Author's Note: I needed a break from trying to figure out where to take Light Up With Confidence, so this happened. I really have no explanation for it other than it was inspired by "You Had Me From Hello" by Bon Jovi, in terms of tone, background, and then referenced at the end. It's a futurefic with very subtle hints as to what has transpired in the past four years, but I sort of like it that way. As the summary says, it was a prompt fic for carrie4angel from I don't even know when, so hopefully she'll approve. And I hope the rest of you do, too, but tell me what you think regardless!
Puck stood in the middle of the Berry living room, his hands stuffed in his pockets while he rotated inside the room of the large house looking for anything to keep his attention. Rachel's parents were gone at some benefit thing that probably cost more than a month's rent on his apartment, and he didn't feel right about turning on the TV. He was sure he could figure it out considering his many years of practice with several different types of electronic configurations, but the television was bigger than his bathroom – no probably; it was - and there wasn't even a game on.
Instead, he meandered closer to the opposite wall where there was a gross amount of framed photographs. It was seriously a shrine to Rachel Berry with a few other pictures thrown in for flair. They had pictures up of her from infancy to what looked like spring break just from this year. Dancing, singing, playing, laughing … they even had pictures up where she looked like she was crying, which was kind of messed up unless they were from a play or something and he just couldn't tell. But despite the way his eyes wanted to roll at Leroy and Hiram's obvious love (obsession) with their only daughter, Puck couldn't help but smile at the pictures, focusing on one particular.
Rachel was just seven years old, Puck already eight. They were both in nice clothes, though his were admittedly on the ragged side and his tie was not just loose but askew around his neck. Both her hands were propped up on one of his shoulders, holding up her face that held a smile brighter than he'd ever seen. His expression was less happy, more of a smirk that vanished as soon as the flash went off.
There was no probably in that, either. He remembered it like it was yesterday.
Puck shoved open the doors of the synagogue, letting out a frustrated grunt as his small stature made it more difficult than he'd wanted. He kicked a nearby rock in retaliation, walking away from the building and toward the playground to the side. It was November and a little cold, but he didn't care. He just needed to be alone and away from all the dumb people who kept looking at him and his family and frowning. He didn't want their pity or their condolences or whatever else.
He didn't want them to be right.
He climbed to the top of the domed jungle gym, peering back at the building to see if anyone had followed him. His mom had to deal with Sarah since she was just a baby, so he should have known better. But, considering the things he'd said before stomping out of the sermon, he thought maybe someone might have come to see if he was OK. He thought, just maybe, someone might have cared enough. Clearly it was a stupid thing to think considering his own father wasn't on that list, so why would anyone else be?
Puck's head snapped down, his eyes in slits as he took in the unfamiliar figure standing at the bottom of the playset. She'd been introduced at the beginning of the service along with her family as new in town, but he hadn't been paying enough attention to catch her name. Something fruity, and not in the way his Ma told him to quit saying. Everyone had smiled at the new family and welcomed them to Lima, but he'd heard what they'd whispered to themselves afterward. His Ma had said they were acting like bigots, but he didn't know what that meant.
The only thing he knew was this chick had two dads and he didn't even have one anymore.
"My name is Rachel." She blinked up at him hopefully. "My dads and I are new in town, and they told me I should be open to new relationships with kids my own age."
"I'm eight," Puck said proudly, knowing he was older than most his friends.
"I just turned seven, but I'm sure that didn't mean it quite so literally."
He stared down at her from his vantage point, looking at her a little more closely. She had really nice looking hair and her eyes seemed bigger than he thought his own were. Even when she wasn't really smiling she looked like she was, and it was really weird but also sort of nice. Her skin was the same color as his, but when he climbed down he realized she was way shorter, even for a girl.
"I'm sorry about your father."
He flinched at her words, instinctively taking a step back. For whatever reason, this girl's sudden appearance had made him forget the whole reason he'd stormed out during temple in the first place. Now she sounded just like everyone else, and he had to clench his fists and remind himself that Ma said he couldn't hit girls. She's lucky, too. He'd beaten the crap out of Finn yesterday for saying the same thing, and he was sure he could take this girl in one punch without even trying.
"You have every right to be angry, but you should know that it has nothing to do with you." She placed a comforting hand on his shoulder, smiling up at him. "Townspeople love to gossip about my fathers, and they told me the best thing to do was ignore them and make your own decisions."
She tilted her head to the side, her smile turning lopsided as well. "And I've decided you need a friend."
Rachel moved her hand from his shoulder, sliding it around his back along with her other arm and giving him a hug. He wanted to shrug her off, to push her down and tell her she had cooties like his other friends pretended girls did, but there was something about her touch and the warmth in her tone that he couldn't ignore. His mom and all kinds of other people had tried to explain why his dad left and tell him it wasn't his fault and stuff, but for the first time in the last few days, Puck didn't care.
