Title: It's Your Song That Sets Me Free (I Sing It While I Feel I Can't Hold On)
Category: Glee
Genre: Tragedy/Angst/Romance
Ship: Rachel/Puck
Rating: NC17/R
Warning(s): Coarse/Sexual Language, Sexual Content, Character Death, Suicidal Themes
Word Count: 7,900
Summary: Rachel Berry had no idea what events would transpire that day. How standing up for someone she didn't know would eventually lead to tragedy. And Noah Puckerman was the unfortunate boy who had to deal with the aftermath; only he had no idea how. And coping was never his strong suit.

Author's Note: I started writing this over the winter break, so the Puck/Lauren thing didn't happen. Also, I'm warning you now, you may want to read this privately, and possibly with kleenex nearby. Originally, this was meant to be a oneshot; it got larger because as I was writing, a lot more had to be said. There will be my original ending and an alternate, for reasons you'll understand better when you get there! Onward to the tear-fest...

It's Your Song That Sets Me Free (I Sing It While I Feel I Can't Hold On)

May, 2012

Rachel Berry's life was good. In fact, if she were asked in that moment how things were, she would've replied, "Quite splendid, thank you." Given she was an eighteen year old girl, less than two months from graduation, this was both unusual and yet unexpected. Her use of words like 'splendid' when 'good' would have sufficed was entirely her, if not the social norm. But today, if she were to say just that and have a slushee tossed in her face for her unrelenting lack of normalcy, she wouldn't even flinch, her smile would not falter, and she would have simply cleaned up and kept moving. Maybe to some, the life she lived would not be something to boast about. She was quite possibly entirely too close to the bottom rung of the social ladder, only ranking higher than perhaps Jacob Ben Israel and the like, and she still suffered the icy cold reminder that she was not cool that the footballer's, minus a choice few, and the other many jocks of McKinley chose to shower her in weekly. Or perhaps monthly, it seemed to depend on just how often her boyfriend was at her side whether she got a facial that day. Her smile brightened at the mere hint of him.

For thirteen months, Rachel was proud to say, she had been the girlfriend of Noah "Puck" Puckerman. Quite possibly one of very few people in the whole of the school that liked her, and yes she included the teachers in that statement. She knew her personality was positively 'high maintenance' but she couldn't find any reason to change that. Yes, she was demanding and a perfectionist and she sometimes thought it pertinent to remind others that she was going to be a star and leave Lima very much in her rear-view mirror. Actually, she corrected herself brightly, it was more aptly Noah's rear-view mirror. In seven short weeks, they would be freshly graduated from high school and on their way to crossing the country on their pre-college road trip, planned down to the very T. He reminded her (constantly) that she could plan for everything and they'd still run into snags but Rachel was the type of person who controlled things. Except her boyfriend, who was a force all his own. Although he did often get teased by Finn and the other gleeks that he was whipped by her, though she could hardly find any evidence to back that up.

Yes, Noah was perhaps kinder than he had been previous to their relationship. He hardly tossed anybody in dumpsters anymore and if he did they were usually deserving of the act. Though her feelings on violence were often quite firm – it was never necessary! – she found herself in a hypocritical position when the dumpee was one Jacob Ben Israel. So yes, while she often told Noah that violence in any form was not the proper way to handle things, she couldn't say she didn't like to drag him into janitor's closets for quick, hot make-out sessions in thanks for tossing the most repugnant and creepy boy to ever make her acquaintance into an equally disgusting bin. Lately, she'd begun to wonder if he was only tossing him in there for just such make-out sessions, but she couldn't find it in herself to care too much… And that was definitely not going into her autobiography!

In any case, Rachel walked through the busy halls of McKinley on a high that could rival one of Noah's "basement circles" with the boys (of which she was absolutely certain he was involved in recreational marijuana smoking). He told her he didn't "do that shit" but he was an awful liar when it came to her. In fact, she knew exactly when he was lying because he had a tendency to look at her nose, as if he thought it would suddenly sprout longer in recognition of his lie, which was a very bizarre Pinnochio reference, she knew. But if he were being honest, he would stare her in the eyes and not back down. He was perhaps her equal in being stubborn; it was one of many things she loved about him. And after thirteen months of courting, there was a very long list (that she may or may not have written down and occasionally adds to, hidden in a box marked Noah that she hoped he would never, ever find).

