A/N: I felt bad leaving everyone hanging with the last chapter, so here's the final chapter, it is the longest and I hope you all like it. Once again, I do not own Glee.

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

Rachel methodically packed her pink bag, years of practice making it possible to do so by muscle memory, freeing her mind to wander over the last week. She told her fathers she wasn't feeling well, but after nearly two days in bed she had to force herself to move in order to avoid the visit to the doctor they kept threatening her with. When Puck had refused to take any of her calls and failed to respond to any of her text messages she had gone to his house only to find out that he had left town. His mother said he'd gone to Cleveland to see his grandfather before school started and the missing truck in the driveway assured Rachel that his mother wasn't helping him avoid her.

The uncertainty of how this year, let alone this day, would go had caused a small pit of worry to sit in her stomach. Even though by the end of last year she had hardly needed much of anything from her bag she still packed the same things, needing the security of being prepared for at least some things. Zipping it closed she placed it by the door and walked back to her vanity where she gave herself one last glance over to make sure everything was in place. She had gone with a crimson button-up blouse and a pleated black skirt with a pair of matching 2-inch heels. Puck had always liked her in red. With an unsteady calming breath she nervously straightened her skirt, checked her notebook for the twentieth time to be certain the letter she had written him was still there, and picking up her notebooks she walked toward the door.

At the door she paused as if unsure of herself. With a sigh she walked back to the vanity and reached into her jewelry box, pulling out the silver charm bracelet she had been determined to leave behind. She fingered the tiny guitar and bit her lip in indecision. He broke up with her and had refused all of her efforts to speak to him, but still she couldn't let it go so easily. That's why she had written the letter. She would arrive early at school, as was her custom, and slip the letter in his locker. Thankfully they had already discussed their new locker assignments before the break up so she knew which one was his. She had decided that if he didn't respond to the letter she would let it go. She would let him go. With a sudden motion she put the bracelet on her wrist, locked the clasp, grabbed her bag and headed with determination and uneasiness toward her first day as a junior at William McKinley High.

(***********************)

"Noah! You're going to be late for the first day of school!" Puck groaned loudly as his mother's voice invaded his sleep. Rolling over in his bed he slowly opened his eyes until he could focus on the ceiling above him. With a heavy resigned sigh he threw the covers off, put on a pair of boxers and made his way to the bathroom. He'd only been back from Cleveland for a day and he was exhausted, although not from the trip.

Every night since he'd broken up with Rachel had been an experience in some new kind of torture. He'd never really suffered from nightmares before but now they plagued him. Every night it was the same thing. They always started with Rachel and he was happy. She was amazing in his dreams and what made it worse was the knowledge that she was just as amazing in his waking life. But they all ended the same way. As soon as he would find his release in her she would morph into someone else. Sometimes it was Santana or Brittany. Sometimes it was some random girl he'd screwed from school. He'd try to stop but it was always too late and he would watch Rachel walk out the door as he had sex with some random girl. He'd had the dream again last night so needless to say he was tired as he stood in the shower and let the hot stream wash the sick feeling away.

By the time he got out of the shower he was running even further behind. He quickly pulled on a pair of dark jeans and grabbed a white t-shirt, pulling it over his head as he ran down the stairs. As he drove toward McKinley High to repeat his junior year his mind wandered to the last week he'd spent in Cleveland with his grandpa. He chuckled softly to himself as he thought about the older man. He had to give the old man credit. He'd suffered a pretty bad stroke, but he still hit on the nurse that came to check on him and gave the physical therapist hell even as he pushed through the exercises in his effort to regain full mobility. His mind was still as sharp as ever and it hadn't taken him long to realize there was more than one reason his grandson had chosen to visit him, especially when Puck finally turned his phone off after the twentieth unanswered beep.

"What's her name?" he'd asked him gruffly as he turned the pages of the paper with his good hand.

"Huh?" Puck asked distractedly.

