She's sobbing her heart out on the bleachers of course.

Everyone saw it coming. Hell, he's virtually certain that she saw it coming.

The only really surprising thing is that she's having her breakdown practically on top of him. Really not the way he usually pictures her on top of him because she's all tears and maybe some snot and her hair is a mess and honestly, he's seen her look way better. Not that he's stupid enough to say anything. And besides, it doesn't really seem all that important next to the fact that she's miserable.

It's like this: he saw her out here on his way to the parking lot (and if you want to point out that the playing fields are in no way between Schuester's last period Spanish class and the parking lot, knock yourself out, asswipe). And he can't very well just leave her out here. No really, he can't, believe him, he's tried, but it's impossible because A: he's got this weird-ass protective thing where she's concerned, probably because she's like the size of his sister. And B: now that she'd got a hold of him she's gripping his collar and sleeve so tight he's not sure if he'll ever get them back.

Whatever. She can hold on as much as she wants because other than that it's not like he's even doing much good, anyway. He offered to give her a ride home, since he's pretty certain that her usual ride (Finn) isn't going to be on, like, ever. He told her that Finn is a jackass. Which, yeah, Hudson's his boy, but it's still true. He's even got his arm tight around her rubbing comforting circles on her shoulder and upper arm and he's not even trying for side-boob.

Beyond that he's played out because face it, his dick might as well be made of solid gold, that's what kind of game he's got, but when it comes to crying chicks, he's an amateur. Santana would say that's because he's usually long gone before the tears start, but fuck her, she's one to talk.

Rachel's just keeps crying harder.

So why the fuck is he here at all? Maybe it's because they're actually friends or something and have been for months. Or maybe it's because everyone else is off comforting the golden boy after his difficult afternoon. (Dude hates being the bad guy.) But if anyone asks, he's going to go with today's outfit. The knee socks are as much of an excuse as anyone needs.

Maybe it's time for a little tough love. Or not love, obviously. Toleration. He tolerates her cute little ass, and her amazing voice, and her hilarious brand of crazy just because she's dating his best friend.

Or was dating his best friend. (Which just opens up a whole new set of doors in his head that are in no way helpful right now.)

"Rach," he says firmly and she clings to him more closely.

"Hey Rach," he tries again, shifting her a little along the bench and reaching into his backpack. He pulls out a water bottle and presses it into her hand and she takes a drink before grabbing for the tissues in her handbag. He stares out on to the field to give her a little privacy while she mops her eyes and blows her nose and shit.

"Thank you," she says finally, letting out a shaky breath.

"No prob," he says, squeezing her upper arm a little tighter. "You better?"

"Better Noah?" she asks, "I think it's been fairly well established that my heart was just yanked out while still beating and sacrificed on an altar to some indifferent god of first love. Or carelessly tossed away like a unwanted, tawdry valentine on February 15th. Or crushed underfoot like..."

There's his little drama queen. But crap, the tears are starting to pool up again, so he just blurts out the first thing he can think of.

"If your heart was really broken, you'd be dead. So shut up."

That didn't go over well. Clearly, he's just not good at this shit.

It kind of works though, if only because instead of being sad, now she's pissed. She smacks him on the chest, hard and tries to pull away from him, but his hand moves to her hip, keeping her close to his side.

"Come on Rach!" he complains (whines). "Anyway, you said it first."

She gasps. "I said no such thing! I don't even know how you can insinuate..."

"Nice try. I know you know what I'm talking about. About six months ago? You sat my ass down in the chorus room and laid it all out. Ring any bells?"

Total fact. Rachel absolutely said it to him first.

Okay, not really.

She used way more fucking words for one thing. It's all "very understandable, given the events of the last year" and "I have faith in your ability to get through this" and "I may be treading into the realm of cliche here, but what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" and "please consider how you choose to respond to life's challenges from this point forward" and he's not sure what else, because he was just trying really hard not to tear the fucking room apart and it's about all he could do not to punch the wall. Or that blond dickhead that had just walked out of the choir room with an easy arm wrapped around Quinn Fabray's waist.

Maybe she's forgotten, but it sure as hell made an impression on him.

