Prompt from the drabble meme: "I couldn't forget you if I tried."
A/N: The title "Waiting" is based off a song by the amazing Scott Grimes. He's a great actor and a very talented musician. Check him out.
And warning, angst head...
The sun is about to set over Maui and the breeze is gently blowing and it's perfect. It's perfect. And she's supposed to be ecstatic because it's her wedding day. Actually, she is ecstatic. She's waited for this day for far too long. But now there's a part of her that's confused, too. And when Santana tells her that it's time, Rachel slips her hand into her friend's and they walk toward the beach together. Santana lets go of her hand, hugs her tightly, and takes her place next to Noah and Mike.
Rachel locks her fingers with Finn and they both turn toward the Justice of the Peace. He starts his spiel and five minutes later, it's done. She and Finn are finally married on that warm June Hawaii evening after years of dating and a long, long engagement.
The sun is setting over Maui as the wedding party (Noah, Santana, Tina, and Mike) and the very new newlyweds all make their way back to the hotel. Rachel catches Noah's eye and he smiles at her. She smiles back but it's empty. She can't understand why he's pretending everything is fine after what she heard not 20 minutes before.
She hadn't meant to be snooping. But she was in her room, pinning flowers into her hair and trying to get control of her nerves, when she'd heard voices outside. She recognized Noah's voice and before she even realized what she was doing, she'd already started listening to the conversation.
"You need to tell her, Puckerman."
"I can't, Santana. I've done a lot of stupid shit in my time but telling her now, when she's about to marry Hudson? That would be the stupidest thing I've ever fucking done."
"So you're just gonna let her marry him and never, ever tell her that you love her? That you've loved her for as long as he has, if not longer? Jesus, Puck, What happened to your balls? You've always just taken the woman you wanted…you never gave a fuck about who you hurt before. Why stop now?"
Rachel heard Noah exhale and swear. "He's my best friend, San. She's one of my closest friends. I accepted a long fucking time ago that I wasn't what she wanted."
"So that's it then?" Santana sounded frustrated.
"Yup," he answered sadly. And then the voices faded away.
Rachel makes herself stop thinking about the conversation and turns back toward those that she loves. They're all sitting around the table inside the hotel restaurant, laughing.
Finn leans back into his seat and looks at the faces of their closest friends. "I wanna thank you all for coming all the way to Maui just to see us get married. We didn't want a huge wedding with how busy Rachel's been but it means everything to us that you're here." Finn smiles sheepishly and squeezes Rachel's hand. "We love you guys."
"To the Hudsons," Noah says, raising his glass. Everyone else raises theirs, too, and the group toasts to friendships past and future and to love.
Rachel feels Noah's eyes on her as she takes a sip from her wine glass. And it's at that moment that she realizes that she's used to feeling his eyes on her. She never identified what it was before but right then, she knows. He's always watching.
Puck hates moving. When he came to New York City at 18, he didn't have much but a guitar and a duffel bag. But eight years later, he's got an apartment and more shit than he knows what to do with and he's not taking any of it with him to Chicago. So he moves around his apartment with a trash bag and randomly tosses magazines, old books that he's never read, beat up dishes, and anything else he can find. He starts his new job in twelve days. He's gotta get this shit done. But he supposes he'd better tell his best friends that he's leaving. They're gonna be pissed because he should have told them six weeks ago. But he only decided to take the job at the record company's new Chicago office right after Finn and Rachel sprung it on everybody that they were going to Hawaii to get married. And then everyone was so busy planning the Hawaii trip and the wedding that he'd kept his mouth shut.
His decision to leave has nothing to do with the fact that she's married now. Nothing. He was just ready for a change of scenery. He's always known that she'd never be his so that's nothing new. But he thinks he's spent too much time hoping that she'll see him, really see him. Hell, if he's honest with himself, he's been trying to get her to see him since they were ten and he pushed off the monkey bars just to hear her use her big words when she yelled at him. But the problem was that she never really saw him as anything other than a diversion from Finn when they were on the outs (over and over again). And over time, they became friends so she definitely never really took a good look at him then, either. But now Finn and Rachel are married and Puck thinks it's time that he sees what else is out there in the world. Rachel Berry—Fuck, Rachel Berry-Hudson is off the market for good now.
For the first time in his life, he thinks he's going to put himself on the market. Maybe there's a woman out there who might actually give a damn about him for more than just a quick lay. And he hopes she's in Chicago because she's sure as fuck not in New York. Nothing in New York but good friends and a shitload of regret.
"What the hell, dude?"
Finn is furious and Rachel is shocked, to say the least.
"You're leaving in a week? How long have you known, Noah?" Rachel asks.
Noah shoves his hands in his pockets. "I took the job six weeks ago. But with the wedding and all, I didn't want to mention it. But then it just kinda snuck up on me."
Rachel's eyes fill with tears. Noah's always been there. He's always been a part of their lives. She can't believe he's leaving. She finds herself walking toward him and wrapping her arms around his neck to hug him.
"I'm going to miss you," she tells him. When he doesn't tell her that he'll miss her, too, and he doesn't even hug her back and just leaves his arms hanging limply at his sides, she lets a tear fall. She knows why he's really leaving. She feels so guilty about it but she supposes there's nothing she can do. She can't help that he has feelings for her. And she can't help that she doesn't return them that way.
Puck's surprised by how much he loves Chicago. It has a very different energy than New York and he's fine with that. Chicago is smaller and it feels more like home. He thinks that he can make a life here and that thought excites him.
He gets a tiny apartment in an edgy, artsy neighborhood near downtown so he can be in the thick of things and then throws himself into his work. He loves working in A & R. Being a talent scout means that he meets some of the most talented (and untalented) people trying to break into music business. He's young, yeah, but he's only gotten as far as he has already because he's worked his ass off and people have noticed. He tries not to think bitterly about the fact that the one person he wanted to notice never did.
In fact, since coming to Chicago, he's tried not to think about her at all. But inevitably, he can't stop himself. It's usually when he's finally back in his apartment and he's nursing his exhaustion with a cold beer that he looks up at one of the framed pictures on his bookshelf and sees her smiling face. And then he thinks about her. But every time he does, he feels like a fucking douchebag for allowing his thoughts to go to his best friend's wife. He's careful to only call their apartment when he knows that Finn is home and that Rachel's working (she does do eight shows a week so she's not home most evenings anyway.) The one time he's seen Rachel's cell phone number pop up on his screen, he was in a meeting and hit the ignore button. She didn't leave a message and he didn't call back. He's tired of looking backward. He's tired of always feeling like the same teenaged moron he used to be and that's how Rachel's always made him feel, even though it's never been intentional. Not good enough, not talented enough, definitely not worthy of being with her. He knows that if he ever voiced those things, she'd yell at him for ten minutes for not believing in himself more. That thought of her ranting with her finger pointed at his face makes him smile for a few seconds and then he gets pissed at himself for thinking about her again so he stops thinking about her completely. There's life after loving a woman that's never loved him and he's going to find it stating now.
It's shocking how much she misses him once he's not around anymore. She was so used to coming home and seeing him on their couch, his feet on her coffee table, when he and Finn played video games. Noah's been their best friend since they started dating at 16. For ten years of her life, he's always been there. And suddenly he's gone and she never talks to him anymore and she hates it. She doesn't have a lot of friends – she's never been one to make friends easily – so she holds dear the ones that she has. She cherishes these friendships because they help keep her sane. Santana's there to encourage her, Tina's there to be the voice of reason, and Mike's there for comic relief. And Noah? He's always been the one to call her on her shit and set her straight with just a few words or a look. Finn gives in to her every whim and she loves that, of course, because she always gets her way. Noah was always telling Finn to tell Rachel no every once in a while, arguing that it would toughen her up. It annoyed her then but now that he's gone, she misses his attitude. He's a realist. She and Finn are dreamers. They just worked as a group. But now a piece of their friendship puzzle is missing and the one time she called, he sent her call straight to voicemail so she didn't bother to leave a message.
She hasn't forgotten the conversation she overheard on their wedding day. She doesn't think about it much, really. Just sometimes, when she's in between awake and asleep, she'll remember the anguish she heard in Noah's voice as he talked to Santana outside her hotel room. She's never heard him sound like that in all her years of knowing him. And she blames herself for his hasty departure. She knows that he's gotten a wonderful career opportunity and she's so proud of him for it. But she can't help but think that if things were different, he'd never leave New York. He loves the city almost as much as she does.
