Title: Lullabies and Sing-A-Long Songs for Rachel Barbra Berry
Author: TheMastress (smartalli on LJ, pinkhairisnotpunk on tumblr)
Characters/Pairings: Puck/Rachel friendship, but it could also be construed as pre-Puck/Rachel
Warnings: A bad word or two, but that's about it.
Summary: Rachel's having trouble sleeping.
Disclaimer: Don't own it. Not mine. Don't sue.
A/N: From a prompt from the puckrachel drabble meme. I hereby dedicate this to Myra (ithoughtourstorywasepic on tumblr), or as I also like to refer to her, Princess Sunsparkle. The title is a play on the title of the soundtrack for the animated film Curious George.
"I'm going to grab us some snacks from the kitchen. You can go ahead and head up to my room. I'll be right there."
Noah shrugs, pulls the strap of his backpack a little tighter to his shoulder with his right hand, hoists his guitar case up a little higher in his left, and heads up the stairs as Rachel closes the front door behind them and makes her way into the kitchen.
Lately, the dynamic in glee has been...well...awkward at best.
Though they are all supposed to be friends, family even, Rachel knows that when it comes to her, those feelings and relationships are conditional. That much is clear every time she and Finn break up, because as soon as there is even the smallest hint of a separation, the group is swift to rush to his side, while Rachel is practically pushed out of the inner circle. They tolerate her, she knows, because no one can perform like her, but they are quick to express their disdain whenever she so much as makes a suggestion or even offers a word of advice. They need her, certainly. But they wish they didn't.
She has a few allies in the group. Sam has become a good friend, and Mercedes too. But it's Noah who's really done the heavy lifting, looking out for her and standing up for her. He's been wonderful, more than wonderful actually, distracting her with lunch time slushy runs and Friday night movie marathons whenever he catches wind of a party or a get together of some kind to which she intentionally hasn't been invited. And whenever she allows herself to dwell on her popularity (or lack thereof), he launches into bad impressions of Mr. Schuester and Santana and Quinn that make her laugh as he smirks at her and tries to steal the last of her vegan chocolate.
She doesn't know what she would do without him, some days.
So it's easy to say she was grateful when, immediately after Mr. Schue announced another round of duets in glee today, Noah stood up from his seat and sat down next to her.
(It's the awkward silences – when everyone makes a show of looking anywhere but in her direction – that are the worst. Somehow those cut far deeper than a litany of Santana's worst and most cutting insults.)
Rachel grabs some snacks (chips and salsa for Noah and fruit for herself) and quickly checks the answering machine for any messages (one...her dad saying they'd be home a little later than they thought and would she mind starting dinner?) before grabbing her trolley bag and making her way up the stairs. When she reaches the top of the stairs she sees her bedroom door is wide open so, as she starts down the hallway, she shifts the food in her hands and says, "Noah, I hope mild salsa is okay. I know you prefer medium but I could only seem to find mild, which is odd because I could have sworn we had some just yes-" She stops and nearly drops everything in her hands when she sees him standing next to her bed, looking at her, her mini cassette recorder in his hand.
The sound coming from the recorder is quiet but recognizable and her mortification is instant and intense. Rachel immediately wants to drop everything in her arms, put her hands over her face, and run as far away as she possibly can. Instead she swallows her rising nausea, walks into her room slowly, and sets the snacks in her arms down on her desk, doing her best not to look at him. Then she walks over to where he's standing and takes the recorder out of his hand, pressing down on the stop button.
"There's actually a very logical, not so crazy explanation for this."
He lifts an eyebrow and she thinks he might have believed her, had the voice on the recorder been Mercedes' or Kurt's or Mike's, instead of his.
(And possibly, had he not found it sitting on her nightstand.)
She sighs. "There is. Last year, you told me that none of you liked it when I gave notes on the performances in glee. So, in an effort to be a better teammate, I decided to take your observation in the spirit in which it was intended, and have stopped commenting on the others' performances. Unless, of course, the comments are of a strictly positive nature."
"Yeah, I noticed. Kurt was crazy happy the other day when you told him his range was improving."
