Title: I'm Sorry It Took So Long (To See I Loved You All Along)
Category: Glee
Genre: Drama/Romance
Ship: Puck/Rachel
Rating: Teen
Warning(s): Coarse Language
Prompt: Rachel knows she's in love when she sees Puck march in a Pride parade supporting Kurt
Word Count: 3,222
Summary: It only takes a split second for her to realize she's been guarding her heart around a man who already had it.

I'm Sorry It Took So Long (To See I Loved You All Along)

Rachel had been hesitant to put a label on her feelings. He'd been in her life since she was a toddler, but for the most part he hadn't exactly been the nicest of people. That changed in high school and she could honestly say she no longer held his previous actions against him. But she did hold some of herself back. Noah Puckerman was the very definition of a playboy stud and he never failed to make that known. She would gladly shout his praise whenever he needed to hear it, then and now, because regardless of his sexual history he was, and continued to be, a good person; smart, talented, and destined for a world bigger than Lima, Ohio. However, dating him was something else altogether. Yes, they had that brief relationship in high school, a measly five days really, but there were extenuating circumstances that made the whole thing more of a sham than anything.

Now that she was in New York, and by some twist of fate he was too, they just sort of fell into an easy, light hearted relationship that consisted of a lot of mind-blowing sex, with the occasional breakfast shared in the early mornings before work, while she was wearing whatever shirt he shed the night before and he wore his jeans slung so low on his hips she was hard-pressed not to want to lean down and lick all that tanned skin just there on display. When he introduced her to his friends at the NYFD, because apparently there really was a hero beneath all that bravado and he always did like playing with fire, he never paused in calling her his girlfriend. They'd been together more than a year, sharingNew Yorkmore than four, and she was breaking out slowly on the Broadway scene, having finished at Tisch and now making a name for herself, gathering good reviews wherever she went. In the last few months, he'd brought up the idea of them moving in together; it wasn't an unexpected suggestion since they spent as much time together as they did. But she was hesitant and she told him that. Still, with each late night rehearsal she came home and wondered what it would be like to know he was there, waiting for her. Yes, he spent a number of nights staying over at the fire house, on call, but even to have a few nights of the week where she walked into her apartment and found him asleep on the couch or hogging her bed, it was a daydream that had caught her attention more than once.

She knew he was faithful. She knew he would never hurt her like that. The Noah Puckerman that could happily juggle a bevy of women was long matured and he had goals ahead of him that he worked hard to accomplish. He was a fire fighter who saved lives, a musician that penned his own music, and a generous lover that she never took for granted. But handing her heart over on a platter was a mistake she'd made one too many times. Yes, it was with a completely different boy - one who was happily living his small-town life in Lima- but those old scars never quite faded; those fears never really calmed. And sometimes she looked at Noah and she wondered if he was in her life for the long haul or if he was just happy to have someone to hold when he wasn't working. If it didn't matter to him who it was, but that it was comfortable because it was her. Because it was Rachel, who was loud and dramatic, but familiar. She'd grown up too, she knew that, but there were occasions when she wondered if when he looked at her he still saw the bossy, selfish girl that had demanded every solo and never failed to remind everyone that she had the better voice and deserved more attention… It was true, but that wasn't the point.

She sheltered her heart because it had a tendency to get broken; it was too soft, too open, too inclined to dedicate itself to boys who never handled it with care. And even though Noah was easily the most careful of any boy she'd been with, and yes she was aware he cursed too much and he was brazenly arrogant and he liked to whisper dirty things in her ear when she was trying to look like the sweet, good small-town girl many casting companies expected of her, he still knew her better than anybody else. He still picked her up soy milk when she was out, though he often said it tasted nasty; even keeping a jug at his place for when she stayed over. He still rubbed her feet after a long day of dancing and made her favorite tea when she'd been singing so long her vocal chords felt stretched beyond their limit. He didn't chase after her when she stomped out of a room in a dramatic fit, but he did always wait for her to come back after she'd calmed down, rather than cut his losses and leave her crazy behind. But love… She'd never said those three words to him. There were moments she thought it, immediately chasing it away with redundant logic. Times she felt it, only to stuff it down and call it something else. She needed to be careful, because as much heartbreak as she'd known, she feared that if it happened now, with him, recovery was dismal at best.

That all changed the day of the Pride parade. She had an afternoon rehearsal and she regretted that she wouldn't be able to walk next to Kurt, rainbows painted on her cheeks, proudly telling any who asked that she supported her best friend and her fathers. He too lamented that she would be missed, but he would hopefully find somebody else to walk with him. It was the first parade he had decided to partake in. While he was very much proud of his sexuality, blatantly walking it down the streets ofNew Yorkwas a daunting task for him. This year, however, he'd declared to her loudly that he was going to do it. Nothing was going to stop him. And she truly wished she could have been there with him. Supportive nonetheless, she told him to have fun and she wanted to hear all about it later that night.

