's done, because he knows, even without asking, that Rachel spearheaded the whole thing, but he feels like those few simple words of thanks will never be enough.

He's shoveling lasagna in his mouth minutes later. After the horrible hospital food, this rich, spicy, cheesy concoction is so good that he feels a little like crying. Rachel was always a good cook in high school, but he's happy to see she's moved past "I'm Sorry" cookies.

The entire meal is eaten in silence because he's so hungry, and as soon as he's done, Rachel's plying him with his pain medication and antibiotics. Then his mother is helping him into bed, where he knows he's going to spend most of his time for the next few weeks. As he falls asleep, he hears his mom and Rachel softly talking on the other side of the wall. He's never really minded being alone before, but having people around right now makes everything better.

Over the next week, Puck settles into his new existence. He watches a lot of movies, plays video games, and sleeps a ton thanks to the pain meds. On Thursday, his mom has to head back to Ohio because she can't take any more time off work, so Rachel drives her to the airport in Puck's truck. He keeps waiting for Rachel to tell him that she has to go home to New York because he knows it's coming, but day after day, it never gets said. Instead, she takes care of him in every way. The only thing he won't let her do is give him a sponge bath, even though she offers with this completely innocent look on her face. Puck can only gape at her, images flashing through his brain that would rival anything in the porn collection hidden in the bottom drawer of his entertainment center. He feels himself get hard and nearly weeps with relief that the damn thing definitely still works. That rush of lust is quickly followed by guilt because this is Rachel that's making him hard. She's his friend and she's been taking damn good care of him, so he shouldn't be thinking about her dragging a warm cloth over his stomach before her soapy hands grip his cock. He can't help it, though. She was in constant spank rotation when they were in high school because of those fucking short skirts. Now she's a full-grown woman and she's managed to gain this incredibly understated sexuality all while appearing fresh-faced and sweet. He's used to skanks, like the chicks he picks up in bars, or frigid bitches, like Quinn. Rachel is unaware of how those short little shorts torture him or the fact that, even though her breasts are small, he can always tell when she's changed into her night clothes and is braless when she checks him for the last time before she goes to bed each night. He can detect free, pert little nipples from 20 feet away and hers are doing fucking evil things to his broken body. She's completely oblivious, so even though it makes sense to ask her to try to torture him less, he doesn't do it. He did survive a plane crash, after all, so he figures he deserves to get his kicks wherever he can find them.

Two weeks after the crash, he's sleeping when Rachel wakes him up with a shake to his shoulder. He's bleary-eyed and tries to sit up before he remembers that he really can't. Rachel helps him, her small hand solid and strong against his back as she shoves pillows beneath him to help him upright.

"What's up?"

"Captain Sanders is here."

Puck stiffens at the mention of his commanding officer's name. "Okay. He can come on back."

Rachel disappears from his bedroom and, seconds later, Sanders enters the space. Puck goes stiff and salutes him from the bed, unable to break custom. Sanders just laughs and waves away the salute. He's not in uniform but in jeans and t-shirt. Puck's never seen the man so casual before.

"Puckerman," Sanders shakes his hand as he says, "I was never here and you don't know any of what I'm about to tell you, but they finished the analysis on the black box."

"And?" Puck's terrified as he waits.

Sanders crosses his arms and smiles. "Just like you said. Complete and total system failure. They've never seen anything like it. It's a damn miracle that you got that thing on the ground without dying. Lockheed is scrambling now to figure out what the hell happened since it's their shitty system. But you're in the clear and I wanted you to know because I'm sure it was tearing you apart."

Puck's breath whooshes out of his lungs, his eyes and the back of his throat burning. "Thank…" He gulps. "Thank you, sir. You don't know how great that is to hear."

Sanders slaps him on the shoulder. "Bullshit, Puckerman. I was worried as you are. You're a damn fine officer and it was really gonna blow to have to court-marshal you. Now you just have to heal and get your ass back to work." Sanders pauses and asks, "Is that your girlfriend? I've never seen her before."

"No," Puck answers quickly. "She's a friend from high school who voluntarily took on the role of my caregiver. Not sure what I'd do without her."

