PUPPIES

"Puppies?"

He's not really sure he heard her right, but Rachel's standing there, nodding her head and looking even a little crazier than usual.

"Yes, puppies."

"Puppies?" he asks again because, seriously, there's just no way.

"Yes, Noah. You know, small dogs? Puppies."

"Why the hell do you need me to go kidnap a dozen puppies?"

She sighs. Dramatic as shit, of course. "I didn't ask you to kidnap them." She chews her lip for half a second. "Well. I do need you to round up several, but I'd prefer it if you at least went about in a legal manner."

"I'm not rounding up shit for you until you tell me why you need a bunch of dogs."

Rachel's eyes roll. She's clearly not amused. He wonders if she knows how hilarious she looks when she does that crap- like even a freaking eye roll is a damn performance or something. Still, that many dogs is a crazy request, even for her. He has some weird flash of her wearing a puppy skin coat and singing. He shakes the image of Cruella De Vil and just raises his eyebrows.

"They're for Mercedes," she finally says, and he can tell that she hates having to give any kind of explanation for anything. "She needs them for the benefit."

"She's using dogs in her song? What if they, like, shit all over the stage or something?"

And then she's rolling her eyes again, shaking her head like he's the lunatic here. "They're for her dressing room." She's speaking slowly and kind of like she thinks he might be a mildly retarded five year old or something. "She specifically requested a litter of puppies, and that's what she needs to find when she arrives Saturday."

Okay, hold up. Her dressing room? He doesn't even process the rest of that shit, he gets hung up on the first part. "She's got her own dressing room?"

"Of course, Noah. She's a star."

"I have to change in a bathroom with four other dudes, and this bitch gets her own dressing room?"

"First of all, don't call her that. It's extremely disrespectful." He just looks at her, but she goes right on. "Secondly, when stars make demands, they deserve to have them met adequately. If Mercedes doesn't have her demands met, there's a chance she might not even perform."

He can't believe this shit.

"So if I tell you to blow me and threaten to boycott the show if you don't? You'll do it?"

Rachel's eyes narrow, and she crosses her arms. "Noah, be serious," she says, huffing a little bit.

He is serious. Kind of.

"You're not even performing a solo at the benefit. You're hardly in the position to start making demands. And regardless, I refuse to trade sexual favors for professional purposes. That's one line I will not cross."

"Figures." She kind of looks like she might kill him, so he backs off. Sort of. "Well, what the fuck ever. Just because she's a bitchy black girl doesn't mean she's Beyonce. She don't need no goddamn puppies."

Rachel blinks. Then like a second later, she shakes her head. "I don't know what was more offensive in that sentence- your language, your grammar, or your racism."

It was kind of racist. But whatever, it's the damn truth. Puppies? Hell to the no.

"Let me explain something to you, Noah." Her slow person tone is back, and this time, she actually takes his arm and moves him a little until she's sitting him down on the piano bench in front of her. "When a star makes a request, that request needs to be filled. Talent is not something that should be taken for granted. Neglecting talent..." She shakes her head. "Take it from me. I know what it's like to be neglected and under-appreciated." He rolls his eyes, but she doesn't even notice. "Luckily, I'm very resilient. I can bounce back from negativity and overlook the disrespect that my talent receives because I already know my entire future. For someone less... focused, being neglected could mean disaster. Mercedes needs to have her demands met in order to feel appreciated. We owe it to her."

Okay, like seriously. Sometimes he wonders if she can even hear herself when she opens her mouth. He can't even say anything back to that because what the fuck? He's speechless.

"If Mercedes has all of her requests fulfilled, she'll deliver a wonderful performance. It won't be as good as mine, of course, but it will still be amazing."

He can't do anything. All he can do is just shake his head. He can't even believe she's real half the time. She's like seriously the craziest person he's ever met in his entire life.

"Noah." She gives him one of her psycho smiles and does that thing where her eyelashes flutter for half a second, and then she puts a hand on his shoulder. It's kind of scary having her actually looking down. "One day, you, too, will be in a position of performing a coveted middle spot number in an important talent showcase, and there will be things that you will require. Try to put yourself in those shoes."

"I can guarantee you I won't be asking for fucking puppies."

"Well, perhaps puppies aren't your cup of tea, but Mercedes specifically requested them. As she is the demanding star in question, it is up to us to provide them. So will you help me?" She tries the smile again, but he doesn't give a shit how cute she is- it's not that easy.

"Why the hell would I go grab some pound puppies for nothing? What am I getting out of this whole thing?"

"You're helping a teammate. You're doing it for the team. For our team and for the Brainiacs. For your friends, Noah."

Sometimes he thinks somebody should just put her in a box and ship her to Alaska or something. She's really little and not heavy at all, so it probably wouldn't cost that much postage. But then other times, she makes like random weird sense, and it's scary as fuck.

"Fine," he finally says, rolling his eyes to show that he is not that down as he stands up. It feels better being taller than her again. "But I'm just warning you that if you don't do all this shit for me when I ask for it, I'm gonna be really pissed."

"I will," she promises. "I swear."

Then she actually fucking squeals, bounces on the balls of her feet for like three seconds, and then launches herself at him and throws both arms around his neck.

"Thank you!" she says excitedly. "You're the best!"

Certainly not the first time he's heard that.

He almost makes the requisite that's what she said joke, but Rachel's pulling out of the hug before he can even get it together.

"Fluffy puppies," she says seriously. "Try the pound first. Please don't steal anything."

He just rolls his eyes. "You're lucky you're just the right mix of cute and scary."

Rachel smiles again, her eyes lighting up, and he kind of hates himself for being such a douchebag. He doesn't know where he left his balls, but he seriously needs to start looking for them again because this shit is just getting ridiculous. Fuck his life. For real.

Two hours later, the lady at the pound looks at him only slightly suspiciously when he asks to adopt the entire litter of recently orphaned Pomeranians, and he knows for sure that his balls are officially a thing of the past.

Oh, well.