After she and Finn had finally found their end, truly and without going back, Rachel had spent her time trying to get her self-confidence back. Not just because of the Santana/Finn secret, but because she'd realized that while she was with Finn, parts of her had faded. Where once she had been set firmly in thinking she would become that bright and shining Broadway star that nobody would be able to ignore, that dream had taken a backseat in comparison to her feelings and relationship with Finn Hudson. She had been so entrenched in becoming a part of the golden couple that she'd brushed away all the things that made her special. And while she didn't blame him, it became apparent that she had let herself become 'Finn Hudson's girlfriend' as opposed to a person all her own. In the next two months, she got back to basics; nightly MySpace videos, rigorous exercising to keep herself in top physical shape, and without the added scheduling of dates, she could throw herself headfirst into her many dance and vocal lessons.

It wasn't until March that she realized how lonely she was. While she had many people around her, it seemed nobody was with her. Yes, she had Kurt, but he was away at Dalton Academy and they rarely had the opportunity to get together and make up for lost time. It seemed he was the only friend she really had and even he had only been able to get close to her when he was away from her 'crazy' and could find a spotlight of his own with the Warblers, not that they appeared to be appreciating his brand of diva just yet. But he was happy and safe and she knew that was all that mattered. So she didn't ask him to return, she didn't tell him that the other gleeks never really made any effort to get to know her or that without Finn she was so single-minded that it was tiring and losing its former shine. And then he walked into her life; or more aptly, he swaggered in.

Puck would be the first to admit that he wasn't the good guy or boyfriend material or the person you turn to when you're sad and need a shoulder to cry on. But he was loyal (with the exception of that one indiscretion with Quinn… and really, she wasn't sure if she counted seeing as he stopped it…) and a good friend and while he didn't particularly care for her long diatribes "less words means more listening, Berry, you're givin' me a headache," he did actually pay attention to her… Well, most of the time. Occasionally, she might have fallen into a few rants about the Tony's and Barbra Streisand and he got that glazed look that meant he was hearing the Mario World theme song in his head and yes, she did happen to know what Mario World was because said boyfriend was a fanatic about vintage games and thus made her learn the ins and outs. She hated water-worlds and that was all she was going to share on that subject.

So it wasn't so long later that Rachel found herself a friend in Noah, even if he was pretty adamant that the only friends he had were dudes and chicks that came with benefits. So their friendship lasted all of one month before he told her they were either going to date or she had to grow a "pair," which was apparently what he referred to testicles as. And since Rachel wasn't going to be growing those any time soon, she took him up on his unusual offer and well, the rest was history. Not always smooth, sometimes the bumps were very hard to hurdle, but one year and one month later and they were still together and happy and she had a promise ring on her right middle finger ("the fuck, your midget fingers are screwing this up, Berry!") that said this was going to last a lot longer.

She wasn't naïve, of course; most high school relationships didn't last long after graduation, but she was absolutely certain that they were the exception. Why? Because Noah had applied and gotten into NYU. That he applied at all said so much about his personal growth that it occasionally made her eyes fill with proud tears. That he got in was a nod to both her resorting to cutting him off for the "foreseeable future" until he started going to Math class and applying himself to his studies. He lasted three days before his headaches mysteriously disappeared and naps were no longer a needed daily requirement, or at least not during school hours because he did like to cuddle (though he'd never admit it publicly) on the couch at his house, where he almost always fell asleep, snoring again her hair. And now he was going to college, with her, in New York! They were going to take the big apple by storm, side by side, hand in hand, one stage at a time. And okay, yes, he wasn't actually going to be on stage with her. He had a business degree in mind, actually, but he would be there for every play on opening night and he'd be the loudest clapper of them all. She knew this. He knew this.

Fate could be fickle and confusing but she knew now that all of the heartbreak and confusion and the pain of the last few years was worth it. So Finn wasn't meant to be her leading man anywhere but in glee, she could handle that. The leading man she had for every other aspect of her life fulfilled her in ways she'd never imagined. And yes, while Noah would take that as a sexual reference (one she couldn't argue), she meant in other ways as well. He was accustomed and accepting of her "special brand of crazy," and even encouraged it sometimes. Apparently, her diva storm-outs and constant desire to make herself heard got him a little 'hot.' Or a lot hot, she thought with a smirk all too reminiscent of her boyfriend.