"So you're not dating her?" Sanders raises an eyebrow.

"Nope, not since we were sixteen."

Sanders grins. "So I can ask her out for dinner? She's cute."

Puck glowers back. "Sir, I mean this in the most respectful way possible, but if you ask her out, I'll break your legs."

Sanders laugh echoes as he leaves. Puck's not sure why he's so territorial over Rachel, but the idea of Sanders asking her out, even though he's a good guy, pisses Puck off.

Upon finding out that he's cleared of any wrongdoing, Puck seems to improve rapidly. Now that he's not facing the end of his career, he's more determined than ever to heal and get his ass back into a cockpit. He has Rachel bring him his weights and he lifts them from his bed, determined not to let all his bulk disappear while he's bed-ridden. Rachel leaves him alone for hours on end and Puck often wonders what she's up to when he hears music on the other side of his bedroom wall. She's quiet a lot, and he rarely even hears her make a phone call. She tries to give him space but, by the third week, he's beyond bored out of his mind.

"Rachel!" he yells.

She pops into his room. Her hair is pulled back in a headband that makes her look fifteen again, but she's wearing some tiny shorts that reminds him that she's very much a woman.

"Yes, Noah?"

"I'm bored. Entertain me."

Rachel laughs and lets herself into his room. She sits down on the edge of the bed and smiles at him. "Entertain you how?"

"Strip for me?" He punctuates the question with a hopeful sound in his voice, but she just laughs like he's not serious. (He so completely is.)

"Noah, seriously, what would entertain you?"

Puck shrugs. "Since tits are out of the question, damned if I know. I'm so fucking bored. I need these casts off before I lose my mind."

"Do you want to play video games? I'll play with you if you'd like."

Grinning, Puck grabs the game controllers from the floor by his bed. He shoves one at Rachel and then, twenty minutes later, he's letting her beat him at an old version of Mario Kart. He spends most of the time watching her out of the corner of his eye while she's focusing on the screen. She's so damn pretty that it hurts in a totally different way from his broken legs. He just wants to kiss her, which he knows will only fuck things up, but he can't help it. She's getting to him.

Rachel gets it into her head that he needs to have as normal a life as possible while he's recovering so she invites all his buddies over for a cookout. The guys get him into his wheelchair and roll him out on the back deck where Rachel clucks over him like a mother hen until he assures her he's comfortable. His closest friend, Eric, is manning the grill, while Jeff and Antonio are throwing a football in Puck's tiny backyard. It's hot as balls even as the sun is going down, but Puck's thankful to be outside in the fresh air. The sun feels great on his skin, and he expands his lungs to take in the air, Las Vegas smog and all.

He can hear Rachel moving around inside the kitchen and he can only imagine what she's cooked for what should be a simple gathering. He finds out a few minutes later when she brings out a huge bowl of potato salad, followed by baked beans, chips, deviled eggs, and pasta salad.

Over dinner that night, Puck watches as his friends fall under Rachel's spell. She feeds them strawberry shortcake for dessert with homemade shortcakes, which makes Jeff propose to her. Rachel giggles at his idiocy and Puck grips his beer bottle the whole time, reminding himself that Jeff is his friend and doesn't deserve a beer bottle to the skull.

"So, Rachel," Eric asks as he opens up a fresh beer, "how'd Puckerman get lucky enough to have a friend like you?"

Rachel laughs and shoots Puck a small smile. "Because, a long time ago, Noah convinced me that I was good enough exactly like I am, and although I never really thanked him at the time, it made a huge impact on me."

Puck stares at her, trying to remember what she's even talking about.

"The nose job, Noah, remember?"

Puck smiles. "I'm still fucking glad you didn't get that nose job, Rach. That would've been a fucking disaster."

Rachel shifts uncomfortably. "I've been told a time or two since that my nose isn't ideal for a career as an actress."

"Bullshit," Antonio barks from his seat across from Rachel. "I'm not hitting on you when I say this, but you're beautiful, so anybody that tells you otherwise can kiss my hairy ass."'

