Author's Note: It's been awhile since I was back, and even longer with a multi-chapter story. So, here's the standard warning that this takes a bit to get its feet on the ground, but I think that is natural with any story (can't just jump right to the good parts). As the summary says, this is partially inspired by a song prompt from carrie4angel, partially by a song I love that sort of fit into the prompt, partially by a quote that went along with the prompt, and, finally, partially by some spoilers and the ever-present urge to turn TV's glee into the Puckleberry show. LOL!

So, with that said, this is following the season as it stands so far (up to season 3, episode 3) and then does rely on some rumors/spoilers that are big news, so if you don't want to know those then I wouldn't suggest reading (::frown::). Although, you could just assume all of this is speculation (not far from the truth), and then it wouldn't matter what is a spoiler and what isn't.

What does matter is that you read (and keep reading) and let me know what you think! I live for the feedback/reviews, and since I have no real direction for where this is going other than obviously somewhere M-rated (as it probably isn't going to feel that way until later) and somewhere Puckleberry-esque, I could be persuaded. Thanks in advance for everything!

Rachel Berry walked into McKinley High School on the arm of Finn Hudson, smiling sweetly as he talked about that night's upcoming game against the school's supposed rival. She honestly hadn't a clue what he was so worked up about; it wasn't Homecoming or a championship game or anything, really. But, she understood the importance of competition better than most, so she kept her opinion to herself (it was a new thing she was learning) and merely smiled and nodded when it seemed appropriate. She did, after all, think it was incredibly adorable how excited he got whenever he spoke of football and sports in general. Honestly, listening to him and Burt discuss the possible cancellation of the NBA season was possibly one of the most entertaining conversations of which she wasn't even a part.

"Yo, Finn," Dave Karofsky hollered from down the hall, his eyes moving to Rachel as he approached the couple and then back to the tall boy. "Coach wants you to see her in her office during your free period."

"Is it … I am … why?"

"I dunno." He shrugged. "And I don't care. I just didn't wanna be benched for not telling you."

"Yeah. OK." Finn swallowed thickly, his head bobbing up and down once. "Thanks."

Rachel watched curiously as Karofsky weeded his way back into the crowd of students mingling before first period, noting his somewhat detached demeanor. She'd heard from Kurt that David was struggling with some pretty big personal problems, but really the only thing she considered after that revelation was why Kurt knew anything about David's personal life. It smelled entirely too much like Stockholm Sydrome, but even her best friend status couldn't get the details out of Kurt.

"He seemed very subdued," she mentioned absently, working a different angle. "Have you noticed him acting differently during football practice?"

Finn knitted his eyebrows, looking up over her head toward where they'd last seen Karofsky and then back down to her. "No, but we work on different lines. I gotta pay attention to plays and offense but Dave is defensive."

"Oh." Rachel shrugged one shoulder, ending that conversation with more information than she needed but none of it helpful. She figured she could ask Kurt, but considering he was just starting to talk to her after her misguided attempt to add her name to the presidential ballot, Rachel thought best to just let this one rest for now. "What do you think Coach Bieste wants?"

"I'm not sure." Finn sighed, finishing the combination on his locker and yanking the small metal frame open.

She wasn't sure she'd ever seen him panicked before. Or if she had, then that wasn't the emotion he was feeling right at that moment. When he was nervous he tended to get very antsy, moving his hands and legs as if playing some invisible drum set. It was distracting sometimes, but it usually passed after the first question or lyric or whatever had gotten him anxious to begin with. Now, though, he was more … concerned, which didn't make sense. Coach Bieste adored him, which Rachel could understand all too well.

How do you stay mad at a face like that?

"I'm positive it is nothing." She nodded her head in determination, trying to show him the confidence she had in her own words. "And you have a study hall second period, so you'll know soon enough."

"Yeah." He breathed out, zipping back up his backpack after exchanging some books. "You're right." He closed his locker and bent down to place a chaste kiss on her forehead. "Thanks, babe."

