A/N: So we've made it to the final chapter. Thanks so much for reading and especially for all your encouragement.

Additionally, yesterday I found out that I've been nominated for several Puckleberry FanFiction awards. From the bottom of my heart, thank you! I am truly honored to have my writing recognized by you!

The Best Man: Chapter Five

Monday afternoon she meets him at work and they have lunch together at this Italian place around the corner. It's probably not a date, because they've had lunch there before, maybe two or three times over the last two years, and this doesn't feel all that different.

They talk about work for a while; she loses her shit when he tells her about the well-known singer sitting in on the sessions with that jazz trio he's been working with and makes him promise to get her an autograph, and he laughs his ass off when she delivers an update on Bernardo and the head costume designer (two words: orchestra pit). After that they gently snark about the likelihood of Finn and Tina making out when the City Clerk pronounces them hitched; they both agree that there will be tongue, but he goes one step further and predicts that Finn will lose his head and go for a little ass-grab.

It's easy, it's comfortable, it's almost like nothing has changed.

Then again, maybe things are different, because for one she lets him pick up the check (no biggie, since practically all she ate was arugula), and also because he takes her home and rails her up against the inside of his apartment door because neither of them can wait for even as long as it would take to make it to the bedroom.

On his way back in to work he shoots a wink at Esther who's been office manager since the studio was founded in 1967. It's half his standard greeting and half 'please don't mention my three-hour lunch break to the boss'. She winks back and suggests that he turn his shirt right-side out.

When he tells her about it later, Rachel, of course, thinks it's hilarious.

She sends him a series of increasingly pissed-off texts on Wednesday night, but he's in the sound booth until 10:30 and his coverage is shit on the subway and then she doesn't answer right away, so he isn't able to get hold of her until he's walking into his building.

"Rach, what's wrong?" he asks her and she starts pouring out this story about her understudy and the girl who plays Maria, and to be honest, it's not making much sense, but maybe that's because he's got the phone pressed to his ear with his shoulder while he tries to unlock the door. He finally manages it, waves vaguely at Finn and Tina in the living room, and walks straight to his bedroom, closing the door behind him.

Flopping down on the bed, he begins to make some sense of the situation. Basically, 'Maria' is a bitch whose main preoccupation in life seems to be making Rachel miserable. This week's attempt stems around her trying to convince Rachel's understudy to take advantage of Rachel's days off for the wedding to convince the director to drop Rachel. She's just a massive shit-disturber of course; that plan has zero chance of succeeding but the understudy came running to Rachel in tears and crap's been flying back and forth between the dressing rooms all day.

And the thing is that Rachel is fucking amazing, but she's never been all that great with that girl-on-girl aggression shit.

"She's just jealous of you baby," he says soothingly. "She fucking knows that you're the best." Totally true and almost everyone knows it.

"Well, I know that, Noah! I told her as much when I said that the only reason she got the part is because her uncle is the producer. And then I said that if she doesn't cut the crap then those pictures of her from the last cast party would go into circulation."

"Pictures?" he asks. He was at that party and he doesn't remember anything too out of hand. But then again, Rachel was still with Eric-the-cheating-dickhead at that point, so he might have been too busy glaring to notice.

"Oh, there aren't any as far as I know," she explains airily, "but somebody seems to have a guilty conscience. That stopped her in her very slightly nasal tracks, anyway."

Well, shit. Seems like she's kind of gotten a handle on things since high school.

"So what are you so upset about?" he asks.

"That witch insulted Patti Lupone! And I've always felt a real connection to Ms. Lupone ever since..."

"Ever since sophomore year when you thought she was your mom for about ten minutes," he interrupts.

"You remember that?" she says with surprise.

"Babe, you announced it in study hall. Sure, I didn't know who the hell Patti Lupone was at the time, but you were wearing a navy blue dress and when Kurt called you deluded, you whirled around and I definitely caught a glimpse of panty."

