AN: Epic chapter, be prepared. Also, I have to tell you that I have absolutely no idea what a showcase performance might entail, having not performed since sophomore year of high school (and that was chorus). Please suspend all disbelief and just go with the flow, okay? And be prepared for the second author's note at the bottom with some special instructions.

Disclaimer: I own none of the Glee-ness, nor do I have any rights to any of the songs mentioned in this chapter.

It wasn't one of the main stages; hell, it could hardly be considered a minor stage. But a stage it was, with a thick velvet curtain and bright lights and a crowd of people waiting for the showcase to begin.

His showcase group wasn't a large group; their performance class of 8 had been split in two – one group to perform on Friday, one group to perform on Saturday. They were each allowed four performance pieces and had been granted artistic control of their showcase sets. That meant that the backstage area was swarming with props, makeshift sets, costume carts, stage managers, techies, and makeup artists and vocal students who were getting "experience credit" by performing in the showcase.

Noah was slumped on a sofa in the dressing room trying to appear calm and collected while inside he was freaking out. It was his first major showcase, it counted for a large portion of his final grade in his performance class, it was New York fucking City, and (cue the rolling stomach and sweaty palms) Rachel might be in the crowd he could hear chattering in the auditorium.

Fuck off with your crazy, Puckerman, he thought to himself. You're a stud. You don't do sweaty palms. Yeah, sure. Stud. Right. Exactly how much of a stud have you been lately? Oh, yeah? Gotten laid once in the last four years? Oh sure. Super stud.

Fine, motherfucker, I might not be a stud, but I'm still a badass he argued with himself. The other part of him smirked back: whatever helps you sleep at night, stud.

Frustrated, he ran his hands over his face. Thankfully he didn't have his stage makeup on yet as he was slated to perform third, just after the intermission, which gave him a long time to be planted on the sofa in the dressing room, freaking out.

It wasn't like he hadn't performed before – hello, Nationals winners – but he had never performed before when he had so much to prove. This one performance had a lot riding on it – his future career, his education, Professor Wade's approval, and that was without adding the issue of Rachel to the mix.

He hadn't remodeled his life with her in mind – he had done everything for himself, just as he had "contracted" to do. None of it was for her, none of it was about her, but this performance had a special electric undercurrent running through it.

It wasn't for her, but the invitation he had dropped into the mailbox was. It was his bat-signal to her, indicating that he felt he was ready to begin the rebuilding process. If she came, then that was awesome and they could begin working on their relationship. If she didn't, then that either meant that she wasn't ready or had discovered that she didn't want to be with him anymore. Again. And to top it all off – he had no idea if she had even gotten the invitation in time, as he had waited until the last possible second to send it to her.

Dude, seriously, man-up, he scolded himself. You're doing exactly what you shouldn't be doing. You're making this about her. You're freaking yourself out and acting like a pussy because you're getting all wound up over your relationship with Rachel Berry. Now grow a pair and get over it. If she comes, she comes. Awesome. If she doesn't, you'll survive. It won't be life-ending, -altering, -devastating. It will be what it will be.

That's pretty Zen, dude, his inner voice replied, and he smirked as he felt the tension roll from his shoulders. The tightness around his eyes lessened and he felt himself start to breathe normally again. He settled back onto the sofa in a more comfortable position, and promptly fell asleep while waiting for the showcase to begin.

Two hours later, Professor Wade was standing over him shaking him awake.

"Mr. Puckerman, if this is your idea of being "prepared" for a showcase and your plan to impress your professors, I must say, you are failing admirably," the professor intoned as Noah fought to clear the fog from his brain.

"I'm sorry professor – to be honest, I was slightly freaked out, but then I made myself relax…apparently a little too much. Is the first set over?" he asked as he scrambled up off of the sofa.

"Not quite; Mr. McClenny has just started his second piece. I don't know what he was thinking, covering Nelly Furtado. Even if he had managed to create an inspired arrangement, the song choice is completely inappropriate and his voice is a bit…pitchy," Professor Wade said scathingly and Noah got the feeling that John McClenny would not be receiving the A he was hoping for in the performance class, after all.

