Title: We'll Meet Again
Pairing: WWII-era Puck & Rachel
Word Count: 10,400+
Summary: (from the PuckRachel drabble meme) English nurse Rachel Berry meets injured American soldier Noah Puckerman and becomes his war bride.
The metal bucket clanked against her long skirt, the red water slopping out and splashing across the floor. Had it not been a normal occurrence, Rachel Berry might have let the sight of bloody water turn her stomach and make her weak in the knees. But as it was then and there in that tiny Belgian hamlet, this was her life.
Rachel dropped the bucket outside with a heavy thud and watched as the water sloshed out and soaked into the snow, turning it a deep crimson color. Looking away, she stared up into the snowy sky and pushed her nurses cap away from her face. Her hand slid into the pocket of her stained apron, pulling out the handkerchief she kept there, and dabbed it across her face. There was a lull of incoming new patients but she knew, thanks to the word that came in from the medics delivering the wounded from the front lines, that the lull wouldn't last. The Americans were just a few miles up the road fighting for every single foot they advanced. Ever so often, the old church basement that served as a makeshift hospital would shake and fear would wash through Rachel's body. She'd endured the blitz of London and she still remembered what that bombing had felt like. Her house had collapsed around her, the bricks crumbling like sand, and when the smoke had cleared, Rachel had ended up an orphan. As a 17-year-old girl in 1940, she'd been lost. Her great-aunt Marcel had taken her in after they'd buried her father but when the opportunity to volunteer with the Red Cross had arisen, she'd taken it out of a sense of duty to both her country and to the memory of her father, a war victim himself. Now it was December of 1944 and Rachel was 21. She'd seen more horror in the past four years than most people would see in three lifetimes. She'd lost count of the number of soldiers that had died, cries for their mothers the last words to ever leave their lips, while she stood helplessly by because their injuries were just too much for someone like her – or anyone, really – to handle.
Rachel bit back a tearful sigh and let a few snowflakes scatter across her heated face. Her mind travelled to the American soldiers she knew were dug in on the front lines just seven miles away. She'd seen so many cases of trench foot and frostbite over the past few months that she wanted to hunt down those American commanders herself and give them an ear-splitting piece of her mind for not taking better precautions before sending the soldiers out to battle. The lack of concern for those boys was mind-boggling to her. Yes, she knew that the Germans were tough but she was also smart enough to know that if the Allied troops wanted to win, they needed to take care of their soldiers.
"Rachel!" The voice travelled out the door, frantic and scared.
"Myra? What is it?" Rachel shoved her kerchief back into her apron and stepped back inside the back door of the church.
Myra Darlington, the head nurse, stood against the door, her face taut with tension. "We just had three soldiers dropped off and the medic said there are five more on the way. There was a shell attack and these men were out on patrol and it's…" Myra sighed. "It's bad, Rachel. Come on inside. I need you."
Rachel watched the older nurse disappear down the dark corridor and she quickly followed behind. The moment she stepped back into the big, cavernous basement, the metallic smell of blood and burned flesh assaulted her nose. There were three soldiers lying on cots, all of them bleeding and unconscious. As Rachel went to the first one, she assessed his wounds and glanced back up at his face. He had a round face and a small nose and he looked like he wasn't a day over 16. She caught the eye of Quinn, a new volunteer from America who was still green, and said, "Morphine, Quinn. Then clean his wounds. This one doesn't appear to be too serious."
Rachel stepped away from the soldier, moving quickly to the next cot. Her heels clicked on the stone floor and she ignored the sound, her eyes landing on the man in front of her. His eyes were closed and his handsome face was pale – as pale as she'd ever seen another living human be. Dragging her gaze away from the long lashes that lay across his defined cheekbones, she glanced down and her stomach churned. There was a hole in his abdomen, below and to the left of his belly button, the size of her fist.
"Get the surgeon!" Rachel barked loudly. Her eyes darted around the room and she spied the doctor, his white coat streaked with the brownish hue of dried blood. "Dr. Williamson, we need to operate on this one right now!"
The doctor nodded and motioned for two orderlies to move the patient into the operating room that used to serve as the church's wine cellar. Rachel grabbed a few clean towels and darted into the room, quickly assembling the surgical tools they'd use to hopefully save that young soldier's life.
The orderlies brought the man in and Rachel found herself staring at the hole in his stomach again. Her eyes traveled over him and she said a silent prayer that maybe this time, one would live. Maybe just maybe, he'll pull through. Please, just let one pull through.
As the surgeon pulled back the soldier's shirt and then cut it off, Rachel studied his dog tags.
NOAH E. PUCKERMAN
33149258 T42 42 B
MARGIE S. PUCKERMAN
Her eyes settled on the H and she let out a small sigh. Hebrew. With a quick thought as to where exactly Lima, OH was and if his mother, Margie, was worrying sick about her brave son at that very moment, Rachel dropped his tags and darted over to the doctor, grabbing the bottle of ether. Once she administered the drug, she nodded at the surgeon and then cleared her mind of any personal thoughts about this soldier. She just needed him to live. Nothing else mattered.
Rachel was back at the hospital early the next morning. Her shift didn't start until 12pm but the small room she shared with three other nurses in the back of a kindly old woman's chalet was cramped and cold. She'd been at the hospital until nearly midnight because once they'd removed the shrapnel from the handsome soldier, who she'd learned was a Sergeant in D Company with the 506th Parachute Infantry Division of the 101st Airborne, she'd attended to the other seven soldiers that had been brought in. She'd considered it a successful night because, by the time she went home, only two of them men had died from their injuries. But the surgeon had told her as he'd stitched up Sgt. Puckerman's wounds and wiped the blood from his body that his injuries were serious and that he might not make it. Concern and wonder over his mortality propelled Rachel back inside the hospital early.
The hospital was calm and quiet when she stepped inside. She hadn't heard any artillery fire in the distance on her way from the chalet to the hospital and she hoped that it meant that there was another lull going on. She'd been serving at the hospital for over three months now and she was honestly tired of the war. Especially this particular battle seemed brutal and never-ending. She dreamed daily of the Germans surrendering, which meant she could go home to London while all the Americans could go home and return to the lives they'd abruptly abandoned to come fight on foreign ground.
