Author's Note: This plot bunny wouldn't leave me alone, so I had to start this new fic. A little background: Rachel, Quinn and Kurt are all best friends and have been since middle school. They grew up in Ohio and went to a private school. Puck and Finn are also best friends and went to William McKinley in Lima. All five of them now reside in New York City. I hope that you enjoy this little A/U that I've created.
Many thanks to Mandy, Jenna and Luci for being my sounding boards. :)
As days went, twenty-six year old Rachel Berry didn't count this one among the top hundred—maybe even the top thousand. Thick gray smoke billowed up the stairs as the other residents of her building ran hysterically down towards street level seeking fresh air and safety. The smoke alarms buzzed so loudly in her ears she could barely hear herself think. She raised a fist to her neighbor's door and knocked frantically, knowing the elderly woman was hard of hearing—especially since she was wont to turn down her hearing aid at night so she wasn't disturbed by noise. "Mrs. Weigel! Mrs. Weigel, it's Rachel. Please—open the door! Fire! Mrs. Weigel, the building is on FIRE!" she screeched, pounding furiously on the door. Rachel continued her incessant knocking and yelling until she heard the locks being undone. Thank God.
"Hello, dear," Mrs. Weigel slowly greeted, turning up the volume on her hearing aid. "Is everything alright?"
"No, Mrs. Weigel. There's a fire—our building is on fire," she spoke loudly, her words laced with panic. "Let me help you downstairs." Rachel barged into her apartment and grabbed a jacket hanging on a nearby coat rack and threw it around the woman's shoulders. "Come on." She gently grabbed her arm and led her down the stairs.
The smoke seemed to thin the closer they got to ground level and Rachel did her level best to hurry the elderly woman to safety. They rounded the corner on the final staircase when Mrs. Weigel stopped in her tracks. "Samson! I need to get Samson, dear."
Rachel's brows furrowed together, remembering that Samson was her cat. "We need to get out of the building. It isn't safe," Rachel implored. She really had no clue where the fire had originated or how bad it was, but she wasn't going to take her chances. Rachel was all for doing good deeds, but even she had her limits. She wasn't willing to risk her life—her career—for an ugly one-eyed cat with a limp.
"Please, Rachel," she pleaded, eyes welling. "He was a gift from my Morty—the only thing I have left."
She was thisclose to telling her where to shove the damn cat when her old neighbor gave her the saddest expression she'd ever seen, and she felt the tug at her heartstrings. "I'll get him," Rachel suddenly blurted, surprising herself. "Go downstairs now!"
"Oh, thank you, thank you, Rachel," she called to Rachel's retreating form.
"Goddammit," she bit out, racing up the stairs two at a time towards her floor. She couldn't believe her idiocy—running through a burning building for a fucking cat. Rachel decided that this good deed was surely worth a lot of good karma. And really, how long would it take to grab a cat and run back downstairs? The smoke wasn't really all that bad she thought as she rounded the last corner.
Noah Puckerman was having a bad fucking day and his mood could only be classified as shitty. It seemed as though everything that could possibly have gone wrong had, ranging from no hot water in his apartment that morning to the captain jumping all over his ass for something stupid. And thrown somewhere in the middle, a long nagging lecture from his mother about settling down and giving her grandchildren. "You're twenty-eight, Noah…" she'd said. Like that made him fucking old or something. He loved his mother, but fuck that mess. He wanted to find a girl and marry her about as much as he wanted to contract the clap, which was not at all.
Even now, as the sirens wailed into the night, the fire engine speeding through the city, he failed to get the rush he normally got heading to put out a fire and that only served to piss him off even more. Adrenaline usually coursed through his veins the moment the signal sounded and tended to intensify the closer they got to their destination. The only thing coursing through his veins at the moment was the urge to punch something. When his best buddy, Finn, looked across the rig and flashed a goofy grin, he thought he'd make a good target.
"Come on, dude," Finn said, fastening his helmet as the rig pulled up to the burning building. "This is usually your favorite part of any day."
"Fucking bite me, Hudson," Puck snapped, shoving his own helmet onto his head and jumping out of the truck.
The fire didn't look too extreme at first glance, but six years of on-the-job experience had taught him never to underestimate the unpredictable nature of a fire. They could turn on a dime and engulf you in the depths of a raging inferno. Fire and women were a lot alike in that regard, which is why he chose sex and fighting fires over relationships any day of the week.
He hitched his rescue gear up on his shoulder and headed for the entrance when an old lady with gray hair stood in his path. "Move along, ma'am," he said shortly.
"My neighbor—she ran in after my cat and hasn't come back out. You need to get her. Please," she pleaded. "I won't be able to forgive myself if she's not okay."
Puck sighed and fought the urge to roll his eyes. Idiots like that attributed to way too many deaths by fire. "What's your neighbor's name?"
