Author's Note: So I'm back with a SUPER LONG one-shot. I've been trying to work on my novel but Rachel and Noah won't stop playing in my brain. Frankly, it's starting to annoy me. So I told myself that once I wrote this, they would leave again and I could get back to my original plan. We'll see.

And while I have your attention, I wanted to let you all know that I'm participating in the Support Stacie Author Auction that starts March 26. If you would like me to write you your very own Puckleberry story (which you will hopefully let me publish here and on LJ), go bid! Please! It will help a great cause for an awesome woman! For more info, check out my profile.

And now, on to the reunion...

Noah Puckerman sees the bright blue envelope as soon as he opens the mailbox. It's perched on top of the black plastic wrapper holding his latest issue of Playboy. Tucking the magazine under his arm – Something to read over dinner – he looks at the postmark and the mass-produced label that was carelessly slapped across the front of it.

Opening it up, he reads:

You are invited to attend

William McKinley High School

Class of 2012

Ten-Year Reunion

Saturday, August 24th

Please RSVP to Jennifer Jones-Billingsley

He doesn't know who the fuck Jennifer Jones-Billingsley is. His graduating class had, like, 250 people in it so he can't remember if she's a chick he banged or not (odds are that he probably did). Shrugging, he digs out his mobile phone and scrolls down to make a call.

"Sup?" the voice on the other end of the line greets him.

"Hudson? You get the invitation for the reunion?" He barks into the phone as he lets himself back inside his small, two-bedroom house on a quiet street in Lima.

Down in Columbus, Finn Hudson is reclining on his couch, sipping a beer.

"'Course I got it."

"You goin'?"

Finn snickers into the phone. "Puck, do you really think I'd miss it? Even more importantly, do you think my wife would let me miss it? She shrieked for ten minutes when the invitation came."

Puck grins. No way Tina'd miss it.

"So, should I go?" Puck asks, opening his fridge to pull out his own beer.

"Dude, if I go, you go. So yeah, you're going."

"Fine…I'll send the fuckin' reservation card back."

He snaps his phone closed and fills out the RSVP card to confirm that he and a guest will be there. Celeste dragged his ass to her ten-year reunion last year and now, she was going to return the favor.

When Rachel gets the invitation to the reunion, she really doesn't pay much attention to it at first. Sure, she'd like to go but being a Broadway star is time consuming. Besides, she only had a few friends out of the entire class and she's barely spoken to any of them (but one) in years.

Her hesitancy lasts for exactly two days. That's when she meets her financial advisor/best friend/fellow McKinley graduate Santana Lopez at a little bistro in SoHo for lunch.

"Bitch, please. You're going," Santana points her fork at Rachel as a fierce look flashes into the pretty Latina's eyes.

"San, you know I can't. I'm in the middle of this show!" Rachel takes a bite of her salad, letting her eyes plead her case while she chews.

Santana ignores her protests in pretty much the same way she's been doing anytime Rachel puts up a fight about anything for the past 12 years. "That's why you have an understudy. And your understudy is dying for a chance to do the role, even if it's just for a weekend. You never get sick; you never take time off. Poor girl is probably praying you'll get hit by a taxi or something, just so she has a shot at it for a single weekend!"

Rachel shifts in her seat. She does have a point. My dedication has been exemplary.

"Rach, you're going to Lima with us. I've already sent in our RSVP card. You're sending yours in, too. As your financial advisor, I'm telling you that you're going."

Laughing, Rachel rolls her eyes. "This has nothing to do with my finances, San...your opinion is welcomed but..."

"No 'buts', Rachel. You're going." Santana chews a bite of her food. "Do you think Derrick will come?"

Rachel shakes her head. "No, probably not. If he agrees, I'll be surprised."

"Well, if he doesn't want to go, let me know and I'll book three plane tickets instead of two so you can fly with us."

Rachel nods, wondering if her boyfriend will actually agree to take a weekend away from work to head to Lima with her. Either way, Santana won't give up until she gives in.

So she gives in. She's going to go, Derrick or no Derrick.

Celeste pitches a fit that she has to go to the reunion with Puck, screeching in his kitchen when he's got a hotpad in his hand, removing a DiGiorno's pizza from the oven.

"But my mother was coming that weekend!"

Puck rolls his eyes as he slaps the pan onto the countertop. "Well, now she's coming some other weekend. I went to your reunion. You're going to mine."

Celeste crosses her arms in anger, which makes Puck groan because she's going to start the whole pouting thing and then he'll give into her complaining and whining because otherwise, she'll withhold sex.

He decides to compromise. "Okay, here's the deal. You're going. But I'll buy you a new outfit so you can show up in style and make sure everyone knows how fucking hot my woman is."

Celeste smiles and pulls Puck to her for a kiss. She always gets her way.

Derrick shocks Rachel when he tells her that he'll take the weekend off to go to her high school reunion. In fact, he'd love to go. She's nearly bug-eyed at the agreement because his job is exceptionally time-consuming. Had she not respected him and his career so much, there's no way she'd still be with him. But she chose her life with him and is proud of the fact that he's an in-demand neurosurgeon. Her smile fades a little, however, when he says, "I need to make sure none of those old boyfriends of yours think they still have a chance with you. Gotta watch out for my woman." She hates it when he gets possessive and calls her 'his woman' but has to remind herself that it must be a generational thing. He is, after all, fifteen years her senior.

Three days before the reunion, Puck is cleaning out his home office because it's piled high with newspapers and magazines again. He stumbles across his Thunderclap yearbook from his senior year and takes it over to his desk. Sitting down, he flips it open and starts reading all the signatures scattered along the inside cover.

Puck, thnxs 4 all the fun times. - Brittany

Puck, we've been through a lot together (obviously) but I hope we can always remain friends. Good luck and keep in touch. - Quinn

Finally, twelve years after the most tumultuous events of his high school life, he can think about Quinn and the baby they made without wanting to throw up. He and Quinn put their baby up for adoption when they were 16. It still kills him, though, knowing he has a 12-year-old daughter running around somewhere in the world. His biggest hope is that, wherever she is, she's as big of a pain in the ass to her parents as he was to his own. Puckerman genes, after all, are really fuckin' powerful. He hasn't spoken to Quinn since graduation day.

Dude – why am I even signing this? I'll see you again in, like, two minutes. Anyway, I know we had our differences but I'm glad we got past them. You've been a pain in my ass since we were four and you always will be! Wanna play Halo tomorrow? - Finn

Puck, go fuck yourself. - Santana

Noah, I hope that life after high school is good to you. You've worked hard and have really done well these past few years. I think you'll find that you're studiousness will pay off in leaps and bounds throughout the years to come. Good luck in college and never forget all the great memories that we and the rest of the Glee Club shared together. I'll miss you. - Rachel Berry

Puck leans back in his chair. Will Berry be at the reunion? Nahhh... She's a big Broadway star now, he knows (because his mother never shuts up about that cute girl he could have made it work with if he'd only been less of a jerk to her.) He thinks back to the young girl he once knew. The only thing bigger than her mouth was her dreams and now she's living them. He knows he won't see her but can't help but kinda wishing that she would be there. It'd be nice to catch up.

