Disclaimer: on 1st page

A/N: So...it's been a while...but I just couldn't abandon this - this ship just has a way of drawing me back in! It's just perf that way. I'm genuinely flattered and humbled at the amount of reviews/messages I got asking me to continue this fic (after almost two years!) and SOSN. You guys are amazing and are giving me lots of feels.

As always, this is un-beta'ed, so excuse any errors.

"Again, Sammy! Please?"

Beth Puckerman was all of two years old, and already had men all figured out – all it took was a little pink pout and a few blinks of her big hazel eyes before Sam gave her whatever she wanted. And on the off chance he decided to be a little firm and say no, she'd hit him with the "Pweeeease Uncle Sammy?" and he was yet again rendered powerless. She was all giggles and sunshine and sandy curls, the best of her parents all rolled up into one smart cookie.

So he was stuck watching yet another episode of the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse as they colored. Watching Beth wasn't so much him babysitting her as it was her using him as her personal remote, toy wrangler, and snack butler – she had him wrapped around her chubby little finger and she knew it. As soon as she heard the opening notes of the theme song, she jumped up and sang and danced along to it, turning back to grin excitedly at him every so often. Sam decided that enduring six episodes of the insufferably falsetto mouse was more than worth it if it made her that happy.

He turned back to the problem set he was working on, and smiled as he shook his head. This wasn't exactly how he thought he'd spend his Saturday morning, especially the one before his date with Mercedes, but it was pretty nice. Quinn and Emma had an important gig catering brunch for a faculty event on campus - one that Puck was required to attend. Of course, no one thought to mention any of this to him beforehand, so when he was woken up by incessant knocking at eight in the morning, he was understandably confused. Sam opened the door to find Quinn sporting a dazzling smile, Beth on her hip and a bag in her hand.

"Morning, Sam!" Quinn brushed past him and set the bag down on his desk chair

She was chipper.

Too chipper.

"Hi Quinn…what's…what's going on? Not that it's not great to see you, but I'm pretty sure I'm still asleep," Sam groaned, flopping back onto his bed.


"Wait, what?!"

"Santana and the new girl have downstairs covered, so don't worry about that. I really thought Puck could take her, but he can't. I know a college kid probably has better things to do with their Saturday morning, but I'll pay you!"

He waved her off. "Don't even worry about it," he yawned and rubbed his eyes, "has she eaten breakfast yet?"

"Yup. There are toys and snacks in the bag," Quinn paused at the door and flashed a grin, "snacks for both of you…bye!"

That got Sam up. He unzipped the tote bag and smelled them before he even unwrapped the package – pumpkin-maple muffins. He did a little victory dance that got Beth laughing and headed straight for the coffee maker.

It was a little after one o'clock when there was a knock at his door. Beth startled and snuggled into him, her eyes wide. Sam laughed and tried to settle her onto the sofa, but she wouldn't let go. She clung to his leg all the way to the door and hid behind it when a second knock came.

"Hello? Sam? I mean I hope this is Sam, I mean there's only one other door except the office on this floor, so I'm pretty sure – " the girl stopped when he opened the door and her eyes got even wider than Beth's. "Holy shit, you're hot!"

"Language!" Sam pointed to the toddler peeking out curiously from behind his leg. "And thanks, I think…"

"Sugar. I'm new. And sorry about the outburst, it just kinda…happens." She looked entirely unbothered and not at all sorry, but Sam took it in stride. "Santana sent me up here to deliver lunch for you guys," she handed him a paper bag full of tupperware, "she also said to say 'you're lucky Beth is here or else I would've let you starve.'"

"Of course. Classic." Sam rolled his eyes.

"Is that little cutie Beth?" she crouched down and smiled at the girl, who smiled back. "Hi, I'm Sugar!"

"Yummy!" Sam and Sugar laughed and Beth hid behind him again, bashfully.

"Well I better get back down. It was nice meeting you."