One night, she crawls in bed with Finn and he puts down the magazine he was reading and slides his arm over her shoulder, tugging her tightly against him.
"I miss Puck," Finn says honestly. "Mike sucks at Halo… it's just not the same."
Rachel lets out a laugh because, of course, Finn's most concerned about losing his best video game buddy. Then her face softens and she says, "I miss his inappropriate jokes and the ability to turn every conversation, no matter how tame, into something sexual. I've decided that it takes great skill."
Finn kisses Rachel's forehead and says, "Well, the holiday are coming up. Maybe he'll come back for a visit? I know he's busy but I hope we see him soon. It's just feels different and I hate it."
Rachel nods. She does, too.
Puck's back to his old tricks soon enough. He fucks the bass player of a band he watched perform (chicks were all hot but of course, a chick with a guitar was off-the-charts hot) but doesn't sign the band. He bangs the lady downstairs once but then regularly goes back to more because she gives the best head he's head in years.
All in all, the Chicago move is working out. And then, on a chilly Saturday night a few weeks before Thanksgiving, he's at a jazz club listening to an up and coming artist that he's positive his label has to sign. He's kicking back a shot of bourbon and tapping his foot along with the smooth beat when he notices a woman watching him from a few feet away. He raises his glass toward her and winks and then laughs when she looks away shyly. She's with a few friends and they're all eyeing him after that. So once the set is over and Puck hands the guy his business card, he makes his way toward the woman.
She's tiny, really. A little bit smaller than Rachel, which he didn't think was possible. But her hips are wider she's a strawberry blond. Her name is Sonya and she's from Georgia but she's just moved to Chicago to work at the corporate office of an insurance company. Puck gives her his card, too.
Sonya calls him three days later. He asks her out to dinner (which he normally doesn't do) and ends up having a nice time. She kisses him at the end of the night and he knows he wants to see her again.
She doesn't let him fuck her for three weeks and he's pretty sure he's going to die by the time she finally lets him in because she's so fucking hot. He's leaving for Lima in the morning to visit his mom and sister for Thanksgiving (he's not in the mood to go to New York this year) but Sonya holds on when he says he has to leave and then she asks him to stay.
The sex is incredible. So incredible, in fact, that they keep each other awake for most of the night. He can barely keep his eyes open once he's finally on the road but for once, he doesn't care. Coffee and a loud stereo are all he needs. And Lima isn't too far from Chicago, anyway.
As he drives and the haze of great fucking wears off, he thinks about everybody in New York. Finn was completely pissed when he told him that he was going home to Lima this year. Burt and Carole and Kurt and Kurt's boyfriend, Marcel, are all coming to New York, as are Rachel's fathers. But Puck just wants a quiet Thanksgiving at home with his mom and his sister. He doesn't see them enough and he misses them. He misses his friends in New York, too, but he just isn't in the mood to deal with holiday traveling this year.
Thanksgiving is wonderful and exhausting. Rachel spends so much time preparing to make sure that the holiday is perfect that she doesn't have time to really think about the fact that Noah's not there until they're all sitting around the table and the conversation turns to him. Santana tells everyone that he's been seeing a new woman and that he seems to really like her. Rachel feels a twinge of jealousy that he's obviously calling Santana and not her. But she's glad he's dating someone. She wants him to be happy. She needs him to get over her.
"You sure?" Puck doesn't trust the sound of his own voice as Sonya sits on her couch, tears pouring down her face.
"I'm sorry, Noah. I didn't mean for this to happen. I don't know how it happened. I've always been so good at taking my birth control."
Puck can't believe he's here again. It's 10 years later and now he's knocked up yet another woman. But they've been dating for four months now and he really kinda likes her. She makes him laugh, she supports him, she's a firecracker in bed, and she helps him at least try to forget everything back in New York.
Sonya looks up at him through watery green eyes and says, "What are we going to do?"
Puck speaks before he can think. "We get married. We raise the baby. We have a family."
Sonya's mouth drops open and Puck thinks he's said the wrong thing. But then she vaults herself into his arms and sobs with relief and he knows that he's actually said exactly what she wanted to hear. He wraps his arms around her and thinks about the fact that she's carrying his kid and that he's gonna finally get to be a dad. He's scared shitless, of course, but part of him is really fucking excited. Sonya whispers into his ear that she loves him and his heart clenches. It's not said in the voice he had hoped he'd always hear it in but it still makes him feel good to finally feel like he matters to someone. He thinks everything is going to be fine.
They don't tell anyone about the pregnancy until Sonya is through her first trimester. And even then, they only tell their parents and that's because they call them and invite them to come to Chicago for their marriage ceremony at the courthouse.
When Sonya's four months pregnant, Puck slides a wedding band onto her finger in front of a judge, their parents, and approximately 20 other couples that are waiting to get married. They all go out to a steakhouse afterwards and celebrate and then Puck takes Sonya back to the apartment they now share so that she can get some rest.
Once she's asleep, he sits down on the couch and pulls out his phone. It's time to break the news to the New York crew. He ignores the way his hands shake when he dials Finn's number.
Rachel listens to Finn as he talks. She knows he's talking to Noah and when she hears Puck repeating words like, "court house" and "due date", her stomach falls. When Finn hangs up the phone, he turns toward Rachel and he looks dumbfounded.
"Puck got married tonight," he says.
Rachel blinks once, twice, and stares at him. "Married? Noah got married?"
Finn nods. "He married some chick named Sonya. He knocked her up and they decided to get married."
Rachel doesn't know what to say. She just lets her mouth fall open and she stares at Finn while Finn stares right back at her. Then Finn steps up to her and hugs her tightly. "I can't believe Puck did that! Did you think you'd ever see the day when he got married?"
Rachel shakes her head against the crook of Finn's neck. No, she honestly didn't see that day. The last she knew, he was in love with her.
She pulls back, kisses Finn, and says, "This is wonderful for Noah. I hope he brings her to New York soon. We need to meet her!"
Later that night, once the lights are out and Finn's snoring softly into the darkness, Rachel lies on her side and stares at the black outline of her closet door. Tears are slipping down her cheeks and she has absolutely no idea why. All she knows is that one moment, she was thinking about trying a new salon the next time she needed a trim and then she was crying her eyes out.
The tears don't abate until her head is clogged and she has to breathe through her mouth. As she rolls over and tucks herself against Finn, she inhales his scent and lets his warmth envelop her. It makes her feel better and she knows her period is about to start so she blames the tears on stupid hormones.
Puck brings Sonya to New York when she's nearly seven months pregnant. The trip coincides with Finn and Rachel's first wedding anniversary, which Puck notices with a bitter laugh. In just a year's time, he lost the woman he never had, moved away, found a new woman, and is about to be a dad. He can't believe how much life has changed.
Sonya's tiny so she already has a huge baby bump and that, he knows, is because they're having a baby boy who's growing like crazy inside his mama's belly. In the few months he and Sonya have been living together, they've been totally focused on the baby. But they've grown a lot as a couple, too, and he thinks, or at least hopes, he might be falling in love with her. She's gonna be a great mom, he can tell.
They check into their hotel and then he calls Finn and tells him that they're there. Finn tells him that he and Rachel will meet him in the hotel restaurant in about an hour.
Puck doesn't think about Rachel much anymore and he's glad. He knew it would take moving away to get over her. But it actually took moving away, knocking up his girlfriend, and marrying her to really help him get over Rachel. He knew he couldn't love her forever and now, at least, he's finally free.
That thought lasts for exactly 30 minutes. But then Rachel walks in, her hand intertwined with Finn's, and Puck feels like he's going to be sick. She's still so fucking beautiful that it makes his head spin. She still smells like fabric softener and the softest, sweetest perfume that is just so much a part of her. Her lips are pink and plump and seeing her again reminds him of why the fuck he felt he had to leave in the first place. And when she wraps her arms around her waist and whispers, "Congratulations, Noah," into his ear, he has to close his eyes because, despite the fact that his pregnant wife is sitting two feet away, he still loves Rachel so fucking much that it hurts. He lets go of her abruptly and turns toward Finn and they do a complicated handshake after bumping fists. Rachel sits down next to Sonya and starts talking her ear off and, within ten minutes, Sonya's laughing and relaxed and her shoulders are no longer tense.
When they leave the restaurant that night, Sonya slips her hand into his on the way to the elevator and drops her head onto his shoulder. "Finn's wonderful and I absolutely love Rachel," she says.
