A/N: A few months ago I read a terrific piece written by the wonderful FF author, joker to the thief. While 'when the stars go blue' is admittedly quite angsty and I normally love my fluff like Puck loves waffles and Rachel loves Babs, something about it caught my imagination and I found myself imagining a future for her versions of Puck and Rachel that I couldn't quite let go of. With her permission, this story is the result.
Puckleberry, naturally, but it's a long road.
Time will say nothing but I told you so,
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.
excerpt by WH Auden
if I could tell you
Rachel looks down at the scrap of paper clutched in one sweaty hand and then back up at the row of buttons along the entryway to the building. Scanning the names, she shifts uncomfortably from foot to foot, wishing that her tank-top wasn't sticking to her back and that her hair wasn't scraped back into a messy ponytail, and wondering if it's worth trying to do something about that before she presses the buzzer to his apartment.
Which she's going to do.
Any minute now.
This is crazy, this is insane, she doesn't know what she's doing here on the doorstep of a man she's spoken to exactly once in nine years, especially not unannounced at ten o'clock at night.
Or fine, she does, of course. She knows exactly why she's here, she's clutching the answer in her arms, all thirty-five pounds of him. Connor's cheeks are flushed and marked with dried tear-tracks, and he's making little mumbling complaints into her shoulder and no wonder, it's hours past his bed-time and he doesn't understand why he hasn't had a bath or a story or his song, or why his bunny is stuffed at the bottom of the backpack slung over her shoulder. (He probably also doesn't understand why he isn't in the little white house around the corner from Grandpa Burt and Grandma Carole and five blocks away from Grandpa Ben and if nothing else about leaving Lima hurts, that does break her heart a little.)
She doesn't know what she would have done without him.
He's been amazing this whole time, spending hours in the station wagon without much complaint, singing cheerfully (if inaccurately) with her to songs on the radio, stretching his little legs at each interstate rest stop, and cuddling up next to her in the mediocre motels that her carefully planned budget could stretch to. The radiator blowing in that tiny town 300 miles out of San Francisco almost sank the two of them, but he even saved her there, charming the tow-truck driver with his excitement and curiosity so much that the man refused to charge them. Unfortunately, the mechanic didn't feel the same way, but even five hundred dollars in parts and labor later and with exactly $27.92 left in her wallet, Connor's enthusiasm was still infectious and all she could think about is how close they are to this new life she's determined to carve out for them.
But an hour ago, when she finally pulled up to the tiny apartment in the Fillmore district that she put first and last month's rent down on sight unseen, she's forced to admit that all the enthusiasm in the world isn't going to salvage this situation, at least not tonight.
The building itself is all right, a tidy brick low-rise, sandwiched between a tiny Japanese restaurant and a laundromat, but when she half pulls, half carries Connor up the stairs to the third floor, her heart sinks all the way down into her stomach. The apartment itself is filthy, with years of accumulated grime on the floors and she can't even bear the thought of putting the air mattress she has packed away in the trunk on it. Only about half the light bulbs work, but it's enough to show the cracked window in the back bedroom, with shards of glass on the sill. Worst of all, the deadbolt is completely gone, with the last tenant apparently relying on a chain that's hanging by one screw.
There's just no way she can do it. Connor cannot sleep here. Not tonight, not with the apartment in that condition. And even if she knew of a decent place to stay, her credit card is maxed out.
Which brings her back to the doorstep of the only person she knows with-in a thousand-mile radius.
She takes a deep breath and presses the buzzer firmly once, and then after a long pause, again, all the while muttering pleasepleaseplease under her breath.
"Yeah?" his voice crackles through the intercom. It's not particularly friendly, but stupidly, she feels her knees go a little wobbly with relief.
"Noah," she says, the awkwardness of the situation momentarily forgotten. "It's Rachel. Rachel Berry."
She startles herself a little, saying that, because Berry-not-Hudson is still relatively new and Connor squirms in her arms.
He's surprised. Of course he's surprised, so it's ridiculous to be disheartened by that.
And it's at this point that her son has finally had enough and lets loose with a wail that she knows from experience is only going to grow in volume and intensity until he's either comforted or distracted.
For just a moment she rests her forehead on the cool glass of the door and wishes she could cry too.
He's fucking pissed at the interruption to be honest. He doesn't make a habit of bringing home work, but he's got a side-project that he's been working on, and his days in the studio are just too busy with the shit he actually gets paid to do, so he's running a bunch of takes through a sound editing program on his computer to at least get a rough cut sorted out. The door buzzing barely registers with him, and then when it sounds again he mostly just wants to tell whoever it is to fuck off.
And shit, he knows who it is instantly, he'll recognize that voice when he's eighty. But here's the thing: he listens for a living now so he doesn't think he's making up the exhaustion and anxiety he hears in her voice, even in a few short words, and he automatically tenses up. When the baby starts crying, he's out the door and halfway down the stairs (hell no, he's not waiting for the elevator) before he realizes he didn't buzz her in. Five flights down and he skids to a stop at the door and yanks it open and there she is on the steps, looking harassed and tired and beautiful.
She's holding the sandy-haired boy with her eyes who's gulping deep sobbing breaths of air while clutching a stuffed bunny and he looks around for Hudson. There's no trace of his former friend but he's not really thinking about Finn any more because Rachel's got him pinned down with her big brown eyes.
"Noah, I need your help," she says simply.
He can't formulate a response, just holds the door open a little wider and scoops up the backpack at her feet.
