Let him know that you know best,
'Cause after all you do know best,
Try to slip past his defense,
Without granting innocence.
How to Save a Life by The Fray
Rachel Berry was many things; organized was just one of them. Specifically, she made lists and lots of them. To do lists and to don't lists. Bucket lists and shopping lists. Lists of accomplishments and of failures. So as Rachel rang the doorbell to Noah Puckerman's house armed only with a plate of "Are You Okay?" cookies and a smile, she was thinking about how she should add this to the list of "Things I Never Should Have Done'" the instant she got home. Of course, if Noah was smart enough to be as fabulously organized as she, he would have been too busy furiously adding to his own version of that list to answer the door.
The day had started out simply enough. Rachel and Puck had pointedly ignored each other in the midst of their awkward post break-up stage (although Rachel imaged Puck had simply reverted back to old habits). Glee practice, normally the shining beacon at the end of the tunnel that was Rachel's school day, brought the biggest horrors of all. Apparently, Santana chose this particular Thursday to not only grow a back bone but to get ticked off at Quinn as well and she told Mercedes, during a break, who was really the father of Quinn's baby. Who told Tina. Who told Artie. Who told Kurt – who gasped and then reflexively announced it loudly to the entire room. The next thing Rachel knew, Finn was on top of Puck, Quinn had run wailing from the room followed by Mr. Schuester, and Santana was crying. Due to the fact that Puck was lying curiously still and everyone was simply watching with what could possibly be construed as a bit of joy on their faces, there was soon blood on Finn's knuckles. As soon as she gathered her wits about her, though, Rachel was on Finn's back, grabbing and clawing and trying to pull him off. It didn't matter what Puck did, Finn was about three times the size of him and-
Jerked out of her reverie, Rachel slapped her smile back on and wondered how the mousy woman in front of her could possibly have given birth to Puck. "Hello! Mrs. Puckerman, I presume? My name is Rachel Berry, and I was wondering if I could see your son for a moment? I assure you, my interests are platonic at best," Rachel explained, displaying the cookies for the woman to asses, but quickly noticed that the woman's eyes had locked on her chest. Self-consciously, Rachel glanced down; nothing out of the ordinary there, just her regular flawless skin and a Star of David. She glanced back up just in time to see a smile span the woman's face. Puck was much easier to see in her when she smiled.
"Of course! Up the stairs, second door on the left. Enjoy yourself!" With that and an over exaggerated wink, Mrs. Puckerman ushered Rachel in, closed and locked the door behind her, and scampered off in the opposite direction of the stairs. After Rachel finished poking around downstairs (she didn't know what she had expected, but the complete ordinariness of his house was unnerving), she re-plastered her trademark smile and walked briskly up the stairs. The "second door" part of Mrs. Puckerman's directions was surprisingly important information. Although Rachel had expected caution tape and blinking lights, Puck's bedroom door looked fairly common, just a plain wooden door. Taking a deep breath and running a hand through her hair, she stuck her chin up into the air and gave the door three, sharp knocks.
"Mom!" a muffled voice came from the room. "I told you, I don't want to talk about it!"
"It's Rachel, Noah," she said softly. "Rachel Berry," she added as an after-thought, suddenly afraid he wouldn't know. For a moment there was silence, a thud, and then footsteps. Next thing she knew, the door was thrown open and Puck, wearing nothing but a pair of royal blue boxers, was frowning down at her. He looked even worse now than he had when Rachel had first pulled Finn off of him. His left eye had turned a fantastic shade of purple, and was well on its way to midnight black. His right cheek was split and swollen, as was his lip. His nose was crooked and there was a bloody spot on his right temple.
"I, hello, Puck. I just thought that perhaps I should come and check on you and offer you some... Would you like some cookies?"
She winced sympathetically when Puck tried to raise his eyebrow, but couldn't. "Cookies, Berry? Honestly?"
"They're snickerdoodles!" Rachel added hopefully.
Grudgingly, Puck took the "U" cookie, and stepped out of the doorway. "Uh, come in? I guess?" he asked through a mouthful of cookie.
She hesitantly stepped in, on guard for land mines and the like, but was surprised to find that his room was as normal as his door. There was a small desk, a threadbare twin sized bed with a quilt that looked like it could have been handmade, and a lemon yellow dresser. It was one of the brightest things she'd ever seen and she stared openly at it for perhaps a little too long. "Oh!" she started when he swallowed the cookie hard. "I – hi. How are you? A-wait, no. That's a really moronic question, isn't it? I'm sorry, I'm sure you're not doing well at all. Actually, you look like hell – oh, jeez!" Did she really just say that? Honestly! "I'm sorry, I didn't mean that. I can't believe I just said that! I'm so, so sorry..." She took a deep, calming breath. "About everything. You didn't – well, no, you did deserve what happened to you today. But I'm still sorry it had to happen."