And he thinks, Yeah, so do I.
Puck feels like a dick but he avoids Rachel for most of the rest of the trip. He can't be around her. He cannot fucking deal with the way he feels whenever she's in the same room. And he's really pissed with himself because he shouldn't fucking feel this way about her. He's got a baby on the way and he's committed to Sonya. She's the mother of his child and he's going to raise his son with her. He wishes he knew how the fuck to get over someone that he never even had in the first place because he'd do it in a heartbeat.
He takes Sonya to Tina and Mike's and then they grab drinks with Santana. San, naturally, intimidates Sonya but she manages to turn her bitch down to a medium heat and it isn't too bad. She asks him casually if he's seen Rachel and he blows her off, ignoring the knowing look in her eye the whole time. He hates that Santana knows how he felt about Rachel but he refuses to tell her that he still feels the same way he always has. He's an asshole, yeah, but there's no way in hell he's going to hurt his pregnant wife.
Sonya and their son are his focus now. Not Rachel. Not anymore.
When the day arrives for them leave New York, the entire group gets together. Puck alternates between not looking at Rachel no matter how much he wants to and not being able to keep his eyes off her. She laughs loudly at something Mike says and her laughter warms him, the warmth settling down into his belly. He loves that laugh. And goddammit, he loves that woman.
He avoids hugging her when they're all telling one another goodbye. He feels like a dick and he sees the hurt in her eyes when he moves away and instead wraps his arms around Sonya and ushers her towards a taxi but he can't help it. He doesn't want to touch her. He wants to fucking forget her.
He decides then and there, as they're in the cab on the way to LaGuardia, that this is his last trip to New York. They'll all come to Chicago when the baby's born. But he knows that for Rachel to make the trip, she'd have to take a few days off and let her understudy step in and there's no way in hell that she'll ever do that. So, yeah, he won't have to see her again for a long time.
Rachel's almost relieved when Noah leaves. Sonya's wonderful and she's really happy for them but she hates that the whole time she knows they're in town, she feels like she's on edge. She feels his eyes on her during the rare occasions that they're together and when he's with their friends and she and Finn aren't there, she can't help but feel like he's intentionally keeping her away.
After they're gone and Rachel and Finn go home, Finn kicks he shoes off and flops down on the couch. "Did you notice? Puck seemed different."
Rachel noticed, of course. She sits down next to Finn and tucks her feet beneath her. "His life has changed drastically, Finn. He's got a wife and a baby on the way now. Don't you think you've changed since you got married?"
Finn shakes his head. "Nah, not really. I mean, you and I have been together forever. Puck just seemed… sad, almost."
"I think he's just got a responsibility on his shoulders now," Rachel says quickly.
She tries not to mention the fact that Noah went out of his way to keep their conversations short while he was in town and again, she feels guilty. She misses the friend she had in him and she's sure that he's not that man anymore. She feels like she's to blame and she didn't even do anything.
The baby is born in the middle of an August heat wave. He comes out squawking and he's fat and red and covered in goo. He's the most beautiful thing Puck's ever seen. He weighs almost ten pounds and the birth is really, really hard on Sonya. She is exhausted but she wants to hold him so Puck places the baby in her arms and then kisses her on her forehead. For the first time since they've been together, he's sure that he loves her. And he loves that little boy more than life itself and the kid's only been around for four minutes.
They name him Benjamin William Puckerman but they call him Ben. When they take him home to their apartment, Puck doesn't think about anything else in the world but Ben and Sonya. It's nice.
Rachel sends Finn to Chicago by himself when the baby is born. She can't possibly take time off work. She's sad, though, because she desperately wants to meet Noah and Sonya's new baby boy. She knows he's adorable. Since she can't go, she sends a huge care package along with Finn, as well as sending her love.
It feels so weird to her knowing that Noah is a father. Sure, he's technically been a father for years but this is the first child he's getting to raise. She can only imagine how happy he is.
While Finn's on his way to the airport, Rachel decides that she's going to call Noah and send her regards personally since she can't make the trip. When he answers, his voice is low. "Sonya and Ben are sleeping and I don't want to wake them up," he tells her. She hears him open a door and assumes he's stepping out onto a patio (even though she has no idea what kind of apartment he lives in.)
"Is he eating well? Is Sonya breastfeeding? Are you adjusting? Have you taken time off work?" Rachel lobs questions at him so fast and she hears him chuckle on the other end.
"Yes to all of those question except the one about sleeping. He won't sleep at night. I think he's allergic to the dark because all he does is scream. I need fucking earplugs. But he's awesome, Rach. He's beautiful."
"I wish I could be there," Rachel says, her voice wistful.
"Me, too," Noah says. Then he clears his throat and says that he hears the baby crying and ends the call.
Rachel sits in her spot for a long time after the call ends. She thinks about Finn and Noah and the baby and how much the relationship that all of them have with each other has changed over the years. Today is one of those days, though, where she misses Noah so much that it makes her eyes hurt. He's like this long-distance friend now and Rachel can't help but wonder if he's eventually going to slip from their lives completely. He has a family now. He's in another state.
She hates how much she misses him.
Ben grows so fast that Puck almost hates going to work because he loves being around his kid. Soon Sonya goes back to work and Ben stays with a sitter. Puck works longer hours and harder than ever so that he can support his family. He doesn't make a lot of calls to New York anymore because he's got too much on his own plate to even think about what's going on a few states away. He texts Finn and Santana every once in a while but he doesn't contact Rachel at all. He feels like a jerk because she reached out to him right after Ben was born but he's decided that he just wants to cut her from his life because it's easier. Ever since he had a moment where, for a split second, he looked at Ben and wished that Rachel was his mother and not Sonya, he knew that he couldn't have her in life at all anymore. At all. He knows that he's probably going to love her for the rest of his life but he hopes she's eventually going to become nothing more than a memory. He knows that for that to happen, though, he has to let his friendship with Finn go, too. That hurts a little bit because he loves Finn like a brother. But the love he feels for Finn's wife is anything but sisterly and he owes it to his own wife to focus on just them. He has to forget the big brown eyes and loud, gorgeous voice of the woman who stole his heart when she was barely more than a girl.
He tells her goodbye one night when he discreetly removes a framed picture of their "group" from his bookshelf and shoves it in a drawer. In the picture, she's got her mouth open because she's laughing and the sun is hitting her face. Even in the picture, he's looking at her like he wants to devour her. He doesn't know how he's made it this long without Finn finding out how he feels about Rachel. Puck can tell even from a 5x7 photo how fucking obvious it is that he's ass over feet in love with her and he wonders if Rachel ever figured it out. He shakes his head and shoves the photo down deep under a stack of bank records that he never looks at. And when Finn calls him the next day, he doesn't answer.
Rachel can tell the moment that Noah makes a break from their life. It's like, even from a few hundred miles away, she can tell that he's done with her and with Finn. She doesn't know why or how but she's sitting on her couch one day, balancing their checkbook, when a cold feeling hits her and she's suddenly thinking about Noah again. No one has heard from him in weeks, she knows. Finn said that he hasn't been able to reach him other than by text message and that he just claimed he was really busy and hadn't had time to call anyone. Rachel knows it's more, though, and she can't help the way her stomach drops when she realizes that Noah is cutting them out of his life. He's got a new baby and a wife and a life in Chicago and he doesn't need them anymore.
He doesn't care about her anymore either, she realizes. She's told herself ever since she found out about how he felt that it was for the best that he got over her. But now it seems like he has and she doesn't know how she feels. All she does know is that he's missing from their lives and she hates it. On impulse, she grabs her phone and calls him. It rings and rings before it goes to voicemail and when she hangs up again, she feels like his extraction from their life is complete. And then she cries.
When Ben is eight months old and is chubby and adorable, Santana calls him and tells him that Rachel's pregnant.
"That's great, San." Puck forces the words out even though he really has the urge to break something. He literally wants to grab the television remote and send it through the patio door because it feels like the only appropriate response to the adrenaline and frustration coursing through his veins.
"Is it, Puckerman?"
"Why wouldn't it be?"
Santana snorts into the phone. "Oh, I don't know, because you love her?"
Puck shakes his head. "No, San. Not anymore. I did but I've let all that shit go."
"Yeah, I know. Rachel told me about how you never call her or Finn anymore. She misses you."
Puck closes his eyes when he hears what Santana says and says, "It doesn't matter, San. I miss them, yeah… but shit, I gotta live my life."