So while Finn had (perhaps) unintentionally stifled her uniqueness, Noah did the opposite. He "rolled with it" as he liked to say, finding it smarter (and likely safer) to go with the storm rather than fight it. Although, when it came to two passionate people such as themselves, fighting was bound to arise. Sometimes over little things, like which movie to watch – chick-flick-musical or blood-and-gore-action – and sometimes it was about others things, like previous hook-ups or exes or insecurities that were inescapably there. But after thirteen months of learning each other, trusting one another, and finding their place in the other's life, those doubts and worries began to fade. She no longer looked at Santana like she expected her to jump up and yell, "I'm doing your boyfriend, Berry! AGAIN!" and he stopped waiting for her to declare she was in love with Finn and no other. They found a place of honesty and comfort and they were able to grow there, together.

Thinking of him made her wonder where he was. It wasn't too often they spent their lunch hours apart. If she were being honest, she knew that it wasn't often they spent any amount of time separate when it could be otherwise. Neither of them were clingy so much as they had gotten used to being around each other. With her parents away so often, she spent a good portion of her time at the Puckerman house, occasionally sleeping over and helping him get his sister Sarah ready for elementary school before they took his rumbling truck to McKinley. While she still had her many lessons to go to she wasn't going to advance in New York if she didn't practice, and Noah had his many sports and his guy's nights to occupy himself, so when they did get time for each other, be it the few minutes between classes, their lunch breaks, before or after glee, the time between homework and dinner and putting Sarah to bed, they used it to their advantage.

Reaching for her phone, she checked her messages, finding two from Kurt and one from Noah.

Kurt: Morning sucks, Diva. Woke up late, RAN OUT OF MOISTURIZER LAST NIGHT!, Blaine's sick and I'm having an awful hair day! I won't survive past first period, I know it!

Kurt: Found Blaine. :) Feeling much better ;) Have a good day, Diva!

Noah: hey babe got stuck in meeting w/ pillsbury she keeps handing me hand sanitizer – the fuck?

Rachel giggled under her breath, typing back to each of them.

Glad to hear it, Kurt. My day is going fabulously! Have fun with Blaine! Tell him I said hello!

And to Noah,

I'm reluctant to make a reference to how dirty you might be… although I'm sure that was what you were digging for. xxx

Moments later, it beeped and she bit her lip as she read Noah's reply.

Only dirty 4 u berry-babe ;) … srsly tho, pillsbury's freakin me the fuck out. cum save me!

Rachel was moments away from thinking of an excuse to get him out of the counselor's office when she heard it…

"Fuckin' fairy! The Fury's been lookin' for your face all morning, Freak!"

Rachel was around the corner and down the stairs so quickly, she was sure her animal sweater was a blur to those watching. And yes, she was aware that they were neither typical nor terribly attractive, but she liked them nonetheless.

The boy currently being terrorized by one Dave Karofsky was not someone Rachel knew by name. Although, she wouldn't disregard the fact that he might've been one of Noah's previous dumpster targets. Regardless, he was scared and sniffling and looking altogether like someone who might very well pee his pants, further mortifying himself in front of everyone. And that was what bothered her most of all. This- This oaf of a boy was manhandling this student and not one person was doing anything about it! It wasn't as if the stairwell they were occupying was completely empty of onlookers. In fact, Karofsky had gathered quite a crowd, all of whom were wondering if he were really going to imprint his fist (repugnantly named The Fury) in the nameless boy's face.

And suddenly she thought of Kurt, of how he'd been battered and picked on and completely ignored, so much so that he had to leave McKinley and transfer to Dalton just to be safe! And while Rachel could (unfortunately) say that she had been bullied and little had been done to combat it, today was not one of those days. Though Noah was not there to back her up – and she told the independent woman inside herself that no, she didn't need a man to keep her safe but it still might've been welcomed – she advanced on the bully and the bullied with her hands on her hips, back straight as a pin, as she marched into their personal space and cleared her throat.

Karofsky glanced at her, unimpressed, and raised a brow, asking in a gruff voice, "The hell you want, Manhands?"

She really, truly hated that moniker! And she had it on good authority (Noah's!) that her hands were nothing but feminine, thank you very much!

