I like happily ever afters. So sue me.

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EPILOGUE

10. king of the rodeo
-kings of leon

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So, as it turned out, baseball season was totally Rachel's favorite time of the year, but she didn't realize it until May hit, Glee ended, and suddenly her afternoons were all blue skies and birds chirping; Noah smelling like leather and freshly cut grass, tasting like sunflower seeds and grape Big League Chew bubblegum (her favorite). On the day of their five month anniversary (dude, don't think Puck was pussy-whipped, he wouldn't have known the day was anything other than Thursday if she hadn't been bugging him about it all week) he had a home game against their biggest rival, East Lima High. So after ballet, she pulled his oversized warm up jacket over what she was wearing and made her way out to the field, his big red 20 emblazoned on her arm. She never knew that sports (let alone one as boring as baseball) could be so fun to watch, but it probably had something to do with the fact that his teammates' girlfriends were, shockingly, not heinous bitches to her. At first, she thought it was some prank they were trying to pull -- lulling her into a false sense of security with all their niceness so they could humiliate her and leave her sad and boyfriendless -- but wow, was she wrong about that. After a couple weeks, she realized that they were just honest to goodness nice girls. Not only were they nice girls, they were pretty and popular girls who wore things like flannel shirts instead of booty shorts, played sports, and she could have sworn a couple were even on the honor roll last semester. They were pretty much the complete antithesis of everything Rachel expected them to be. Somehow, these girls were normal and didn't care that she wasn't. They just saw her as the girl who was finally teaching Puckerman to not be such an obnoxious dick all the time (he was still very much an obnoxious dick, but he acted on it far less frequently) and they welcomed her into their little world.

So with baseball season came a new chapter in Rachel Berry's teenage years: one in which she had a life outside of Glee, where she actually hung around after school somewhere other than the music room or dance studio, where she wore school colors to games and went to bonfires and knew cheers by heart. A life where her boyfriend hit the game winning walk-off homerun on their anniversary; where she rushed the field and jumped into arms.

Basically, she was living out every high school cliche that ever was. But things weren't always so perfect.

---

In spite of all they had been through that fall with Quinn and the baby drama, when they officially became an unofficial couple, Puck wanted to keep things on the down low and she was surprisingly okay with it. Dating a McKinley-certified loser would take some getting used to, okay? Even though he said he didn't give a fuck what people thought about him, at the end of the day, his world revolved around what people thought about him ("Seriously, Rach, we are not leaving this car until you tell me if this shirt is badass enough to wear in public. I have a rep, okay?!") and she knew that. Sure, everyone knew they were going out, but Puck made an extra effort to not be loud and obnoxious about it. When he was with Santana it was all tonguing each other at the lockers and getting a detention a week for "promiscuous behavior." But with Rachel, it was his arm slung over her shoulders and many a secret rendezvous in storage closets during lunch periods.

Though a part of her craved the public attention that should have come with dating the third most popular boy in the school, she understood his reluctance: if she had what he had, she wouldn't want to give it up either. But the way he looked at her when it was just the two of them was so tender and earnest and un-Puck, she didn't have the heart to get mad at him.

It didn't take long though for Puck to realize what a dumbass he was being. If he had to pinpoint the exact moment when it hit him, it was probably time when Rachel decided she wanted to learn how to play basketball. He had keeled over laughing ("You realize you are, like, a half inch taller than the average midget, right?") and she punched him hard in the side. When he stepped out of the guys locker room the next day, she was standing by the water fountain in a bright pink tank top and those tight little yoga pants he loved on her. No matter what bullshit she spewed about how playing would better inform her perspective on the sports cultural relevance ("Seriously, babe, is it that hard to just speak English? You sound like fuckin' Wikipedia.") he knew why she really wanted these lessons. They barely saw each other in school and her dads still hated his guts, which made chill time hard to come by on weekdays. She was there because she wanted an excuse to spend more time with him without seeming like one of those annoying clingy girls who worshipped the ground their boyfriends walked on.

When he saw her there, yeah his ego blew up slightly (how could it not when your girl was waiting for you after a rough practice?) but mostly he realized what a douche he was. Taking other people's feelings into consideration was new, uncharted territory for him, but he was a surprisingly quick learner.