Santana swears on the other end of the phone. "Look, Puckerman, you say you're over her but since you've basically kicked her and Finn to the curb, that tells me that you aren't over shit."
Puck tells her to fuck off and hangs up. He pinches the bridge of his nose hard and then tosses the phone like he's skipping a stone across a pond. Rachel and Finn are having a baby. He should be happy for them. They were happy for him when Ben was born, right? He knows he needs to call Finn and tell him congratulations. Rachel's obviously noticed that he's not calling anymore and it makes him feel like a dick. He nearly picks up the phone but then, like a flash in his mind, he pictures Rachel's body swollen with pregnancy. His eyes blur and he thinks his heart skips a beat because the pain in his chest is so fucking sharp. He feels like a part of him dies right that second. He hopes it's the part of him that holds onto Rachel because he doesn't want to love her anymore. He's so goddamn tired of loving her.
After Sonya puts Ben to bed that night and then turns in herself, he has too much time on his hands. He wanders around the apartment and tries to think of the appointments he has coming up and about all the bands he needs to see. But the words "Rachel's pregnant" keep running through his head and he can't fucking stand the way his stomach hurts and his hands shake every single time he thinks about her. He thinks back to the first time he realized he loved her. It was the most ordinary day and they were nearing the end of their junior year of high school. He was sitting in the choir room and Rachel burst through the door, rambling a mile a minute about the upcoming Regionals competition. And then Mr. Schuester announced that he wanted Puck to sing a solo at the competition and Rachel threw her arms around him in congratulations and something twisted inside Puck and it was then, at that precise moment, that he knew he loved her.
And now he's 27 and he's married and she's married and he never wants to see her again. He's pissed off at her, actually, for making his life miserable. He wonders how much happier he could have been if it weren't for her. And he fucking hates Hudson, too, for always being in his goddamn way. Rachel should have been his years ago. That baby in her belly should be his. He should be the one taking her to doctors appointments and buying her that nasty vegan shit she's gonna crave in the middle of the night. It should be his hand cupping her belly the first time the baby kicks, not Finn's. He feels like he's been fucking cheated out of the life that he always wanted. It makes him sick that he even feels that way. His anger scares him, really. He shouldn't be reacting like this because he knew a long time ago that he'd never have her. He doesn't know why the idea of her being pregnant makes him so sick, but it does.
He gets shitfaced that night. It feels good to forget.
Rachel pushes herself hard during the early months of the pregnancy. Finn keeps telling her to slow down but she's trying wrap up her stint as Elphaba and work on planning the nursery and getting ready to be a mother. She's thrilled about the baby, even though it wasn't planned. She dreams of how the baby will probably have Finn's cute cheek dimples and she prays that the baby gets his nose, too. She doesn't wish her nose on anyone, especially the child that she knows she'll love most in the world.
But when she's in her fourth month, something doesn't feel right. She can't put her finger on it, exactly, but something within her has changed. So she goes to her doctor and they put her in a gown and squirt the gel on her stomach before they slide the ultrasound wand across her stomach. And when they do, the horror of it all becomes clear. There's no heartbeat. The doctor is sympathetic as she explains that the fetus had a developmental issue, obviously, and wasn't viable. She tells Rachel that she'll need to schedule a D&C to remove the fetus.
Rachel cries so hard that the doctor has to call Finn and get him to the office as soon as possible. He himself is practically inconsolable and the nurse who stands by wants to cry herself when she closes the examination room to give the mourning couple time to themselves.
It isn't until an hour later that Rachel emerges, dressed and still leaking tears, and schedules to have the procedure done the next morning.
Finn holds her all night. They don't say anything. They just stay wrapped in each other's arms. Finn tucks her head beneath his chin and repeatedly smoothes his hand down from the crown of her head to the end of her hair and back up again. It's soothing and she focuses on the feeling of that and nothing else until she eventually falls asleep.
The procedure is over quickly. They knock Rachel out and when she wakes up, they tell her that they were able to successfully remove everything from her uterus without any damage and that she will be able to try to get pregnant again in a few months, once she's had time to heal. She doesn't even want to think about that, though. She hasn't come to terms with the fact that she lost one baby, let alone allowed herself to think about getting pregnant again.
Finn takes her home, tucks her into bed, and finally calls Santana to tell her what's happened. Santana calls Tina and the two women show up, kick off their shoes, and climb in on either side of Rachel in the bed. Tina strokes her hair while Santana grips her fingers and the three of them cry. Finn can't handle it and goes to the gym instead, repeatedly hitting the punching bag until the knuckle on his middle finger splits. When he gets back home, there are three puffy-eyed women asleep in his bed so he sleeps on the couch.
When Santana calls Puck about what happened with Finn and Rachel's baby, Puck's first reaction is to drop the phone and go to her. His heart races and he just wants to hop on a plane, race to their apartment, and wrap his arms around her. He doesn't, of course. But what he does do is go into Ben's room, wake him up, pull him from his crib, and hug him close. He can't imagine how awful Rachel and Finn must feel. He may be confused about a lot of his feelings but the thing he does know is that Ben is what matters most in life. He loves that little boy more than anything in the world (even Rachel) and as fucked up as he feels inside most of the time, he'd hate the idea of not having Ben around. The little boy is his lifeline and the one thing that keeps him going when he's caught in that horrible trap of wishing his wife were a little louder or a little more talented or that her name was different. Ben makes it all worth it.
He tells Sonya what happened with the Hudsons and she's horrified. "Should I send flowers, Noah?"
Puck isn't sure what to say. He hasn't really told her that he doesn't talk to Finn and Rachel anymore because he doesn't want to open a can of worms that needs to stay unopened. So he shakes his head and says, "Nah, not yet. Let's give them a few days and then I'll talk to San about what to do."
He sees the tears in Sonya's eyes and he takes her in his arms and kisses her before resting his forehead on the top of her head. He loves that she has such a big heart. He loves what a good mother she is. He loves the way she loves him.
He just wishes that he loved her in return. She deserves it.
Rachel doesn't know how to move on after a miscarriage. Part of her wants to throw herself back into her work but the rest of her wants to just stay in bed. It's fluffy and warm, after all, and when she's there, she can watch soap operas and court shows and even those horrible talk shows and it lets her forget about everything happening. Santana and Tina check on her constantly but Finn isn't doing well. He won't talk to her and he's spending a lot of hours after school tutoring and coaching. He says he's trying to make extra money to deal with the hospital bills but Rachel feels like he's a little bit lost. She just wants Noah to call him because Finn needs his best friend. The fact that Noah has abandoned them suddenly infuriates her, leaving her in a rage, so she shoves the blankets off and allows herself to get out of bed long enough to grab her phone. Once she's back under a pile of blankets, she sends Noah a text message that says, "Your best friend needs you and you won't even call. You're a jerk, Noah Puckerman."
It makes her feel better for all of two second but then the anger drains out of her and she cries. She wants to feel better. She wants Finn to be okay. She wants Noah to call.
Puck stares at the angry text message over and over again as he goes throughout his day. He was in the middle of a meeting when it came in and afterward, he was so distracted that he can't even remember what was discussed. He almost calls Rachel six or seven times but then he realizes that he doesn't know what to say.
Finally, he steps out of the office and goes to Starbucks for a cup of straight black coffee and then he calls Santana. "I don't know what the fuck to do, San."
Santana sighs on the other end of the phone. "They're falling apart, Puckerman. Finn doesn't want to talk about the miscarriage and Rachel won't get out of bed and it's… I'm worried about them. You need to call Finn, Rachel's right."
Puck swears under his breath and hangs up with Santana and then finds Finn's number. He doesn't know what he's going to say when Finn asks where he's been all this time. But she's right; he needs to call.
"Hello?" he hears Finn's voice on the other end of the line and he smiles. Damn, how he's missed his best friend.
"Hey, bro… You got time to talk?" Puck begins.
"Yeah, hold on, let me go outside," Finn says. Puck listens for a few minutes as he hears Finn shuffling and then he says, "I'm back."
"Okay," Puck begins. "So I heard what happened and are you okay? Is Rachel okay?"
Finn immediately begins pouring it all out to Puck. Rachel lost the baby, Finn feels distraught, Rachel feels like she did something wrong to cause the miscarriage, Finn feels disconnected from Rachel.