"The girl that keeps trying to get a hold of you. The one you're running from. What's her name?"

Puck was quiet for a moment as he tried to rein in his emotions. He didn't think he was running from her. He just knew he wasn't strong enough to stand by his decision if he didn't put some space between them. But the way Gramps had worded it made him feel even more like his own father than he already did, and that just made him feel even more depressed. "Rachel," he answered quietly. "Her name's Rachel, but we broke up."

"Hmm," the gray haired man grunted from his recliner as if he really didn't care, he was just trying to make conversation. He waited to see if Puck would share any more information on his own, but when the young man remained silent he closed the paper in his lap and turned his own set of clear hazel eyes on him. "What are you thinking?"

Puck responded immediately, "I think I'm exactly like my father. I think I screw anything that moves, I take what I want without thinking of others or the consequences and when things get too hard, I leave."

"You listen to me Noah Puckerman. You are nothing like that man. Now I've tried to never say anything against him because he's your father and nobody wants to hear bad things about their mom or dad, but that good for nothing piece of shit that married my daughter doesn't deserve to be spoken well of and you, son, don't deserve to think you got anything from him except your jawline. He was horrible to your mother. Treated her like she was his slave, cheated on her, and expected her to just keep taking him back until he just never asked to come back. Now did you cheat on this Rachel girl?" he asked as he tried to bring his voice back to a calm he didn't feel.

"No," Puck whispered. He'd never seen such fire come from his grandfather, especially in regard to his dad. "But I'm afraid I will."

His grandfather sat quietly breathing in the chair for a moment as he considered what his grandson had just said. "So you love her." It wasn't a question. He stated it as fact. Puck just nodded in response. "And you're afraid that because you've never been in a committed relationship, but have had your fun and run with whoever you wanted that you won't be able to stay faithful to her," the wise old man concluded.

"She's been hurt before," Puck responded. He'd grown accustomed over the years to his grandfather being able to read him so it didn't really surprise him that he'd put it all together so quickly. "That's actually kind of how we ended up together. We were just friends for a while and then the guy she was dating cheated on her and I helped her through it. And she helped me through the adoption stuff. And we just kind of fell together." Puck paused as he tried to gather his thoughts. He desperately wanted to forget the words Finn had thrown at him. He wanted to believe that he could resist the temptations for Rachel. He wanted to believe that she loved him even if she hadn't said the words. "I told her I loved her and she didn't say it back. Then I was reminded that I didn't have a lot of temptations thrown my way this summer, but when school starts back up they'll be all over the place. So I thought I should just end it now. You know, before she actually does love me, if she ever could, and before I break her heart by being my father."

"Preemptive strike," the old man mumbled as he ruffled the paper in his lap. The two of them sat quietly together for a while, each lost in their own thoughts. One troubled by fear of what he'd do and regrets over what he'd already done, the other with years of experience turned into wisdom that he hoped to use to help his grandson make good life choices while he was still around to give advice.

"Did I ever tell you about my very first fire?" he suddenly asked. Puck just looked at him as he mentally wondered if losing track of a conversation was a symptom of the stroke. "Boy it was a big one," the older man continued as his gaze seemed to travel to some far off distance as memories flooded in. "I'd been assigned to the 55 just out of training and we covered a large portion of the industrial sector here in the city. When that alarm went off I can't even describe to you the amount of adrenaline coursing through my body." He smiled to himself at the remembrance of feeling so young and full of life.

"I grabbed my gear and hopped on that truck so fast I was one of the first ones ready to go. It was some kind of printing factory and when we got there she was fully engulfed. Chief had me take the lead on the hose going in. The heat and smoke was so intense. I couldn't see more than a couple feet in front of me. Even with my gear on it felt like I'd just walked into hell. I went after that fire exactly how I'd been trained and about ten minutes in I started feeling dizzy. Next thing I know I'm outside on a gurney and the EMT's are pumping oxygen into my lungs. I couldn't figure out what had happened," he sighed as he remembered the disappointment he'd felt over letting his fellow firefighters down. "Later I discovered that I'd passed out because I wasn't getting any oxygen through my breathing apparatus because I'd forgotten to check the levels before I started my shift that night. After that there wasn't a single shift I worked that I didn't continually test all my equipment to make sure none of it was going to fail me when I needed it most." He looked knowingly at Puck, hoping the younger man would get the sense of what he was saying. It was painfully obvious that he didn't.

