Dance Me To the End Of Love: The Outtakes

Still In the Dark, Lighting Candles

She's sitting in the small den that doubles as a music room, her laptop gleaming in front of her and a pile of receipts she's entering into her spread sheet. It's Tuesday, the show's dark day, so she has the night off, and she's trying to catch up on her accounting. Her life has undergone so many changes in the past six months and she isn't as on top of her finances as she used to be. The numbers balance, of course, neither she or Noah would let them do anything but balance. Still, she used to enter purchases within twenty-four hours, review her portfolio and make charts and projections for best and worst case scenarios. Now she's lucky if she manages to get their household receipts caught up once a week, though Noah once made her (grudgingly) admit a monthly update is more than adequate.

She supposes she could let Noah do some of it, but he doesn't want to go in the the kind of detail she does (tells her he's got better ideas about how to spend their time and then distracts her by demonstrating), so she'd rather just keep track for the both of them. She's particular that way. (Besides, it's faster and leaves more time for distractions.)

Noah is in the living room watching highlights from some sports game with the television turned low, so as not to disturb her or wake Beth. She can't help but smile when she hears him get up to go into the bathroom the second things go to the commercial (she can tell from the volume change), even though the game is long over and he isn't missing anything. Finishing up with their household accounting, she saves the spread sheet, tucks the paper copies in the appropriate folder in the filing cabinet, and moves to checking her email.

She's so engrossed in replying to her dads that she doesn't hear Noah come up behind her and jumps a little when he sets a mug of tea in front of her. "Thought you might be cold, babe," he says, dropping a kiss against her temple when she thanks him. She is cold. It's been raining all day, and the den has always been draftier than the rest of the apartment. "You 'bout done, here?"

She knows that's code for wanting to spend time with her, so she wraps up in a few quick lines, hits send, and follows him to the living room.

"What are we watching?" she asks as he snags the wrist of the hand not holding on to her mug, pulls her down to sink into the couch next to him. She tucks her legs under herself and curls into his side as he wraps his arms around her to pull her closer. Noah would never in a million years admit it, but his penchant for physical affection isn't limited to all things sexual. He's a total cuddler, and he's always finding excuses to touch her, whether it is to brush her hair off her face or massage the arches of her feet after her Sunday matinee.

"Whatever you want, babe, game's over," he says. "Only not something lame like the Bachelorette. Shit should have been cancelled years ago."

Despite her protests (she knows it's terrible, but she can't help but watch it), they settle on old reruns of That 70s Show. The plot involves a birthday party, which prompts Noah to ask her when she's going to start her list of to-do lists, since Beth's birthday is coming up. He's teasing her, she knows, but they actually should start thinking about this.

"We should probably start planning now," she says.

"Babe, you know her birthday isn't for five weeks."

"Yes, and we'll need to find somewhere to hold it."

"We can't hold it here?" he asks, flipping off the television and tugging her around until she's sitting straddling his lap.

"There are 25 kids in her class."

"It's not like we have to invite them all. Tell Beth to pick out a couple she likes, like four or something."

Rachel shakes her head. "That always ends up leaving someone out of everyone's parties. I think the school might even have a policy against invites given out at the school that aren't inclusive and since we don't know any of the parents well enough..."

His hands are set on her hips under her sweatshirt, his thumbs stroking the bare skin above the hem of her yoga pants. He's distracting her again. "Can we just invite the girls? That's probably fine and shit, right?"

"That's still 12 or 13 guests, there's not room here."

"Babe, the building has a party room."

"Which we'd have to look into booking. It might not even be free at this late date!"

"Baby, there's five weeks."

She just looks at him, and he sighs.

"I'll take care of it tomorrow," he promises. "So, should this thing have a theme or something?"

Rachel shrugs. "I suppose. If that's what Beth wants."

"Bet you liked that growing up, babe," he says, sliding his hands up a little higher, calloused fingers dancing idly along her rib cage. "Getting to play all sorts of roles and being the star of the party. Bet your dads threw some epic events. What did you do when you turned eight?"

