Title: I Only Just Found You (Please Don't Leave Me Now)
Ship: Puck/Rachel, mentioned Finn/Rachel
Prompt: When Rachel Berry was Sophomore she was sure the worst thing that would ever happen to her was a daily slushy facial. Come Junior year she's convinced the worst thing is actually her is her break-up with Finn. When she's a Senior she's not sure life can get worst than when Finn dumps her(again). But a road trip home from Regionals and a giant car/bus crash later, she learns the truth. The worst thing that will ever happen to her? Not knowing if she will ever hear Noah Puckerman's voice or see him smile again. by shaesweetie – puckrachel drabble meme (part 8)
Word Count: 12,087
Summary: "You asked if I could live without him… I can, Noah… I can live without Finn Hudson… But I can't live without you."
I Only Just Found You (Please Don't Leave Me Now)
Rachel was trying not to stare. But it was like a car crash; morbid curiosity had her eyes glued to the couple giggling and touching, cuddled up together in their own little world, completely unaware of the pain they were causing her. With a longing sigh, she dragged her eyes away from the all too perfect couple that on-again-off-again duo Finn Hudson and Quinn Fabray made. For the nine-hundredth time, she tried to pinpoint exactly what made this most recent breakup between her and Finn as permanent as it so apparently was.
Like the year prior, they had been doing fine during the summer break. Two months without prying stairs and gossip, without the student masses to point out what an odd couple they made, without the stress of being the best in glee to put a wedge between them. But when their senior year had commenced, it seemed like all of their old problems came rushing back, squeezing their way into the cracks of their foundation, expanding slowly, day by day. Until one day, she and Finn were yelling more than they were talking. They were finding excuses not to spend time together; suddenly she had more homework and college applications to look over and he had sports or his X-Box night with the guys. And so, shortly into November, they'd agreed that a break was in order. In her opinion, a break was not permanent. It meant taking some time to work out themselves before getting back to each other. But that was a month and a half ago, and apparently finding himself to Finn meant finding quality time for Quinn.
She shouldn't be upset, really. She was the one who finally brought up the idea that a break might be exactly what they needed. Only, one week later, he told her he wanted it to be permanent. In fact, his exact words were, "C'mon, Rach… I mean, you know how it is… It's our last year! I can't be single for senior year! What would people think? How would they remember me?"
In that heartbreaking moment, when she'd just prior been thinking that this last week without Finn only reaffirmed how lonely she was without him in her life, she felt her entire world spin before her eyes.
If Rachel kept a list of the worst things that ever happened to her, it would be short.
In sophomore year, she would have to say the daily slushee facial she received was among the most humiliating experiences she'd ever had. Truthfully, she couldn't have imagined anything hurting worse than being continually embarrassed and reminded of her lack of acceptance from her peers. She'd kept her chin up and she'd learned how to get through her day without the sticky reminder clinging to her skin or ruining her hair. But sometimes, she did cry. She sobbed into her pillow and she asked, "Why me?" though she knew she'd receive no answer that could make it worth it. And then she held her talent and her dreams up as a shield and she told herself they would get her through. She would use those harrowing daily experiences as an obstacle she had to triumph over to achieve all that she deserved. Sometimes, she convinced herself that they didn't matter; the people throwing them didn't matter; but there would forever be a slushee stain on her self-esteem and nothing could get it out.
Come Junior year, she'd almost laughed at the girl she used to be. At the girl who thought icy corn syrup could be anywhere near as painful as the heartbreak she was suffering. Finally, after everything she'd been through, emotionally and mentally, she had gotten the boy she wanted. Only to lose him. To have him break her heart into tiny, unwanted shards. She blamed herself. She blamed the magnetic attraction she felt toward Noah and the weight of her insecurities for having her turn to a boy who wasn't her long-sought soul mate. In truth, yes, a part of her thought it was a little bit Finn's fault too. If he had been honest with her about Santana, she wouldn't have been humiliated by his past, in front of their whole glee club, and then had to suffer the uncertainty over whether he might have wanted to be with the saucy Latina rather than her. But when Finn looked at her like she was worse than nothing; like he couldn't imagine being with her again after what she'd done, she'd never felt more awful in her life. She hated who she was and what she'd done and how she'd hurt him. Living in a sea of slushee would never have felt as painful as that.
But now, as a senior, having repaired that relationship and seen it blossom, even in spite of the fact that she knew she would be going to New York while Finn stayed in Lima, she had thought that somehow, some way their love would conquer anything. And yes, of course, they had their problems. They weren't perfect! Much as she wanted it to be, her life was not a romance movie with the perfect ending. Or, if it was, the ending was taking entirely too long. But she'd honestly thought that with a little time apart, they would see how perfect they were for each other. Finn would realize that he didn't want to be away from her; that she was a constant in his life that he would never trade for anything.
Only he did find something he'd rather trade her for.
He found Quinn. Just like he always did. And she looked the fool for truly believing this time would be different. This time he would pick Rachel and stick with her.
Against her will, her eyes rose back up and found the couple again. Some part of her rationalized that of course he was smiling that large; they'd just won Regionals! It only made sense that he looked so happy; they were on their way to winning a National title this year. She wanted to convince herself that it wasn't Quinn that made him so happy; it wasn't Quinn that made that twinkle in his eyes seem brighter; who took the weight of being leader off his shoulders. But the more she stared, the most different she noticed Finn was with Quinn than her. He didn't fidget or stumble over his words or second guess what he was saying or doing, he trusted that the pretty blonde leaning into his embrace would accept him for who he was…
Had Rachel been so critical that Finn feared being himself with her? Had he ever been happy with her? Really, truly happy?
Her questions went unanswered, save for a ball of paper that hit the side of her head, drawing her attention. Frowning, she looked down at the projectile and then around to see who might have thrown it.
Mike and Tina were making out in the back, completely distracted with one another, paying no attention to anybody around them. Mercedes, Kurt and Blaine were all huddled together talking and laughing. Lauren was fast asleep, a half-empty bag of Christmas colored Cadbury eggs scattered over her chest. Britney and Santana were talking in whispers, touching lightly; she wondered briefly over how at ease they were together, how content. Sam and Artie were arguing about movies near the front; she knew Sam was disagreeing because he'd fallen into mumbling in Na'vi. Finn and Quinn were wrapped up in each other. Which really only left—
She found him smirking at her, a brow raised.
Lips pursed, Rachel sighed. "Really, Noah?"
He shrugged. "You were starting to look pathetic."
Huffing, she rolled her eyes. "Thank you… You've done wonders for my low self-esteem."
He snorted. "'Cause staring at your ex make-out with your sworn enemy is totally good for you."
"She's not my sworn enemy…" Her eyes narrowed. "She's only number four on my top ten archenemies list!"
He blinked at her. "I don't even wanna know who the first three are…"
Her eyes flashed with excitement. "Are you sure? Because I have very good reasons—"
He shook his head, waving a hand to cut her off. "No, not going there…"
Sticking her tongue out at him, she turned back around in her seat, letting her eyes drift back to the couple. "Noah…?"
"Don't ask, Rach," he muttered, fiddling with his MP3 player, brow furrowed.