"As I told you at the end of class, I am eager to see what you will be performing for us this evening. I've seen your extras milling about in costume with their makeup and hair done. Rest assured, I was very surprised by the amount of glitter on some of them," the man said as he quirked an eyebrow at Noah. Noah simply smiled back at the professor, who broke into a smile of his own.

"Aha! Well, we shall see. I suppose I should let you go get yourself ready and return to the program myself. Hopefully, Mr. McClenny has stopped butchering "I'm Like a Bird" and moved on to his next questionable piece. " With that final comment, the professor swept from the room and Noah found himself staring after the man.

Okay, Puckerman. Professor Wade? He's a badass. Odd as the day is long, but a badass nonetheless. As Kurt would say, he definitely knows how to make an exit.

His confidence buoyed by the Professor's words and the dismal performance John was giving the audience, Noah moved to the make-up chair closest to the "artist" (read: student) who would be in charge of his appearance.

"You're sure you want to do this one first?" the girl asked him, her pink hair vivid against her pale skin. "It would be a lot easier if we did this one last…it would be a better closer, and it would give you more time!"

"We've already discussed this, Zoe," he reminded her. "The last song has to be the last song. I'm sure it will be fine."

He relaxed back into the makeup chair and let her go to work on his face. Twenty-five minutes later he was shooed away from the chair as Zoe reminded him that she would be waiting next to the stage manager's podium as soon as his first piece was over to prep for the next one.

"And no ridiculous encore bows or anything. We don't have time for that!" she shouted after him as he left the room.

He walked out of the dressing room and was immediately gawked at – his classmates were staring at him as if they had never seen him before; extras who weren't part of his performance were doing double-takes as he walked by. He spent the rest of the intermission reviewing his performance notes with the other musicians, vocalists, and dancers who would be joining him on stage.

After what seemed to be an interminable wait, the lights in the auditorium dimmed, signaling that the audience had five minutes to return to their seats.

"Places!" cried the stage manager, and Noah felt a surge of adrenaline rush through him. He hadn't performed like this since high school; it was his first time ever performing without Rachel, the glee kids, and Mr. Shue. And goddamn if he wasn't sure he was going to abso-fucking-lutely nail it.

He got into place behind the center of the stage curtain and nodded silently to the stagehand who brought him the guitar he would be using for his opening number. It wasn't his normal guitar by any means – it wasn't even acoustic – but the familiar feel of the neck of the instrument and the weight of it in his hands made him grin like a schoolboy.

The lights dropped all the way down to pitch-black and he swung the guitar strap over his head and across his body. Silently breaking through the curtain, he took his place at the center of the stage. He could hear the slight rustling of everyone else taking their places across the stage, and he heard the drummer quietly cough behind him, the signal that everything was ready. He took a deep breath, and then began playing the opening licks on his electric guitar.

At his cry of "oh!" the lights came up and the audience gasped. Some snickered, some clapped, but Noah didn't care either way. He had arranged this piece so that he could shock everyone and prove how talented he was as a musician and just how unafraid he was of taking risks.

He was dressed in tight black pants with black Doc Martens and a plain, tight, black t-shirt; his monochrome clothing in complete contrast to his face and hair. His naturally dark hair was spray-painted black and spiked on one side with a very emo-ish flop to the other. A bright silver stripe was spray-painted onto the flop, giving his hair a very "Bride of Frankenstein" look.

His face…. Zoe had done an amazing job. His face was pale, very unnaturally pale, and speckled with glitter. A large orange lightning bolt that was shadowed with electric blue started at the hairline on the left side of his face, and went all the way to the edge of his right jawbone. In other words, aside from the hair, he looked a perfect replica of David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust."

The guitar intro ended and as the lyrics began, Noah began performing to the crowd. He allowed some of the old-school Puck Puckerman swagger to overtake him and he moved with the music.