Taking a deep breath, she told him in a very loud but very calm voice that, "I know your tiny brain may have a hard time keeping up, but try!" She glared at him when he sneered. "You are a bully and a jerk and making this poor, defenseless boy cry only makes it all the more obvious." His fist tightened against the boy's shirt and she blurted, "You're going nowhere, Karofsky! You'll be stuck in Lima the rest of your life, whittling away the time with memories of the 'good years' before you lost all your hair, football hadn't stopped your beer gut from expanding, and you realized you were full of nothing but hot air!" Encouraged by the wide-eyed look of shock on his face, much of it overshadowed by utter rage, she reached out and stabbed his chest with her finger. "For all your brutish strength, there's a little boy inside, scared and angry and confused." She stabbed at him again, feeling triumph when he released the boy and took a step back and away from her as her long, bony (Kurt told her so) finger stabbed him again. "You pick on others because you think they'll pick on you if you don't. So you scare them and bully them and make people like Kurt question who he is and fear for his safety." Stab. "But it's all your pathetic little insecurities shining through. You hate Kurt because inside he's exactly who you want to be! Admit it!" She stabbed him again, feeling righteous and proud.

Karofsky's eyes darted around, seeing the crowd of people, of students listening and maybe even agreeing with her and suddenly he looked scared, like she had said something so utterly true that he needed her to take it back immediately. And because he was the way he was, because he had grown up thinking he had to react to things physically rather than vocally, he shoved her. Hands on either shoulder, he gave her a harsh push back and away from him. Only he didn't realize that their walking had brought them very near the stairwell and his push sent her too close to the edge. She stumbled, her feet at the very cusp of the top of the stairs and he realized seconds too late what he'd done. Her eyes widened in shock and she felt for a terrifying moment as her heart literally stopped in her chest with realization.

He reached for her, for her flailing hands that were too small and too far. And she fell, unable to stop herself, unable to grab on to anything or anyone. She hit the cement stairs on her back and her feet came after, her entire body falling full throttle down the stairs, rolling her with little grace at all, until suddenly she was on the bottom, her body lying at an unusual and completely wrong angle. Long dark hair splayed out around her head in some dark halo, she laid unmoving, quiet, and the entire stairwell followed suit for all of five seconds.

Karofsky's eyes were stuck permanently to the little slip of a girl at the bottom of the stairs, her arms and legs spread out funny, her head tipped to one side, a pool of bright red liquid slowly building, wetting her hair.

And the phones were out; every person in the stairwell was either taking a picture of it or texting the situation to their friends and Karofsky just stood there, the culprit, the reason. He didn't know how long it was – seconds, maybe minutes, hell hours even, but there were others coming. A cry – a scream – and Brittney Pierce was staring in shock from the top of the landing at Rachel Berry. Santana wrapped her arms around her girlfriend and dragged her back, away, shushing her tears, trying to calm her. But the other gleeks were appearing now… The black chick was on the stairs, her hand over her mouth; the Asian girl was crying against Chang's shoulder as he stared on with wide eyes, his face pale, his expression slack; Evans and Fabray came to a stumbling halt near the body before she turned and pressed herself into Evans' body like she was willing the scene to disappear; and Hudson and wheel-chair kid had pushed through the crowd only to stop, shocked, staring down at her. But the last one, the important one, hadn't arrived yet and Karofsky knew that it would be smart to get his ass out of there before he did, before there were two dead kids, and he was one of them.


The word made him stop, kept his feet from moving, his stomach twisting and turning and the burn of tears in his eyes made him want to give in and throw up. He'd killed someone. Killed them! Tiny little Rachel Berry, who couldn't even reach his shoulder and he'd shoved her down the stairs.


And then everything stopped, because he was there. They were all staring, eyes torn away from Berry, from Karofsky, and Puck was running down the stairs, pushing people out of the way, not even caring as they stumbled. He paused only once, near the top of the stairs, inches from Karofsky, staring down at his girlfriend and the picture she made.

And Karofsky choked on air. "I-I-I didn't mean to— Sh-She just— I-I'm sorry. I—" He'd never apologized in his entire life and the words tasted funny but he meant them. Oh god was he sorry…

But then Puck was moving; he was running down the stairs so quickly they were all pretty sure he was going to trip. But he made it and he hit his knees hard at her side. "Rach?" he said, his voice a raspy croak.

In that moment, every single person held their breath, like they expected her to sit up suddenly, shake it off, and give them that infamous Berrysmile – the I can take anything you throw at me because I'm going to be a somebody and you will all be nobodies! smile. But she didn't move, didn't speak, didn't smile. And Karofsky knew she never would again… because of him.


Puck stared, his eyes wide enough to rival Rachel's when she was sad or angling for something; or Miss Pillsbury's when she saw him and was pretty sure he'd brought a world of germs with him into her office of cleanliness. He stared and he blinked but it didn't change; nothing changed. Rachel was lying at the bottom of the stairs, one of her legs still propped up against the bottom step. There were scrapes along her long legs and he knew that she'd hate them; she'd argue that bruises were not attractive and her skirts didn't allow for covering them. She would be sore and she might have even cancelled her lessons that night. And screw Halo with the guys, if she opened her eyes right then, he'd give up gaming altogether. He'd fucking give his X-Box 360 to goodwill if she'd just look up at him and tell him she was okay.