She glared back at him. "How do you know what I was going to ask?"
"It's gotta be a variation of 'Do you think he still loves me/ever loved me/loves me more than Quinn?'" He shrugged. "And legit, you can do better."
Chewing her lip, she rested her chin on her hand and peered at him. "I can?" She swore to herself she wasn't fishing for a compliment… Okay, maybe a little bit. In truth, Noah had a gift for making her feel better, and wanted, and much of the time desired. She often chose to ignore the fact that she felt more desired in his presence than her own (ex) boyfriend's. Again, she was certain it was just the magnetic attraction he gave off.
With a heavy sigh, like he didn't bring up the subject, Puck looked over at her irritably. "Berry, he's Finn…" His eyes widened for emphasis. "He's Lima; you're New York…" he explained slowly, as if speaking to a small child. "He's tire store; you're Broadway… He's get married young, 2.5 kids, and a minivan for his junior softball team; you're Tony at twenty-five, kids at thirty, and a spacious apartment with a view of Central Park…" He shrugged one shoulder. "Those two worlds just don't mix."
Confused by these very… true revelations, Rachel stared at him thoughtfully. "I know you're right… I know I was going to leave at the end of the year and the likelihood of Finn coming along was slim to none, but…" Her eyes darted over to where she saw just the tops of their heads bowed together and then looked back to the boy across from her. "Did he have to fall out of love with me so easily?"
Irritation gone, Puck leaned over his arm rest and looked up into her sad face seriously. "Babe… I know you… Nobody who's ever really loved you gets over it that quickly…"
She raised a brow, about to question the intensity of his voice, but then he cut her off again.
"But seriously, Rach… Just because it hurts doesn't mean it was meant to be." He shrugged a shoulder. "So your heart hurts, probably your ego too… But ask yourself, really, can you live without him?"
The answer was easier than she expected. She hardly had to think about it.
She could survive this heartbreak. She could go on living her life, reaching for her dreams, even if Finn had no part in either. He wasn't her everything; he was a part of her, formerly. But no more. Their life together had reached a fork in the road, one arrow pointed toward Lima, the other New York. But more importantly, one pointed toward her happiness and the other something else entirely. She wouldn't settle for being unhappy; not when all she had to do was say goodbye to a boy who'd hurt her time and time again, and would no doubt do it again if she ever let him. Maybe he didn't mean to, and she chose to believe that it was never his intention, but that didn't change the fact that he had. And much of it he wasn't even apologetic for; didn't even see his fault in it.
"I'm going to be okay," she murmured, more to herself than Noah.
He half-smiled at her. "'Course you are, B… You've got the Puckerone to lean on." With a wink, he sat back in his seat.
She rolled her eyes, but couldn't help the smile that spread across her lips. Despite his manner of 'help,' which wasn't always kind or easy to take, Noah really had been her stability these last few months. More than that, he'd been around for her for longer than she could remember. Even during her and Finn's disastrous break-up last Christmas, though part of it could have been blamed on Puck, he was really trying to help her in the only way he knew how. And he stopped before he did something either of them might regret. He grew up and recognized a mistake before he made it; even if it didn't feel like one while it was happening.
Ever since the end of summer, and also Puck's relationship with Lauren, he'd been spending more time with her. She sometimes wondered if it'd been too easy for her to occupy her time with Puck rather than deal with whatever drama was going on between her and Finn; because there was always something. When they fought, sometimes about big things, other times about nonsense, she found herself at Noah's. He distracted her with violent movies and junk food and she encouraged him to do his homework and helped him clean up the house. After awhile, it wasn't just because she and Finn weren't getting along. Instead it became a regular after-school occurrence for her to stop in at the Puckerman residence and either help his mother with dinner or his sister with homework or just relax with Noah while he put off any of his chores or responsibilities to show her how awesome Super Nintendo was.
He was the first person to totally support her in taking a break from Finn; the only one who understood what she meant when she said they needed some time to figure themselves out. Of course, he told her it was the first step leading up to a complete break-up, which she foolishly ignored, and he was right. So, like he'd been before, he was there to hold her when Finn shattered her heart into pieces. And then again a week later when he started back up with Quinn, happy as could be.
Sometimes, she just couldn't imagine life without Noah Puckerman in it.
Smiling now, feeling better than she had in awhile, she settled in a little more comfortably, tucking the pink fleece blanket she'd brought along for the trip around her snugly. Mr. Shue had suggested they all bring a spare set of clothes and a blanket and pillow on the off chance that they might have to stay over due to the weather conditions. Noting the chill in the air, despite the heat flowing through the bus, Rachel turned to look at Noah, wondering if he was warm enough. She knew he had his jacket at hand; a very thick and insulated coat she rather envied when the winter cold bit into her skin through her lightweight, if absolutely adorable, pea coat. But that was snugly stuffed under his chair and so she wondered if maybe she should invite him over to her side of the bus and share her blanket. When she turned to ask, she was quickly distracted by the vision he made. Jamming to his MP3 player, playing the air-guitar and tapping his foot to a song she couldn't hear, Noah was very much in his own little world. She grinned, watching his lips move along with the lyrics, and his face screwed up intensely as he got into the song.
Reaching across, she tugged one ear-bud free. "What are you listening to?" she wondered, already lifting it toward her ear.
"Gimme that," he said, tugging it free from her hand. He traded her ear-buds so there would be less chord stretched between them. "And it's Hot Chelle Rae."
Recognizing the song from last year, she bounced her head along happily.
Puck, seeing her excitement, turned and started singing, "I woke up with a strange tattoo…" He mocked a confused expression, "Not sure how I got it, not a dollar in my pocket." He shrugged. "And it kinda looks just like you—" He pointed at her, and then raised a brow. "Mixed with Zach Galifianakis."
Grinning, she continued with, "La, la, la – whatever."
He started dancing in his seat. "La, la, la – it doesn't matter."
Together they sang, "La, la, la – oh well – la, la la…"
Hands pressed to her mouth, Rachel tried uselessly to cover her giggles.
He just smirked at her, sitting back in his seat and nodding his head to the rest of the song.
Feeling light and happy, she sat back and rested a hand over her stomach, closing her eyes and listening to the next few songs, tapping her toes to each beat. She was content to spend the rest of the ride home like that, occasionally looking over when he started dancing to a random club song or when he leered at her playfully when some of his more lewd songs cued up. She rolled her eyes, reaching over to shove his shoulder, until he took her hand in his and drew her arm along with his dancing for a little while. Amused, she joined him in a small, random dance, feeling more lighthearted than she had in, well, months. And when the song was done, he let their hands hang together across the walking space down the center of the bus, playing with the tips of her fingers at random.
She didn't look at Finn again; didn't even feel the urge to. Instead, she put all of her attention on Puck.
When the bus lost its traction the first time, they were able to right themselves pretty easily. The bus driver assured them he had history with driving these roads; he knew how to maneuver around black ice. When it happened a second time and they drifted into the next lane, she gripped Noah's hand tighter.
He cracked an eye to look at her and gave her a lopsided, reassuring grin. "No worries, B… We'll be fine."
Chewing her lip, Rachel peered worriedly out the window. At least it had stopped snowing, making it a little easier to make out the road. But it was pitch black out and the road, while well traveled, still looked precarious from where she was sitting.