Several long, uncomfortable moments passed while Puck glared her down with arms crossed and Rachel stared like a deer in the headlights. Eventually, it occurred to her that she hadn't actually given him anything to respond to. So she cleared her throat, and started in again. "Which is to say, I just wanted you to know that if you need help, or want to talk, I'm here and...support you." Well, that much was debatable. If she was honest, she found the whole scandal just as shocking as anyone else. Rachel knew that Puck got around and she certainly knew (first hand, nonetheless) his irresistible charm but not only could she not understand Quinn's lack of loyalty, Puck's was just as unfathomable. Anyway, if you asked Rachel, anyone who had Finn was lucky to have him and should be doing anything in her power to keep him. As for Puck and Finn, they had always seemed – to use the words of her peers - "tight!" Despite Puck's predatory ways, it seemed entirely out of character for Puck to prey on Finn's territory. Regardless, Rachel's feelings towards Puck and Quinn had rapidly declined after the news came out, but, if she was honest (which she always was – lying is so unbecoming) Finn's behavior was entirely unnecessary and over the top. Frankly, it suggested that Puck was entirely to blame, and of all the nasty things Rachel thought about Puck, she didn't think for a minute that he would force any woman (cougar or cub) to do anything they didn't want. Besides, neither Quinn nor Finn were returning her calls and Kurt just so happened to know where Puck lived (which was a question for another day). Also, strangely enough, Puck hadn't gotten to throw any punches. Not to mention that although clearly she loved Finn, she was in love with N- Wait, what? Desperate for a distraction, Rachel latched on to the sound of Puck's voice.
"...don't need your support. The last thing I need is your help or support." He crossed his arms over his chest, and frowned down at the comparatively miniaturized form of Rachel.
"Well, Noah, to be reasonable, you're facing quite a challenge, what with having a child in high school, and clearly you're struggling with taking responsibility, if Quinn is pushing you away, an-"
Very suddenly, the cookies were on the floor, he had backed her up against the wall, and Puck's hands were on either side of her head, his figure was hulking over her.
"Don't you ever even think anything like that ever again, Rachel. I swear to fucking God that I am doing everything I can to take care of that baby and the only thing that's stopping me from being there for Quinn and my daughter every step of the way is out of respect for Quinn her-fucking-self. You hear me?"
Rachel panted up at him, eyes wide. Her mouth opened, then closed.
"Do you understand me?"
"I...I'm quite sure you'd make a wonderful father, Noah. Honestly. You are..." she faltered, very suddenly realizing that Noah was pressed very closely against her. "You are an amazing, surprising, dedicated man, and you will be a wonderful father."
For a moment, Rachel was afraid that he was going to hit her; he had hauled back one open hand, but he appeared to be drooping, and she was astounded to realize that his bottom lip was quivering. He used the hand to rub at the top of his head, which she then realized had been his intention all along. Suddenly, he collapsed. Fruitlessly, she tried to catch him, but his weight slid them both to the floor. Puck's head settled in the crook of her neck and she could feel his tears dripping down her chest. He wormed his hands around her waist and she clasped her's feebly behind his back. They lay there, tangled on the floor, Puck sobbing into her neck for what seemed to Rachel an immeasurable amount of time. She didn't begrudge him an instant of it and merely found herself instinctively pressing her lips to the top of his head over and over again. She thought to tell him it was all going to be alright, or something similarly reassuring before it occurred to her, with a start, that words actually weren't needed. Eventually, he seemed to cry himself out and, after another few minutes, the shaking subsided as well and she was left with him breathing evenly.
"Sorry," he somberly told her shoulder.
"S'okay," she replied to the top of his head. "Clearly you needed it, Noah, and I'm happy to provide the..." she winced at the cliché, "well, proverbial and literal shoulder to cry on any time you want it." When he pulled back to look her in the eye, Rachel was surprised to see that his cheeks were thoroughly flushed. She was once again startled, as well, by the horrible state of his face.
"Thank you," Puck said slowly as Rachel found herself studying his split lip. "I...you didn't need to get yourself involved in this. Today at school or now, and I guess I owe you for doing it anyway."
Rachel just took a deep breath through her nose. "Come on," she said softly. "Let's get you cleaned up."
She grabbed his elbow and hefted him to his feet. "It's in the hall - the bathroom, that is. So is Deb." Rachel looked up at him questioningly, trying to ignore the fact that he had slipped his arm around her waist for his sake. "Deb's my sister," Noah explained, pulling her a little closer. "So we gotta be quiet." He frowned at Rachel, as though wondering whether she could stay quiet that long, and Rachel just nodded enthusiastically to prove she could. He grinned and as Rachel stared up at him she could almost forget that he was the father of Quinn's baby, that his eye was black, and that they were probably the worst potential couple ever. He leaned down to impulsively press a kiss to her forehead, before turning to open his door. Maybe it would work out after all. Rachel followed Puck down the dark hall, her hand trapped in his (when had that happened?) and an idiotic smile on her face. He opened the door directly across from one covered in flowers and herded her ahead of him into the dark room. He back into her to try and pull the door closed, but the bathroom was so cramped that she nearly fell backwards into the bathtub. With the faintest of stifled squeals she clasped her arms around his neck and clung to his back in a desperate bid to stay upright. He chuckled dryly and backed up enough to get the door closed.
