A/N: A huge thank you to my two lovely betas, Nikki and Suze – you ladies are wonderful and this fic wouldn't have made it this far without your support, encouragement and kickass editing/rewriting. The fact that you are both so well versed in the inner workings of Kels means I'm never giving you up! Hugs and kisses 3
Rachel lay on her sofa with a cold compress over her throbbing temples, exhausted. The drapes were drawn in her apartment, blocking out the bright sunlight and making it seem dark and dreary. She was in a cocoon of misery; it was just too quiet without Eli, too lonely. And all she could do was think about Puck.
She'd been crying for three days straight now. The floor beside her was littered with tissues and her cell phone was sitting on the coffee table within reach for easy access. He hadn't called since she'd told him that phoning for any reason other than to let Eli talk to her was unwarranted. It broke her heart that he seemed to be respecting her wishes. He'd always done what he pleased before - pushing her, testing her limits – so why was he choosing now, of all times, to listen to her? Didn't he know that's not what she wanted? He should be fighting for her!
Quinn had given her false hope with her adamant belief that Puck was in love with her, and after spending her first day of wallowing cursing his existence, now Rachel was just waiting to hear his voice, to hear him say that he was sorry for everything; she wanted him to tell her again that everything that had happened between them was not a lie and she thought that this time, when he told her that, she'd believe him.
She could phone him, she supposed, the urge was still there. She was desperate to hear his voice – she had even picked up her cell phone and scrolled down to his number a hundred times - but she could never bring herself to place the call. She needed him to be the one to come to her. In the early hours of the morning, when she'd been lying awake and staring at her ceiling, she had decided he was being truthful when he said that while he might have started out thinking he needed to teach her a thing or two, things had changed. Hadn't she felt it too, that shift between them when their banter had evolved into something more heartfelt and meaningful?
That stupid list was playing on her insecurities and as much as she wanted to believe in the sincerity of his hazel eyes as he told her he wanted to be with her, there was that small seed of doubt inside her that wanted to remind her that long before she had come along, Puck was in love with her mother. Shelby had problems, but Rachel had been right when she said everyone had loved her when she was at an upswing, full of energy and life.
That nagging suspicion that Puck had tried to change her into someone like Shelby, frightened her. She was in love with him, and she knew from the way that he touched her, that he felt something for her in return. Whether or not it was love though remained to be seen. She just wasn't sure how much of his feelings could be attributed to her likeness to her mother. Until she knew for certain, she was determined to hold onto her heart – protect it and keep him from damaging it any more than he already had.
She was lying to herself of course, because she had given him her heart when she'd given him her body; truthfully, probably even long before that. The home phone rang then, startling her from her thoughts. She wanted to snatch up the receiver immediately, but she forced herself to wait for the answering machine to pick up; she was not in the mood to deal with telemarketers.
"Rachel, it's Quinn. Please pick up."
"I know you're home, I can see your car and the lady who lives across the hall said you've been playing country music until the early hours of the morning. Country, Rachel." There was an edge of humor in Quinn's tone and Rachel felt the corner of her mouth lift.
"You don't have to let me in Sweetie, just pick up the phone and let me know you're alright."
Rachel sat up slowly, her head spinning as she moved from the position she'd been in for hours. "Hello Quinn." Her voice was raspy and hoarse from all the crying.
There was silence on the end of the line and then, "You sound awful."
Rachel just blew her nose into a tissue.
"Rachel," Quinn sighed. "What are you doing?"
"I'm crying," Rachel replied honestly. "I've been crying all day, just as I did all day yesterday. I may cry tomorrow as well, and for the rest of the week. Maybe for a month, I don't know, I haven't decided yet." And that was just like her wasn't it? Thinking she could control everything and determine how long exactly this dark place of grief within her would last.
"This just isn't like you."
The pity in her voice had Rachel bristling, "Well I'm sorry if how I'm acting disconcerts you Quinn, but in the space of a few days I've had my engagement broken off, found out that my best friend is a backstabbing harlot, had to leave the person I love most in the world in the hands of someone who broke my heart and had to come to grips with the fact that the man I love may never fully love me back in the way that I need him to. Please, if you think there's a way I should be coping with this that is more 'like me', feel free to share."