"Noah…" She tugged on his arm. "Are we close to home yet?"
He sat up a little, looking out the window. With a frown, he eased back in his chair. "Yeah… We're not far out."
She stared at him. "You don't look sure…" Her heart skipped a beat. "Why don't you look sure?"
He shook his head. "S'nothing, babe… Just didn't realize how bad the weather got out there…"
Her eyes widened and she was sure she looked like a terrified owl. "That's not nothing! That's the reason we're drifting into oncoming traffic and seconds away from flying into a snowdrift or something else that could mean the early demise of the future Broadway legend that is me… And you!" Her brows furrowed as she shook her head dismissively. "Well, I mean, you're not going to be a Broadway legend, but it might mean your end! I don't have anything as dramatic on hand that might make that sound worse, although I think the fact that your death could be imminent is pretty dramatic in itself, don't you think?"
He bit his lip. "Okay… I didn't get most of that 'cause you were talking at inhuman speeds, but I think I got the general gist…" He nodded slowly. "Either way, we're gonna be fine."
"How do you know?" she demanded, feeling as though she were seconds away from hyperventilating.
"'Cause we just won Regionals…" He smirked. "We're untouchable!"
And because the universe wanted to prove him wrong, they hit another icy patch.
The driver wasn't so easily able to keep them on the road this time though and they started careening back and forth, the end of the bus fishtailing behind them.
Sitting up straighter, pressing a hand into the seat beneath her, she turned terrified eyes on her companion. "N—Noah?"
"Shit," he muttered.
"I don't wanna die!" she squeaked.
She was sure he would've rolled his eyes at her if they hadn't suddenly started spinning, the bus whirling around roughly.
"Cover your head!" he told her, but before she could do anything to listen to him he was across the space between them and had draped himself top to bottom over her whole body with his own, pressing her down against the seat cushion.
Her breath left her in a whoosh at his sudden weight, but she managed to get out, "What about y—?"
The crunch of metal and glass splintering filled her ears as the spinning bus was suddenly hit by an oncoming vehicle and they were thrown in the opposite direction violently. Though Rachel couldn't see, she felt as though the whole bus was twisting and turning; she could hear the others screaming and hollering in fear, some even in pain.
Noah never let her go; she knew he was scared too because she could hear him muttering a Jewish prayer under his breath as he gripped the bottom of the seat and kept her covered.
His prayers weren't answered because seconds later, the bus tipped over onto its top, and her safe haven beneath Noah was torn away from her. With a shriek, gravity pulled him away from her and sent her flying face first into the armrest of her seat before she landed heavily on the ceiling of the bus, luggage and people falling all around her.
She was hesitant to move when everything went very suddenly quiet. The bus stopped moving, everybody stopped crying out, and all that was left was an eerie silence. Slowly, so not to disturb anything, Rachel lifted her head, looking around the darkness with terrified eyes.
The bus made a creaking noise then and she flattened herself to the ceiling, fingers digging in like she would find something to hold onto. Panting in fear, she closed her eyes and tried to swallow the anxiety and fear pulsing in her veins.
She heard a whimper. A groan. She heard Kurt mutter, "I think I chipped my manicure."
She almost laughed, but she feared a sob would fall out instead.
Mr. Shue called out then, "I-Is everybody okay?"
"Ugh, I'm so suing!"
"Mercy?" Sam called out worriedly from the front.
"I'm all right," Mercedes replied distantly. "I—Are you?"
"I'm okay. Kinda turned around, but… I'm good."
With a sniffle, Rachel's eyes darted around. "Noah?" Carefully, she pushed up to her knees, frantically searching her surroundings for his familiar form. But everything was pitch dark; she could hardly even make out her own hand in front of her face. "Noah?" she asked again, a little more anxiously.
"I need to know if anybody's injured," Mr. Shue asked again.
"I think my wrist… I-I think it's broken!" Tina called out.
Rachel squinted in the direction she heard her voice coming from and thought she could make out Tina, a worried Mike at her side; maybe it was just her imagination though, making up for what she couldn't see.
"My shoulder… I dislocated it," Britney informed them in a glib monotone. "San? Could you…? Like you did when I messed up the hurdle in Cheerio practice?"
"This is gonna hurt, Brit…"
In the darkness, a cracked cry rang out, but Britney was quick to assure them, sniffling, "Okay… I'm gonna be okay now."
"All right…" Mr. Shue sighed. "Okay, guys, we need to get off the bus… I can't see anything in here…" There was some shuffling as he moved around at the front.
"The bus is upside-down!" Santana shouted. "How the hell are we supposed to get out?" With a frustrated grunt, she added, "This shit is whack! I didn't sign up for this!"
"There's an Emergency exit on these things," Quinn piped up, ignoring her complaints. "One of the windows should break loose."
"Right," Mr. Shue agreed. "Everybody take a look around; see if you can find it… It'll have red writing on it that says—"
"Emergency Exit," Sam called. "It's over here…"
"I got another one on this side," Finn said.
"Great. Okay… See if you can't get them open," Mr. Shue told them.
Rachel felt lightheaded as she struggled to crawl around. She hadn't heard Noah's voice. She could hear Mercedes talking to Blaine and Kurt. She knew Sam, Finn, Quinn, Mr. Shue, Britney and Santana were okay.
"Uh… Guys?" Artie's voice broke in.
They looked around, but couldn't find him.
He cleared his throat. "Yeah… I'm strapped in up here… Little help?"
"Oh my—Artie, hold on!" Mr. Shue struggled past bags and whatnot to get closer to the wheelchair bound boy, hanging precariously above their heads, upside down.
Leaving the emergency windows, Sam and Finn hurried over to help get Artie down, but without any light they weren't able to do much.
Rachel continued her search.
"I wish I was upside down," Britney muttered somewhere to her left.
Something crunched under Rachel's hands as she crawled and for a second she feared what it might be, but when she felt no pain, she kept her hopes high that it hadn't been glass. There was something dripping in her eye, but she hastily wiped it away and continued moving slowly, hands spread out, touching everything within reach.
"Noah…? Can you hear me?" she called out.
"Diva, is that you?" Kurt called out hopefully.
"I—I'm fine," she reassured. "I just… I-I can't find Noah…"
"Hey… I think Puckerman's over here…" Lauren's voice replied. "You seen my chocolate eggs?"
Rolling her eyes, Rachel ignored her question and instead hurried toward her voice. "Where?" she demanded, feeling around and squinting as her eyesight got a little stronger.
"Shouldn't there be like, emergency lights?" Mercedes wondered.
"I'll check," Sam offered.
Rachel found a foot. With a sigh of relief, she started walking her hands up the leg, blushing the farther up his body she explored, before finally she had her hands on his face. "Noah?" she asked, rubbing her thumb along his cheek. She let a hand wander up and check his head for a Mohawk just to be sure, and when she found it she smiled shakily. "There you are."
"I think… I found 'em…" Sam said, second before blue emergency lights lit up the insides of the bus in a strip along where the ceiling now made the floor.
Rachel blinked quickly against the sudden brightness, turning her gaze up toward the front of the bus.
