A/N: This show is like crack--I don't think I've ever written fic so soon after starting to watch a show. And after the pilot I was a Rachel/Finn girl, but then Mark Salling showed up with those eyes and that voice and that smile, and...goddamn, people. Goddamn.

Also, the rating is mainly for language, because you know in the real, non "parental advisory" world, Puck swears like a sailor.

Feedback: Is love. Please review!

Puck stood in the middle of the empty, silent music room, clenching his bruised fists and licking his split lip.

He'd known things were about to go downhill fast when Finn had walked into the after-school glee practice with a murderous expression on his face. Finn's default settings were happiness, sadness, hunger, and confusion—he was hardly ever angry.

And never this angry.

He'd been so furious, in fact, that he hadn't even bothered pulling Quinn off to the side before confronting her. Turns out that he'd been googling pregnancy facts, to help with the baby, which had turned into googling pregnancy myths, and had managed to stumble across the fact that insemination via hot tub? Totally not possible.

When he'd demanded to know what the hell was going on, Quinn had cut her eyes over to Puck, silently and frantically ordering him to shut up, shut up, don't even say a word. And while Finn wasn't the brightest crayon in the box, he had the freaky ability to be eerily perceptive at the most inopportune moments. So it had only taken seeing Quinn's expression and turning to see who it was directed at before Finn's eyes had widened in realization and a betrayal so deep it'd made Puck's gut clench. The anger had turned to rage.

And then he'd lunged.

It had taken Matt, Mike, and Mr. Schue to pull the quarterback off of him. And here he was, almost half an hour later, nursing his wounds alone while everyone else went after the golden children, forgetting about him like yesterday's trash.

But that wasn't true, was it? Yes, Mercedes had followed after Matt and Mr. Schue as they'd dragged Finn out of the room, and Brittany, Santana, and Kurt had chased after a sobbing Quinn, but the others had stayed. They'd stayed, as hesitant as if he was a wild animal, until he'd snarled at them to piss off and leave him the fuck alone. They'd disappeared quickly, until only Rachel was left standing in the doorway, looking back at him with a mixture of shock, sadness, sympathy, and disappointment, before silently walking away.

Somehow, that had hurt the worst.

Jesus, how had Rachel Berry become such a big goddamn part of his life? When his mom had begged him to date a nice Jewish girl—and there wasn't anything he wouldn't do for his mom—Rachel had been the first person to come to mind. They might not have been friends, but he didn't hate her as much as he had before glee. And batshit as she was, he couldn't deny that the girl was hot.

And so the seduction had begun, with singing and smiles and charm, and within days he was making out with her on her bed. But Rachel was as smart as she was hot, and she'd discovered his plan soon after that and put a stop to the entire thing. He'd been so pissed off—Rachel Berry, rejecting him?—that he'd brought a slushie to school with him the next day, fully prepared to start dousing the freak once again.

But when she'd turned from her locker and seen him approaching, the look on her face had burned into him. Sad, so sad, and almost…resigned. It had made him flash back to his own beverage to the face a few days prior in McKinley's brief slushie war, to the sharp coldness sliding down his skin and the intense humiliation of everyone staring at him in the hall.

Shame, sickly sweet and cloying, had flowed through him, making him slow and then pause in front of his target for an endless moment. The bitterness of the rejection was still there, but it was better than this choking guilt that he'd never felt before. He'd jerked his gaze away from hers and tossed the slushie in the nearest trashcan before hurrying to his next class, Rachel's smiling eyes on him the entire way. They'd not spoken of the incident since, but she'd seemed more at ease around him, even after the aborted seduction attempt. And he was left with having her on his mind far more often than he was comfortable with.

The scuffing of shoes brought his attention back to the present, and he looked up to see Rachel—speak of the devil—hovering at the door to the room. "Hey," she said softly, her usual boundless energy and enthusiasm absent from her voice. "Are you okay?"

Puck snorted, because you knew something was serious when Rachel wasn't speaking in vocab words and run-on sentences. "Why do you care?"

She cautiously made her way into the room. "As I have recently been reminded, I can be very self-adsorbed at times. And while that's not an unusual quality for a budding star, it is not a desirable trait to have. So I have been making a conscious effort to alter my actions. I've already talked to Finn and Quinn, and I assumed that no one had come back to talk to you. So I decided to take that upon myself." She sighed then, deep and bone-weary. "And I was worried about you."

Puck snorted again, because Rachel Berry worrying about him was one of the last things he thought would ever happen. "Why?" he asked, putting on a tight, fake smile. "Don't worry about me. I'm the high man on the totem pole. Nothing affects me."