Sam waved goodbye and set lunch up for him and Beth. Grilled chicken, pasta, salad and even dessert - Santana could say what she wanted to, but he knew she'd always take care of him. Beth made a big show of using a fork and not her hands to eat. It was, apparently, what big girls do – along with pouting until he was impressed enough for her liking. They cleaned up after lunch and played for another couple hours. They were practicing her ABC's when he got a text from Puck:

"I'm grading a few papers in my office, you can bring Beth."

So Sam packed and bundled them up, and they made the trek to campus. The walk was nice, and Beth took it upon herself to play tour guide and name everything she could; from "Tana" downstairs to "ball" and "doggie" when they passed the park. This time he made sure to be thoroughly impressed so as not to disappoint her. As soon as they passed through the ornate wrought iron gates at the entrance of campus, Sam spotted a familiar face rolling in their direction.

"Sam Evans! How's it going? It's been a while, man."

Artie Abrams was his savior during his hellish freshman English composition class. Though his dyslexia had gotten a lot better after putting in work with a therapist when he was younger, it was still frustratingly difficult at times to produce a paper at the college level. Enter Artie; he patiently revised Sam's work and even spent extra hours with him at the Daily Grind on papers for a history class for nothing more than a coffee and some biscotti. They became good friends, though since Artie's grad school course load increased this semester, they'd barely seen each other.

"Too long," he said, slapping him five. Beth quickly ducked behind him and smiled shyly at Artie.

"And who is this?" Artie smiled at Beth and she surprisingly came out of her hiding place.

"Beth!" They laughed.

"Hi, Beth, I'm Artie."

"Hi! I'm going to see daddy." She smiled excitedly.

"Oh, that's nice," Artie looked up at Sam, "and who is daddy?"

"Noah Puckerman, he's a professor here. His wife is the baker at the 'Grind and they're friends of ours. I watch her sometimes."

"Oh, nice."

"Yeah, so what've you been up to, man?"

Artie shot him a tired look. "Between grad classes and being a TA for two classes this semester, I'm too tired to have a life." He let out a mirthless chuckle. "I should've listened to my dad and went into comp sci – my old roommate is making six figures his second year out of college."

"Oh come on, you love this stuff. You're gonna make a great professor one day."

"Yeah, you're right. How's Emma? I gotta swing by one day, I miss it. It doesn't hurt that you guys have the best coffee on campus."

"You know it! She'd like to see you, we all would."

"You gonna be around later today?"

"Nah, I've got a date. Maybe tomorrow?"

"We'll see, I've got papers to grade - the glamorous life of a TA. Who's the unlucky girl?" He smirked up at Sam, who rolled his eyes at the good-natured teasing.

"Her name's Mercedes."

"Mercedes Jones?" He sounded incredulous.

"Yeah…why? You know her?"

"She's in one of my discussion sections. She's pretty cute and crazy smart…or at least I thought she was. She did choose to go out with you…"


"It's funny, I actually ran into her earlier today…" he looked away, a slight frown on his face. Sam was just about to inquire what that was all about when he turned back to him. "If I'd known she was gonna go out with you later, I'd have warned her."

"Thanks," Sam replied, wryly. He couldn't help but notice that Artie's heart didn't seem to be in that last jab. What could have happened with Mercedes? Beth wriggled and fidgeted at his side. He looked down at her and she pouted up at him.

"Daddy?" she used the sugary sweet voice that came when asking for something for the last time before the imminent tantrum ensued.

"I better get Princess Beth here to her dad's. But definitely come through tomorrow, it'd be fun."

"Definitely. Later, man - bye, Beth!"

Beth, however, was too busy tugging Sam forward to respond.

They soon arrived at the social sciences building – to which Beth pointed at and said "daddy" – and walked upstairs to Puck's office. Little Miss Puckerman must have been there a few times because she raced towards his office door as soon as they entered the hallway.

"Daddy!" She ran up to him and put her arms up. "UP!"

"Hey, honey!" He lifted her up to sit on his desk. "Where's Sam?"