"Noah Puckerman!You did not!" she pouts. (He's pretty sure that at least some of that shock is manufactured.)

"Light blue with gold stars? Fucking awesome. Classic Rachel Berry." This time she giggles, which is what he was going for. "You feeling better now? Want me to come over?"

"Mmmm. Much better, Noah. I think I just needed someone to vent to. And you don't have to come over. I know you have an early start tomorrow, so I'll just finish my bath and go to bed."

Oh that is so not fair.

"You've been naked the entire time you've been on the phone and you didn't tell me? Damn it, Rachel, this is the kind of shit we should be making rules about."

There's a pause and then she asks, "How soon can you get over here?"

Finn waves him down on his way back out the door.

"Hey man, Tina just put in Showgirls and I made popcorn. You should totally watch with us."

So much to mock right there, but it doesn't even slow him down. Even if he wasn't on his way to Rachel's place, that one is just too easy.

Rachel shows up at his place on Saturday morning in a pair of cut-offs and and one of his plaid shirts that she borrowed for painting a year ago tied in a knot about a centimeter above her belly button.

She's obviously trying to kill him.

Unfortunately even though his dick is making plans to take her back to his room and keep her busy there for the rest of the day, the rest of him knows that's probably not on this morning's agenda. Tina is moving her shit over because even though she and Finn want to get their own place, that's easier said than done in New York City. They're still looking and may be for a while, but as far as he's concerned, it's just a formality, because if home is where you keep your tampons, Tina's been living here for like a year and a half.

(And if Rachel happens to get lonely there across town, she has him on speed-dial.)

She's in the kitchen now, standing up on tip-toes, rearranging shit in the cupboards and he goes over to help her.

"You're not really helping me, Noah," she says matter-of-factly.

"I could be," he mumbles against her neck, while one finger slides along the inch of exposed flesh at her mid-section.

"I'm trying to make some room here. Is it really necessary to have Frosted Flakes, Frosted Mini-Wheats and Frosted Cheerios?" she says, with a bit of a hitch in her voice when he slips under her shirt, his palm spreading out on her stomach. He smiles and she continues, "And don't tell me it's because you like sweet things for breakfast."

At this point she knows exactly what he likes best for breakfast and it isn't cereal.

He brushes the button of her shorts, not really working to get it open, just tugging at it a little, and her hand comes down on top of his, but he doesn't find out whether she's going to move it away or push it lower (after this week, either seems like a possibility) because there's a banging noise and they both spin around to see Tina struggling in with two big boxes and a canvas in her arms. Rachel rushes over to help her and there's nothing one way or the other to tell him how much Tina saw.

After that Rachel kind of keeps her distance anyway or maybe it's just that Finn keeps him busy lugging furniture around.

She takes off around noon to get a few things ready for the shower tonight, and he can't kiss her the way he wants to, so he settles for whispering 'later' in her ear when she brushes her lips against his cheek.

All right, he was wrong about this party, he can totally admit that. It's just that he had this picture in his head of balloons and hats made out of bows and questions about 'making whoopee' from that crappy game-show from the '70s. So to start with, Rachel's plan to commandeer a bunch of tables at one of their favorite bars was awesome and the crowd that he raided Finn and Tina's phone contacts to invite are basically just the friends they hang out with regularly anyway.

What he definitely doesn't expect is the amount of lingerie the girls are unwrapping and squealing over at one end of the table. (Rachel's gift consists of thigh-high stockings and a corset and he wants to know why the hell he wasn't invited on that shopping trip.) And that's not all they're unwrapping. Let's just say that a few people decided to give toys and those get passed around too. He ends up heading to the bar for another drink because he can't stop wondering if Rachel has one, and if so, when does she use it, and under what circumstances would she let him watch her use it...

Let's just say he's at the bar for a while.

When he gets back, the seating arrangement is switched up and he slides into an empty seat next to Rachel. She's all flushed and expansive and gesturing way more than she should with a margarita glass in her hand while she shares some story with the group.