"Ooooh yeah, Ziggy played guitar, jamming good with Weird and Gilly, and the spiders from Mars. He played it left hand, but made it too far; became the special man… then we were Ziggy's band…" he sang as the song simmered.

"Ziggy really sang, screwed up eyes and screwed down hairdo, like some cat from Japan, he could lick 'em by smiling, he could leave 'em to hang ; came on so loaded man, well hung and snow white tan" he crooned as the song ramped up.

"So where were the spiders while the fly tried to break our balls?" he smirked as he sang; the Puck in him snickering at the idea of singing "balls" on stage.

"Just the beer light to guide us, so we bitched about his fans and should we crush his sweet hands?" he wailed as he launched into the instrumental break.

"Ziggy played for time, jiving us that we were voodoo, the kids were just crass, he was the nazz, with God given ass" he whooped as he strutted around the stage.

"He took it all too far but boy could he play guitar. Making love with his ego Ziggy sucked up into his mind, like a leper messiah, when the kids had killed the man I had to break up the band" he began to wind down.

"Oh yeah, oooooo, Ziggy played guitaarrrrrr." He dragged out the last word as the keyboardist began to play and the drummer beat out a steady beat; immediately launching into the next part of his first performance piece.

"Go crazy … punch a higher floor!" he shouted as the lights of the stage came up and his dancers moved onto the stage. They were made up 80's style, all glitter and glam and he felt his heart burst with pride at his vision for this performance.

"Woo!" he exclaimed and jumped in the air with his guitar, executing a cheerleading move that even Sue Sylvester would be proud of. As soon as he landed, he started to sing:

"If you don't like the world you're living in, take a look around you, at least you got friends. I called my old lady for a friendly word" at this he cocked an eyebrow and shot a trademark Puck grin at the crowd. Some women in the audience giggle-shrieked and he smiled harder.

"She just picked up the phone …dropped it on the floor, "ssss ahh, sss ahh!" is all I heard." As he sang about what he had "heard" his eyes closed and his body mimicked the motions of his dancers, who were grinding against each other.

"I'm not gonna let the elevator bring us down; oh no, let's go! Let's go crazy!

Let's get nuts. Let's look for the purple banana `til they put us in the truck" he crooned and then shouted, "Let's go!"

"All excited, don't know why…maybe it's `cause we're all gonna die. And when we do ("when we do" sang his back-up singers) what's it all for? (What's it all for?) Better live now, before the grim reaper comes knocking on your door" he strung out the last word before launching into the chorus again.

"Tell me baby, are we gonna let the elevator bring us down? Oh no, let's go! Let's go crazy! Let's get nuts. Let's look for the purple banana `til they put us in the truck" he moved with the dancers, some imitating the guitar moves Prince performed in Purple Rain.

"Let's go…. Come on baby, let's get nuts! Yeah…" he sang as he started the guitar solo in the middle of the song.

"Are we gonna let the elevator bring us down? Oh no, let's go! Let's go crazy! Woo! Let's go crazy! Let's go! Let's go!" he ramped up for the finale of the song, letting it all loose while his dancers whirled around the stage.

"Dr. Everything'll-Be-Alright, make everything go wrong. Pills and thrills and daffodils will kill…hang tough children …he's coming .. he's coming .. he's coming!" he shouted, and began the intricate guitar work that finished out the song. When the progression wound down, the dancers stopped dancing and the stage lights focused into an overhead spotlight that beamed directly down on top of his head.

He looked out into the crowd and wailed his final line:

"Ziggy plaaaaaaaaayeeeeeed guitar!"

Silence held over the crowd for a small moment and then people were literally leaping to their feet; cheering and applauding loudly. He received catcalls and loud whistles and he wanted to stay on the stage so badly and bow repeatedly and jump up and down and pump his fist in the air, but he remembered what he had promised Zoe before he had taken the stage.

Quickly, professionally, he bowed once and then moved off the stage to the wings where Zoe was waiting.

