Disclaimer: Glee is owned by Ryan Murphy, Ian Brennan, Brad Falchuk, 20th Century Fox Television and any production companies associated with said persons. This is written purely for entertainment and to alleviate my own immense boredom. I am gaining nothing financially from this. "Third Time Around" lyrics and music by Angie Aparo (and seriously sets the tone for this story).

Prompt: Rachel lives in a Brooklyn loft with her teenage daughter. The dad - maybe Finn - isn't involved. Puck enlisted in the military right after he graduated but now he's moving to New York. Somehow he runs into Rachel and they spark something up. - PuckRachel Drabble Meme by: acaudill0068

...This ain't no freeway
You pay for it someday - I guess
He came from Ohio
Another day another stain on your map of regret
No world can look like it did before
But this one comes pretty close to the swinging door

And you get no sleep and you're overdue
The faithful creep when they're leaving you
And you wonder why

One time's a shame
Two times and it looks like rain
And they say your luck is found
The Third Time Around...

- Third Time Around, Angie Aparo

There were some days when he honestly wondered why he hadn't just applied to be a police officer somewhere, preferably somewhere quiet, when he had retired from the Corps six years earlier. Other days he couldn't imagine not being exactly where he was in his life. As he stared at the file on his desk in front of him, Noah Puckerman, Ph.D., wasn't entirely sure which type of day it was yet.

At thirty-two years old, Puck had only been working with the family courts and New York City's Child Protective Services Regional Offices for one year. He had been hired immediately after he finished his Ph.D. in Clinical Forensic Psychology and had very quickly found himself swamped in an overworked government office system. And as much as he loved his job, not a day went by that he didn't a least partially question his choices.

After high school, he had planned on serving his eight years and retiring to a police force but somehow over that time period, serving as an MP (and realizing how lucky he was to only be transferred three times in eight years - two years a Camp Pendleton in California, four years in Afghanistan and his final two back in the US at Quantico) he had grown mentally exhausted of the idea of police work. Despite not knowing exactly what he wanted post-military he still decided on New York City for his destination (in case he changed his mind on the police work front - the NYPD struck him as his best bet - it had nothing to do with a certain brunette who had drilled Manhattan as the be all and end all of life into his brain during high school). It took him less then a month in the city to decide to expand on the degree in Psychology he had earned while in the Corps (again, with the idea of police work in mind initially) and within the next five years he had completed his Master's and Ph.D in a dual program from John Jay College.

It finally took what his mother had told him growing up, "that everything happens for a reason" for him to really realize what he wanted to do with his life.

His father had abandoned his family, he had given a daughter up for adoption, he had seen some atrocities while in the military - even just working as an MP on security detail during the rebuilds in the Middle East (as much as he was glad that by the time he was overseas the combat situation had ended for the US; it didn't mean they didn't have years of clean up ahead of them) - and then seeing homeless or abused children around Manhattan once he arrived had made his decision easier then he expected. He was going to help kids.

Which is why he was slightly pale and more then a little bit shocked to be holding a case file for one Elyse Marie Hudson in his hands. If the last name hadn't shaken him enough (because what were the odds really?), her mother's name certainly did.

Rachel Barbara Hudson.

Puck stopped believing in coincidences when he was a kid; now he just had to figure out why, of all people, Rachel would have had Child Protective Services called on her.

"And where the hell is Finn?" he asked the last question out loud as he scanned the file and realized that while the file listed Finn James Hudson as the child's father; his location was unknown.

He had a long morning of reading ahead of him before he had to meet the family and make his recommendations.

Later that afternoon Puck walked into a small conference room and had to shake off the shock at seeing a thirteen year old version of Rachel glaring back at him. If he had any doubts before now, despite the sheets of information he had, they were gone. He nodded at the social worker as she stood up from the table and left the room, though Puck knew she'd only be standing on the other side of the two way glass observing for legalities sake, and he himself took a seat across from the teen.