She didn't.

There was blood, thick and a revolting red, and it had spread out around her head in a way that made him want to reach out and just shove it all back in. There was a fucking hole in his girlfriend's head. She was bleeding the fuck out and nobody was doing a fucking thing. He yelled at someone, at everyone, to call a fucking ambulance, and people stirred into action, but he wasn't watching, he wasn't tearing his eyes away from her for a second. Her eyes were closed, those long dark lashes of hers still against her pale cheeks. And he leaned in, trying to feel if she was breathing at first. She wasn't. His hands buried in her hair, sticky and warm, and not like the soft, shiny hair he was used to.

"Fuck," he breathed brokenly, his forehead falling to hers. "Wake up… Rachel, come on, shit… Open your fucking eyes, baby…" He spoke against her mouth, her lips unresponsive, and it was all wrong. Rachel was never unresponsive. She talked for fucking ever, she kissed until her mouth was bruised and swollen and her lungs burned from not stopping for breath. When she had his mouth close enough, she didn't let go and he needed that now, he needed her to kiss this the fuck better.

His shoulders slumped, fingers tangling her hair as he buried his eyes against her cheek. "Please-please-please-please-please," he chanted. She'd have gasped at his manners any other time, playfully teasing him.

And then he prayed, to God or Jesus or fucking Buddha! Anybody out there in the fucking universe that could change this… and nothing happened. She wasn't breathing or moving or scraping her nails through his 'hawk like she did when she was trying to comfort him. She wasn't whispering against his ear that it was going to be okay, that she was fine. She just laid there. And he stared down at her, he stared and he wondered when the fuck it started raining… inside? And then he thought holy shit, he was fucking crying. He was crying and his tears were sliding down her face, dribbling down her cheeks and into her hair. And he'd only cried like five fucking times. When his dad left, the night Quinn called him a Lima Loser, the day he gave his baby away, when he got accepted to NYU to run away with this crazy fucking girl, and now… Now because his girl was dead, she was fucking… She was cold and dead and he literally had her blood on his fucking hands. It was warm and he was sure Pillsbury would've had a fucking heart attack if she saw them now.

And then he laughed, he laughed because it hurt so fucking much he thought the hand of fucking God just came down and ripped his motherfucking heart out of his chest and crushed it. His shoulders shook and his body vibrated and he laughed manically, crazily, and he always thought he was the sane one in the relationship and that only made him laugh harder and the tears wouldn't stop, they were spilling down his face so thickly that he couldn't even see anymore. She was blurry. She was just a dark blob with a red ring around her head and he fucking broke. His face fell to her stomach, to where he'd lay his head late at night when she didn't go home to her empty townhouse and eat her Chinese take-out, but instead she stayed with him and she snuck tofu into their dinner and she read Sarah a bedtime story and she cleaned up the house so when his ma got home she could just go to bed, and she crawled in next to him and she let him undress her and kiss her and fucking worship her body until they were both sweaty and satisfied and he'd made her curse like a damn sailor she was so high on bliss. But her stomach didn't lift and fall with each breath like it used to, her skin wasn't warm or damp with sweat beneath his cheek, and her fingers weren't lazily strumming through his 'hawk all affectionate like.

And so he screamed, loud and deep and like a wounded fucking animal that just wanted to fucking die already.

And nobody, not anywhere in that school, would ever forget the sound of utter anguish that escaped him.


Everything after that was a blur; he was pretty sure he blacked out at some point and there were paramedics and they weren't even hurrying because it was just fucking over. And then he was at the hospital; he was waiting because they told him they had to call the Berry's. Leroy and Hiram, the dudes he'd spent a year having Wednesday night dinner with, convincing he was good enough for their daughter, that he would do anything to keep her happy. And so he sat in the waiting room and he stared at his hands. At his big hands that had Rachel's blood on them, dry and cracked and staining his fingernails. He sat and he stared and he didn't hear Finn when he sat next to him, he didn't hear anybody. Not until Leroy and Hiram Berry were there and they were frantic and they were crying and he was up and out of his chair and he was in front of them.

They looked hopeful at first and he wanted to gut himself because he was about to break them.