"Rachel," Mrs. Weigel replied. "Rachel Berry. I live in 5B, she lives across the hall. She ran in after Samson."
"We'll do a sweep for her and any other residents. Go stand over there," he gestured across the street. She shuffled away and he muttered a string of obscenities under his breath. Of course this would happen to him. Nothing else had fucking gone right today, so why start now?
"Get out here, you stupid cat," Rachel called, reaching under the couch for Samson. "God, this was a really stupid idea. Why did I voluntarily run back into a burning building for this ugly thing?" Samson hissed and scratched at her hand, making her yelp and jerk back. She looked down and saw three bloody scratch marks on her hand. "Thanks a lot, you little bastard." Spotting one of his toys on the floor, she reached for it and attempted to tease him out of hiding. "Please, Samson," Rachel said softly. "Here, kitty kitty." His paw batted at the toy and Rachel held her breath. Almost there.
The door flew open and Rachel screamed; Samson hissed and went back into hiding. She scrambled to her feet and saw the fireman standing in the doorway. "Jesus Christ—you scared the shit out of me," she scolded, turning quickly back towards Samson. She frowned when she saw that the cat had retreated back under the couch. "Dammit!"
Puck wasn't sure exactly what he'd expected Rachel Berry to look like, but it damn sure wasn't the young, petite brunette before him. Someone that age should have enough goddamn sense to flee a burning building. He felt momentarily sorry for scaring her when she screamed, but then he seethed when she went back to looking for the cat. "What the fuck is wrong with you?" he yelled.
Rachel stopped her movement and turned her head slowly to look at him. "Excuse me?" she asked, baffled.
"Pretty sure you heard me, but I'll speak more slowly in case you're impaired in some way. Your building—is—on fire. Let's go."
"Thank you for the tip. I know there's a fire. I almost had the damn thing until you came and kicked the door in and scared him, and me, half to death."
Puck threw up his hands in amazement. Was she honestly that stupid? "Lady, let's go. It's a cat—no one cares."
"My neighbor cares." Rachel dropped to her tummy and reached under the couch for Samson. "I've almost got him."
"You're fucking insane," he mumbled, lifting up the end of the couch so she could grab the cat. Once she had a hold of him and got to her feet, he tossed her over his shoulder.
"What are you doing?" Rachel squeaked. "I'm perfectly capable of walking," she said, squirming in his grasp as he descended the stairs.
"Are you capable of thinking?" he snapped angrily. "What kind of idiot goes back into a burning building for a cat? Do you have a brain rattling around between your ears at all? Jesus fucking Christ!"
"You're the rudest person I've ever met in my entire life. Aren't you supposed to be kind and helpful? Put me down!" She tried to wriggle free, but he only held on more tightly.
"Believe me, I'd like nothing more than to drop you on your ass—or maybe your head to see if that would knock some sense into you—but as you pointed out, I'm here to help. So stop yapping for a goddamn minute and you'll be out of here and I can get to my real job."
Rachel opened her mouth to yell back at him, but she inhaled a cloud of smoke and started coughing.
"See, you could have avoided the smoke inhalation if you had used your pea brain for a goddamn second and thought 'Gee, the building is on fire, I should leave now,'" he mocked harshly.
She seethed inside, unable to reply due to her coughing fit. Samson was pissed and kept scratching at her, but she'd be damned if she let him go. If she had to endure this fireman's berating and questioning her mental capacity, she was going to have something to show for her decision.
He carried her down the last few steps and out of the building where Rachel gulped in a greedy breath of fresh air. She spotted Mrs. Weigel hurrying as fast as she could over to her. "Oh Samson!" she exclaimed, nuzzling her cat. "Thank you, Rachel. Thank you, thank you so much."
Rachel could only nod as another coughing fit took hold. Great. Just what my voice needs. "You can put me down now," she ordered as he marched her over to the ambulance.
Puck dropped her unceremoniously down to her feet by the paramedics. He nodded to Patrick and Bart. "This idiot probably has smoke inhalation." He spotted blood on her hands and felt the tiniest bit sorry for the verbal abuse he'd been heaping on her. That is until she whirled around to glare at him and he finally got a good look at her. She was—hot. Stunning, even. He didn't care at all for the quick flip his stomach did as she stared murderously at him with her rich brown eyes. That little flip sent him right back to pissed. "Take care of her, I've got work to do," he said gruffly and walked away.
"Have a seat," Bart told her, then placed an oxygen mask on her face.
"No, no," Rachel shook her head. "I don't need that, I'm fine," she insisted.
"Look, ma'am, we won't be rude to you the way Puck was—"
"Puck?" Rachel queried.
Patrick grinned. "Yeah, Noah Puckerman. Goes by Puck around here. As my partner here was saying, just let us do our jobs…please?"
Rachel sighed, realizing how difficult she was being. "Of course, I'm sorry." She took the oxygen mask and held it to her face and breathed deeply, feeling the oxygen soothe her lungs. After they cleaned the scratches Samson had given her as a show of gratitude, and she'd given them all the necessary information for their incident report, she pulled out her cell phone.