He shot her his best smart-ass grin and she just shook her head as he walked over and dropped his things at her feet, still smiling smugly. She put her hands on her hips and told him to shut up before he pulled her into a bear hug and lifted her so her lips were even with his. She laughed begrudgingly and wrapped her arms around his neck before kissing him firmly. When she pulled back for air and her feet slowly reached the ground again, she looked up at him.

"Swish swish, let's make some baskets!"

"Shoot some hoops, Rach."

"Oh! Right."

Their lesson lasted a grand total of five minutes. After she airballed every shot, he gave up and called her towards him. She shrieked when he grabbed her by the waist and hoisted her up towards the basket, then she peered down and threw him a smile.

"Noah Puckerman, you're a genius."

"Hey man, I'm not all beauty, I've got some brains, too." After a few dunks, he put her down and framed her face in his hands.

"Y'know, I kinda think you don't give a shit about basketball."

"That is absolutely absurd, of course I care about basketball!" Her hands were on her hips in indignation, and his eyes narrowed. After a beat, she sighed. "Okay, fine. What gave me away?" She stood on his feet and let her hands drift down the front of his chest, then around his back. He gave her another smug Puckerman grin before kissing her long and hard. When they finally pulled away, her voice was breathy and her hands were still locked around his waist. "Noah..." She had that look in her eye that usually made him dump girls like last week's trash -- that look that told him things were getting serious -- but this time, it was different because it wasn't just her ass he wanted, it was everything: obsessive compulsive personality, heinous knee socks and all. She didn't need to finish her thought because he knew how stupid he'd been.

Screw his friends, they were all full of shit anyway.

---

As things got more typically Puck between them -- him grabbing her hips from behind as she dug through her locker, being all hands before Glee, and standing way too far in her space than Mr. Shue was comfortable with -- Rachel realized it was actually a lot harder being a popular guy's girlfriend than it was for Puck to be a loser girl's boyfriend. In fact, his crowd stressed her out more than anything else at school, even more than Mr. Shue's woeful song selections. Every weekend, at least one of Puck's friends' parents was out town, so there was always a kegger in someone's basement or some team party where all the most popular kids at school got drunk and took part in general teenage debauchery. She didn't even know these parties existed, so sure, the first one was really exciting, but it didn't take long for her to realize they kind of sucked, because the popular crowd? Was not nice at all.

Still, she went to a handful of those stupid gatherings at first, just to make him happy. It was kind of nice to have his arm draped protectively around her waist, and aside from the near-constant death stare she'd get from Santana, people were generally pretty amiable. Still, she always ended up spending the whole night feeling out of place and awkward. Yeah, she drank, but it was more for leisure than to actually get drunk. In fact, the idea of being in a near-constant state of drunkenness repulsed her. So sitting on Puck's arm like some prize trophy as he got more and more intoxicated and ridiculous wasn't exactly her idea of fun. And the bitchy, wasted girls who threw themselves at him as she was sitting right there? Also not her idea of fun.

At the fourth party he dragged her to, she started to think that maybe her relationship with Noah was a bad idea they were clearly from two different worlds and didn't have any interests in common other than music (in the vague, broad sense) and each other. It just seemed smart to stop things where they were; it would hurt, but it wouldn't hurt as much as it would if they got more attached to each other.

She wandered around Danny Davies' house for a while that night, playing with his dog and walking around the pool, thinking hard about what she needed to do. When she returned to see Santana sitting comfortably on Puck's lap, she barely registered what was going on when her eyes started to well up. Clearly it was a sign: not only was a break up imminent, it was definitely the right course of action.

She was frozen to the spot, surprised and yet not at all (he was Puck, after all; who was she to think she could change him?) so she watched them from afar.

To her shock, with one swift move, he pushed Santana off his lap and she fell on her ass.

"Bitch, please." His voice carried across the room, over the music and party chatter and Rachel flinched, stunned that Puck actually turned down a free invitation from Santana Lopez, of all people. She laughed to herself, her smile fixed on her lips even as she made her way across the room. Maybe she didn't give Noah enough credit after all.

When she reached him, he put his hands on her hips and beamed up at her with that ridiculous, happy drunk face of his before pulling her down onto his lap.