"Yeah," Jeff adds, "what he said. You don't want to look like those cookie cutter bitches in Hollywood, do you?"

Rachel seems to contemplate his question before she shakes her head. "Not really. I happen to think I'm fantastic just the way I am."

The guys all toast to that.

Later that night, after he's back in his bed, the guys are gone, and Rachel's already got his house spotless again, she knocks on his bedroom door. He's reading the latest issue of Men's Health on his iPad, waiting for the pain medicine to kick in. When she comes in, she's got a mug of tea in her hand.

"I figured you could use some."

He takes the mug and thanks her before patting the empty side of his queen-sized bed. She hesitates for a second before nodding and then climbs in beside him. They sit in silence for a few seconds before Puck turns off his iPad and pushes it away.

"Why haven't you gone home yet, Rachel?"

"Do you want me to?"

"That's not what I'm asking. I'm fucking glad you're here and I'm going to owe you for the rest of my life, but I still don't know why you're not in a rush to get back to Manhattan."

Rachel snuggles closer to him and Puck puts his arm around her. She tucks herself against him, which she hasn't done the entire time she's been here, and pulls the cover up around them. "Things weren't going well. Just because you headline a show at one time doesn't necessarily mean that you can easily get jobs. The competition is brutal and so cutthroat. Lately I've felt… frustrated."

"So you're not working at all?"

"I have a lot of money saved up. I'm trying to figure out what to do."

"Well, what do you want to do? Because I know you and you'll get whatever it is that you want." He nudges her with his shoulder. "'Sides, I've known you to be damn cutthroat yourself when you need to be."

"Oh, I can hold my own," she agrees. "I'm just not sure that's what I want right now, and…" she glances away, her cheeks turning pink. "I'm actually writing a play. I've been in some amazing shows and some pretty terrible ones, and I'm really fascinated with the idea of creating a show of my own. It's just in the development stages, but I'm really excited about it."

Puck squeezes her to him. "That's really fucking great, Rachel. I'm proud of you."

She stretches up and kisses him on the cheek. "I'm proud of you, too, Noah."

When she closes her eyes and leans her head against his chest, Puck reaches over and snaps out the light. She doesn't protest.

Something is shifting between the two of them. He can feel it when Rachel looks at him, especially when she thinks he's not paying attention. Ever since the night she slept in his bed, things have changed in a way he can't explain. Things feel closer… like they're more connected. It should freak him out but it doesn't. He depends on her so fucking much and she never, ever complains. He's never met anyone so selfless in his life. He has no idea how he's going to repay her once this is all over and he's healed, but he's going to figure out a way.

On a Thursday morning, she knocks on his door and barges in without him telling her it's okay to enter. He's groggy, just coming awake, but it takes him only a second to realize two things: his blanket is now on the floor and he has a huge erection pressing against his boxer briefs, which Rachel can clearly see. She darts her eyes away but not before Puck can catch her eying him, and specifically, it. Instead of scrambling to reach for the sheet to cover himself, he boldly says her name until she meets his gaze again. He's pretty sure he sees apprehension and confusion within her eyes, but he also recognizes a healthy dose of lust in there, too. It takes everything in him not to push things too far by grabbing her hand and placing it right where he needs it.

"Uh… Antonio is coming over to pick you up since he has a van." Rachel turns her back on him and reaches into his closet to find him a shirt and shorts.

"Where am I going?"

She tosses the clothes at him and they land in a neat pile over his dick, effectively blocking out his morning wood from her eyes.

"It's a surprise. Get dressed."

She starts to leave before Puck has to stop her and remind her that he can't get his shorts on without her help. Most of the time he lounges around under a blanket in his underwear because it's awkward as fuck for her to help him get pants on. He can see that she's completely flustered when she turns back around and grabs his shorts from him. They start the long, painful process of sliding the wide-legged shorts up over his casts. When she finally gets them over his hips, her hand brushes right over his dick and he can't stop the groan that slips out. It's been a damn long time since he's had any sexual contact and right now, all he wants is Rachel anyway. He finally admits it to himself just as her eyes go wide and she jerks her hand away.