"High-school? No, no, no. I think probably everyone dated everyone else in our little circle except for Finn and Tina!" she laughs. "But I think the real story of how they finally got together is a little too R-rated to share!"

Of course Finn is beet-red and trying to change the subject but since he's currently wearing one of Tina's new silk stockings tied around his head like a bandana, no one is taking him all that seriously, and they're all hollering for Rachel to continue.

"All right, all right," she says, polishing off her drink and holding up her hands in mock surrender. "Senior year of college, Tina and I were back from NYU for winter-break and Noah threw this huge party for everyone. Of course, like all of Noah's parties, it got a little wild..."

"Hey, how wild could it be without spin-the-bottle and drunk-ass karaoke?" he teases, but she shushes him and rests her hand on his thigh under the table.

"...and at some point, I lost track of Tina. I went upstairs looking for her, only to find Noah bolting out of his bedroom with this look of complete terror on his face."

He can't let that one pass unchallenged. "Terror? Hell no! Squeamishness, maybe. If I had known I was going to be walking in on it for the next two and a half years, I probably would have freaked out even more," he says, shutting up only when she squeezes his leg.

"So naturally, I went to investigate, only to find Finn stark naked, covered from head to toe in these beautiful lines and swirls of multi-colored body paint. I have to admit, it was something of a shock, but not nearly as shocking as seeing Tina start to lick it off!" she says. Her hand seems to burn right through the denim of his jeans and then she starts to inch higher and trace patterns up and along the inside seam and fuuuuck. He stops her hand with his own, carefully linking their fingers together under the table.

"All part of the moment," Tina says dreamily from Finn's side. "I was making a statement about the transient and ephemeral nature of art. Also, I liked his smile."

"Awww, babe, I love it when you talk art," Finn coos, and kisses her.

Everyone whoops and cheers, and over the next few minutes a half-dozen side conversations pick up. The waitress arrives with another round of drinks and most of the group gets up to dance and in a few minutes, no one is paying any attention to them at all.

He hasn't moved a muscle; it's like he's frozen in place. They both are, shoulders just barely brushing, holding hands under the table like a pair of middle school kids.

He knows exactly what he should be doing right now.

What he should be doing is whispering something in her ear, something dirty, something that makes her blush, something that makes her press her legs together because of the ache between her thighs. He knows this. How this plays out is that he'll work his way up her skirt and stroke her through her panties, tease her a little bit, until her eyes are glazed and her breathing gets shallow. From there, he'll slide one finger under the elastic and touch her softly, just to see if she's wet (she'll be wet, she'll be soaked) and then he'll ignore her little whine when he pulls away.

He should throw her a wink, whisper a suggestion that she meet him in the bathroom, and when she joins him (he thinks she will, it's been three days and if she's feeling this half as much as he is, she's starting to crave him) he'll wedge the door shut. He'll prop her up on the counter-top between the sinks and dive between her thighs, taste her sweetness, take her up so high he'll have to peel her off the ceiling when she comes. And then he'll roll a condom on, bend her over the vanity and press into her, watching her eyes in the mirror as he fills her up.

He'll kiss and suck at the delicate skin where her shoulder and neck meet and she'll gasp and arch back into him when he palms her tits, her nipples rock-hard under his hands. When she can't hold back her moans, when she starts to tremble and flutter against him, he'll find her slick little clit and press, rubbing tight circles around it. She'll push back into his thrusts and orgasm again, hard, and he'll be right behind her, pulsing into the condom.

It's all right there; what he should be doing.

But instead of working on getting his dick wet, he's just sitting here, ridiculously happy simply to be holding her hand.

It kind of all hits him at once. He is so fucked.

Now he's sweating and something is curling low in his stomach, but it isn't arousal, it's panic, because if there's one thing that he knows, it's that he always, always, get slapped down for this shit and just like that he's up and out of his chair. He throws out some kind of lame-ass excuse and slips away, avoiding her gaze.