His eyes darted around and he hated that they were burning right then, that he was actually going to cry in front of these people. But he couldn't stop them when they dribbled out of his eyes. He wanted to wipe them away but his fucking hands had their daughter's blood on them. "I-I wasn't there. I wasn't there. I–I should've been. I'm sorry. I'm so…" And he shattered, there in front of his future fathers' in law and his best friend and the entire hospital, amongst whom was his own mother, not that he noticed. He fell to his knees when his legs gave way and he was crying so bad it physically hurt and he wanted to beg them to forgive him because he promised - he fucking promised - that he would take care of her! And now she was in the fucking morgue and she was never gonna dance again, she was never going to fucking sing, and it made him cry harder because he needed her fucking voice. He needed her in his ear, pestering him not to skip class; or to eat more than cookies for breakfast; or to stop kissing her neck while she was trying to study; or to sing to him in the truck, to all those shitty pop tunes; or- or- a million other fucking things that she'd never say again. And he already missed it, he missed how she'd tell him to stop swearing; it was uncouth. To stop looking up her skirt; it was rude. To stop trying to get her out of her skirt; they were in the kitchen and his sister was twenty feet away and within hearing distance. To keep touching her there; to keep kissing her; to hold her tighter; to sing louder; to remind him he was worth something; that she loved him, for everything he was and everything he wanted to be.

He just fucking needed her.

And even though they should be holding each other, should be mourning their loss, the daddies-Berry wrapped their arms around him and they told him it wasn't his fault, they didn't blame him. That "their little star" wouldn't want him to hurt so much. And he loved these guys, he fucking loved that they made Rachel Berry exactly who she was, with all her diva-tude (Kurt's word) and her crazy and her stomp-outs and her endless support and belief in him. He loved that they saw the Mohawk and they didn't run him off with a shotgun (which he happened to know they had), instead they trusted their daughter and they trusted him and they welcomed him into the Berry household and called him Noah and expected that he would do everything he put his mind to. The two of them were better than the one deadbeat dad he'd had and when she was twenty-five, he was gonna marry their daughter and make them permanent fucking family. And now that wouldn't happen. Now he was just a guy that dated their daughter before she fucking died.

And then he was in his mom's arms and they'd gone to identify the body or some shit, like it wasn't fucking obvious it was her. He was crying against his ma's lap and she was shushing him and stroking his head and rubbing his back and crying against his ear, "I'm so sorry, Noah… God, I'm so sorry… Baby…" She rocked him like he was four and she could still fit her arms around him and not an eighteen year old man that probably had a good eighty pounds on her. She held him like she knew he was broken and she just wanted to make it better. And he fell asleep there, he exhausted himself so much he didn't even feel it when Finn and Mike dragged his heavy ass out of the hospital and into his truck, driving him back to his place and dropping him in his bed.

He woke up in the middle of the night and smelled her on his pillow. Her shampoo and her body wash and just that natural scent of her was all over the right side of the bed even though most nights she stayed over she wound up sleeping half on top of him. And for a second, he forgot. He thought maybe she was in the bathroom or she stayed at home. He thought it was all a nightmare and he was gonna see her tomorrow morning, bright and early, with that incessantly chirpy smile of hers as she helped get Sarah off to school and told him he couldn't skip first period to nap in the nurse's office. But then he saw his hands again and her blood was still on them and his stomach rolled so quickly he almost didn't have time to get off his bed and into the bathroom. He was heaving painfully, his breakfast from that morning (cookies and one of her scrambled tofu wraps – shit's not as good as eggs, he doesn't care about their fuckin' souls) emptying into the porcelain bowl quickly and without fail. For ten minutes, he just kneels there, waiting for his body to stop revolting. He was only throwing up air and stomach acid then and it fucking hurt.

But when he was done heaving he didn't leave; he sat back against the cold bathtub and stared out sightlessly. He could see her nightgown hanging off the bedpost in his room, his football gear crowding the floor beneath it. It was pink and lacey and so feminine in a room that was mostly male dominated but somehow it fit, somehow she always fit with him

"Noah, your room is the epitome of a pig-sty!" she called out to him, stumbling over yet another article of football gear.

He glanced at her through the open bathroom door, his toothbrush hanging absently out of the corner of his mouth, and lifted a cocky eyebrow. "Yeah, I'll get the maid to clean it up later," he snarked, rolling his eyes.

"And since when are you incapable of cleaning up your own mess?" she wondered, hands on her hips. She tried to tap her toe but then screeched as it got tangled in a jockstrap.