Lucky for her, rehearsal ended early, and she hurried out to the blocked off streets, searching faces for that familiar Kurt Hummel smile. And then she spotted him, skipping daintily along among the masses, his arm hooked through a familiar, toned arm she knew all too well.

Her jaw fell a little as she set eyes on Noah. He was smirking, as was his usual expression, and wearing an NYFD t-shirt with the words 'PROUD of my gay friend,' written down it. Tears filled her eyes; of appreciation and… and love. It rocked her so hard her knees were weak with the revelation.

"Rachel!" Kurt bounced on the tips of his toes. "Rachel, hey!" He waved at her. "Look at the hunka-hunka I stole for the day!"

She laughed, wiping her cheeks hastily. "I'll want him back!" she shouted.

He rolled his eyes, waving a hand dismissively. "We'll see!"

Puck threw an arm around Kurt's shoulders, noogied his head – which he knew Kurt hated, and then said something before jogging over to the side. He leaned across the barrier and wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her close. "Thought you had rehearsal?"

Arms around his neck, she squeezed him tightly, overwhelmed by the emotions rolling through her. "I got out early…" She scrubbed her hand down his neatly shaved head. "What you're doing for Kurt, it's…" She wasn't sure she had words.

He shrugged. "He was kinda freaked by the whole thing…" He grinned back at the crowd, where they could see Kurt had obviously gotten over his nerves and was happily dancing with a few nearly-naked marchers. "Fits right in."

She chuckled, gazing at him. Reaching down, she plucked at the front of his shirt, where his support was clear as day. "Thank you," she told him earnestly.

He looked back at her, brow raised. "'S just a parade, Rach."

She shook her head. "No, it's… It's my dads and my best friend. It's…" She blinked rapidly against her burning eyes. "It means so much to me that you would do this just because… Because you supported Kurt and you didn't want him to feel like he was left out of something that, for all intents and purposes, was meant to make him proud of himself…" She stared at him searchingly. "You are an incredible person, Noah."

He cupped her face, brushing her hair back from her cheeks. "You gettin' sappy on my,Berry?" he teased lightly, but his expression was a little worried.

She sniffled. "I tried… I tried really hard…" she told him, her voice shaking.

Really concerned now, he shook his head, and with one last glance to make sure Kurt was okay, who just waved a thumbs up back to him before sidling up to a handsome man strutting down the street and waving happily to any and all, Noah let go of her to grip the barrier before hopping over it. Taking her hand, he pushed his way through the surrounding crowd, dragging her along with him. He walked further down a street, away from the loud parade, and stopped just outside of a small, mostly empty coffee shop. "What's up?" he asked, squeezing her hand, his thumb rubbing back and forth over the top. "You're not usually this weepy…" He frowned. "And it's totally not that time of the month. I got that shit memorized."

She chuckled a little, reaching up to wipe her face. "I'm just… I…" She shook her head and then, rather angrily, she slapped his shoulder. "This is all your fault!"

He frowned. "Seriously, woman, quit keeping me in the dark. I have no idea why you're freaking out!"

She felt like pacing, but he was holding onto her still, and she knew that if she tried to pull away he'd just stop her. He didn't like leaving things; he wanted them figured out as quickly as possible. If he could fix them, he would, if not, he found a way around them. It was just who he was. So she wrung her one free hand and bit her lip. "We've been together awhile now—" she began.

"Shit, are you breaking up with me?" He reached out and took her chin in his palm, angling her face back so she was looking at him. He searched her eyes almost frantically. "Are you kidding me?" He gripped her hand almost too tightly. "The fuck did I do wrong?" He shook his head. "I gave you you're stupid space… I didn't bug you about the moving in together thing, even though it makes a fuck of a lot of sense…" He nodded, eyes wide. "I quit leaving my wet towels on the bed. I stopped bitching about how much soy milk sucks in cereal, and it really, seriously does!" He waved two fingers in her face irritably. "I take two showers just so I don't smell like smoke after work!" His brows furrowed. "And our sex life is legit incredible! Like that whole bendy thing you got going on, that's insane! And seriously, there is no other dude out there who's gonna make you come as hard as I do, okay? I know some chicks get all weird about only having one lover before they settle down, but come on, it doesn't get any better!" He gaped a little, apparently struggling to find more reasons. "And—I—" He sighed, running a hand back over his head in frustration. "Damn it, Rachel… I know you're not in love with me, but it'll happen, okay? I-I can love you enough for both of us. Just—"

She cut him off with her mouth; pressing her lips so firmly against his that he nearly stumbled backwards. He caught his footing, however, and wrapped his arms around her waist, hands splaying out across her back before gripping her shirt tightly. With every one of his exhales, she inhaled desperately. His tongue trailed across her lower lip and she opened for him, her skin warming as she tasted him; as the familiar way he met every move she made played out like a dance they'd practiced their entire lives. She smiled when he groaned at her teeth nipping his lip. Her eyes opened when his hands loosened, sliding down her to cup her butt and lift her, drawing her legs around his waist until he had her pinned against a brick wall. His mouth continued to slant against hers, a little harder, more desperately. She scrubbed her nails down the nape of his neck and gripped his shoulders, rocking her hips against his.

