A/N: Well. This is the end. Kind of. Longer author's note at the end.
The first contraction comes in the middle of her English class, two weeks before her due date. It is small – hardly anything, really. It's so small that she probably wouldn't have noticed, if not for the fact that she's sitting in class, counting the baby's kicks. So small that she brushes it off as one of the many random pains associated with pregnancy, and forgets about it as soon as it's over.
It happens again, maybe twenty minutes later, and she's not really concerned because it's practically over by the time she realizes it's happening. It's the same feeling as before – nothing horrible, just an unpleasant pinch in her lower back and stomach that lasts for half a minute, at the most.
She feels a few more over the next few hours – sometimes they're thirty minutes apart, and sometimes it seems like they're right on top of each other. They're not bad, though. She's read that it's not real labor until you can't walk or talk during a contraction. She's still able to do both, so she's fairly certain they're just Braxton Hicks contractions. She gets them a lot and usually, she just has to lie down for awhile and then they go away. She considers stopping in the nurse's office and resting for a few minutes, but Puck would lose his mind. He's been on high alert for a few weeks, and every time Rachel looks even vaguely uncomfortable, he's sure the baby is about to shoot out from between her legs. If she tells him that she needs to visit the nurse, he might have a heart attack.
It's toward the end of the school day when she starts to think that maybe this is more serious than she thought. The pain is becoming difficult to ignore and lasting for longer stretches of time. She's starting to have trouble sitting through class and ends up spending most of US History in the hallway.
During a particularly painful contraction, she braces herself against the lockers with her palms and squeezes her eyes shut.
Her head snaps up and she sees Finn, staring at her with wide eyes.
"Are you okay?" he asks, taking a hesitant step toward her.
"I think so. I'm just…I think I might be in labor?"
"Oh." Finn looks like he could faint. "Oh. Okay, um…hold it in there. I'll get towels from the locker room. I don't know how clean they'll be – is that a problem? I mean, it's just sweat and…stuff, but I don't know if…"
Rachel smiles. "It's not quite that dire yet, Finn, though I do appreciate your enthusiasm. Can you just go get Puck?"
Finn gives a quick sigh of relief. "I can do that. Are you going to be alright by yourself?"
Rachel nods, but she's betrayed by the look on her face as another contraction begins. Within seconds, Finn is supporting the weight of her body as she doubles over slightly, pushing against his shoulders. She lets out a small whimper, which is quickly drowned out by the sound of the dismissal bell.
The corridor is quickly flooded with students hurrying past them in every direction, seemingly oblivious to Rachel and Finn. They're spotted by Kurt just as Rachel's contraction eases.
He raises an eyebrow as he walks toward them. "What just happened?"
"Rachel's having the baby," Finn answers, his voice somewhat panicked.
"Maybe," she adds quickly. There have been a few false alarms, so she's hesitant to say it's the real deal, even though she has a good feeling that it is.
"Has your water broken?" Kurt asks.
"Not yet," she replies.
"Well, then, I'm going to ask that you maintain a safe distance from my shoes."
Finn eyes her with concern. "Are you feeling okay now, Rach? Can you walk?"
She nods briskly. "I'm fine."
Finn offers his hand as they start walking, and she gladly accepts it. They move at a slow pace down the hallway and somehow manage to collect a good portion of the Glee club along the way. By the time they reach Puck at his locker, he's the last to know that Rachel is in labor.
"Okay," he replies. She can tell that he's trying to appear as calm as possible, but his voice is noticeably higher than normal. "It's fine. Everything is going to be okay. I've got your hospital bag in the truck, so we can just go."
He grabs her hand and begins down the hallway, only to have Rachel hold him back.
"We need to let Mr. Schuester know that we won't be in Glee this afternoon."
"Someone else can do that. We need to leave. Right now."
"Puck, there's really no need to hurry. This is going to take awhile. All of the books say so."
"Fuck the books, Berry. You're not going to have this kid in the hallway. I'll drag you out of here if I have to."
Rachel rolls her eyes before turning to the group. "Would someone please explain our absence to Mr. Schuester when you see him?"
