Author's Note: I know I'm late to the game, but I've been wanting to write this story ever since the Super Bowl episode. I just couldn't find the time until now, and now the thing is writing itself so don't worry about waiting a long time between updates! I think it is going to end up being either 5 or 6 parts. I'm really excited about this because I'm sort of in love with it, but please let me know what you guys think. I'll finish it regardless, but it's always nice to hear what other people think about what you write. And, lastly, thanks to Jann for giving me the extra (strong) shove (off the cliff) to not abandon this and to post it. You rock my world. ;)

Rachel Berry yanked the choir room door open, her arms swinging by her sides as she spoke, "I need you to do this number with me to make Finn jealous."

Puck rose slowly from the piano as she approached, his mouth twitching into a smile while his eyes widened. It was the first day back from winter break and they'd gone the entire two weeks without speaking, but apparently Rachel wasn't wallowing in self pity. Honestly, it didn't sound like her and it shouldn't have surprised him that she spent the vacation planning how to mend her abruptly broken love life. He just hoped deep down she'd realize Finn wasn't worth it.

"My break was alright. Thanks for askin'."

Rachel's smile faltered, her hands still on her hips but her arms losing some of their tension. Her eyes fell down in embarrassment, lifting back up slowly and evaluating him. She'd spent all break trying to convince herself that he was the reason she was in this mess to begin with, but setting eyes on him again she knew that wasn't true. Her heart had been hurting long before her and Finn's official break up, and Noah had been the only one to offer any sort of relief. He'd reached out as a friend and maybe something more, but that was always the issue between the two of them.

"Good morning, Noah." Rachel sighed, moving her hands to rest on top of the piano. "What are you doing?"

"Apparently helpin' you with a song," he grumbled, taking a seat back on the bench. He toyed with a few keys, his eyes eventually drifting back up. "But I ain't doin' no showtune bullshit. So don't even ask."

"I-I … I was actually thinking of something much more suited to not just your vocal range but personality," she faltered momentarily, almost forgetting the pace of holding a conversation with him. "Although the artists are not Jewish."

"Strike one."

"No, I think you'll be quite pleased with my selection." Rachel nodded, as if the decision had already been made, swiftly moving from the head of the piano to sit alongside Puck on the bench. Out of nowhere, she produced sheet music and placed it on the small ledge so it would stand upright.

"Strike two," he muttered, reading over the artist and title.

"Don't be silly, Noah. The large belt buckles, the NASCAR, the incorrect but endearing way you refuse to pronounce the 'g' at the ends of words." He scoffed. "Country is right up your alley."

"What if I said no?"


He smiled, wondering if was actually the first time someone might have said that to her. "What if I said no? I spent all break gettin' back on Finn's good side, and you want me to just throw it all down the shitter for some bitch ass country song?"

"Noah …" Rachel found her voice, but it faltered. With her eyes focused on the white of the piano keys, she took a few even breaths to collect herself and then looked back over at him. "I would completely understand if you didn't want to help me out. I was just … hoping you would. As my friend."

His eyes softened at her tone of voice, recognizing it well. She always used it when she mentioned their friendship, almost whispering about it like it was meant to be kept a secret. And he knew why, sure. Their breakup scene on the bleachers would not go down as one of Puck's finer moments, and he wished he could at least take back what he said to her before stalking away. At the same time, though, he was glad that ship sailed away so fast. It was hard to believe it was only a year ago, but they just weren't ready for each other then.

"I've got some conditions, Berry," he said, bypassing the mushy crap and getting right to the point. Rachel had basically crumbled inside herself, her entire form slouching. She was already so tiny that it seemed impossible that she could be any smaller, but just the thought pushed Puck right into his hero complex. Time to save the damsel in distress. "Number One, we'll rehearse at my house. Your room is so damn pink I had to get my eyes checked afterward."

She smiled, nodding her head. "Number two?"

"Not until after lunch."

"Noah!" Rachel's nose scrunched up in disgust, both her arms lifting to shove him. Their laughter echoed in the room, Rachel eventually letting out a fast breath and rolling her eyes. "Next?"

"If Finn asks me what's goin' on, I ain't gonna lie." He shrugged, thinking that didn't sound too badass. "And I'm blamin' you."

"Fair enough." Rachel's smile faltered at the sound of Finn's name, her heart constricting slightly. "Anything else?"

