A/N: Puckleberry. A missing scene from the Prom episode set between the Finn and Jesse 'fight' and the prom royalty announcement.

Paper Stars

Rachel is staring at Sam like she's never seen him before. "Artie did what? And he's where now?"

Sam looks nervous (as well he should) and mumbles something that resembles 'Puck'.'

She can feel her mouth compress into a thin line and Sam suddenly feels the need to go and find Mercedes. (He's not exactly running, but it's a close thing.) Well. This turn of events is obviously unacceptable and it's clear that someone is going to have to do something about it. As she rapidly considers her options, she knows exactly who she needs.

He's not anywhere in the gym, even though Lauren is there, dancing in a circle with Mike and Tina and Brittany, everyone doing their best to get back into the spirit of the evening after the...incident. He's not in the mens' room (she sends Blaine in to check: not everyone shares his casual disregard for school rules). She checks the loading dock behind the cafeteria and waves to several members of the band (is that Brad sitting on that milk crate?) who are most certainly not smoking cigarettes.

Truthfully, spending prom night searching the mostly empty halls of William McKinley High School for Noah Puckerman isn't really the way she planned it all out in her scrapbook.

For starters, there was no Finn to make nervous small talk with her dads, or watch in awe as she slowly descended the staircase, or dance with her all night long in the school gymnasium made magical with crepe streamers and paper stars. It's not the perfect kind of night that she would someday tell her two adorable, musically-gifted, dark-haired children about, the ones she's going to have after her Tony nomination(s), when she's happily settled in her restored Cobble Hill brownstone.

Heck, it's not even her revised plan: to have a enjoyable evening with her classmates. Honestly the whole prom-on-a-budget thing with Mercedes and Sam has been fun, and Kurt spent at least half a day with her, combing through every second-hand store in Lima looking for a dress. (He even kept his comments about the tulle explosion mostly to himself.)

One thing is for certain, the 'memorable' part came true; she doesn't think she'll ever forget seeing the boy who's had a starring role in her romantic fantasies for over a year get into some kind of shoving match with the boy who at one point she was sure had broken her heart. (While she has to admit that a tiny, tiny part of her enjoyed the drama, she can't help thinking that her fantasies have much better production values.)

Well maybe things didn't work out exactly like she planned, but that doesn't mean everyone's Prom needs to be ruined and as Glee-club captain, she's the obvious choice to take on this kind of mission. All she needs is a co-conspirator, an accomplice, someone with experience with this kind of thing...and there he is, at the end of the hall, darting out of one of the faculty offices.

"Noah!" she calls out, walking towards him purposefully.

He looks startled for an instant before smirking and letting one eyebrow quirk up. (It's ridiculously attractive and he knows it.) At the same time, he moves swiftly to her side, taking her by the elbow and guiding her smoothly around the corner.

"Looking for me, Princess?" he asks, resting one shoulder against a locker, crossing his arms and leaning in towards her. "Autograph maybe? My boys and I were hot tonight. Put that shit on Youtube and we'll just see who gets ten million hits."

She resists the urge to take a step back (he's awfully close) and looks at him narrowly. "Don't think I don't realize that you only call me 'Princess' when you're up to something, Noah. As I matter of fact, I know you're up to something, and my only question is, what are we going to do about it?"

"Dunno know what you're..."

"Forget it Puckerman," she interrupts. "Sam told me everything. For now, I'll ignore the questionable morality of the whole escapade but we simply can't allow Artie to remain in Ms. Sylvester's clutches. Ever since she hit that woman at Regionals, I've begun to wonder if she's entirely balanced."

His voice goes low. "Yeah, Rach, about that. Artie's in..."

"Some kind of danger! I know! And if there's one thing that I've learned from my Daddy's collection of classic World War II movies, it's that you don't leave a man behind! You can create some kind of diversion, you're certainly sturdy enough," she says, eying his well-muscled frame approvingly, "and when Ms. Sylvester goes to investigate, I'll sneak in and release Artie. Or do you think I should be the diversion? I could trip the silent alarms in her trophy room, or tell her that someone is about to 'drop it low' on the dance floor, or I could sing! We know she likes Olivia Newton John and I've always thought that Xanadu was under-appreciated."

"Xanadu?" he asks blankly.