"That sounds pretty scary, Gramps," Puck said as he tried to keep up with the man's train of thought.

With a heavy sigh his grandfather said, "Sometimes when you get burned in a situation you have to test things out before heading back into that same situation. Maybe that's how this Rachel girl feels. You say she was cheated on. Well, maybe she needs to test the situation out before she feels safe enough to put herself back into the same place she was when she was hurt by this other guy. Maybe instead of making choices for her and then running away and avoiding her, you should stick it out and prove to her that you're not the guy that's going to fail her when she needs you most."

Even though he was late Puck sat in his truck for a while after he pulled into the McKinley parking lot and thought about the week he'd spent...well, Rachel would call it soul searching, he smiled to himself. Gramps had been right. He couldn't believe he'd let Finn push his buttons like that. He couldn't wait to see Rachel and tell her he was sorry and he hadn't meant it. He just hoped she'd be able to forgive him after a week of silence on his part.

(********************)

After she had slipped the note through the slats in his locker Rachel had tried to stay busy organizing her own locker and mapping the quickest ways to get to her classes and avoid Finn and Jacob as much as possible, but she had found it very difficult to concentrate. Even now she lingered around the corner just down the hall from Puck's locker. She kept imagining what would happen when he got there. He would open his locker and immediately notice the piece of pink stationary neatly folded on the tin floor. He'd pick it up and look around quizzically wondering who had left it there, if perhaps it was the previous locker owner's property that they had left behind. Then he would open it and read it and he would smile and turn around. That's when she would make her presence known. She would step out and they would lock eyes and he would walk to her and tell her he understood and he was sorry. She would apologize also because it was only the proper thing to do and it would equalize their relationship if she admitted it was possible she'd made a mistake. Then he would kiss her. Right there. In the middle of the hallway. In front of everyone.

Except it didn't happen that way. She waited and he never came to his locker. She watched the clock draw closer to the beginning of first period and still no Puck. It was only when the warning bell sounded that she forced herself to begin heading toward her Visual Communications class. She tried not to feel disappointed. Perhaps he was still in Cleveland. He had never shown much interest in regular school attendance and although he had expressed interest in changing those habits she knew that old habits were hard to break. With a determination all her own she decided to focus on class for the next 45 minutes. Eventually she would see him, at least at glee he couldn't avoid her forever.

(********************)

Puck heard the warning bell as he pulled the main doors open and walked toward his locker. Great, he thought, what a wonderful way to start a new year. He was serious about making better choices this year. He didn't want to become his father and he knew now that he had a choice. He could still be himself, just a better version of himself. He was halfway to his locker when he felt a small feminine hand grasp his own and pull him quickly into a supply closet. It was dark in the closet but he could sense the size of the person that had grabbed him and judging from her perfume she was of the female persuasion. A grin spread across his face in the pitch blackness as the idea of Rachel being so adventurous and forward instantly turned him on. "Hey babe," he whispered just before her lips met his own.

He instantly realized his mistake. This was definitely not Rachel. For one thing she was about five inches too tall, but the main give away was that she didn't kiss like Rachel and she certainly didn't taste like her. Puck had grown to love the vanilla berry lip gloss Rachel preferred and as he tasted spearmint he suddenly recognized his attacker. Pushing her away he groped in the dark for the light switch and flipped it on, illuminating the room in such a violent cascade of light that they both stood there blinking for a moment as their eyes adjusted so they could see.

"What the hell Puck!" the dark haired girl hissed at him.