"See you at lunch." She waved sweetly before turning on her heels, set to the end of the hall for her science class.

"Just a bit faster and I mighta seen some panty, Berry."

She turned at his familiar timbre, her eyes already half rolled once she faced him. "Have you no restraint? It's barely eight in the morning."

Puck smirked, coming to stand in front of her. "I like it in the mornin'."

"You're incorrigible," she said on a sigh, turning around again to head to her class. She wasn't exactly trying to get rid of him, as he was in the same class, but she didn't want to participate in the somewhat dangerous conversation. Talking with Noah was more difficult than conversing with any other person because there were all these landmines between them. Eliminating all the ways he could turn something sexual, ever since Shelby came back into town their conversations have just gotten more and more awkward. Not to mention fewer and further between; she kind of missed him.

They'd grown closer last year and when her and Finn started to slowly pick things up again during the summer, Puck was never far away. He worked at the garage with Finn, so she saw him there, and then because of his best-friend-by-default status with Finn, she saw him at the Hudson-Hummel house a lot, too. Her and Finn had plenty of alone time, but whenever she'd come over to hang out with Kurt, Puck seemed to be there playing a video game with Finn or watching a game with Finn, Burt, and Blaine.

"Didja hear the big news?"

"About Finn?"

Puck scoffed. "Just 'cause your life revolves around him again don't mean the world does."

"That's not …" She huffed in response to his resulting laughter. Why had she missed him again? "What is the news?"

"Evans is comin' back."

"Excuse me?" Rachel swore she must have heard him wrong. "Evans? As in Samuel Evans?"

"Yeah." He shrugged while he flipped the chair of his desk around, letting his arms rest on the top of the back as he reclined forward. "Guess Trouty Mouth's dad got re-instated at the place that laid him off and whatever."

"Where did you hear this?"

"He texted Chang." Puck removed the pen from behind his ear and placed it down on the notebook he had carried in with him – the only thing he'd carried in with him. "Said he'll be back Monday."

Rachel, for once in her life, wasn't sure what to say. She had a million things on her mind, starting with her concern about how Finn would take the news if Sam was looking to play on the football team. It was no secret those two hadn't gotten along during the season, and while a bulk of that had to do with mixed feelings for Quinn within the triangle, enough of it came from their shared position on the field. And, speaking of Quinn, what might this do to the reformed skank? She was just starting to recover from what Puck called a mind fuck of epic proportions. Now probably wasn't the best time for an old flame to reappear in her life; after all, she'd already mistakenly gone after Puck before him and Shelby convinced her to get some help.

Then again, perhaps Sam wouldn't even bat an eyelash at Quinn. She had cheated on him, after all, and she wasn't his last girlfriend. She wasn't even the second to last. He probably wouldn't be too shocked to know Santana was now in a committed relationship with Brittany (aside from the pregnant pause everyone seemed to take at her use of the word committed), but he might be shocked to know Mercedes wasn't on the market anymore, either. Her and Sean were still going strong, giving each other a new annoying pet name every day and pretending to be the Bobby and Whitney of McKinley, but perhaps Sean was just a rebound for Sam's abrupt exit. It certainly would give a more reasonable explanation to Mercedes' sudden diva-out a couple of weeks ago than just wanting to be a star.

"Do you think he'll be in glee?" Rachel whispered in a panicked tone, her eyes wide as she turned her attention to the Mohawked boy to her right even though the teacher had begun the lesson for the day. "I mean … our glee."

"Guess it depends." Puck rested his head against his arms, tilting his head down so his eyes were level with hers. He watched the impatience build until she was about to explode, chuckling softly before answering. "I think ya gotta ask Chocolate Thunder if you want an accurate answer."