"I don't mind sharing, either," she said, pulling back and looking over her shoulder at her approaching fathers, the giant black one gripping a camera in his hands. "Daddy likes sports and things of that nature. You can borrow him."
Puck turned away from the picture at the sound of her barreling down the stairs, her long, wavy chestnut hair flowing behind her. She moved to the purse she'd left on the slim table by the front door, riffling through it in a hurry before pulling out a tube of mascara. She quickly applied the makeup using the mirror right in front of the table, batting her eyelashes a few times and looking left and then right in evaluation.
"I'm sorry, Noah," she sighed heavily. "I'm usually so punctual."
He chuckled a little, his eyes moving to the large wall clock and noting they were already a half hour late. When he turned back, Rachel was piling her hair up in her hands, checking her appearance again before settling for keeping her hair down. She smiled brightly probably to check if she had any lip gloss on her teeth, and then spun around in front of the mirror but somehow toward him.
"How do I look?"
He allowed his eyes to travel slowly down her body, acting as if he hadn't done it at least three times in the past few minutes since she'd come downstairs. He knew most guys complained about waiting for chicks to get ready, and even he knew it was sometimes a pain, but he sort of loved watching Rachel Berry prepare for a night out. She was always so determined and decisive that it was nice to see her question herself. It was almost too human, the overly confident woman turning back into an insecure girl in the blink of an eye.
"I wouldn't kick ya out of bed." He smirked at the way she rolled her eyes, her hands running down the skirt of her dress to smooth away the invisible wrinkles. "Ya ready?"
"Yes, just let me grab my cell phone in case my agent calls."
She rushed by him toward the kitchen, his body instinctively turning to subtlety follow her. He could hear her heels clicking on the tile floor as she moved around the room, but he stayed in the living room, allowing his eyes to again wander over the hung photographs. Outside of that first meeting, there weren't many other pictures where he was included, just one from graduation and another from a couple Hanukkahs ago. He knew it wasn't Rachel's wall and she didn't choose the pictures, but it sort of bugged him that he wasn't more present in the collection.
"I know," Rachel said as she approached him. "I told them they'd need to buy a bigger house for all the pictures they'd take if I ever got married."
Puck chuckled lightly, but couldn't help himself. "If?"
"Well, you know." She shrugged, her eyes landing on the one picture he'd spent the longest staring at, too. "Not many people can handle my particular brand of crazy." Then she looked back up at him, her eyes as wide and hopeful as they'd been that day she'd picked to be his friend (without asking him). "Fewer men."
"You just need a real man, baby," he stated casually, tossing his arm over her shoulder and ushering her out of the house with him. "And I'm always here if ya need me. Ya know," he leered, "for anything."
"Thank you, Noah," she responded coyly, nodding in gratitude when he opened the passenger side truck door for her before walking to the drive side. "For acting somewhat as my chauffeur this evening, to be clear."
He snorted out a laugh, turning the key to the ignition and then shifting into reverse before glancing over at her. "What are friends for?"
Hours later, Puck found himself in almost the same exact spot as when the evening had started, only now the house wasn't quite as empty. After their performance at the McKinley High School graduation ceremony for the class of 2016, everyone had come back to the Berry house to relive their own graduation night. Almost everyone from new Directions had made it back for the performance – not hard when most didn't live more than an hour or so away – and while it had been fun being on stage with everyone again, Puck didn't need to play catch up with any of them. Half of them still lived in town and he saw almost once a week, the other half during every school break and holiday.
Rachel, however, being the perfect hostess she was, let herself be pulled from person to person. He watched her listen to Tina's retelling of Mike's dance-number proposal with gushing approval, heard her and Quinn share some weird inside joke about Q becoming a Realtor and Finn taking over Burt's tire shop. Santana still made the poor brunette blush with tales of her college experimentation before admitting her life was as dull as she'd assumed Rachel's was – a fact he could tell even from across the room wasn't true.
Before long, she was the one going on and on about what she'd been up to for the past four years. It wasn't like she hadn't been back since leaving for New York – or big-mouth Kurt Hummel wasn't still her best friend – but she'd been the only one to really make it out of this shit town so whatever she said was going to be way better than anything they could come up with. And even though he was interested in hearing about her auditions and her crazy graduation party story, Puck found himself splitting away from the crowd.
Without even meaning to, his feet carried him up the stairs and into her old room, his eyes scanning the area absently before he decided to fully commit to the intrusion. Her fathers hadn't changed the space despite their constant back and forth of turning it into something more suitable to their lifestyle. He wasn't sure what that meant, and he legit didn't want to think too hard about it, either. Instead, he moved his focus from what the room could be to what it was.
A freaking time capsule.