She turns and leaves without another word. He slips his shirt over his head and wonders if he just fucked up everything.

Two hours later, he's sitting in a hangar on base. Rachel's surprise was that she arranged for him to go hang out with his buddies for a while. He's sitting in his wheelchair, feeling like a useless tool, while his buddies move around him. They're getting ready to take a new fighter jet on a test flight and Puck knows that it should be him preparing for takeoff. It kills him that he has to sit on the sidelines, but he's determined to heal as soon as possible so he can get back here and do what he loves.

Rachel seems fine after this morning's little incident. She acts completely unfazed and he's glad. He doesn't want to ruin things between them, although he can't help but wonder if this attraction is one-sided and he's really just been imagining the change between them.

Later that night, after he's back home and he's slept for four hours to counter the exhaustion that wracked him after going out for the afternoon, he gets his answer. It's nearly midnight and the house is quiet. He figured that Rachel had gone to bed hours before, but then she's opening the door. She's wearing this little purple tank top and he can see her nipples pressing against the thin material in the reflective light of the TV. Even better is the fact that she has on a pair of boyshorts and nothing else. She closes the bedroom door behind her and walks wordlessly to the empty side of the bed, crawling in and lying on her side to face him. He stares down at her and starts to ask her what the hell is going on when she places a finger over his lips to stop him, then she pushes herself up and brushes her mouth against his. It's hardly a kiss at all, but it ignites a surge of need inside him. He wraps an arm around her and hauls her toward him the best he can without working legs. She moans when he deepens the kiss, his tongue pressing against the seam of her lips until she acquiesces and lets him inside. Her kisses are timid at first, until he slides his hand beneath her shirt and settles it over her small breast. She cries out when he pinches her nipple before cupping his cheeks in her hands and kissing him hard, with as much passion as she can. He wants to press her into the mattress and slide inside her but he knows it's impossible. He feels helpless and frustrated, even as she's nibbling on his neck.

"Rachel," he moans, "I want you so fucking bad, but we can't… I mean, I can't."

She pulls her mouth away from him, a determined glint in her eyes. Her hand slides down over his bare abs and into his shorts, where she grips him in her small hand.

"I can't stop thinking about this," she admits as she squeezes him. "It's been driving me crazy all day."

"What? My dick?"

When Rachel nods, Puck laughs. The laughter dies on his lips when she begins to stroke him in earnest. Even though it's not sex, it's enough. She keeps her eyes locked with his until the moment he comes all over her hand and his stomach. Then she lets him return the favor, his fingers bringing her to a quick orgasm that leaves them both breathless.

She sleeps beside him that night and when he wakes up the next morning sporting another huge erection, she brings him to wakefulness with her mouth on him. By the time he comes, he's pretty sure that he's in love with her.

Getting the casts off hurts like a bitch and his legs look scarred, thin, and pasty white once he can finally see them again. Rachel squeezes his hand the entire time and he's not afraid to admit that he needs her strength. It's been a long six weeks. From here, he's going to be using a walker for about a week as he starts daily physical therapy. He knows the pain is going to be intense, but he also realizes that on the other side of all that shit is returning to his old life. Now, though, he wonders how Rachel is going to fit into that. They're kind of a couple, he thinks, even though they've never really talked about it. She's slept in his bed every night for the past two weeks, and they've done every damn thing but actually have sex. They get each other off every damn day and she made his biggest fantasy come true when he finally let her give him a sponge bath that actually did end with her soapy hands all over his cock. He's a lucky bastard, but he's terrified to ask her when she's going back to New York. He knows it's just a matter of time. She can't stay forever, regardless of how much he wishes she'd stay. He's going to beyond lonely when she leaves, but he doesn't let himself think about what will happen once she's gone. He's too busy being happy to be alive.

The first few days of physical therapy are the worst of his life. He's at the facility for hours, being stretched and pulled and pushed and made to work out on these machines that feel more like devices of torture than exercise equipment. He's so tired and pissed off when he gets home that he snaps at Rachel, who takes everything in stride and forces him to eat healthy foods heavy on protein to help build his strength. When he pulls her into his lap, she's careful but still sits on his thighs and kisses him.