Rachel nodded at Myra and the older nurse stared at her curiously. "You're far too early, dear. Why are you here already?"
Rachel shrugged as she unbuttoned her cloak and hung it on the coat rack. "I was restless and the house just felt so cramped for some odd reason. I might as well come here where I can at least do some good."
Myra pursed her lips and nodded before stepping away. Rachel heaved a sigh of relief that she wasn't about to get another lecture about overworking herself. She'd endured enough of those already.
Making her way between the closely cramped cots, Rachel bent to check on the patients. Patting one on the shoulder, he grinned up at her through his bandaged face and reached out to squeeze her fingers. Rachel felt tears prickle her eyes as she squeezed them back before dropping his hand. This young man had lost an eye. It was an injury that ensured he'd get to go home, back to his parents and his sweetheart in Colorado, but he had a long, tough road ahead of him.
Rachel's eyes landed on Quinn, who was standing quietly on the edge of the cot that held Sgt. Puckerman. She silently slipped next to the woman and asked softly, "How's he doing?"
Quinn shrugged. "He made it through the night. He hasn't even tried to awaken yet, though."
Glancing at the woman out of the corner of her eye, Rachel let out a small breath of air. "I see the way you're looking at him, Quinn. Don't go falling in love with the patients. They're only here until they're strong enough to be transferred to the hospital back in England and then you'll never see them again. And this one," she motioned toward the bed as she lowered her voice, "might not make it at all. If you're going to be successful as a front line nurse, you have to embrace the idea of emotional detachment and then put it into serious practice. Now, please go assist Myra."
Rachel's tone left no room for discussion and Quinn nodded, scurrying away quickly with a sideways glance towards the handsome, unconscious soldier. Rachel stepped closer to him and checked his bandages. Realizing that the wound was seeping and that Quinn had been too busy mooning over the man to even bother to address his needs, she let anger surge through her for just a moment. Then, after casting a hateful glance in the direction of the prim and proper blonde, she went to work. Removing the bandage, Rachel was pleased to see that the stitches were still holding. She grabbed the supplies from nearby and then cleaned the wound. Pressing the blankets down low, her cheeks flushed as the very top part of his pubic bone, dusted with dark, wiry hair, came into view. Compose yourself, Rachel admonished. You've seen plenty of naked men over the years from doing this work. Rachel cast a glance up at the soldier's face as she applied another bandage and studied the way his chest moved evenly, his breathing regulated. Relief sunk into her as she noticed that color was returning to his face. No longer was he as pale as death. He's going to make it. That thought filled her with as much joy as she'd allowed herself to feel since this horrible, horrible war had started.
With a final glance towards Sgt. Puckerman, Rachel headed to the next bed. There were 34 men in this room and she couldn't spend time focusing on just one, regardless of how attractive that one may be.
It took three days for him to wake up. Three days of Rachel catching Quinn standing at his bedside at every possible free moment, her eyes on his face, her lips parted and with a dreamy look in her eyes. Three days of more soldiers dying in their cots, their families thousands of miles away and no one to properly tell them goodbye as they slipped into lifelessness while Rachel stood helplessly by. By the time Sgt. Puckerman opened his eyes, Rachel was weary from the number of injured men that had come through the crumbling doors of the old church. She was checking the dog tags from the body of a newly expired soldier when Quinn shouted, "Rachel! Come here! His eyes are open!"
Rachel tucked her hands into her apron pockets and briskly walked over to the bedside. The soldier was rolling his head back and forth slowly. His eyes drifted open and then closed again, over and over, until they finally opened and held. He turned his head toward Rachel and rasped, "Water."
"Quinn, water. Now!" Rachel ordered. Quinn zipped away and came back with a tin cup full of cold water. With a pained look in her eye, she passed the cup over to the more experienced nurse and watched as Rachel bent down.
"Sgt. Puckerman," she said softly, "I need you to take small sips, okay? No big gulps." Rachel slid her hand along his back and helped lift him just slightly so that he could drink.
He nodded, his hazel eyes bleary, as he slowly sipped from the cup. When he was done, a smile spread across his face and Rachel's throat caught. He was far more handsome awake than he had been asleep. Satisfied, he sunk back into his sheets and winced. "What the hell happened to me?"
Rachel handed the cup to Quinn and answered, "You took shrapnel to your stomach, Sergeant."
"Puck," he said.
"Excuse me? Puck?" Rachel queried, unsure of what he was trying to say.
A small smile upturned his lips again as he said, "Call me Puck. S'my name."
Rachel tucked the blankets back around him. "Your name is Noah, Sergeant. I can read your dog tags."
"But my men call me Puck," he argued, his voice weakening as his body tried to give into sleep again.
Rachel smiled at him and dropped her hand to clasp over his. "Well I'm not one of your men, Sergeant."
He nodded groggily and said, "No, you're definitely not, Brown Eyes." And then he was asleep.
When Rachel looked up, Quinn was still staring at him, her own eyes wide with wonder. "Quinn, I'm sure there are other soldiers that need your attention. Please see to them."
Rachel's dismissive tone sent Quinn away and Rachel shook her head as she straightened the blankets over the now-sleeping man. Relieved that he was out of danger and would most likely make it back home to Lima, Ohio, she cast one last glance toward his sleeping face before going about her duties.
Rachel was removing her apron at the end of her shift and updating her relief about the status of their most serious cases when she noticed the Sergeant struggling to sit up in his bed. Making her way toward him, she quickly placed her hands around his bicep to help him. He sighed heavily and adjusted the blankets about his waist, wincing as pain shot through him. "Thanks," he finally wheezed.
"Do you need more pain medication, Sergeant?"
He shook his head. "You can call me Noah since you refuse to call me Puck," he said.
"We're really supposed to be respectful and formal at all times," Rachel confided.