"I could say the same thing to you Santana," Puck replied. "What do you think you're doing just grabbing me like that?"

"Are you serious? Have you been body snatched or something," the cheerleader questioned. She quickly regained her composure and remembered what her goal had been when she'd pulled him in here. "I haven't seen you all summer Puck," she continued in a voice that sounded like sex and velvet, "I missed you and I thought we could maybe start the year off with a bang." She kissed him hard without warning as she rubbed her hand softly against the zipper of his jeans.

Puck pushed her back again. "This isn't happening Santana," he said firmly as he gripped her wrist to keep her from attempting to touch him again. The realization of what he was doing hit him like a ton of bricks. He'd been worried he wouldn't be able to resist, but here was the greatest temptation of all right in front of him and it wasn't a matter of resisting. He didn't want her. He only wanted Rachel. He loved Rachel. Then he had the absolute worst reaction possible. He started laughing. Really laughing. The sudden relief he felt at knowing that he could stay faithful, that he wouldn't hurt Rachel like that, filled him with such relief and happiness that he couldn't stop laughing.

"What the fuck are you laughing about?" she yelled at him angrily. "Did you get castrated this summer or something? Everyone's going to hear about this Puck. You're not going to get play from a single Cheerio after this, you hear me?"

He laughed even harder at this because he knew that no one would ever know about this moment. Santana wouldn't want anyone knowing that she had been turned down after literally throwing herself at someone she used to screw on a regular basis. "You and I both know you're not telling anyone anything," he chuckled as he tried to contain his laughter. "Just go find a new play thing San, I'm sure Brittany's up for some fun."

With that comment Santana grabbed the handle of the closet and stormed out into the now deserted hallway, practically slamming the door in Puck's face. He caught it before it hit him and still smiling and laughing softly to himself he exited into the hallway. When he turned the smile dropped instantly from his face at the sight of pure devastation in Rachel's eyes. "No," he whispered as his chest tightened with the knowledge that she had just watched he and Santana exit from the same supply closet.

(****************************)

They weren't in class for five minutes before Mr. Hartley realized he'd miscounted how many video cameras he would need for his communications class. Rachel had immediately volunteered to go to the A/V room and retrieve what was needed. She knew it was important to make a good first impression by showing that she could be helpful and was willing to do menial tasks. She had fought with Mr. Figgins to get into this class and she was going to take full advantage of every moment she had in it. While she planned on being in front of the camera she knew it was important to have a well rounded knowledge of the industry as a whole and working behind the camera would give her perspective. Also she knew that Mr. Hartley liked to focus on how television had changed the way news is delivered to the public and the class would provide her with something to draw on if she ever needed to play a young Christiane Amanpour in a biopic.

Rachel was thinking about all of this on her way back to class with the camera in her hand when she saw a door fly open to her left and Santana Lopez hurry out and move quickly in the other direction. Her heart froze when she saw Puck exit from the same door seconds later with a huge smile on his face. Her mind was screaming at her to run. Don't let him see you! Don't let him see how much this hurts! But her feet wouldn't move and she stood there as her mind filled in the blanks of what she'd just seen with an image of what she hadn't seen. That's when Puck looked up and they locked eyes and it wasn't the way she'd imagined. It was far worse than anything she could have imagined.

Finally her legs worked and she turned and fled down the hall as quickly as possible. "Rachel wait!" she heard him call behind her but she didn't stop. She couldn't stop because now that she was finally moving she knew she needed to keep moving. If she stopped she would fall apart right there. "It's not what you think," Puck said as he reached out and grabbed her arm, pulling her to a stop and forcing her to turn around and face him.