"Baby, I think Finn cracked my ribs. You might wanna-"
"Oh, oh, sorry," Rachel murmured, quickly letting go.
She felt him turn from the door towards her and although she could feel his chest pressed against her she couldn't even see his silhouette. The entire room was pitch black and so she was surprised when he suddenly starts speaking; voice gravelly and so quiet she had to hold her breath to hear him.
"Rachel, I'm so fucking scared. I want to be a good daddy to my baby, to my...to my daughter, but I don't want to be a daddy at all. I want to be a dumb teenager, who plays football and fucks moms and cleans pools and sings and dances with you and a bunch of losers and my Spanish teacher. And Quinn...Quinn doesn't want any of this either, she just wants to be a chick and...you know, do chick things. But we fucked up, and we're going to have a fucking baby! And I want to step up to this, step up to what I've done and do whatever I can to take care of that baby and Quinn! But she thinks Saint Finn is a fucking...a fucking...saint or something, and won't let me help a damn bit. And Finn isn't doing any damn thing to help her, either!" He embraced her, then, one arm around the small of her back and the palm of his other hand scrabbling around to find the nape of her neck. "But still, I don't want to spend the rest of my life with Quinn. She's hot, sure, but she's a bitch. I don't...love her. I don't..."
Rachel had no warning when he kissed her; he just gently tugged her face up by her hair and kissed her. He kissed her gingerly, carefully, but she could feel his lip reopen and the irony taste of his blood in her mouth.
He pulled back slowly and Rachel could feel his hot breath on her mouth. "Rachel, I...Words aren't really my thing. I usually…show people what I think, you know? But I guess that's not gonna fly with you, is it?"
Rachel was so...well, suffice to say she was confused. This wasn't the Noah she knew. The Noah she knew was harsh and callous and untouchable. He was fearless and easy-going and unbelievably beautiful. He was a gifted performer and sweet and capable of most everything. No matter how predictable he seemed, though, he always managed to surprise her.
"No," she said quietly. "I suppose it won't."
"Rachel," he ventured, pulling her once more against his chest. "I'm not gonna say I love you. I don't. If I do, I don't recognize it well enough to tell you. But there's something. And it's not just that you're a hot Jew, either. I mean, Quinn and I fucked and I like you better-" Rachel winced "-sorry, but that's gotta count for something. My point is that you really shouldn't have dumped me. 'Cause I think we could be something...interesting, you know. Except now Quinn's got my baby and everyone knows it, but she still only wants Finn in her life, and...everybody's gonna think I'm even more of a douche then I actually am. Which is saying something for me. And you probably don't..." he trailed off.
Rachel was taking all of this in completely seriously. It was a little shocking – Noah, with emotions? But she wasn't about to turn him down. Based on Finn's reaction to the news, he clearly believed that Puck was entirely to blame and was now even more Quinn's than he was when he thought the baby was his. Besides, to be perfectly honest, going out with Noah hadn't been exactly horrible. She'd always fancied him in the passive sort of way one crushes on movie stars, so it had been a nice adventure. She wasn't settling, per se, just going for second best. One day, maybe she could even grow to love second best. Or maybe she did already? The thought panicked her and she stuffed it back down. In the meantime, it wouldn't hurt to have somebody to stand by...and to stand by her.
"Well, you...don't want to be tied down to that," he finished lamely.
There was dead silence for at least a minute. Eventually, at a loss, Noah whispered, "Says me?"
"Well, you've been wrong before."
He was kissing her again and she let him for a minute, enjoying the tug of his hand in her hair. When she got another taste of blood, though, she pulled away.
"So do you, uh, have a light in this bathroom?"
Noah fumbled for a moment, then flicked a switch. Light flooded the room and Rachel squeaked and quickly shaded her eyes. "Shit, that's bright," Noah growled and Rachel let out a nervous giggle. She heard a low chuckle and then the next thing she knew, his arms were tight around her waist and she was bent backwards as his mouth found her's again. She risked taking her hands from her eyes, and inched them up to his shoulders. He sucked gently at her bottom lip, but when she was once more in danger of swallowing a mouthful of his blood, she pulled away and slapped gently him on the shoulder. "You taste like blood!"
Noah made a face. "Sorry, babe."
Rachel smiled wearily. "It's okay. Actually, I think it's all gonna turn out okay." This decision was definitely going to end up on one of her lists, she was sure of that. She just wasn't sure which list.