The reunion is being held in the high school gym because it's the only place in Lima big enough to hold that many people. Puck can't help but groan at the half-assed decorations of streamers and shit tacked along the edges of the bleachers. He walks up to the registration table with Celeste on his arm and signs in, grabbing his stupid nametag and sticking it to his navy blue vest. Celeste smiles at those around her. Puck can't help but be happy that she came because she looks gorgeous. Her blond hair is all piled up on her head and her pink dress is strapless, accentuating her sexy shoulders and completely fake (and fuckin' hot) rack. Yeah, she's totally turning heads but did anyone really think that Noah Puckerman would be with anyone who didn't? Puck smirks at the idea of him showing up to his high school reunion with some fatty or fugly chick on his arm. He's still a stud, people.

His eyes sweep over the crowd and settle on the tall head sticking out above everyone else. Grabbing Celeste's hand, he drags her over to where Finn and Tina (Cohen-Chang) Hudson are standing. The two friends do some complicated fist bump/handshake thing that has both Tina and Celeste annoyed almost immediately.

"See anybody else we actually give a fuck about yet?" Puck asks Finn, his eyes surveying the crowd of people who all look a little heavier, more tired, and a bit worse for wear than they did ten years ago. And seriously, who are most of these fucking people? He vaguely recognizes a few faces but still, why the hell is he even here?

Finn shakes his head. "Couple of the old football guys are over there." Punching Puck in the arm, he says, "c'mon" and heads over to the guys. Puck winks at Celeste and heads off to catch up with his former fellow Titans.

As soon as Rachel and Derrick step inside the high school gym, she's practically waylaid by a tall blond. Rachel recognizes her, squeals, and the two women jump up and down while they hug. Pulling away, she introduces the woman to Derrick, who simply nods.

Rachel and Brittany go find a quiet spot (with Derrick in tow) and get caught up on the past ten years. Brittany is married to a construction contractor named Bill and they have three little boys. Brittany is still trim, fit, and beautiful; she's barely changed at all. She tells Rachel that she likes the shorthaired, fringed look Rachel's sporting and Rachel blushes. As they're talking, Brittany suddenly starts shrieking and bolts toward the door. Rachel turns and sees that Santana and her wife, Erica, have just walked in. Smiling, she waves at Santana, who waves back and makes her way toward Rachel, dragging Brittany and Erica in tow. The women all hug and Derrick simply nods again, looking up from his BlackBerry long enough to acknowledge Santana before tuning them out again.

The women stand around and talk for a while until Brittany announces, "Look! Finn and Puck!" and shoots off again. Rachel turns her head and follows Brittany as she advances towards the men. From nearly 15 feet away, Rachel locks eyes with Noah and he nods at her. She nods back with a big smile. Finn sweeps her into his arms, swinging her around like she weighs nothing. When he drops her again, she's a bit dizzy and her dress is wrinkled. As she smoothes it out, she feels the eyes of Finn's quiet friend on her. Turning toward him, she says, "Noah, it's nice to see you."

He nods. "Berry." His eyes slide down her body, taking in her red dress and black heels, before skimming back up to meet her eyes again. "Lookin' good, Berry."

Rachel reddens, her skin hot at his obvious appraisal. Puck is still very muscular and his hair is about an inch longer than it ever was in school. He's dressed in a pair of gray slacks, a white button-down shirt, and a navy blue vest. His black shoes are thick-soled and Rachel has to admit that he looks good. Hell, he looks damn good. "Noah," she finally offers. "The years have been good to you."

About that time, Tina Hudson runs up to Rachel and the two women hug. Rachel is pulled into the throng of former Glee clubbers and they all begin talking about her life on the Broadway stage.

"Rach looks great, doesn't she?" Finn asks, watching his wife and Rachel talk animatedly.

"Yup," is all Puck says in return, even as his eyes settle over again. She looks fucking amazing. He's not going to say that, of course, but he can't help but think it. It's not just the toned everything (fuck, those legs are more amazing than he remembers) but the confidence he can see in her now. New York City looks good on her. And her brown eyes seem to be shining. Fucking sparkling, actually.

Celeste finds him at that moment, having finally made it through the long line for the ladies room, and slips his arm around her shoulders as they stand in a big group. Puck tightens his grip on her instinctively and she melts into his body. He smiles as Kurt approaches, dragging a light-skinned African American man along behind him, and the round of squeals from the ladies causes most everyone in the gym to turn and look at the clique of Gleeks and their significant others.

As Kurt is preening in front of his adoring public, that Jennifer Jones-Billingsley chick (oh yeah, he banged her. Junior year. Equipment shed.) steps up to the microphone and tells everybody to take a seat. The Gleeks all gravitate to a group of round tables near the back and Rachel, Puck, and Finn end up at the same table.

"Dinner will be served in a few minutes but I wanted to thank you all for coming. It's hard to believe that it's been ten years since many of us have seen each other. While you're all getting re-acquainted, I wanted to take a moment to point out that some of our fellow classmates have gone on to really make names for themselves. You all may remember Jacob Ben-Israel." Jennifer looks around at the crowd. "Jacob, where are you?" Puck watches that pervy douche that used to stalk Rachel stand up, pushing his glasses back up on his nose. His hair is still frizzy as fuck and Puck is positive the poor bastard is still a virgin. Jennifer points at him and continues. "Jacob, here, is now a reporter for the National Enquirer!"

A few people clap and Puck mutters under his breath about that "creepy motherfucker still looks like a creepy motherfucker," which causes Rachel to giggle from across the table.

"And Rachel Berry. Where are you, Rachel?"

Rachel stands up and waves from her seat near the back. Jennifer smiles and waves at her. "Rachel Berry is a Broadway star, which should shock absolutely no one! She's presently starring as Mimi in the Broadway revival of 'Rent'." Everyone claps and Rachel nods, curtsies once, and sits back down. Derrick looks up from his BlackBerry and pats Rachel on the shoulder before resuming the perusal of his stock portfolio.

As the buffet tables are being set up, the rest of the Gleeks (Artie, Mercedes, Matt, and Mike) finally make it in and there is another round of screeching and hugs before they all trudge up to the food. While Rachel eats dinner, she chats with Finn and Tina about how they ended up together. She notices that Puck doesn't say much. He seems to mainly be eating, sipping his beer, and listening in on the conversation. Rachel swears she can feel his eyes on her several times but whenever she glances his way, he's talking to his girlfriend or gazing out into the throng of people. She thinks she's actually just imagining that his eyes are on her.

Midway through the meal, Derrick's phone rings and he excuses himself, disappearing out a side door of the gym. Puck walks him watch out and then nods after him.

"What's he do for a living?"

"He's a neurosurgeon, actually," she offers before sipping her tea.

"He's a little old for you, don't you think?" Puck doesn't mean for the question to come out the way it does but once it's out, it's out. And it's true, the dude is too damn old for her.

Tina and Finn stop talking because they're pretty sure that Rachel is about to go off on Puck. Celeste, who obviously doesn't know Rachel, is confused when people stare at her with worried looks on their faces. But Rachel surprises everyone and smiles at Puck.

"Noah, compatibility isn't about age. He and I get along wonderfully. He just happens to be older than I am. But our personalities fit each other well. As the cliché goes, age is only a number."

Puck nods, obviously unconvinced, and goes back to his food. He wants to ask her a bunch of other questions but realizes he'd look like a nosy bitch. So he keeps his mouth shut. Dude's totally too old for her. How the fuck can he even keep up with her?

