A/N: Earlier this year, the Puck/Rachel LJ comm had a prompt meme (different than the current drabble meme), in which I prompted this:
"Puck and Rachel witness a murder (In Ohio? Random Glee trip to NYC? Whatever you want.) and must go into witness protection. Getting uprooted to some strange place where they know no one is hard enough, but because they can't draw attention to themselves, Rachel can't sing in public anymore. They bond and help each other through this (I forsee covert trips to karaoke bars.) I can be angst-phobic at times, so I'd love it if it has a happy ending (killer is caught, trial over, Puck and Rachel get to go back to their old lives.), but it's not a requirement."
Apparently, that was enough to get my muse going. Just finished it now because sometimes real life gets in the way. I started it over the summer, so this is AU from the current season.
Feedback: Is love. Hope you enjoy!
Reality is nothing like Call of Duty.
This is one of the few thoughts that passes through Puck's numb mind as the bricks of the New York City alley bite into his skin and Rachel clutches at his arm.
Death, in reality, is somehow both more and less gruesome than it is in video games. Less, because there is no blood gushing as if sprayed from a hose, no overwrought death scene set to music.
But that metallic tang filling the air can't be imitated. Neither can the suddenness of it all. One minute the guy's standing, gun to his forehead, and the next he's on the ground, crumpling like a puppet whose strings have been cut and fuck, he didn't want to be here in the first place.
The JCC had planned a trip to New York City for the kids at the end of summer vacation, and apparently the adults didn't want to do all the work, so they'd put out a call for teen chaperones—i.e., free babysitters. Rachel had signed up right away, of course, less for the kids and more for New York and Broadway and what the fuck else she was always on about. He only did it because he was the only other one old enough and his mom guilted him into it—it had only been a few months since Quinn and Beth, and he couldn't say no to her.
So of course, the first night they don't have to watch the little brats he's dragging Rachel out of her hotel room and demanding a tour of the city. They're having a decent time until one wrong turn leads to another leads to them stumbling on a drug deal gone bad or something. How the hell should he know? All he knows is one guy's holding a gun on another guy who's speaking really quickly in Spanish, and he doesn't need Mr. Schue's class to know the dude's begging for his life.
He wants to blame this all on Berry, for getting them lost when she's supposed to know the city like the back of her hand, but he did make her sneak out after curfew, so maybe they're even. And then the gun's going off and he's pulling them further into the shadows and clamping a hand over Rachel's mouth to keep her from crying out. The dude still standing shoves the gun into the waistband of his jeans and heads in their direction, and Puck stops trying to assign blame and starts praying to every deity he knows of and a few he just made up.
Fuck, please don't let him see us. Please, please, oh fuck, please.
He doesn't. Puck's too freaked out to sigh in relief.
They spend a few silent moments with the dead body (fuck) before he disengages from Rachel, and she looks at him with wide, shocked eyes. He's sure his expression looks pretty similar.
"We need to call the police," she says in a harsh whisper, and he nods and pulls out his cell.
(Many, many nights, he stares at the ceiling and wonders what would have happened if they'd just walked away.)
Puck stares at the conference table as the federal agents talk about the boarding school he and Rachel will soon be attending. There's two of them, a dude and a chick, but he can't remember their names. Mills and Brown? Brown and Mills? Whatever. Like he gives a shit, especially when his entire world is being turned upside down.
Turns out, the murder they'd witnessed had been committed by a gang member the cops have been trying to take down forever. The prosecutor had almost shit himself when he found out that he had two witnesses brave (stupid) enough to testify. But apparently this guy's so badass that they wouldn't be safe even in Ohio, so now he and Rachel are being thrown into witness protection. Alone, because moving their families would be too dangerous, or too obvious, or something.
Bullshit. It's probably just cheaper, moving two people instead of six. He'd call the suits on it, ask them what the fuck, but he's a little overwhelmed about the fact that he's about to go into fucking witness protection, and besides, he's not the type of dude who asks questions anyway.
If he really wants to know something he can just ask Rachel, who's sitting across from him and writing in a notebook like she's taking notes in class. Dude Suit asks her if she understands everything, and she smiles as she nods. It's not a real smile, though. It's that one she uses whenever Kurt and Mercedes insult her or whisper behind her back in Glee.
He hates that smile.
"Yes," she responds. "I'm sure it will be difficult in the beginning, but Noah and I will adjust. We can join their Glee club, or if they don't have one we can start one—"
"I'm afraid that can't happen, Rachel," Chick Suit interrupts.