"Mmph, fuck," he muttered, suddenly dragging his mouth from hers. He was panting, his brows furrowed. "The fuck was that?" he asked, staring at her with hazel eyes that were always darkest right before he stripped her panties down from beneath her skirt and sunk himself inside her, like right now if he hadn't stopped himself. His jaw ticked and he shook his head like he was trying to shake the feeling away. "You're the queen of mixed signals, y'know that?"

"I'm sorry," she told him genuinely. "I was about to clear the air but then you assumed the worst and started ranting at me…" She raised a brow. "I think I may have rubbed off on you in the worst way..."

He smirked back lazily, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively. "I like it when you rub me off."

"I'm aware." She looked down at their joined hips and then smoothed her hands across his shoulders. Sobering, she told him, "I wasn't breaking up with you… And for you information, I have noticed those things you've done. And you're right, if you don't like soy milk in your cereal than I can be just as flexible and we can keep a jug of your preference on hand as well…" She swallowed tightly. "And you don't… You don't need to shower twice because…" She looked up at him. "Because I like that smoky scent on you; it just… It's become so familiar that I associate that scent with you specifically and…" She turned her eyes up when they started to blur with tears. "And I know that you love me, Noah… I…" She shook her head. "I spent so much useless time trying not to love you and I regret that, I really do…"

He shrugged slightly. "You got your heart pretty beat up, Rachel… I know, I was there, saw the whole crazy-fest…"

"I know, but…" She sniffled. "That's not fair to you…" She wiped at her eyes, irritated at her emotional outburst. "If anything, you've done so much to prove to me that you're nothing like Finn and instead of believing in that, I—I just kept waiting for you to screw up or hurt me and…" She wiped at her nose. "You haven't. You won't." Swallowing tightly, she licked her lips. "And I do love you, Noah! I…" She shook her head, awe filling her face. "Seeing you out there with Kurt, supporting him, I just… I realized that I couldn't not love everything about you… Even—Even when you leave those wet towels on my bed, which yes, thank you, I appreciate you've stopped doing that…" She laughed under her breath. "But it's more than just this, more than just what you did today… It's that every day when I wake up, I'm only happy if I'm in your arms. And… At night, when I'm falling asleep I wonder if you're at the station, if you'll get called out, if you'll be safe, and I… I miss you. I miss your warmth there next to me and I miss the way you play with my hair when you think I'm sleeping and I miss… I just miss the sound of your breathing and your snoring and…" She hiccupped on a shaky breath. "And I'm sorry I wasted all this time pretending I didn't already love you when I have for what seems like forever… And I want to continue to love you… I-I want to share an apartment and a bed and—and fight over how evil dairy products are and…" She cupped his face, thumbs stroking his cheeks. "And I want to hear you say you love me just so I can say it back. So…" She stared up at him hopefully. "Can we do that?"

"Yeah," he rasped, nodding. "You coulda just said you loved me. S'not your Tony speech, babe."

She rolled her eyes, slapping his chest. "Noah!"

He half-grinned and then rested his forehead against hers. "I love you, Rachel."

Her heart skipped a happy beat. "I love you too, Noah."

He kissed her again, gently this time; just a slow, lingering slant of lips. And then he drew back from the wall and her feet slid to the ground, but he kept hugging her, his face buried in her neck. She held onto him, content to just stand there awhile, breathing him in. Under his bodywash and cologne, she could still find that smoky scent that clung to him and it was the most relaxing thing she'd ever breathed.

"This mean I can move my shit into your place?" he eventually asked, rubbing his chin along the top of her head until she squirmed out of his arms and glared at him playfully.

"Yes." She nodded. "We'll start moving things over on your day off…" Her nose wrinkled. "You can keep your dead animals in the crisper so I don't have to see it every time I open the fridge."

He laughed. "All right."

She curled her fingers around the loops on his jeans. "Would you like to return to the parade?"

"I dunno, I was kinda hoping we could get back to what we were doing before…" He cocked a brow. "I wasn't kidding about how awesomely bendy you are…"

Rolling her eyes, she wrapped an arm around his waist. "First, we'll go support Kurt. Then we'll get bendy."

Hugging her to his side, he said, "Deal."

As they walked back to the festivities, he threaded his fingers in her hair and bent to kiss the top of her head. "So how long before I can ask you to marry me without you freaking out?"

She blinked up at him. "One step at a time, Noah…"

He smirked. "No worries… I'm not going anywhere." Rather smug, he told her, "Year and a half to get you to admit you were crazy about me. I'm figuring half that to make my ma proud and get us hitched."

She raised an amused brow. "You have your work cut out for you."

"It's worth it."

Smiling, Rachel squeezed him, resting her head against his chest. She couldn't say his long-term plans worried her in the least. In fact, she was looking quite forward to them.