After dinner, the Gleeks push a few tables together and everyone crowds around them. Conversation is loud and the laughter is even louder. Music comes on (music from their high school years) and people begin drifting out onto the dance floor.

Quinn, who arrived late with a huge baby bump and towing a frazzled husband, groans when the song comes on. "I was pregnant the last time I heard this damn song, too!" Everyone laughs and Quinn catches Puck's eye. They smile, both knowing that pretending the baby thing never happened would be stupid at this point in their lives. They're linked forever because of it, even if they never talk anymore.

As the music slows down, a few of the Gleeks gravitate toward the dance floor. Celeste is in the bathroom and Derrick is on his fifteenth phone call of the night. Puck lays his hand on Rachel's arm and nods at the dance floor. "You wanna?"

She meets his eyes, a smile brightening her face. "I'd love to, Noah. That would be lovely."

Puck offers her his hand and leads her out onto the dance floor.

Some slow song by that awful Miley Cyrus comes on (seriously, why don't they play current shit? Who cares if this is a reunion!) and Puck pulls Rachel against him, tightening his grip around her waist. He has no idea why he's even dancing with her in the first fucking place. But he is and she feels great in his arms. They don't talk much at first and instead, just sway to the music.

"Noah?" Rachel says softly, her head angling up towards his face.

"Yeah?" He's looking at her lips. They seem fuller than he remembers. And then she licks them before she speaks again and it makes his head fuzzy.

"Why are you so quiet tonight? This is supposed to be fun. You don't look like you're really having all that much fun." She's tilting her head to one side when she talks and there is concern in her eyes.

He smiles and shrugs. "I dunno, Berry. I mean, I haven't seen almost anybody, you included, in ten years. What are we supposed to fucking talk about? Nobody has anything in common anymore."

Rachel scowls at him. "Then why'd you come, Noah?"

He almost says, "I was hoping to see you here," but he doesn't because he's not sure where that even came from and why it popped into his head in the first damn place. Instead, he says, "Finn and Tina made me."

Rachel's lips curl into a half-smile and she shakes her head. Laying her head against his chest, she says, "I'm glad they did."

The touch of her head to his chest and the softness of her voice do weird things to his stomach. He's pissed at his reaction because c'mon, this is Rachel Berry. But he's a dude and she's beautiful so it's no wonder he's reacting like he is. Brushing it off, he finishes the dance with her before briskly escorting her back to the table and grabbing Celeste's arm. He practically drags her to the dance floor and kisses her fiercely when he gets her there. It's best to remember which girl he came with, and more importantly, who will be in his bed tonight. And it ain't Rachel fucking Berry.

Rachel watches Noah go with an unfamiliar tightness in her chest. (Actually, it's really familiar. It's the same feeling she used to get when she watched Finn fawn over his then-girlfriend, Quinn.) Shaking it away, she gravitates over toward Artie and Mike and joins in their discussion. She feels eyes on her again and glances out on the dance floor, catching Noah shift his eyes away from her just as she meets his. It's like his eyes are automatically drawn to her. She seems to feel him whenever he's around her. She decides that it's best to avoid him for the rest of the night because it makes her... Well, she's not sure how it makes her feel but it's a high school reunion and she shouldn't be having any weird feelings at all.

Avoiding him is exactly what she does. She moves around the group, talking to different people, and occasionally dancing with Derrick and then Finn. A few times, when there was a lull in the conversation, Rachel and Puck's eyes meet again before they both look away, turning their attention to someone else. Rachel's gaze drifts to him when she hears his laugh and her breath catches in her chest for a second when he beams at something Brittany says in his ear. He hasn't smiled at me like that once all night, Rachel thinks. She is completely unnerved by both the reaction he seems to be causing within her as well as from the way he's acting toward her. It leaves her on edge but before she's ready, the reunion is coming to an end and it's time to leave.

Everyone quickly exchanges phone numbers and email addresses with everyone else and they're all vowing to keep in touch, except for Puck and Rachel. They haven't spoken since they danced. As Rachel says her final goodbyes, her eyes sweep over the emptying gym, looking for Noah. I should at least say goodbye. However, he's nowhere to be seen so she heads for the door, thinking that it's for the best since things were so weird with him the whole night anyway.

Puck watches from the shadows as Rachel heads outside to meet Derrick, who's on the phone again, after she's said goodbye to everyone. He doesn't want her to leave yet; he feels like he's barely gotten to talk to her. Okay, yeah, so he's avoided her most of the evening but still...that didn't mean he was ready to say goodbye. When she's nearly out the door, he's got his hand on her arm and he's pulling her to the side before he even realizes what he's doing.

"Berry," he says her name quickly, like he's afraid she'll leave before she hears it.

She looks at him expectantly. And then he realizes that he doesn't have anything to really say. Don't go. Instead, he pulls out his mobile. "Can I have that number and email address, too? You gave it to everyone else."

She smiles, grabs her own phone, and they trade contact information before standing there awkwardly, staring at one another for a good minute or two. Finally, Rachel steps forward, reaching up on her toes to lay a soft kiss against his cheek. "It was good to see you, Noah."

He watches her pull back, his stomach doing that flippy thing again, and rasps, "you too, Berry." She turns abruptly and flits through the double doors, leaving him staring after her. His hand subconsciously raises and touches the spot she kisses before he turns back to find Celeste so that they can leave, too.

Back in New York, Rachel waits about five days before using her newly acquired contact info to send out a few emails.

She emails Quinn. She emails Kurt. She sends Finn and Tina a joint email. And then she scrolls down her screen and her eyes settle on "Puckerman, Noah." Clicking on his name, she stares at the email address. Before she can stop herself, she types it in to the "To" box and composes a simple message:


It was truly wonderful to see you at the reunion. I'm glad you're doing well and I hope you realize that just because we all don't have much in common anymore doesn't mean we can't all be friends. If you're not too busy, I'd love to hear from you sometime.


After she sends the email, she wonders why she sent it. When she doesn't hear from him after a week, she realizes it was stupid to send in the first place and feels like an idiot. She knows that most high school friendships don't survive adulthood, especially when the two of them were barely friends in the first place.

Puck stares at Rachel's email every time he logs on to his computer. He got it within a few minutes of her sending it because he had been online at the time. And he'd hit "reply" about ten times before hitting "cancel" and logging out of his Gmail account. What the hell was he supposed to say to her? The fact remains that they still don't have anything in common. It was a high school reunion. They all reconnected but that doesn't mean that they have to stay friends now, right? In fact, his gut tells him that it's better if they don't stay friends. That's his reasoning for the first few days. And then he realizes that he stopped her as she left to exchange contact information so he has no choice but to write her back. So finally, he does:


Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Been really busy – work kicking my ass and all. I guess you're right. No reason we all can't be friends now. But like I said, we still don't have anything in common. Especially us – you're a Broadway star and I flip houses for a living.

It was great to see you the other night, though. You look...happy (and sexy as hell, I might add.)

Take care,


After he sends the email, he hopes that will be the end of it. He hopes her shows and her busy New York life keeps her from writing back. He wants her to fade back into the deepest recesses of his memory, where she'd been for ten years instead of in the forefront of his mind, where she's been hanging out since the reunion.