They were quiet for a moment.
"I'm so sorry, Rachel." Quinn blurted out, her breath hitching.
Rachel rubbed her temple. Despite everything Quinn was still her best friend, and it was taking more energy than she currently possessed to hold onto her anger. "I know Q. I'm still mad at you though. I can't believe that you would betray me like that with Finn."
"I know!" Quinn was crying softly on the other end of the line. "I never meant for it to happen, I love you so much but I-"
"Love Finn too." Rachel finished for her. She sighed, "We'll be ok Quinn, eventually. I just need some time to think and get over this."
"Please Quinn, let's not talk anymore. I just need some space."
Quinn sniffled, "Ok. But I'm here Rach, whatever you need."
"Alright then…" They both hated this, the awkwardness between them. "I figured you still weren't up for leaving the house, so I brought you pizza for dinner."
"I'm not hungry," Rachel replied automatically.
"Well that's too bad." Quin retorted, the spunk returning to her tone. "I'm already here and I have a medium veggie pizza with stuffed olives – exactly how you like it. I'm going to ring the doorbell and leave it right outside alright?"
Unfortunately, Rachel's stomach was rumbling and she had to admit, pizza sounded wonderful. It would make a perfect appetizer to the pint of Rocky Road ice cream she had selected for tonight's entree. She should really send Puck the bill for the additional hours she'd need to book in with her personal trainer - all these additional carbohydrates she had been consuming were entirely his fault!
Scarcely a minute after she had hung up, the doorbell rang and she shuffled over to the entry and peered out the peephole. She waited until she was satisfied that there was no movement in the hallway and Quinn had gone, before opening the apartment door. It wasn't until she had leaned over to pick up the pizza box that she noticed the envelope carefully taped to the box.
Her heart began to thump painfully as she saw her name in familiar (almost illegible) handwriting and she rushed inside and slammed the door shut, clutching the steaming pizza to her chest.
No, it couldn't be! But she didn't think it likely that she'd ever forget that handwriting, and pizzas didn't generally come personally addressed. With slow, measured steps, she crossed back to the sofa, eyeing the envelope suspiciously. Placing her dinner on her coffee table, she turned the envelope over and over in her hands. Finally, forgetting that only moments ago she was wishing he would call her and confess his undying love for her, she tossed it to the side, telling herself she wasn't interested in anything he might have to say.
Instead, Rachel lifted the lid on the pizza box and felt her mouth water as she was assaulted by the smell of mozzarella, garlic and roasted vegetables. She had already eaten one slice and was midway through her second when the curiosity got the better of her and she tore the envelope open.
Inside was a single sheet of yellow lined paper, folded in half, with the words What a Man Should Know written across it. Whatever text was written inside was hidden by the fold. She bit her lip in indecision but it was a losing battle. With shaking hands she opened the note and a photograph fell out. She placed the photo face down in her lap, unable to look at it just yet, and turned her attention back to the note. It read:
1) A man should know better than to mock a woman's love of stainless steel. Those appliances represent family and tradition.
In brackets, there was the addition, (A man should also have nothing but praise for a woman's cooking ability, especially when men themselves are too stubborn to follow recipes).
Intrigued now, Rachel turned over the photo to see Puck and Eli crouched in front of an oven, a tray of unidentified burnt meat in their oven-mittened hands and identical looks of dismay etched on their features. She let out a laugh and immediately clapped a hand over her mouth, as if to stifle her amusement. Her eyebrow furrowed as she took a closer look at the picture. That was a stainless steel oven. She knew with absolute certainty that Puck's oven was an older Kenmore standard model gas oven, so what was he doing crouched in front of a gleaming new one? That was his kitchen; she recognised the pattern on the floor tiles and the color of his kitchen cupboards.
Had he brought a new oven because of her penchant for stainless steel, or had his garbage-can-in-the-oven disaster from a few days before rendered his unusable and it was all just a happy coincidence? She was willing to bet on the first one, and if Puck thought he could buy her forgiveness with gleaming new kitchen appliances, he was mistaken. Besides, he had them delivered to his home, not hers! She snorted and put aside the photo and then crumpled up the note and tossed it to the floor, along with her used tissues.