"Right here," Sam chuckled, "she beat me to the door. You might have a little track star on your hands."

"Wouldn't be surprised, her daddy is Puckzilla, after all." He flexed impressively.

"Nationally ranked football, basketball, AND baseball player in high school AND college, I know. Give it a rest, old timer." Sam rolled his eyes and took a seat.

"As long as you're aware, grasshopper." He leaned back in his desk chair and smugly put his arms behind his head. "Your jealousy is only natur- ELIZABETH PUCKERMAN, just what do you think you're doing?" Noah's daughter looked up at him with his same big hazel eyes and her mother's dazzling smile. Sam hid a smile when he saw him soften a bit; it was good to know he wasn't the only one falling under her adorable spell.

"Helping Daddy!" Beth beamed up at her father, his red felt-tip correcting pen clutched in her chubby fist, gesturing at the "helpful" marks she scribbled on the third page of a criminal sociology paper he'd been marking. Sam chuckled quietly to himself as he watched the conflicting amusement and panic in Puck's eyes.

"Th-Thanks, honey! But daddy's gonna finish this up, okay?" He gently eased the pen from her tight grip. "Why don't you ask Sam to give you a toy from the bag?"

"Okay!" Beth motioned for her father to put her back on the ground. She toddled over to the bag and peered in. "Cookie Monster, please," she requested, primly. He handed her the fuzzy blue toy. She stared at him expectantly so he tried handing her Elmo, but she didn't want it. Sam looked at Puck for help, but he shrugged. He was about to reach for another doll when he felt her little hand on his.

"No," Beth said, rummaging around in the bag for a minute. "Cookie." She waved the plastic chocolate chip cookie that must have come with the stuffed animal. She fixed him with a side eye that was a replica of a look he'd gotten many times from her mother, and headed to the small couch to play.

"Sometimes I feel like Quinn had a little version of herself to torment me," he laughed, shaking his head. Puck chuckled.

"I hope she wasn't too much trouble. You watching her was a big help. I know it was short notice too, so thanks." Puck smiled, sheepishly. "Probably not the most fun way for a college guy to spend his Saturday, but you really came through."

"She was fine, and don't worry about it. It was a welcome distraction, actually…"

"Really?" Puck put an essay back onto the pile. "From what?"

If he was honest, the date with Mercedes had him nervous – very nervous. They were good nerves; if he were a girl, he'd probably call them butterflies, but he wasn't. It wasn't that he didn't have experience - he did. He'd dated quite a lot, in fact; rich girls, "model-esque" girls, sporty girls, smart girls, not-so-smart girls, etc. But the fact remained that there were very few, if any, that got under his skin the way Mercedes did, and certainly not so soon after meeting them. And suddenly, maybe for the first time, he was worried about impressing someone special. He knew exactly what to do, say, and buy (the most important part for a Greyson girl) for a lot of them – who to be. But when it came to Mercedes, the girl he couldn't quite figure out, the girl to whom he'd effortlessly revealed so much so soon, he was certain he couldn't be anyone but himself.

And he was scared that wouldn't be enough.

It really didn't make any sense. Sure, he knew some things about her, but they'd only really talked a few times. There was so much he didn't know; she could end up being a terrible person, or boring, or self-absorbed. But somehow, even though he didn't know exactly what to make of her, he knew that couldn't possibly be true, his rational mind be damned. Something told him pursuing her would upset all of the rules he'd lived by for years. What's more, he couldn't bring himself to care.

"There's this girl…"

"My man! High five!" Puck jumped up and offered his hand.

Sam reluctantly smiled and high fived him. "Yeah, but it's weird. See, I have a date with her tonight-"

"And…that's a problem?"

"Well, no. Obviously not." Sam quieted for a minute, searching for the words to tell him what the problem really was. "Have you ever really, I mean really liked someone-"

"Uh. Yeah.." Puck picked up his left hand and pointed to the gold wedding band, smirking, "you could say that I have."