Rachel is almost giddy when Noah finally writes her back. He barely said anything of consequence in the email, she thinks, but at least he did write her back. And the fact that he thinks she looked "sexy as hell" makes her grin and chew on her upper lip for a moment. She's reading the short email for the third time when Derrick announces that dinner is ready. Logging off her computer, she joins him so that they can discuss his day.

It's not until later that night, after Derrick has left to return to his own apartment, that Rachel logs back onto her computer. She reads the email from Noah again and then hits reply.


That's not true. We have a lot in common! Music, our shared Jewish heritage, the first 18 years of our lives, etc... Besides, what makes us all different is what makes us unique.

I still don't think you had a very good time the other night. And I'm sorry I didn't get to talk to your girlfriend much at the reunion. She looked lovely, though. How long have you been together? Not that it's any of my business...just curious!

Take care,


She asks herself why in the hell she brought up his girlfriend after she sends the email. But really, she is slightly curious.

Puck is irked that Rachel asked about Celeste. He should be, like, laughing because she's obviously still so nosy but it kinda pisses him off that she even asked in the first place. It's not really any of her fucking business, is it? He snaps his laptop closed without replying. He doesn't want to be friends with Rachel Berry. And he's not going to be.

His resistance lasts five hours. After that, he writes her back (and blames the three beers he had for weakening his resolve.)


Okay, you got me, we do have things in common. Even after all these years, we're still two good lookin' Jews. And the music thing isn't really a shared interest anymore. I really haven't picked up my guitar in a long time. No real reason except, where the fuck am I going to sing? I'm obviously not in a show choir anymore and don't want to start one of those douchy garage bands full of 40-year-old losers who still think they can make it in the big time. So I still love music, yeah, but do I play it? Nah. No time.

Celeste and I have been dating for about a year and a half. She's pretty cool. She puts up with my shit so I keep her around. Since you're being nosy, I can be, too. How long you been dating Grandpa?


Rachel glowers at his email. Calling Derrick Grandpa? Really?

She's furiously typing a reply message back before she even realizes it.


Grandpa? Really? Derrick is only 43 years old, Noah. And he's highly successful and very much well respected in New York City. He's on the cutting edge of neuroscience and he saves lives every day. How dare you insinuate that he's old and feeble! And not that you even deserve to know about our relationship after your unwarranted verbal attack on him but I'll answer you're questions anyway. We've been together for about a year. We met at a charity event and really seemed to mesh. He's a very busy man so we don't get to see each other all that much but I take what I can get because I respect his career – and his age!


Puck chuckles when he reads her email the next morning. He can practically hear her bitching at him as she typed it out. He can even see her wagging her finger at the screen, giving his name a stern lecture for insinuating that her boyfriend was old.

Laughing, he types out a response:


It's okay to admit that he fizzles in the sack. Old guys struggle with that shit.


When Rachel gets home the next night, she reads her email and shrieks. How dare he?

She thinks about emailing him back but before she can help herself, she's dialing his number.

He answers on the third ring with surprise in his voice.


"Yes, Noah Puckerman, it's Rachel. How dare you say such a terrible thing about Derrick! You don't even know him!" Rachel is stalking back and forth across her apartment, yelling into the phone. And even as she does, she's not sure why she's as mad as she is. He was clearly just trying to get a rise out of her and succeeded.

Puck flops down on the couch in Lima, laughing as Rachel rants in his ear. Finally, he can't handle it anymore.

"Berry, relax. I was just kidding. I'm sure the old dude curls your toes or some shit." He thinks for a minute. "But on second though, you wouldn't be so pissed if I wasn't at least halfway right."

Rachel growls at him. "Noah, you have—"

"—yeah yeah, no idea what I'm talking about. Whatever, Berry. Look, you're fuckin' gorgeous and he looked like he was about to have a heart attack. If you tell me that he's amazing, I'll shut the hell up and get off the phone. And I'll apologize to the old guy."

Sitting down in her overstuffed chair, Rachel sighs. "Well…Noah, he—"

Puck bursts out laughing at the defeat in her voice. "I knew it, Berry! I knew it. It's okay. Not all of us can be studs. But fuck, he's only 43. If he sucks already, just wait a few more years."

Rachel reddens as it hits her that she's discussing sex with a high school friend that she hasn't spoken to in years other than at a reunion. Still, as she snuggles down in her chair, she has to admit that she's enjoying herself. She likes talking to Noah. He makes her…relax.

Rachel finally changes the subject away from her not-so-fabulous sex life and asks him about his work flipping houses.

Ninety minutes later, when Celeste is letting herself into Puck's house, they finally hang up.

No one is more surprised than Puck when he's dialing Rachel's phone number again a week later. He doesn't really know her schedule and wonders, as it rings a few times, if she's with her disappointment of a boyfriend. But then she picks up, all breathy sounding, and he's afraid he's interrupted her in the middle of some mediocre fucking. Instead, he's relieved when she tells him she was just carrying two bags of groceries up five flights of stairs.

They chat about nothing major until he tells her a story about Finn and Tina as she unloads her groceries, throwing the fresh fruits and vegetables in the crisper as her laughter echoes into the fridge.

Puck smiles when he hears her laugh. It's loud and comes from her chest and it makes him want to hear it again. So then he tells her a story about the huge stack of porn and sex toys he found in the attic of one of the houses he was flipping and listens to her giggle as he explains how he disposed of three blow-up love dolls (it involved four layers of rubber gloves, a respirator mask, and a round of gagging.)

When they finally hang up two hours later, Rachel wonders how in the world they managed to talk for as long as they did.

Rachel is furious with Noah. On a Tuesday night, as Derrick is making love to her, Rachel can't help but think that yes, he may just be a tad more unsatisfying than she had allowed herself to previously admit. And then she decides that everything was fine before and Noah merely put those thoughts in her head because he's still a creep. With a sudden jerk of her body against Derrick's - which he mistakes for pleasure - she realizes that she's thinking about Noah Puckerman while she's having sex with Derrick. And that's a huge problem.

Celeste pitches a fit when he lets it slip that he was talking to Rachel on the phone the other night and that's why he was late getting to her apartment. She accuses him of having a phone affair and he laughs it off, telling her not to be stupid and that Rachel's just an old friend from high school. Puck rolls his eyes and says, "C'mon, Cel, you met her! She was the small, short-haired brunette."

Celeste holds up a hand to stop him. "I know who she was, Noah. And that makes me all the more concerned. You have history with that woman. I don't know what it is but…there's history there."

Puck groans and explains how they dated for, like, five days when they were 16 so if she wants to call that "history" than, yeah, she's right. And then he pushes her into her bedroom and tells her not to be jealous. There is nothing going on with Rachel Berry.

Rachel gets invited to dinner with a theater critic who's always been very tough to please. He's a legend in the industry and his approval means an actor or actress is going places. Over his soufflé, he tells her that 'Rent' has been his passion for his 30+ years in the industry and that she's the best Mimi he's seen since Daphne Rubin-Vega originated the role. Rachel is flabbergasted and overwhelmed by the compliment. As soon as dinner is over and she's standing on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, she calls Noah and tells him.