"Really Puck!" she cried out as she stood facing him, her body trembling with the effort to keep some semblance of control. She couldn't fall apart in front of him. "Because I'm thinking I am such a fool. I'm a fool for trusting you, for thinking that you had changed at all this summer. I'm a fool because even after you broke up with me I refused to believe it was for the reasons you said. As if you could ever think you weren't good enough for someone. You, Puck, think that you're God's gift to women. So go ahead! Feel free to spread that gift to every single girl you meet." She turned to go again and he tried to speak, to stop her, "Rachel, wait."

She turned with tears welling in her eyes and the hurt he saw there tore his heart out. "You didn't have to do it this way," she whispered as she tried to hold back the choking sobs that were threatening to break free. "You didn't have to respond to my letter like this. You could have just said no and I would have left you alone." With that she turned and disappeared into one of the girl's restrooms.

Puck stood in the wake of the devastation he'd caused and let his body soak in the hurt he could still feel emanating from her. You should just let it go, he thought to himself. You should let her think what she wants and end this now. It would be what's best for her even if it's not what you want. Two things were disturbing him as he wandered slowly toward his locker. One, he had no idea what letter she'd referred to and two, she hadn't called him Noah once. When he opened his locker he noticed a small piece of pink stationary neatly folded on the metal floor. Reaching down he picked it up and as he read it he finally understood what Rachel had been talking about when she mentioned her letter.

Dearest Noah,

I wish I could tell you all of this in person, but you're currently in Cleveland and you refuse to take any of my calls. I'm going to choose to believe that you've gone simply to visit your grandfather and not to avoid me, although I believe it was probably a mixture of both. I keep replaying the last time we saw each other as if it's a movie in my head, just trying to make sense of it. I was over-tired and over-stressed and anything I said to hurt you I sincerely apologize for. Please know that not a moment has gone by that I haven't been thinking of you and how much and how deeply I care for you.

I believe my inability to say those three words that you were willing to tell me, but I just couldn't say in return perhaps hurt you more than you revealed. You need to know that even though I'm unable to speak those words to you right now it doesn't mean I don't already feel them toward you. I believe that what happened with Finn last year effected me more than I realized. I've had a lot of time to think about everything this week and I realize now that it wasn't his betrayal that scarred me the worst. It was the way he treated me when we were together. Noah, he said those words too. He told me he loved me and he kissed me as if he meant it, so much so that I believed it. But he didn't truly love me because he kept me in the shadows. He didn't want anyone else to know that he was with me and that should have shown me that it was all a lie, but I was too blinded by inexperience and my own feelings.

I can't be blinded like that again Noah. My heart can't take that kind of hurt again. I don't believe that this was intentional, but no one knows we were together either. We spent the entire summer wrapped up in each other and when we went out together in public it was always out of town or where we could be alone. Please don't misunderstand me. I loved our time together and there's nothing I enjoy more than being alone with you, except perhaps performing in front of a live audience, but it's a different feeling entirely. Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that I'm scared and I just need some time. Just a little time to test this relationship and make certain that you truly mean the words you were willing to say. That you love me enough to love me in public. Because whether I say them or not, I already feel them, Noah, and you walking out that door and avoiding me has already broken my heart. Please heal it again by giving us another chance. Please give me another chance.

Waiting for your response with all my heart,

Rachel

"Shit," he said as he finished the letter. Looking up and down the empty hallway he felt like a complete douche. Sure he hadn't done anything with Santana and he had nothing to do with being with her in that closet. But if he hadn't broken up with Rachel, no matter how noble his intentions, then they would have walked into school together, as a couple, and none of this would have happened. "Shit!" he yelled again as he threw the piece of paper in his locker and slammed the door loudly. If he was going to fix this, if he truly wanted to be with Rachel, he was going to have to humiliate himself in order to do it now.