"Hi Elyse, my name's Doctor Puckerman, but you can call me Puck if you want," he introduced himself and left it at that; though he was slightly intrigued when she seemed to react to his nickname. "We'll start whenever you're ready."

He examined Elyse silently and let her stare back as long as she wanted. He understood kids like this and he was damn good at his job; he knew she'd start talking when she was ready. As he waited, he couldn't help but think that he was grateful Rachel's genes had apparently overridden Finn's because other then a slightly lighter shade of brown hair, the thirteen year old in front of him was all Rachel Berry right down to the nose he had talked her out of changing when they were sixteen.

It was with that thought that he had to push down an anger that he had felt swell up repeatedly all day. Rachel had a daughter and no one had told him. He was fairly certain this was something his mother should have given him a heads up on; probably while screaming at him that if he hadn't been a selfless idiot it could have been his child. Something she should have told him thirteen years ago when the kid was born so he was better prepared for this.

Perhaps, before the child wound up with him as one of her caseworkers.

He carefully ignored the unethical part of him even being involved in the case; he should have turned it over to a colleague immediately due to his past relationship with both of her parents. Except, he couldn't for the life of him, even this many years without any contact, imagine Rachel as an even slightly abusive or neglectful parent and he was terrified that another overworked (because God were they all overworked) councilor wouldn't see that. He just couldn't leave this to someone who didn't know Rachel. Especially, not when he knew his own mother's struggles as a single parent and the problems she had endured with various authority figures as a result. He was not going to let his friend's child wind up lost in the system.

First he needed to figure out why she wound up here to begin with - other then what it said in the file.

"My mom's not a shitty parent you know," the girl finally snapped and Puck managed to keep the smile off his face because that had taken much less time then normal, but much longer then he expected Rachel's daughter to stay quiet. "She just works a lot and Mrs. Conlon's a bitch."

"Mrs. Conlon," he repeated, referring back to the file even though he had almost memorized it already. "She's your downstairs neighbor. She's the one who made the three reports this month?"

"Yea, she moved in last year and she said Mom's going to hell for having me and not being married."

"And this resulted in us being called in?" he questioned, ignoring the fact that Rachel had obviously been married, though her status was now listed as divorced. There were still more then a few holes that Puck needed filled in. Like, where the fuck Finn was, though that was mostly personal curiosity.

Elyse shrugged and suddenly looked slightly guilty, pulling a tired sigh from Puck. He remembered being thirteen and having a mother scrapping every last penny together; now in his thirties he couldn't apologize enough for the hell he had put her through. It appears that history was going to repeat itself for his ex-girlfriend.

"Well, I might have, done something last month to finally really make her snap."

"What'd you do Elyse? I promise you won't get in trouble...this time...but these kind of accusations are very bad for your mother. As it stands, our offices investigation hasn't turned up anything that shows you're in a bad environment or neglected; but three calls in a month meant we had to take things to this level. I don't want to remove you from your home, so you need to be straight with me."

He kept his memory of Rachel Berry in mind as he spoke with her daughter and prayed the girl got her mother's brains (but not her dramatics), rather then her father's, and realized that the only way this was going to go away is if she was completely truthful.

"I squeezed rubber cement into her mailbox."

Puck had to shake off the urge to high five the kid; because, that was pretty epic. Somehow he didn't think anyone would appreciate it. Even under the guise of forming a bond.

"Based on the complaints she lodged with our office, I'd say there's more to it then that," he baited her and flipped through a few more papers before something caught his eye that he had missed on his first few readings. Apparently, Elyse was home alone a lot at night; which was understandable to Puck with how much his own mother had worked; but didn't strike him as something Rachel would do.

"Can I promise never to do it again? Mom already grounded me." That comment had Puck snorting down his laughter as he pictured a full on Rachel Berry rant over finding out what her daughter had done. His amusement vanished a few seconds later however, when the girl spoke again in a much softer voice, "I don't want Mom to get in trouble."