Puck can't believe his good fortune. He bought a small bungalow on the south side of Lima, remodeled it, and just sold it for double what he paid for it. He's finally got enough to get a new truck instead of driving the same old piece of shit that he's had for nearly a decade. He calls Rachel to tell her before he even takes the check to the bank. She tells him that he'd look good in a dark green truck.

When she gets sick, she gets sick. For three days, Rachel mopes around her apartment, convinced that head cold is going to do permanent damage to her vocal chords. Derrick gives her a thorough examination (one of the perks of dating a doctor) and tells her that she'll be fine. Handing her some Nyquil, he tells her he's off to play golf on Long Island.

Rachel stretches out on her bed, watching some terrible talk show on TV, and finds her mind suddenly back in Ohio, wondering what Noah's doing. They haven't talked on the phone in a week and have only exchanged an email or two since then. Dialing his number, she's a little shocked when she gets his voicemail.

"Hi Noah," she croaks into the phone. "I'm at home sick so I thought I'd see what was going on. Feel free to call me if you want, I promise that I'll be here….if I'm not dead."

Clicking off the phone, she closes her eyes and sinks into her feather pillow to take a nap.

Puck is signing the paperwork on his new truck when Rachel calls so he can't answer. As soon as he's done, he climbs into his new green truck (what? It was the one he got the best deal on. It just happens to be green.) he calls Rachel back but swears under his breath when he listens to her voicemail because she sounds so pathetic. As he swings his truck out into traffic to head to Lowe's, he calls her back.

"Hello?" she rasps, having obviously been asleep.

"Hey, Berry. I didn't mean to wake you up. Just wanted to see how you were feeling."

Rachel groans, a small, warble-like wisp of a groan, and then sighs loudly. "Derrick says I'll be fine but now I'm questioning his medical knowledge because I am clearly close to dying. Can you hear me?"

"Yeah, babe, you sound like shit."

Puck pulls the phone from his ear as Rachel coughs loudly into it. When she's finally done and he can hear her gasping for breath, he puts it back to his ear. "Get some rest, Berry. And I won't call you for a few days. And you're not going to die. Derrick may be a horrible lay but I'm sure he's right about your diagnosis."

Rachel snorts and tells him that when she's dead, he'll feel guilty for doubting the severity of her illness. Puck chuckles, tells her to get her ass back in bed and stay there, and hangs up before she can hack in his ear again.

That night, while he's cooking a fulfilling dinner of ramen noodles, he wonders how Rachel's feeling. He almost calls her but then remembers her frog voice and old-lady wheeze and lets it go. She needs to sleep more than she needs to shoot the shit with him all night.

The next morning, he's wondering how she is as soon as he wakes up.

In what she sees as a shocking twist, Rachel actually survives her cold and lives to sing again. She apologizes to Derrick for questioning his medical expertise and he forgives her, telling her she's a terrible patient but that he's had worse. When she's fully recovered, he takes the day off and spends it with her. She's in the middle of a candlelit dinner with Derrick when her phone rings. Glancing at the screen, she sees it's Noah. Derrick's brow furrows at the idea of her answering the phone during dinner so she quickly sends it to voicemail, even though it pains her to do so. But even after ignoring his call, her mind ends up on Noah for the rest of the night.

She's actually disturbed by the fact that she wakes up at 2am and her mind is instantly wondering if Noah had needed something important and she'd failed to take his call. But she knows he didn't leave her a voicemail so it must not have been too important. She forces herself to try to go back to sleep. But more importantly, she forces herself not to think about him and tries to focus on the one lying next to her instead.

Puck is at Celeste's apartment when Rachel finally calls him back the next night. She glares at him when the phone rings but he ignores it and steps out onto the patio.

"Hey, you okay?" He asks, concerned because she almost always takes his calls.

"Yes, Noah, I'm fine. Derrick and I were actually in the middle of a candlelit dinner when you called so I obviously couldn't answer."

Puck's fists ball when she tells him that she was in the middle of a romantic evening with her old man. Inexplicably pissed off, his attitude changes instantly.

"That's fine. Just wanted to see how you were feeling but I can tell you're better."

"I'm much better actu—"

Puck cuts her off. "Good, Berry. Look, I gotta run. Celeste is waiting on me. I'll call ya soon."

He hangs up the phone before she can say another word and slips back inside. As he sits in front of the television that night with Celeste's head on his shoulder, he feels kinda bad for rushing Rachel off the phone. He knows it's seriously stupid to get mad that she didn't answer his call because she was having dinner with her fucking boyfriend. But he can't help that it pissed him off. And it does. The thought of her laughing with Derrick over candles and wine is really fucking grating.

After Noah acted like he really didn't want to talk to her, Rachel isn't quite sure what to do. She almost emails him to ask him if he's mad at her but then changes her mind. Of course he's not mad. He was simply with his girlfriend when she'd called.

But when a few more days go by and he doesn't call or email, a ball of nervous worry collects in her stomach and she almost feels sick. When she finally gives in and calls, her belly is nearly aching. She looks at the clock before she dials, realizing it's very late and he's probably asleep.

He answers on the fourth ring, right before the phone can click over to voicemail. He's groggy and she can tell she woke him up.

"I'm sorry, Noah, I didn't mean to call so late. I just hadn't heard from you in so long. I wanted to make sure everything was okay."

She hears him shuffling and can tell he's sitting up in bed now. "No, it's okay. I've been meaning to call."

As he shifts again, she hears a voice in the background say, "Who the fuck is calling so late, Noah?"

Rachel blanches, realizing that Celeste was sleeping over at Noah's apartment. Her face grows hot as she imagines that she may have interrupted something very intimate. "I—I'm sorry, Noah," she stammers. "I didn't mean to bother you. Just call me later. And have a good night." She quickly hangs up and stares at the darkened screen of her phone. She doesn't bother to wipe off the lone tear that drops onto the screen for a second. Instead, she stares at the tiny, round splatter and wonders why she's crying at all.

Puck has trouble going back to sleep after Celeste yells at him for having a friend that has no respect. "Bitch better learn her boundaries," Celeste announces before rolling over in a huff and trying to force herself back to sleep. Puck barks that Rachel's not a bitch and she'd better fucking watch what she says. Before he knows it, Celeste is telling him to go fuck himself and storms out of the bedroom. He hears his front door slam a few minutes later and realizes that she's left. He should probably go after her but he doesn't. She'll cool down. He's used to her antics by now and knows that it just means fucking hot make-up sex later.

He stares at the ceiling for a while, wondering why Rachel suddenly seemed to not want to talk to him after she'd been the one to call him in the first place. As he rolls over on his side and closes his eyes, he decides that being friends with Rachel Berry is sometimes confusing.

At the end of October, a few weeks after her late-night call to Noah, Rachel is beginning to look forward to the holidays. She's enjoying a brisk walk down 5th Avenue and decides to swing by Derrick's office. It's lunchtime so no one is there but Derrick never takes a lunch so she knows he'll be in. She skips by the empty receptionist desk and heads back towards his office. The door is closed and she's about to knock when she hears it – a faint moan. She listens again and is rewarded with yet another distinct moan from a female, followed by a grunt she recognizes as Derrick's. Pushing the door open, she's not surprised to see Derrick's pants around his ankles with a redheaded bimbo bent over his desk.

Derrick's eyes bulge and he yells, "Rachel, this isn't what it looks like!"