"I'm sorry." He cups her ass and squeezes. "I don't mean to be a total dick."

"Well, you are." She bites her lip. "I know you're going through a lot of pain, but it's for good, Noah. You have to remember that."

"I know, but it fucking hurts."

Rachel leans in and wraps her arms around his neck, pressing her lips against his jaw. "Every day is going to be easier and then you'll be walking on your own, and then running!"

"And then you'll leave."

Rachel pulls back and meets his eyes. "I… I hadn't really thought about that yet. I suppose I need to get home soon. Kurt's complaining about having to pay full rent since I haven't been there, but we both know he's probably used our apartment to host a dozen parties since I've been gone and hosted multiple 'sleepovers' with his flavor of the week."

"You should stay." Puck can't believe he actually says it, but once it's out, he can't take it back.

Rachel looks away for a second and then meets his eyes. "You're not tired of me yet? I did kind of insert myself into your life and take over."

"Which is the Rachel Berry way." He kisses her nose. "And I've loved every second of it. I'd probably be dead without you by now. I'd have broken my neck somehow trying to manage on my own. I owe you so much, baby."

She smiles and kisses him before saying, "Let me think about it, okay?"

Puck nods. He knows that she'll go back to New York. It is, after all, her city. She can stay away temporarily, but it'll always be her true home, and he knows he can't compete with that. He just promises himself that he's going to enjoy every second he gets with her and not think about how much he'll miss her when she's gone.

A week after his casts come off, he's ready to give up. Rachel promises him that every day will be better than the one before it, but so far, he feels like every single day is an experiment in how far he can be pushed before he fucking freaks out and snaps the neck of the too-perky blond physical therapist who keeps torturing him. He's walking on his own finally, even though his legs are incredibly weak. He used to run five miles a day and he's not sure he'll ever get back to that. He can barely walk to the bathroom without needing to lie down and sleep it off.

It's on his worst night, when he feels like he's too tired to fucking move, that Rachel climbs onto his lap.

"We should have sex."

"What? Now?"

She nods. "I'm tired of waiting, and the quickest way to show you that you're going to be okay and that you're fine is to have sex."

Puck stares at her, trying to find fault in her obviously perfect logic. He can't find any. She's fucking right. As usual.

Instead of giving her an answer, he kisses her hard and grips her hips so that she can feel that he's already half-hard. Puck has no idea how they're going to do this because even though he's finally out of his casts, he has zero strength in his legs, but Rachel doesn't seem concerned. She whips her shirt off and grabs his head, guiding his lips to a beaded nipple. He groans as his lips surround it, and then he sucking it between his teeth. When he scrapes it gently, she lets go of this little breathy stutter that makes his dick even harder. She weighs nothing in his lap, her hips shifting as she grinds against him. He switches to her other breast as he slips his hands down her back and into her shorts, where he cups her ass beneath her panties. Her skin is like silk beneath his rough fingers. He needs her completely naked in his lap, so he pushes the fabric down. She arches up to help him then slides off his lap and rolls over onto her back, lifting her hips and legs into the air to get her clothes completely off. She's not shy about her body and the moonlight is shining through the open window, bathing her in shimmery, white light. She's so fucking beautiful that his mouth goes dry.

She's back in his lap before his brain has caught up. He's a little surprised at her boldness, but she's slipping her hand inside his boxer briefs and stroking his cock before he even realizes what she's doing. He throws his head back and groans because it feels fucking incredible. Even though he and Rachel have been screwing around, he hasn't been balls deep in anyone in months, and he knows that he's not going to last very long once her pussy is around him. Her strokes are strong and sure, and he feels himself lengthen and thicken in her hand. Fuck, he's going to die if he doesn't get inside her soon.

Rachel pushes his boxer briefs down and lets his cock spring free. She looks down between their bodies, her eyes assessing him. When their gazes connect, her eyes are hooded. "Very nice," she murmurs as her hand surrounds him again. "Very, very nice." He laughs because this is clearly not the first time she's touched his cock, but everything feels different because he's finally getting to fuck her. He wants to throw her down and go to town and when he starts to get frustrated that he can't, she can tell. She shakes her head before she squeezes him and angles his cock so it's bumping against her clit. She pushes against the head and they both grunt at the feeling.