"Wait," Finn frowns. "We're not coming with you?"
"Well, of course you're welcome to come after school dismisses," Rachel says. "But you shouldn't skip classes for this."
"But what if we miss it?"
"I don't believe that's going to happen, but even so, you'll all have plenty of opportunities to…"
"Listen, I don't care who comes or when," Puck interrupts. "Follow us out of here and pile into the back of my truck if you want – I don't give a shit. But we are leaving now."
Rachel thinks Puck is being ridiculous, but she's fairly certain that there's no calming him down (mostly because he'll deny being even slightly panicked in the first place). If he had just read the books that she had picked out for him, he would understand that the baby is probably nowhere near being born – she's fairly certain they're still sitting in a Barnes and Noble bag on his bedroom floor.
"Well, I'll at least have to go to my locker and get my purse," she says. Puck seems to agree to this, so she quickly adds, "And I'll just stop by my remaining classes and get the homework assignments while I'm at it."
"Don't push it," he snaps.
Half an hour and several panicked rants (on Puck's part) later, they're pulling out of the school parking lot. Rachel reaches behind her to seat to grab her hospital bag and the color quickly drains from her face. This does not go unnoticed by Puck.
"What is it? Oh, fuck, Rachel, do not push. I can be at the hospital in fifteen minutes if I don't worry about red lights. Just…breathe or whatever," he says.
"I'm fine, Noah. It's not that. I just…I took the bag out last week to pack a few more things, and I think I left it at my house."
Puck groans. "No. No way are we going to your house. That's ten minutes out of the way."
"But everything I need is…"
"What you need is to be at the hospital right now. Your dads can bring the bag later."
"My favorite socks are in that bag, Noah! I have to have it."
"They have socks at the hospital. It's not like we're not going to get the bag at some point."
"I will not be wearing hospital socks for any length of time. And my birth plan is in there, too. I won't be able to remember everything off the top of my head!"
"I remember the birth plan: go to the hospital, have the baby. You'll be fine."
At this, Rachel growls. Literally growls. Puck's eyes go wide.
"Now, you listen to me, Noah Puckerman," she says, her voice frighteningly low and authoritative. "I'm about to endure the most painful experience of my entire life, and unless you get eaten by a shark or something, you will never have any idea what I'll have had to go through to give birth to your baby. So don't tell me that I'll be fine, because you have no idea. I'm officially taking charge of this situation, and from here on out, my word is final. You are to do anything I ask of you, and I swear to God, if you don't, you will rue the day for the rest of your life. Is this clear?"
Puck swallows hard, then makes a quick U-turn toward Rachel's house.
The mood in the hospital suite swings continually from one extreme to another. Rachel is so tired of being pregnant that she's deliriously thrilled to be in labor, regardless of how painful it's going to become. She can't wait to meet their little girl and she's practically vibrating with excitement, knowing that the time has almost come.
Puck, on the other hand, is horrified because he hates hospitals, especially when someone he cares about is there and in pain (and he does care about Rachel. A lot). The nurses keep telling Rachel that she is handling labor well, and Puck wonders what people are like when they don't handle labor well, because she seems pretty fucking miserable to him. But maybe that's just because he's around her enough to realize that it's a bad sign when she stops talking.
When they first got to the hospital, they took a lot of walks up and down the corridors, and Rachel seemed to be doing pretty good. At one point, he came back from the cafeteria to find her happily swaying back and forth on a giant ball. He kind of figured that labor was probably not as big of a deal as she made it out to be, since she could do stuff like that (he voiced this idea and she almost ripped his face off). He thinks he must have jinxed it, because now everything's super intense, and all she's doing is laying on the bed, moaning and shit, and he has no idea what to do.
When the contraction subsides, she always pulls herself together quickly and informs him that it wasn't so bad, and he wants to say, Are you fucking kidding me, Berry? You looked like your head was about to explode, but he doesn't, because her nurse threatened to kick him out if he cursed one more time, because it creates an inappropriate and unsupportive environment for a laboring woman, or some motherfucking New Age bullshit like that.