Is it wrong to wish that he was a little quicker to keep up here?

"Something else? Celine? Barbra? She doesn't strike me as someone who would appreciate the years of effort I've put into perfecting 'Don't Rain On My Parade', but if you really think that would be better, I'd make the sacrifice."

"Hell no!" he growls, "Sylvester will take one look at you and probably try to stuff you into that cannon. She's keeps the damn thing loaded in the back of the athletic shed."

She beams up at him. "Well we can decide who does the distracting and who does the rescuing later. The first step is to figure out where Artie is being held."

"Look, he's in Sylvester's office. I was just over there, but...,"

"You were just over there?" she says softly, biting her lip, "And you didn't try to...? Never mind Noah, everything was probably happening so fast you simply experienced a case of performance anxiety. Apparently, it happens to a lot of people."

"Babe, I've never had any complaints about my performance," he scoffs. Looking back and forth quickly, he pulls her into an alcove and the space is tight enough so she can feel the warmth of him along her side. For some odd reason, it makes her shiver.

"Noah, while this is very cozy, I think it's time to...mmmppph!" He's covering her mouth with his hand!

"Listen up, crazycakes," he says and impossibly she thinks he's looking at her almost fondly, "This is cute, but I gotta motor in like ten, fifteen minutes, so tell you what, I'll explain everything if you let me get a word in edgewise, 'kay?"

"Mmmmppph," she hums again against his hand. (She does not lick said hand because that would be childish and also because it's probably safer to avoid any sort of temptation. Not that there would be any. That would be ridiculous.)

He grins and drops his hand. "Artie's fine. It's all part of the master plan. He's screwing with Sylvester's head a little more than I would recommend, but what can I say? He's all about living dangerously since Brit dumped his sorry ass. In a few minutes he'll pull out a bottle of lemonade and she'll have to let him go."

"Lemonade? You mean he didn't spike the punch?" she asks happily.

"He didn't, no. Me, on the other hand?" He winks and pulls a flask out of his jacket pocket.

"Noah!" she huffs, "It really is the height of irresponsibility to get our classmates unwittingly drunk. Some of them might be driving!"

"Relax, babe," he says, shaking the flask so she can hear the liquid sloshing around in it. "I only dropped in about four ounces and that was for the entire punch bowl. Shit, Nana Connie throws back something stronger when she plays nickle pinochle down at the JCC."

"Still, Noah. Why take the risk?" she asks.

He shrugs. "Long story. Lauren, prom king, blah, blah, blah." Unscrewing the cap, he takes a swig. "How about you?" he offers her the flask.

She flushes. "I'm in no hurry to repeat my earlier experiences with alcohol."

"You'll be fine," he waves off her concern. "One shot isn't going to knock even someone as tiny as you on your ass. Besides, after tonight's crap, you could probably use a little something to take the edge off."

True. Now that her concern for Artie is allayed, the dull ache of the evening's events is returning in full force and for the first time this evening she's starting to feel a little angry about it. She hesitates, because while she certainly doesn't want to get drunk, a little distraction would be welcome. (She'll ignore the fact that Noah has always provided an excellent distraction.)

"Trust me," he coaxes.

She almost laughs because the entire choir room heard how well that went last time, but the truth is, she does. He could have taken things way further than he did that afternoon in her bedroom when she was hurt and angry and desperate to be wanted in the way that his hands and his mouth and his body were telling her that he did.

Ignoring his smile, she reaches for the flask. "I suppose I could. It's not like you're going to try and take advantage of me, or something."

(Obviously, she's glad he left when he did, but still, the rejection stung a little.)

"Would it work if I tried?" he asks casually, just as the drink, vodka she thinks, hits the back of her throat.

She chokes and glares at him, her eyes watering and then she takes another quick gulp to spite him (why she thinks that will spite him, she doesn't know) before spluttering, "Noah...no...I...Finn..."

(Finn was the first boy her ever looked at her and made her feel beautiful and a big part of her still isn't ready to consider all the times that he said something or did something that made her feel the opposite. Besides he's her first love and you're supposed to forgive your first love anything. Right?)

Noah takes the flask back from her, meets her eyes squarely as he polishes it off, and even though she's almost sure they're friends and have been for a while, she can't seem to identify what his expression means, beyond 'not surprised.'