Rachel stares pointedly down at his dick, now rapidly shrinking in size and swinging in the air as he struggles to locate his pants, and tells him that yes, it's exactly what it looks like. Turning to the red-headed whore, Rachel puts a hand on her hip and says, "I hope you like faking it because with that one, you'll have to!" Pivoting on her heel, she storms out with her head held high.

Later that evening, she's got a bottle of wine in her hand and a sympathetic but amused Noah Puckerman on the other end of the phone.

Puck is fucking relieved when Rachel is finally done with that geriatric asshole. He laughs when she retells the story of finding Derrick banging some chick over the edge of his desk, adding in such colorful descriptions such as "red-headed skanky skank-ho" and "spineless, small-dicked moron."

He listens to her rant for twenty minutes before interjecting.

"You should be relieved, Rach." He takes a swig of his beer and tosses some popcorn in his mouth. Pissed off Rachel Berry is more entertaining than a fucking movie.

"Why should I be relieved about getting cheated on, Noah? It's humiliating. The woman was obviously a whore! I mean, she looks like she was paid to be there. I bet he was getting ready to stick it up her ass when I walked in!"

Puck snorts loudly and almost chokes on a piece of popcorn that lodges in his throat. He takes a swig of beer, smiling because Rachel's obviously halfway to Drunkville.

"Rach, he sucked in bed, right?"

He listens to her hem and haw before she finally admits quietly, "Well, yeah, kinda."

"And he was too damn old for you! Annnnnnnd your next boyfriend will hopefully be able to fuck you like you deserve to be fucked." Puck kinda can't believe he just said that and then waits for her to freak out at his crudeness but he doesn't. Instead, she's quiet and he thinks he hears her suck in a breath. He bites his tongue before he can say that he'd be happy to be that guy.

When she mutters, "God, Noah, I hope you're right. I need that. Actually, I've never really ever had that," he stifles a groan and ignores the tightness in his pants. He's actually a little relieved that she's all the way in New York because otherwise, he'd be at her door and inside her apartment (and hopefully inside her) in fifteen minutes flat so that she could, once and for all, get exactly what she deserves in the bedroom.

When he hangs up the phone with her at fucking 1am, he feels like he's done a good job because she's not crying. Instead, she's laughing and actually sounds happy about the single life ahead of her. He drops his head into his hands as he sits on the edge of the bed. Now that she's single, he's gotta be honest with himself: he fucking wants her. At first, he's not sure when it happened. But as he crawls under the covers, he realizes that yeah, he knows exactly when it happened: the night of that fucking reunion. He couldn't take his eyes off her that fucking night and hasn't been able to get his mind off her since.

He dumps Celeste the next day. She doesn't seem surprised.

The first weekend in November, Rachel's father calls in a panic to tell her that her other father fell and broke his hip. Rachel calls her understudy to let her know she's on and then takes off for the airport, arriving in Lima hours later. She's totally exhausted but goes straight to the hospital.

Daddy is out of surgery and is resting comfortably. Rachel watches him sleep for a while before pulling out her cell phone and sending Noah a text message: Daddy in hospital for surgery. In Lima. See you later?

Puck's watching a wrestling match on TV when he gets Rachel's text message. Without hesitation, he flips off the television and is out the door.

When he gets to the hospital, he sits in the lot for a minute, wondering why the hell he just showed up there in the first place. Oh yeah, 'cause I want Rachel. Right.

He sends her a text back: In the parking lot. Come out when you have a chance. By main entrance.

Just as she's reading the text from Noah, Dad tells her to go home and get some sleep and come back tomorrow when Daddy will be awake. Rachel hugs both her fathers and then heads toward the main entrance. She's actually a little nervous about seeing Noah. She hasn't seen him since the reunion over two months ago. They've talked many times since, yes. But still, she hasn't actually seen him since then. She's hoping this reunion isn't as awkward as the last one.

When she opens the door and steps outside, she hears a whistle and looks toward the sound. Noah is leaning against a shiny new green truck, thumbs hooked in his pockets. Rachel is struck by how gorgeous he looks at that moment. Her stomach twists into little knots as a crooked smile breaks out across his face when she walks toward him. Without a word, he grabs her into a hug and whispers, "Sorry about your dad. Hope he's okay," against her hair.

No, things definitely aren't as awkward this time.

Puck is completely annoyed at himself because his hands are sweaty from nerves when she finally steps outside the hospital. She fits nicely in his arms when he hugs her and he knows he can't possibly let her go home right away. Instead, he convinces Rachel that he'll drop her off at her house so that she doesn't have to call a cab. But instead of going home, they end up at the diner.

Rachel munches on a grilled chicken sandwich as she tells him all about how her dad fell down the stairs and broke his hip. She's worried but glad he's okay and will probably head back to New York the next evening. Puck scowls into his huge stack of pancakes at the thought of her leaving again so soon. But it's not like she has any reason to stay. Her life is in New York.

Changing the subject to something that doesn't involve her leaving again, he tells her that Finn called him today and was so excited that Puck could barely understand him.

"What's going on?" Rachel takes a bite of her sandwich, chewing as she waits for his answer.

Puck dumps another glob of maple syrup on top the pancakes and says, "Tina's pregnant!"

"Oh, Noah! That's wonderful for them!"

Puck smiles, happy for his best friend. They'll be sending out a mass email later so for right now, Rachel has to pretend she doesn't know. She tells him that she's touched that he let her in on the secret and that she knows the perfect baby boutique for buying the gift "back home."

Her words settle in his belly and churn, mixing with the pancakes. She sees New York City as her home. He knows why she does; she fits in there. New York loves her as much as she loves it. He tries not to act like her comment bothers him because he knows she doesn't mean anything by it. He's just turning into such a pussy and it drives him insane. Why does he let this woman affect him like she does?

By the time they're done eating, Rachel is yawning so much that her eyes start to water. Puck helps her from the booth, tosses some money down on the table, and walks out of the diner with his hand on the small of Rachel's back. Even through her coat, she can feel the heat of his hand and it's distracting. He helps her slide inside the truck and she inhales loudly while he's walking around to his side to get in. She loves that "new car" smell. Puck chuckle at her when he gets in and notices that she's sniffing the air. She blushes slightly and says, "what? I like the new car smell. I don't even own a car so give me a break!"

He turns the radio on at a low volume as he drives through the quiet Lima streets.

"You can change the station if you want to," he offers softly.

She shakes her head, preferring to listen to the soft jazz he's chosen. She glances over at him several times and realizes that his eyes are shifting from the road to her and then back at the road repeatedly. Is he nervous?

Soon, they're pulling up in front of her house. It's dark inside and cold outside. She prefers to stay in the warm truck with Noah. She almost tells him to take her to his house but realizes he'd get the wrong idea (before she thinks for a split second that maybe it wouldn't be the wrong idea.)

"Thank you for dinner, Noah," she finally says.

He turns toward her. "No problem, Rach. I'm sorry that you came back under bad circumstances but it was good to actually see you instead of just hear you for once."

She smiles at him in the dimly-lit vehicle and says, "you too."

She watches him swallow and wonders why she's suddenly struggling to breathe. She opens her mouth slightly to take a deep breath. What is it about him that does this to her?