Rachel ate the entire pizza and half the pint of ice cream.
After she had sent a text message to Quinn that said simply 'traitor' (not forgetting her estranged best friend's part in the subterfuge), she retrieved the note and smoothed out the creases as she read it again. With a small smile she tucked it into the novel she was reading, turned out all of the lights and went to bed. She slept fitfully that night.
The next morning the doorbell woke her early. Rachel lay in bed, blinking the sleep out of her eyes and staring at her ceiling as she told herself to stay put. Something told her that whatever was at her door would have another handwritten note attached and she was not so eager to prove her suspicion correct that she would surrender the chance for a sleep in. After barely two minutes of waiting though, she couldn't resist a peek. Another cursory glance through her peephole revealed no one waiting on the other side, but when she opened the door there was another envelope addressed to her. This one was legal size and was addressed in that same messy scrawl with another announcement of 'What a Man Should Know'.
This time she didn't hesitate. She tore into the envelope with undisguised eagerness and pulled out a single, thick piece of cardstock. It looked like a certificate of some sort, but when she read over it she saw she was mistaken. It was actually a contract. A contract between Eli and Puck, entitled Rules for Small Boys (and Big Ones) to Live By.
Rachel's eyes ran over the bullet points and towards the bottom were two signatures, the print underneath one identifying itself as belonging to Noah Eli Puckerman, and the other to Eli Jay Corcoran. She traced Eli's shaky letters, simply scribed E-L-I and read what rules Puck considered were essential, yet not damaging to a little boys spirit (she suspected Mrs. Puckerman had been consulted, judging from the content of the list).
1) Growing boys need to eat their vegetables. There will be no ice cream unless you clear your plate. NB: This does not mean you get Hank to lick it clean!
2) Bath time is non negotiable. If little boys want to continue to have fun (fishing, playing in mud bogs) they have to agree to wash at night and keep the shrieking to a minimum.
3) Bed time is also non negotiable. Eli will go to bed when Daddy says so and daddy promises to read Eli up to three stories before lights out.
4) Daddy's toothbrush is off limits. Hank has his own, special tooth brush that the vet uses to clean his teeth when he gets his check up. Brushing Hank's teeth is not Eli's job. Again, DADDY'S TOOTHBRUSH IS OFF LIMITS.
5) Daddies will always listen to the rules set out by Mommies. Even when he doesn't agree with them, he needs to remember they exist for a reason. Mommies are so wise.
Rachel laughed as she imagined the scenario that led to point number four and smiled softly and read again the part about Mommies being so wise. With a bounce in her step, she headed to the bathroom where she washed and blow dried her hair and dressed for the day in a loose yellow and white sundress. She must have been feeling better because she even took the time to apply a minimal amount of makeup. She had oatmeal and a banana for breakfast, but by mid morning, when she felt as though the loneliness and the despair were creeping back in, she grabbed the ice cream from the freezer.
Before she could dig in, the doorbell rang again.
She wasted no time in sprinting to answer it. This time there was a flat white box tied with a pale pink ribbon sitting on her doorstep. She snatched it up with growing excitement and when she was back inside the apartment, she tore off the ribbon and pulled at the tissue paper until her present was revealed. Rachel gasped as she lifted a white satin and lace babydoll lingerie set out of the box. The v string panties looked as though they would barely cover anything and the lace was strategically placed so that her breasts would be clearly visible through the fabric. It was beautiful and naughty, and Rachel had never owned a garment like it.
Blushing, she reached for the envelope tucked in the box and read what else a man should know.
3) Women like to get down and dirty, just as much as men do.
She giggled. His motives were becoming obvious; there was no doubt about it. He was attempting to alleviate her fears by proving to her that her values were important and in the process, self-depreciatively mock the list he had made in a way that was fun and surprisingly thoughtful.
She, Rachel Berry, was being wooed.