"Excellent, excellent, good job, gotta take all of this shit off fast" she mumbled as she swiped his face with cream and a cloth. While she was doing that, another makeup artistry student was acting as her assistant, handing Zoe the tools she would need to quickly fix his face.

The first number had been his huge production – he didn't require any more outlandish makeup now that it was over. Zoe and her assistant quickly applied his "fresh" face and then he turned and walked back out onto the stage, electric guitar still strung across his body.

He turned to each of the wings to make sure his male and female dancers were waiting in their places. They were in simple costumes of modern, everyday clothing; their faces fresh and natural. Once he had assessed that everything was ready, he signaled the rest of his "band" and began the next song.

The band began to play and he began to sway with the music. At his cue of "Oh baby," his male dancer, Brad, and his female dancer, Cathey, moved from their positions in the wings. The intro continued to build as they began to dance.

"Dance" was the only thing Noah could think of to describe it. It wasn't a waltz; it wasn't any sort of choreography that he'd ever seen before (and Mike Chang? He can dance and choreograph). They were modern dance students and he had allowed them free reign with their performance, which meant that he had no fucking clue what they were doing, or even if they did the same thing each run-through.

The intro began to wind down and Noah began to sing, "Well, there's a light in your eye that keeps shinin', like a star that can't wait for night. I hate to think I've been blinded, baby. Why can't I see you tonight?"

As he sang, he thought of the importance the song had in the "story arc" that he was attempting to build with his final three songs. He wondered if Rachel was there. He wondered if she would see the story arc he'd built, if she would realize that he had used his life experiences to create art, as she had so often told him to do. He might be borrowing the art from other people, but that didn't mean that it meant any less.

"And the warmth of your smile starts a-burnin', and the thrill of your touch gives me fright and I'm shakin' so much, really yearnin'; why don'cha show up and make it alright, yeah, that's alright…" he sang, preparing for the emotional significance the next few lines held for him.

"And if you promised your love so completely, and you said you would always be true…You swore that you never would leave me, baby. Whatever happened to you?" His mental images flashed painfully through a slideshow of the aftermath of Rachel's leaving.

"And you thought it was only in you, as you wished all your dreams would come true, hey…It ain't the first time, believe me, m-baby I'm standin' here feelin' blue, blue, ha, feelin' blue, now" he continued, expressing very clearly how he had felt when she had left him behind in Lima. This whole song was practically his ode to her leaving and the state she had left him in. It hadn't been his first time being abandoned, but it had been one of the worst.

"Oh, babe, now, I will stand in the rain on the corner, I'll watch the people go shufflin' downtown," he sang/warned the ghost Rachel in his head.

"Another ten minutes, no longer, and then I'm turnin' around, 'round" he admonished the ghost as he described the unspoken threats he had given to her memory. Sure, he would wait… but only for a little while. Seriously. Probably. Not.

"And the clock on the wall's movin' slower, oh, my heart, it sinks to the ground. And the storm that I thought would blow over" (he had thought she would come back to him, he did, he did) clouds the light of the love that I found, found…

Light of the love that I found…Light of the love that I found, oh, that I found" he continued in his song-therapy.

At this point, the song shifted to a Caribbean beat and Cathey and Brad began to dance in a spicy, sensual salsa rhythm.

"Hey, babe, ooh, ooh-ooh-ooh-oooh, hand of the clock, well, it just don't seem to stop when I'm thinking it over," he sang over the calypso rock beat.

"Woo, time is alive and I just don't wanna be fined, gotta get away, get away" he sang as he described the time he'd spent waiting for her to return; the time he had stopped moving forward and had stood still in her absence.

"Whooa, ooh-ooh-ooh-oooh, I see you in my dream," (the Rachel he had carried with him in his pocket), "but I just don't see you with me." And he hadn't. He hadn't been able to see her with him because he was trying to reconcile the old Rachel with the new Noah, completely disregarding the idea that there could be a new Rachel, too.

"I've gotta get home, gotta get home, gotta get home, I've gotta get ohh, home" he repeated. He had to get back to himself. He had to make his life work.