Rachel sighed heavily. She hadn't spoken to Mercedes since the bigger girl left New Directions nearly two weeks ago. Rachel had gotten over her guilt for winning the part of Maria, but she had grown angrier with her former friend's attitude. Not once in her two-plus years in New Directions had anyone put Rachel on a pedestal and for Mercedes to even utter that Mr. Schuesteralways sided with her was just preposterous. Not one day went by where Rachel wasn't clawing her way to the top, and even then she often felt like she was always taking one step forward and then two steps back.

But that's what stars did. They endured the battle to win the war. They didn't just give up because they didn't get one show or one solo or one friend. They didn't let hurtful comments on a now-deactivated MySpace account stop them from dreaming, from believing. They had to continually fight for what they wanted, hide the battle scars with stage makeup and a smile. And Rachel could do it all. She was born to be a star.

"Whatcha doin?" Puck asked, squinting his eyes to see the dark area under Rachel's desk. She'd pulled out her phone, which she typically left in her locker because it was against school policy to have them on during class. He saw Sam's name flash on her screen before she typed up a short message, and he couldn't help the amusement that bubbled over. "Naughty girl."

In a highly Puckerman fashion, Rachel tossed a smirk Puck's way before hitting send. She kept the mobile device hidden on her lap, her eyes forward again to focus on the teacher while she waited for a response. She didn't know whether Sam was in school or not or if he'd just take the day off to pack or move or whatever; she just really hoped he'd answer her text. They hadn't talked since early summer, but they had sort of become friends after the whole prom thing. In fact, Finn didn't know this, but Sam had actually been very protective of Rachel about the whole Jesse thing. It was strange not only because he had no prior knowledge of the situation, but also because the last person Sam should have been agreeing with at that moment was Finn.

Rachel's eyes lit up when her phone vibrated in her hand, but just as she went to open the message, the teacher appeared at her side, demanding her attention. "Yes?" She asked innocently, sliding the phone between her thighs for further disguise.

"Is there some kind of an emergency at home?"

"No," Rachel squeaked at the teacher's icy tone.

"Then please give me your phone."

"But …"

"And you can have it back at detention."

"But …"

"It's my phone, Mrs. Tiller," Puck chimed in, Rachel's head snapping toward him. "My bad."

The teacher groaned, her hand still outstretched as she waited for the device. "Fine, you can join her."

"But …"

"Enough!" Mrs. Tiller cut off Puck's argument. "Or I'll make it Saturday detention."

"Actually, my Saturday is much freer than this afternoon, and …"

"This isn't a democracy, Miss Berry. Now please be quiet and pay attention to the remainder of the lesson."

Rachel huffed out a breath, slumping heavily back into her chair as her arms crossed tightly over her chest. She had a perpetual scowl on her face for the entire class period, glaring at the teacher as she exited the room before anyone else. She had every intention of going to Figgins' office and demanding fair treatment or at least an open trial, but suddenly Puck's arm slid over her shoulders and changed her course.

"Ease up, B. I know how to get out of detention."

"I have no intention of eluding detention with further delinquent behavior. I simply believe the reprimand was without just cause."

"You're tellin' me."

Rachel frowned, ticking her chin up so she could see into his eyes more clearly. "I'm sorry, Noah. I appreciate your attempt to help me."

He shrugged, his arm falling off its perch now that she'd stopped. "What are friends for?" He rolled his eyes at the way her face instantly lit up, shaking his head as he walked backward. "Get any more excited and you're gonna need to wring your panties, Berry."

Her smile screwed back into a deep scowl, its intensity obstructed when Blaine and Kurt walked by. She let her repulsion for Noah fade away to make room for much more pressing matters, scurrying ahead to catch up to McKinley's new power couple. They'd grown into a more comfortable attachment, now freely holding hands as they walked down the hallway and sometimes even separating with a light kiss. She yearned to know the details of their sudden closeness – not in a gross way but in her and Kurt's typical pillow talk kind of way – but clearly hadn't earned back that right when her best friend had begrudgingly forgiven her.

"I have big news."