Rachel scooted off to the bedroom to try it on. As she stood in front of her full length mirror, turning this way and that as she admired how sexy and wanton the lingerie made her appear, she tried to muster up the indignation at his gall. "He's still trying to turn you into something you're not," she said out loud to her reflection. But the woman in the mirror just quirked an eyebrow and smirked as she ran her hands over the fabric, her fingers brushing over her nipples that were erect and clearly visible through the lace.
Reluctantly, she slipped it off and tucked it carefully under her pillow. She was humming as she redressed. Feeling restless she took off for a long walk. A bit of fresh air and a few hours in the sun was just what she needed.
When she returned later in the afternoon it was to find a calendar hanging on her front door with the now familiar What a Man Should Know envelope stuck to the front. Rachel stared at it before sliding her finger underneath and plucking the envelope free.
4) Raising kids requires organization and planning. This also works to the parent's advantage (though surprises are still kick ass too).
Rachel flicked through the pages of the 12 month calendar with hers, Eli and Puck's birthday's all listed, along with weekly trips to the park and scheduled family dinners. She furrowed her brow at the mark made with yellow highlighter on every day of every month and it wasn't until she reached the page after December where there was space to list important dates and reminders, that she learnt what the yellow was code for. He had written Nights of Endless Loving (to be combined with women like to get down and dirty).
She felt her breathing quicken as she let her mind dwell on the image of Noah stripping the lingerie set off of her. She claimed her calendar and slipped inside the apartment, her cheeks burning. She wandered around the kitchen for five minutes before coming to stand in front of the calendar already hanging dependably by the fridge, as it always had. Rachel stared at it, the jam-packed schedule of color coded activities that sometimes made her tired from just looking at it. She tore it off the wall and threw it carelessly into the garbage can and put the new, improved calendar up in its place.
She stared at it some more and then laughed.
Feeling more like herself, she had a salad for dinner. Afterwards, she resisted the temptation of ice cream and tried to watch a film to keep her mind off Puck and what he was doing at that very moment. She was unsuccessful, but then if she wanted to immerse herself in a story that had didn't remind her of the one she and Noah were writing together, she probably should have picked a different film, a less romantic one…whatever, she loved the Notebook.
She thought tomorrow was the day she would see him again; she could feel it in her bones and she's always been just a little bit psychic. She fell asleep with her hand underneath her pillow, touching the nightgown he had brought her and that night, she dreamt of a different white gown and of Noah waiting for her underneath a Chuppah. Eli was standing by his side with a small satin pillow in his hands and two rings of white gold, and when the Rabbi pronounced them man and wife, and Noah had broken the glass to a rousing chorus of "Mazel tov!", Rachel could have sworn she could make out Mrs Puckerman cheering loudly in the background.
In the morning she was singing softly to herself as she went about her morning routine, unable to wipe the smile off of her face.
She made frequent trips to her front entry and spent an extraordinary amount of time with her eye to the peephole hoping to catch a glimpse of him – so sure that it was Noah making the deliveries to her door. She knew that one flash of closely cropped dark hair or a glimpse of hazel would see her flinging the door open and launching herself into his arms.
Unfortunately, she was in the kitchen making tea when the doorbell sounded at 10 o'clock and by the time she'd raced to the door, the hall was empty. Still, she was treated to an enthusiastic greeting as Hank leapt up onto his hind legs to give her a wet kiss. She laughed and hugged him, so ecstatic at his presence she didn't even flinch when his tongue caught the corner of her lip. Rachel scratched behind his ear and reached for the small envelope pinned to his collar.
5) Dog's kisses are a poor substitute for the real thing.
"Oh Noah," she sighed, a wistful smile playing on her lips. He was close, she could feel it. Stepping back, she gave the hall another glance before inviting Hank in.
Barely five minutes later, Rachel was setting out a plastic bowl of water for him on the kitchen floor when the familiar ringing sounded again. Hank trotted to the door with her and they both stared down at another white box tied with the same pink ribbon. This box was about the size of her microwave and she immediately sank to her knees, right there in the doorway and opened the lid. It was filled to the brim with Hershey's kisses and the note included said simply...another poor substitute. But apparently, an apology is never complete without chocolate.
