A/N: This story is going to take a lot of twists and turns and spans five years. Be prepared because those big flashy orange lights you see up ahead? That's angst! I'm so excited about the plot of this story that I'm practically stupid over it.
Disclaimer: I don't own Glee. I DO own lots and lots of pictures of Mark Salling, which only help to fuel my counseling-worthy obsession with Puckleberry.
If someone had told Rachel Berry that her first day as a college freshman would begin a chain of events that would alter the course of her life forever, she would have smiled primly before laughing in that person's face. The first day on the University of Cincinnati campus had been, in Rachel's estimation, completely exhausting. After insisting to her fathers that she was supremely capable of driving herself to school without their assistance, she had kissed them both and had pulled away from the curb in front of her childhood home in Lima, heading off to start her new life. The drive to Cincinnati had been long and uneventful with only her vast collection of CDs to keep her company. Thanks to her trusty GPS system, Rachel was anything but worried on how to ensure she made it to campus soundly. What she hadn't anticipated was the massive traffic jam just north of downtown Cincinnati that resulted in her sitting in her car, engine off, for three hours. By the time she made it to campus, it was already dusk. Thankfully, she knew her dorm assignment and even had the room key.
Driving toward her dorm, Rachel became first frustrated and then horrified to discover that there was no parking lot anywhere even close to her building. She drove in wide circles, hoping to locate a spot that wouldn't require her to drag her belongings for blocks. After a fifteen-minute search, she cursed the gods of parking and took the next parking space she could find, which was a full seven blocks from the building she would call home for the next year.
Once she was parked, she popped her trunk and stared woefully at the contents. There was no way she was going to be able to maneuver all these things to her room. She would have to make at least four trips and it was already getting dark. Running her hands through her shiny brown locks, she sighed and tried to decide what to take first. Her head was deep inside the trunk, small curses at her current predicament leaving her glossy lips, when she heard the voice.
"No way...no fucking way..."
The voice, deep, throaty, and obviously male, startled Rachel out of her trance. Swiveling her head first to the left and then to her right, her eyes settled on a tall, devilishly handsome, muscular young man with dark hair and very familiar hazel eyes. Rachel's jaw went slack, her mouth gaping. This cannot be happening.
"Noah?" Her voice was pure disbelief. Noah "Puck" Puckerman, former adversary turned very brief boyfriend turned ex-boyfriend turned high school acquaintance and former Glee club co-member, stared at her like he was seeing a ghost.
His shocked expression transformed slowly into a grin, his body relaxed from his spot on the sidewalk before he stepped forward gingerly. "Rachel Berry. What the hell are you doing here? I thought you were going to college in New York City!"
Rachel sputtered. "Me? Last anyone of us heard, you were going to the college in Lima." She met his eyes, noticing that he looked slightly older since she had seen him last, which was over a year ago. "Not that I would know first-hand since you cut all of us out of your life once you graduated and left us at McKinley." She hadn't meant to sound bitter, really. But the original remaining Glee club members, the ones that had yet to graduate, had spent a lot of time senior year discussing how Puck had practically fallen off the face of the earth once he'd graduated. No one ever saw him and he didn't return any phone calls even though everyone knew he was still in town.
Puck shrugged. "I was in a bad place after graduation. I needed...to breathe." He looked at her, still shocked that she was standing in front of him. "I did my freshman year at OSU-Lima but decided to transfer here because of their Exercise Science program." He crossed his arms, his muscular biceps bulging against the sleeves of his grey t-shirt, and leaned against Rachel's car. "So why are you here and not in New York?"
Rachel's eyes fell to the cracked pavement and settled on a small pile of cigarette butts that had been carelessly discarded. "Daddy was diagnosed with cancer last year," she began, sadness filling her throat and weighing down her tongue, "and he's still in treatment. I didn't want to be...that far away in case he...took a bad turn." Rachel pushed her approaching tears away, sucking in a breath and plastering on a smile. "Plus, U of C has a well-respected music program so it was the most appropriate choice, given the situation I was faced with."
Puck stared at her. He wasn't expecting that response. "Uh...I'm..uh sorry about your dad. And sorry about New York."
"It's okay. The Berry family is very resilient."
"I know that, for sure," Puck smiled. Looking into her trunk, he said, "Do you need help getting to your dorm? You do have a lot of shit."
Grimacing at his words, Rachel nodded. "It would be wonderful if you could assist me, Noah." Rachel watched at he reached into the trunk and began yanking her belongings out. When he had three suitcases out, he grabbed a rather ugly pink lamp and shoved it in Rachel's hands.
"Grab that small suitcase and we'll get moving. Which dorm is yours?"
Rachel looked down at the small paper in her hand and rattled off the name. Puck smiled. "That's the dorm across the street from mine. Sweet."