She stiffens in his lap, which he must notice because his hands go still, stop their slow drift up toward her breasts. She forces herself to relax.

"My eighth birthday party," she takes a breath, keeps her voice even. "My eighth birthday party, Melinda Holt told everyone that I was gross and that anyone who went to my party wouldn't get invited to hers. Melinda had a pool and her parents always bought ice cream cake and gave out the best goodie bags. Two girls showed up to my princess party, and only because their mothers made them. They made sure I knew it. That was my last birthday party. I mean, I had cake and gifts with my dads, but other than that I just ignore it."

It's true, sort of. Her birthday is painful on a few different levels. This year, she'd completely forgotten it. They'd just moved into their place, hadn't even finished unpacking and the walls still smelled faintly of paint. She'd been so focussed on getting Beth settled, the day slipped by and would have passed unnoticed altogether if her dads hadn't sent flowers. She didn't want Noah to feel he had to go through any trouble so she'd tucked the card into her purse and simply said it was another housewarming gift, then quietly called and thanked her dads from the theatre.

She can feel him counting the days backward in his head, the realization dawning on him evident in his changing hold on her. She doesn't want to see him look at her with what she's sure is pity in his eyes.

"Shit, Rachel, I-"

"It's okay, it was a long time ago," she rushes, puts on her best poker face because he'll see through her show face in a heartbeat. "It's not a big deal."

"Rachel, we missed your birthday."

"Don't worry about it, I don't do birthdays," she dismisses, changes the subject. "If you can book the party room for the weekend Beth's birthday, I'll do a little research on the internet tomorrow, get a few ideas of what we could do, and we can talk about what she wants after school. Now, I'm going to have a quick shower before bed."

She leans forward a quick kiss to his lips because she doesn't want him to think she's mad. She gets up and hands him her mug to take into the kitchen, so he'll load it into the dishwasher and wipe the counters out of habit. She'll have her cry in the shower and he'll be none the wiser, and the feelings birthdays always bring up will be buried again where they belong.

She turns the water on before she's even got her clothes off, because she knows she's going to start any second now and she wants to be sure to muffle the sound. Sure enough, she's choking back a sob as her sweatshirt comes over her head, and tears are streaming down her face as she steps under the spray. She lets the water rinse her face, hide the evidence. It's something she figured out early on in high school, showering away yet another slushee attack. No puffy face, no red eyes, droplets of water washing away the salt meant no proof of a direct hit. She can stand or sit under the water and no one will know she's thinking of the lonely little girl she used to be, hiding a plastic crown in the back of her closet or erasing MySpace messages wishing her a happy anniversary of the day her mother took one look at her ugly face and wished she'd had an abortion.

No one the wiser, except her husband, who reads right through her cheerful dismissals and excuses, who slips silently into the stall and pulls her against him, his arms coming around her even as she tries to pull away. He holds hers against his chest, runs his hands up her back to comfort her. She stops trying to fight it, fight him, and sinks into him. Her arms come up around his neck, and she lets the sobs overtake her. When her breathing calms a little, he reaches over to flick off the water, wraps towel around his waist and another around her. He tilts her head back and slicks away her wet hair, kisses her wet cheeks and the corners of her eyes before swinging her into his arms to carry her to their bed.

They sit curled together, his head resting on the top of hers and his hands tracing soothing patterns on her back. He doesn't try to quiet her, just helps her dry off and pull one of his t-shirts over her head in case Beth comes in, lays a towel over the pillows, and tucks her under the covers. He pulls on boxers and crawls in next to her, and she scoots until she's pressed against him, her head resting over his heart. She can feel his skin wet with the tears that can't help but leak out of her eyes. Her breath hitches a few more times, but she can hear his heartbeat, and the slow thrum calms her.

"How did you know?" she asks.

"You hate showering at night. Then you have to wait 'til your hair dries so you don't get the pillow wet."

"The towel works," she says.