Noah snorted. "Considering you've taken care of me and I'm obviously naked under this blanket, is there really a point to the formality shit at this point?"
Rachel's cheeks colored and she said, "I suppose you're right, Noah."
A satisfied grin on his face, he closed his eyes. "I feel like hell. Like I've been run over by a tank and then shot."
"You should. You're lucky to be alive. We had to dig quite a bit of metal from your intestines."
Noah's eyes opened and he met Rachel's gaze. "You helped operate on me, too?"
Rachel nodded. "We're a front line hospital. We all do everything we can to keep you men alive once you arrive at our doorstep."
Noah patted the edge of his bed, indicating that he wanted Rachel to sit down. She glanced over her shoulder and once she was satisfied that no one needed her, she complied, perching herself on the very edge of his cot.
"I owe you one. And as soon as I'm healed and can get back out there with my men, I'll find a way to thank you."
Rachel gasped. "You're not going to go back to the front lines for a very long time, if at all, Noah. This injury is a serious one. You're going to be here until you're strong enough to travel and then you'll be shipped off to England to heal completely."
"But my men need me," he argued. "It's a fucking mess out there. Those goddamn Germans are—" he cut himself off when he saw Rachel blanch. "Sorry," he said, "not used to being around respectable women. I'll try to control the swearing."
Rachel fidgeted with the edge of his blanket. "I can handle your language, Noah. Believe me, I've heard and seen just about everything since I've been doing this."
Noah closed his eyes and let out a breath. "This is shit. I've been awake for five minutes and I just wanna sleep again."
"Well then sleep. I have to get going anyway. I don't want to keep you from your rest. I'll be back tomorrow."
Nodding, Noah tugged the blanket up around his chest. "Thanks, Nurse…" Opening his eyes, he looked at her. "Nurse what?"
"Rachel," she said. "Nurse Rachel Berry."
"Rachel Berry from England," he said softly.
Blushing, Rachel nodded. "The accent gives it away, I suppose."
Noah smiled. "I like it."
An uncomfortable feeling of longing settled low in Rachel's stomach and she stood quickly. "I'll see you tomorrow, Noah. Sleep well."
He gave her a little wave and Rachel watched him close his eyes as sleep overtook him again. Feeling exhausted herself, she made her way back to her quarters.
As expected, Quinn was by Noah's bedside when Rachel got to the hospital the next afternoon. Noah was sitting up and was sipping from the spoon full of broth that Quinn held to his lips. As Rachel removed her cloak and shook the fluffy snow from it, she watched Quinn smile, her cheeks red, as she fed the ailing soldier. Noah's eyes were wide today and Rachel could tell that he was fully awake and that his attention was completely on the pretty, porcelain-skinned nurse. Ignoring the pang of discomfort that settled in her chest, Rachel stopped by the first bed to check on a corporal that had been there for a month. His burns were healing nicely and he was about to be shipped to England where he could recover in a much nicer hospital than their bare-bones facility.
Making her way from bed to bed, Rachel found her eyes drifting to Noah several times. Quinn was now sitting on the edge of his cot, almost exactly where Rachel had sat the night before, and he was laughing. He winced, though, as laughing stretched muscles that had been ripped apart by shrapnel, and Quinn was soon cooing over him, helping him recline back in the covers. As she adjusted his blankets, she met Rachel's eye and Rachel watched the blush creep into her cheeks and down her neck. Rachel found herself rolling her eyes and ignoring the two as she moved on to check on her next patient. That girl was smitten with the handsome American, she knew.
And hour later, Rachel had attended to all the men whose cots stretched along the north wall of the room. As she crossed the narrow aisle way and began checking on those along the south wall, she heard a voice say, "It's not nice to ignore people, Rachel."
From three beds over, Noah was smiling at her. Rachel looked down at the sleeping patient in front of her before moving to the next one. "I haven't made my way to you yet, Sergeant."
She heard him sigh and say, "So we're back to that again. Call me Noah, dammit."
Rachel ignored him as she tended to the two gravely ill men in the beds next to Noah and then she finally turned her attention toward him. When she spoke, her voice was icier than she intended for it to be. "You seemed to be in good hands with Nurse Quinn, Noah. I thought I'd take care of the men not getting such…personal…attention."
Rachel pushed his blanket back and checked his bandage, annoyance flooding her when she realized that it was bloody and needed changing. "She was over here for an hour and didn't even change your bandages," Rachel muttered under her breath.
Turning away quickly, she grabbed some fresh bandages and then returned and went about the business of removing his bandages and replacing them with clean ones. While she worked, she felt Noah's eyes on her and it made her uncomfortable. She honestly couldn't remember when she'd felt so scrutinized. But when she finally met his eyes, a kind but tired gaze met hers. "Thanks," he said.
"I'm just doing my job, Noah," she said as she tossed his bandages into the bucket at the end of his bed.
"I know…doesn't mean I still can't say thanks. You did save my life and all."
Rachel pulled his blankets back up, quickly covering his bare chest and arms before she allowed her eyes linger and roam, and shook her head. "No, the surgeon did that. I was merely assisting."
She started to turn away but Noah grabbed her hand. "I think I like the idea of a pretty brown-eyed dame like you saving my life over some old, balding man."
Rachel found herself smiling as she looked into his eyes. "You're an incorrigible flirt."
"Baby, you don't even know," he countered.
Before she could let herself blush like a schoolgirl (or worse, like Quinn) again, Rachel slipped her hand from his. "I'll check on you later."
She felt Noah's eyes follow her as she walked away and it almost made her pause and turn back but she pushed the urge away and moved to the next bed. She still had a job to do, regardless of whatever attraction she felt for the American.