(*****************************)

Rachel sat quietly in the front row of the bleachers in the choir room as the rest of the club slowly trickled in at the end of the school day. She sat off to the side knowing that no one would actually choose to sit beside her and she was grateful for that today. She had spent most of first period sobbing in one of the locked stalls in the girl's bathroom. She was finally able to pull herself together and make it back to class where she mumbled some excuse about getting locked in the A/V room and having to wait for a janitor to come get her. The entire day had been excruciating. At every turn she seemed to run into either Finn or Puck. Finn's face still sported bruises that were a sickly hue of yellow and green. She couldn't help but feel some little bit of doubt about what she had seen between Puck and Santana. After all how could he be willing to mete out that kind of punishment in her defense if he was just going to dump her anyway.

But every time she saw Santana or Puck it brought fresh pain to the surface and she couldn't think clearly. She could only feel the worst pain she'd ever felt in her life. She had hidden during lunch because she saw Puck looking for her and she didn't want to hear anymore of his excuses. He'd tried to tell her between third and fourth period that nothing had happened and what she had seen was him telling Santana that he didn't want to be with her ever again. He claimed he hadn't seen her letter until after the closet incident and that he was sorry. She just wasn't ready to hear it yet.

Now she sat in what should have been her favorite room about to participate in one of her favorite activities, but she was absolutely miserable. Here she couldn't avoid the people who had hurt her so much. Here she had to sing with them and dance with them. Here she had to prove she was the best actress ever and truly worthy of Oscar's and Tony's and Emmy's. Because here she had to act as though she were fine and her heart hadn't been torn from her chest and stomped on repeatedly.

"Hey guys," Mr. Schuester said with a huge smile as he entered the room, "I hope you all had an excellent summer. I know I did. Now I know I told you all to take a rest for the summer, but I was wondering if anyone had any creative ideas they'd like to share to get us started in preparing for sectionals." He waited and looked around the room expectantly as no one said anything. He looked toward Rachel, his go-to creativity girl. Whenever he was running low on ideas he could always count on her to say something to either get every one fired up or fighting. Either way it sparked creativity. "Rachel?" he prompted, but she just looked at him with sad eyes and didn't say anything.

"Mr. Schue can I say something?"

All eyes swung toward Puck as he entered the room late. He walked into the room with an air of confidence, but as he stood in front of the shiny black piano and faced the rest of the club that confidence seemed to dissipate and he unconsciously slipped his hands into his pockets.

Mr. Schuester smiled as he moved to the side to give Puck the floor. It wasn't exactly the student he'd been expecting, but it would work. "Go ahead Puck," he said.

Puck cleared his throat and cast his gaze to the floor. He couldn't believe he was about to do this, but at this point he figured it was the only thing he had left to try to make her listen, to make her see that he was sorry. For a split second he almost chickened out. He could feel everyone looking at him expectantly, but more than all their stares, he felt her brown eyes searing into him and he made the mistake of looking up. Their eyes locked for a moment before she looked down at the much more interesting piece of lint she started picking off of her skirt, but in that moment Puck was reminded of the hurt she was feeling and he couldn't bear that he had caused it.

With a deep breath he began. "So you all know that last year was pretty horrible for me. And you'd think it was because I lost my oldest and best friend because I knocked up his girlfriend and now I have a daughter being raised by strangers about an hours drive from me, but you'd be wrong. It was horrible because I finally saw myself and what I was becoming. A jerk that tossed people into dumpsters," he glanced at Kurt, "and threw slushies in people's faces," he looked at Rachel. "This summer I got the chance to try to be the man that I want to become, someone better than who I was. But the closer I got to school starting back up the more scared I got that I wasn't the guy I wanted to be. That maybe it was all an act and as soon as I was back here I'd revert to who I was, to that jerk I didn't really want to be."

He paused and looked at Rachel who was now giving him her full attention. "Mr. Schue, last year when you were teaching us about mash ups you said that sometimes two songs that don't seem to go together or to have anything in common, when put together can be more amazing than you'd imagine."

Mr. Schuester smiled, "Yeah, I said something like that."