Puck sees the reflection of the streetlamp in Rachel's eyes. They are open wide and staring at him; he feels like they can see right through his skull and into his thoughts. Her lips are slightly parted and she's just watching him. He fucking can't help himself tonight. She's so gorgeous and she's right fucking there. So he scoots across the bench seat and slides his hand into her hair, cupping the back of her head. His face is inches from hers. All it would take was just a slight move forward and their lips would touch. He begins to move and watches her eyes flutter closed in anticipation. It strikes him that she wants him to kiss her just as much as he wants to. But as he looks at her, all he can think about is how she's leaving tomorrow. She has a life in New York City, not Lima. New York is her home; she made that clear earlier. Kissing her would only solidify what they've already started and he's not sure he can handle making it more real than it already is, not when she can't be his. So instead, he removes his hand from her hair and slides back over in front of the steering wheel. He sees Rachel's eyes open and she stares at him, her mouth hanging open. His hands go to the steering wheel and he grips it, despite the fact that the truck isn't even running.

She starts to say something but then stops. He doesn't look at her.

Finally, he hears the door open and she whispers, "Goodnight, Noah," as she slides down out of the seat.

"Yeah, see ya 'round, Berry," he forces out.

Puck watches her walk up the driveway toward her dark house. As she's unlocking the door, he watches her glance back at his truck before she lets herself inside. When he sees a few lights inside come on, he starts up his truck and backs out of the driveway. He feels like his throat is practically closed off from air so he rolls down the window and inhales sharply. Kissing her would have been a big mistake. In fact, all of it has been a mistake. They should have just let things go back to the way they were before the reunion. He shouldn't have answered that first email she sent him a few days after. Had he just ignored it, none of this - whatever it is - would be happening and he wouldn't feel like shit now.

He's got to keep her at an arms length from now on. It's the only way he's going to be able to remind himself that his life is in Lima and hers isn't. They would never work, anyway.

Even after she's back in New York, Rachel keeps thinking about the almost-kiss. She can't figure out why Noah stopped when he'd been so close to kissing her. She'd wanted him to. But the fact remains that he didn't. And now she's been back home for three days and hasn't heard from him.

As she walks into her apartment, her mind full of images of him and of the near-kiss, she admits that it's probably best that he didn't kiss her. She can't help that she's got an emotional attachment to him now. As much as they've talked, it was inevitable. And his almost-kiss shows her that he feels the same way. But they can't work. There's no way they can work while living in two different states. So she admits that shockingly, Noah Puckerman has more self-control than she does and tells herself that it's for the best that they never kissed.

But she can't stop wishing he had done it anyway.

On her fourth day of not hearing from him, she calls him right before bed when she knows he'll be home. But instead of reaching him, she gets his voicemail. She leaves a message, her voice forcibly light, and tells him to call her when he gets a chance.

The next day, she gets asked out on a date by the guy across the hall. He's got an extra ticket to a concert tomorrow night and would like to take her now that she's single. She asks him how he knows that and he tells her with a laugh that he's been waiting for the day that other guy stopped coming around. He's about her age, olive-skinned and muscular. And perhaps most importantly, he's in New York. So even though she doesn't know anything about him other than the fact that his name is Allen, she says yes. She can't stay single because she has a crush on a guy that lives in Ohio. Because that's what it is, just a crush. Right?

Puck finally calls Rachel back the next day. He tells her that he lost his cell phone and finally found it in his sock drawer. It's a lot easier than saying, "what the hell do I say to you after that thing in front of your house?" She seems to buy his lie and he asks about her father.

After she gives him an update she says, "Noah, I have to go. I have to get ready for my-"

She stops herself before her sentence is complete and then finally says, "-concert. I'm going to a concert."

Puck knows she was about to say the word "date." He feels it. So he asks, "Rach, do you have a date?"

She doesn't say anything for a moment and then finally answers. "Well, I guess you could call it that. He lives across the hall. I don't really know him but-"

"-but he asked you out. And you're going," Puck finishes for her, working to keep his words even and calm despite the fact that he's gripping the phone so hard that he's afraid the screen will snap.

"Y-yes, I'm going," she says hesitantly, like she feels guilty. He hopes she fucking does.

"Well have fun." He hangs up right after and throws his phone on the couch, spiking it like he used to do when making touchdowns. Flopping down next to the phone on the cushions, he's fucking pissed. Pissed at her for going out with some guy and pissed at himself for caring so damn much. He can't expect her to just hang out in New York and continue this telephone/email shit forever, can he? No, he can't. But he wishes she fucking would anyway. He's not sure he can share her. Actually, he knows he can't.

Sitting there, staring at the black TV screen, he finally decides that he can't do this anymore. He can't feel like this about her for even one more second. It was bullshit from the start and he should have known better. He's obviously gone soft as he's gotten older because the younger version of himself would have never let this shit happen.

Standing up, he goes and grabs his truck keys. He's going for a beer.

And this shit with Rachel? It's over.

Rachel tries to have a good time at the concert but her heart is just not in it. She keeps thinking about Noah and the conversation she had with him a few hours before. He didn't seem too affected by the fact that she was going on a date so maybe he doesn't feel about her like she thinks he does? Maybe she's just imagining things? Maybe he wasn't even going to kiss me?

She feels like she's going slightly crazy but has no idea what to do about it.

Puck deletes her phone number from his cell phone two days after her date. (It's written on a scrap of paper and shoved into his wallet but that's not the point.) If she's not in his contact list, he won't be tempted to call her.

But a day later, he's still so fucking tempted to call her that he can't stand it. He wants to know how the date was. Did she have fun? Did she fuck the guy? Are they dating now? But it's better if he doesn't know. He's got to stop feeling like this. The strangling feeling in his chest when he thinks of her needs to go the fuck away for good. So he doesn't call her and tries to find a way to take his mind off her.

The needed distraction comes in the form of a hot waitress he meets and takes on a date two days later. And, yeah, he fucks her.

It's been a week and a half since Rachel told Noah about her date. And it's been a week and a half since they've spoken. She leaves him a voicemail on a Wednesday afternoon but by Friday, he hasn't called her back. Her chest hurts every time she thinks about him. By Sunday, she's starting to get mad. He always calls her back. She calls him early Sunday morning when she knows he's probably at home. She leaves another message after he doesn't answer.

Sunday afternoon she gets an email from him.

Hey Berry. Sorry I haven't called you back. Been really busy with work (got two houses going right now) and I'm seeing a new girl. We'll talk soon.


She reads the short email in its entirety four times. She reads the line "and I'm seeing a new girl" eleven times. She wonders if her date is the reason he's now dating someone else. She would have told him that it wasn't going to work out with that guy had he only taken her call. But he hasn't. He's been busy...seeing a new girl.

She deletes his phone number from her contact list and then she cries heavy tears because she let herself feel this way about him in the first place. She feels so stupid. She knew this long-distance whatever couldn't last, especially not with a guy like Noah Puckerman.

It's been three weeks since they've spoken. Puck would love to say that he's not thinking about Rachel anymore but he is. Every day. All damn day. And most of his nights. He dumped the waitress after two weeks because she was too dumb even for his incredibly low standards. He's thought about calling or emailing Rachel a million times. He's almost done it a few hundred times. The only thing that stops him is that he knows it can't go anywhere anyway. Well, that and he's pretty sure that she doesn't feel the same way about him as he does about her. Hanukkah is in early December this year and that means Rachel will be coming back to Lima. She told him she was coming over a month ago. He's going to avoid her while she's home. Just because he still thinks about her constantly doesn't mean he has to see her. He wishes he'd never gone to that fucking reunion in the first place.