Hitting the lock on her key fob, Rachel shoved her keys in her purse and reached for the smaller suitcase. She and Puck began walking toward the dorms in silence, both still slightly stunned at running into the other one on campus. Rachel smiled her first real smile of the day as she glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. It really was nice to see him.
After they had made it about a block and a half, Puck looked at her and said, "So how's Chang?"
Without looking at him, she said, "We broke up."
"Oh...whoops. I didn't know that."
Rachel's voice was sure with no hint of remorse. "Oh, it's quite okay. Mike's going to college in California and we are both pragmatic enough to realize that long distance romance wasn't feasible...So we parted amicably but we're still friends."
"That's good to hear," Puck offered. "Mike always was a good dude."
"Yes, he is. He was a wonderful boyfriend..." Rachel's thoughts traveled to Mike, who was probably sunning himself on a sandy beach in San Diego by now. They had begun dating her junior year after her brief relationship with Finn Hudson had ended in a flaming pile of hurt and disappointment. Mike, a fellow Glee clubber and friend to Puck, was surprisingly good for Rachel because his laid-back ways helped balance out her high-strung personality. They had dated for nearly a year and a half before they split up during the middle of the summer. Still, Rachel wasn't going to be full of heartbreak over it. She had shared a lot of firsts with Mike Chang and she wasn't going to ever regret the time they spent together.
"How…how is Quinn doing?" Puck asked as they stepped into a crosswalk. His voice was soft as he was obviously uncomfortable about the topic that he had chosen.
"Quinn is doing well. She's heading to college in New Hampshire, actually. There is a photography school out there…." Rachel's voice trailed off, her hesitancy to discuss her rather obvious.
Puck thought about beautiful Quinn Fabray, the history between them, and the very tangible link they shared that was eating and breathing somewhere in the world; a link that had his eyes and cheekbones and her nose and mouth.
"I wonder about her a lot…Not like I love her or miss her or anything, of course," he added quickly for clarification. "Just because…well, you know."
Rachel looked at the ground, formulating her words. "Of course I know, Noah. You and Quinn will share a bond for the rest of your lives thanks to that little girl."
Puck rarely talked about his daughter because it was still painful, even two years later, to think about the fact that his junior year of high school, he had slept with his best friend's girlfriend and had gotten her pregnant. His relationship with Finn was damaged, due to his betrayal, in a way that would never be healed. Quinn and he muddled through until the baby was born but when the baby finally made her entrance into the world, she was put up for adoption. Still, Puck sometimes felt haunted when he thought about that little girl, who was now walking, talking, and getting into trouble. He hoped that she was well taken care of and deeply loved, wherever she was. And although he would never admit it out loud, he hoped that somehow, that little girl could feel his love for her, too.
As they finally approached the dorm, Rachel sighed with relief. The suitcase was getting annoyingly heavy. She didn't know how Puck was managing so effortlessly.
"When did you get on campus?" she asked, trying to lighten the mood after the very serious subjects of Quinn and the adoption.
"I came down about four days ago. I wanted to get situated, figure out where the hell everything was, and start getting familiar with Cincinnati before classes started."
Rachel sighed loudly. "I wish I could have done that. I just…couldn't seem to get packed. Do you know how hard it is to decide which of your belongings are worthy of moving with you and which should stay back at home?"
Puck laughed. "I'm a dude. I don't care about all that shit. I got my guitar, my clothes, my laptop, and a few other things and I was ready to go. It took me, like, twenty minutes to pack – and that included loading up my truck!"
Puck and Rachel turned to walk up the steps to her dorm. "My dorm is the one right behind you."
Rachel turned and looked at the building Puck called home, which was nearly identical in size and shape to hers. The roads and sidewalks were congested with students. Apparently, more new arrivals chose Rachel's approach to getting there at the last minute rather than Puck's "get there early" approach.
As they walked inside her building, Puck asked, "What's your room number?"
Glancing at the paper, Rachel read, "118."
"Cool, you're on the ground floor. Good, because I'm about to fucking die. I don't know what you have in this suitcase but I'm beginning to think it involves a body."
Rachel laughed. His personality was still a bit on the brash side but the good person she always knew he could be, once he stopped throwing Slushies in her face and tossing Kurt Hummel in the Dumpster, was still very much intact, despite the fact that they had been out of touch for an extended period of time.
The dorm halls were crowded with students lugging similar suitcases (minus the sparkles and rhinestones that graced the front of Rachel's). Puck and Rachel wedged their way in between a girl who was wrapped in the arms of a sobbing woman and a boy being told by his father to "bang a lot of chicks, man. Make me proud."
They stopped in front of her door and Rachel tried the knob. Surprisingly, it was unlocked. She pushed it opened and the two of them stepped inside. A young woman, obviously her roommate, turned from where she was loading clothes into a small dresser and met Rachel's eyes.