Puck could close his eyes and remember each instance he'd been inside these four walls. They weren't all good, but they weren't all bad, either. Some were just moments, faded memories of him waiting for her to get her coat or something when they were young and he'd wanted to play outside or in her pool. Others were a little clearer, like the time she'd offered him her virginity and he hadn't taken it … and the time where she'd offered herself to him again and he did. Even with the years of separation – seventh grade to sophomore year, basically, because he'd been a dumb kid who believed his so-called friends when they'd said to ditch the dweeb or they wouldn't hang out with him; sue him, but abandonment was sort of a hot button for him and in some messed up way he knew she'd understand. Even if he was screwed up and mostly just used her and her house as an escape, deep down they were friends and he knew she'd forgive him – there were a million moments of history between them and he often wondered if he was the only one who'd realized it.
And just as the thought crossed his mind, a large bulletin board with pictures held in place by criss-crossed ribbons caught his eye. He moved closer to the spot by her desk, his eyes roaming over the pictures to see which ones had made the cut. There was one of her with her three college roommates, fake smiles on all their faces ("It's a very competitive program, Noah. These women cannot be trusted."). She had a picture of her as a little girl sitting atop Leroy's shoulders while Hiram looked up at both of them lovingly. There were a couple pictures from glee, group shots after they'd won some competition – honestly, he couldn't remember any one but the last one anymore. Then, much to his surprise and his satisfaction, there were at least four photographs that featured him.
He turned away from the board so quickly that he swore he heard his neck crack, a grin slipping onto his face just to cover up the fact that he'd been busted by the one person who he couldn't bullshit. "Hey."
"Santana figured out how to use the sound system." The end of her sentence came out just as the blast from music downstairs started. They both let out a short laugh. "Apparently I'm meant to bring you back downstairs so we can all 'freak'."
He chuckled at her use of air quotes, and the insane way something so normal (in his world) could sound completely wrong coming out of her mouth. Everyone gave her shit for her vast vocabulary, but it was hard to picture her speaking any other way. Although, to his credit, he'd never complained when she'd slipped and said something completely inappropriate in her terms. Normally he was too busy moaning or something because whatever it was always seemed sexier than hell.
"She's got the attention span of a gnat," Puck joked as he heard the music change to a slower tune, one they'd used at Nationals senior year.
Rachel smiled slowly, her eyes closing for a moment as she drank in the song. She swayed a little before refocusing her gaze on him, her voice sheepish as she said, "I've always loved this song." Then, before he could comment, she extended her hands out toward him. "Dance with me?"
Out of prying eyes, Puck barely hesitated in accepting her offer, practically scooping her up in his arms and setting the pace for their private dance. It had been awhile since he'd had her nestled against him, even longer since it had been while they were alone. Time was of the essence, he knew, so he was going to make the most of it. Rachel was leaving in the morning and after that he'd have to rely on his memory until the next time she visited. Like always.
"You seemed fascinated by my collection when I walked in." Her voice was soft, dancing across the skin of his neck as she rested her chin on his shoulder.
"There's a lotta me," he remarked as casually as possible, tightening his hold on her just so she wouldn't pull back; he couldn't handle the eyes right now.
She was quiet for a long moment, her thumb absently brushing against the inside of his elbow while the other hand meandered up and down his back. "You should see the one in my apartment." It was him who pulled back, questions in his eyes that only made her smile. "Why are you so surprised, Noah? You are an important part of my life."
Puck considered her words, the meaning and the significance of them. They were friends still, sure, but he hadn't realized she'd considered him important. He'd done a pretty good job the last four years of college keeping her at a safe distance – minus a few glorious slipups - for a lot of different reasons, most of them stupid. And, from what he knew, she'd stayed in contact with almost everyone from the glee club. Puck just assumed their interaction had been on equal footing, even if he'd hoped otherwise.
"I've known you since I was seven years old," she whispered, her voice low and almost desperate. "You've been so much to me over the years, Noah, and when I look at those pictures … when I look at you, it feels like it doesn't matter where I am. With you, I'm …" She trailed off, the last word coming out more like a breath than anything else. "Home."
Her words echoed in his ear, but it was the sound of Finn clearing his throat that took precedent in the next moment. The two reluctantly pulled apart when their friend explained everyone was setting up to watch a movie downstairs, and wondered where the spare blankets and pillows were. Rachel cast a loaded sideways look to Puck before leading Finn to the linen closet, and Puck didn't even have it in him to watch the sway of her hips while his mind was reeling.
Twenty-three years old (most of them) and there they were, passed out in the living room of Rachel Berry's house while the opening screen of some stupid romantic comedy played on repeat. He felt eighteen again, the group's tales of stories past just making it all that much harder to realize how many years had actually gone by. It should have been obvious, though, considering not once had anyone even batted an eyelash at the fact that Rachel and he seemed closer than usual. The high school drama was buried deep down between the group, now the only thing anyone cared about was slyly mentioning that it was about time he manned up.