Sam flushed. "Well, yeah. But I mean almost the second you met them. Puck…this girl, she's-" he scrubbed a hand over his face and sighed, "We're going out tonight, and I..I can't figure it out, but she's different – good different."

This wasn't the first time Sam had come to Puck for advice. Emma had outdone herself raising him, but there were some things only a man could understand. With ten years between them, Noah Puckerman was the older brother he never had, and (if he was to be believed) quite the ladies man before he got with Quinn.

Puck sat back in his chair and chuckled – not exactly the response Sam was looking for.

"What," Sam asked with a withering stare,"is so funny about anything I just said?"

He shook his head with a small smile. "Nothing, look, at the end of the day, you really like her, right?"


"And she seems to be a nice girl, cute, funny, etc.?"


"So why are you overcomplicating things? Just go out and have a good time. She likes you, or else she wouldn't have said yes and at this point that's all that matters. Jesus, Sam...be young and live a little. I know you over think stuff, but sometimes you just gotta take a breath, step back, and enjoy. Okay?"

Sam would be lying to himself if he didn't admit he felt a little silly. After all, what was the big problem? That he had a date with a girl? That he didn't know every single detail about her after a week? Thankful for the perspective, and mindful of the time, he rose to go. "You're right, thanks."

"Any time."

Sam walked over to Beth to say goodbye and she dismissed him with a cool "bye" and not so much as a glance. He supposed she didn't need him anymore, now that she had her dad…but ouch.

"I don't get a hug?"

"Okay." She hopped off the couch with a huff and hugged him quickly, racing back to her toys. Sam put his hands over his heart and shot a look of mock hurt at Puck, who just laughed.

"She's no nonsense, dude – sorry, but it's playtime." They laughed. "Have fun tonight, Sam. And who knows…different isn't always bad. I once dated a girl that was as opposite from my 'type' as could be – she kept me on my toes and I loved every minute of it."

"Wow. What happened with her?"

"Well, a few years, a couple thousand pastries, and a ring later…her," Puck smiled, pointing at the busy toddler.

She'd be happy if she never saw another math problem in her life.

Mercedes shook her head as she got up from her corner of the reading room. Calculus was no joke, and it meant that she had to spend half her Saturday cooped up on the third floor of the library. It wasn't entirely unpleasant – the room had multiple skylights and was painted in light, airy colors. It's just that she'd always thought that math was cut and dry; there was a problem, and then there was a solution – one definite answer.

And then calc came along and there were all these limits that didn't exist and lines that never quite approached their values. So much uncertainty for a subject that was supposedly rooted in the concept of an equation and its answer. The rumbling of her stomach reminded Mercedes that she had something a little higher on her priority list. She regretted not eating anything but a granola bar in the morning – if she'd known she'd be working on problem sets through lunch – and her nerves had permitted it – she would've had a proper meal.

Pushing open the heavy oak doors, she walked onto the green of campus and welcomed the brisk breeze. She was halfway to the dining hall and decided to text Tina to see where she was – she didn't like to eat alone if she didn't have to. Mercedes reached into her pocket and realized, with horror, that she forgot her phone at the library. She said a silent prayer and whirled around to run back, only to practically fall into her TA's lap.

"Oh my god!" Mercedes was mortified. "I am so sorry Artie! I'm such a klutz!"

Artie laughed, a flush creeping into his cheeks. "No problem. It's not every day a girl falls into my lap."

She wanted to die.

"Are you sure you're okay?"

"I'm fine, a-okay. Speaking of which, you aced your midterm! Your essay was insightful." He smiled, warmly.

She did a mental happy dance until she remembered the reason she almost killed him in the first place. "Thanks! But I forgot my phone in a reading room, so I have to run…" A loud buzzing noise came from her school bag. Relief and slight embarrassment flooded her system. "Or not, haha. Thank god."