"Rachel!" she yelled excitedly as she ran towards Rachel. "It's so so so so so nice to finally meet you!" The girl, who was a few inches taller than Rachel and who had sandy blond hair and green eyes, and to Rachel's horror (because she knew who was standing behind her), was very large-breasted, bounced excitedly.
"Hello, Abby. Nice to finally meet you," Rachel said as Abby dragged her into a hug. Rachel and Abby had spoken on the phone after they had received their room assignments. They knew very little about one another, other than the few pleasantries that had been exchanged during that single conversation.
From behind them, Puck cleared his throat. Rachel disengaged from Abby's very happy arms and turned toward Puck. "Abby, this is Noah Puckerman."
He stepped forward, smirking appreciatively, and shot his hand out. "You can call me Puck."
"Rachel!" Abby screeched. "You didn't tell me that you had a boyfriend!"
Rachel's smile was one of extremely discomfort. "Noah...err…Puck is from my hometown. We just happened to run into each other on campus. We're not dating," Rachel clarified.
Puck's gaze met Abby's and he winked, making her blush. "Hell no, we're not dating. I'm a free man."
Abby shot him a seductive smile and Rachel nearly gagged. Batting her lashes, Abby's voice became like liquid silk. "Well maybe we can hang out sometime, Puck." She rolled the "p" sound in her mouth before spitting it, making it sound exceptionally more sexual than it was. Rachel was waiting for her huge breasts to spring free like in some bad porno before Abby dragged Puck over to her bed and christened their new room right in front of her.
"Sure thing, babe," he responded, his eyes skimming her vast expanse of breasts. Rachel looked around the room for a trash can in case she needed to wretch.
Tearing his eyes away from the wonderful sight of huge jugs, Puck walked over to the empty bed and loaded Rachel's suitcases on it. Turning to Rachel, he said, "I guess I'll get going now so you two can get acquainted. But we gotta keep in touch, Berry. Here…gimme your phone."
Rachel rooted through her purse and pulled it out. Handing it to her, he added himself into her contacts and then handed her his phone so that she could the same.
Puck walked over to the door and said, "Great to see you, Berry. And very nice to meet you, Abby."
Winking at the two girls, he let himself out.
As soon as the door closed, Abby grabbed Rachel's arm. "Holy hell, Rachel. They absolutely do not make boys like that in my town. Good grief. I think I may die." Abby fanned herself for added effect.
"He is handsome, isn't he?" Rachel admitted. "But Abby, in high school, he had a Mohawk."
Abby sputtered and then cocked her head to think. Smiling, she said, "I bet that was hot, too."
Sighing, Rachel said, "It actually was. Albeit, it was a slightly insane haircut to have in this day and age but he somehow made it work."
Abby sank to the bed and said dreamily, "He could wear a lampshade on his head and it would look amazing."
Unable to help it, Rachel laughed. She supposed she was just used to the alarmingly handsome example of sheer maleness that was Noah Puckerman. But, she conceded, not everyone had known him since they were 12-years-old like she had. Since she had known him for that long, she was proud to say that she was immune to his strong jaw, sculptured muscles, intense gaze. Almost.
Rachel spent the remaining evening unpacking her suitcases and listening to Abby prattle on about six thousand different topics. Rachel just wished she would shut up for a few minutes. And her reaction to Abby's rambling was surprising to even her, considering she'd been accused of talking a lot in the past.
Around 11pm, Abby blessedly decided it was time to go to bed and finally took a breath. She slid into her bed and told Rachel goodnight. Rachel got into her own small bed, flipped off the lights, and stared into the darkness. She could not believe that Noah was here on campus. But surprisingly, it was such a comfort to realize that a piece of home was here with her in Cincinnati. She was sure that his close proximity would make adjusting to college life easier. And maybe they could finally have a real friendship.
Across the street, Puck reclined in his bed. His fucking annoying roommate was sitting at the desk, earbuds in his ears, playing a stupid computer name. Puck flopped over on his stomach. Just my fucking luck to room with a big damn computer nerd. Jeff, his roomie, was nice enough but they had nothing in common. He was bummed when he met the guy but now, knowing that Rachel was nearby, made the sad, virginal roommate of his easier to deal with. He never imagined he'd actually be happy about running into Rachel Berry. But for some inexplicable reason, seeing her made him feel better. She seemed less keyed-up than she always had been in high school. He could tell she had matured a lot since he had last spoken to her. Maybe college would be more fun this year with Rachel around. He was finally away from Lima and didn't have a "rep" to protect. Here, he was unknown and could be anyone he wanted to be. And frankly, he liked to think that he was going to be less of a douchebag now.
No, as Rachel and Puck both drifted off to sleep that first night in their dorms on the University of Cincinnati campus, neither one of them would have ever believed that this one small, inconsequential day would eventually alter the trajectory of both of their carefully planned lives.
A/N: The title "All Roads Lead to You" is actually a song by Chicago. Look up the lyrics because they mean something!