Rachel starts to play with him, which drives him fucking insane. She strokes him with her fingers, tucking his cock between her lips but never letting him slide inside. She guides his hands back to her breasts, her eyes going wild when he twists her nipple between his fingers. She drops his cock, then centers herself over him and slides her fingers under the head to lift him up slightly. He feels her press against him, so wet and slick, that he feels like he's going to come.

"Condom," he grunts. "Need to fuck you."

Rachel reaches into the drawer he's pointing at and jerks one out of the box, ripping it open and rolling it on him. It feels fucking incredible as she strokes him, but it feels even better when she lifts up on her knees, places him just right, and slides down. She ripples around him as he glides fully inside her, making him have to close his eyes before he blows his load without a single thrust. He breathes through his nose to try to get control, but he can instantly tell that Rachel's in a take-no-prisoners mood. She grips his shoulders with her hands and lifts herself up before slamming down on him. All he can do is hold on while she fucks him.

She's not shy about what she wants. When his cock hits just the right spot inside her, she cries out and leans back, her hands on either side of his thighs, so that she can get a better angle. She lets out a wail as she slides down on him again, the new angle sending shards of fire through both of them. He strokes her clit with his thumb, gliding through her slickness, until she's whimpering his name over and over again. He's helpless against the feel of her, tumbling headlong into an orgasm before he can even help himself. She follows a few strokes behind, her body clenching around his as she grapples for him, her fingers gripping his hair.

Puck leans his head back against the headboard, his eyes closed as he tries to catch his breath.

"That was fucking fantastic."

The fact that she's the one to voice it exactly as he would have makes him start to laugh. She hugs him to her chest as she laughs with him. When he's in the circle of her arms is when he decides that yeah, he definitely loves her.

"I have to go back to the city."

Rachel tells him on a Tuesday morning, ten weeks after the crash. They're eating breakfast and, as soon as she says it, his good mood evaporates. He tries to hide his disappointment. "I figured you'd leave soon."

"I have an audition. I really can't say no to this. I've wanted to work with this producer for a long time. It's a longshot because I'm up against some really powerful personalities, but my agent thinks I have a good shot. I know we had talked about me staying, but I—"

He cuts her off, his expression steely so that he doesn't give away how he feels. "It's okay. You don't have to explain. I knew you wouldn't be staying, Rachel."

She reaches across the table and places her hand over his. "You're doing so well, Noah, that you don't really need me anymore. It's… it's time I get back to my life."

"I get it." Puck pushes his plate away and slowly gets up. "You don't have to justify it to me."

He leaves her alone while he showers and tries to get control of his emotions, which including being so mad that he wants to put a fist through the wet tile. He knew she wouldn't stay, but somehow, he'd hoped she would. He realizes that his hope was stupid, misguided. Rachel's first love will always be the theater. He doesn't blame her for it because it's what she's great at and all he wants is for her to be happy. He just wishes things were different so that she could be happy with both the theater and him.

She leaves two days later. He still hasn't been cleared to drive so she calls a cab. He tries not to act like she's ripping his heart out of his chest and packing it in her suitcase along with the panties she's currently folding, and he thinks he's doing a good job until he sees tears on her cheeks as she finishes putting the last of her things in her suitcase. Seeing her upset fucking tears him apart, but he doesn't go to her. Holding her now will just kill him.

"I think I have everything." She glances around his bedroom, which she moved into weeks ago, and then nods. "Yes, I think that's all of it."

Puck doesn't say anything because he's not sure what to say. Part of him feels like begging like a pussy if it'll make her stay, but he can't stand the idea of stopping her from getting what she wants.

She zips up her suitcase and then stands in front of him. They only have a few minutes before the cab shows up, and Puck doesn't know what to do with those last few minutes. He thinks about how intense the sex was just an hour before and his throat tightens. He connects with her on every fucking level. He's pretty sure that he always has.