Puck focuses hard on the parts where Finn talks about himself. Puck can help Finn. He can't help Rachel. Well, that's a lie. He probably could help Rachel but he doesn't want to go there. She's got Tina and San; she'll be fine. She doesn't need him. She's never needed him.
When Puck hangs up with Finn twenty minutes later, he feels relieved. He's got his bro back. Finn didn't even ask him why he'd disappeared. Puck can't help but wonder why.
"I'm tired of this, Finn!" Rachel shouts. "You're never home anymore and when you are, you barely speak to me. Why?"
Rachel's chest is heaving because she's so, so angry. It's been two months since the miscarriage and Rachel's long-since back to work. Physically, she feels fine, too. She can tell that her body is ready to try for another baby if that's what they want.
But they can't stop fighting. It started three weeks ago when Finn wasn't home when she got back from the theater. It was nearly midnight and to find the apartment empty shocked her. She called around and finally got a hold of Mike, who said that Finn was passed out on his and Tina's couch. Rachel thanked him and then went to bed furious.
When Finn came home the next morning to change and get ready for work, Rachel laid into him. And they've been fighting ever since.
"Rachel," Finn pleads. "Just give me some time. This whole miscarriage thing just…" Finn pauses and Rachel watches him, her eyes pleading for an answer. Any answer. "It's just made me think about a lot of things and… I need time to clear my head."
He needs time to clear his head? Rachel stares at him, her eyes blazing, and says, "Fine, take all the time you need. I might be ready to listen when you're ready to talk."
She storms out of the apartment before she can call him selfish and difficult. He'll just accuse her of throwing a fit when she's really just terrified. Finn's her life partner… They've only been married two years and it just feels like it's all slipping out from underneath her.
She goes to Santana's with tears on her cheeks. "I don't know what to do, San. I just… I'm at a loss."
Santana shoves a cup of tea into her hands and pats her on the shoulder. "Puck'll talk to him. He's good at getting through Finn's thick skull."
Rachel's eyes grow wide and she stares at Santana. "I didn't know Noah and he were talking again. I thought Noah was… done with us."
Santana sees pain in Rachel's eyes and her own heart constricts at what seems to be right on the tip of Rachel's tongue but yet remains unspoken.
"He called Finn a few weeks ago after I told him what was going on. He wanted to reach out to him again. He feels like a dick for…" Santana finds her words carefully. "For losing touch like he did. He's busy with Ben and Sonya and all," Santana says.
Rachel's eyes soften when she looks at Santana. "You don't have to cover for him, Santana. I know."
Santana bites her lip for a moment and then finally asks, "You know what?"
Sipping her tea, Rachel stares at Santana over the rim of her mug for the longest time. When she finally pulls her it from her mouth, she says, "The day of our wedding, I heard you and Noah talking. I heard you ask him if he was ever going to tell me that he… that he loved me and he said no." Rachel's eyes fill with tears and she doesn't know why.
"You heard that? Why haven't you said anything before now?" Santana's heart races at the fact that all this time, Rachel's known. Has Finn known, too?
"I didn't know what to say. And then Noah left… and then with Sonya and Ben, I just figured it didn't matter anymore. Then he just decided that we didn't matter and he didn't want anything to do with us anymore so I figured he was over all of those feelings."
Santana lets out a bitter laugh as she thinks about the man that she's known and had a complicated relationship with since she was just a child. Santana shakes her head and puts her hand on Rachel's shoulder. "It's called self-preservation, Rachel. Puck, I think, felt like he had no choice but to pull away. And he never talks about you anymore. Ever. But I think that's because you're too painful of a subject."
Rachel lets a tear trickle down her cheek when she thinks about the fact that Noah pretends she doesn't exist anymore.
"He still loves you, Rachel. I think he always will. He's tried to do the right thing by you because he's known forever that Finn was the one you wanted. He got tired of standing on the sidelines, Rach. Sonya and Ben became his focus and in order for him to give them everything, he's had to let you go."
Rachel wipes away a tear. Her heart literally aches for Noah. She can't help but wonder how he's doing and if he still loves her. She starts to cry because she feels guilty for even wondering. She has a crumbling marriage staring her in the face. She can't wonder about another man. But the truth is, that man's been hanging over her marriage since her wedding day when she found out that everything she thought she knew about her relationship with Noah was false.
Santana hugs her for the longest time and Rachel sobs into her shoulder. She makes soothing noises and strokes Rachel's hair and then, when Rachel lets out a hiccup, Santana pulls away and takes Rachel's hands in hers. "What are you crying about? Finn? Puck?"
Rachel shakes her head. "I don't know. Neither of them. Both of them. For myself. For everything."
Rachel presses her head against Santana's neck again and decides that she's done talking for now. She just wants to close her eyes and think.
Puck hears the words leave Santana's lips and he freezes in the middle of the Chicago street he's walking down. "The fuck, Santana. Why'd you tell her?"
"I didn't tell her, you asshole. She confessed that she heard us talking on their wedding day. She's known the whole time."
White-hot fear races through Puck's body. Rachel knows how he feels. For a moment, he lets himself think about the possibilities. But then he realizes that he has a best friend whose marriage is falling apart and he has his own wife to think about. He can't start dreaming of Rachel again.
"So what am I supposed to do now? Did she tell Finn? Is he gonna fly here and bust my ass?"
Santana laughs. "She's not going to say anything to Finn. She's… she started crying while she talked about you. She misses you, Puck. She didn't say she did but I can see it on her face. When she talks about you, she's anguished. I think she blames herself for the fact that you felt the need to get the fuck away from her and move to Chicago."
"It is her fault," Puck says. He meant to be funny but he can't bring himself to laugh because when he stands on the Chicago street corner and watches traffic go by, he realizes that thanks to his stupid feelings for Rachel, he has a wife that he loves like a friend and son that means everything. On one hand, he needs to thank Rachel because without losing her (even though he never even had her), he wouldn't have Ben. But the rest of him is still miserable every time he thinks about her.
"So do I need to stay away again? Stop calling Finn? Shit, Santana. I don't know how I can keep playing this game. How the fuck am I supposed to be there for Finn when I—" Puck cuts himself off because he doesn't usually voice how he feels. But he feels like he's going to burst if he doesn't get some of it off his chest so he begins again. "How am I supposed to be supportive and encourage Finn to save his marriage when I'm fucking in love with his goddamn wife? It's the most fucked up situation, San. If I thought all that Quinn bullshit years ago was complicated, how the fuck do I handle this?"
"She needs you, Puckerman. The moment she started talking about you, she started crying. I don't know what that means and I don't think she does, either. But she misses you. You should call her."
Puck laughs bitter. "And do what? Go back to the way things were, Santana? I'm trying really fucking hard to make my own marriage work and that's hard enough when there's a 5'1", mouthy ghost floating through my mind most of the fucking time." Puck closes his eyes and balls his fist. "I don't know what the fuck I'm supposed to do."
Santana sighs on the other end of the phone. "I don't know what to tell you, Puck."
Puck ends the call and shoves the phone into his pocket. He has a meeting. He can't be thinking about Rachel at that goddamn moment. He needs to focus. He'll think about her later. He laughs, though, as he walks down the street because if he's honest with himself, he carries her with him wherever he goes. And he knows he always will, regardless of what happens.
Rachel's not sure why she does it but three days after her conversation with Santana, she calls Noah. As the phone is ringing, she knows she's crazy. He won't answer. He never answered when she called before. But she needs to hear his voice. Part of her wants to know if he hates her because, thanks to his feelings for her, he exiled himself in Chicago.
She's shocked when he answers.
"Noah, hi. It's Rachel."
She hears him suck in a breath but when he starts talking, he's casual, relaxed, and totally unaffected. She asks him about Sonya and Ben and she's happy when he spends ten minutes telling her how Ben is getting into everything in their apartment and even killed the goldfish by pulling over the table where the bowl sat. The little boy sounds exactly like his father and it makes Rachel laugh.
"So does your mom tell you that you were exactly like him as a child?"
Puck laughs. "Every fucking day. The kid's so in love with life, Rach. He has no fear. I mean, he just barrels ahead and does whatever and then, when he gets hurt or scared, it doesn't last long and then he's at it again. And he's always grabbing at the stuff that Sonya keeps away from him. He's like his dad; he wants what he can't have."
Rachel nearly stumbles when he says it and her throat catches. She pushes forward with the conversation because she doesn't want to think about the fact that he's probably talking about her. She knows that Santana told him everything. Santana would tell him everything.