To say that Rachel is shocked to see Noah at the synagogue praying like a good Jew would be the understatement of the decade. It's the Sabbath and the second day of Hanukkah and Rachel and her dads are at the temple for the traditional communal prayers. She spots the back of Noah's head as soon as she enters the building. Her fathers take a seat across the aisle and three rows behind Noah, his mother, and his sister. She's unable to concentrate on the prayers because he's so close. The only thing that makes her feel better is that he doesn't know she's there. If he did, she was afraid he would want to talk and she's not sure what she'd say. She's mad and hurt. She doesn't know what happened to their friendship/flirty-whatever-it-is but she misses it, and him, so much that she wants to scream and throw something. She watches him during prayer, listening to her heart pound in her ears most of the time. She's not sure when she developed such intense feelings for him but they're there now and there's nothing she can do about it. He's mad at her and she doesn't know how to fix it. If she could, she would.

When the prayers end, Rachel hopes her fathers stand up quickly and leave before she can encounter him. But in what is only typical for her mostly luckless life, they get stuck behind a woman with a walker and don't make it out of the building at a fast pace. In fact, she watches the Puckermans slip around the edge of the building and they make it out the door first. Rachel heaves a sigh of relief because at least he'll be gone before they make it outside.

Except for when they get outside, she sees him opening the car door for his mother. And he sees her.

Puck knew Rachel was there. He could feel that she was there, somewhere in the building, during the entire thing. He tried to ignore the burning in his gut but it was impossible. His only hope was that he could avoid her. If he saw her, he was afraid he'd grab her, throw her in his truck, and lock her in his basement until she promised not to go back to New York ever again.

As he's holding the car door open for his mom, he wryly thinks that falling in love with Rachel Berry was an insane thing to let himself do. And now he isn't sure how to fall out of love with her. But when he sees her come out of the synagogue and her eyes lock with his, he realizes that he doesn't want to fall out of love with her anyway.

Rachel watches as Noah walks around his mother's car and climbs inside, his eyes still connected with hers. She sends him a sad smile and he nods in return right before he ducks inside the car and pulls the door closed. She watches him back of the parking space and drive away until her vision is blurred because of the tears in her eyes.

She has to see him. They need to talk.

Puck's in a crabby mood once he finally gets home after dropping his mom and sister off and picking up his truck. He just wants to go to bed and put one more night between him and when Rachel leaves again.

He throws off his clothes and climbs under the blankets of his bed, staring at the ceiling. She looked beautiful, as usual. He loves the short haircut she's got and it always shocks him, every time he sees her, how different she looks from when they went to high school. It's like she's the same Rachel Berry yet she's incredibly different now. All the things he hated about her back then are all the things he loves now.

Puck sits up, hands gripping the edge of the bed. Pushing himself up, he reaches down and grabs his jeans.

Fuck it. He has to see her. They need to work this shit out.

Rachel realizes quickly that she doesn't even know his address. She's skimming through the white pages online until she finds "Puckerman, Noah" and jots down the address. Grabbing her keys, she's out the door. Her dads are already asleep and won't even know she's gone.

When she gets to his house, she parks on the street. The house is totally dark. She gets out, pulling her coat tighter to her to ward off the freezing December air. She walks up the sidewalk but stops when she gets to the edge of the porch.

What am I doing? What am I going to say?

Telling herself that the whole thing is stupid, she turns back around. It's only then that she hears the door open and knows he's standing behind her.


He stares at the back of her head, shocked that she's standing in front of his house in practically the middle of the night.


She turns slowly and looks at him. Her eyes are wide and sad. Like, really sad.

"What are you doing here?"

She stares at him for a moment and he wonders if she's just gonna bolt.

Finally, she answers him.

"I'm here to talk to you, Noah. We need to talk."

He closes the door softly behind him and steps down the sidewalk until he's standing near her.

"I know we need to talk. I was actually-" he grins sheepishly before continuing, "-on my way to see you."

Rachel's eyes widen. "Really?"

He nods, stepping closer. She's now leaning against the door of the car and her eyes are on him, focused on his face.

She waits expectantly for him to speak. But suddenly, his mouth is dry and he doesn't know what to say. It fucking sucks to feel this way about her. He looks at her and sees that her eyes are dark and wet.

"Noah, what happened? Why did we go from talking constantly to not talking at all? I'm…I'm just trying to understand."

She wraps her arms around herself and shivers in the cold. Puck steps closer, instinctively wanting to block her from the assault of the cold air. Her arms brush against his chest and his muscles clench. His body's reaction to her is fucking annoying.

She's staring at him, waiting for an answer. He looks down at the ground and then up at her.

"I just can't do this, Rachel. I'm sorry."

She blinks at him and then blinks again.

"Okay…if that's what you want, I'll leave you alone." He thinks he hears her voice quiver and he steps forward because he's afraid she's going to leave.

"Rach...we—I...can't handle this, whatever the fuck it is, anymore with the phone/email thing. It's…it's too fucking painful."

Her eyes are intently staring at him when she repeats, "Painful, Noah?"

He sighs and rubs the palm of his hand over his hair. "I want you, Rachel, okay? I fucking want you. But it's bullshit because it can't work. I've got to have all of you or...or I don't want anything at all. I can't be here, in love with a woman who's not here with me."

Her voice is quiet when she sputters, "you're in love with me?"

Puck lets out a bitter laugh and meets her eyes. Shrugging his shoulders, he says, "Kinda…maybe…a little, anyway."

It's Rachel's turn to laugh and she does. Really fucking hard, actually. It starts to piss him off for a minute until she puts a hand on his arm and yanks him toward her, pushing herself up and shoving her lips against his. He's stunned at first because it takes his brain about half a second to process the fact that Rachel Berry is now kissing him so hard that she's practically sucking the skin off his lips. But once his brain catches up, his arms slip around her body and he backs her against the car. His hands slide down and he grips her ass and lifts her against him. Her arms wrap around his shoulders to hold on tight as their tongues dance in each other's mouths. When she stops kissing him long enough to moan his name against his lips, he's afraid he's going to take her against the car. Unwinding her arms from his neck, he drops her back onto the pavement and grabs her hand. She laughs as he pulls her along after him back towards his house.

He quickly unlocks the door and pulls her inside before slamming it shut. Pushing her up against the cold glass of the door, he says, "we need to fucking talk some more, don't you think?"

She nods quickly before yanking his head down to kiss her again. They have a lot to talk about.

Flipping New York brownstones and apartments? Way fucking better than flipping houses in Lima, that's for damn sure.

Coming home to Rachel Berry every night? Absolutely fucking amazing. Every single day, when she's on him as soon as he walks in the door, laying sloppy kisses all over him while she pulls his clothes off, he's thankful that he went to that shitty reunion after all.

New York is way better than he expected. It smells, it's noisy, people are always in a hurry but he never gets bored, always has some place awesome to eat, and he's gone to several Yankees games. And Rachel's here. So New York City? It's totally fucking home.