"Today seems to be your day, huh?" They laughed together. "See you around." She was a few steps away when she heard him call her name. "Mercedes? I just have a quick question…"

She walked back to him. "Sure, what's up?" Artie looked a bit conflicted, and more than a little uncomfortable. "Uh-oh," she thought to herself, "this can't be good."

He nervously cleared his throat before he began. "I know this might be slightly inappropriate, but I have to ask. You're friends with Tina Cohen-Chang, right?"

Oh Lord. "Yes…"

"Is she seeing anyone, currently?"

This cannot be happening. "Not that I know of…"

"Do you think…?" Artie was red as a beet, his hands clutched nervously in his lap. "Do you think she'd ever go for me, you know, after the semester's over?" He adjusted his glasses and swallowed, hard.

Mercedes didn't know what to say without potentially revealing too much. Her mind raced with ways to gently, subtly, and effectively reply to him, the silence growing more awkward with each passing second.

"I don't know how to say this, Artie…I don't think you're quite her type. Not that you're not really smart and cool, but even though she's technically single, I think she may have her eye on someone special." She saw him crumple with each word that came out of her mouth, and she hated that she had to do this to him.

"I see…"

"I'm sorry, Artie. I just want to be honest. I think you're really great, and I respect you too much to beat around the bush about it, you know?"

He smiled weakly up at her. "I appreciate it, Mercedes. Thanks for giving it to me straight, I'll be fine. See you in class?"

"Yeah, see you-"he rolled away before she finished her sentence. She felt horrible. And hungry. Horribly hungry. She looked at her watch, it was half past two. If she hurried up and ate she could spend a few precious hours at one of her favorite spots, The Dog Ear, a used bookstore in Greyson Square. After a rushed meal she started downtown, and the twenty minute walk in the crisp air did a great deal to help clear her head.

Mercedes couldn't help the content smile that spread across her face the second she opened the weathered red door. She'd been a bookworm from the minute she could read a Dr. Seuss book on her own. The allure of being able to escape and have adventures by burying her nose between pages never faded. Even though she had an impressive library on her e-reader, there was something about the feel and smell of a book, especially an old one, that nothing could ever replace.

She nodded hello to Joe, the twenty-something, lanky, dread-head hippie that ran the place. They'd had a few discussions about their favorite works now and then, he was quite nice – not to mention easy on the eyes. Leisurely perusing the newest additions, Mercedes happened upon a well-loved, leather bound copy of The Arabian Nights. It was thick, heavy, and beautifully bound and illustrated. She knew she had to have it. The story of a courageous woman with a penchant for weaving intoxicating tales was right up her alley.

Joe smiled knowingly at her when she placed the book next to the register. "I knew you'd want it. We just got it in a couple of days ago. If you didn't come in by tomorrow, I'd have set it aside for you."

She was flattered. "You're the best!" Mercedes flashed a dazzling smile at him. "How much?"

"Twenty-five bucks. But for you? Fifteen."

"Really? That's so sweet of you!"

He grinned as he gave her a five in change. "It's nothing. I think your spot is free upstairs. Enjoy." He winked scandalously at her before turning to the next customer.

She ignored the warmth in her cheeks and headed up the winding wooden staircase that sat smack dab in the middle of the first floor. Mercedes loved the big old rocking chair in a corner of the non-fiction section. It was quiet and comfortable, the perfect place to dig into a story.

Three hours and approximately 30 Arabian nights later, she decided it was time to head back. When she stepped off the dorm elevator she found Tina sitting down the hall outside her door, typing on her phone. Mercedes felt her phone buzz in her pocket. It was Tina – "Where are you?!"

She plopped down next to her. "Here." Tina jumped and took out her earbuds, glaring.

"Dammit. Don't do that! And don't you have a date in less than two hours?!"


"Are you nervous? It's okay if you are," she said in a gentler tone.

"No, actually. I woke up today and thought I would be, but I'm much more nervous about my calc midterm on Tuesday." Mercedes unlocked her door, chuckling softly. "I'm just excited." She grinned at her friend.

