Author's Note: This one-shot is due to "Bad Reputation" and the amazing Puckleberry tidbits we were given. And hello? Mark Salling in a wife beater? I am a happy, HAPPY woman today! Please excuse formatting issues. This thing just wouldn't play nice!

The first time they almost kiss, Rachel is sitting next to Puck on a bench in her bedroom and they're discussing their bad reputations at school. But suddenly, they aren't talking at all and he's looking at her and she's looking at him and before she even realizes it, their heads are moving towards each other. They get so close to kissing before she pulls away, remembering that she has a boy she's kissing regularly and he is not Noah Puckerman but is, in fact, Jesse St. James. But then Puck turns on the charm and reminds her of their shared Jewish heritage and how Jesse can't possible relate to that and she almost gives in. After all, his bad boy image is somewhat arousing but it's the look in his eyes and how he's staring at her lips with his breath hot on her face that almost does her in. But after she stops the kisses from happening and they refocus on her video idea, she thinks she's okay and that she's unaffected. It was just an almost-kiss; it won't happen again.

Except it does. A few weeks later, the Glee club is working on a complicated number and Puck spins the wrong way and lands on Rachel's penny loafer. She's nearly positive that her toe is crushed and that she'll never dance again and she announces that fact to the room before she rushes out. Puck watches her go but feels like crap because he didn't mean to smash her foot, after all. So after he shrugs at Mr. Schue, he goes running out after her.

He finds her down the hall, leaning against her locker with her eyes clenched tightly. Tears are streaming down her face and he thinks it's a strange reaction to have just to a stubbed toe (and he barely landed on her anyway.)

"Hey," he says softly. He slides his hands in his pockets and he waits. She says nothing.

"Rachel?" he asks, a little freaked because she's acting a bit ridiculous.

She opens her eyes and looks up at him. "Oh, hi Noah."

"Look," he says, "I totally didn't mean to step on your foot. Is your toe okay? I mean, I hope I didn't break it..."

They both look down at her foot, which, from what Puck can tell, is completely fine.

Rachel sticks her leg out and Puck tries to focus on the fact that she's flexing her toes in her shoe to show that nothing's broken and not on the fact that above those god-awful knee socks is a long expanse of thigh. Creamy, supple thigh. He licks his lips without realizing it but when he hears Rachel suck in a breath, he lifts his eyes and meets hers. Her face is red and she looks shocked but she's smiling. Puck catches himself stepping forward and soon, his hand is braced against the locker and he's just inches from Rachel's face.

"Seriously, sorry 'bout the foot." Their eyes are locked and his head is starting to dip forward until he's so close that she can feel his breath rustle her hair. It would be so easy to reach up and pull his head down to hers. But she has a boyfriend...and she remembers his name (James? Jefferson? Jesse!) just seconds before their lips meet. She puts a hand on his chest, pushing him away, and darts back down the hall towards the choir room, her toe apparently miraculously healed. Puck blows out a frustrated breath and watches her go and he wonders why this whole kiss/don't kiss thing keeps happening.

They're okay for a few weeks. She's not completely annoying in Glee and he been trying to be cool and has been slightly less of jerk. They practice a number in the auditorium and then everyone leaves. Halfway to his Jeep, Puck realizes that he left his navy blue hoodie over the back of one of the seats. Turning back around, he jogs back into the school and heads back inside the darkened auditorium. When he gets near the stage, he spies his hoodie and grabs it. He's about to leave again when he hears the tinkering of the piano. Looking up on the stage, he sees Rachel sitting there with only a dim spotlight on her. She's absently fingering the keys, applying pressure to this key but skipping over that key. She's obviously somewhere else.

He should just leave; he knows he should just leave. But instead, he finds himself quietly walking up the steps and onto the stage and then he's standing behind her.

He's pretty sure she doesn't know he's there until she says, "Does it ever get easier?"

Puck clears his throat and then steps up to the piano. She scoots over and he sits down on the bench next to her. "Does what ever get easier?"

She hits a key softly and it gently plinks in response. "Relationships. Why are they always so difficult?" Her voice is wistful but he can tell she's frustrated.

Puck laughs because he's definitely not the person to be providing relationship advice. "Shit, Rach. I don't really know. I mean, yeah, I'm dating Quinn and I dated Santana and...I dated you but... Fuck, I dunno. What's wrong?"

She doesn't say anything at first. Instead, her hands move gently over the ivory keys and he recognizes a haunting melody but he can't put his finger on what she's playing. She stops suddenly and says, "I don't think I can ever make Jesse happy. He's always finding reasons to get mad at me. And I know I can be a challenge to be with but I don't pretend to be anyone but who I am. And it's never good enough for him."

Puck wants to tell her that Jesse's an asshole. The guy is a prick and take hairstyling tips from Mr. Schue. But then Rachel's hand slips and her fingers brush against his on the keys and he's leaning in and this time, he knows that it's finally going to happen. They're finally going to kiss again. But just as his lips meet their target, she turns her head and his kiss lands roughly on her cheek, just above her jaw. They both forget to breathe for a moment; both confused about what just happened. And then Puck's pushing himself up off the piano bench, scooping his hoodie up from where it fell on the floor, and he's gone without another word. Rachel watches him go. Her cheek is still tingling an hour later.

After the true horror of Jesse's betrayal is revealed and Puck and Finn take him down for using the glee club (and Rachel) to Vocal Adrenaline's advantage, Rachel keeps to herself. They told her; they tried to warn her that Jesse wasn't to be trusted but she refused to hear them. She feels that solitude is her penance and so one day at lunch, she's heading toward the auditorium when she sees Puck and Quinn get into an argument in the middle of the hallway. She watches as Puck throws his hands in the air in exasperation and then storms off down the hall. Quinn glares in his direction and then marches smartly the other way, her head held high.