They talk for ten more minutes before hanging up. Neither one of them mention the very huge gaping subject of their relationship. She has a marriage that needs saving and he has one that, she thinks, is working out just fine. But part of her just wants to ask him, "For how long, Noah? For how long have you felt this way?" She knows, though, that she can't ask him that question. They can't talk about that subject at all. That subject is perilous. That subject has to stay closed.
When Puck hangs up the phone late on a Saturday night with Finn, he considers changing his phone number and moving his family to Texas. Or maybe even Tibet. He's just spent the last hour talking his best friend out of filing for divorce. He's just spent the last hour convincing Finn to work on things with Rachel. The entire time he was saying things like, "Dude, you've been with her for 12 years. She's all you've known. Why would you walk away?" he tries not to focus on the fact that he's actually talking about Rachel. Finn needs him to be his bro and he's going to do it. He can put his thoughts on the matter aside because Finn needs him.
"You love her," Puck even argued at one point.
"But I don't think I'm in love with her anymore, Puck, and that's a huge difference. I mean, when I walk in the door, my heart doesn't pound to see her standing there anymore. I'm just like 'whatever' and want to know what we're ordering for dinner."
Now that he's off the phone, though, Puck stretches out and closes his eyes. His heart still pounds when he even thinks about Rachel. And now they've shared three phone conversations and she never leaves his mind. She's there when he works, when he sleeps, and even when he's buried inside Sonya, working them both towards frantic release.
He fucking hates his life. He's tired of the drama.
On a Wednesday afternoon, five months after the miscarriage and more than two years after she first married Finn, Rachel files for divorce. She cries as she signs the petition and hands it back to her lawyer but she can't handle it anymore.
Finn came home two days before smelling like another woman's perfume. He told her it was because one of the teachers at the school hugged him and Rachel told him that she wasn't stupid.
She's known for a while that their relationship was doomed. It was like a flip was switched when they lost the baby. And she's done the research and knows that there's a 40% chance of divorce once a couple has lost a baby more than halfway through a pregnancy. She didn't think that she and Finn would become a statistic but at some point, she decided to stop the fighting. She's tired of crying. She just wants to move on with her life.
The Finn she fell in love with when she was 15 isn't the Finn she's presently divorcing. He's no longer loving and attentive. He's more concerned with what's going on in his own life. She can't remember the last time they had a real conversation. And she even suggested couples counseling but Finn just laughed, told her that he wasn't telling some quack about their problems, and went to play basketball with Mike.
Rachel's 28 years old and she wants a happy future. It won't work with Finn not wanting to be in the same room with her anymore.
After she signs the paperwork at her attorney's office, she goes home and starts packing. Finn hasn't been home in two days but she's letting him keep the apartment. She's not going to be able to afford it now that she's made the other major change in her life: she's leaving Wicked. She's played Elphaba for three years and she's exhausted. She knows that there are other roles out there for her but right now, she just wants peace and quiet.
She's moving home to Lima for a while.
The second Puck hears that Finn and Rachel are getting divorced, he knows his own marriage is pretty much fucked. He has no idea why he thinks that because it's not like Rachel's confessed her love for him or anything. Hell no. They talk about twice a week now and they both work to keep the conversation focused on everything going on with her and Finn. And they talk a lot about Ben. He never mentions Sonya and when Rachel asks questions, he gives her short answers. He doesn't want to talk about the woman that he's married to to the woman he loves. It just makes the whole fucked up situation that much more awful. But then Finn calls him and says, "Dude, I got the papers today. I guess she decided to file before I could. I just… I feel relieved."
Once Puck hangs up the phone, he kisses Sonya on the forehead, hugs Ben, and announces that he's going for a run. He ends up pushing himself so hard that the air ripping through his lungs hurts. When he finally takes a break, he sits down on a bench in a tiny park and stares at the ground. He knows that he's gonna have to fight to stay focused on Sonya now. With Rachel single again, he's just too tempted.
And then he gets mad at himself because what kind of asshole thinks about wanting to be with his best friend's soon-to-be ex-wife? Oh yeah, that's right. Him. He's that exact kind of asshole and he can't bring himself to care. He loves Rachel. He wants her. He always has.
Rachel's happy to be back in Lima. It's quiet and her fathers go out of their way to welcome her home. They're completely aware of everything that's happened between her and Finn and they've offered her a listening ear but don't prod her into talking about it. She's relieved.
She spends the first week in Lima doing nothing but sleeping. She sleeps nearly 'round the clock. She wakes up long enough to take calls from Santana and Tina and then she goes right back to sleep.
Twice, she calls Noah. She feels strange talking to him because she knows he's still talking to Finn but he acts like it's not a big deal. He just wants to talk about how she's doing, she's noticed. And honestly, it's nice. She's been focused on saving a marriage that couldn't be saved that she hasn't really thought about herself in months. And she realizes that Noah's only this concerned about her because he must still have feelings for her. It makes her stomach twist at the same time her heart flutters and she has no idea what she's supposed to do with these feelings.
Puck tells Sonya that his mom is bitching at him about visiting and that he's just gonna make an overnight trip to Lima to make her happy. He feels like a dick, really, because his mom hasn't said shit about visiting. She shows up in Chicago whenever she feels like it because she's so batshit in love with Ben. But he tells himself that it's okay to tell a little fib because he really is going to see his mom.
His first stop, though, is in front of the big, two-story white house with the black shutters on McMahon Avenue in Lima. There aren't any cars in the driveway but when he knocks on the door, Rachel opens it immediately.
He hasn't seen her since Sonya was pregnant with Ben. Her hair is pulled into a ponytail and she has no make-up on. Her skin seems paler than normal and her dull, her cheeks hallow from where she'd lost too much weight. And he's never seen anything so fucking beautiful in his entire life. She's still so tiny that he can practically feel how she'd fit against his body if he ever had the chance to hold her. When his fingers itch from need, he shoves his hands into his pockets.
"Hey," he finally says.
She leans against the doorjamb, clearly surprised to see him. "Noah," she breathes out. "To what do I owe this honor?"
"Just home for the day, checking in on Ma. She needs some stuff done at the house." The lie flows easily from his lips and he doesn't care. He's been lying to Rachel for most of his fucking life anyway.
Rachel invites him in but Puck shakes his head. He needs to talk to her but he wants to do it in a public place. He can't be alone with her because he can't promise that he won't snatch her up, press her against a wall, and drag his lips over her skin. His whole body burns even as she's just standing there and he can't be alone with her. He's a married man.
"You maybe wanna grab some coffee?" he suggests.
Rachel smiles, admits that she needs to get out more, and slides he feet into the shoes by the door. Once she's snagged her keys, she locks the door behind her. He helps her slide into the front seat of his huge SUV and tries to ignore the fact that his heart is pounding.
They drive silently to the little coffee shop a few blocks away. When Puck opens the door to the shop and Rachel's shoulder brushes against his chest, it takes all his power not to wrap his arms around her. It's insane how much he fucking loves this woman. It's like she's imprinted on every cell in his body and even if he eradicated her from his life, she'd never really be gone.
He pulls the chair out across from her and sits down with a loud thud that makes her smile. He's missed that smile.
"So how are you?" she asks at the same time that he asks, "Are you doing okay?"
They both laugh nervously and then Rachel's face chances to a solemn stare and she says, "I'm doing as well as can be expected. I wanted to come home for a month or two and rest but then I suppose I'll go back to New York. That is, after all, where my life is."
Puck nods. He knows she misses Broadway even though she hasn't said it.
Rachel takes a sip and asks, "Have you talked to Finn? I mean, we haven't spoken and I'm not sure we will. But I'm just curious how he's doing?"
Puck knows exactly how he's doing. He's been screwing his way through the single teachers at his school, actually. Finn says he's enjoying the single life because he's been "shackled" to Rachel since he was 16 and he missed out on a hell of a lot. Puck almost calls him a dick because a life with Rachel? Anything but a prison sentence.
"He's fine," Puck says. "He's taking it very well, actually."
Rachel nods and Puck thinks she knows what that means without him having to even say anything. He doesn't want to have to tell her what Finn's doing because honestly, Puck doesn't want to talk about Finn. He just wants to talk about Rachel. To Rachel.
"Are you taking care of yourself?" he asks.