"Hey there sexy lady," his lids were heavy and his cheeks red, and she just laughed and put a hand on his face. "Missed you B," he leaned in and kissed her languidly. When she pulled back, his eyes were still closed and his face tilted forward, looking for hers. She laughed softly and patted his cheek.

"Alright Romeo, I think I'm heading out early tonight."

"What?! We just got here like an hour ago, come on."

"I know, I know, I'm just feeling a little..." She looked around the room then down at her hands. "I don't know, just a little out of sorts."

He lifted her chin towards him and looked concerned. "I don't know what that means, but if someone here gave you shit, I swear to God I will kick their ass"

"Whoa there, tiger, relax. Everything's fine, I'm just tired. You stay, have fun, you can call me when you head out."

He glared at her, then reluctantly said okay and gave her a kiss.

"Alright, now car key?" He rolled his eyes and sighed as he dug into his pocket.

"This is totally unnecessary, I may be stupid but I'm not an idiot," he took his car key off his ring and tossed it to her.

"That's arguable." She made a face at him and he took her hand, laughing sarcastically before pulling her back towards him for one last kiss.

The second she got in the car, she immediately regretted her decision. It wasn't that she didn't trust Noah, it was just that he wasn't just a sixteen year old "dude," he was Puck and everyone in that house was gorgeous and twig-like and ready to give it up to him when the two of them hadn't even had sex yet! Noah didn't have a reputation for nothing, and who was she to think that a month and a half with her could change any of that?

She had been home for just half an hour when she fully convinced herself she made the biggest mistake of her high school life and that her first real boyfriend was totally having sex with another girl right that second. That is, until she heard a tap on her window and saw him standing in the grass below.

Her dads were watching a movie in the basement when she snuck his slightly stumbling self up to her room. She smiled against his lips as he kissed her and told him she was convinced he had forgotten about her and was hooking up with Santana in that basement.

"Baby, I have never meant this more than I do now: you are fucking crazy. Why would I ever downgrade from the 100% fine piece I've got right here to that hobag?"

"Because you're Noah Puckerman."

"I take offense to that." He paused for a second and thought. "But thank you."

After fooling around for a little while, he pulled his sweatshirt off and threw his jeans over the side of the bed before cuddling up with her under the covers. Puck was a frisky drunk, yes, but he was also a happy drunk and a tired drunk.

"Hey, thanks for coming over tonight." His eyes were closed and she was tracing the lines on his face.

"I know those parties aren't your thing, B. I'm sorry."

With that, she kissed his lips and burrowed her face in his neck as he hugged her closer and fell asleep.

---

Regionals were early March in Chicago and the Best Western they stayed at was right smack in the heart of the city: all lights, glamour and jazz. Rachel was so revved up, the second they got there she went straight to her room to rehearse, but Puck roamed around the city with Finn, Artie and Tina. They were eating at a 24-hour sub place when Mr. Shue found them and switched Tina's room assignment, giving her a key to Rachel's. Puck was supposed to be rooming with Artie that night, but obviously, the second Shue left, he swapped keys with Tina and made plans to sneak back before their six AM wake up call the next morning.

When Puck slipped into her room, Rachel was wearing one of his basketball tees as a night shirt, humming 'Sweet Caroline' to herself. She spun around and nearly screamed when she felt hands on her hips. When she saw it was him, she started laughing, and he knew he was totally getting laid that night.

Yes, it may have been a violation of her number one rule about no distractions the night before big performances, but it was Chicago, they had the room to themselves and it just seemed wrong to not have her first time be so magical. She expected him to be loud and raunchy and, well, Puck, but as they undressed each other, his eyes were locked on hers and he was uncharacteristically quiet. She was nervous and tense, but his voice was gentle and his hands soft. He whispered a husky apology and warned her it might hurt, asked if she was she sure she was ready? I'm sure, I'm sure, she whispered breathlessly into his neck; she had never been more sure of anything in her whole life.

As they lay together after, he ran his thumb over her lips, a faraway look in his eye. He told her she was beautiful -- also a first -- and she told him she loved him (why hide it anymore? She didn't care what he'd think, and was pretty sure he wouldnt run). He didn't need to say anything back because it was written all over his face. Dude had it bad.