"Yeah," he says. "I'm a fuckin' genius who realizes he forgot his wife's birthday six months after the fact."

"We both forgot," she says. It's dark in the room so she can't see his face, but she knows he's giving her a look.

"You had a lot going on," she amends. "I'm not upset about it, I promise."

"Then you going to explain why you're jumping in the shower to hide the fact that you're fucking crying and why you're still, like, leaking?"

"Birthdays have always been kind of awful for me," she admits. "I mean, my dads tried and everything, but when you're the girl people draw pornographic pictures of in the bathroom and tell to get sterilized..."

"Babe," he says, whispers a curse.

"And this is going to be Beth's first birthday without her mother there, and I don't want it to be awful, Noah."

She's crying again.

"It won't be. You and me, baby. We'll make sure of it."

"Okay," she whispers, squeezing him tightly. "We'll make sure of it."

He kisses her forehead. She runs her fingers under her eyes, then pushes herself up so she can kiss him properly. She's not often the one to initiate sex, but there's something about the way he just lets her be sad, takes care of her, even the way he is willing to sleep on a scratchy towel instead of their 600 thread count pillow cases because she hates when they get wet. She wants him, needs him now. She kisses him with the urgency she feels, pushes at his boxers until he's helping her kick them off his legs, pulling his t-shirt up and over her head. He breaks the kiss to grab a condom, and she rolls onto her back while pulling at his shoulders. She wants to be underneath him. It feels more intimate, somehow. She wants to feel even closer to him, feel the weight of him sinking into her.

"Don't want to be on top this time, babe?" he asks lowly against her collarbone. She just shakes her head, and then he's kissing her again and she loses all words anyway.

"I love you," she says later, when she finds them again, as he sleepily kisses her shoulder.

"Love you, too, baby," he says, and though it isn't the first time they've said the words, they are still new, and she's still a little surprised at the warm thrill that spreads through her to hear them. (She doesn't know it yet, but though the surprise will fade, that thrill never will.)

When Rachel Berry puts her mind to something, there's no stopping her. It's something he'd learned in high school, and is reminded of once again, because Beth's eighth birthday party is no exception. By the time June rolls around, Rachel's planning and charting expertise has been put to good use, and fourteen little girls are in for a treat of a Saturday.

Beth didn't seem that interested in her birthday, though Noah and Rachel discussed it and suspected it was in large part due to facing her first birthday party without her mom. Rachel may have put in a call to a child therapist's office to solicit a little advice, and had decided the best course of action would be to celebrate the birthday quietly as a family first, then hold the party the weekend following, giving Beth a little time and space to deal with her feelings more privately instead of possibly having a meltdown in front of her school mates. So Noah had come home early from work so he, Rachel, and Beth could eat an early dinner and cake before Rachel's show, and then since it was a Friday, they'd come out to watch her perform since Beth has been asking to come for months. The show is a little old for Beth, but the more adult content went over her right over her head and she fell asleep in the racier second act exactly as Noah had predicted.

Just over a week afterward, the girls in Bath's class are making their way to their home to celebrate a red carpet birthday. (Rachel's show was nominated for a couple of Tonys, and she'd attended with her cast a few weeks ago, and when she'd thrown the idea out there it was the only one that got much of a reaction from the little girl.) The girls are all dressed up in pretty party dresses, and take turns at different "stations" manned by some helpful moms and even a few dads Rachel enlisted using the class phone tree. There's a shopping station where they can pick out boas, plastic tiaras and other costume jewelry, a makeup station where a couple of moms help them apply cosmetics (play makeup Rachel found in subtle colours), a manicure station where they can get their nails painted pink or purple, and even a station where they can get their hair braided or pinned up simply. When the girls are all dressed up, they get their pictures taken by the "paparazzi" while the tables are carried out and the room is turned into a movie theatre. Noah is sent upstairs to print out the pictures on photo paper, and when he gets back the girls are engrossed in watching Disney's Robin Hood cartoon, which he knows is secretly Rachel's favourite.