Rachel answers, "Absolutely. I'm keeping with my workout routine and still eating healthily. I have just been sleeping a lot. I never realized how exhausted I was until I came home. Something about being back in my own bed is wonderful. It's actually nice to be home and I never, ever thought I'd be happy to be home in Lima."
"Good, good. And yeah, I guess Lima isn't so bad," Puck says. "I wouldn't want to live here anymore or anything but…" he pauses and looks at her, "there's a lot of history here."
Rachel nods and he wonders if she's thinking about her history with him. He quickly realizes that it's wishful thinking, of course, because her real history is with Finn and that's what she's thinking about. The thought changes his entire mood and everything hits him like a gale force wind.
What the fuck is he doing? Why is he in Lima with her? He's married. He has a wife and a son in Chicago. Rachel's divorcing his best friend but at the end of it all, she's still going to be his best friend's ex-wife. She's still going to be just as fucking off limits to him as she always has been.
His whole body tenses and he immediately just wants to leave. He's such a fucking dumbass. He never learns, does he?
He realizes that he's lost in his own thoughts and Rachel is staring at him strangely. He forces the conversation onto the safest subject he knows: Ben. He pulls out pictures and they talk about fatherhood until their cups are empty. Then he practically shoves her back into his SUV and drops her off at her house. He doesn't even go to his mom's afterwards. He just drives back to Chicago as fast as he can.
He knows, he knows that he's got to cut her out of his life again. He doesn't know why he thought that he could ever finally have her just because she's single. She's Finn's ex-wife. She's marked for life in a way that means he can never, ever touch her.
"I don't even know why he showed up, Santana," Rachel confesses the next day. "At first, he seemed so happy to see me but midway through the conversation, it was like he just wanted to get away from me. I don't understand him. Why is he like that?"
"Because he's a fucking moron, Rachel," Santana says easily.
"But why would he come all the way to Lima only to take me for coffee? He said he was going to see his mom but when he left, he drove in the opposite direction from his mother's house!"
Rachel is clearly exasperated. Noah's attitude had been strange yesterday. She'd felt his eyes on her at first and had seen the way his body tensed when she was near. She'd even recognized raw hunger in his eyes and it had swirled inside her and skittered down deep, causing an awareness that she hadn't felt in a very long time.
"Santana, what the hell is going on? I'm so confused. I'm divorcing Finn and then Noah shows up because he wants to see me and then he doesn't want to see me and I… I just don't get it." Rachel lets out a frustrated growl and then hears Santana swear on the other end of the phone.
"I'll talk to him," she promises. Rachel thanks her. She really hopes Santana can get to the bottom of it. She needs answers.
Later that night, she's wondering again why Noah was hot and then cold and when she tries to call him, the call goes to voicemail.
"Noah, it's Rachel. I just wanted to talk to you. Give me a call please?"
He never calls.
Puck throws himself into his marriage as soon as he gets back to Chicago. He gets a sitter for Ben and takes Sonya out dancing even though he hates it. She's so happy, though, that it's worth it. When she tilts her head up at him and stares at him with her eyes full of love, he tries to give her the same look back. He's been an asshole to her. He's never given her a full chance because he always held out hope for Rachel. But Rachel's not happening. Not now. Not ever. Sonya's here and she loves him.
Maybe he should try really loving her for once. Not just the half-assed, best friend kind of love that he's given her for the last two years, but real love. With romance and candlelight and all that shit that women want.
When he's got Sonya in his arms and she's nuzzling herself into his neck, he winds his arms tightly around her and holds on for dear life. He's tired of trying to hold onto what isn't his. At that exact moment, he vows that he's going to let Rachel go for good. It's the only thing he can do.
Santana tells Rachel that Noah refuses to even talk about her. Rachel prods her and Santana finally admits that Noah said, "Just forget it, San. It's fucking pointless. I don't want to think about it, or her, anymore."
Rachel feels like her chest is being constricted. She tries to call him and none of her calls get answered. Even though she doesn't always leave messages, the ones she does leave get ignored.
He's pushed her out of his life before but this time it feels even worse. She doesn't have Finn to run interference anymore and she can no longer blame Noah's actions on the fact that she's married to Finn. She's not married. Her divorce was finalized the week before. She's single and her name is Rachel Berry again. No Hudson-Berry. Just Berry. The name fits like an old coat and she's actually relieved. It's time she starts over and she was feeling better until she realized that she's starting over without Noah as her friend again.
She's tired of him pushing her to the side. She doesn't understand why this time, though.
She calls Santana again a few days later right after Noah's sent another one of her calls straight to voicemail. When Santana answers, she says, "Oh fuck. So I've got you on one line and him on the other. Look, Rach, I'll call you back, okay?"
Rachel hangs up the phone and tries to occupy herself while she waits. She wants Santana to call her back immediately but it takes nearly 40 minutes before the phone finally rings. And when Santana finally talks, it's not what Rachel expects to hear. "He's trying to forget you, Rachel. He says he went to Lima because he was so happy that you were finally single again that he didn't even think. But then he realized that you'd always be something he wants but he can't have so he has to let you go, Rachel. As far as he's concerned, you're always gonna be Finn's because he can't go after his best friend's ex-wife." Santana pauses in a way that tells Rachel that there's more. Her throat constricts because she knows it can't be good. "He doesn't want to talk to you anymore. He wanted me to tell you that he's sorry but that it's the way it has to be. And he asked me to tell you not to call him anymore. He's going to try to focus on his marriage to Sonya because it's what he needs to do." Santana swears and says, "I'm sorry, Rach. He's really fucked up right now."
Rachel cries silently into the phone as Santana relays the messages from Noah. She's not sure whom she's really crying for, though. For herself because she's losing him again, for good this time? Or is she crying for all the pain that he must feeling? She thinks she can feel his heartbreak and it make her sick. In the last year, she's lost Noah but found him again, lost a baby, lost Finn, and now lost Noah for the second time.
She's tired of losing things.
Puck detaches from Finn again at the same time that he cuts Rachel off. He's tired of pretending. He can't do it anymore. He's got to move on and if he's ever going to have a successful marriage, Finn Hudson and Rachel Berry need to be forgotten.
He works hard and spends every free moment he can with his wife and son. He starts spending more time just listening to Sonya, massaging her shoulders at the end of the day as she talks about work at the insurance firm. He even gets his mom to come up to Chicago to watch Ben for the weekend so that he can take Sonya away. They take a road trip down through Indiana and Kentucky and end up in the Smoky Mountains. He's never been there before and it's gorgeous. They spend time hiking in the mountains and sitting on the porch of their cabin just watching the smoke dance over the trees.
At night, he makes love to her until they're both shaking and gasping for air. He throws all of himself into making her feel good and, because he's been with her for so long, he knows what the arch of her back and the tiny panting noises leaving her throat means. And then he empties himself inside her, collapses next to her, and puts his arm around her when she crawls up next to him.
He tries to find the burn in his chest that he knows he's supposed to feel when he has his arms wrapped around his wife. But the feelings aren't there. In fact, he feels absolutely nothing. Once the orgasm wears off and Sonya's breathing evens out and he knows she's asleep, he slides out from beneath her clutching arms and throws on his pants. As quiet as possible as to not wake her, he sneaks out onto the porch and sits down on the rocking chair.
He watches the moon as it illuminates the trees and the quiet just makes all the thoughts in his head even louder. He can't pretend anymore. He only loves one woman and it's not his wife. He can't do this anymore. He can't do any of it anymore. He's tired of living a lie. He's been doing it for so goddamn long that it's eating away at him and he's afraid that one day, it might kill him. He's got to get things fixed all the way around. He just has no idea how he's going to do it.
Rachel is determined to move on with her life but she's not sure how. Six weeks after she arrives in Lima, she finally tells her fathers that she's in no hurry to go back to New York. She misses Santana and Mike and Tina but there aren't any shows that are really calling to her and her heart just isn't in performing right now. Her daddy just kisses her on the forehead, hands her a glass of water, and tells her to take all the time she needs in figuring her own life out. They'll be there to support her all the way.
She doesn't even try to call Noah anymore. She respects his wishes and the fact that he doesn't want anything to do with her. She hates that it still makes her cry, though. She misses him. It's stupid that she misses him more than her own former husband but she does. Finn was always there as the man she loved but over time, her love for him changed. She doesn't know what she feels for Noah and that scares her. Sometimes she thinks it's just friendship and she's okay with him not being in her life. But then other times, she thinks about overhearing his confession to Santana and the way she felt when she found out he was married and having a baby and she realizes that he's meant a lot more to her than she's been willing to admit for a very, very long time.