His gaze drops first and fumbling in his pocket, he pulls out a roll of breath mints. "Here, take one of these before you head back to the gym."

She accepts the offered mint and pops it in before looking down at the floor and saying quietly, "I don't think I'm going back in there."

"Why the hell not?" he asks with a frown, and it's ridiculous but he actually seems to be irritated with her.

"Really Noah?" she replies acidly, "If you missed it while you were on living it up on the dance floor with Lauren-and by the way, be sure to tell her that the way she dipped you was very impressive-I was just humiliated in front of the entire school in there.

He huffs out a breath. "That is total bullshit."

"What?" (It comes out at a pitch that even makes her wince.)

"Well fuck, I slushied you like once a week for almost a year and I didn't see you giving up and going home then!"

Her hands clench into fists. "That was different! You apologized! You didn't do it again! And Finn...he keeps doing it! Every time I think I'm done, he does these sweet things and I know he's watching me, but he's still with Quinn. And then starting a fight with Jessie for no reason at all. I can't believe he would do that!"

His mouth tightens and then he sighs, and says bluntly, "You know, Hudson, he didn't mean to ruin your prom. He's just..."


Oh my goodness, did she really just think that?

"...I don't know, Rach, he just doesn't get how to be with you."

"Well is he ever going to figure it out?" she demands. "Because Kurt says that pining promotes wrinkles and I'm determined to make my mark in a series of classic ingenue roles. Does Maria have wrinkles? Does Christine? I don't think so."

He's laughing again for some reason. (She may be turned on by his bad boy image, but sometimes she thinks that he's even more attractive like this, when he his face is open and smiling and bent towards hers.)

"I dunno," he teases. "I mean, not every guy is going to be be awesome enough to deal with the ups and downs of an admittedly high maintenance girl like you." He pauses and then adds. "I mean, shit, you already know that Saint Jerkface can't."

"Not you too! Kurt and Mercedes will not shut up about that. I'm not stupid. Jessie may have ulterior motives or possibly he's trying to salve his conscience, but just because I've decided to forgive him does not mean that I'm going to let him hurt me again."

He snorts. "I know that! Besides," he continues, " I threatened to beat the crap out of him if he tried."

"Of course, you did. I should have guessed."

He shadow-boxes for a minute and then flexes his bicep, smirking at her. "You should have," he agrees. "Gotta look out for my fellow Jew, right? And look, I'm not the only one who's looking out for you. So put on your big-girl panties, get that hot little ass back on the dance floor and have a good time."

She glares. He grins.

It's no good, she can't prevent the corners of her mouth from curving up to match his.

"Fine," she concedes, "but only because it would be rude to walk out on Sam and Mercedes, and...oh my goodness, what time is it? It must be almost time for crowning! Noah, you've got to get back to the gym!"

As if in response, she's hears Lauren's voice bellowing across the hallway. "Yo! Puckerman! Get your ass over here now or it's going to take more than a crappy box of chocolates before you get access to the girls again!"

"I should go," he says, wincing slightly.

"Here." She straightens his flower. "Perfect. You look very handsome, Noah." She focuses on smoothing his lapel so she doesn't have to meet his eyes. "Thank you."

"It's nothing," he says quietly.

"It is," she insists.

"Puckerman!" Lauren hollers.

She stands on tip-toe and presses a quick kiss to his cheek. "Good luck. I voted for you, you know."

He winks. "I was luckier when you were slipping me tongue."

She moves to smack his arm, and he skips out of the way. "Maybe later, then?"

"Go!" she insists, trying (and failing) to look indignant.

"See you on the dance floor, Rach," he laughs, loping down the empty hallway.

She follows in a few minutes, still smiling.

A/N: One of the things I loved the most about the Prom episode was the way, despite everything, Rachel managed to enjoy her prom. One of the things that puzzled me the most was the Artie/Puck side plot. This was my attempt to reconcile the two! Thank you so much for reading and I do appreciate feedback if you are so inclined.

Again, thank so much for your Puckleberry Fanfiction Awards nominations! It was a enormous thrill to be recognized. Please consider voting for your favorite stories and authors at http:/ prfanficawards (dot) livejournal (dot) com before polls close on 8/26.