Puck ran his eyes over Rachel's form one more time (as if the memory of her wasn't etched in his mind already). "This isn't a condition, but … you should wear dresses more."

Rachel furrowed her eyebrows, her head stuttering down to take in her outfit. She was wearing one of the new dresses her daddy had bought for her on one of his business trips to New York. Sure it was only January in Ohio and a sleeveless dress was not exactly the most appropriate attire, but it was too beautiful to be left alone on a hanger in her closet. The ruffles accentuated her frame perfectly and the plum color went well with her hair and complexion.

"I would think you of all people would prefer the skirts. This dress almost hits my knees."

"I am a legs man," he commented offhandedly, skimming her frame again but this time taking more time on the lower half. "But you look good."

"Thanks," she answered slowly, eventually. This wasn't exactly how she expected this conversation to go. In fact, she figured there would be a lot more whining and blackmailing involved. She was suddenly uncomfortable. "Anyway, I've already talked to Mr. Riley about getting a few of the band kids to help us out when we need to, but I think if you can just learn to play the song on your guitar we'll be ready to begin preparing the finer intricacies of our duet tomorrow after school."

"And what exactly will you be doin' while I'm bustin' my ass learnin' an entire song overnight?"

"Well someone will need to arrange the song to compliment our voices. You consistently refuse to listen to my instructions regarding the high B note and because of that I will have to spend countless hours playing with the ranges."

"A simple 'nothing' would have sufficed, Rach." Puck rolled his eyes, swinging his legs to the left and then standing. His backpack was propped up against the side of the piano, and he grabbed the sheet music Rachel had brought and shoved the papers inside. Zipping it back up, he grabbed one of the straps and slung it over his shoulder. "See you in glee."

"What about English?" She questioned quickly, trying to distract her inner monologue from wondering when he had started calling her 'Rach'. "Sixth period?"

"Right." Puck sighed, his eyes closing briefly as he tried to bring his schedule to the forefront of his mind. He promised his mom that he'd try to do better in school this year. It was a promise he made every year – usually preceding a conversation where his mother would let him drink champagne on New Year's if he made it his resolution – but this time he sort of didn't want to break it. "It's been awhile."

"Mrs. Lawson likes you," she commented absently, her fingers releasing the hem of her dress to stroke the piano keys lightly. "I'm sure you'll catch up in no time."

"Ya think?" He asked doubtfully.

"Sure," she answered without hesitation, her smile as sincere as they come. "Despite what you might want others to believe, you happen to be very intelligent, Noah. If you didn't spend your nights and weekends in a complete state of debauchery fueled by drugs and alcohol, you might actually make something of yourself."

She didn't even take a breath between the two statements, the backhanded compliment flying out of her mouth without any warning or apology. Most of the time she didn't even know what she was saying could be hurtful until it was already too late, but even then she rarely felt bad. No reason to get upset about the truth, she'd said one time. And that was true, as were most of her observations – and certainly the one just now.

"Want to walk me to class like my mother, Berry?"

He saw her roll her eyes from his spot by the door frame, his head turning toward the hallway for a moment. The school was bustling with back-from-break gossip, everyone wearing new clothes they got for Christmas or talking about all the sweet shit Santa brought them. Seriously? Sometimes being a Jew sucked monkey balls.

"You comin' or what?"

"No, thank you."

"Wha-" Puck knitted his eyebrows together, looking at her full on now. "Is the perfect Rachel Berry gonna to be late for her first class?"

"No," she huffed out. "I just don't want to be early. That's all."

That wasn't all. He could tell. So he waited. He leaned against the door frame and stared, waiting for her break and tell him why she really wasn't leaving for first period. He didn't know his own schedule so clearly he didn't know hers. But then again Puck doubted it had anything to do with the subject or even the teacher. Everyone expect that ex-glee director she had canned seemed to adore Rachel. You know, when she wasn't talking.

She sighed. "It's nothing." He scowled. "It's just that Jacob is in that class." His scowl deepened. "As you can imagine, word of my breakup with Finn spread rather quickly and none was more eager to learn of it than he."

Puck clenched his fist over the thin strap of his backpack, hearing his knuckles crack. He'd heard about what happened during the whole Britney Spears blackout they all went through, and that shit seriously wasn't going down. Finn might not have done anything to that snot-nosed dweeb, but Puck was going to make him sorry he even thought about Rachel like that.