Sharply, Artie pinned upside down came into startling view, giving the boys more to work with in trying to get him free. Bruised and disheveled, Santana, Quinn and an injured Britney were all hovering around them, watching their progress and stepping out of the way when they thought something might give, sending the boy hurtling toward them.
Down at the other end of the bus, Mercedes was huddled together with a shocked Kurt and Blaine; the three of them looked uninjured, but they weren't the put-together people who'd boarded the bus. And in the middle, across from where Mike and Tina were huddled together, the Asian girl cradling her wrist to her chest while Mike held her close, whispering soothingly against her hair. Lauren was shoving her shoulder against the closest Emergency window, trying to make it give.
Rachel returned her attention to Noah, wanting to reassure him that everybody was okay. Only he was out cold, one of his arms was in a strained and awkward position, and there was gash on his head, splitting deep into his skin. Blood pooled beneath him and wet the shoulder of his shirt. She inhaled sharply. Her heart leapt fiercely into her throat. This was not the handsome, cheeky boy who'd been dancing across the aisle just minutes ago…
"M-Mr. Shue?" she called out hesitantly, her eyes clouding with tears.
"Not now, Rachel, I'm helping Artie," he replied distantly.
Panting now, she shook her head. "But Mr. Shue?"
He didn't reply.
Biting her lip, Rachel stripped her sweater off over her head; her favorite reindeer one that she'd packed specifically because it was warm and comfortable and great for traveling. She folded it up and pressed it carefully against the gash in Noah's head before she bent forward to check his breathing. She let out a thick sigh of relief when she could feel his breath skittering warmly against her cheek. She checked his pulse, but she wasn't well versed in life-saving techniques and so she felt useless.
"Um, Mr. Shue?" Sam called hesitantly. When he didn't a response right away, he said again, "Mr. Shue?"
"Sorry, Sam, what?"
"Uh, I think… I think the driver's dead."
Everything went quiet.
Rachel looked up to see Mr. Shue walk over and check what Sam had found. Grimly, he nodded.
"Okay… That's… It's unfortunate, but… We have to focus on who's alive right now, okay?" He looked around at everyone. "We'll get Artie down. Lauren, keep working on the window… Mercedes, do you have a cell phone on you?"
"Already on it, Mr. Shue," she said, pulling it out to call for help.
With a sigh, he nodded, and then focused in on Rachel. "And you, Rachel? What were you trying to tell me?"
She swallowed thickly. "Noah's h-hurt," she breathed out.
His face fell, drawn tight with fear. "How hurt?"
She looked back at him. "He-He's bleeding… He's—He won't wake up." Her voice cracked. "I don't know what to do…" She sniffled. "You have to help him!"
"I will! There's help coming!" he promised. He swallowed tightly. "You need to stop the bleeding."
She nodded shakily. "My sweater. I—I put my sweater on it."
"Okay… Okay, you need to keep that there, all right, Rachel?" He stared at her searchingly. "I need to help the boys get Artie down, but—"
"You need to help Noah!" she yelled fiercely.
"Sam and Finn and Mike can help Artie," she argued, hiccuping.
"Mike is with Tina, Ra—"
"Excuse me if a broken wrist isn't life-threatening," she bit back. "You need to help Noah now!"
"Rachel, we need to get Artie down… He's trapped—"
"And I'm sorry about that, but he's got other people to get him down. I need—I need you to make sure Noah's okay…" She gathered in a shaky breath. "He has to be okay!"
He looked at Mike.
With a nod, he stood up, kissing Tina's head before he moved to help the other boys with Artie.
Mr. Shue crossed the bus slowly, careful not to trip over anything. He knelt down next to Rachel and the prone body of Puck. He grimaced as he took in the gash she revealed, moving her sweater out of the way. Puck was pale and not moving, he was still breathing but he wasn't waking up.
"Help him," she ordered.
"Rachel, I'm a Spanish teacher…" He shook his head, looking up at her apologetically. "Mercedes has called the ambulance. They're coming." He reached out and touched her shoulder. "I know you're worried… but we're all going to be okay."
"You can't know that." She shook her head. "Noah said we'd be fine… And then the bus rolled over!"
"He was trying to reassure you… It was bad timing…" He squeezed her shoulder. "But we're going to make it out of this."
Just then, a gust of cold wind rushed in.
"Got the window open!" Lauren exclaimed triumphantly.
"Whoa!" Finn shouted, and then seconds later there was a yelp before Artie fell free from his restraints and into the gathered arms of Sam, Mike and Finn, who collapsed a little under the sudden weight. "Okay… We, uh, we got Artie…"
Mr. Shue turned around. "You all right, Artie?"
"Yeah." He nodded, giving a thumbs up from where his arms were over both Mike's and Sam's shoulders. "I'm good…" His eyes fell hesitantly to where Puck was lying. "How is he?"
Mr. Shue's face fell and he looked back. "How's the bleeding?"
Rachel touched her sweater, feeling it squish beneath her hand. A full-body shudder ran through her. She shook her head at him.
"Okay… We need to get off the bus…" Mr. Shue stood up and looked around at each of them. "Find warm clothes, layer up…" He turned back to Finn and the other boys. "We need to know what's going on outside of the bus. I don't know where we landed. If we're still in the middle or the road or what…"
Finn nodded. "We'll climb out, take a look around… Somebody should stay on the road anyway, to flag down help."
"I think we hit somebody… Or they hit us," Santana piped up. "There might be another car out there, other people who're as fucked as we are…"
Mr. Shue nodded solemnly. "All right… We'll check out the area first and then, if it's safe, start moving people out."
Rachel went rigid. "We can't move him," she said firmly.
"You're not supposed to move people after an accident," she told him. "He could have a spinal injury! He—He needs to keep his head stable and just—I'll stay with him, right here, until the ambulance comes."
Mr. Shue knelt next to her. "Rachel, I know you're worried… But if this bus isn't in a safe place, I can't let you stay in here…"
She glared up at him fiercely. "I'm not leaving him… And you're not moving him!"
"I may be petite, but I'm scrappy!" she warned. "You're not touching him!"
With a sigh, he stood back, obviously cutting his losses until he absolutely had to fight with her. "Finn, Sam?"
"Yeah, Mr. Shue… We're almost ready."
Rachel looked over to see them searching through tossed over luggage for an extra sweater or a jacket to wear. Before finally, the three of them moved to the emergency window and climbed up and out. Snow skittered in through the window and spread along the floor.
The longer the boys were gone, the more worried Rachel became. She wasn't sure how far from the road they might have rolled. Or how hard or easy it might be for the paramedics to get to them. She also didn't like how quickly the bus was cooling down. The opened window was letting in wind and snow and she could already feel herself beginning to shiver.
Mercedes was huddled up with Blaine and Kurt, sharing heat.
Artie, Quinn, Santana and Britney were doing the same, spreading out jackets and blankets they'd brought along to keep each other and themselves warm.