He laughed so hard he choked on toothpaste.

Flushed and angry, she stomped out of the room and cast a disgusted glance back at it. "I absolutely refuse to participate in sexual relations until that room is pristine!" she told him bluntly.

He blinked at her. "So we get familiar with the couch… I'm game…" His brows rose suggestively. "Hey, backyard… Still on your 'not happening' list or…?"

She rolled her eyes, stomping her foot for effect before turning on her heel. "Get familiar with your hand, Puckerman!" She walked away, cursing him beneath her breath.

He lasted two hours. It was a Sunday, Sarah was at a friend's, his mom went out for a girl's night and wouldn't be home 'til late, and Rachel refused to have sex with him anywhere until his room was clean. He got on that shit, quick, and turned Sunday into the best 'sexual relations' she'd ever had. Until Monday, anyway. He was always getting better, she should reward him for fucking growing or some shit.

Without thinking it through, he pushed up from the bathroom floor and walked to his room. Like a robot on autopilot, he picked up clothes and garbage and gear as he went. For an hour and a half, he did nothing but clean the hell out of his room until she could've walked through it with her white fucking glove and not have found a speck of dust. Legit. He hung her animal sweaters in his closet, next to his jerseys; he stuffed the spare skirts she kept at his place into his dresser drawers next to his jeans. And then he grabbed her nightgown and he crawled into bed, not caring that the sun was starting to climb the sky. He held that pink frilly nightgown close enough that every breath was like inhaling her and he laid down on the left side of his bed and he prayed it was all one huge fucking nightmare.

It wasn't.

He didn't move from his bed until his mom told him it was time for the funeral and he was pretty sure he was only going because he couldn't disrespect her dads. His body was stiff and achy and he wasn't sure how long he stayed in that bed but he knew it'd been awhile; he had a scratchy face of whiskers to prove it. His eyes felt raw and dry and he took the quickest shower he'd ever had because when he got in all he saw was her berry-scented body wash and his tears were hotter than the fucking shower. His mom didn't say anything but he could tell there was a lot she wanted to say. Instead, she reached for him and he leaned away and then Sarah was crying and she was trying to hug him and he pushed her away too, maybe a little gentler, passing her on to his mom because he couldn't touch her; he couldn't comfort her; he could hardly even look at her.

The drive to the synagogue was slow, or maybe it was just him. He sat in the front seat, leaned against the window, and stared outside at the passing scenery. When they pulled up, there were cars everywhere and people were dressed in black and all talking to each other, some were even crying. He was numb to it. There was a voice in the back of his mind, angry and familiar, that told him these assholes didn't deserve to be there, they didn't deserve to cry for her or mourn her or talk about her like they knew her so well. Rachel Berry had him, her dads and Kurt Hummel. And depending on the day, yeah, the rest of the glee club too. But they were a finicky bunch that liked her one day and then disliked her when she was the very epitome of Rachel Berry, doing a storm out or demanding a solo or any other crazy Berry things that he loved about her. But at least they knew her; at least they had a reason to cry. All these other people, these unfamiliar faces and their weeping into handkerchiefs, if he didn't feel so empty he'd yell at them all to go fuck themselves.

His mom ushered him off with Leroy and Hiram and he found himself in the back room with Rabbi Greenberg, who was reciting, "Baruch atah Hashem Elokeinu melech haolam, dayan ha'emet," before he tore each of their shirts in recognition of their loss. He knew that technically he was only her boyfriend and not her spouse but neither Leroy nor Hiram corrected it and when he looked at them, they nodded, like they were telling him he was meant to be and that was enough. If he had any tears left, they'd be falling. After that, he didn't pay a whole lot of attention; he knew that Finn and the other gleeks were there in the synagogue, somewhere. He didn't look, he just knew. There were psalms but he didn't hear any of them, he just stared at the pine box that he knew she was lying in, wearing the virginal white tachrichim. He stared and he wondered what she would say or do if she were seeing this. Probably something like, "Good turn out, don't you think, Noah? And to think, this was before I'd even reached the level of fame I wanted to… Imagine how grandiose it would have been then!" And he wanted to shake her and tell her fuck that noise! Because there wasn't supposed to be any fucking funeral. Not ever. Rachel Berry was like fucking forever and that shit just didn't die.

His chest hurt; he was like ninety percent sure it was empty, but then it started hurting again.