"Right. And as he has made commendable strides in that area, I was more than happy to give him such positive feedback." She turns away from him, stepping over to her window seat and sitting down, the recorder gripped in both hands. "But I discovered that while restricting my opinions had positively affected the group dynamic, I still felt the need to voice my opinion welling up inside of me, practically bursting to get out. So I started bringing this recorder to glee and recording everyone's performances. Then, when I got home, I could replay the performances and voice my opinion, even if there was no one here to listen." She looks up and meets his eyes and says, "That still sounds a little obsessive, doesn't it?"
He shrugs. "Obsessive is kinda what you do."
She cringes and stares at the recorder in her hands. "Yes, there's certainly plenty of evidence of that, isn't there?"
"You give a shit. You want to be the best, and you want everyone around you to be the best too." She looks up and he shrugs again. "I get that."
She smiles a little. "But you probably still want to know what this recorder was doing next to my bed, queued up to a song you happened to sing in glee almost four weeks ago, don't you?"
He nods and she licks her lips and looks back down at her hands.
"I've been having trouble sleeping for a...while now."
"How long's a while?"
She looks up. "About two and a half months."
"And what does "trouble sleeping" mean?" When Rachel goes to speak, he says, "And don't bullshit me, Rach."
She pauses. "I have insomnia, Noah." When he doesn't say anything, she says, "The doctors think it's because of...changes in my stress levels. You know, with all of my extracurriculars and preparing for my Juilliard audition and-"
"That's what you told 'em, huh?" He lets out a soft laugh and shakes his head. "C'mon, Rach."
She sighs softly. She knows exactly what he's dying to say, but isn't.
You can't bullshit a bullshitter, babe.
"They put me on some medication first, but that didn't work, so then they tried changing my diet and when that didn't work, they tried homeopathic remedies and when those didn't work...well, you get the idea."
"I tried some things on my own, too. I tried going to bed earlier and I tried sleeping in a different room. I tried leaving my TV on, I tried leaving the light on, I tried blocking out as much sound and as much light as I could...nothing worked.
"Then about four weeks ago I was lying in bed, trying to sleep, and like usual, I couldn't. So I decided to listen to the recording I'd made of everyone's glee performances to pass the time. I made it through Sam's and Brittany's and Tina's, and then yours came on.
"When I woke up the next morning, the last thing I remembered was hearing you sing. It was the first night in a month and a half that I'd slept more than four hours."
Rachel stands up abruptly and tucks her hair behind her ear. She can't bring herself to meet his eyes so she turns her head toward her desk and focuses instead on a small imperfection in the paint on her wall. "You have no idea how hard it is to keep a smile on your face constantly when all you want to do is break down and cry because you're just so tired and nothing you do can fix that. Every little thing just grates on you. It was all I could do to keep it together. There were days, in fact, where I was very, very close to cracking.
"And then your voice came and..." She takes a deep breath and squeezes her eyes shut. "Your voice is...soothing." Her face flushes what she's sure is a bright, bright scarlet and her throat feels so thick, she can barely manage to get the words out. "I was beginning to think I would never..."
"But your voice, it..."
She doesn't know exactly what he's going to say, but she can guess, and she just can't handle it if she hears pity in his voice. She's embarrassed enough as it is. "Can we just work on our duet? Please?"
She walks over to her desk and opens her laptop and says, "Um...I'm not sure if you have any thoughts on what you'd like to sing, but I was brainstorming on the way home and I was thinking maybe we could do You're the One That I Want or I Got You, Babe."
She chances a glance back at him and he's shaking his head. He stands up and picks his guitar case up off the floor.
"What's wrong with those?"
"It's a duet, Rach. It's gotta be us. And none of those are us. Quinn would sing shit from Grease. We're better than that. 'Sides, didn't you already sing that with Frankenteen? We're not doin' a retread."
She sits down in her desk chair and says, "Okay. Well, do you have any suggestions?"
He toes his shoes off and pulls his guitar up to rest on his lap as he sits down on the end of her bed. "Yeah. I was thinkin' Well Did You Evah or Two of Us."
Rachel considers his suggestions for a few moments then nods and begins to type on her laptop. "I like Two of Us. But then, it's very difficult to go wrong with anything by the Beatles."
"Or actually, maybe..."
He trails off and begins playing his guitar. It only takes Rachel a few moments to figure out what he's playing and she turns around in her chair. "Falling Slowly?"
He nods. "I know the guy has the bigger part, but if you want, I can sing the chick's part instead."