The calypso rhythm subsided and returned to the original beat of the song as he began to sing:

"Ooh, now, my body is startin' to quiver, and the palms of my hands gettin' wet, oh…I got no reason to doubt you, baby," (but he did have a reason… the crowd just didn't need to know it).

"It's all a terrible mess. And I'll run in the rain 'till I'm breathless; when I'm breathless, I'll run 'till I drop, hey…" the song continued, and he agreed with the lyrics. He had run through his life, through college, to New York, to find Rachel. To find out what happened to her.

From this point in the song, his mental story departed from the lyrics (sort of…after all, he had hunted for her in all the wrong bars), and he continued to sing, "The thoughts of a fool's kinda careless, I'm just a fool waitin' on the wrong block, oh-whoa, yeah…Hey, now, ohhh-whoa-hoh-hoh" his voice carried as the song began to wind down to its conclusion.

"Light of the love that I found, light of the love that I found, light of the love that I, light of the love that I found. Light of the, hey, now, light of the, hey, now

Light of the love that I found, light of the love that I found" he repeated until the song concluded.

Cathey and Brad stood breathless on opposite sides of the stage, their chests heaving as they grinned with satisfaction. They exited the stage and left Noah standing alone.

A stagehand brought him a stool and an acoustic guitar; the same guitar on which he had once played "Sweet Caroline" for a girl who wouldn't let him touch her boobs. He settled onto the stool and positioned the guitar on his lap, waiting for the applause to die down.

When the room had quieted, he took a deep breath and began his next piece. The song continued the story arc he had built, and he felt that it would be better to strip it down and lay it bare; just the way it had been; just the way it had felt. So it was just him and his guitar alone on the stage – no back-up singers, no dancers, no band.

The haunting first notes of the song rang out through the quiet auditorium and a reverent hush fell over the crowd. They are waiting to see what he, Noah Puckerman, will give them next. (A heady thought, indeed.)

And so he sang, no props, no theater lights, no stage magic. He gave them himself, raw and bare. He gave them everything that he had intended to give to Rachel when he had written her the letter. He sang it, now, instead:

"When the wind blows and the rain feels cold, with a head full of snow…with a head full of snow. In the window there's a face you know; don't the night pass slow… Don't the nights pass slow?"

His voice was strong and sure; clear as it rang out over the chord progressions.

"The sound of strangers sending nothing to my mind; just another mad mad day on the road," he sang forcefully, and allowed his emotions to pour out into the next line; the line he had copied and recopied; traced into every curve of Rachel's hip; etched into every corner of his notebook.

"I am just living to be lying by your side," he released, his eyes shut tight as he allowed himself to briefly remember the sight of her in body in the moonlight that night.

"But I'm just about a moonlight mile on down the road," he continued as his eyes snapped open. He strummed the guitar softly, building to the next stanza. This song had been in his brain, in his heart; in his blood from the moment he had left her house. It was immensely gratifying and yet terribly painful to release it into the world after he had contained it within him for so long.

"Made a rag pile of my shiny clothes, gonna warm my bones; gonna warm my bones. I got silence on my radio…let the air waves flow. Let the air waves flow," his voice commanded, strong and rough with emotion as his guitar built to the next stanza.

"Oh I'm sleeping under strange strange skies, just another mad, mad day on the road. My dreams is fading down the railway line; I'm just about a moonlight mile on down the road," he continued to sing; closing his eyes once more.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm hiding sister and I'm dreaming; I'm riding down your moonlight mile. I'm hiding baby and I'm dreaming I'm riding down your moonlight mile; I'm riding down your moonlight mile." The lyrics built inside of him as the song built up. His guitar strums became heavier, more important.

"Let it go now, come on up babe, yeah, let it go now, yeah, flow now baby, yeah move on now yeah, " he sang urgently, the song exploding with exigency.