His attention was drawn when Leroy stood before them, plucking his glasses from his face to rub the arch of his prominent nose; the same nose his daughter had been unfortunate enough to sport, a nose he'd kissed countless times when she was pouting over something or other. Wherever God was, he kind of wished he'd make his chest stop throbbing because this shit was not cool.

"Friends, family, I stand before you a broken man. I stand before you a father without a daughter…" Leroy paused when his voice caught and after a few tries to speak once more, he added, "I stand before you asking not for your grief or your pity but for your love and your support, because I have lost the girl who encouraged it more than anyone else before her…" He placed his glasses on once more and sighed. "Rachel was a beautiful girl. She was unique and intelligent and she spoke her mind whether you wanted to hear it or not…" He smiled briefly when a spatter of chuckles agreed. "She was loud and opinionated and she had dreams bigger than Lima itself… She sang with such passion and devotion that she inspired others." He paused, his eyes scanning, and Puck knew he was looking at the Glee club then. And then he looked back to Hiram and continued, "She smiled through the worst of times and cried at the best of times. She saw New York and vowed she would have it some day; she would own its stage and its people with her voice and her charisma and by sheer will… And I never doubted she would…" He smiled shakily. "Until the day that she stood up and she said 'No' and she died for it… She died so others wouldn't feel the sting of rejection or know hatred or bullying. She died standing up when she was expected to cower… And we stand here today to honor her… We gather here to value her life and all that she brought to ours… So I ask you, friends and family, to take this moment and ask yourself what she gave to you, what you will take away from this, and I give to you eighteen years of a beautiful girl with an open heart… Thank you."

As he stepped away, a crying Hiram gathered him in his arms and led him to the side.

A memorial prayer followed before Noah climbed the stairs with Rachel's favorite uncles Levi and Sol, her fathers, Mr. Shuester, Finn and Kurt, and together they lifted the plain pine casket from its place and began walking out of the synagogue, destination her grave. Behind them, he heard Psalm 23 recited in Hebrew, but remembered the English version in his mind.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul; He guideth me in straight paths for His name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; Thou hast anointed my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

As they stepped outside, the sun bloomed, a slight chill in the air. He could see the grave set up, waiting. He didn't look at any of them, avoiding a crying Finn on the other side of the casket and Mr. Shue's hand on his shoulder. He stopped the required seven times stoically, feeling outside of his body the entire time. Psalm 91 was recited as they walked, empty in his ears. Some part of him wanted to turn around and take her away from here. She didn't belong in the ground and he didn't want her there. But then they were standing above the hole and they were all lowering her into the grave and when he stood back, he saw Hiram silently crying against Leroy's head as he buried it in his partner's chest. He watched as people he knew and others he didn't walked past, picking up a handful of dirt to drop on top of the coffin. The rabbi repeated Psalm 91 and El Maleh Rachamim and Puck didn't hear a word of it. He just stared at the slab of cement that read her name, the imprint of a star encompassing it.

For the longest moment, there was emptiness; nothingness. Then there was a hand taking his, soft and cold, tiny even, and he looked to his left almost hopefully, but it was Kurt, not Rachel. And the much smaller boy was crying, a steady stream of tears sliding down his pale face. And Puck thought if it were any other moment he'd have teased his girlfriend's best friend mercilessly. But he didn't, he didn't say a damn word, and when Kurt turned and pressed his face against Puck's shoulder, he didn't shove him away or tell him he didn't swing that way or any of his many gay jokes that Kurt would've rolled his eyes at any other day. Instead he just stood there and he let him cry against him and hold his hand and he didn't even flinch when those too feminine fingers squeezed the rough palm of his hand, because if he closed his eyes tight enough it was Rachel's hand holding his, soft and small and that perfect fit.

Finally, everybody who wasn't family parted into two lines, and as Leroy and Hiram passed by to walk through, they grabbed Puck and brought him with them as the traditional condolences were recited in both English and Hebrew, the non-Jews stumbling a bit. "May God comfort you among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem." They paused only to wash their hands before leaving the cemetery.

While he knew her dads were going to sit Shiva, Puck went home. His mom didn't ask questions; she saw him leaning back against the car, offered up apologies and drove him home. The emptiness was back again; hollow and thick and spreading. He briefly noticed that his ma had covered all the mirrors in the house before he climbed the stairs and locked himself away in his room. He gathered up her nightgown, laid down on his bed, and went right back to what he'd been doing before her funeral had interrupted. Stuck somewhere between wishing she was alive and wishing he was dead.

The latter sounded a fuck of a lot better.

[Next: Part II.]