"I highly doubt that," she said, wide eyes on him. "Quinn told us her version of events, but I thought it would be wise to get your account. There are two sides to every story, you know."

His already clenched fists tightened further, until he could feel the bite of his nails cutting into his palms. "And what was Quinn's story? That I was just the asshole jock that got her drunk and took advantage of her? Never mind that she wasn't that drunk, and was just as into it as I was. And did she mention that I took responsibility as soon as I found out?" He didn't give Rachel enough time to answer, the tension in his body rising ever higher. "Because I did. Told her I'd take care of both of them, her and the baby. I know what deadbeats are like. My dad's one, and I'm never, ever going to be like him. And you know what she did?"

He let out a vicious laugh. "She turned me down. Completely rejected me. She would rather have Finn be the father, even though I already have my own job, my own business. I'm just a Lima loser—always have been, always will be. Doesn't matter that I've wanted to get out of this shithole since I was old enough to realize there was something beyond the fucking city limits. She, and everyone else in this school, might think I'm worthless, but I'm not. I'm telling you, I'm not! God dammit!"

He'd worked himself into a frenzy, the tension and anger building until he saw red, and he had to let it out. He swiped Mr. Schue's neglected folder of sheet music off the piano, the individual papers flying in all directions.

"Puck!" Rachel cried, startled, but there was no stopping him now. He grabbed a music stand and threw it. It made a satisfying clang as it bounced sharply off the wall, and a nearby chair soon joined the bent and battered stand. He distantly heard his name being called, but ignored it. Reaching out blindly, he grabbed the neck of his guitar and reared back, about to smash it into the ground, when a pair of small, surprisingly strong hands locked onto his arm.

"Noah," she said fiercely, "stop it."

It was the first time in years someone besides his mom had used his name, and he froze for a moment, before his arm fell to hang limply by his side. Rachel took the guitar from him and carefully laid it on the ground before looking back up at him.

He was practically vibrating with tension. This was too much, way too fucking much, and he couldn't take it. If Rachel did anything else, anything, he was going to explode. But he couldn't say a thing, could only watch helplessly as she reached up and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.

And it was the last straw, but he didn't explode. Instead, he collapsed, folding in on himself as his muscles simply stopped working, and he slumped against the girl in front of him. They both fell to their knees, but Rachel never said a word, just kept one hand on his shoulder and moved the other to his back as he buried his face in her neck.

He didn't cry. He was a guy, and guys—especially guys that were star football players, the coolest studs in school, and cougar specialists—didn't cry. But he did breathe. Harsh, painful inhales and sharp, explosive exhales echoed through the room as he knelt in Rachel's arms, nose buried in her hair.

She started singing one of her show tunes, whisper-singing really, low enough that he couldn't make out any words, just a comforting murmur as she rubbed small circles into his back.

Rachel Berry was soft, and warm, and she smelled a little spicy, like cinnamon, but mostly fresh, like clean laundry. He remembered dark, cold winter weekends, back when he was six or so, when his mom would pull a freshly washed towel right out of the dryer and wrap it around him like a cape, and they'd have cocoa and watch movies or cartoons all day. This was like that, and he didn't want to leave, wanted to stay wrapped in her cocoon of warmth and softness and sound forever.

But that wasn't possible, of course, so they stayed together until Puck's breathing went back to normal, and then Rachel fell silent and slowly pulled away. She didn't say a thing, even when he wiped the bit of moisture—sweat, not tears, never tears—off his cheeks. She just bent to collect the sheet music scattered across the floor, and after a moment he joined her. By the time they'd straightened the music stand and chair the adrenaline from his outburst was wearing off and exhaustion was setting in. Rachel took one look at him and pulled him to his feet. "I'll drive you home," she said softly, and he was too tired to resist.

They were halfway to his house before he realized that this meant his truck was still at school, and that Rachel would have to drive him to school again in the morning, but she said she didn't mind and he didn't argue, head resting against the cold glass of the passenger window. They reached his house and he got out, pausing as Rachel spoke.

"I'll talk to Finn again before you see him tomorrow. Today was a shock, but you two have years of friendship, and Finn is a very forgiving person. Sleeping on it will also help. Things won't be perfect tomorrow, but they'll be better. I know they will."

"Yeah," he said. She could probably make it happen herself, through sheer force of will alone.

Off his careless answer Rachel gave him a tender look. "Get some sleep, Noah." She squeezed his hand, and he felt that phantom pressure long after she'd driven off.

That night, Noah Puckerman dreamt of laundry and show tunes.