Off-stage, behind the curtain, a percussionist was set-up with a timpani, a wind chime, a cymbal, and a keyboard. As the next stanza began, the percussionist began to introduce the timpani and the cymbal. Their notes collided with the sound of Noah's guitar and the energy and need in his performance was tangible in the air.

"Yeah, I'm coming home!" he sang, building into a frenzy; the timpani sounding, the cymbals crashing, and his faithful guitar creating a feeling of tension that flowed through the room.

The percussionist accompanied him further; their instruments blending together and the song exploded out of him:

"'Cause, I'm just about a moonlight mile on down the road!"

At this, the percussion ceased and the spotlight over his head dimmed so that he was sitting in shadow as he mournfully sang the last two lines of the song:

"Down the road, down the road…Yeah, yeah, hey hey hey baby, now" he concluded, his voice barely a whisper on the last word. His guitar played out the final chords as the wind chimes glittered and tinkled lightly through the air; then the spotlight went completely dark.

In the temporary darkness, Noah brushed the tears that had fallen during his performance off of his face. The song was an emotionally powerful one without having a life-defining moment attached to it, and performing it and releasing all of those emotions out into the world had left him feeling wrung-out and drained. He needed to pull it together so that he could finish out this story arc; say what he'd come here to say.

The lights on the stage went back up, but Noah remained seated on the stool. A stagehand wheeled a grand piano out onto the stage and Sarah, a pianist from his performance class, settled onto the bench behind it. She quirked her eyebrow at him and he smiled back; the signal that they were ready to begin.

Sarah began to play, her fingers flowing effortlessly over the cold ivory of the keys. She played a longer introduction than the one normally performed for this song; they had worked out a slightly different arrangement for the song to make it a little less country. There would be no fiddle; it would only be Sarah's piano and Noah and his guitar. There would be no twang evident in his voice - the song needed to be simple, pure, and real. He didn't want to hide his message behind swelling strings and crashing cymbals.

As Sarah wound through the introduction, he began to finger pick his guitar, melding the notes with the sounds of the piano. Now or never, Puckerman, he told himself, and began to sing.

"I set out on a narrow way, many years ago;
hoping I would find true love along the broken road, "he sang, beginning to lay his heart bare to the audience; to the one person he hoped was listening. As he sang, a montage of his life with and without Rachel played on a screen in his mind.

"But I got lost a time or two; wiped my brow and kept pushing through" he sang as he saw himself seducing cougars and grinding with Santana in Chastity Club. Next was Quinn's stony face as she told him that he was a Lima Loser, plain and simple.

"I couldn't see how every sign pointed straight to you," brought visions of Rachel to his mental screen: holding him as he cried in the glee room, opening the door to her basement as he snuck into her house; watching her fall asleep after Finn had attacked him on her lawn.

"Every long lost dream led me to where you are," began the chorus and he was bombarded by images of his first big fight with her; their second "first" kiss, and the way she looked in her hospital bed, broken and frightened, even in sleep.

"Others who broke my heart, they were like northern stars," he sang, as Quinn once again appeared on the screen. Next, he saw the aftermath of Leah's death; the desolate hole he had fallen into.

"Pointing me on my way into your loving arms," he continued as he watched Rachel bring him his homework and sing her heartbreak to him in the glee room. As he began the next line, he realized that in a twisted way that it was true. He life had been blessed at that dark moment –he might not have ever pulled himself back together again without her to support him.

"This much I know is true: that God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you; yes He did," continued the chorus of the song. His fingers moved effortlessly across the frets of his guitar as Sarah continued the melody on the piano.

"I think about the years I spent, just passing through. I'd like to have the time I lost, and give it back to you. But you just smile and take my hand…You've been there, you understand," began the next verse.

It was all true – he had been thinking recently of the time he had simply just passed through his life without living it, waiting to reconnect with Rachel. And he knew that she must feel the same way – she must understand what it meant to simply go through the motions of life, pretending you're okay while inside your heart is repeatedly breaking and your mind is screaming at you to either give up or move on.

"It's all part of a grander plan that is coming true, " (he hoped), as he launched into the chorus once more.