After the movie, Beth opens her gifts, then there are snacks and cake, and before he knows it the girls are being sent home with their bling and their pictures printed on pretend "People" magazine covers, another find of Rachel's. He doesn't think he's ever seen a more excited group of excited eight year olds, cooing over how they look "famous".

"They'll be talking about this for weeks," one of the dads who helped clean up says to Noah, and the giddy laughter from the girls as they leave seems evidence of the fact. "Your wife is something else."

They are folding up the tables to put them back in storage, and he glances up to smile at Rachel, who is spinning Beth and her friend around in pirouettes to the music sounding from her iPod docking station with one hand even as she stacks plates to carry over to the dishwasher in the other. He's pretty damned proud of her for a lot of reasons.

"I'm a lucky man," is all he replies, and Rachel must feel his eyes on her, because she looks up and smiles back at him.

She has to run out the door as soon as clean up is done, since she'd only taken the matinee showing off, so he's tasked with getting Beth dinner and quieted down enough to go to bed. The latter takes an hour longer than usual, but his little girl is smiling so wide and being more animated than he's seen her in a very long time, so he isn't even a little bit frustrated. He gets two calls from parents wanting to thank him and Rachel all over again for throwing such a great party, and he can hardly wait for his wife to get home to share that with her.

He's on her almost the second she gets in the door, pulling her into a searing kiss before she even has time to drop her bag. He kisses her against the door so he can lock it behind her without letting her go, and she laughs a little against his lips.

"What's all this for?" she asks when she pulls back to try to catch her breath. He takes the opportunity to kiss his way down her throat, nipping at her pulse point until she gasps.

"Baby, you were amazing today," he says against her skin, his hands coming to her ass so he can lift her and slide up her thighs to lock them around his hips. "Beth had such a good time and some moms called to say their daughters are still going on about it."

"I'm glad," she manages to breathe out as he walks them to their bedroom. "But it was just a party."

"No, babe," he says as he kicks the door shut behind them and lays her down on the mattress, hovering above her. "You were amazing."

She just shakes her head at him, smiling as she leans up to press her lips to his. He lowers himself over her slowly, a predatory look in his eyes that makes her shiver.

"Gonna make you feel amazing, baby."

(He does. Three times.)

On the morning of December 18th, she doesn't wake up to her alarm as expected. Instead, she vaguely becomes aware of noise in the kitchen, then of the mattress depressing next to her.

"Wake up, babe," Noah says quietly before dropping a kiss to her shoulder. She blinks and shifts so she can turn and face him.

"What time is it?"

"It's nine-thirty," he says.

"Oh, God, we slept in! Noah, you're late for work, and Beth needs breakfast. Noah, we have to get up!" She tries to jolt upward, but his arm holds her in place.

"Took the day off," he counters. "Beth's been fed and is bouncing off the walls, waiting to bring you breakfast in bed. And here, you gotta put this on."

"What's this?" She's still a little fuzzy with sleep, because she can't quite make sense of why he's handing her a crystal tiara, the sparkling kind teenagers put in their hair for prom. He smirks at her, plunks it on her hair and adjusts their pillows as she sits up against the headboard.

"Happy birthday, princess," he says. "Don't get up."

True to his word, he's made her breakfast, coffee and vegan pancakes with blueberries and maple syrup he's been keeping warm in the oven. He and Beth bring in on an honest-to-goodness tray, complete with a yellow gerber in a vase. She likes that he's remembered it's one of her favourite flowers, because it always looks so happy.

"Happy birthday, Rachel," Beth says, holding out a small box that someone other than Noah helped her wrap. (The sapphire earrings that match her wedding ring that he gave her for their anniversary were gorgeous, but the box looked like it had kicked around the block a couple of times.)

She opens it carefully, smiling as Beth bounces on her heels a little impatiently, even though she knows exactly what's in there. It's a bottle of a perfume Rachel loves but has never felt justified in purchasing given it is a little on the pricy side.