Within 20 minutes of Rachel leaving his bedside, Quinn was back again. Rachel's brow furrowed into a deep scowl as she watched the pretty nurse talk animatedly to Noah, who looked as though she captivated him. The twinges of jealousy shot through her again and she shrugged, her thoughts on her own appearance as she changed the leg bandages of an older soldier. Her long brown hair felt limp and dull because she always kept it in a tight bun at the base of her neck. Her nose, larger than normal, was a dead-giveaway of her own Jewish heritage. And her eyes, which she always felt was her best feature, seemed sunken in and surrounded by dark circles. Rachel looked in the mirror that hung on the wall as she stood to move to the next bed and sighed. She looked like she was a 35-year-old, haggard woman instead of the 21-year-old woman that she was. Casting a furtive glance at Noah and Quinn, Rachel inwardly groaned. The beautiful blonde American was exactly what the injured soldier needed to heal quickly. As much as it irritated her to see Quinn shirking her duties at the expense of this one soldier, Rachel said nothing. She bit her tongue and picked up Quinn's slack because, she knew that the more Noah smiled, the quicker he would heal.
At the end of Rachel's shift, she removed her apron and dropped it into the soapy bucket so that it could be washed. Letting her eyes sweep over the room, she noticed that Noah was asleep. Not wanting to disturb him, she quickly grabbed her cloak and slipped out the door.
The hospital was chaotic the next day when Rachel arrived. The Germans had surged during the night, attacking an entire platoon of dug-in Americans with a barrage of shells that splintered the trees around them, sending toothpick like shards of wood into their extremities, and in the worst cases, their eyes. Several medics were hanging back to help the nurses and doctors get the new arrivals situated. Rachel was soon pulled into several surgeries and by the time they were done, her apron was streaked with blood and her stomach hurt from worry.
She stepped out of the church and into the snowy evening and let out a breath, her eyes watching as the condensation drifted upward and disappeared. Quinn slipped out the door and stood next to Rachel, her eyes toward the sky.
"What an awful day," Quinn said.
"Yes," Rachel agreed. "I'm so tired of this. It just… it never gets better. How long can they keep this up?"
Quinn shrugged. "From what Noah's told me, the Germans are very tough fighters."
Rachel stiffened at Quinn's mention of the sergeant's name and it didn't go unnoticed by Quinn. "You told me not to fall for him… was that because you were trying to protect me or because you wanted him for yourself?"
Her eyes narrowing, Rachel stared at Quinn, who added, "I see the way you look at him when you think no one is around, Rachel. And I don't blame you. He's handsome and funny and you can tell he's thankful to be alive."
Rachel nodded because Quinn was right. He was all of those things and, although Rachel didn't know him well, she could tell he was much more than that, too.
"But he's American. And I'm American. We're actually both from Ohio, did you know that?"
"No," Rachel said softly, the sinking feeling returning to her stomach.
"And so we have more to talk about than you and he because of that shared connection. I don't want you to be uncomfortable around him and I but I have to tell you that I'm very taken with him and I think he is with me as well."
Rachel looked away, watching as the gentle snow fell as it had for days. "I have no interest in him other than getting him healthy and letting him go home to his family. I told you that romantic connections are dangerous here and they are." Taking on Quinn's fiery gaze with her own, Rachel said, "Don't let yourself get hurt, Quinn."
"He won't hurt me," Quinn said. "I can feel it."
When the door opened at that moment and Myra's head popped out, relief shot through Rachel. "Quinn, I need you in here," she ordered.
Quinn disappeared inside and Rachel followed, her heart heavy from the weight of Quinn's words. Maybe she was letting herself become emotionally attached to the handsome American soldier. And it was wrong, she knew. With the resolve to make sure she didn't grow any closer to him, she spent the rest of her shift busy with the most gravely injured men. Quinn rarely left Noah's side anyway.
"Why're you ignoring me?"
The question startled Rachel and she jumped. She finished tucking the blankets in on the bed next to Noah's and then turned to face him. "I have no idea what you're talking about. In case you haven't noticed, we've had an influx of new patients and I've been busy."
"Bullshit," Noah said. "You haven't talked to me in two fucking days."
"Has your care suffered?" Rachel asked, her lips pinched tightly together. "Because it looks to me like you've been more than cared for by Quinn."
She watched something flicker in Noah's eyes and the look he gave her made her feel exposed. "Quinn's done a fine job, yeah. But I prefer you," he said quietly.
Rachel's words caught in her throat and her eyes met his. He reached out and grabbed her hand, tugging her down to sit on the edge of the cot.
"Quinn's very taken with you," Rachel whispered.
Noah nodded. "I know. I can tell. But she's just a kid."
Rachel let out a small laugh. "She's a year older than I am."
Shaking his head, Noah said, "Yeah, but she's also green around the gills half the time she's here. She hasn't seen the shit you've seen. And she hasn't dug shrapnel out of my fucking gut. That makes her a kid and you not one."
Rachel's mouth opened and she glanced down, her eyes settling on the dog tags that laid against his bare chest. "No, you're right about that. But still, I need to keep my distance. She wants you. You're both American, you're both from Ohio… it makes sense."
"And you're a gorgeous, Jewish Brit and I prefer you," Noah said, exasperated. Rachel wanted to argue with his very incorrect assessment about her appearance but when he clasped his hand over hers, the argument died on her lips. "So stop avoiding me, dammit. I miss talking to you."
The sound of metal clattering pulled both Noah and Rachel away from their haze and their eyes landed on Quinn, who was standing a few feet away with metal cups and plates scattered around her. Anger and hurt flashed in her eyes and she turned away, quickly bending to pick up her discarded items.
"Oh, no," Rachel muttered under her breath. Pushing up, she let go of Noah's hand and smiled at him. "I'll be back later," she whispered.
He smiled and grabbed her hand again, pressing a kiss to her open palm. Rachel's heart fluttered and she blushed, her face beet red, before she stepped away.
Quinn started ignoring the both of them and Rachel only felt a slight bit of remorse. She began spending an hour or two at the end of the shift by Noah's bedside, learning about him. He was 22-years-old and had spent his entire life in Lima, Ohio, which, Rachel had learned, was in what Americans called the "Midwest." His mother, Margie, was working in an airplane factory in Lima and he had a younger sister, Betsy, who was a teenager in the local high school. He'd enlisted in the Army in 1942 and had done basic training at Camp Toccoa, Georgia, where he'd learned how to jump from planes as well as how to fight the enemy. When Rachel asked him why he chose to pursue the Airborne division instead of something else, he just shrugged and said, "If I was going to have to get involved in this goddamn war anyway, I wanted to go with the guys who were least likely to get my ass blown up or shot." The logic made perfect sense to Rachel, who knew that the airborne troops were highly regarded for their valor and bravery.