"Every long lost dream led me to where you are. Others who broke my heart, they were like northern stars. Pointing me on my way into your loving arms. This much I know is true: that God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you."

As he began the final stanza of the song, he poured everything he had left to give into the lyrics; the emotions flowing through his fingers and into the sound that filled the auditorium.

"But now I'm just rolling home into my lover's arms. This much I know is true: that God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you. That God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you…"

His voice carried the last note over the final chords of the piano, the final strum of his guitar. After his voice had faded into silence, the lights in the auditorium came up, and he saw Professor Wade standing in the front row; beaming. Noah bowed one final time and left the stage.

It was over; it was done. He had worked for weeks on this performance, making sure that every last detail was perfect. He had chosen his songs with great care; his supporting artists had helped him to create something that truly meant something to him.

He had lain everything he had on the table, both good and bad. Whether or not it earned his professor's respect; whether or not Rachel had seen the performance…it didn't matter as much now. He felt light, as if a burden he didn't know he had been carrying had been removed from his shoulders. His story arc was complete; now he could only wait and see what happened next.

Behind the curtain, his supporting artists and fellow classmates applauded him enthusiastically, congratulating him on a job well done. Others were rushing around, preparing for the final set of the evening, and John McClenny was slumped motionless in the corner, his face turned away from the rest of the group.

"Mr. Puckerman," he heard from behind him, and he turned to face the professor head on.

"That was a rather inspired performance. I truly appreciated the fact that you used what could be an amazing closing piece as an invigorating opener. The rest of your song selections seemed to tell a story of some sort, and I was intrigued as to what that story might be. Perhaps someday you might enlighten me," the man prodded. Seeing that Noah was not going to respond, he continued.

"Technically, you nailed every note. Your choreography fit each piece, and I appreciated the costumes you selected and the musical accompaniment you blended with the guitar... all in all, Mr. Puckerman," the professor paused, and Noah waited on tenterhooks for his final judgment.

"You certainly proved that you deserved the scholarship I helped to award you. I hope to see you in more of my classes in the future," Professor Wade concluded, and smiled warmly at Noah.

"Thank-you, sir," Noah replied as many people clapped him on the back and murmured their agreement with the professor's words.

The professor slipped back out to the seats to watch the final performance and the rest of the crew began preparing to go on stage or to go home. As he walked into the dressing room to change, he couldn't help but wonder if anyone else might want to come backstage and critique his performance.

He washed the stage makeup off his face and changed back into his street clothes, feeling his heart sink more and more with every preparation he made to leave.

She must not have been here, he thought dejectedly. He tried to buoy himself up, reminding himself that he had sent the invitation at the last minute and that she might not have received it, or been able to get the night off of work on such short notice. Or she decided she didn't want to see you, the mocking voice in the back of his mind replied.

Crashing from the high of performing, he swung his guitar case across his back and turned towards the door. There in the doorway, illuminated by the dressing room lights, stood Rachel Berry holding a box of doughnuts.

"I brought doughnuts," he heard her say as he crossed the tiny room. "I figured that they might be nice, you know, something old for something new."

"Something new?" he questioned, unsure of where she was headed.

"Yes, Noah. New. We can't go back to who we were… but we can start this; start something new. All of those potholes and pitfalls in our lives were part of that broken road you just sang about. The one that led me straight to –"

At her words, he could hold himself back no longer. He pressed his mouth to her lips, her cheeks, her eyelids and felt something right itself inside him. Home his brain whispered to him; this is home.

"You," he finished for her, and kissed her once more.

AN2: So the songs performed in this chapter are "Ziggy Stardust" by David Bowie, "Let's Go Crazy," by Prince, "Fool in the Rain," by Led Zeppelin, "Moonlight Mile," by the Rolling Stones, and finally, "Bless the Broken Road," by Rascal Flatts. For the full experience of this chapter, I suggest making a playlist of these songs and re-reading the chapter with the songs playing as Noah performs them. I think it makes for a fuller experience. Woo!