She shakes her head and grasps the back of her chair with both hands. "No. No, it's...we should sing it the way it is."
She nods and says, "Your voice is beautiful, Noah. And it's a good song. It's much more us than anything I suggested."
He nods toward her computer and says, "Did you find the lyrics?"
She turns around and starts typing. "Give me just a second."
She prints out the lyrics and the tabs for him and the piano sheet music for herself and sits down at her keyboard, smoothing her skirt down. "Do you think Brad will be upset when I ask him to step aside so I can use his piano?"
Noah laughs under his breath. "Dude's got an unnatural love for that thing, so...probably."
Rachel smiles and arranges the sheet music in front of her. She waits for Noah to begin playing and starts playing along with him, and after a few hours, they have the song almost up to Rachel's "crazy-ass standards". (Noah's words.) When she has to stop their practice to prepare dinner, he sticks around and entertains her until her dads get home by playing the guitar for her and doing more bad impersonations of their fellow glee members. He rolls his eyes when she suggests he work on his math homework and makes her laugh more than once, and Rachel almost forgets that a few hours prior, she'd told the best friend she's ever had that his voice soothes her.
"Okay, guys. Since you're not due to perform your duets until Tuesday, I thought we'd make today a sort of free for all. Does anyone have anything they'd like to perform for the group?"
Rachel hears shifting coming from the row behind her and Noah says, "Yeah, Mr. Schue. I got something."
Mr. Schue looks a little surprised but Rachel notices that he also looks pleased, and he says, "Alright, Puck. Go ahead."
Noah walks down the steps with his guitar in hand and pulls a stool over from the corner. He looks at Rachel briefly then looks down at her bag, and when he looks back up at her, she gives him a small nod and pulls the recorder out of her bag just far enough so that he can see it's there. When he gives her a little nod back, that's all it takes for Rachel to realize that Noah figured it all out. He knows exactly why she relies on a month old recording of his performance of American Baby to help her sleep at night.
It was the last time he performed a solo in glee.
Rachel's been waiting for some sort of confrontation from Noah following her revelation two days ago. And while she's not exactly sure what she expected him to do, it wasn't this. She thought he might buy her a slushy and lock her in the cab of his truck (which is entirely possible, since the passenger door of his truck only opens from the outside) until they talked it over or that he might force her into giving him more details by inviting her over to his house under the guise of a movie marathon and help babysitting his little sister. (At this point, Becca is almost as much a part of their friendship as Rachel and Noah are.)
Whatever she imagined him doing, she thought at least he would do it in private, because Noah is no longer the sort of boy who takes pleasure in taunting or belittling someone in public for a private shame.
So needless to say, his very public declaration catches her a bit off guard.
Rachel shifts in her seat next to Mercedes and clasps her hands in her lap, waiting for Noah to start. A bubble of anxiety rises within her and she forces it down as her fingers pull at the cuffs of her pink button down shirt. She reminds herself that this is Noah, that he wouldn't do anything to hurt her. There is no bucket of pig's blood, no hidden camera, no cherry flavored slushy just waiting to be tossed in her face.
Her humiliation is not his goal.
(They've come a long way since the first day of high school.)
His eyes are focused on his hands as they pluck and press the strings, his foot tapping a gentle rhythm against the bottom rung of the wooden stool. He starts to sing, his voice soft and sure, and doesn't look at her once. Not until the end of the chorus. But she hears his words anyway, and understands what he's trying to tell her.
As he comes to the last words of the chorus, his eyes shift and his voice reaches out to her.
If there's no one beside you when your soul embarks,
Then I'll follow you into the dark.
It doesn't matter that the others simply think he's performing because he feels like it, because this is glee and that's what they do. Rachel knows why he's doing it, and that's the point. That's all he cares about.
How very Noah.
Rachel pulls her history textbook out of her locker and crouches down to unzip her bag, careful to smooth her skirt down as she bends. (She learned her lesson after a particularly revealing picture made its way onto Jacob's blog late in her sophomore year. Though the post was hastily deleted, Rachel had to hear snarky comments about her rainbow undies for months. She doesn't particularly relish the idea of revisiting that experience anytime soon.)