Rachel started searching the floor around her, not wanting to leave Noah's side but knowing that they had to keep warm too. She found the pink throw blanket she'd previously had spread across her lap before the crash. With the lights on, she could now see that what she'd crushed beneath her hands had been Lauren's beloved Eggs. She swiped some of them off her blanket too before dragging it back over to Puck. She spread it over his body, but still felt like it wasn't enough. So she went looking for the very thick, insulated jacket he'd been wearing earlier. Unfortunately, when she finally spotted it, it was stuck high above her head, trapped on one of the seats.
She did, however, find her pea coat, not nearly as large, thick, or as warm, but it would have to do. She spread it over him too, tucking in the arms and the sides of the blanket so he was cocooned as much as possible. Her scarf was tucked in one of its pockets and she pulled it out to wrap around her neck.
"Rachel?" Kurt called to her. "You've gotta be freezing…" He held out an arm to her, raising a brow.
She looked over at their inviting heat, but shook her head.
"I won't leave him," she murmured.
Instead of listening to their arguments that she'd done what she could to keep Puck warm and comfortable, she started looking for something else to staunch the bleeding from his head. Her sweater was useless and soaked. She wasn't sure whose shirt she found next, but she folded it over a few times and then carefully pressed it against Puck's head wound and moved so she could hold it in place and apply pressure. She stared down at him, at his unmoving face, an eerie peacefulness there that was completely opposite to what he'd been like just a little while ago. When he'd been dancing and mouthing along to his MP3… She missed the funny faces he made; this stillness just wasn't him. With a sniffle, she stroked her hand down his 'hawk, letting her fingers trail over the short, scratchy shaved expanse on either side.
It was odd, she thought, that his Mohawk be considered the source of his 'badassness,' when she could remember quite clearly how she dragged her nails through it, tugging at the tail, and he was completely at her mercy. She remembered vividly the noises he would make when she stroked his neck or that spot behind his ear. Or how he'd glare at her when she smoothed out the 'hawk, parting it down the middle, but he wouldn't stop her. And she smiled as she remembered visiting his house once to find his sister had put pink barrettes in his hair and how very un-badass that was. Tears filled her eyes as she worried she wouldn't ever see him like that; never enjoy the playful side that it seemed only she and his family were privy to.
She traced his eyebrow with her thumb and she bit down on her lip painfully as she feared the last time she'd see Noah would be like this.
That wasn't right.
What if she never heard his voice again? Never heard him call her babe or his hot, little Jewish American princess? What if she never heard him sing again or saw him smile? Even that infuriating smirk of his would do!
She started panicking, her chest constricting.
"Rachel?" Kurt was crawling toward her.
She stared at him, feeling dizzy. "I don't… I don't know what I'd do," she croaked.
He frowned, stopping as he knelt next to Puck's shoulder, grimacing when he stared at the blood seeping out from under the shirt she had pressed to his head. He looked up at her and swallowed tightly. "Rachel, you're bleeding," he told her, before reaching out and tucking her hair behind her ear, wiping his thumb over her left eye. When he brought it back, he showed her the blood clinging to his fingers. "I think you hit your head, sweetie…"
"I'll be fine," she murmured, her eyes dropping to Noah. "I can't lose him, Kurt…"
"I know…" He laid a hand on her shoulder and squeezed. "Puck is strong, Rachel… The paramedics will help him, okay?"
She nodded, but closed her eyes tight. "I… I thought it was Finn…"
"What?" Kurt sighed. "Diva, you're not making any sense."
She inhaled thickly. "I thought losing Finn would be the worst thing to ever happen to me…" She opened her eyes but they were unfocused, her vision was slanting and there weren't one but two Kurt's. "But i-it's Noah… I-I can't lose Noah…" She shook her head. "What if… What if he dies, Kurt?" A broken sob escaped her. "Who… Who am I going make cookies for with the number twenty on them? Who's going to teach me how to play Super Nintendo?" Her expression drew stricken. "I don't know all the secrets, Kurt! I can't do the water worlds without him!"
Kurt was hushing her, rubbing her shoulder, obviously he thought she was losing her mind.
Maybe she was.
"And—And he said he'd come to New York with me!" She stared at him searchingly. "He wasn't sure if he wanted to go to college or pursue a career in music, but we were going to go together!"
"Okay, okay… He'll still do that, all right?" Kurt stared up into her face seriously. "This is Puck, sweetie… He won't give up! Look—" He grinned. "Look at how long he's been pursuing you! How-How many times has he tried to talk you into going to BreadstiX with him? Huh? How many times has he told you you were two hot Jews and it was just natural that you be together?"
"I—I should have gone," she told him thickly. "I should have taken him seriously…" She shook her head, tears spilling over. "And we are two hot Jews…" She sniffled. "I was so stupid, Kurt… So, so stupid…"
"And you'll make it up to him, okay?" He wrapped his arms around her and squeezed her in a hug. "We're all going to be okay, Rachel… Mr. Shue and the boys are out there and they're flagging down help! We're going to be fine…"
She pressed her face into his shoulder and cried.
Suddenly, breaking up the moment, there was a snap at the front of the bus.
Santana, Quinn and Britney all shrieked in surprise.
Another, louder clap of noise followed. And then there were sparks coming off the dash and from where the driver had been sitting. Smoke started emanating from above in black clouds, getting thicker.
"That shit is not cool," Santana shouted. She hauled Artie up by one arm, with Quinn taking the other, and they made their way down the aisle, Britney behind them. "We all need to get our asses off this tin coffin, now!" she told them, stopping only to make sure Britney's jacket was zipped up tight before they helped Artie out the emergency window and the four of them were gone.
"She's right," Mercedes agreed, standing from her place at the back with Blaine. She hugged her arms around herself and stared down at Rachel and Kurt. "I know you don't think we should move him, but if a fire breaks out, he won't be any safer in here…"
"I'll get the others…" Blaine said. "Maybe the ambulance has arrived." He crawled out the window and started across the snowy surroundings.
Mercedes eyed the curling smoke worriedly. "Guys, I have a really bad feeling about this…"
Rachel sniffled, looking from her to Kurt and then back to Puck. "I'm staying with him until the paramedics move him…" Taking a deep breath, she told them, "But you should go."
"I won't leave you here!" Kurt argued, shaking his head. "Rachel, you're hurt too… In fact, I think you hit your head pretty hard and need a paramedic of your own."
"I'm fine!" she snapped. "I can't even feel it." She could feel the liquid gathering on her eyebrow though; she hesitated to wipe at it, thinking they would use it against her. "You both need to leave…"
The fire they'd feared broke out, eating its way across the floor-made-ceiling and across the chairs like they were tinder. Bright orange flames snapped and squealed as they crept closer, their heat ominous.
"Go!" Rachel yelled at them.
Mercedes and Kurt exchanged one look before they bent down on either side of Puck and grabbed an arm.
"Cradle his head! Keep it steady!" Kurt ordered.
She didn't have time to argue before they were moving, and she boxed his head beneath her arms, praying under her breath that it was enough. "Be careful!" she ordered. "Or I'll give up my dreams of Broadway and dedicate my every waking moment to destroying your lives!"
They rolled their eyes at her drama, but still did as she told.
She had to bend to make her way through the emergency window; the difference between the hot insides of the bus to the freezing outside bit into her skin. The black smoke was filtering out the open window and she could see the flames covering everything within. Snow slipped into her shoes as they moved, quickly turning her skin from a light tan to red with exposure. Kurt and Mercedes were panting as they stopped what they deemed a sufficient amount of distance from the bus.