"Did...did you jump on D-Day?" Rachel inquired one evening, approximately a week after they began their more intimate conversations.
Noah nodded. "Yeah, and it was terrifying. As soon as I jumped, I lost my musette bag and so all my weapons and shit went with it. All I had when I finally landed was my stupid knife. And my unit was scattered all over the fucking French countryside." Rachel watched Noah's eyes darkened and a nearly imperceptible shudder ran through his body. He was silent for a moment and when he looked at her again, he sighed and changed the subject.
"So tell me about you. You know all about my life back in America. You're still a mystery."
And so Rachel told him about the London blitz and losing her father. She told him that she barely remembered her mother, who had died of a fever when Rachel was only two. She explained about the need to help the war effort and deciding to volunteer with the Red Cross because she'd taken a few nursing courses back in London. And before she could help herself, she told him about her dreams.
"It's stupid, really," Rachel said, her eyes downcast. "But I love to sing and I honestly dream of singing on the Broadway stage." Lifting her eyes, she added, "You know, in New York City?"
Noah let out a chuckle and said, "I've been there, yeah, I know it."
Rachel's eyes widened. "You've been there? Tell me about it? Please?"
So as Rachel helped Noah wrap a blanket around his waist and then supported him so that he could take his first steps since the fateful day when he'd been injured, he told her about his week in New York City prior to loading onto a troop ship and heading for England. Rachel held onto him tightly, listening to his every word. Her cheeks heated, though, when she had to slide her hands across his bare chest and down to his waist to add extra support because he was still so weak. She'd seen hundreds of naked or barely clothed men over the years but she'd never been so attracted to one before now. The fact that she had such intimate knowledge of his body and of the strong sinew of his muscles while having never even touched him in a romantic fashion made her feel strange inside. She didn't know this man hardly at all and yet she felt like she really, truly knew him.
"I want to see New York so badly," Rachel said wistfully once they'd made it back to his cot. She helped him recline again, his hands braced on her shoulders, as he winced and sat back down. When she realized that their faces were just inches apart, her eyes fell to his lips. She heard him snicker and looked up at him, curiosity written on her face.
"I'm dyin' to kiss you, ya know," he admitted, his voice low.
Rachel smiled and bit her lip. "I'd like that," she confessed.
"Not gonna do it in the middle of this damn hospital though."
Rachel's face fell and Noah laughed, bringing her hand up to his lips to kiss it. "But soon, somewhere away from here, I'm kissing you and you won't forget it."
"No," Rachel said earnestly, "I don't fathom that I will."
Patton's advancing army sent the Germans running right as 1944 was becoming 1945 and when the news arrived at the hospital that the Germans were withdrawing, a cheer of relief went up inside the small space. Nurses cried, soldiers cried, and Rachel flung herself into Noah's arms. Even though he flinched when her stomach made contact with his, he held her tight and wound his fingers into her hair. Their lips nearly brushed before an excited soldier patted Noah on the back, forcing the two to break apart so that he could shake hands with his fellow comrade.
Rachel was soon caught up in the celebration as she watched Myra smile for the first time since she'd known the woman. Myra pulled Rachel and Quinn into a huge hug and then started talking rapidly about how the hospital would close and the nurses and patients would all be sent back to a hospital in England. Rachel's breath caught at the idea of returning home. She hadn't been back in England in 18 months.
Just as Myra had predicted, when Rachel arrived at the hospital three days later, trucks were being loaded with equipment and the healthier patients. She searched frantically for Noah and when her eyes landed on him standing, dressed again loose pants and a shirt, her heart fluttered. He excused himself from the other soldier he'd been talking to and made his way toward her. His steps were careful and she watched the pain of his movement play across his face.
"Hi, Brown Eyes," he said, his eyes above her forehead as he looked to see who was within earshot. "I'm leaving for the hospital in England in 20 minutes. When're you coming?"
"The end of the week. Myra and I are going to stay to make sure everything is packed and moved."
"Shit," Noah muttered. "Be careful, okay? There're still German snipers around and I…" he paused and looked at her. "Just be safe. Promise me?"
Rachel nodded and grabbed his hand. "Do you want to test your strength and head up the stairs? We could have a few minutes alone outside?"
Noah's eyes brightened and suddenly, Rachel watched him move faster than she'd ever seen him. He slowed, though, as he traversed the stairs and by the time he got to the top, he was swearing and sweating, pain etched across his face.
"That fucking hurt," he winced, leaning against the cold brick of the old building. "Goddamn, that hurt."
Rachel stepped close to him and wrapped her arms around his neck. "You aren't healed yet, silly. You won't be for a while. You have to stop pushing yourself."
Noah wound his arms around her waist and bent down, his forehead against hers. "I hate being sick, doll. It's a sign of the weak."
Rachel sighed and glared at him through her lashes. "You had a bomb explode in your stomach. The fact that you're breathing is a miracle so stop complaining because I—"
Noah's lips were on hers before she could finish speaking and her mind went blank as he coaxed her into a deep kiss. He was gentle with her and Rachel nearly shook from the nervousness of it all. When they finally parted a few minutes later, Noah grinned. "Damn, that felt good."
"It did," Rachel said before pushing herself up on her toes and pressing her mouth against his again. Noah chuckled against her mouth but then kissed her back, turning to press her against the building. His hand slid down her sides and bracketed her hips, tugging her against him, as he slipped is tongue between her lips for the first time. When she gasped against his lips, he grinned and dove in for more. He stopped kissing and let out a grunt when she rubbed against his wound but then came after her mouth again, taking her lips roughly.