"Let me walk you to your class." He took a step back inside the choir room, extending his elbow out in invitation for her to curl her arm around his. Most couples held hands or whatever, but they never did. Not that they were a couple. Shit.

"That isn't necessary, Noah."

"Consider it another condition." He smirked, watching her sigh before conceding to his wishes. "And I actually have another."

"You know, I'm sure Artie would be able to pull off the male lead role just as well," she said while stopping at her locker. She deftly turned the dial to input the correct combination, the metal door swinging open and closed so fast that Puck wasn't sure how she managed to grab her bag.

"Singin' with Wheels isn't going to make Finn jealous."

Rachel nearly tripped over herself, his words hitting her harder than the student who consequently crashed into her when she stopped in the middle of the hallway. Puck was right. She'd come to him specifically not because of his vocal talent or even his ability to play the guitar. She targeted him because seeing Rachel with Puck would make Finn see red. It didn't matter if the two had supposedly patched things up or not. There was just something about Puck that made you have to react.

"Fine," she blew out a heavy breath, sliding the shoulder strap of her bag over her body so it crossed diagonally over her chest. She re-hooked her arm around his, her fingers splaying over his bicep as the two walked in sync toward her class. "What's the other condition?"

"You. Me. This weekend." He wiggled his eyebrows at her, causing her to giggle in spite of herself. Had it been anyone else, she would have slapped them. Fortunately, she could tell when Puck was joking. "Shit's gettin' crazy at casa de Puckerman what with ma's two jobs and Sarah suddenly becoming a joiner. I need my own car, and I found one, but it's all the way up in Toledo."

"Why can't you get a car here?"

"Because Ma only spotted me a couple hundred and the rest is out of pocket." He looked at her like she was stupid. Seriously? Not everyone was spoiled by two rich dads who loved nothing more than doting on their only daughter. "I barely have any coin leftover from last summer's pool cleanin' business, and I totally got laid off from Sheets-n-Things."

"You got fired, Noah. You stopped going to work."

"Oh, right." Puck frowned, forgetting he'd told her that. "The point is, I scored a sweet deal from this guy and he said I can pick it up Saturday." He could tell he hadn't quite convinced her yet, and considering they were nearing the classroom, he decided to turn the dial to high. "I was just going to hitchhike and cross my fingers, but …"

"Oh, fine," she pouted, releasing him from his hold and switching her backpack to the other hand. "And now I'm here safely. So, you can go."

"Sure." He squared his shoulders, his posture straightening as he looked past her and into the room. He couldn't see Jacob, and he couldn't help but hope the nerd transferred.

"Rachel Berry." The voice came out of nowhere, Jacob clearly in the classroom even though he wasn't visible yet. "I hope you don't think not wearing a bra will make me stop asking to see it …" He trailed off, his voice hitching when Puck came into view.

"Beat it, four eyes," he growled, intimidating the smaller boy with his stature as he stepped closer to Jacob while re-securing Rachel in his hold. "Or you'll be sorry."

Jacob squeaked in response, nodding his head erratically before moving back into the room. He sat at his desk nervously, scooting the seat further away from Rachel's spot just to be on the safe side. Rachel moved out of Jacob's line of vision, looking up at Puck with a smile that quickly faded when she saw the fire in his eyes. She used the pad of her thumb to gently caress the smooth skin of his arm, waiting until she felt some of the tension release from his muscles.

"Be cool, Puck. Be nice." She grinned at the mantra, remembering when he'd confided in her about his reputation. His arm flexed underneath her hand, and she inhaled sharply, looking down at it and then back up at him questionably. The anger had subsided from the brown orbs, but there was something else floating within the depths that she couldn't quite put her finger on. But it was … powerful.

"I'll try to avoid the fire extinguishers," he remarked, screwing back on his standard ambivalent expression while untangling himself from her grip. He needed to get away. "See you in glee."

"Sixth period, Noah."

He stopped his retreat, his jaw clenching as her voice surrounded him. Much like what seemed to happen to him when he was bullying the school nerds, Puck almost blacked out when he was with Rachel. It was like everything before and after didn't matter, and it was just the two of them in whatever situation they were in at that precise moment. She didn't care that he had gone to juvie or swore like a sailor. And he barely noticed the vast amount of words she spoke anymore, usually because he learned how to tune her out. No matter what, though, it still felt like eventually he opened his eyes and wondered how he got there.

Not that he wanted to get there again, right?