"Denial ain't just a river in Egypt," Santana tells her one day when Rachel's sitting on her fathers' porch watching the Lima world go by.
"But when did it happen? When did my feelings for him change and why did it have to happen now, when he doesn't want me anymore?"
Santana lets out a snort. "Babe, if he finds out you want him, he'll be there. He may pretend that you don't matter but you're always going to mean something to him."
Rachel panics. "You can't tell him, Santana! I won't ruin his marriage."
Santana assures her that she won't and Rachel is relieved. She'll figure out how to get over this feeling. She's not going to pine after someone who doesn't want her. Noah may be okay with doing that but she's not. She has a life to reconnect with and then start living.
For hours after Puck hangs up the phone with Santana, he just sits in his office. The end of the day passes and still, he sits there. His eyes are on the little sliver of Lake Michigan he can see from his window but his mind is in Lima.
Everything he thought he was sure of flew out that office window the second Santana said, "Puckerman, she's got feelings for you."
He made Santana retell him every single word of the conversation over and over again until he was satisfied that the conclusion was really true. Rachel cared about him. Hell, she might even love him a little bit. The thought makes his heart pound and his hands sweat because it's exactly what he's wanted to hear forever. He knows what he has to do and he knows it's gonna get Santana in a shitload of trouble but he can't bring himself to give a fuck.
He dials Rachel's number and when she doesn't answer, he hangs up and calls right back. She answers that time but it's a timid hello that he receives.
"Rachel, we gotta talk." He rushes the words out but he can't stop until he's said what he needs to say. He starts talking before she has a chance to tell him not to say the words that he has to get out. He tells her that he's sorry for pushing her out of his life but that he couldn't help it. "I feel like I'm living a lie, Rach. Every day I look at Sonya and every single goddamn day, I wish she was you. I couldn't live like that so I tried to push you away because it's not fair to Sonya and it's not fair for you."
He hears Rachel crying on the other end of the phone and he doesn't know what that means. But the floodgates are open now and he's not done. "I tried to move on, Rach. I've tried for years to move on. But the shittiest part is that the harder I try, the more I think about you. Fuck, Rach, I couldn't forget you if I tried and God knows I've tried."
Rachel sobs harder and finally says, "Come to Lima, Noah. We need to talk."
He's in the car an hour later. He doesn't even think about the fact that he has a wife waiting for him at home.
Rachel is sitting on her porch when he shows up. He practically bolts from the SUV and dashes up the front porch steps but skids to a stop and shoves his hands in his pockets once he reaches the steps. They stare at each other for the longest time and then Puck steps up to her, watches her scoot over to make room for him on the porch swing, and sits down next to her.
They both stare out into the dark Lima street until Puck breaks the silence. "I love you, you know. I've loved you since I was 17, Rachel. I can't stop. I'll never stop."
Rachel's crying again and she turns toward him and he takes her in his arms. He doesn't kiss her even though he wants to and he knows that she'd probably let him because he may be a lot of things but he's not a cheater. He's been cheating emotionally, yeah, but he's never crossed a physical line and he's not going to start now…not when he's so close to figuring everything out.
Rachel doesn't tell him that she loves him back but she curls against him and brushes her lips against his Adam's apple. He closes his eyes and swallows because he can't believe this is happening. After all the bullshit and all the misery and all the trying to forget, he's now on her porch and she's in his arms.
"I have to figure shit out," he says into her hair. "My number one priority is Ben."
Rachel nods and stays exactly where she is. He locks his arms around her tighter and asks, "What about Finn? He's gonna kill me. And you."
She stays quiet for a long time before she finally says, "We'll work that out, too." Rachel pulls away and Puck sees the doubt in her eyes. When she opens her mouth to speak, he stops her.
"No, Rach. No doubts. Nothing." Puck tilts her head up to meet her eyes and resists the urge to kiss her. "I love you, Rach. If you think you even like me even the tiniest bit more than as a fucking friend, I'll move mountains to be with you."
Rachel quiets herself and leans against him again. They sit in silence for what feels like forever. Puck can't remember when he ever felt so relieved. No, nothing is worked out and nothing has really changed but everything is different. His whole future is gonna be different now, he knows it.
Puck doesn't let go of her until he absolutely has to and that comes when Sonya starts blowing up his phone. He unwinds his arm from around Rachel, grabs his phone, and steps out onto the dark grass to answer. It's time to come clean.
Rachel packs a bag eight weeks later. Her dad stands in her doorway, an unsure look on his face, and asks her if she's positive that she knows what she's doing.
"For the first time in a long time, yes. Dad, I promise I know exactly what I'm doing." She's smiling so brightly that he must believe her because he kisses her and then hands her the keys to the car he bought for her three days ago.
"Well good luck on the audition," he says. Rachel nods and then finishes shoving items in her back. "And tell Noah that we said hello," he adds.
Rachel beams at him. "I will."
Puck moves out the same day Sonya files for divorce. He's found an apartment a few blocks away so that he can still be very involved in Ben's life. As pissed off and hurt as Sonya was (and she really, really was), they both love Ben too much to make him a pawn in their divorce. They've already agreed to joint custody and they're splitting all the bills down the middle. He just wants to be free and Sonya says she just wants to move on with her life. Puck knows she hates him and he doesn't blame her. He hates himself a bit, too. He never should have married her. He should have just been a father to Ben and not dragged Sonya into the middle of his emotional bullshit. He feels like shit for doing that to her but at the time, he didn't even really know what he was doing. "Forgetting Rachel Berry" was his motto for the longest time.
He talks to Rachel every night and they try to figure things out. She's admitted that she's always cared for him more than she realized or would admit to himself and it makes him feel at least somewhat validated. He makes the uncomfortable call to Finn to tell him that he's possibly pursuing a relationship with his ex-wife and he's not surprised when he's called a motherfucker and gets hung up on. He hopes Finn can forgive him. He doesn't want to fight with Finn. But the same day he makes the call to Finn, there is a letter in the mail when he gets home. It's a single sheet of paper from the court but it declares that he's now divorced. He's free now to move on to the next phase of his life – getting a chance to love Rachel Berry.
Rachel finds the building easily in Chicago. She follows the directions she was given and then slides her car into a parking space in the garage and takes the elevator to the 14th floor. Her heart is pounding when she knocks on the door. There's no answer at first and she takes a moment to lift her bag back securely onto her shoulder and take a quick breath. But then she hears the lock spin, the chain slide off and then the door opens. Noah's standing there, grinning at her like he's just struck gold.
"You're here," he says.
"I'm here," she says.
Noah motions for her to come inside and immediately takes her bags from her. He sets them on the floor and then turns to look at her. Their eyes lock and then Rachel can't help but smile and launch herself at him. He catches her and laughs as they stumble back against his brand new couch. The laughter fades when he looks first at her lips and then into her eyes.
"You're really here," he says again.
"And I'm staying," she adds. He tightens his hold around her and presses his lips against hers. She hasn't kissed him since they were teenagers and she's amazed that she remembers how it feels after all this time. His lips are gentler than she thought they'd be, though, considering he's wanted to kiss her for years. She looks at him questioningly when they part and he smiles.
"There's plenty of time," he assures her like he's reading her mind.
Rachel nods and slips his hand into hers. "Can we go get some lunch? I'm starving. And I can't wait to meet Ben."
Noah smiles at the mention of his son and it makes Rachel proud of what a good man he's become. He loves that little boy and she knows he's always going to do right by him.
He slings his arm around her shoulders and guides her through his door and into the elevator. The descent is slow and by the time they're on the ground floor, he has her pressed against the mirrored walls and he's kissing her collarbone. Her whole body is on fire for more but she knows that they need to take things slow. Sure, she'll probably fall into bed with him before the end of the day. She is, after all, taking a huge leap by moving in with him. They have so much to work out but Rachel can't says that she's ever felt more loved than she does every single time he looks into her eyes.
When he takes her to an outside café and makes her laugh then pushes the hair out of her face, Rachel lets a shiver of anticipation wash over her. She has no idea what Chicago will be like. She has no idea what kind of man Noah will be in a relationship. She's already anticipating some epic fights because that's exactly the kind of people they are.
Noah notices her staring off into the distance and he asks, "Are you okay, baby?"
Rachel reaches across the table and squeezes his hand. "I'm fabulous," she assures him. And finally, she thinks, she is.