You can't say he's running away, not exactly, not when he doesn't leave the building. He throws cold water on his face in the bathroom, waiting for his heart to stop pounding in his chest and trying to ignore the images of Rachel-in-a-bar-restroom now stuck on a continuous loop in his head. When he feels slightly less like puking, he walks out, reaching for some of that swagger that he knows he can own. And then he just keeps busy in whatever corner of the place she's not in.

A while later, he's half-watching the game from a little table in the corner.

"Jesus, you're an idiot," Finn says, flopping down in the next seat and pushing a cold bottle of beer towards him.

"Good to see you too Hudson. Glad you're enjoying the party," he returns moodily.

Finn rolls his eyes. "It's a great party. So tell me again why you're hiding back here?"

He takes a swallow from the bottle and nods up towards the television. "Game's on."

"Oh yeah? What's the score? Hell, who's playing? No, I think I know what you're watching." Finn gestures over to the dance floor where Tina and Rachel are dancing. Rachel's got one arm around Tina's neck and both girls are laughing and Puck's gut tightens again and he has to look away.

"I dunno what you're talking about." And he doesn't. This is Finn after all. He could be talking about anything.

"No? How about this? Do you ever wonder what the hell you're doing in New York?" Finn asks, with a half smile on his face that kind of makes him want to punch the guy.

"Fuck," he shrugs irritably. "Lima's just...I couldn't stick around there. You know that."

"Sure," Finn agrees easily. "But why not L.A.? Chicago? Miami? Why New York?"

His eyes move automatically to find Rachel still on dance-floor. She's twirling and her hands are twisted in her hair, pulling it off her neck, and he knows it's got to be all over his face, plain enough even for Finn to read.

"And Tina and I both agree that there's a reason why you've hated all her boyfriends," Finn continues.

"That's because they've all been douchebags!"

"Not all of them! Joel was kind of awesome! I mean, how many professional athletes do you know who play in a band?"

"Semi-Pro!And practically the only place his so-called band played was on the subway platform, so I don't think that counts. Whose side are you on anyway?"

Finn smacks him lightly on the back of the head. "Yours. And hers. Rachel's been one of my best friends for years. And you're my Best Man, right? So I figure I kind of owe it to you not to let you screw this up."

He scowls and scrubs a hand through his short hair. "Shit, Hudson, what do you think there is between Rachel and me? What is it exactly you think I'm going to screw up?"

Really. He kind of wants to know.

"I think you're doing your best right now to screw up whatever you've had going with her for the last two weeks." At his look of surprise, Finn laughs. "I'm not blind, dude. Or deaf, and Rachel's always been kinda loud."

And now he just wants to hit him again.

"Look Puck, I don't know why you two are sneaking around, any more than I know why you're pouting in the corner right now when clearly you're ass over tit in love with her, but seriously, if you want to be with her, just tell her you want to be with her."

"Maybe it's not that simple. Maybe it's Rachel," he mutters, watching her fly around a group of departing guests, standing up all the way on her tip-toes to hug one of Tina's painter friends. (Dick.)

"Could be. I mean it only stands to reason that not everyone is going to fall for that bad-boy shit," Finn says seriously and then breaks into a grin when Puck punches his arm. "Thing is, you're never gonna know unless you take a chance. Or are you just planning on sitting on the sidelines the next time some guy comes around to try and sweep her off his feet?"

Yeah, it's 'no' on that one. In fact, it pisses him off just to think about it, a fact which Hudson damn well knows. He stares at him with a certain sick fascination.

"I can't believe you're giving me dating advice," he mutters.

Finn leans back in his chair, links his fingers behind his head and snorts. "I can't believe you're taking dating advice from me."

He's a little nervous when he goes to find her, but she just smiles sleepily at him and says, "You're back."

"The place is clearing out. I wanted to make sure you got home all right."

"I called a cab," she replies. "It should be here in a few minutes."

"Okay," he shrugs, digging his hands into his pockets.

"You can come home with me if you want," she adds quietly.