"Why are you home alone so much Elyse?"

"I'm not! Not really anyway. Mrs. Conlon's a liar. My best friend lives in the apartment right next to us with her parents. Mrs. Ellison teaches at the elementary school a few blocks away during the day. She's always home within an hour of Katie getting back from school and I get there like a half hour after that; she watches us in the afternoons and evenings. The only time I'm really alone, in the most literal definition, is when I'm sleeping and that's not even every night. But when Mom works, Mrs. Ellison is right next door and I'm thirteen!"

Puck masked his amusement at the typical babble that could only be from the Berry side of her family and rubbed his forehead as he he racked his brain and tried to figure out how to make all of this go away; less so because Rachel was an old friend and more so because absolutely nothing anyone had looked into had turned up a real cause for concern. He understood, hell even the social worker had left notes stating that everything seemed taken care of (they understood single parents who had to work long hours and Rachel had done a lot more then some of the families they had in their files when it came to the care of her daughter). The truth was, they were far too busy trying to relocate children who were being beaten daily to really worry about a teenager who was well dressed, well fed, attending a very good school that her mother teaches at, clean and had the supervision of a woman who was a licensed teacher when her mother wasn't home.

"Alright, Elyse, this was pretty much a formality anyway because of the multiple reports we received. You've seen our doctor and nothing showed up in x-rays or tests. Your apartment has been examined and it's spotless and well stocked with healthy foods. Your grades are almost perfect and having spoken to you I can see that the only thing you need to work on is your attitude a tiny bit; trust me when I say that sweet and nice rather then being snappy will help things. Wait here, I need to go talk to your Mom and see if we can't clear up this whole mess. And can I suggest leaving Mrs. Conlon alone from now on? In fact, if at all possible avoid her completely. Because, I'm pretty sure you might have left a few things that you did to that woman out."

He smirked a bit when the teen winced and avoided his eyes before standing up. He smiled at the young teen and left the conference room exhaling harshly. Shaking his head quickly Puck turned to face the social worker and asked quickly, "The mother?"

"Next door."

"Thanks," he muttered and squared his shoulders before heading into the next door conference room to see a piece of his past he had never wanted to lose in the first place.

Before he made it out of the room the social worker spoke up again, "Doctor?"


"You are going to close this out right? I saw the house, I've talked to the mother. We're way too busy to be dealing with a crotchety old woman who doesn't like teenagers and has a ridiculous idea of what is the "appropriate" way to raise a child."

Puck chuckled and nodded, "Going to go do that now. I'll get Mrs. Hudson calmed down and explain exactly how she can avoid this in the future."

"How'd you know she's hysterical?"

"Lucky guess?" he replied quickly before leaving the room.

He relaxed slightly now that he had confirmation that he was supposed to make this case go away; hell, he was pretty sure the only reason he had even been given it to begin with (due to the fact that he had only worked in the field for a year) was because everyone knew the entire thing was waste of time. So far he had only worked along with the more experienced psychologists on their more serious cases. His supervisor had probably decided to use this as a training experience.

"Some training experience," he muttered as he glanced into the other conference room and saw Rachel, still one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen, sipping a glass of water with dried tear tracks on her face and looking frantic.

Rachel Hudson considered herself many things; a talented musician, an excellent teacher, a supportive friend, a loving daughter-in-law and before this week, a wonderful mother. Now, the only thing she could think was that she had apparently been wrong about that last part.

The first visit she had received from New York State's Child Protective Services at the beginning of the month had seemed shockingly ridiculous (though inside it had terrified her) but she had obviously allowed them into her home, let them talk to her daughter, let them interview her neighbors, let them examine her life, let them do anything they needed in order to prove that the claims of the woman downstairs were utterly unfounded. She had felt vindicated when the social workers had completely agreed with her.