He gets them both upstairs; he's carrying her backpack and he'd carry Connor too, (not a baby, gotta be what? Three by now and he looks solid) if he thought either of them would go for that. With a little coaxing, she sits down on the sofa in his living room, while he tries to get his head together and goes through his kitchen cupboards looking for the box of herbal tea he's almost sure his mother left there on her last visit three months ago.
That shit doesn't go bad, right?
He takes a chance and throws a bag in with some hot water and when he heads back into the living room, Connor is fast asleep on Rachel's shoulder, his small hand knotted in her shirt. Placing the mug on the side table, he sits down on an ottoman in front of them both.
"It's good to see you, Rach. What do you need?" he asks quietly.
She flushes and her hand which had been gently stroking Connor's back stills.
"I need a loan," she says, "Just a small one, and just for a couple of days until I can get my finances in order. Things haven't gone quite the way I'd planned." She gives a wry half-smile. "I'm sure that doesn't come as a surprise."
Well, fuck. He doesn't think much has worked out for her like she thought it would, hell, like anyone thought it would. And it certainly doesn't explain what she's doing 2000 miles away from Lima with only her boy and a backpack.
"If you need money you can have it," he says seriously, "but if you're in some kind of trouble, I want to know about it."
Connor shifts in her arms and they both hold their breath for a moment, unwilling to wake him, waiting until he sighs and nuzzles more deeply into Rachel's shoulder.
She starts again. "I think...I think I'm getting myself out of trouble. There's a job. I'll be teaching general music and vocal technique at a private school in Pacific Heights..."
Hold on. Pacific Heights like in San Francisco? Like here?
"...when the school year starts in a few weeks. Emma Schuester recommended me to an old friend there and I sent out some recordings and some sample lesson plans and I'm in. And there's an apartment that I've rented. The agency mailed me the keys and I was supposed to get into town this afternoon, but we ended up having car trouble and when I got there tonight, Noah, the apartment was just horrible, absolutely nothing like the picture. It's filthy and the locks are broken and we just can't sleep there tonight."
Fuck no, they aren't going to. His skin is fucking crawling at the thought of the two of them alone in some dive in the middle of the night.
"So if it's possible, if you have it, I need to borrow enough money for us to stay in a motel for a few days while I clean it up and get the locksmith in. And I can pay you back. I don't have the money this second, but I have a check from Burt and Carole and one from Daddy to deposit as soon as I set up a bank account here."
With the mention of Burt and Carole, crap is starting to fall into place and he's staring at her hand on Connor's back, the left hand, the one without a fucking wedding ring.
"Finn?" he almost croaks.
She dims visibly, and he wants to kick himself. "No. He's not in the picture."
"Shit, Rachel. I'm sorry." (Liar.)
She nods and he can actually see her pulling herself together (he's seen that exact face before a thousand times, maybe every damn day of high school) and there's just no way...
"Look, if you really want a motel, I'll help you, but hear me out. Connor's out like a light, and you don't look too far behind him. Stay here tonight. I've got a spare bedroom that we can set the two of you up in and shit's been slow at work lately, so tomorrow I'll take some time off and we'll take a look at your place and make a list of what needs to be done. You still like lists, right?" He blurts it all out in what seems like a single breath.
She blinks. "I...are you sure? Truthfully, the thought of waking him up again is not appealing, but I don't want to put you out."
"Yeah, you and a two-year-old are going to take up all kinds of space there, fun-size," he scoffs, smiling, and it strikes just the right note because she smiles back, a real smile.
"Don't forget, what we lack in height, we make up for in volume," she says mock-threateningly.
"I'll chance it," he grins.
She leans forward, but before she can stand, he asks, "Can I take him?"
At her agreement, he carefully lifts the sleeping boy from her arms and leads the way through the apartment to the spare bedroom. Once there, Rachel pulls back the covers and tucks his stuffed animal under one arm while he makes himself useful unlacing shoes and pulling them off.
He watches her smooth Connor's hair back and bend down to kiss his forehead and you know, he doesn't want to intrude, (plus there's this ache in his chest, which he's totally fucking ignoring because it's useless) so he goes out and grabs some clean towels for tomorrow and a glass of water in case she gets thirsty in the middle of the night.
He returns and sets everything down, saying quietly, "Bathroom's across the hall and I'm the next door down if you need anything. Help yourself to anything you want in the kitchen."
She turns towards him and hugs him fiercely. "Thank you, Noah. We appreciate it so much."
It's like second-nature to tighten his arms around her for a second, but then he pulls back, setting his hands lightly on her shoulders. "Any time, Rach. You'd do the same." He can't help but laugh when her response to this is to yawn in his face. He pushes her gently. "Go to sleep before you fall over." She yawns again, murmurs a sleepy 'good-night', and crawls into bed beside her son and he thinks she's probably gone before he shuts the door behind him.
He heads back to his computer and prepares to fire off a few e-mails that his assistant is not going to like. (Fuck him, he's always asking for more responsibility, now he can damn well have it for a few days). He also looks at the clock impatiently, counting the hours before he can reasonably call his mother before her A.M. shift at Lima General. Seriously, the woman never stops talking and she knows everything that goes on in that town. So why the fuck hasn't he heard about this shitstorm before now?
She's totally got some explaining to do.
A/N: A link to joker to the thief's 'when the stars go blue' is available on my profile page if you missed it when it was first published. And as always, thank you so much for reading! Feedback is always appreciated.