They jumped apart when they heard the door open and then soldiers began moving the injured out and loading them onto the trucks. Noah put his arm against the building, blocking Rachel from the view of onlookers, as he kissed her for the last time, whispering, "See ya at the end of the week. Be safe."
Rachel blew him a kiss and watched as he climbed up into the truck, swearing from the pain all the way. Once he was seated, he winked at her and she nodded. When the truck pulled away, Rachel felt her eyes grow moist. Feeling like a lovesick teenager, she pushed aside the sadness of seeing him leave and went back inside.
Right on the other side of the door, Rachel nearly ran head-first into Quinn. The blonde stared at Rachel for a moment before shaking her head. "You could have just admitted to me that you wanted him instead of lecturing me about not getting involved. It makes you look like a hypocrite."
Guilt surged through Rachel and she reached for the blonde, attempting to place a comforting hand on her shoulder. Quinn shrugged her off, though, and stepped away. I"m sorry," Rachel said. "I truly didn't intend to develop feelings for him. There's... there's just something about him."
Quinn looked at Rachel and their eyes locked. "I know," Quinn said sadly. And before Rachel could say anything else, Quinn pushed past her and stepped outside.
The air felt different in England. Rachel took a big, deep breath and let it settle in her lungs. It was like her body knew she was home. She dashed inside the huge hospital without her uniform on so that she wouldn't be put to work until she'd had a chance to see Noah. She finally found him in the recovery wing on the 4th floor, sitting in a chair with a dozen other men, listening to the radio and reading a magazine. His face broke out into a grin when he saw her and he stood up carefully and grabbed her, pulling her into a kiss in front of the other soldiers. Surrounded by the whistles and catcalls, Rachel kissed him back, relishing in his closeness and the scent of him.
"I missed you," she said against his lips.
"Yep," he nodded. "Me, too, Brown Eyes."
When they parted, Noah snagged her hand and laced their fingers together. Ignoring the hoots of the guys behind him, they made their way away from prying eyes and into an empty hallway. She was soon backed against the wall as he dragged his lips along her neck and jaw line. Rachel shivered under his hot breath and he smiled. "I love making you do that."
Rachel pressed her hand over his mouth before he could say something that would embarrass her further and then she pressed a kiss against his cheek.
"So I have some news," he said. The way his face changed made Rachel brace herself. Even before he spoke, she knew what he was going to say.
"The doctors say that I'm well enough to go home. I'm getting sent back at the end of the week. On a hospital ship and then home to finish recovering in America. The war is over for me."
Rachel's face fell. She knew that he would eventually leave but she didn't think it would be so soon. She opened her mouth to speak but closed it again as tears filled her eyes. Instead of saying anything, she wrapped her arms around his neck and tucked her face against his collarbone. "I'm going to miss you so, so much," she said into his shirt.
"Fuck, baby, I don't want to leave you…we've just started this whole thing."
Rachel swiped at the tears on her cheeks and smiled up at him. "But you'll get to go home, Noah. Back where you belong and where you can finish recovering. And then you can start a regular life and get married and have children and the war will be just a me—"
"Marry me," Noah said. The words rushed out of his mouth in such a way that he looked shocked himself that he'd said it. But then he smiled and looked Rachel square in the eye. "Marry me," he repeated.
"What? That's…that's preposterous!" Rachel's heart pounded and even as she protested, she knew it was half-hearted. She paused and then she and Noah stared at one another before she nodded. "Yes, okay!"
Noah grabbed her around the waist and tried to lift her up before grunting, swearing loudly, and dropping her. "Shit, sorry, doll. That still fucking hurts."
Rachel laughed as tears clung to her lashes. "It's fine, Noah. We'll have plenty of time for that later. If we're really getting married, I need to find a rabbi and find a dress and figure it all out and…" Meeting his eyes, she said, "There's so much to do!"
Noah grinned and nodded. "How 'bout you figure it all out and let me know where to be? Although I guess we'll have to get married at this damn hospital since I'm still a patient. D'you mind?"
Rachel shook her head vehemently. "No. Not at all! That's completely fine. It's just… It's a bit sudden." She paused and swallowed. "I'm getting married!"
Fingers threading through her hair, Noah tugged her hair back and crashed his mouth against her in a wet, possessive kiss. When he let go, he said, "Just tell me the time and place, baby, and I'll be there."
With a quick parting kiss, Rachel pulled away and dashed down the hall, words like "rabbi" and "dress" floating behind her. Noah just watched her go, laughing all the while.
Rabbi Silverman married them on a Thursday night after dinner. Rachel found herself in a dark gray dress with a cinched waist and a pair of dressy, worn heels. It wasn't her dream wedding dress, not by any stretch of the imagination, but it was wartime and silk was an impossibility to find. Besides, she was hardly a traditional bride so why would she want a traditional dress? A few of the soldier friends that Noah had made stood up for him and Myra stood at Rachel's side, beaming like a mother instead of a supervisor. Afterwards, the supervising doctor gave them exactly one hour of privacy before Noah had to be back in bed. They spent their first hour as man and wife slowly walking the hospital grounds, their hands linked tightly.
"I wish it were spring," Rachel commented. "I'd love to see the gardens in full bloom."
Noah tugged her against him as they sat down on a bench and turned her face towards his for a kiss. "I'll make sure you have a garden, baby, I promise. Once this goddamn war is over and fucking Hitler finally gets his ass handed to him on a silver platter, you'll have all the flowers you could ever want."
Rachel bobbed her head silently and leaned her head against his shoulder. She wouldn't let herself think about the fact that tomorrow he would be leaving her to go to America. She had no idea when she'd see him again and the thought terrified her. She started to cry, soft silent tears, but she felt him shake his head.
"No tears, dollface. You're mine, okay? Yeah, we'll be apart and that's gonna be some hard shit to deal with but you'll come to America soon, right?"
"Of course," Rachel answered. "As soon as I'm permitted."
Noah kissed her softly and said, "And when I see you again, I'll be healed. And then we can have the wedding night we should be having tonight."