Rachel goes very, very still. "Oh."
"The point of all this is to keep you hidden," the agent continues. "You have to stay under the radar. Rachel Anderson can't be a star. I'm sorry."
"No," she says, shaking her head sharply, "don't apologize. I understand."
Dude Suit asks him if he understands too, and it takes him a few seconds before he registers the question, because he's kind of focused on how small Rachel looks. Usually her larger-than-life personality distracts you from the fact that she's a midget, but right now, with her shoulders tight and expression brittle, she looks…tiny.
"Yeah, I get it," he finally replies.
It's a good thing Rachel's already used to calling him Noah. It would be hard to explain 'Puck' when you're Noah Thompson.
It's going to take him a while to get used to that.
The school doesn't have a Glee club, but they do have a choir.
Rachel avoids it like the plague.
(He stays pretty far away from it himself.)
This is, like, the definition of irony, right? Or karma, or some shit like that.
Rachel's a Cheerio, and he's a loser.
Well, not exactly. She's not a Cheerio, because the coach is a young, cheerful woman and not the psychotic ball-buster that is Sue Sylvester. But Rachel does join the boarding school's cheerleading squad. When she tells him he asks her what the fuck, because, seriously, what the fuck? She says something about school spirit, and fitting in, and cheerleading being a good substitute for dance and helping her stay in peak physical condition, and blah blah blah excuses.
(He knows Rachel. She lives on performing, for applause and accolades, and cheerleading might not be singing and dancing, but it's close enough.)
And, okay, he's not a loser, but he's definitely a loner. He joins the football team, because he needs to do something or he'll go crazy. The jocks are pretty much like those at McKinley, except with a better win-loss record, so he keeps to himself and doesn't participate in any of the bullying that goes on.
(Once you've seen the extreme, violence of any kind really loses its appeal.)
Really, the only person he talks to is Rachel, when they're eating lunch together or studying in their rooms after class. (What? It's not like he has anything else to do, and at least it keeps his mind off the other shit in his life.) It's fucked up.
What's also fucked up is how no one notices that Rachel's about to break, how her smile doesn't reach her eyes and her laugh's two seconds away from hysterical. He knows she's a good actress, but come on.
(Or maybe it's because no one knows her like he does, knows all her tells and weaknesses.
He doesn't want to think about that.)
He ignores it, and ignores it, until one night he's leaving her room after a study session (shut up) and he just can't anymore. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath before turning back around.
"Noah," Rachel says in surprise as she opens the door. "Did you forget something? If not, you really should go back to your room and go to bed. We have a chemistry test tomorrow and if we're going to do our best we both need a good night's—"
He cuts her off by taking her into his arms. She stiffens and tries to get away, but it's not like that's going to happen, tiny as she is. It doesn't take long before her hands go from pushing him away to clutching his shirt, and then she's sobbing against him, shoulders shaking and heaving.
Closing the door behind him, he goes to the bed, laying down and pulling her with him. "I'm here," he says, as she cries into his shoulder over all the fucked up shit that's happened in the last few months. "And I'm not gonna leave."
He doesn't tell her it's okay, because it's not. Not by a long shot.
It becomes a routine, him ninja-ing his way into her room at night, either by sneaking over after lights out or by going over to study and just never leaving. (And either the security in this place is laughable or they've realized that trying to keep horny teenagers away from each other is futile, because he never gets caught.) They never discuss why. He just holds her as her tears soak his shirt.
And if sometimes, when he's missing his mom and sister and Finn so much it hurts, the roles are reversed?
Well, they don't mention that shit either.
The situation turns sexual pretty quickly, of course, because no matter what's happened they're still two hot Jews, Rachel's virginal but not a prude, and he's, well, him. So one night they're curled up on her bed when Rachel turns over onto her back and silently looks up at him in the dark. He's about to ask her what's up when she kisses him.
And he goes along with it eagerly, because he hasn't hooked up with anyone at this stupid school, students or teachers (he's not sure why), and fuck, this is the longest he's gone without sex since he lost his virginity to the head Cheerio the summer before freshman year. But when Rachel moans and he realizes his fingers are inching under her pajama shorts, he pulls away.
"No, don't stop," she breathes, and even though the sound goes straight to his dick, he doesn't give in.
"I can't do this. I can't do this to Finn."
