A one-shot set after season two. Enjoy.

Disclaimer: None of this belongs to me, I just like to play.

He likes the sound of the grass as it crunches under his feet, crispy and green and fresh. All around him is the unfettered rush of summer, but it's been difficult to enjoy. It should be a sort of pleasant limbo; school's let out, so summer parties with friends haven't started up just yet, and the looming tension of college applications and finality seems too far away to touch him just yet. But there's been a pit in his stomach growing larger and larger, that he tries to convince himself has nothing to do with New York; with the shock of watching Finn take away something he didn't even know he wanted.

The lake is surprisingly deserted. There are a few moms out with their toddlers, attempting to feed the ducks. He can't help but chuckle when one the rugrats shrieks and runs, an indignant duck in close pursuit. He keeps walking, straying from the path and edging closer to the trees when he sees her.

He almost trips over her first, though.

"Shit, Berry, make a little fucking noise for chrissakes. You're like a fucking bunny rabbit." She scrunches up her nose, delicately, and Puck can't help but think she really does look like a bunny, all small and soft and so many shades of brown.

"Hello, Noah," she says. She doesn't seem to be expecting him to say anything more, so he plunks down next to her, accidentally-on purpose brushing right up against her warm, smooth skin. All he gets in response is a slightly raised eyebrow, and he finds himself strangely disappointed by her lack of reaction.

"So, what's up?" As much as he rags on Berry for her inability to shut the fuck up, Puck isn't really one for silence. It unsettles him; he's never really liked to be alone with his thoughts.

She doesn't say anything, merely lifts up a worn paperback.

"Summer reading?" he prods on.

"Not required, no. Just for fun."

"You're reading that tiny-ass print for fun?"

Her mouth twitches a little. "Some of us enjoy reading, Noah, despite how difficult it may be for you to grasp that concept. I'm sure it's not nearly as scintillating as shooting zombies on a tv screen - "

"Don't knock it till you've tried it, princess"

" – but I really don't think I could take that level of excitement." She brings her hand to her forehead in an exaggerated swoon, breaking character when she giggles a little.

He can't help but smirk in response, and he likes the little tingle that spreads through him when he catches her eyes bright and laughing. She has a way of smiling with her entire body, and she has the most expressive face he's ever known. It's hard to watch her sing sometimes, her face naked with emotion. He has to look away because he gets uncomfortable, feeling like he's stumbled upon something intimate.

He pushes away from the tree trunk to roll over on his back in front of her, stretching out his limbs and grunting. He lets his eyes roam up her body, starting with the smooth expanse of leg, to her throat, to the sweet, crooked smile still lighting up her face. He wants to run his tongue up those legs, starting with her toned calves and making his way up to thighs he wants to bite. He has half a mind to do it (he's Puck, after all. What does he know about impulse control?), but it's Rachel and she really is like a rabbit sometimes, easily startled and quick to run. Instead he breaks off a blade of grass and starts tracing patterns around her left ankle. When she doesn't react, he starts tracing higher, tickling the underside of her calf. He looks up quickly, trying to gauge a reaction, but she merely bites her lip and returns to her book, cheeks stained with pink.

"This is my favorite kind of Berry," he blurts out. She drops the book, waiting for him to continue, but he has to struggle to find the right words. "It's just…shit, I don't know. You look real."

"I- I don't understand," she says, the Puck wants to punch himself in the face for the tension in her voice like a tight guitar string.

"It's…it's like you're all relaxed."

"You do realize it's summer vacation, Noah?"

"No," he insists. "It's that, but it's not just that. You look happy. Like you…fuck," he pauses, searching for the right thing to say. "Like you actually fucking like yourself." He looks up in a slight panic, wondering if it came out too harshly. Rachel doesn't meet his glance. She closes her eyes instead and shrugs her shoulders. Doesn't say a word.

"Shit, sorry, I didn't mean it like that, I just don't know how else to –"

"I think I do," she cuts him off.

"Wait, what?"

"I think I'm starting to like myself again. I'm angry, and I'm frustrated with myself, but it's just such a relief to not hate myself anymore. Does that make any sense at all?"

"Yeah, it does. Hell, the only reason I don't hate myself most of the time is 'cause I'm so damn hot." He waggles his eyebrows and earns the laugh he'd been angling for. "So when'd you stop?"

"New York, I think. Kurt and I snuck onto a Broadway stage and we sang our hearts out, and for the first time in years I felt like I wasn't lying to myself." She meets his eyes this time, almost imploringly, and he rubs his thumb over her knee and waits. "All of a sudden it was like I could see all the dreams I've had just – this is going to sound so stupid – just shimmering around me. And they were so lovely, and I've been working so hard, and how can I hate myself when I can dream about such beautiful things?" She stops, lips parted, almost out of breath, dark hair falling across her face, and Puck thinks he's never wanted to kiss her more.

"You kept saying New York was what you needed," he says instead. He feels a little bolder and lets his thumb travel higher, kneading her thigh.

"Yes," she says, a little breathlessly, and he sees her watching his thumb stray closer and closer to the hem of her shorts. "New York and Finn, I suppose." And suddenly he feels like he's been doused with ice cold water.

Of course it comes back to Finn.

"Of course," he says, tone clipped and lips thin. He moves to roll away but a small hand on his shoulder stops him.

"Noah, please –"

"Look, Berry. If Finn makes you happy, fine, but I don't really want to talk about that with you, ok?"

"He's your best friend."