Puck swallowed hard and forced himself to look directly at Rachel as he said, "I think people can be like that too. Rachel, I'm sorry I hurt you, but I need you to know that I'm telling you the truth when I say that nothing happened this morning. I swear on Abigail's life that I've been faithful to you." There was a collective gasp as most of the glee clubbers looked from Puck to Rachel, who now couldn't keep the tears flowing down her cheeks in check.

"When did this happen?" Mercedes whispered to Kurt who was sitting next to her. Finn just looked at the floor clenching his jaw and working his hand into and out of a fist as he tried to control his anger. Santana blurted, "You have got to be kidding me!" Puck ignored all of them and just kept looking at Rachel. She was the only one he cared about, the only opinion that mattered was hers.

"I told you that I couldn't be your leading man; that I'm not that guy," he continued. And even though he was standing in front of twelve other people it was as if they were the only two people in the world as he spoke to her. "You said you never asked for me to be that and it's true, you never did. But Rach, you deserve that. You deserve so much and I'm going to do everything within my power to give you what you deserve. The thing is, Rachel, that guy, he almost always screws up. He does something or doesn't do something and the girl's all mad and won't forgive him until he makes a grand gesture to prove that what he says is true." As he said this he picked up one of the guitars from the corner and slung it over his shoulder. "Here's my grand gesture to prove to you that Broadway and rock and roll can be a killer combination," he said as he began to slowly strum.

Rachel immediately recognized it as the song he'd been playing pretty much all summer. And as he started to sing she realized she should have known the song all along. It was "Nothing's Gonna Hurt You" from Sweeney Todd, but he'd altered it slightly here and there. Instantly she was transported in her mind to the safety of his arms as they'd lain on her bed together. His promise that he wouldn't let anyone hurt her. She thought her heart may burst at the swell of love she suddenly felt for the young man singing his own heart out in front of everyone just to win her back.

Nothing's gonna harm you, not while I'm around

Nothing's gonna harm you, no babe, not while I'm around.

Demons are prowling everywhere, now a days,

I'll send 'em howling, I don't care.

I've got ways...

As he drew out the last verse the chords he was playing changed slightly as he seamlessly blended into a different song and Rachel could no longer hold back the adoring smile that spread across her face as he sang directly to her.

Cause she's got a way about her

I don't know what it is but I know that I can't live without her

She's got a way of pleasin'

I don't know why it is but there doesn't have to be a reason anywhere

Rachel barely stifled a laugh as he cocked his eyebrow at her suggestively at the pleasing verse.

She's got a smile that heals me
I don't know what it is
But I have to laugh when she reveals me
She's got a way of talkin'
I don't know why it is
But it lifts me up when we are walkin' anywhere

She comes to me when I'm feelin' down
Inspires me without a sound
She touches me and I get turned around
She's got a way of showin'
How I make her feel
And I find the strength to keep on goin'
She's got a light around her
And ev'rywhere she goes a million
Dreams of love surround her ev'rewhere

No one's gonna hurt you, not while I'm around.

As he tapered off the last stanza and let the last chord hover in the air he slowly removed the guitar and set it down. The entire room was stunned into silence over what they'd just seen and Mr. Schuester began to clap and rise from his seat to take back control of the room. "Well, Puck that was an excellent mash up and I think we all appreciate that it takes a lot of courage to express yourself in song," he began, but before he could even finish everything he was going to say Rachel was out of her seat and crossing the room.

She stood in front of him with wet eyes, but her tears were gone from her face. A huge smile had replaced them and Puck could tell from the look in her eyes that she was totally turned on right now. He couldn't contain the slow sexy smirk that spread across his own face as he looked down at her. "I'm ready for my critique," he said jokingly.

"It was amazing." Her voice was barely above a whisper, but everyone in the room was so quiet it could clearly be heard. "You are amazing and I'm sorry that I didn't listen to you. I'm sorry I let my hurt feelings get in the way of giving you the chance to explain. This," she said as she bit her lower lip to try to find the words to express how she felt about him after his performance. After he declared his love for her in front of the entire club, which for her pretty much made up her entire social circle. "Noah, I love you," she finally said.