Rachel stills, and he thinks it's because they don't do this, talk about Lima—about before. "Noah—"
"I mean, I know he's not here, and who knows if we'll ever see him again, but I'd know, and fuck, I can't do that to him again—"
"Noah," Rachel interrupts, "I broke up with Finn two days before we left for New York."
He blinks. What? Yeah, she'd seemed a little subdued on the trip there, but he'd just thought she was cutting down on the crazy. He'd never imagined this. Not after she'd gone after Hudson for so long. "But you two were, like, perfect."
She gives him a sad smile. "We were a fairytale. A fantasy. And those don't exist in real life."
When she kisses him again, he doesn't stop her.
They don't have sex. Over the days and weeks Rachel learns that her body is more sensitive than she ever imagined, and Noah discovers the wonders of no gag reflex, but they never take it any further. And, completely fucking surprisingly, it's not just Rachel cutting it short.
Insane, right? But he just…
He knows she's only doing it because she needs to. Needs to feel connected to someone, to forget the insanity their lives have become, or hell, just to scratch an itch, and he's there, and he understands, and she doesn't have to explain anything. And hell, he's fucked and been fucked enough that he's used to it. Doesn't matter to him if she just needs a warm body and he's the best option.
But Rachel…Rachel's not him. Not even close, and her first time should be perfect, in some exotic location or five star hotel, with flickering candles and soft music and rose petals and some famous pretty boy actor/singer/international superstar (but not as famous as her), right after they've professed their undying love to each other. Shit like that.
But most importantly, it should be more than a quick fuck with the guy she's stuck with.
(Sometimes, when they're both pulling away, breathing heavily, and his heart's doing things it never has before, and he wants to press against her, into her, drink her in like water in a desert, he thinks that maybe…
Maybe it would be more.)
He still has his guitar, because they can pry that from his cold, dead hands, so sometimes he and Rachel get together and have their own little Glee club. Not often, because their choices are either some out of the way location on campus or their rooms when no one's around, and either way they have to sing at half volume, never really letting go, because they can't have someone overhear and start asking questions, wondering why Rachel's not in the choir when she has such an amazing voice.
So they play and sing almost in whispers, Rachel soaking it in desperately no matter how little it is, and all he can think of when he looks at her are birds with their wings clipped and fish forced out of water and it scares him, just a little. Rachel Berry could survive anything, as long as she had her music.
What's Rachel Anderson supposed to do?
"What's wrong?" he asks one afternoon when Rachel seems distracted and distant. He thinks maybe it's because of Thanksgiving, which was just a few days ago. Neither of them are very observant Jews, but they'd tried to keep the meal as kosher as possible. He's not sure why, but it had made both of them feel a little better, so whatever. And it's not like it had been hard to do—they'd pretty much had free run of the place.
Everyone else was home, visiting their families.
"Nothing," she answers, staring at her biology textbook without really seeing it. He can tell she's lying, so he doesn't say anything, just waits, because he knows she'll have to fill the silence.
After a moment she sits back in her chair and sighs. "Do you think they won Sectionals?"
He blinks. Shit, that had been around this time last year, hadn't it? He'd completely forgotten. "Dunno. Lot to overcome, losing you."
"And you," she corrects, and he scoffs.
"Yeah, right. They could get Jacob to stand and sway in the background again for me. You're the only one that was important."
"Not to me," she says, and he's caught in her gaze until she looks away and changes the subject. "I miss everyone more than I thought I would."
"Me too." His mom and sister, yeah, that's understandable. But sometimes he hears a joke and waits for Matt to laugh, or plays his guitar and expects a suggestion from Artie, or listens to a stuck-up girl bitch in the hall and wishes for Santana to smack her down. Fuck, he even misses Kurt sometimes. He wonders what they think of their sudden disappearance, if they were told some shitty cover story or just left in the dark.
He thinks the conversation's over until Rachel speaks again, the words bursting out of her like she's been bottling them up until they forced their way out. "I don't know which I want."
"What?" he asks, totally confused.
She avoids his eyes, and he's never seen her look so guilty. "On one hand I want them to win, because while not up to my level they're all wonderful performers, and they deserve it. But on the other hand…" She hugs herself protectively. "I want our absence to matter. If they can just replace us with no trouble at all—" She cuts herself off, shakes her head. "I'm a horrible person."
"No you're not."
She looks up at him, surprised—and hopeful.
"You want people to miss you. You don't want them to go one like nothing happened, because it did." He shrugs. "Sounds normal to me."