Rachel blushed at his implications, a deep burn settling low in her belly. The feeling was almost indescribable and the only time she'd ever felt it in her life was when she was around this man. She knew it was desire even though she'd never been able to do anything about it. Knowing that someday, even though it might be a while from now, she would get to act on that feeling, made her tremble with anticipation. "I can't wait," she admitted.
His lips were rough against hers and she could tell that, had he been even slightly more healed than he was, their caresses would have become much more intense and passionate. But as dark settled over the hospital grounds, the nurse in Rachel pushed forward and she said, "Back to bed, Mr. Puckerman. I need you healthy and ready to board that ship tomorrow."
Standing up, Noah saluted his new wife and put his arm around her shoulder. When they made their way back inside his wing of the hospital, Myra surprised them with cake and punch. Rachel was glad for the distraction because she didn't want to start crying already.
The tears started the next day, though. As Noah kissed her again and again, promises to write as much as possible leaving his lips, Rachel wanted to cling to him. But she knew he needed to go home and heal. He'd do so much better back home.
"I'll never stop thinking about you," he promised, his voice harsh with emotion that he'd never voice.
"Me, too," Rachel promised. "But we'll meet again, right?"
Noah laughed and kissed her on the nose. "We sure the fuck will. At home."
The word danced around Rachel's brain as she watched her husband of 15 hours climb inside a transport vehicle. He pressed his index and middle fingers to his lips and kissed them as he looked at her and Rachel stifled a sob. Waving, she watched the doors closed and when she couldn't see him anymore, she took a deep breath.
He's going home. And I'm going to join him.
Home with Noah.
Those thoughts would keep her going.
Winter turned to Spring in England and Rachel worked as many hours at the hospital as she could. She saved nearly every dime, squirreling it away to use to buy the things she'd need to go to America. And letters came frequently from Noah. They were always cheerful and positive and they did a lot to make the miserable longing she felt more bearable.
A letter arrived in early April that had an Ohio postmark instead of the Pennsylvania postmark that she had become accustomed to. Ripping it open, she was nearly giddy to read that he'd finally arrived back in Lima. He told her of the huge homecoming and that his mother had arranged for a party at their local synagogue. He warned her that his mother was going to be writing Rachel a letter of her own soon and Rachel nearly laughed at herself when her hands started to tremble at the thought.
But then in the last paragraph, Noah told her how much he missed her beautiful face and her pretty brown eyes and that he couldn't wait to hold her. As Rachel went to bed that night with tears on her cheeks, she wasn't sure if his words were daggers or a soothing balm. In a way, she supposed, they were both.
Jubilation hit on April 30. Word spread quickly that, as the Russians had descended upon Berlin, Adolph Hitler had taken his own life. The soldiers in the hospital whooped and hollered and their joy couldn't be contained. Rachel rushed home as fast as she could and wrote out a letter of celebration to Noah. She could just imagine how he felt, back home in America, hearing the news over the radio. And for the first time in years, Rachel believed that the war just might actually be coming to an end.
On May 8th, Rachel's wish came true. With the unconditional surrender of the Germans to the Allies, the war in Europe was over. Celebrations were everywhere and Rachel was swept up in it. She had some wine, she ate some cake, and she danced with a few of the injured soldiers who had forced themselves out of bed to celebrate.
Even though the battle still raged in the Pacific, a calm began to settle over the European continent. And as it did, Rachel's thoughts turned once and for all towards Noah Puckerman and her future home in America.
Letters continued to cross the Atlantic from Blandford to Lima and back again. Noah told Rachel about the small house he'd purchased three streets over from his mother's. And he promised that he'd been exercising and taking care of himself and that he felt strong and almost healed. Rachel told Noah about her life now that her work with the Red Cross was winding down. She talked about all the things she'd seen and how positive life felt now that the war in Europe was over.
And they shared stories about the things they loved: Noah was giving guitar lessons at the Jewish school a few times a week while Rachel was back to practicing her singing again. She admitted that she hadn't felt like singing in years but now, with a war behind her and a husband and future ahead of her, she wanted to sing all the time.
A letter in August told of Noah's new job as a police officer with the Lima Police Department. He promised her that the salary he made meant that she wouldn't have to work if she didn't want to. And that he was saving up money so that, by the time she finally made it to America, he'd have a car of his very own.
In September, as the Japanese surrendered to the Americans and the world war officially came to an end, Rachel began the confusing and frustrating process of gathering together the paperwork that would allow her to join her husband in America. The process was much more complicated than she'd originally anticipated and it required her to go to London and procure copies of her birth certificate and other proof of residency that would allow her to transfer her citizenship to America.
As Noah worked on preparing for Rachel's arrival and Rachel prepared to leave the United Kingdom behind for good, the letters continued, usually crossing in the mail. Rachel talked about having dinner with Myra, who was now working as a nurse in a hospital, and even running into Quinn, who was gracious but distant.
A letter in November arrived and Noah told Rachel about running into his friend, Finn, who was back from the Pacific and was much more serious and withdrawn than he'd ever been when they were wide-eyed kids who played on the streets of Lima. "I think he's seen things," Noah wrote, "that I can't even imagine. And I saw shit that I can barely stand to think about, Rachel. I may have taken shrapnel to the gut but honestly, I may have had it easy compared to what those guys saw on those tiny islands."
Rachel's heart hurt when she received a particularly poignant letter from Noah just as Hanukkah was starting. He'd run into his friend, Artie, in the five-and-dime in Lima. "He's in a wheelchair, Rachel. Those fuckers shot him in the spine. He'll never walk again." Noah's messy scrawl was even more difficult to read than normal and it was then, when Rachel could practically feel his anguish through the paper and across the vast ocean, that she realized that she was in love with him. They may have only had six weeks together and had been apart for nearly a year already but she was sure that she loved him. And it made her long to get to America as soon as possible. He shouldn't have to endure the heartbreak alone.