Rachel stared on at the bus and then down at Noah as she laid his head on the ground, tugging off her scarf and using it as a pillow.
The thought came to her quickly and she was helpless against it. Perhaps it was courage or stupidity, but she ran back toward the bus with very little motivation except that she knew it was the right thing to do. She could hear Kurt and Mercedes yelling after her, maybe even a few of the others too, but she didn't stop until she was back through the window. The heat was sweltering, nearly knocking her back. She threw an arm up against it and coughed. Fire had consumed the entire ceiling, bits and pieces of the seats were falling like fiery missiles all around her. Her eyes teared up and the smoke made it hard to breathe, but she searched on, kicking and shoving things out of her way.
Finally, she spotted it. There above her head, just as it was before. His jacket hung down from the seat, its sleeve on fire. Her heart leapt up into her throat as she reached for the other sleeve, dangling down nearly in reach. Her fingers just barely grazed the end of it and she cursed under her breath, searching for something she might be able to stand on. When she found nothing, she tried jumping. But the bus seemed to sway and shudder with her movements. The smoke was so thick now, she was reaching for something she only hoped was still there. "Please, please," she muttered, jumping again.
Mid-air, she felt a pair of arms band around her waist.
"No, wait!" she cried, kicking her legs.
"Rachel, you're going to die in here!" she heard Sam shouting at her.
"His jacket, Sam, please!" she replied, pushing at his arms and reaching further up. "I was so close!"
"Mercedes is going to kill me," he complained, but he lifted her up a few inches. She reached around in the smoke, holding her breath until her lungs ached, closing her eyes against the acrid smoke that bit at them. And then she felt it, she gripped it, and she nodded though she knew he couldn't see her. So she reached down and patted his hand.
He yanked her down, an arm over her back and his hand on her head to keep her low, before he shoved her out the emergency window and followed after her.
She started coughing as soon as they were out, her lungs burning and her knees weak. He dragged her away from the burning bus and toward the waiting crowd.
"Are you crazy?" Kurt screamed, running to her and grabbing her shoulders, shaking her almost violently. "Why would you do that? What—What were you thinking?"
Panting, she held up Noah's jacket. "His wallet," she choked out.
Confused, Kurt just wrapped his arms around her and squeezed. "Don't ever do anything so stupid again! Do you hear me?"
She nodded jerkily, leaning into his strength. Over his shoulder, she watched as a teary-eyed Mercedes wrapped her arms around her boyfriend in relieved thanks.
When Kurt was done shaking and a little less terrified, she stepped back from him and made her way over to the still unconscious Noah. She knelt down next to him, reaching for his face and pressing a hand to his cheek. The shirt she'd had applied to his head had slipped and blood turned the snow an awful red. She readjusted it. One sleeve of his jacket was a burnt black, but the rest was fine; she laid it over him to keep him warm, and sitting in the snow, she took his hand and held it in her lap, waiting.
In a dazed fashion, she gazed around at the others.
Standing close together were most of the couples; Blaine and Kurt, Mercedes and Sam, Tina and Mike.
Mr. Shue and Artie were on the road, watching for help.
Lauren was sitting in the snow, doing something with her phone… From the faint noises she could hear, Rachel thought she might be playing Tetris.
Finally, she spotted Finn and Quinn, a little farther away from the rest.
She hadn't noticed it before, but Finn's lip was split, and it looked like he'd hit his nose, blood drying just beneath it. She was surprised that she didn't feel anything at the sight. Not at Quinn wiping worriedly at his lips or holding his head still so she could get a better look. Not at the idea that her 'beloved' Finn might have been injured in any way. There was a distant thought that he had Quinn and she would keep him safe. It wasn't callous or bitter, but a simple understanding.
Finally she turned back to Noah and she squeezed his hand. "When you asked me… You asked if I could live without him…" She wiped at her face, her skin feeling crusty and tight. "I can, Noah… I can live without Finn Hudson." Tears clouding her eyes, she leaned in closer to him. "But I can't live without you."
Like a beacon of hope, she heard the sirens of the coming ambulances then and relief made her chest ache.
"They're coming…" she murmured, rubbing her thumb over his knuckles before she lifted his hand and kissed it.
Red and blue lights surrounded them, lighting up the snow.
She could hear doors opening and Mr. Shue's voice as he explained what happened, how many of them there were, who needed the most help.
And then two paramedics were kneeling next to them.
"The others are on the way," one said. "We can only take two of you now…"
Mr. Shue nodded. "Take him. And… And Rachel. I—I should stay with the others until help comes." He knelt down and gripped Rachel's shoulder. "You need to let them do their jobs, okay?"
She nodded shakily.
"He's going to be okay, Rachel…" He nodded for emphasis.
She stared up at him and said simply, "He has to be."
The paramedics loaded Noah on a gurney and started up the hill. Rachel followed after them, hugging his coat to her chest. She climbed in the back and sat down where they told her to. She didn't understand their medical jargon and she stayed out of their way, but she never took her eyes off of Noah. During the ride, the paramedic in the back with her took her chin and flashed a light in her eyes. "You were hurt?"
"My—My head… I… The arm rest…" she explained, brows furrowed. With a hiccup, she explained. "He tried to hold me down, to keep me covered, but… The bus, it flipped over and I—I lost him…" She shook her head. "It was my fault he was hurt… He should have been keeping himself safe but… But he always looks out for me first…" She sniffled. "He has to be okay." She stared up at the man pleadingly. "We just won Regionals… We're supposed to be untouchable!"
He placed a hand on her shoulder to soothe her. "Rachel, I think you have a concussion… I need you to stay calm and try to focus. We're going to get you both to the hospital. I promise you, I will do everything I can to keep your boyfriend alive."
Her tongue was thick in her mouth, but she nodded to him.
The rest of the ride, she simply held tight to Noah's hand and trusted in the words of a stranger.
When they arrived at the hospital, they were separated. Apparently, she really did need medical attention, like stitches, and Noah was rushed away from her.
She never let go of his jacket.
Puck woke with the mother of all headaches. He groaned from the pressure behind his eyes and at his temples. The lights above his head were bright and they burned his eyes. His throat was dry, his tongue like sandpaper. His reached for his face, but was hindered by something. There were tubes stuck in his hand, roped up his arm. And he could feel air streaming up into his nose without him having to breathe. Swallowing dryly, he tried to sit up, his whole body groaning in protest.
"Noah?" he heard a worried, thick voice.
His eyes darted to his right and found his mother. She looked like shit; her eyes were rimmed in red, with bags under them, and her hair was a mess. She was wearing her scrubs and she looked like she hadn't slept in weeks. "Ma?" He looked around, realizing he was in the hospital.
Suddenly, it all came back to him.
"I don't wanna die!"
"Cover your head!"
"What about y-?"
"Rachel!" he blurted, yanking the tube from his nose. "The bus, it— I-I had her right there! She—"
"She's fine," his mother soothed, her face softening as she stood up and moved toward him. She readjusted his bed so it was elevated enough for him to sit up. Taking his hand in hers, she squeezed tightly before nodding her head to the other side of his bed.