"Noah Puckerman!" she cried out in exasperation, jumping to her feet with a grin and dashing down the hall and around the corner towards the elevators. She needed to see him now, but he was nowhere to be found. She was just about to retrace her steps back to the apartment when the elevator sounded. Turning slowly, her heart beating wildly in her chest, she waited for the doors to open. When it did, she was confronted by the biggest bouquet of roses she'd ever seen.
Rachel smiled knowingly at the delivery man who got off. "Let me guess, those are for Rachel Berry."
He nodded and after exchanging pleasantries, she signed her name on his manifest and accepted the flowers. The accompanying note read, And flowers, lots of flowers.
Lots of flowers indeed. Every half an hour, another bouquet arrived, delivered by the same delivery man whose expression grew more and more amused with every visit. Rachel looked around her apartment in giddy disbelief. Practically every horizontal surface was covered in an assortment of roses, lilies, daisies and gerberas. She'd run out of vases long ago and was starting to feel guilty about the expense Puck had gone to.
At 4:30 it wasn't flowers that Jake was holding (yes she was now on a first name basis with the delivery man) it was yet another white box. This one too, was the size of a microwave.
"It's heavy" he cautioned her, "do you want me to carry it inside for you?" She nodded and stepped back so he could enter and pointed to the spot she wanted him to set it down. Jake looked around her apartment in amazement as she signed her name on the clipboard, under the dozen or so signatures already there for the deliveries he had made that day. They were all to her.
"Man, that's a lot of flowers." He commented dumbly, "He must really love you."
She smiled shyly as she saw him out, "Yes, I think he does."
She choose to read the note stuck to the top first but when she opened the What a Man Should Know envelope there was no note inside, just bits of torn card. When she pieced them together she saw that it was Puck's Not Getting Married, No Fucking Way, Not Fucking Ever membership card and her heart soared. Surely there was no mistaking his intentions now; he wanted to be with her.
Rachel opened the box and instead of chocolate, it was packed with prunes. She laughed again and picked up the second envelope.
6) Men who stay single because they think they're free are kidding themselves. What they need is a kid to bring laughter in the house and a gorgeous woman to make love to every night - so there's no jumping off bridges in their middle years.
She reread the note as she punched his number into her cell phone. The presents were lovely and she appreciated the sentiment behind them, but she didn't need gifts - she just needed him. Unfortunately his phone went straight to voicemail.
Rachel took a moment before saying softly, "Enough Noah. Please, just…" she sighed. "I need you to be the one standing at my door the next time the doorbell rings. What I should have admitted the last time we spoke, is that I miss you too." She hung up and picked out a Hershey's kiss from the other box in the middle of her living room. If he didn't show, she might just eat her way through the pounds of chocolate available to her.
It was an hour later when the buzzer rang again. She patted Hank's head absently on the way to answer it, too distracted to realize it was after five and too late for standard deliveries. It wasn't Noah, but it wasn't Jake at her door either.
He looked adorable, standing there in what looked like brand new chinos, a white shirt and a similar red bow tie to the one he'd been wearing in the first picture she'd shown Puck, with his hair slicked back.
Hank barked excitedly and raced to Eli's side, his tail thumping loudly on the floor as he jumped up to lick his cheek. Eli frowned and pushed him gently away, before whispering, "Not now Hank, you know the plan."
The plan? Rachel arched her eyebrow curiously as Eli looked up at her with his most earnest expression. Her fingers itched to pick him up and hold him tight – it had been only three days but she could have sworn he had grown at least an inch - but something told her to hold back.
"Rachel, Daddy and I have something to ask you." His tone was very serious and Rachel bit back a smile at his overwhelming cuteness.
"Okay," she discreetly peered out into the hall to see if Puck was loitering nearby. He must be, because there was no way he would let Eli out of his sight, but the hall was clear and Rachel sighed in disappointment. Just a little longer.
"Alright then, ask away Pumpkin."
Her eyes widened as Eli got down on one knee and produced a small black box that he opened carefully and held up for her inspection. "Rachel," he began, solemnly. "Will you marry me and Daddy? Will you be my Mommy, for real?"