The second visit two weeks later had outwardly shaken her and she had suffered through an even closer examination. When this one had included a conversation with the principal at the private school in Manhattan that she taught at her nerves really felt frayed. Especially when her employer had told her privately that they couldn't afford such "scandals" among their teachers before letting her go. She still hadn't been able to find a way to tell Elyse that not only would money be tighter now; but she'd have to start going to public school locally for her last year of junior high. She was hoping that attending school with Katie would soften the blow. Even when the social workers once again, could not find anything wrong, she couldn't help but feel relieved - despite the fact that this time, they had more suspicious looks rather then bored like the first visit.

It was this third visit, that included a trip down to their offices in Manhattan so that both she and Elyse could meet with a staff psychologist while the social workers poured over ever part of her history; apparently including calls to Burt, Carole, Kurt and her Fathers, that had finally caused her to lose what little control over her emotions she had retained. She could not lose her child; especially not when it all stemmed from a woman who had outdated ideas of how a child should be raised.

So Rachel forced herself to remain polite, to be helpful and provide all the necessary information that she was asked for, all the while trying to keep from breaking down completely from her fear and heartbreak. It wasn't until the social worker had left the room, giving her a comforting squeeze on the shoulder on the way out, that she let herself finally cry and let back in the anger at her ex-husband that she had pushed away years ago once she realized she would have to stand on her own two feet in order to support their daughter and give her the best life possible.

Honestly, it was the first time since Elyse was seven, when Rachel had managed to finish her masters in music education, and she had landed a full time job teaching that she had even really allowed herself to think of Finn and the life they were supposed to have. Because, make no mistake, Rachel knew where the real blame for this situation lay; Mrs. Conlon might have made the calls for whatever insane reasons she had, but Finn Hudson walking out on his wife and child when Elyse was five years old had put them in this position to begin with. He was in the wrong; and the fact that no one, not even his family, had heard from him since told her he knew it too.

She heard the door opening and then quietly closing but couldn't bring herself to look up and face whomever was there to pass judgment on her abilities to parent. She knew based on what she had been told that this visit would be one of their staff psychologists. She wanted to feel her anger and she knew if she looked into one more sympathetic face she'd lose what little backbone she had at the moment; and if the face was accusatory she was afraid she'd react in such a way that she'd be guaranteed to lose Elyse. The only hope she really had was that if it came down to that, they'd send her to Lima to live with the Hummel's instead of some foster family in the city.

A chair across the table from her was pulled out and she saw out of the corner of her eye a body sit down in it quietly. She watched as a file was dropped on the table and flipped open. She heard the person sitting there exhale. And she almost fell out of her chair when she heard the person speak for the first time, "What the hell happened Rach?"

Rachel lifted her head to face him and stared back in shock; because, the very last person she expected to see today was Noah Puckerman. Except there he was, hair cropped short like when he had shaved his mohawk, comfortable but neat v-necked t-shirt and what looked like a pair of slacks and dress shoes. What stood out the most was his expression; he wasn't looking at her sympathetically or accusingly, instead he looked somewhere between angry and confused.


"Yea," he agreed nodding. "Seriously Rachel, what happened? I need to know so I can make this all go away."

"They can't take her away Noah. She's all I have," Rachel insisted and froze when he held up a hand forestalling her.

"I already spoke to Elyse, I don't think she needs to be removed from your care. If anything, I'd like to find a way to call someone on your neighbor for wasting our already stretched thin time and energy, but I can't. So be straight with me Rachel. What's the deal? What's going on at home that this woman even thinks she has a pot to piss in? 'Cause according to her third report, you've been around even less since we started showing up. If anything, it should be the opposite."

Rachel sighed and nodded before replying, "Believe me. I know that. I barely left Elyse's side after the first visit. It's summer vacation so I could do that. The second complaint caused the social workers to talk to people at the school I worked at. You've got it all the file there, it's a very high end exclusive private school. Needless to say, I don't work there anymore. I had to pick up more hours at the bar my neighbors own and I'm waitressing at a local diner."