The Glee kids and Mr. Schue (and her dads, though mostly just Pete, because Seth has almost fainted twice) have been trickling in and out of the room, in rotations of two or three people at a time, for the past several hours, and it's a welcome distraction from the only other things he can do in this room – watch Rachel practically writhe in pain, or watch Cops on the small television affixed to the ceiling. The latter is way boring because he's already seen this episode twelve times, and the former gets to be pretty unbearable after awhile. The conversations are usually pretty stupid, and Puck normally wouldn't even pretend to be interested, but he can talk about Marc Jacobs with Kurt if it means a few seconds where the worries in his mind are pushed to the side.
Rachel seems to enjoy the company as well, though she makes everyone clear out of the room as soon as she feels a contraction coming on. She's not big on showing weakness in front of others, unless she's acting it out on stage or conveying it via song, and it's hard to exert any sort of self-control when in the throes of labor. It's getting to be sort of ridiculous, though, because no one can stay in the room for more than a minute at a time – he's pretty sure they realize that it's not even worth the trip at this point, and he's kind of touched (in a totally non-emotional, non-gay way) that they're still making it a point to come in.
Eventually, the contractions start coming with only seconds of relief in between, and the visits come to an end, though her dads stay behind at her request.
It's two in the morning. He can't really figure out if the past thirteen hours have gone incredibly fast or incredibly slow. All he knows is that he's deliriously tired. He doesn't really want to bring it up, because Rachel is doing way more work than he is and she's not complaining, but he could really use a power nap or some Red Bull. Her dad has been helping her through the last few contractions, so he seizes the opportunity to get out of the room for a few minutes.
The scene in the waiting area resembles the choir room in the moments before and after Glee practice. Mercedes and Kurt are having an animated discussion about God knows what (probably something totally gay), Tina is sitting in Artie's lap, her head on his shoulder (he briefly wonders if they've done it yet – not that he cares or anything, but they're totally into each other), and Santana and Brittany have fallen asleep in a rather precarious position (he knows they're doing it). Finn, Mike, and Matt are discussing a video game, and Quinn is reading some girly book. She's the first to notice him in the doorway.
The room is silent now, and all the attention is suddenly on Puck.
"Okay, I guess. Those contractions don't mess around."
"How much longer will it be?" Artie asks.
"Can't really say, you know? You guys can go if you want. I know it's a school night."
"We've been here all day long. No way in hell are we leaving before we see that baby," Mercedes replies.
"I don't usually go to bed until three or four anyway," Mike adds with a shrug.
"Suit yourself," he says, before finding an empty chair next to Mr. Schuester and sinking into it with a sigh. He's pretty sure he'll pass out if he closes his eyes, but he almost can't help it.
"Doing alright?" Will gives him a quick pat on the shoulder.
"Yeah, just tired," he replies. "Sitting in a dark room with Rachel Berry for half a day really takes it out of you, you know?"
The older man smiles. "You're good to stick it out with her. I'm sure she appreciates it."
Puck gives a non-committed shrug. He's just about to allow himself to sleep when Rachel's nurse enters the room. "She's asking for you."
Rachel has changed her mind. She's not tired of being pregnant. She'd like to remain pregnant forever, actually, if that's alright, because childbirth could quite possibly be the death of her. She's managed to keep it together for thirteen hours (and approximately 300 horrifyingly painful contractions), but now they just keeping coming over and over again and she feels like she's run a marathon already, and she hasn't even started pushing. She has no idea how she'll muster the strength, but she's going to have to figure it out, because the doctor wants her to start as soon as Puck returns from wherever he's slinked off to. She knows she shouldn't be too hard on him, because this is literally the first time he's left her side since she was admitted to the hospital, but he could have said something before leaving her to die at the hands of her uterus.
Speaking of the little miscreant, he's walking toward her now, and soon he's back at her side. "Sorry," he says, taking her hand in his (she wants to object, because she's mad at him, but she lacks the will – a first for her). "What's up?"