She stares down the hall, in the direction Puck disappeared, and suddenly she's following him. She turns the corner in time to see him jerking open the door and heading outside. When she makes it out, he's sitting on a bench near the parking lot, staring at his shoes.

"Noah?" She approaches quietly. He doesn't look up when he hears her voice. "Are you okay?"

"Yup, I'm fine." He says dismissively. She doesn't take the bait and continues to stand there.

"If you're staying, sit down. Don't need you breathing down my neck."

Rachel walks around the back of the bench, tucking her skirt under her legs as she sits.

They both sit still, watching the students mill around outside for a few minutes before Puck finally speaks.

"Doing the right thing sucks." He doesn't elaborate but Rachel knows exactly what he's talking about without him having to explain.

"It's part of growing up, I think," she offers. "Things were easier when we could just"

"Yeah, 'cept now I'm having a kid with a girl who I thought I wanted but..." Puck shrugs and leans back. "...reality is a bitch."

Rachel smiles because she could have easily told him that Quinn Fabray was awful. She's had volumes of evidence for years but gloating won't help the boy sitting next to her.

"I think what you're doing is admirable," she says, placing her hand over his on the bench. He swivels his head to look at her and she can tell from the look in his eyes that he desperately wants to kiss her. And she knows, when her heart starts thudding loudly and her face gets hot, that she won't stop him this time. But a few seconds pass and he doesn't move. She waits another few heartbeats and then feels the heat of his face as he moves closer to her. When he's just two inches from her lips, she's blinking and her breath catches as she waits for him to go in for the kill. But before he can, his cell phone rings. She jumps back and he shoots up from the bench to take the call.

She can tell that it's Quinn on the other end of the line because Puck's back stiffens and his voice drops. She watches him walk away, speaking heatedly into the phone, without a backward glance toward her.

Later that afternoon, she's standing at her locker when she hears the gossip. Noah Puckerman dumped Quinn Fabray!

Seeing Jesse again - and with his team at Regionals no less - knocks the wind out of Rachel. She's had a few weeks to get used to the idea that she was played like a Hasbro board game but seeing the boy who made her feel like a complete fool still hurts. Her nerves get to her and by the time they're in their costumes in the green room, she's snippy. She yells at Kurt when he tugs at her hair too hard while trying to style it. She tells Mercedes to use a little less make-up on her by reminding her that she's a performer, not a hooker.

By the time there's only fifteen minutes left before New Directions performs, Rachel is a jittery mess and more than half the club wants to kill her. She steps out into the hallway, where it's cooler, and finds herself trying to catch her breath. She can hear Kurt through the door, shrieking at Brittany for wrinkling her dress. Rachel rolls her eyes and walks down the hall until she's far enough away that she can no longer hear the buzz from the green room. She relaxes a little bit but then she hears a door open and sees none other than Jesse coming towards her. She turns to flee and runs smack-dab into Puck, who has quietly approached her during her private freak-out.

Puck reaches out to steady her and she looks up at him, her eyes wide and worried. He looks over her shoulder and spies Jesse at the other end of the hall, talking to a few members of Vocal Adrenaline.

"We gotta go on in a few minutes, Rachel," he tells her.

She knows this, obviously. But she's nearly shaking because the boy who made her feel like a complete idiot is standing ten feet behind her and she can feel his eyes burning into her back. Puck pushes her hair off her face and cups her cheek.

"Ignore him," he says softly. "Guy was a douche."

She concentrates on his eyes and notices how the hazel of his eyes is rimmed in dark green. She notices how his lips are just so full and seem to be the strangest color of pink that she's ever seen. She knows she's staring because when he pokes the tip of his tongue out to lick his lips, it startles her. She jumps a little but he's still cupping her face so she can't move. Instead, he dips his head and leans down and touches his lips against hers. It's barely a kiss at all and then he's pulling away again. She's about to protest but his hands slide down to her waist and he grips her tightly and then dives back in. This kiss is much more forceful and when he slips his tongue into her mouth, she's pretty sure she squeaks because he smiles against her lips.

Rachel hears one of Jesse's companions behind her muttering about how they need to "get a room" but she ignores them because Puck's mouth on hers feels so good. She hears a voice that she knows is Jesse's mutter something about "tramp" but she's far too distracted to turn and give him a proper lashing. She's wanted this. Ever since she invited Puck over to make that "Run Joey Run" video, she's wanted this.

Puck finally separates his lips from hers and then smiles at her. "It's time to go, Rach."

She nods and he offers his arm to her. She slips hers through it and they head back toward the green room. When they're almost there, Rachel says, "Thanks for the distraction back there. I didn't want to have to have a confrontation with Jesse just moments before we were to perform." She says it, half-hoping he'll correct her and tell her that he kissed her just because he wanted to.

"No problem, babe," he says, holding the door open for her to walk back into the green room. He watches her face fall a bit and he puts his hand on her forearm, wrapping his fingers around her.

She goes wide-eyed and glances up at him. He smiles before dipping toward her and quickly kissing her again.

Rachel, clearly red-faced and flustered, steps inside the room but no one pays her any attention.

Puck steps up behind her, leaning over her so that his mouth is next to her ear and speaks quietly, "And that had nothing to do with Jesse."

Suddenly, Rachel is grinning broadly. She steps into the middle of the room and begins directing people to get ready for showtime.

As they step out onto the stage, she glances at Puck, who winks at her. She grins back and then the music starts and she's in the zone. But after Regionals is over and they wipe the floor with Vocal Adrenaline and send that lying creep back to Carmel High School without a trophy? After that, she's totally inviting Puck over again. And this time, she won't be full of excuses for why they can't. Because they can.