"Your Union didn't back you up?"

"They couldn't. I was accused of being a neglectful and abusive parent. Who the hell wants that teaching their kids?"

"Shit," she heard him hiss under his breath. "That wasn't in the file. Alright, so you're working two jobs now. Bartending and waitressing? What's the story behind those? But first, gimme a second," he told her, pulling his pen out and flipping to the appropriate page in the file to make more detailed notes. She watched him scribble a few things down on a page that she could see had her employment history on it.

Once he was finished writing he looked back up, nodding for her to begin, and Rachel couldn't help noticing how different he seemed and she knew it was more then just fourteen years of separation from the boy she had known in high school.

"Alright, well, the waitressing job was easy enough to turn into full time because I've worked on and off for them since we moved to Brooklyn. I worked there pretty much part time straight through college and since then I've picked up shifts in the summer just for some extra money. They put me back on full time when I asked last week. The bartending is usually just Friday and Saturday nights - and if you could please note that I don't even drink it would maybe be helpful - and on very few occasions I'll work a shift or two in the evenings during the week if they're busy. The bar is owned by Jack Ellison, my neighbor. His wife Karen watches Elyse when I'm working. Their daughter Katie is the same age as Elyse and they've been friends since they were born because we've lived next door to them for that long. I've never left Elyse really and truly alone for more then an hour or two and even then it wasn't until this past year and only in an emergency."

Puck was simply nodding and writing as she spoke, occasionally pausing and looking contemplative before adding more and finally stopping, looking up at her.

"And your husband?" he asked, clenching his fist tightly as he spoke.

"It's all there in the file," she whispered, sounding exhausted and really not wanting to recount it again to Puck of all people.

"I need to hear it Rachel," he replied, looking apologetic. "You've only talked to the social workers. My job is to, basically, and I hate putting it this way, but it's the truth, psychoanalyze the whole situation. The quicker we do this, the quicker you and Elyse can get out of here and go home. Just bare bones it for me."

"Fine," she muttered and took a deep breath deciding to explain as though she didn't know the man in front of her at all. "I found out I was pregnant before graduation, told Finn after, we didn't tell anyone and moved to New York as planned. Got married at City Hall and I deferred school for a year to have the baby. Five years later I had finished my degree in Music, Finn was already teaching Gym at that point because he went full time while I was going part time. One day I got a call at work that Finn hadn't picked Elyse up at daycare and when we got home all his things were gone. I called my in-laws in Ohio and my brother in law in Manhattan and none of them had heard from him. Burt and Carole Hummel, my in-laws, have helped out where they could as has Kurt, my brother in law, but it's mostly been just me and Elyse since that day. I went back to school at NYU and completed my master's in music education and those two years were the most difficult we had. If the Ellison's hadn't been next door I'm honestly not sure what I would have done. The last few years have been tough, but I had a steady teaching job and was able to make sure Elyse went to a very good school as a result. That brings us to last year when that woman moved in and here we are."

Puck had stayed silent during her explanation and she had been surprised that the boy she used to be able to read so well had become a man with an incredible poker face. She watched as he skimmed the file as she talked, occasionally writing something down, but other then that she had no idea what he was thinking. It was silent for a few minutes after she talked and Rachel could admit she was getting nervous; fourteen years was a long time for someone to change and with that thought she realized, she did not know the man across the table from her and as much as she hoped he would take her side, she couldn't be certain.

"Okay," he finally spoke. "Here's what we're going to do. I'm going to make my recommendations that we put forward with closing this casefile as having no due cause. You'll receive a visit from a social worker in a month just to do a final check on the situation. I'm also going to recommend that someone goes and visits Mrs. Conlon to have a discussion with her; something they haven't done yet other then to take her statement. Which, in my opinion, just reads like a bored old woman with an archaic view on what a "family system" should be. It's going to be fine Rachel."