Before she can answer, another contraction crashes through her body in a violent wave, and she fights the unbearable urge to push with all her might. She hates this. None of the visualization or breathing techniques she's learned have helped at all, and she suddenly abhors all the music on playlist she spent weeks creating. The only time she feels relief is when Puck lets her squeeze his hand (and even then, it's not much).
The doctor enters the room, and with her comes a flurry of activity. One nurse begins prepping the doctor's instruments, while another is setting out supplies for the baby's imminent arrival. Puck's eyes grow wide at the sight.
"Alright, Rachel, we're going to start pushing with the next contraction, okay?"
The doctor's voice is authoritative but calm, and it puts Rachel at ease – somewhat. She acknowledges her command to the best of her ability as the nurses help her into a pushing position.
The color has drained from Puck's face completely. Rachel's not really sure why – he knew that this part would be coming up eventually, right? She offers him a small smile and promises that everything will be fine, even though she's pretty sure that's his job.
He nods and gives her a quick kiss on the cheek. "You're doing great."
She doesn't feel like she's doing great – she kind of feels like she's being ripped in half. But she appreciates the sentiment.
Rachel feels a contraction building, and apparently it's obvious, because there are suddenly a million people hovering above her, telling her what to do. Their faces and words run together and nothing makes any sense, except Puck in her ear, telling her to breathe. The need to push is like nothing she has ever experienced, so she gives it all she's got. The pain is unreal, and for the first time since this all began, she finds herself unable to keep from crying out.
"Good, Rachel!" The doctor smiles enthusiastically. "Really, really good."
"Is she almost out?" Puck asks.
"It's going to take more than that, I'm afraid. Try again, Rachel, on the count of three."
The whole room counts together (she finds herself muttering, "I know how to count, thank you very much", then immediately apologizing and feeling like she might cry for being so mean), and when it's time, Rachel bears down. She screams again, louder this time. She really does wonder how anyone survives this kind of pain, or if they even do. Perhaps this is what it feels like right before you die.
This goes on for what feels like hours, the pushing and the screaming and baby not coming out. The doctor keeps telling her that she's fine, that the baby will be here soon, that she just needs to keep pushing, that she can't give up.
Which isn't exactly what she wants to hear, because she would very much like to give up. It's painful to admit, even to herself, because she's never given up on anything ever, but this? This situation right here? She'd like it give up on it. If they could just knock her unconscious and then dig the baby out, that would be outstanding.
She locks eyes with Puck, who appears to be just as worn out as she is. "I need a break," she whispers. "We have to stop. I can't…I can't do this."
"Yes, you can do this. It's almost over."
"You don't know that!" she shrieks. The tears are falling now, and she feels like she's completely out of control. She needs a minute to catch her breath and pull herself together. "I can't do it. It's been hours and nothing is changing and it hurts. It hurts so bad, and I'm trying so hard and I'm failing. She'll never come out. Just let her stay in there. Don't make me do it again. I can't."
Puck is shocked silent – he's never seen her like this, and he has no idea how to react.
The doctor speaks up instead. "You are so close. Give me three more pushes, and if the baby isn't here, we'll reevaluate, okay?"
Rachel frowns, but consents. Three pushes are equal to less than five minutes and as much as this is killing her, she can do anything for five minutes. She can handle three pushes.
Luckily, it only takes two.
She feels like her entire body is on fire, and the tears in her eyes make everything seem out of focus. She's certain that she's sobbing, but all she can hear is her rapidly increasing heartbeat. She has no concept of time. Every second feels like hours – hours and hours and hours, and now she can't remember what it feels like to not be in pain.
One more push, and then it's over. The lusty cry of a new baby fills the room at 4:36 in the morning.
It's a blur, after that. They put her on Rachel's chest and she's pink and perfect and she has so much hair, and she loves her so much and she's already having trouble remembering life before her face. They clean the baby without even removing her from Rachel's grasp (which is a good thing, because she's pretty sure she wouldn't be able to let go) and then quickly swaddle her in a blanket and put a small, pink hat on her head. She's still, now, and Rachel thinks this little person must be a genius, because her furrowed brows and wide-open eyes give the impression that she's thinking quite seriously about something.