She gasped; her hand flying up to cover her mouth as she found herself staring down at the most exquisite ring she'd ever laid eyes on. "Eli…." she breathed, rendered completely speechless. She reached out a tentative hand and touched the box, her finger tracing lightly over the glittering diamond.
"Say yes, Rachel," Eli prompted, getting to his feet and wrapping his arms around her legs as he continued to look up at her, his lower lip thrusting out into a pout that he'd only just learnt made it hard for her to deny him anything. She reached down and picked him up, hugging him close. She looked at the ring again and then back to Eli's wide hazel eyes.
"You're not playing fair, Noah." She called out, certain that he was within ear shot. She smiled at her brother. "How am I supposed to say no to this face?"
Puck finally appeared from around the corner, shuffling towards them nervously with his hands in his pockets. "That's the point Rach, you're not supposed to say no." Her eyes raked over him greedily, drinking in the sight of him. She noticed, gratifyingly, that he couldn't seem to take his eyes off her either.
"Hi," she said softly when he'd made it to their side.
Rachel ducked her head, pressing a kiss to Eli's cheek before tucking her face into his shoulder to give herself a moment. Puck slid his hand down her arm, capturing the hand that had been resting on Eli's leg and laced their fingers together. When she looked up, she was pinned by his gaze and her heart beat a little faster at the look in his eyes. There was tenderness there and a certain amount of apprehension as well.
They spoke at the same time.
"I love you."
Rachel blinked slowly, daring to hope. "Do you mean that?" She ventured quietly.
He squeezed her hand and nodded, "Rachel, that list was the single dumbest thing I've ever done. You have to believe me when I tell you that I honestly don't want to change a thing about you."
"Really?" She bit her lip, looking down at their hands as he stroked his thumb over her knuckles. "I don't want to feel like you're constantly comparing me to a ghost."
He crowded in closer to them and rested his forehead against hers. "I didn't love Shelby." he told her firmly. "I think I fooled myself into believing I did, for a while anyway, because she was just so fun and exciting. And I'm not going to lie to you and pretend like it didn't hurt like a bitch when she left me, because the truth is, it fucking sucked."
Rachel frowned, leaning back slightly and trying to tug her hand from his, but he held firm.
"You shouldn't swear." Eli was frowning at him, giving Puck the impression he knew he was screwing this up and he wasn't happy about it. He mumbled an apology and tried to forge on.
"But what it's taken me this long to realize Rach, was that it wasn't Shelby herself that made me feel those things. We pursued experiences that made us happy; we went skydiving and we ate out all the time. We took a roadtrip down to the Kentucky Bourbon Festival and had s-e-x," he spelled, "like all the time."
"I really did not need to know that," she sighed in annoyance.
"Point is," he continued. "It was things outside our relationship that stimulated us. If we took those things away, we wouldn't have lasted a week." His tone was matter of fact. "And it took meeting you for me to know what it was like to really be in love. Because those feelings I'm talking about, the ones that I spent six months pursuing with Shelby, I got them from just looking at you the very first day we met. And that has nothing to do with you being her daughter Rachel, or the woman caring for my son - it has everything to do with you."
She searched his eyes, trying to find some indication that what he was telling her wasn't the honest to goodness truth, but to her immense relief, she found none.
"I love you too." she admitted quietly, "And I'm sorry that I ever said I didn't. I don't regret anything that happened between us, Noah. You have to know that the," she hesitated, glancing at Eli. "the s-e-x," she spelled it too, "has never been like that for me. Not that it's the most important part of a functional relationship of course, and your prowess in the bedroom is only one of the things that I find so magnetically compelling about you, but I-"
He cut her off with a finger to her lips and smirked. "That's good to know, babe. And yeah, it's not the most important thing but it rates pretty high up there. You need to know we are going to be having a lot of it. Like, a lot." he winked and she blushed. "I think our married s-e-x is going to be off the charts. I may just take to calling you Mrs. Puck in bed, coz the thought of you belonging to me Rach - and me belonging to you - gets me frigging hot."
"Mrs. Puck?" she questioned teasingly, "not Mrs. Puckerman?"
Immediately his grin faded and he looked like he was going to vomit. "Christ woman, don't say that. My Ma is Mrs. Puckerman, that's just nasty!"