"I promise," he told her seriously. "You know I know what this is like. I'm not going to cause more problems for you."

"Thank you so much Noah," she whispered and finally felt her body relax. "Can we go?"

"Give me a few minutes to talk to Marcy, that's Elyse's social worker if you didn't know that already, and then I'll get Elyse for you. Just wait here, I'll walk you two out. Oh and Rachel?"


"We don't know each other," he told her with an extremely serious expression on his face. "I shouldn't have been the one assigned this once I realized who you were."

"I understand," she agreed quickly, nodding. "Thank you Noah."

"You're welcome," he replied before heading out of the conference room.

Puck leaned against the wall outside of the conference room he had left Rachel in and fought the urge to hit something for maybe the fifth time that day. Earlier that day when he had first read Elyse's file and gotten to Rachel's initial statement, from CPS's first visit, on the history of her marriage he had almost put his fist through his desk because he still couldn't believe that Finn, of all people, had abandoned his family. The person he had given Rachel up to for what was supposed to be her own good. The one person he trusted would take care of her and honestly never do something like that; having grown up without a father himself and having seen what that exact same situation had done to Puck.

He flipped open the file again in his hands and re-read the notes he had made while speaking to Rachel himself; thankful that his position as psychologist let him be much blunter and observational then the social workers. He just wanted to double check that he had stayed clinical to the situation and hadn't added anything he knew about Rachel's character from their childhood. Not only would it probably cause more problems, by forcing another psychologist to re-do everything he had just done, but he knew for a fact that fourteen years could completely change someone. He was living proof of that.

Re-reading her employment history, he pulled out his pen and made a few more notes; this time adding exactly what he thought about how the situation with the school Rachel had worked at had been handled. He could understand going that route if something had tipped their suspicions in the home; but if anything, this was just the work of someone who wanted to try and impress the higher ups and get assigned better cases. He had found this problem in the military and he found it here. He had decided a long time ago that something about working for any government agency makes even the smartest people incredibly dumb.

Once he was satisfied that he had covered all his bases and set the file up so it would be easily shelved he walked into the observation room to talk to Marcy Hanning. She was an older woman who should have probably retired years ago; but she had told him when he first started working for CPS that the "wet behind the ears rookies are going to screw up these kids more", so she stayed. Personally, he just thought she would go insane if she was home everyday.

"Hey Marcy," he greeted her as he walked in again, slightly more relaxed then when he had seen her a few minutes earlier. She was still studying Elyse through the glass. "Everything okay?"

"It's fine. I'm just aggravated over this whole waste of time. There are honest to God children in trouble out there and some old hag is basically trying to ruin an obviously loving mother's life."

"I agree completely," Puck stated, relieved. He knew Marcy had told him to close it out quickly, but she could always change her mind. He might be the psychologist but the social workers, especially one with as much experience as Marcy Hanning, ran the show.

"So what's your take on the mother?" she asked him bluntly.

"Tired and overworked but doing what she can to make sure her kid doesn't wind up either on the streets or as a delinquent. Did you know she got fired?"

"Excuse me?" Marcy questioned, ripping the file out of his hand and flipping through it. "Explain. Now."

"Whoever did the friends and neighbor interviews also went to the school she worked at during the second investigation. She was working at some upper east side private school and got canned as a result. Her union couldn't back her up because technically she was being investigated for a crime against children."

"Fuck," Marcy muttered. "It's not in here. They weren't supposed to go to the school."

"I added it. It was left out by whoever did those interviews."

"I think it was Jack Decker."

"Well, that explains it," Puck muttered, rolling his eyes. Decker had been out of school for about five minutes as far as Puck was concerned and was still working on his master's in social work. "This is what happens when we're stretched this thin Marcy."

"I know that Noah," she responded, sounding as pissed as he'd ever heard her when it didn't involve an injured child. "I'll see what I can do but it might not matter. Once that rumor is out there, it's out there. I'll talk to her about it during the visit next month."