They lay silently for several minutes, despite the hustle and bustle going on around them. As far as Rachel is concerned, the only people who exist in this moment are her and the baby. And Puck.
She looks to him just in time to see him covertly wiping away a tear (he immediately says something about having "a fucking eyelash in there"), and her heart is just bursting with every emotion she can possibly imagine.
"Do you…do you want to hold her?" She's never been great at sharing, and she really, really doesn't want to stop smelling the top of her baby's head (it's the most perfect scent in the world, she's decided), but she knows that he should meet her, too, and she would also appreciate a few minutes of sleep.
He nods, but she can see the reluctance in his eyes. "You'll have to show me how to do it again. I kind of forgot."
Rachel tries to hand the baby to him, but her arms are like jelly. "Just put one hand under her head and the other under her bottom. It's not hard – she's really tiny."
He follows her instructions with great care, and the image of their daughter snuggling against his shoulder is the last thing she sees before allowing sleep to wash over her body.
"The most beautiful sound I ever heard, all the beautiful sounds of the world in a single word. Maria," Puck whispers, gently swaying back and forth. The baby is nestled in the crook of his arm, sleeping peacefully. "Hey, kid, your mom can't know about this, okay?"
"Too late," Rachel mutters, her voice heavy with sleep. "It is becoming quite clear to me that you, Noah Puckerman, are a sentimental man."
Puck turns around to find her sitting up in bed, smiling. It's been a little over an hour since the baby showed up, and Rachel has been sleeping on and off since then. He was nervous, at first, about having to hold the baby and stuff without her guidance, but she definitely needed the rest, and help was easy to find – his mom had come up as soon as he called, and Pete and Seth had stuck around, too. And anyway, it wasn't so hard to take care of a baby.
"How is she?" she asks. She puts her hands out hopefully. "Can I?"
Puck passes the baby to Rachel, careful to keep the little one from stirring. "She's been good. Hasn't even cried."
"Good," Rachel sighs, holding the baby close to her chest. He notices her lower lip trembling slightly.
"Are you okay? She's really been fine, if that's…"
"No, it's not that. It's just…I don't even know. She's so perfect, and I'm just so…happy, and I just can't stop crying," she sputters, the floodgates bursting open. "I'm sorry. I think I might be going crazy."
"I could have told you that, Berry," he says, adding a wink for good measure – who knows if she can handle jokes in her clearly fragile state of mind?
Thankfully, she laughs.
"Did everyone go home?" she asks, looking past him, toward the clock on the wall.
"Yeah, they left after I did a quick Lion King style introduction out in the waiting room. They'll be back in a few hours, though. Mr. Schue said he would get Principal Figgins to excuse their absences, so they plan to come by at breakfast time. I think it's going to be a long day."
She sighs and lets her head fall back against the pillow. She's absently stroking the baby's fuzzy head, and it's doing things to Puck that he can't even explain. Seeing her with the baby, their baby, makes him swell with pride, in some weird, primal way that totally creeps him out.
He can tell that she's still exhausted, so he offers to take the baby back while she rests, even though he's been awake for twenty-two hours himself. He figures this is just the first of many times that he'll be taking one for the team.
"I want you to wake me if she so much as whimpers."
"I'm going to hold you to that for the next year."
She's either pleased with this answer or really just too tired to fight it, because she hands the baby off without another word, and her light snoring fills the room within minutes.
Puck takes a seat on the bedside chair and drapes a receiving blanket over the warm bundle on his chest.
"Maria, I've just met a girl named Maria, and suddenly that name will never be the same to me."
He is pretty sure that truer words have never been sung. Even if they come from a totally gay song in a totally gay musical.
The group shows up at ten in the morning, and somehow they manage to sneak past the nurses station and squeeze everyone into the small hospital room at the same time. Puck seems a little on edge (probably because he still hasn't managed more than half an hour of sleep), but Rachel doesn't mind the intrusion. They're talking and hugging and laughing and crying (well, Rachel is crying – she's all but given up on keeping it quiet at this point) and passing the baby around the room, and it's perfect. Rachel finds herself wondering when, exactly, these people went from being her teammates to being her dear friends, because what's happening here in this room is the very picture of love.