The second he walks back into the room after his extended 'vacation' to find twelve pairs of eyes staring at him, he knows something is up. Of course, no one is going to say shit to him about it, or fuck, give him a friendly warning or something. Hell, beyond Rachel flouncing up to him this morning to demand his presence at rehearsal, going a mile a minute about Sectionals and how there's not a minute to waste, hardly anyone has talked to him all day. It's like they all think juvie is contagious.

He throws himself into the first available seat and wonders for the millionth time why he's even showing up. (Duh, because Rachel is as scary as shit.)

Doesn't take long for him to figure it out, even if his friends (he's staring hard at the back of Chang's head here) are a bunch of pussies. But then, what would they even have said? Sam's sitting next to Quinn with his arm over the back of her chair and he's playing with her hair, brushing the tip of the ponytail, making her giggle. And that pretty much says it all, right?

It's exactly like Quinn didn't spend all summer telling him that this school year was just going to be about her getting her life back, and she didn't have any time for anything or anyone else. Obviously means shit when the new kid shows up, because there they are through the entire practice, all caught up in each other and she's looking up at him with those soft eyes that Puck recognizes, because it's what he used to see when he watched her watch Finn.

Of course the rest of those nosy bitches in Glee spend the whole time whipping their heads back and forth between him and Finn, trying to figure out who's going to be more pissed (Hummel's about ready to fall out of his chair). Everyone, that is, except Rachel who is carefully listening to whatever Schue's yapping about and maybe the rest of them think she's stupid or oblivious. Bullshit. He's close enough to see the faint flush along her neckline that's saying, even if her eyes are downcast, that she aware that Finny's looking a little more upset than strictly speaking, he should.

Naturally, Santana is all up on that shit and and Quinn and her toyboy are no sooner out the door before her mouth is curving up into one of those scary fucking smiles. "Awww, sweet. Looks like the Prom Queen has chosen a new King. Guess she had to, since the old one seems to be taken. I probably would have waited a little longer to see if things between Frankenteen and Fun Size were actually going to pan out this time."

The heat's off him; they're all staring at Finn, anticipating his response and Puck could have told them that they'll be on hold for a while. Hudson doesn't rise to that kind of bait, only smiles that crooked smile that kind of makes you feel like a dick for saying anything.

'Course Santana doesn't have a dick, so she's just going to keep going.

She turns to Rachel and opens her mouth and it's stupid because he doesn't need to say anything; he could leave right now and not have to deal with any of those fucktards until tomorrow and no one would even notice, because it's way too much fun to watch Rachel hanging.

He says something. Just put it down to him being a shit-disturber.

"You'd wait San? That would have to be the first time you've waited for anything. Hell, usually you don't even wait for the check at Breadstix. How many times do you think you've blown me in the bathroom?"

Yeah, that'll do it.

"Honestly, Puckerman? Probably once too often considering you're just Quinn Fabray's discard. Guess she doesn't need a dirty little secret now that she's found herself someone new to worship all that blond perfection."

It kind of explodes from there until it's so loud that Schue can't even try to pretend he doesn't hear and starts in with the half-hearted "C'mon guys!" (Way to lead from the rear, dude.) Mercedes is dragging Satan out the door (when the hell did that unholy alliance happen anyway?) and Brittany is trailing along behind, looking confused. The rest of them follow Britt-Mike looks like he'd like to stay and talk, but apparently Tina has his balls in a vice grip because all he can do is smile apologetically.

Fucking alone at last and he's got nothing he can do with his anger, so he just clenches his fists and try and stuff it back down wherever it came from. And luckily he's got enough control that he doesn't take a swing when he feels an unexpected hand touch his arm tentatively. He spins around though and lets out an explosive breath when he sees Rachel looking at him mildly. Shit, he didn't even realize that she was still in the room.

"Are you all right, Noah?"

You've got to be fucking kidding him. He needs her pity like he needs a hole in the head.

"Never better," he says with a hard edge, shifting away from the warmth of her fingers. "I mean I could knock down a few chairs, but that shit's just been overdone in here, don't you think?"

A smile briefly flickers across her face, which wasn't really his intention and then she seats herself gracefully in the nearest chair, smoothing down her skirt like she's there to stay.