"Yeah?" he asks as a smile (probably a relieved one) washes over his face, "That'd be good."

He thinks about what Finn said later that night, like way later, when she's naked and curled up on his chest. He knows she's asleep; he's called her name twice and found her ticklish spot along her side, just under her ribcage and nothing, just the even tide of her breath.

"I wanna be with you," he whispers, and then because he knows that's really just a place-holder, "I love you."

It actually sounds pretty good.

Maybe at some point he can work on saying it when she's awake.

For now, he just wakes her up by kissing his way down her body and does his best to show her.

The wedding goes off without a hitch.

(Come on. With Rachel Berry in charge, would it even dare not to?)

Tina looks half-futuristic, half old-fashioned and all awesome with paper flowers and ribbons and tiny mirrors sewn all over her dress. Finn absolutely goes for ass-grab and Puck has to wink at Rachel who's laughing over her bouquet in her gorgeous green dress.

The food's good (he's going to take personal responsibility for that, even if all he did was call to confirm the caterers) and the cake is fucking delicious. Tina and Rachel both moan over the chocolate mocha ganache filling and he'd give them way more shit about it, if, you know, his pants weren't so tight all of a sudden.

His speech goes over well, probably because Rachel went through it and suggested that he take out about half the swear words and all the jokes about strippers. (Some of those were gold though.) Finn tears up a little when he talks about friendship, but at some point tonight he'll take him aside and remind him that they're still living in the same damn apartment. And then he'll probably hug him or at least punch his arm really hard because without this whole wedding thing, maybe he'd still be staring at Rachel's legs instead of sneaking a hand over her ass while they dance in the flickering light of five hundred stupid fucking candles.

(Sure, it looks romantic and shit, but he was the one who nearly burnt his thumb off lighting them all.)

They spin around again and Mrs. Cohen-Chang is eying him approvingly and he thinks maybe he doesn't even have to worry about Finn running his mouth to Ma, the next time the two mothers run into each other in the grocery store will probably take care of that.

He finds he doesn't mind.

And that's all about the way Rachel cornered him between the ceremony and the reception, pulling him into an alcove with the transparent excuse that she needs to straighten his tie. (Don't think he doesn't notice that while Rachel and Tina get to wear whatever the hell they want, he and Finn are stuck in monkey suits.) He's grinning stupidly because of course he's assuming she needs a little taste of the Puckerone to get her through the next couple hours.

Instead she shocks the shit out of him.

"Are you my boyfriend?" she asks him, tugging on his tie and smoothing his lapel. "Because it's been a month and while initially I was worried that whatever we had together in the bedroom..."

And the bathroom. And the kitchen. And back stage in her dressing room with the door locked and her with the back of her hand tight against her mouth to hold back her moans...whoa! Pay attention!

"...both proven that one doesn't necessarily have to preclude the other. And honestly, friends-with-benefits is just tacky, Noah."

She's kind of fierce. It's fucking hot.

He's got her pressed back against the wall in an instant, opening her mouth with his own, giving her a little of that fierceness right back.

"Is that a yes?" she breathes against his ear when he dips to nose along her jawline, nibble on her earlobe.

"Yeah. Fuck yes." Just say it, asshole, he tells himself. But she's twined her arms around his neck and pulled his face back down to hers and neither of them says anything for a while.

So now he's dancing at his best-friend's wedding with his girlfriend. (Tina and Finn are whispering and giggling in their direction and Finn actually gives him a thumbs up. Dork.) And you know it's not all that different from the way he felt last week, or the first time they had sex last month, or hell, the three years he spent watching her sing her heart out on a stage he wasn't sure he's ever be good enough to share with her.

"I want to be with you, Rach," he says just loud enough for her to hear, skating his hand along the bare skin of her back.

He still hasn't said the other one yet. But the way she's looking at him, all soft and happy and shining, he knows it's just a matter of time.


A/N: Again, thank you! I'd love to know what you think!