Boarding the ship that would take her to America was probably the most excited that Rachel had ever been. After spending five days at Tidsworth Transit Camp, where she and thousands of other war brides were processed and prepped to board the ship that would take them to their husbands and their new lives in America, Rachel finally settled her bags into her stateroom and let out a huge sigh of relief and excitement. She'd dropped a final letter in the mail to Noah the day before and, she realized as she settled into the small room she was sharing with another bride and her small baby, that she might very well see Noah before her letter reached him. That thought sent a thrill through her. Noah. Finally. After all this time.
Rachel reclined in her bed, her mind on the greenish-gold eyes of her handsome husband. And on his perfect nose and pouty lips… how she'd missed him the past year. They'd been apart nearly 12 times as long as they'd been together and Rachel had to admit that the idea of being with him, living with him day in and day out, terrified her. And when she realized that in just a fortnight, she'd be sharing his bed for the first time, her face flushed and she shuddered. She never imagined it would take over a year from the time she got married to finally consummate her union but in that time, she'd learned a great deal about Noah through his letters. And in that time, she realized that she loved him with her whole heart. She couldn't wait to see him.
The trip to America, though, was rough. The ship was ill equipped for their passengers and the stormy weather meant that the ocean was choppy. Rachel spent as much time as possible with her eyes closed and in a reclining position because the dizziness and misery she felt when upright was almost too much. Halfway through her journey, Rachel began to have doubts and worries. What if Noah didn't like her? What if they didn't get along? What if he wasn't attracted to her anymore? Thanks to the sickness she felt, her mind whirred with possibilities, all of them bad.
But on February 4, 1946, the last day of the voyage, the water was calm and as a result, so was Rachel. When she heard that they were nearing the American coastline, she climbed the many steps to reach the deck and joined the other 450 women along the railing. When the ship passed the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, tears filled Rachel's eyes and spilled over her cheeks.
New York City.
The minutes it took to dock and lower the ramps so that the women and children could disembark were the longest of Rachel's 22 years of life. She dashed back to her stateroom and grabbed her suitcase and then waited in the long, long line as papers were checked and approvals were made.
And then suddenly, she was standing on a pier, surrounded by thousands of people. Her eyes darted everywhere as she searched for the familiar face of the man she loved. He had promised her in his last letter that he'd be there waiting for her ship but as she stared at the faces of thousands of people she'd never seen before, panic overwhelmed her. He wasn't there. Maybe he wasn't coming? Maybe he'd changed his mind?
Just as tears welled up and she started to cry, he materialized in front of her. Pushing through the crowd, his eyes locked with hers and then she dropped her suitcase and vaulted herself into his arms. Noah picked her up, pressed his lips against her cheek, and swung her around.
"You came," she whispered, tears spilling down her cheeks.
Noah pulled back and looked at her. "Why wouldn't I come, dollface? You're my girl, right?"
Rachel nodded happily and pressed her body against his, reaching up to kiss him. "Take me home, Noah," she pleaded.
Noah's eyes clouded as he looked down at his English bride and he nodded, his voice thick. "How 'bout we go back to the hotel, I show you around New York, and then we head home to Ohio tomorrow afternoon?"
Rachel nodded, her mind filled with images of what would happen once they were finally alone for the first time since they met. Noah untangled her arms from around her neck and made he way over to where they were offloading all the large trunks. Once Rachel's had been located, Noah picked it up effortlessly, despite the fact that Rachel thought it weighed nearly as much as she did, and offered her his hand. When their fingers were linked, they made their way through the crowd and to a waiting taxi.
The drive to their hotel was short and Rachel was so distracted by having Noah so close to her that she didn't pay any attention to the New York scenery outside her window. Once the cab stopped in front of the small hotel, Noah shoved some money at the driver and climbed out. They made their way to the elevator and then they were on the fourth floor and Noah was unlocking the door to the room.
As they stepped inside, Noah said, "It isn't much. But I wanted to save most of my money for taking you to a Broadway show tonight."
Rachel shrieked, laughing as she gravitated into his arms again. "We're really going to a Broadway show?"
"You bet we are, Brown Eyes. I mean, I'm not exactly looking forward to listening to them sing and squawk for two hours but you like that shit, right? So yeah, we're going to see Show Boat."
Rachel placed her hands on both sides of Noah's cheeks and brought his face to hers. Brushing her lips against his gently, she whispered, "I think I love you."
Noah's arms tightened around her and he tugged her against him as they both fell onto the mattress. When she was lying on her back, staring up at him with wide, unsure eyes, he said, "I'm pretty sure I love you, too, dollface."
That evening, as the sun went down over New York City, Rachel Puckerman let her husband, who was now healed and strong and had nothing but a scar left to remind him of the physical horrors of the war, make love to her. He knew it was her first time and so he was gentle, whispering words of encouragement into her ear as he pushed himself into her body. Rachel's back arched more from pain than from pleasure but Noah talked her through it and when the ache of pain turned into a throb she couldn't explain because it was so new and different, she relaxed and let him guide her. And when stars exploded inside her head and she stuttered out his name, she couldn't help the tears that fell.
Noah slowly moved his body away from hers, his eyes closing at the intense feeling of leaving her body, and rolled onto his back, pulling her until she rested her head on his chest. "That was worth the very, very long fucking wait," he breathed out.
Rachel giggled against him, her eyes closed. "I'm…that was… I… Thank you, Noah."
She felt a kiss press against her forehead and her eyes became teary again. Noah let out a laugh and then rolled over until he was towering over her. "Baby, you gotta stop with the tears. Shit's good now, okay? War's over, you're here. We're gonna go see that dumb show, go out for some dinner, and then come back here and I'm gonna get you naked again. And then tomorrow, we head home."
Rachel nodded slowly, her brown eyes full of emotion as they locked gazes. "Home."
Noah nodded. "Home to Lima. Home to my crazy Ma. Home to the tiny little house I bought for us. It's not much but I think you'll love it."
Rachel thought about the house in London she'd grown up in that was now just an empty lot, the rubble cleared away long ago. She slid her arms around Noah's back and linked her fingers until she was nearly clinging to him. Pressing a kiss against his neck, she sighed. "Home sounds perfect."