Fine. She can stay. He'll go. Only instead he starts talking shit. "What? Really, what do you want? You want to lay into me for being a pig? Or disturbing team unity? Go for it. Only can you hurry it up? I've got a meeting with my probation officer: that chick is smoking and she carries handcuffs, so you know..."

"I could thank you for drawing Santana's fire," she suggests and he makes a scoffing noise, "But I think you probably enjoyed yourself. As for team unity? I can't exactly claim the moral high ground necessary to lecture you on that topic."

He barks out an unwilling laugh. "They're never going to let you forget that crack-house are they?"

She dips her head. "No."

Flopping down into the chair next to hers, he's doing his best to ignore the fact that he feels slightly less alone. Even for him, it's a pretty shitty thing to be relieved that she's on the outside, just like he is. "So get it out. You know you aren't going to be happy until you do."

She's still looking down, picking at an invisible piece of lint on the hem of her skirt and he waits. "Noah, I want to make sure that you're okay. Quinn and Sam appear to be together and..."

Of course that means he's stuck with her.

"So you think I get a vote?" he interrupts, his voice full of irritation, because sometimes what that girl thinks she knows could fill a book. "Fuck, it's not like we were ever together, not really, but who the hell cares! Since you bagged Hudson, you're the expert. What should I do? Should I run after her and call her a slut in the hallway? Or maybe beat the crap out of him?"

"I hope you don't do either of those things. But I know you have unresolved feelings for Quinn..." And she's rambling on like she's getting paid by the minute and it should be as annoying as fuck, but at some point over the course of the last year, her voice has stopped making him want to jab sharp objects into his own ear.

Even if at least half of what she's saying is total shit.

"You don't get it, Rachel," he says tiredly when she finally grinds to a halt. "I should have feelings for Quinn. I ought to have way more than I actually have. I can't have gone through all that shit for nothing. Fucking things up with everybody, and having to push and push and push Quinn to even let me help, and being there when Beth was born, and then signing her away. It has to mean something."

"It does," Rachel says steadily. "You don't have to be with Quinn for it to mean something. You don't even have to be in love with Quinn for it to mean something. It means something to Beth. And Shelby." Her face is obscured by a curtain of hair, but he can hear the tightness in her voice when she says the older woman's name. "And you should think about what it mean to you, Noah."

She smiles tiredly, pats his hand, and tells him she'll be around if he ever needs someone to talk to. And then she's gone.

So after that, they're friends. They don't do much together, but they talk sometimes, or hang out at lunch. She tells him to shut up when he says something disgusting in Glee and sometimes he says something disgusting just to get her to do it. It's good. Only, he still dreams about her sometimes. (And secretly, he thinks God is starting to get a little impatient.)

Which brings him back to the bleachers. And the pissed-off handful of girl he's still got an arm snaked around.

"Come off it, Rach," he says. "I know you're hurting, but be honest with yourself. How much of this is about what you're feeling versus what you think you should be feeling?"

She frowns at him and he stares right back. "I'm not sure," she admits at last, a little unwillingly.

"Yeah, I figured. I figured something else out too. Want to know what it is?"

She nods suspiciously (fuck, this girl knows him) and he moves in slowly and tilts his mouth over hers, as soft as he can until he feels her lean into it a little and then he increases the pressure, brushing his thumb gently along her cheekbone. Her hands come up to find a better grip on his shirt, and encouraged, he licks a careful line along her lower lip and her tongue darts out to touch his.

The whole thing, the kiss, and the way she feels in his arms, it's amazing and he wants more, as much as she's willing to give him, but there's no way in hell he's going to push it. He knows Rachel. She's going to want to analyze this shit six ways from Sunday.

And she's a little breathless and her eyes are wide with confusion, but her lips are curving around the edges.

"Give it some thought, Rach," he grins at her, before grabbing her hand and pulling her smoothly to her feet. "I'm not going anywhere. In fact, you still need a ride home?"

"That would be nice, Noah. Thank you," she says primly, but the smile is a little wider.

Honestly? He likes his chances.

A/N: written for the PuckRachel drabble meme at LJ. Prompt: "If your heart was really broken, you'd be dead. So shut up."

Thanks so much for reading and I'd love to know what you think.