He wants to groan in frustration but he holds it in, rubbing his hands over his face and cursing his luck. "Yeah, I fucking know. I know he's my idiot best friend, but that doesn't mean I'm going to lie to you and fucking tell you that he's worth it, goddammit."

"Do I really deserve better?" she asks softly, and not for the first time is Puck reeling from what they've done over the years to make a pretty, talented girl think so badly of herself. He sits up quickly and lays a hand on her shoulder, tilting her chin up gently with the other.

"Berry, look at me," he says. "You're Rachel fucking Berry. You know exactly how much better you are than all these shitty losers and don't you fucking forget it. In a few years, you won't remember any of the these assholes, but they'll be thinking of you their entire lives 'cause you're the only one with the balls to go after exactly what you want." Her eyes are big and wet and he feels a little choky when she slides her cheek into his palm.

"He doesn't make me happy," she whispers, like she's afraid to say the words out loud.

"Then why –"

"After all those months of pining after him, he finally, finally did everything I'd ever wanted him to do. He made the romantic gestures, he wanted me back, he even kissed me in front of all those people. And it just felt cheap. All I could think was 'oh no' because everything was going to be complicated and awful again."

"But you didn't say anything," he says, and they both wince at the accusation in his tone.

She shrugs. "He was the center of my world for so long. I thought I was…no. I wanted to be wrong about how I felt. I wanted things to be perfect, I wanted to be loved and thought that maybe if we had that, it could be enough, and no one would get hurt. I was so worried about hurting his feelings that it never even occur to me to be angry at him." By the time she says the last sentence out loud, her face is flushed and her eyes are wide with surprise, and he realizes that she's made a breakthrough.

"Months. Months and months of begging for forgiveness, for tiptoeing around him, of never feeling good enough, and all of a sudden he has the gall to just sweep back in like nothing ever happened? Did you know he had the nerve to exasperated with me when I wouldn't take him back immediately?" She's glaring fiercely by now, arms waving about in fury. "I kept saying no, even after we got back, but he never heard me. It was like it didn't even matter!" She's indignant, downright pissed, and Puck just wants to cheer.

"Look, Rach, Finn's my boy, but I fucking swear to God that his brain stopped growing in like, the third grade. He wants what he wants, when he wants it, and he's used to getting it. He ain't a bad guy, obviously. Just not all that grown-up."

She nods slowly. "You're grown-up, Noah. I mean, you do some admittedly idiotic things with a rather impressive frequency, and you have this terrible tendency to swear and your overall demeanor can be simply deplorable at times –"

"Sorry, babe, but if you're trying to compliment me, you're doing it wrong." She starts to look flustered and apologetic, but he cuts her off with a wave before she can start. "S'ok, I know what you mean." And he does, despite all that she's left unsaid. Puck didn't have a father, either. Puck had a little sister to help raise, and had been working since junior high to help pay the bills, and lord knows he's fucked up a thousand times over, but he's learned from every stupid mistake he's ever made. Most of them, anyway. Finn just shrugs and smiles and tries not to be coward the next time, but he always, always forgets.

"He's never really going to get how much I want everything, is he?"

"No," he says gruffly. "Because he doesn't want things the same way we do."

"He tries, though," she says quietly, despite her anger, and her loyalty is suddenly unbearable to him. His jaw is clenched and he stems back his bitterness like bile. He looks up into her wide eyes and feels a stab of fear. Jealousy coats his throat, and he doesn't think he can bear to hear the answer to question he wants to ask.

"Please don't tell me you're with him," he begs, and it's barely above a whisper.

"Why?" she breathes, and there is genuine curiosity written across her face battling with something else that he's afraid to recognize.

"I hate the way you are with him. I hate the way you follow him around, and keep thinking you're not fucking good enough. It makes me want to punch him in the face every time you stop being yourself because you think it'll make him happy, and it just turns you into an insecure bitch when I know you're so much better."

"I don't think I was expecting quite so much honesty," she says wryly.

"I don't think you're a bitch," he says after a long pause. "Well, you can be, but usually it's in a good way, and you get all feisty and riled up and it's ten kinds of awesome."

"Thank you?"

"Damn straight." He grabs both her hands tightly, interlacing her soft fingers within his larger, callused ones. "Don't be with Finn." He expects some sort of reaction, but she doesn't bat an eyelash.

"I have a lot to think about, Noah; he and I need to talk. Things have been a little strange since New York, and I've been avoiding him."

"But you won't get back with him?" It's a struggle to keep the hopefulness out of his voice.

"I can't answer that right now, Noah," she says gently.

"He doesn't make you happy," he says again, desperately. "Fuck, Rachel, you know he doesn't."

"Yes, but he still deserves –"

"He deserves shit!" Puck says hotly, and for a minute all he can do is clench his fists and look at the beautiful girl in front of him, flawed and lovely and loving.

"He deserves the truth, just like you." Rachel stands up, leaning on his shoulder for support. He wants to say something, anything to keep her from leaving, but he can't seem to find the words. He just watches helplessly as she smiles at him sweetly, before stooping down to place a kiss on his forehead. "You deserve to be the leading man, Noah. If you come back into my life, you deserve to have all the love I have to give, without anyone else in the way."

"When," he corrects her. He scrambles to his feet and lets himself tug at a lock of unruly hair. "When, not if."

She bites her lip and smiles shyly, peering up to see him smirking. "When," she agrees, and the joy hits him like a sunburst.

I'm a little rusty, but I adore this fandom, and all things Puckleberry. Thanks for giving it a chance :)