"Yea; I know. Believe me. I know," he sighed, rubbing his forehead. "Marce?"


"Can we just make this go away now please? I'm tired."

The older woman chuckled and nodded, "I'll close it out. You get that little girl back to her Mom and get them out of here. I'll also make sure I do the follow up myself next month and before that I'll have a chat with the busy body who caused this. I trust you Noah, you're damn good at what you do so I have no doubts that this is not going to bite us in the ass."

"It won't. I promise," he insisted and thought for a second before deciding to take a chance since he trusted Marcy more then most people. "I actually, sort of, knew Rachel years ago."


"I haven't seen or heard from her since high school graduation," he quickly explained, holding his hands up in surrender. "And trust me, that woman loves her daughter and that isn't our past coloring things."

"How do you know that?"

"Because if she didn't love her daughter she'd be headlining some Broadway show and collecting every type of award for acting and singing that she could. She completely changed her dreams just to support her child and having spoken with her yourself - you want to tell me she isn't happy with her life? She's exhausted and stressed, but she's happy."

"No, you're right," Marcy admitted. "That woman wouldn't have changed a thing."

"Except maybe my deadbeat ex-best friend walking out on her. But hey, that's just my opinion," Puck muttered darkly and ignored the warning look he received from Marcy. "I'm gonna go get Elyse now."

"That's fine," Marcy replied distractedly as she made her own notes in the file and began filling out the closing paperwork. "Oh and Noah?"


"If you're going to ask her out, please wait until next month. I really don't want anyone to even attempt to fire you."

Puck shook his head and responded, "Don't be ridiculous. She's just an old friend."

"Uh-huh," Marcy replied with a smirk. "I might not have a Ph.D. in how the brain works kiddo, but I've been doing this a long time. Just a friend my ass."

Puck rolled his eyes and opened the door to the conference room, poking his head in and calling, "Come on Elyse. Time to go."


"Well, first to your Mom, then out of here and then wherever she plans on taking you."

"I get to go home?"

"Of course, I told you that's what was going to happen," he reminded her as the small teen jumped out of her chair and hurried over to the door, following him out. "Say bye to Marcy. You'll see her next week for a short visit and then this whole mess is done."

"Bye Mrs. Hanning," Elyse replied politely, completely losing the attitude she had tossed at Puck earlier and leaving him snickering because that right there was absolutely Rachel Berry's child.

He quickly led Elyse out of the observation room and to the room next door opening it quickly and calling in just as he had with her daughter, "Mrs. Hudson? You can go now."

He watched Rachel raise an eyebrow at what he had addressed her as and simply shrugged back, gesturing out to the hallway that had people moving about in it. She nodded in response and walked out, "Thank you again Doctor Puckerman."

"No problem. I'll show you out," he replied, gesturing for her to follow him. "Now, Marcy's going to stop by some time in the next month. She'll give you a call the night before so you're aware and know to be home. It's just a formality anyway. She's also going to make sure to speak with Mrs. Conlon about what is and what isn't her business and especially what is grounds for reporting someone to Child Protective Services."

"I can't thank you enough," Rachel responded, looking near tears again.

"Honestly Rachel," he told her quietly. "That part is less about you and more about the fact that we have too many kids in really honestly awful situations. Elyse is fine; she's well cared for and obviously loved. Our time needs to be spent on kids who aren't that lucky."

"I totally agree," Rachel nodded along with him. "I'm sorry that this wasted you and your co-workers valuable time," she added as the stepped out of the building and onto the busy Manhattan street.

"Hey," he said softly, grabbing her arm. "I wouldn't say it was a total waste of time. I got to see you again didn't I?"