The baby lands in Santana's arms, and she handles her with surprising ease. Most everyone else fumbled a bit when they first got her, as it had been one of the first times that many of them had held a baby so tiny, but Santana is an obvious pro. When she starts smiling, Puck feels the need to tease her about it.
"I have a lot of cousins, and I'm pretty good with babies, okay?" she says nonchalantly. "Shut up about it."
"She kind of looks like my Opa Frank," Brittany says, peering at Maria from over Santana's shoulder. "He is really cute," she adds reassuringly.
Maria starts squirming a bit and sucking on her fingers, and Santana promptly holds the baby out for someone to take her. "She's hungry."
"Right on schedule!" Rachel beams, quickly jotting the time down on a piece of notebook paper. "Noah, can you get me a blanket?"
"I swear to God, Puck, if your kid roots on me," Santana warns, holding the baby as far away from her chest as physically possible.
Puck gathers Maria in his arms just as she starts to become impatient and lets out an angry squawk. "Shh, you're okay," he coos, rocking her gently. He places a light kiss on the baby's head before handing her to Rachel. When he turns around, everyone is staring at him with looks varying from amusement to confusion, and he doesn't appreciate it.
"Everybody out – Berry's about to whip out her boob."
"Don't be crude, Puck," Rachel admonishes. "I'll be covered. They can stay if they'd like."
Puck rolls his eyes. "The girls can stay. Any guy that isn't me has to leave. Except Kurt, I guess."
Kurt looks like he might throw up. "No, thank you."
"On second thought," Puck adds. "Brittany and Santana, you're out, too."
Santana scoffs indignantly but grabs Brittany's arm and leaves with the boys anyway, leaving Quinn, Mercedes, and Tina alone in the room. They all share a look, then quickly say their goodbyes and follow the rest of the group into the hallway. They barely have time to get through the doorway before Puck shuts the door behind them.
"Finally," he breathes. "Some peace and quiet."
"I'm glad they came," Rachel says. "They're good friends."
"They'll be back soon," he replies. "How's it going?"
"It hurts a lot," she admits softly. "but it's okay. She seems to know what she's doing."
"Let me know if you need anything," Puck says, climbing into the bed with her and draping an arm across her waist. He closes his eyes and lets out a tired sigh as she leans against him.
"We'll be fine. You should try to sleep."
"I'm good," Puck says with a shrug.
"You could go back to your house for awhile and take a nap. My dads should be back soon – they'll keep me occupied."
"I'm not going anywhere," he replies. "I'm happy right here."
Rachel's sure that the mixture of postpartum hormones and sleep deprivation are making her read far too much into his statement, but she still gets a little teary-eyed as she whispers, "Me, too."
She finds herself thinking back on the past nine months and all the ways her life had been changed. It was an accident. Obviously. No one plans to get pregnant in their sophomore year of high school, and no one plans to get pregnant by Noah Puckerman ever. However, she can't help but think that maybe the best things are never really part of the plan anyway.
A/N: OH MY GOD LOOK AT THAT CHEESY ENDING.
There will be an epilogue, and you might as well call it an epic-logue, because that's how long it will be. It's ridiculous.
There will be a much longer author's note at the end of that chapter, but just in case something horrible happens (like I have to start really really focusing on my schoolwork and the epilogue doesn't come for months), I really want to say, from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU. I love you guys. This has been the best fanfiction experience I've ever had, and I swear, the only reason that this is the second fic I've ever finished is because you guys have been SO supportive.
Now, if the 300+ of you who get an e-mail every time this story is updated would like to be extra supportive, I'd be so happy to hear what you think. Even if all you want to say is that you hate the story but never bothered to take it off Story Alert and you're just so glad that you won't be getting e-mails about this shitfest anymore*, that's TOTALLY COOL AND AWESOME.
*Don't really do that. I'd cry.