She let out a laugh as Eli looked between the two of them, patiently waiting to be included in the conversation. His gaze dropped to the ring box he held and his tiny fingers reached down to stroke the velvet surrounding the ring. "Pretty." he murmured.
Rachel stopped laughing and looked down at the ring again, longingly.
Puck was watching her carefully, "That was my grandmother's ring," he told her huskily. "She gave it to me on my 16th birthday, just before she died, and made me promise to give it to the woman I was going to spend the rest of my life with. It's never been out of my sock drawer. I've never, ever considered giving that to anyone before. Ever."
She took a deep breath. "But it's only been three weeks," she protested weakly. "It's too soon for us to be talking about marriage, isn't it? How could we-"
"Who says it's too soon and who cares how long it's been?" he demanded, smiling confidently at her. "Shit, my Ma's probably got the whole thing organized already. I wouldn't be surprised if she texts you in the next five minutes asking for your dress size."
Her eyes widened, "She wouldn't!"
Puck wisely kept his mouth shut. Probably best to not reveal the full extent of his mother's craziness until after the ring was on her finger.
"Look, I could wait a month to propose, or even a year, but why wait when my feelings aren't going to change? I want to marry you, Rachel. I want to be with you and Eli every day, whether that's here or in Lima, O-frigging-Hio, I don't give a shit. I just know that besides finding out about this little dude," he tousled Eli's hair affectionately, "waking up next to you was the best moment of my life. These last few days without you have been unbearable, I want us to be a family."
Her tongue darted out to moisten her lower lip, "I want that too," she said shyly.
He grinned and then his expression turned serious. "So Rach, Eli and I asked you a question and you haven't given us an answer."
"Yeah Mommy, answer us!" Eli demanded endearingly. Rachel jerked, startled by her new title and tears immediately began pooling in her eyes. Puck made a mental note to sneak two scoops of ice cream to his son later, for his impeccable timing, then, he took the box from his son and grasped her hand. Gently, he slipped the ring over the knuckle of the fourth finger on her left hand, and when it was in place, all three of them looked down at it in awe. It was a perfect fit.
Rachel met his eyes and nodded.
"Yes?" Puck asked, his voice rough as he grasped her waist and pulled her and Eli into a three way hug. Hank let out a quiet woof and nudged the back of her thigh with his head.
"Yes?" Eli echoed excitedly.
Rachel smiled tearfully at both of them, feeling so overwhelmed she thought her heart would burst from the sheer happiness of the moment. She took in a deep breath and closed her eyes tightly. Leaning into her fiancee's arms and hugging her brother – no, her son - she thought about how much had changed in the last month. This little boy nestled between their bodies had brought them together and provided a catalyst for the two adults to change so drastically and so quickly.
Noah, the confirmed bachelor, was not only pledging monogamy, but proposing marriage – learning to be a father and a real man – and loving every minute of it. And Rachel was finally getting that picture perfect family she had yearned for all along. But it was to her surprise that the family wasn't created from her meticulous research and carefully crafted plans; it was a family that was born only after the realization that opening her heart and surrendering her control were the key to her true happiness.
She was so glad she had, because the reality was turning out to be better than she could ever have envisioned.
"Yes," she whispered.
Puck uttered her name like a prayer and leaned in, caressing her cheek as he claimed her lips in a kiss that quickly turned heated and passionate – despite the four year old that was looking on in disgusted fascination.
"Gross," Eli muttered darkly, poking his father in his chest for good measure. The action achieved nothing as Rachel sighed against Puck's mouth and fisted her hand in his shirt to pull him even closer.
When he was apparent that his parents weren't going to part anytime soon, he clapped a hand over his eyes, aware that this was probably something he shouldn't be watching. Smiling, he shrugged his shoulders and said, "You're so lucky Daddy, that Mommy doesn't have cooties."
~ fin ~
A/N 2: Thank you all so much for taking a chance on this fic and seeing it though to the end with me! I've really enjoyed reading what you've had to say/comment on and suggest throughout the entire journey and I'm so beyond flattered by the sheer number of people who favorited and alerted this universe – I don't feel even remotely worthy!