"I'm going to miss you," she says softly. She places her hand on his chest, right over his heart. He covers it with his own and presses her palm flat against him until she can feel his heart beating. He wants to tell her that it beats for her, except he doesn't say flowery shit like that. Instead, he leans in and takes her mouth in slow, desperate kiss.

"Call me when you land," he says gruffly once they pull apart.

"I will. And I'll call every night. And we can Skype. I want to hear all about how things are going and when you finally get cleared to go back to work."

Puck lets go of her hand and grabs her suitcase, rolling it to the door while she trails behind. When he pops open the front door, he sees the cab just turning into his driveway.

"Shit," he mutters, "cab's here."

Rachel looks startled but nods. She glances around at his little bungalow one last time like she's trying to memorize his ugly couch or old lamp shades. After a few long, agonizing moments, she walks toward him and takes her suitcase, rolling it out onto the porch. The cabbie grabs it and takes it back to the car, loading it into the trunk while he stares at her.

"Be careful, Berry," he says. "And thanks for everything. I really can't say it enough. I wouldn't be standing here if it weren't for you."

Rachel smiles, her eyes filling with tears. "It was my pleasure."

She moves in and wraps her arms around him one last time before pressing a kiss to his cheek before she kisses him on the mouth. He lets it be a chaste kiss because there's an irritated cabbie staring at them. Reluctantly, he lets her go. With a final squeeze to his fingers, she heads down the steps and climbs into the cab. They watch each other until the car backs out of his driveway and disappears down the street, leaving him alone for the first time in two and a half months.

He hates it.

Rachel gets the part. He's proud of her, of course, but now he knows she's never coming back to Nevada. They Skype nightly and he even convinces her to go topless a few times during their chats, but it's not the same. He misses the scent of her and the way she laughs with her whole heart and soul. He wishes he would've had the balls to tell her that he was in love with her before he left. He kind of wants her to say it first because, if high school is any indication, he's always cared more about her than she has about him. He's afraid of laying his heart on the line and he's already tried this long distance shit with Quinn and it didn't work at all. So he goes to physical therapy every day, hangs out with his buddies, chats with Rachel, and mopes around.

At thirteen weeks post-crash, he runs for the first time. He only makes it a mile and it fucking hurts, but he does it. Three days later, he's released to full duty. The men in his squadron welcome him back with a huge party and Captain Sanders presents him with a medal for valor for the way he handled the crash to avoid any ground casualties. He's embarrassed as hell when they pin the medal on his dress blues, but he thanks Sanders and salutes. He knows this shit's going to be on the national news, too, which is the worst part. He still doesn't think he did anything special. All he did was point the jet away from the busiest parts of Vegas and angle the thing towards an open patch of ground. When one of his men calls him a hero, he wants to punch the guy in the teeth. Heroes are those buddies of his who went overseas and didn't come home. He's anything but a hero.

"I miss you so much," Rachel tells him one night. It's late and he needs to be sleeping because he has to be up at 0600, but she's just getting home from rehearsals and he hasn't talked to her in two days.

"I miss you, too." He stretches out on his bed and angles his iPad so that he can see her better. She's wearing sweats and a t-shirt that she obviously stole from him. Her makeup is smudged around her eyes, making her look even more tired than she is. She's never been more beautiful.

"Noah, can I ask you a question?"

"'Course."

"What are we?"

"Huh?" He stares at her image on the screen. "What do you mean?"

"I mean…" She sighs. "This is so embarrassing. We've never established what we are… I mean, I was your caretaker and then I was your lover and—"

Puck cuts her off. "Please don't call yourself my lover. We're not in some fucking French film."

She snorts with laughter. "Fine. Then we were sleeping together and it felt like dating and now it still feels like dating even though we're so far apart so I'm just wondering… what am I to you?"

Puck swallows, afraid of baring his soul. Even though his insides scream to keep things light, he's honest. "You're everything."

The smiles she gives him, coupled with the fact that she whispers that she loves him right before they disconnect that night, tells him that he had the right answer to her question.