The next day, The New Directions shocked everyone even themselves and took home the gold.

---

Don't be fooled, just because everything seemed idyllic and perfect doesn't mean it was. Noah was still mostly his insufferable, nincompoop self and Berry still the same apeshit, uptight psycho girl that made him legit want to light himself on fire. So it goes without saying that they fought all the fucking time. The amazing thing though was that it was never really about anything important, or really anything at all. They had a knack for turning absolutely nothing into an argument. Like, "Hey look, Rach, the sky's blue," "What? How dare you even insinuate that the sky is any shade but azure" ...You get the picture. Bitch was crazy.

But so was he! Trying to imply that her wardrobe needed updating...What boyfriend tells their girlfriend their clothes are ugly? She was pretty sure that was the unspoken rule of relationships: no matter what, your girlfriend is always hot and everything she wears is a vision to behold. Right?

"Dude, Rachel, chill the fuck out, I'm not saying you're ugly. You're practically the hottest girl at this school."

"Practically?"

"You are the hottest girl, okay? You are. Jesus."

"Look, I may not wear tight little T-shirts like you and have my harem of slutty girls rubbing up against me all the time--"

"For the record, that would be really hot."

"--But Noah Puckerman, I will have you know that my wardrobe is unique and inspired and an expression of who I am on the inside. And if you can't accept that..."

"See, that's the thing, it's not. You look like a fucking Sesame Street character...From the seventies. And don't even try to give me that bullshit about being an arteest because, god, we all know you want to be a star, but that doesn't mean you have to dress like a freak!"

She raised her voice and walked towards him, pointing a warning finger in his face.

"AND IF YOU CAN'T ACCEPT THAT ABOUT ME THEN..."

He was trying really hard to fight the smile that was creeping up, but she was so short and the way she was scrunching her nose was kind of adorable. And by adorable he obviously meant, shit man, fuckin' hot!

"Then what, Rach?"

God, that stupid, Cheshire grin of his was like Kryptonite to her grudges.

(Little known secret? They fought about everything because the make up sex was mind-blowing. Every. Single. Time.)

---

Yeah, they lost Nationals. But it didn't come as much of a surprise to anyone. One fairy tale win was more than any of them could have hoped for, but two would have just been greedy. No one cared though because the competition was in New York City, they had a three day weekend, and Mr. Shue pulled some strings to get them tickets to see Wicked the night before. Though the whole weekend was way too fruity for Puck's taste, it was a dream come true for Rachel, so he had a good time anyway. Plus, New York was kick ass and he and Finn were pretty sure they saw a prostitute, which was obviously fuckin' awesome.

Four months, three twelve-hour break ups, and one heartbreaking defeat later (the baseball team lost their championship as well), it was the second to last day of summer, and Puck got the two of them tickets to see Kings of Leon in Toledo.

"Rachel Berry, get your ass out here or I'll have to come in there and drag you out!" He was banging his forehead against her door, about ready to punch himself in the face in frustration. She had made him wait out there for the past fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes! He had already seen her naked (many, many times) so what was the big deal?

"Noah Puckerman, first of all, I don't respond to vulgar threats from brutes like you. Second of all, you think using my first and last name is intimidating but it's totally not. It actually just makes me really happy because isn't that the kind of name that was made to be printed on a playbill?!"

"Rachel, for the love of God--"

Finally, she swung the door open.

He stared at her, his jaw agape, but not in the good way. "Dude, are you serious?"

"What? Is this not proper concert-going attire?" She looked down at her outfit then back up at him. Her pastel pink polo shirt and yellow pleated mini-shirt, quite frankly, looked ridiculous next to his jeans and Zeppelin tee.

"Rach, were gonna look like the fucking Odd Couple."

She rolled her eyes and pushed past him.

"Noah, when will you stop caring so much about what other people think? Everyone will be there for the music anyway, no one will give us a second thought."

"Rachel. You look like a fucking Easter egg basket."

"Well then what do you want me to do? Strap on some leather pants and a halter top?"

"Wait, you have leather pants?!"

"Noah."

"Okay, fine, whatever. Finn's already biting my head off about being late, let's just go."

She did look like an Easter egg basket and people did stare, but for once in his life, Noah Puckerman really and truly did not give a flying fuck.

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