Rachel Berry was curled up in a ball in the chair, her head cradled on her arm, a bandage over her right eye. She was dressed the same except for a lack of reindeer sweater and her white camisole was dotted in blood and black smudges.
"Hasn't left your side since the accident," his mother explained. "You've been out for three days… Her dads tried to talk her into going home, but she refused…"
He fell back against his pillows and just stared, his brows furrowed. "I told her we'd be okay…"
"You were… All of you." She reached up and stroked his brow with her fingers, staring down at him with a sad smile. "I was… I was so worried, Noah…" She shook her head. "Your teacher, Mr. Shuester, he called and said there'd been an accident… That you were on your way to the hospital…" Her breath hitched. "I—I've never been more terrified…" She sniffled. "I know… things were rough between us when everything happened with Quinn and the baby, but…" She cupped his face. "You're my son, bubbala, and I love you and I don't ever, ever want to lose you…"
He covered her hand in his. "Ma, I'm fine…"
She nodded. "I know." She swiped at her eyes quickly. "And apparently you're a hero…"
He frowned. Huh?
"Rachel told the paramedic and, well, anybody who would listen, that you covered her when the bus driver lost control… She said you were the bravest person she's ever known…"
He rolled his eyes, but a smile tugged at his lips.
"She stuck with you the whole time, Noah…" She stared at him searchingly. "She refused to let anybody move you because she was worried you might have a spinal injury. It wasn't until a fire broke out that they forced to get you out…" Her voice cracked. "They dragged you out into the snow and then…" She shook her head. "She went back in. She—She got your coat!" She laughed incredulously. "I know it's a good jacket, Noah, but maybe remind her what priorities are worth her life!"
His brow furrowed for a moment before he looked over at Rachel and his whole face relaxed. "Did she get it?" he asked, his voice thick and raspy.
"She did… That Sam boy had to go in after her but she still refused to leave until she had it…" Letting him go, she walked to a door and opened it, dragging out his coat from a closet, one of its sleeves black and burnt. She carried it back over to him, laying it within reach.
He reached out with a shaky hand and then dug into his pocket, stilling when he found what he was looking for. He pulled out his wallet and dragged a thumb over the cracked leather top.
"Wasn't my jacket," he said. Throat raw with emotion, he flipped the wallet over and stared at the picture inside. His eyes burned and he clenched his teeth against the onslaught of appreciation for the girl fast asleep just a few feet away.
His mother reached for the wallet and looked inside, finding the tiny picture he had of a new-born Beth inside. "Oh," she breathed, pressing a hand to her heart. "Oh, Noah…"
"I showed her…" He shook his head. "Months ago… I told her it was all I had to show I was a dad…" His jaw ticked. "Only thing I had of Beth."
His mom dropped into her chair with a thud, staring at the picture and then her son and then Rachel.
Despite the fact that he'd been sleeping for a few days, Puck suddenly felt drained. He shook his head, staring at the ceiling. "Ma, I'm tired…"
"Okay…" She stood, nodding. Letting his bed down, she readjusted his blankets over him, tucking him in, and with a watery smile, she kissed his cheek. She left his wallet on his bedside table before she left, shutting off the light on her way.
For a long time, Puck laid in the dark just trying to understand what it all meant.
A lot of him wanted to shake her awake and make her explain it.
He'd been waiting a long time for Rachel to realize what she meant to him. A long time for her to stop looking at him like he was the shoulder she had to cry on when Finn fucked up and instead see that he wanted to be more than a friend. He didn't want to wipe away her tears, he wanted to be the guy who made her smile again. He thought she was getting it; they'd been spending so much time together these last few months. Lauren finally dumped him, realizing he cared about her but he was already in love with somebody else. With Finn giving up on them again, he thought Rachel would finally realize that she was putting her all into the wrong guy. She fit with him. And he wanted that. He was ready for that. Maybe he wasn't the right guy when they first dated and maybe it was the wrong time when they last hooked up, but now… Now everything made sense. Now he could be that guy for her; that leading man that she wanted. He could give her that happily ever after, with New York as their endgame. He was picking up his grades just in case college really was what he wanted, and if not then, hell, music was life in New York. He'd find a way to make it work. He wanted her dreams for her and he wanted his own dreams that involved her. He just needed her to take off her Finn-colored glasses and see that he was still there; he'd always been there.
When that bus started spinning and she told him she didn't want to die, he'd never felt fear like that in his life. He didn't care if God struck him down in that moment, all that mattered was that Rachel not get hurt. And when he was holding her, he could feel her shaking beneath him. He could hear her crying and he gripped the seat tighter, trying to cover every inch of her tiny body with his. When the bus turned over and he lost her, he remembered thinking he was sorry; sorry he couldn't keep her safe, sorry he'd taken so damn long to realize what a fuck-up he was and change it, sorry he hadn't seen how awesome they could have been together earlier, and sorry he never told her any of that.
He wasn't going to waste any more time.
He fell asleep promising himself he was going to get answers out of her when he woke up. And he'd convince her to give them a chance.
Rachel woke up with a jolt. Her head still hurt and her body felt cramped in the confines of the chair. The light was off, but some filtered in from the hallway and she could see that the chair in which Mrs. Puckerman had been staying was now empty. She stood from her seat, stretching her arms above her head and yawning. Rubbing a hand against her tired eyes, she felt the bandage there and frowned. She really hoped that wouldn't scar.
Moving closer to the bed, she checked Noah's statistics, although she wasn't certain what much of it meant. All she knew for sure was that his heart was still beating steadily, and that made her smile. She sat down on the edge of his bed gently, taking his hand in hers and threading their fingers. When she'd last fallen asleep, it had been three days since the accident. Her clothes felt stiff and scratchy. Thankfully, the nurse who'd stitched her up had given her a warm cloth to wipe her face. She was surprised to see how black with soot it had become. Apparently her foray into the fiery bus had left her looking quite disheveled. When her daddies came to see her, she'd hugged them both tight with relief and explained all that had happened. They were both overcome with emotion and immediately wanted to take her home, tuck her into bed, and wait on her hand and foot. She was quick to tell them that she would not be leaving. Not until Noah woke up. An argument commenced, but of course she won. She understood their concern, really, but she reminded them that she would be at a hospital so if she needed any medical assistance it would be within reach. A doctor had warned her that she would need supervision due to her concussion and what better place to get that than at Lima General? After much hugging and kissing and promising to call as soon as she wanted to go home, they allowed her to stay and proceeded to call every hour after to check on her. She was sure if she checked her phone now she'd find a bevy of missed calls and texts.
It wasn't long before Mrs. Puckerman joined her.
When Noah was stabilized and put in a room, the two women sat on either side of his bed, willing him awake.
Mr. Shue and the other gleeks had come and gone. Everybody else was okay, save for the driver who'd tragically died in the accident. Tina's wrist was sprained, they put Britney's arm in a sling, and the rest were bruised and battered but otherwise all right. She and Sam both had minor smoke inhalation and were treated for it accordingly. Finally, they all went home, and she stayed and waited and prayed that Noah was out of the woods. She waited for him to wake up and smirk at her, to make some kind of lewd and inappropriate joke. One day passed and then two and finally a third and she remained still.