He knew he'd wanted to hear her say the words, but he hadn't really expected her to say them right now. And he definitely didn't expect the effect hearing them would have on him. He'd never felt so good or so much love for anyone except his daughter. "I love you too, Rach," he whispered as he leaned down and gently kissed the girl he'd missed being apart from so desperately. She grazed her tongue across his lips and he immediately responded in kind as his hands grasped her waste and pulled her close to him. They were lost in each other and would have stayed that way if Mr. Schuester hadn't coughed to get their attention. Reluctantly Puck pulled away.

"Well, guys, um," Mr. Schuester stuttered with embarrassment, "I guess congratulations and everything. Why don't you both take your seats and we can brainstorm some ideas for sectionals together," he said in an effort to get glee practice back on track and lower the amount of hormones currently stirring in the small room.

"Mr. Schuester," Rachel said quickly, raising her hand even as she spoke.

"Yes, Rachel."

"I actually spent a great portion of the summer thinking about ideas for our upcoming competitions and I have all of them written down. Unfortunately," she continued as she slipped her hand into Puck's, "I seem to have left my glee binder in my locker, or possibly my car. I can't remember." Her cheeks were flushed as she quickly added, "I would be happy to go and retrieve them so that we can discuss what position...um, direction would be best to take."

"Okay. Sure Rachel," he replied distractedly.

"Noah will you help me find them?" she asked quickly.

"Yes," he responded loudly as he practically dragged her out of the room.

"Well while we wait on them to get back does anyone have any ideas?" Mr. Schuester asked the group.

"Oh my God," Kurt said under his breath, exasperated at how clueless their teacher could be sometimes. "Mr. Schuester I highly doubt they're coming back today."

(***************************)

Rachel nestled snugly against Puck's body as he wrapped his arms around her and nuzzled her neck, placing soft kisses along her jawline as their breathing turned back to normal. "Should we start looking for that binder?" Puck chuckled softly against her ear. She laughed as she turned her head so she could kiss his lips.

"Can I tell you something?" she asked quietly.

"Anything."

"There is no binder." Puck laughed out loud as he pulled her body even closer to him. He felt her shiver as he ran his fingertips along her hip bone. He placed a soft kiss against her lips as he moved his hands across her body. Feeling her respond so readily to his touch so quickly after they'd already come to release made him want her even more. "Aren't we breaking the rules by having the door shut?" he asked as he slowly dragged his tongue down her neck to suck on her pulse point.

Rachel moaned softly as she turned her body around to face him. "That's the rule you're concerned about?" she laughed softly as she wrapped her leg around him and pulled him closer.

"I just don't want either of us getting grounded in the near future. I can't stand being away from you," he replied as he took her left breast into his mouth.

Her breath was heavy again as she arched her body into him, her hands raking through his short soft hair as she pulled him closer. "Daddy had business in Chicago and Dad decided to accompany him so they could have a night on the town," she breathed huskily and let out a whimper as she opened herself to let him slide inside her.

Puck paused as he hovered over Rachel, her dark brown hair a mess against the pillows, her cheeks flushed pink with exertion and her brown eyes darkened with wanton desire. "So we have all night?" he asked softly as his heart expanded with love and want for this crazy girl that had completely changed his life.

"We have all night," she affirmed with a sexy smile.

"I love you Rachel."

"I love you too Noah."

THE END

A/N: Thank you to everyone who read this story and to everyone who reviewed it. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Song credits are "Nothing's Gonna Hurt You" from Sweeney Todd and "She's Got a Way About Her" by Billy Joel. I suppose I also owe some thanks to YouTube and whoever posted the video of Lea and Jon singing the Sweeney Todd song (sorry I can't remember) because it planted the very first seed for this story. I knew I wanted to get to this point, so I guess I wrote it the way I solve a maze, by starting at the end and figuring out what would need to happen to get them to that point. So thanks everyone!