When Rachel blushed he was transported back to January of senior year, during another Finchel break up, when he had laid his heart on the line and for one month actually got the girl. Only to lose her when they realized he had already enlisted in the Marines and Finn had been accepted to NYU. It had only taken two weeks for Finn and Rachel to get back together after Puck broke up with her; under the guise of letting her go for her own sake rather then making her wait around for someone who wouldn't be around for years. The last thing he had wanted was for her to give up her dreams for him.

He could still remember the words Finn had used to convince him that Rachel would be happier without him; because Finn could actually be there in New York supporting her, not trotting all over who knows where for eight years before he could settle down. He'd never heard another word from or about either of them due to the fact that he'd never gone back to Lima, instead flew his Mother and sister out to visit him on base when he could, and had been able to imagine that Finn had been right, that they were happy. And as a result, he'd never regretted that decision in high school until just now. He wondered how different all their lives would have been if he had held on and fought for her then.

"I have missed you Noah," she told him. "So much more then I could ever explain."

"Same here Berry," he teased lightly before adopting a serious expression. "I'd like to see you again. Maybe get more of the bare bones explanation and fill you in on what I've been up to?"

"That sounds wonderful," Rachel agreed, smiling brightly. "I'm so busy all the time that I only really have the Ellison's and Kurt here in the city for friends. Here's my number," she told him and quickly wrote down ten digits after digging through her purse for a piece of paper and a pen.

Puck accepted the paper and handed her his business card, jotting his cell down on the back, "The only catch is that I can't call you and vice versa until after Marcy fully closes the casefile. So next month once I know all the paper work's been put away and we won't have any problems I'll call you."

"Sounds good," Rachel agreed.

"Oh, and Marcy's going to see what she can do about the teaching thing. You might not be able to go back to the same school, but she said she'd talk to you next month about it. She was pretty livid when she heard how it was handled."

"So was I," Rachel muttered and didn't relax until Puck squeezed her hand. "Thank you again Noah."

"It's my job Rach," he responded modestly and stepped back. "It was nice to meet you Elyse. I'm really sorry about the circumstances."

"It's fine...now," the teen replied with a quirky smile. "You know, you look better with the mohawk," she added, confirming for him that she had in fact somehow recognized who he was earlier in the room. He wasn't about to question why she hadn't said anything; because, her silence had helped him finish off the case himself.

"Elyse!" Rachel snapped and blushed bright red while Puck just laughed. "Excuse her, she likes looking through my old pictures from high school and watching our performances."

"I'd have to agree with her on the mohawk thing," Puck admitted running a hand over his head. "But eight years in the Corps and now working here; I can't really go around looking like some of the kids I'm trying to either save or, admittedly, put away. So be good kid. Maybe I'll see you around."

Elyse nodded and tugged on her mother's hand, leaving Rachel to roll her eyes and follow along, waving slightly behind her. Puck simply leaned back against the building and felt the tension leave his shoulders for the first time all day. Rachel and her daughter would be fine and, if he had anything to do with it, in one month he would be a much more consistent part of their lives. Something he wished he had been able to be for much longer; enlistment or not, had he known what had happened with Finn he would have been there every step of the way for them in whatever capacity he could have managed.

And heaven help Finn Hudson if he ever crossed paths with Noah Puckerman again. His current job and past service record had put him in high regard with members of the NYPD; he was more then certain that the proverbial "blue wall" would have his back if necessary.

A/N: I don't anticipate this being longer then 3 (maybe 4) parts. The prompt just sort of grabbed me and I had to write it. I'm super into it so I don't anticipate it taking more then a week or so to finish fully.

It's going to focus on Rachel and Puck and their lives now, 14 years after high school, how different those lives are from what they expected they would be and how a relationship that maybe should have happened years earlier can be built in the present. It's going to examine how sometimes "regrets" and "mistakes" can become the most important things in your lives and how to let go of the anger brought on by them.

One thing I'm slightly on the fence about - does anyone really care where Finn is (yes, I know the answer to this; I just don't know if anyone cares) and should we see him?