"It's smells beautiful and I love it," she says sincerely, dabbing a little on her wrists and then pulling Beth over to do the same. Noah gives her a gift certificate for her favourite spa and pink cashmere sweater, then teases that he has something else for her, but she can't have it until later. She's got her suspicions about what that is.

She eats her pancakes in bed, even though it feels overly decadent, because Noah insists and then Beth crawls in next to her and then pats the bed so her daddy will cuddle up. Beth proceeds to ask Rachel all sorts of questions about what they are going to do for her birthday, and tells her she's really lucky her birthday is on a Tuesday because she doesn't work Tuesdays. The stack of pancakes is enormous, so Rachel finds herself feeding bites to her husband and Beth from her fork until they all declare themselves full, and Rachel is sent off to have a shower while Noah and Beth take care of clean up.

Noah makes her put the tiara back on once she's showered and dressed in jeans and her new sweater. It's incredibly soft, and she can't help but find it funny that now both Noah and Beth seem to find excuses to run their hands over it. Since Beth is on winter holiday from school and Noah has the day off, they spend the morning watching movies and play a board game in the afternoon. It's cold outside, and they have nowhere they need to be. At least that's what Rachel thinks until she picks up the phone to call out for dinner and he tells her they have a babysitter on her way and reservations at a restaurant she's been dying to try for years.

"How on earth... they have a year long waiting list, Noah!"

"Fourteen months, apparently," he says.

"How did you..." she trails off.

"Remember when I was late because I stopped and helped that guy with his engine when he couldn't get his car to start? Turns out he was the head chef, and he was willing to pull some strings for my baby since I saved his 'baby'. Guy seriously loves that car."

"Noah, that was months ago!"

"Thinkin' ahead, babe. I know you like that stuff."

She didn't think she could possibly find her husband more attractive, and then he goes out of his way to give her the kind of birthday she only dreamed of having growing up. He zips her into her navy dress (and tells her he can't wait until he's getting her out of it), until the time he is zipping her out of it, he treats her like a princess (even though she won't wear the tiara in public). He doesn't complain about the restaurant, even though she knows he'd much rather go somewhere he can get a burger and fries, let alone somewhere that doesn't even serve meat.

When she catches him watching her over his wine glass with heat in his gaze, and he tells her she's the most beautiful woman in the room and everyone who isn't looking at her is an idiot. (He may also lean over and whisper a half dozen dirty things he wants to do with the most beautiful woman in the room, and she's blushing when the waiter comes to clear their plates.) When she can't decide between desserts, he orders them both and tells her they'll share, feeds her bites from his fork because princesses shouldn't have to lift a finger. He surprises her with another gift, a diamond tennis bracelet that makes her tear up and gasp is too much even as her fingers trace the links. He ignores her half-hearted protests and fastens it on, lifting her wrist to kiss the pulse point when it's set. She tells him she's done, sets her hand high on his thigh, and asks if he wants the waiter to bring the cheque. He tangles his fingers in the hair at the nape of her neck, kisses her just shy of appropriately for the public setting, and does just that.

It's late when they get home, so she checks on Beth while he pays the babysitter and sends her home (she lives two floors down). She tucks the blankets over the little girl the way she likes, then finds him watching her from the hall. He takes her hand and pulls her into the bedroom, turns on soft music, and follows the path of the zipper he drags down agonizingly slowly with his lips.

"Happy birthday," he says into her ear as he sends her over the edge for the first time.

"Today was perfect," she says, much, much later, when they are basking in the afterglow and she can tell he's just about to drop off to sleep. (He's more than earned it.) "It was the best birthday ever. Thank you."

"You're welcome, babe," he murmurs, pulls her a little closer.

"I guess this means I should start planning for yours."

"I got ideas."

"I'll bet you do," she smiles and closes her eyes, feels herself start to drift.

"Rach?" he whispers, dropping a sleepy kiss to her neck when she hums in lieu of an answer. "I'm so glad you were born."

It is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to her on her birthday. It might be the nicest thing anyone has said to her ever. For the first time in a very long time, she feels that way too.