"What's shakin' bacon?"
"Hey, Quinn," Rachel smiled into the phone. "Listen, I have a favor."
"Sure, what's up?"
"My building's on fire and I don't know how bad it is or when—if—I'll be able to go home." The thought of losing her home and all of her belongings finally sank in and voice grew tight with tears.
"Oh, my God! Are you okay? I mean, you're physically okay aren't you?"
She decided not to fill in her best friend about her act of bravery just yet. "Yes, I'm fine. I just need a place to stay—maybe borrow some clothes."
"Of course. I was on my way to meet Kurt for a drink. I'll get him and we'll come get you."
"You don't have to do that I can just—"
"We're on our way. Don't argue!"
Rachel pulled the phone away from her ear once Quinn had clicked off and shoved it back in her pocket. Leaning back against the gurney, she watched as the crew of men worked quickly and efficiently to douse the flames that threatened to destroy her home.
Puck and Finn exited the building, the fire having been extinguished, and began rolling up the hoses. Finn watched his friend, who'd had a scowl on his face the entire day, only now it seemed even more intense. "Puck, seriously—what is your deal today?"
"Nothing," he grumbled.
Finn shook his head. "I've known you since we were eight. I'm not really buying that sorry excuse, dude."
He shot his friend a look that clearly stated he didn't want to talk about it, and Finn backed off.
"So—the venue for our gig tomorrow night is supposed to draw a lot of cougars."
Puck smirked at Finn. "Shut up, asshole," he said with a laugh, throwing his gear back onto the rig. He saw Patrick and Bart out of the corner of his eye and that made him wonder about the brunette he'd forced from his mind earlier. He'd been a real asshole to her and while she'd acted stupidly, she hadn't really deserved that. She'd made an easy target though. He decided after all of the gear was packed up, he'd go and check on her—and that was only because he'd been unusually dickish—it had absolutely nothing to do with her looks. Nothing whatsoever.
"Rachel!" Quinn called.
Rachel turned at the sound of her friend's voice and smiled, relieved to see her two best friends rushing towards her. She took off the oxygen mask and hopped off the gurney, only to be engulfed by two sets of arms.
"You said you weren't hurt," Quinn admonished. "Why are you on oxygen and why is your hand bandaged?"
"I'm fine, really," Rachel insisted, tucking her hair back behind her ears. Quinn leveled her with an arched eyebrow and Kurt with his crossed arms and no-nonsense look. "Mrs. Weigel's cat was still in the apartment and she was so sad about it—"
"Oh, Divalicious—you didn't!" Kurt scolded.
Rachel's cheeks reddened. "I'm fine, I promise. I got Samson, a fireman carried me out, no harm, no foul."
"A fireman had to carry you out?" Quinn asked, incredulous. "Rachel!"
"Was he hot?" Kurt inquired, only to get an elbow to the ribs from Quinn and a withering look from Rachel. "What?"
"I didn't need to be carried out, he was pissed off that I was searching for the cat and not leaving the building, so he—carried me out by force, I suppose."
"Why do these things never happen to me?" Kurt wondered.
"Because unlike Rachel, you have the sense to not run back into a burning building," Quinn remarked. "You're an idiot, Rachel Berry! You could've been killed."
"I know, I know," she sighed, resigned. "But I promise, I'm fine. Aren't I, boys?" she asked the two paramedics.
Patrick and Bart exchanged amused glances. "Yeah, she's fine," Patrick said. "Talks a lot though, this one."
Quinn and Kurt chuckled. "That she does," Kurt agreed.
"Am I free to go?" Rachel asked.
"Yep," Bart said. "Just sign this accident report and you're good to go."
Rachel scrawled her name on the bottom line and smiled at the two men. "Thanks for taking such great care of me—even if I didn't really need it."
"All in a day's work, lady," Patrick smirked.
"Let's go," Rachel said, turning back to her friends.
"If you think that you've already gotten the lecture, you're sorely mistaken," Quinn said, wrapping an arm around Rachel's shoulders.
Rachel sighed, both grateful and slightly annoyed to have such amazing friends.
Once Puck and Finn and the rest of the crew had all of their gear stowed away, Puck made his way over to the ambulance. He spotted Patrick and Bart, but didn't see any sign of the brunette from earlier. The pang of disappointment he felt was quick and shocking, and much like the flip from earlier, he didn't care one iota for it. "Hey," he called to the paramedics.
"Hey, Puck," Bart said, packing up medical supplies.
"Sup, man?" Patrick greeted. "Looking for the girl you rescued?"
"Nope," he lied.
"Well, she's fine. Her friends just came by to get her."
"Whatever. Hopefully they take her and get her head checked out. That girl is a moron," he said gruffly, and walked away.
To be continued...
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