Clearly his tendency to avoid talking about Rachel had backfired, saying more about his feelings than he ever would.
Given the darkness outside and the loud snore coming from either Sam or Mercedes, Puck had to guess it was close to three in the morning. Artie had been deemed keeper of the remote, but since the dude was dead asleep on the couch Puck was able to lift his arm up and grab it out of the guy's death grip. It took only a few tries to get the TV to shut off, the room immediately cast in darkness aside from one stream of moonlight coming in through the window. And wouldn't you know that it shone brightly onto her.
"Noah," she sighed sleepily, pressing herself against his side. "Is everyone asleep?"
He cocked his head down just enough to see her eyes flash up at him, heavy from sleep but somehow completely focused. "Not everyone."
She smiled softly, letting her top hand tucked at his side slide over his stomach, resting it in the middle of his chest just as her leg tangled between his. Puck tried to cover up the content way his eyes slipped shut by adding a yawn on top of the gesture, feigning tired. Hopefully she wouldn't remember his confession a couple years ago that it was hard to sleep when she was pressed against him so tantalizingly. But, he'd been drunk and he'd remembered it, so he was pretty sure the faint smile he felt against his chest meant she'd remembered, too.
"Was it better before?"
"Before what?" He asked, genuinely confused.
"Before I told you."
Puck knew he was holding his breath, but it was the only thing he could do to convince himself he wasn't dreaming. In his stillness, he could feel everything around him. The air from the house's central A/C system kicking on, someone shifting sleeping positions by his feet, and, most of all, her heartbeat pounding against his skin. It leaked into his pores and sifted through his bloodstream, moving right to the place in his heart that was dedicated solely to her.
"I'm sorry, but I have been thinking about it a lot lately." She bent her head down, hiding her face in the crook of his neck and muffling her already quiet voice. "And I just wanted you to know, even if it didn't change anything." She sighed, adding, "Even if it changed everything."
Puck's fingers skidded across the small of her back, teasing the sliver of flesh that was exposed after her sleep shirt had ridden up. "What do ya want to change?"
As she clearly considered his question, he did, too. At that moment, the word nothing seemed obvious. Despite the awkward circumstances what with his ex-girlfriend(s) sleeping close by as well as her ex-boyfriend, it seemed greedy to want anything more than her happily lying by his side. But, in the back recesses of his mind, he remembered moments like that summer before she left for New York and the few times he'd visited her at the dorms in the past couple of years. Things had been brewing between them for so long, intensifying over the years and now, it seemed, the time was up.
They could either decide to take a step back and remain friends, or they could take the final step forward and become something much, much more.
"Come to New York."
And there it was. Her decision, told so bluntly that it would have seemed suffocating it had been anyone else. It was Rachel Berry, though, and all he could do was snort out a laugh, and say the first thing that came to mind, "And?"
She smiled, too, thinking back to that first day just like him and wondering if anyone could have predicted this as their future. "And I've decided you need a girlfriend."
He would have kissed her even if she hadn't moved her lips to be just millimeters from his own, even if she hadn't just laid it all out for him. But the gentle press of his lips and the languid plunge of his tongue hopefully told her that this time was different. This wasn't just a kiss because she was close and hot or because he was drawn to her. This kiss held promise in it, an embrace that didn't just accept her decision but welcomed it. Encouraged it.
"For the record," he stated gruffly once their lips parted, hers on a blissful sigh as she readjusted her position and readied herself for sleep again. He brushed his nose against hers to keep her awake long enough to finish his thought, kissing the small smile that formed on her lips as he said, "I do mind sharing, and no one can borrow you. You're mine."
She giggled as she snuggled deeper into his side, letting him wrap his arms and the blanket they were sharing around her a little more tightly. "How long have you felt this way?"
It was beyond cheesy but so true that he couldn't keep himself from saying it. "From hello."
At the mirror you fix your hair
And put your makeup on
You're insecure about what clothes to wear
But I can't see nothing wrong
To me you look so beautiful
When you can't make up your mind
It's half past eight, it's getting late
It's okay; take your time
Standing here with my hands in my pockets
Like I have a thousand times
Thinking back, it took one breath
One word to change my life
The first time I saw you
It felt like coming home
If I never told you
I just want you to know
You had me from hello
When we walk into a crowded room
It's like we're all alone
Everybody tries to kidnap your attention
You just smile and steal the show
You come to me and take my hand
We start dancing slow
You put your lips up to my ear
And whisper way down low
From the first time I saw you
It felt like coming home
If I never told you
I just want you to know
You had me from hello
And when you're laying down beside me
I feel your heartbeat to remind me …
The first time I saw you
It felt like coming home
If I never told you
I just want you to know
You had me from hello