If ever there was a time to be stubborn, she thought this was it.
His hand twitched against hers and her eyes fell to it, brow furrowed. His fingers flexed and then gripped hers and a faint smile tweaked her lips.
"Noah?" she whispered softly.
He hummed in reply.
With a sigh, he squeezed her hand and then very slowly, he tugged on it.
She wasn't sure at first what it was he wanted. But then he scooted over just a little and tugged on her again. "You want me to…?"
She was glad for the dark, it hid her blush well. Still, she maneuvered her way over and laid her head down carefully on his shoulder, her body pressed tight to his side.
He turned his face, his nose bumping her temple. "You smell like smoke."
"Considering I haven't showered in three days, I suppose that's not the worst I could smell…" she replied.
She felt his grin against her cheek.
"Heard you ran into a burning bus for me…"
Her brow raised. "When did you hear that? How long have you been awake?" she wondered, disgruntled. And why hadn't anybody woken her up?
He shrugged. "Woke up earlier… You were snoring in the chair."
"I do not snore!" she argued.
He laughed under his breath. "Try to focus, B…" He turned his head so he could look into her eyes and there was the most serious expression she'd ever seen on Noah's face. "You went back… For a picture… You went back…" He shook his head. "You're fucking crazy, you know that?"
She pursed her lips. "Admittedly, at the time, I was overcome with fear for your life and I've been informed I had a concussion, so perhaps that played a part, but…" She shook her head. "Noah, I know that was the only picture you had of Beth and I couldn't just stand there if there was a chance I could save it…"
He sighed and pressed a lingering kiss to her forehead. "Thanks."
She wrapped her arm around him in a hug. "I'm just glad you're awake…" She squeezed him. "I… I wasn't sure you'd…" Her breath left her on a cracked sigh. "I was so scared, Noah… I thought I'd lost you…"
He rubbed her back, his face buried in her hair. "Take more than a bus to kill the Puckerone, babe…" he boasted, but his voice was thick.
She laughed, sniffling. Her hand gripped the back of his hospital gown and held on tight. "I was stupid, you know?"
He hummed questioningly, his thumb stroking back and forth along the nape of her neck.
"You were right there and… I don't know why it took me so long to see…"
"When I opened my eyes and the bus was upside down… It was so dark… I couldn't see anything. I—I couldn't find you… I was searching the floor and I was calling out your name but you didn't answer…" She shook her head, her body shaking. "And when I found you, you were so… so still… so quiet…" She swallowed thickly. "And Sam, he—he turned the lights on and I saw you… I saw your head and you were bleeding and you were so pale and…" Her breath left her in a whoosh. "I—I was terrified, Noah… I was so scared I was going to lose you… Be-Before I ever really had you… That I'd wasted all that time… That I'd never realized how much you meant to me… How much I need you and want you an-and love you…" She sniffled, closing her eyes against her tears. "And I don't know if you feel the same way, but I hope you do. I desperately hope you feel even a fraction of what I do and that I haven't simply made this up in my head. Because I think you were terribly obvious and I was incredibly oblivious, but I'm not anymore…" She brought her head back to look at him. "So… Will you please say something?"
He stared at her, his eyes wide. "Takes nearly getting killed for you to fall for a dude?" His lips twitched. "Could'a saved me some time if you'd warned a guy a little sooner."
Her lips pursed. "Noah! I just poured my heart out and you—"
He grinned, covering her lips with his own. She sighed into his mouth, her eyes fluttering closed as his tongue ran the seam of her lips before she parted them. He kissed better than she remembered, and her memory was quite complimentary when it came to him. His hand skimmed down her back and squeezed her hip as he leaned into her, kissing her with the force of waiting entirely too long. His tongue reached out and ran along the roof of her mouth, flicking the back of her front teeth before he cradled her top lip between his. Automatically, her teeth dug into his lower lip and she felt his grin. One of his hands cradled her head, fingers tangled in her hair. She didn't argue when his body slid sinuously on top of hers, the weight of him welcomed between her thighs, her legs riding high up his hips, wrapping behind his back and squeezing. She slid her hands down his shoulders, felt the muscles jump and stretch beneath her touch. She dragged her nails down his back, over the thin material of his gown. She rocked her hips up to meet his and smiled when he moaned deep from the back of his throat.
Faintly, she could hear his heart monitor blaring loudly.
Moments later, the light was thrown on and they were interrupted. Her eyes darted open and stared up at him widely. His mouth was still attached to hers, his brows hiked high on his forehead. Slowly, they both looked over.
Mrs. Puckerman stood in her nurse's uniform, staring on at their tangled bodies with something between irritation and relief. Shaking her head, she smothered a smile. "Try to keep it PG… It is a hospital…"
Puck grinned. "Hey ma, look… I found a nice, Jewish girlfriend!"
She laughed at him. "And I appreciate that…" She raised a brow at Rachel. "Dinner next weekend, dear?"
"I would love to," she agreed, nodding. She knew her face was fire engine red, but she pasted on an innocent smile, disregarding the fact that she was clearly wrapped around Noah quite intimately.
With a nod, Mrs. Puckerman backed up, reaching for the door as she went. "Glad to see you're feeling better, son…"
With a smirk, Puck looked back at Rachel, hearing the door click shut.
"Gotta say… This is a nice way to wake up…" He rested his body against hers more heavily, letting his chin fall to her chest as he stared up at her. "You're not gonna change your mind when all my awesome heroics wear off, right?" He raised a brow, staring at her wonderingly.
Rachel slid her hands across his head, fingers trailing along his 'hawk. "What you did was very gallant, Noah… It was selfless and thoughtful and I can't thank you enough…" She stroked the nape of his neck delicately. "But I fell in love with the boy who plays too much Super Nintendo, lets his little sister dress him up like a princess, and can't win at Monopoly if his life relied on it…"
He frowned. "Hey! It's 'cause you always take the car! That's my lucky charm, Rach… I can't win without it!"
She raised his brow. "Then we'll just have to test that theory this weekend."
He nodded. "Deal."
"Seal it with a kiss?" she suggested.
He grinned. "Love the way your mind works."
An hour later, they dozed in each others arms, the sun creeping up and filling the room with a faint glow.
"Rach?" he murmured into her hair.
"Hm?" She nuzzled her nose against his neck.
He was quiet a long second before finally saying, "I love you, y'know?"
With a soft sigh, she looked up at him, smiling. "I love you too, Noah."
He kissed the tip of her nose before he cuddled her up close again and closed his eyes.
Rachel watched the sun rise outside and placed her hand over Noah's chest, feeling the steady thrum of his heart.
Feeling content for the first time in years, she decided to stop thinking in the negatives of what were the worst events of her life. Instead, she chose to focus on the best. Having Noah wake up and share the same love she had for him? Best thing to ever happen to her.
It was moved to second place when eight years later they married in New York, and then third when she saw him giving her a standing ovation as she received her Tony award, and fourth when they had their daughter Caroline. Regardless of where each stood on the list, one thing was constant: The best moments of Rachel's life always involved Noah Puckerman. It would remain that way always.