"You're serious?" Captain Sanders stares at the paper in front of him. Puck is standing at attention, his back rigid, even though he's supposed to be at ease. He's made kind of a ballsy, bold move, and now he's waiting to see what Sanders says.

"I'm serious, sir."

"Why?"

Puck blows out a breath. "Because my girl is near there, sir, and the distance is killing me."

Sanders sets Puck's transfer request on his desk and asks, "Is this that cute little thing I met when I stopped by your house?"

"Yes, sir. Rachel, sir."

Sanders smiles. "I'll hate to lose you, Puckerman, but McGuire will be lucky to have you. I'll authorize the transfer."

Puck shakes his hand and rolls his shoulders as the tension drains from him. It hit him last night as he was lying in bed that there was a way to have both his Air Force career and his girl. He's never really wanted to live in New Jersey, but for Rachel, he'd even move back to shitty-ass Lima, so he figures that McGuire Air Force Base can't be too bad. It's only 90 minutes from Manhattan, after all.

With a final salute, Puck leaves Sanders office and head back to his little cottage. He has to pack.

Sixteen weeks after slamming an F-22 into the hot Arizona desert, Puck crosses the state line for the final time and heads into Utah. His truck is loaded with his personal belongings. The Air Force would've moved him, he knows, but he plans on spending a night in Ohio with his mom before heading on to New Jersey. Rachel's giddy about the fact that he's going to be so close. Because their future is so uncertain, their possibilities so endless right now, he's living on base in housing. Hopefully sooner rather than later, he and Rachel will move in together. He knows he's probably rushing things, but if there's one thing crashing a jet teaches you, it's that life is precious. He doesn't intend for Rachel to get away. He's lost her too many times over the years, and yeah, he knows that he wouldn't have been able to treat her right back when they were kids, but he still wonders what might have been. Then he thinks about Finn and then he's even more determined than ever to get his life started with Rachel. He figures that when you have someone as amazing as she is loving you back, you gotta make sure you grab life by the balls and take what's offered.

Puck arrives in town an hour later than he planned due to traffic. Rachel insisted that she meet him, so he's looking for the Dairy Queen on the main drag through town because that's where they're supposed to meet. He sees the flashing DQ sign and pulls his truck into the lot. He's barely got the door open until 108 pounds of sexy woman is throwing herself at him, kissing his face and his neck.

"You're here!" She lets out a sob before burrowing her face against his neck. "I can't believe you're here."

He runs his fingers through her hair and closes his eyes as he hugs her to him. She feels so damn good in his arms. "I'm here, baby."

She cries against his chest for a few minutes and then pulls back to meet his eyes. "I felt so horrible for leaving you. I was so afraid that you'd be done with me once I came home. I cried all the way back to New York because I was afraid I was going to lose you. I'm so happy that you're here, Noah. I can't believe you transferred here just to be with me. You don't know how much that means."

Puck shuts her up with a deep kiss that makes her whimper against his mouth. When they separate, he wipes away the tears on her cheeks with his thumbs.

"I owe you more than I can every give you, baby. I'll spend the rest of my life trying to make it up to you. The least I can do is move closer and put you out of your misery." He gives her his best smirk. "And think how much I'll be saving you on batteries now that you can retire your vibrator."

She smacks him before he wraps her in his arms and pulls her to him. She sighs happily as she presses against him. "I just can't believe you're here."

"Move in with me." Puck blurts it out and then quickly realizes that he just sped up their relationship by, like, five months. "I want you close, baby."

He waits for her to say no, so when she says yes, he grins and kisses her hard. When she's breathless and her lips are swollen, he takes her hand and drags her inside the DQ because he's craving a cheeseburger.

Once he's popping fries into his mouth and she's sucking on a fruit smoothie across the table from him, they start talking about the logistics of living together. It's going to take some time to figure out, but he doesn't care how hard it will be to coordinate it. She's worth everything, but if he had to put a price on it, he's pretty sure it would be somewhere around 138 million dollars.


Note: So I haven't written Puckleberry in well over a year. I hope I still have their voices down. Anyway, the title comes from Lifehouse's song of the same name. I listened to it at least 100 times in a row while I wrote this. Hope you enjoyed!