Kurt and Blaine didn't stop walking, but each peered over their shoulder to evaluate the tiny brunette. "From the office of the President?"

Rachel took the snub in stride (she was growing used to it) and snuck her head between their two bodies so she could reveal the secret in a lower voice. "Sam is coming back."

Kurt gasped, his hands coming up to his mouth as he swirled around to face her just as she stumbled into Blaine after the abrupt movement. "When? Why? Who told you?" He gasped again, now fanning himself. "Is he going to declare his love for Mercedes? Or Quinn? Or Artie?"

"Artie?" Blaine asked. "Sam was gay?"

"No," Rachel answered before Kurt could, not wanting to go down that road with him again. "Noah said Mike got a text from Sam saying his family was moving back and he'd be here Monday." She bit her lip anxiously. "Do you think he'll join New Directions or Shelby's choir?"

"We need him after losing Santana," Blaine pointed out.

"Why didn't you text him?"

"I did," Rachel grumbled. "I got caught and then Mrs. Tiller took my phone before I could read his response." She turned her attention to Blaine. "And I have detention this afternoon."

"You're going to miss rehearsal."

"I know," she bemoaned. "Not all of it, but I know." The warning bell rung and she sighed again. "I have a meeting with Ms. Pillsbury during my free period. I'll tell her then."

"Why are you meeting with Ms. Pillsbury? Is it something about NYADA?"

"I don't believe so," Rachel calmed him quickly even though she didn't have any answers. "But I'm not the only one having a suspicious one-on-one meeting today. If you see Finn before I do, please tell him I am no longer in possession of my phone but I want to know what happened during his meeting with Coach Bieste."

"Sure." Kurt accepted Blaine's hand squeeze before the latter left so he wouldn't be late to his class, which was down the hall and upstairs. "Anything else, First Lady Berry?"

"Will you please stop being mad at me already?" She pouted, following him as they moved to their next class. "I've apologized a thousand times and baked you at least a hundred cookies."

"To which I ate three and my stepbrother and father plowed through the rest." Kurt sighed, fixing his hair a little with his hands. It was spiked today and Rachel thought it made him look older. "But you're right. If we can't even be a united front inside our own team, then how are we supposed to inspire others to join?"

"Do you think Sam is a possibility?" Rachel questioned again, knowing he didn't have the answer but just wanting to hear what someone else thought.

"Maybe." Kurt shrugged one shoulder. "Mercedes didn't say much about their breakup, so I'm not sure if it was amicable or not." They walked into the classroom and took a seat at the lab table they shared with two other classmates. "I still think Dave is our best chance right now."

"You honestly think he'd join glee club?" She scrunched her nose; reformed or not, she couldn't picture Karofsky singing and dancing with them. "He's slushied all of us."

"He's different now."

She made note of the soft tone he used, but didn't get a chance to ask about it as the bell rang and the teacher started his lesson. She already had detention later and she wasn't entirely sure what she'd say. For being her best friend, Kurt was somewhat of a mystery to her lately. His interaction with Blaine seemed much more domestic than it had previously, and his relationship with Dave was practically secret but obviously close. He wasn't talking to Mercedes really either because of her attitude, and him and Finn were growing closer and closer everyday even though Rachel never witnessed any real reason why aside from them now living together.

It all seemed to point toward what Rachel was coming to understand more and more as the days passed; everything mattered more this year than it did in the previous ones, but Rachel wasn't sure if it was because they were older or because there was a time limit. She figured it was a mixture of both in glee, as they'd all learned a lot in the past two years and were all painfully aware that this was the last try for many of them. Unfortunately, glee had tangled itself in the intricate web of all their relationships and instead of holding them together, it was tearing them apart. Mercedes had left but Quinn had returned. They added the foreign exchange student Rory but lost Santana (again). Puck and Rachel were staying on Mr. Schuester's side, but each had some emotional investment in Shelby's success.

It was all so entirely complicated that it was exhausting; wasn't senior year supposed to be easy?