She won't let him go down on her that night. She forces him to look her in the eyes as they use their hands on each other, makes him watch the emotions as they play across her face. There's one there he hasn't seen before, and he can't put a name to it, but it makes his breath catch as she cries out.
The next day he ignores the browser tab on her computer labeled with the name of a Lima newspaper. He ignores it because he has it open too, on his laptop back in his room.
"Despite Challenges, WMHS Glee Club Wins Competition"
He's not sure how he feels about it either.
He gets Rachel to sneak out with him one night in the middle of December. She barely relaxes once they're in the cab, and after he gives the driver the address she asks him where they're going.
"It's a surprise," he replies, and she huffs and glares at him.
"Noah, you have already convinced me—somehow—to perform an act of juvenile delinquency. The least you could do is tell me what our destination is."
"No. It's your birthday present."
Her expression turns guarded. "My birthday's not until—"
"I don't care what fucking fake day they gave you. This is your real one, and they're not taking it away."
She quickly gets out of the taxi when it slows to a stop, eager to see where they are. It's a bar. A shitty bar—shitty enough that their IDs won't get looked at as long as they don't try to buy any alcohol (he checked). But Rachel doesn't comment on any of that, because she's seen the sign proclaiming the reason he brought her here, lit up in tacky neon.
He slings an arm around her shoulders and leans over until his mouth is by her ear.
"Happy birthday, Rachel."
They take over the stage as soon as they get inside. Rachel doesn't even go through her normal warm-up routine—she just grabs a mic and starts singing as loud as she wants, the joy on her face visible in the glow of the neon through the dingy windows. They sing all night, sing until they're hoarse, until they're kicked out because the bar's closing and they have to leave. They sneak back to her room in the early morning hours (seriously, no security at all), and as soon as the door closes she's on him, lips against his and hands trailing fire under his shirt. They stumble to the bed, shedding clothes until they're skin on skin and fuck, his brain's short circuiting.
"Rach," he breathes, and her answering moan has his hips pressing against hers, close, so close, too close. He needs to stop.
Why does he need to stop?
"Baby, wait. We need to—we shouldn't—"
She just kisses him harder. "No," she says, lips brushing against his as they form the words. "Not this time."
Jesus, this girl is going to be the death of him. "You deserve perfect," he protests, but she shakes her head.
"I told you, perfect is a fairytale."
"Better than this, then." Better than me is implied, but not spoken.
Rachel still hears it.
"I deserve what I want!" she says fiercely. "I…" Frustrated, she palms his face and forces him to look at her. "You're more than just a warm body to me," she whispers, and shit, maybe she is psychic, because how the hell else would she be able to get into his head like that, to take all of his fears and doubts and just make them crumble away.
He looks at her for a second before kissing her again, and it's different, somehow. The air is thicker, heavier with the knowledge that there will be no stopping tonight. And he's a pro at this, has been for years, but now he's gasping against her mouth and trembling when she touches him, rolls the condom on. She nods when he starts to speak, to ask her if she's ready, and then he's pushing closer, slowly, slowly, and the world goes grey around the edges and fuck, she's the virgin here, not him.
Technically, Noah Thompson's never had sex.
(And Noah Puckerman's never made love.)
So, yeah. Whatever.
(Maybe they both are.)
The trial's in a few weeks, and before they fly back to New York they've got to go over their testimony with the suits. (Yeah, Rachel told him their names, but he forgot two seconds later.) They've already had one meeting, but when the agents walk into the conference room this time, they're smiling.
"It's over," Chick Suit says.
Turns out, the guy may have been a badass gang member, but that didn't stop him from getting shanked in prison. And with him dead there's not going to be a trial, no need for them to testify, so…
"We're going back to Lima?" Rachel asks, eyes growing wide in excitement.
"As soon as possible," Dude Suit replies.
She looks over at him, happy tears glinting in the light, and all he can do is grin, bigger and bigger as the news sinks in. God, all he's ever wanted is to get out of that town, and now he can't wait to get back. Back to his mom and sister, to Finn and Mike and Mercedes and all the rest of the Gleeks, and Mr. Schue too. Back to normal.
Back to Puck and Berry, whatever that means for them. They'll figure it out later.
(He really shouldn't worry.)
He holds his hand out to the girl beside him. "C'mon, Rach."
(Thompson and Anderson or Puck and Berry, they've always been Noah and Rachel.)
"Let's go home."
(And they always will be.)