She puts her history book in her bag, pulling a few notebooks forward to make space. As she lifts her English notebook out from behind her binder and pulls her pen pouch out to make room, she spies something else hiding at the bottom of her bag, something she didn't put there, something that doesn't belong.
One of these things is not like the other.
Rachel pulls it out of her bag and stands, holding it in her hands.
It's a CD with a hand-drawn cover.
Into the Dark.
There's a folded piece of binder paper inside the hard plastic case, and Rachel pulls it out and unfolds it.
Figured you might be getting a little sick of American Baby, so maybe this CD can help you mix it up a little when the Zs are hard to catch. Sorry about the glitter explosion on the cover, but when Becca figured out this was for you, she insisted she had to help, and she kinda went a little crazy. (Seriously, what is it with chicks and glitter?)
Rachel laughs softly and closes the CD case, clutching it to her chest like the lifeline it is.
Twelve songs, all sung by Noah, recorded just for her.
She turns her head to the left and looks down the hall, and sees Noah standing in front of his locker, talking to Artie. They laugh and bump fists, wiggling their fingers, and Rachel smiles.
Rachel knows she's lucky. Underneath the smirks and the plaid shirts and the foul language, underneath the mask he shows most of the world, Rachel is allowed a precious glimpse at the real boy underneath. And what she sees is a boy who scrapes and claws for everything he's ever had, a boy who has put himself on the line for her more than once without asking anything in return, a boy who is so much better than anyone has ever given him credit for being.
Rachel closes her locker and zips up her bag, and when she looks up, catches Noah looking at her. She smiles at him and he smiles back, shuts his locker, and shoulders his bag as he walks over to her. He looks down at the CD, still clutched to her chest, and his lips quirk just the tiniest bit before he looks up at her and says, "Die Hard marathon."
Rachel groans as they turn and start walking down the hallway, toward the parking lot.
"Hey...don't give me that. On Sunday I sat through a Julie Andrews fest, and last Wednesday was like an explosion of rainbows and sparkle ponies and Hannah Montana. And did I complain?"
"I need to watch movies where they blow shit up, Rach. Not where they dance around a hill while they sing about their hopes and dreams." He holds out his arm to her and she smiles, shakes her head, and takes it. "Seriously...I've got a man card to protect here."
"You fixed my car last week and got very greasy doing it. I'm fairly certain I heard you grunt at least a half dozen times. I think your man card is safe. Thank you again for that, by the way."
He shrugs. "No worries. Still haven't gotten my payment, though."
"And peanut butter."
"If you stop by the store before we pick up Becca, I'll make them while the two of you are doing your homework." He groans and she squeezes his arm and says, "New York, Noah. Think New York, and it'll fly by. I promise."
He quiets and Rachel turns her head to see him looking down at her. "That's how you get through all this, huh?"
"And Die Hard movie marathons. Those help too."
He smiles and leads her down the hallway past groups of girls, whispering to each other as they shoot Rachel pointed, scathing looks, and she just smiles to herself. Rachel may never be voted prom queen or most liked or get invited to the coolest parties, but these girls? They don't have Noah or Becca or New York. And she'd rather have them any day.
"Do you have any peanut butter at home?"
He shrugs. "Probably."
She considers that, and says, "Better buy some anyway, just to be safe."
"Hey, if you're baking us cookies, when are you going to do your homework?"
"It's mostly finished. I only have reading for English left." At his disbelieving look, she adds, "Some of us actually use study hall to study, Noah."
"Nerd." She rolls her eyes at him, and he pushes the doors open that lead outside with a grin. "Hey, can we-"
"Yes, we can stop and get slushies before we pick up Becca."
He stops them in the middle of the parking lot and says, "And can we-"
"Yes, if you finish your homework before Becca does, I promise to play Mario Kart with you." He ticks an eyebrow upward and she laughs. "And I'll even let you be Yoshi."
"Ha!" He steps in front of her and turns around with a grin, walking backward toward his truck. "You're going down, Princess!"
"In your dreams, Puckerman!"
Rachel hears a snicker come from her right, and turns to look on instinct, when she feels Noah's arm wrap around her shoulders. He pulls her into his side, and she looks up at him. "C'mon princess...grape slushies on me. I'll even let you choose the radio station."
A slow grin begins to grow on Rachel's face and she pulls the keys out of Noah's hand, running the rest of the way to his truck.
"But no Celine Dion!"