Tina jumped up and practically pushed her into the room. "Good. That's how it should be. Now go shower! Did he tell you where you're going?"


"Damn. It doesn't matter, I can still work my magic. Now go!" She dove into her friend's closet.

Mercedes bit back a laugh as she gathered her shower caddy and robe. As she made her way to the showers, she felt the butterflies she'd been ignoring all day start back up. She was excited, but she was also the tiniest bit nervous – try as she might to hide it. She stepped into the spray and let the hot water melt her anxiety away.

Sam smoothed the last of the product through his golden locks and stepped back to scrutinize his image in the floor length mirror on his bathroom door. It took him a little longer than the usual five seconds to decide what to wear to dinner - longer than he'd be willing to admit. He'd settled on a crisp dark grey button up, dark wash jeans, and his lucky black leather jacket. It wasn't actually lucky - he just felt like a badass in it – still, he figured it couldn't hurt. He didn't look half bad.

He looked at his watch; it was almost a quarter to eight. He'd have to leave to get Mercedes in a minute. After one last glance in the mirror and a quick pat check for his phone and wallet, he headed down the stairs to find Santana and Sugar cleaning up.

"Closing already?" Santana looked at him and he fought his hardest not to laugh. Her expression told him that her first day with the newest hire hadn't been a picnic.

"Yup," Santana grunted.

"Long day?" Sugar nodded, meekly stealing glances at her co-worker.

"The fucking longest," his friend mumbled, darkly.

He leaned against the counter, smirking at Santana. She might as well have a cartoon storm cloud over her head, that's how terrible she was at hiding her temper. He turned to Sugar, who kept glancing warily over her shoulder while she wiped down the espresso machine. "How was the first day?"

"Great…" she answered brightly, watching as Santana ducked into the back. "Terrible. It was terrible. It's bad enough my parents made me get a stupid job, but now it's my first friggin' day and I had that dragon lady breathing down my neck the whole time!"

Sam saw the steel doors to the kitchen swing open "Um…it couldn't have been that bad, right? Santana means well…"

"Does she? Because she was being a total b-"

"Finish that sentence and don't bother coming back."

Sugar whirled around, wide-eyed and sputtering. "I'm sorry, it was just really hard and you weren't helping!"

Santana gave her a deadly, saccharine smile. "I'm reasonably human. It was your first day and you're frustrated," she began, in a sickly, venomously sweet tone. "Go home, and come back tomorrow with a better attitude, or don't come back at all, 'kay sweetcheeks?"

Sugar nodded and grabbed her bag from beneath the counter, leaving without so much as a backwards glance.


"I know, I know, play nice with the newbie," she huffed, plopping a dish towel on the counter. "It's just that even after two afternoons of training she is utterly incompetent. She fucked up an Americano - how do you mess that up?! It's literally hot water and espress- oh..." Santana trailed off and fixed her gaze over Sam's shoulder.


"Sam, you have company," she purred, eyebrow arched mischievously. He heard a knock at the door and turned around.

She was…wow.

"So are you gonna wipe that drool off your chin and let her in, or… 'cause that door is locked…"

Sam sprang into action a little too suddenly, tripping a bit in full view of both his date and his good-for-nothing snickering best friend. He opened the door and grinned down at her. "Hey," he breathed.

"Hi," she replied, equally breathless.

She looked amazing – from the way her black sweater-dress clung to her curves, to the delicious berry gloss of her lips, to the badass black leather boots. And of course, perched atop the soft waves of her hair, was a beanie.

"So are y'all gonna come inside, or…"

"Right," Sam felt a flush creep into his cheeks, "come on in." He shot Santana a warning glance which, of course, didn't faze her. "You look…stunning."

Mercedes shot him a warm, dimpled smile. "Thank you. I'll tell my floormate she did a good job." She chuckled softly, bashfully lowering her gaze.

"Yes ma'am. She did that! You look good enough to eat!"

"Santana…" Sam was going to kill her. Thankfully Mercedes laughed, loudly.

"Thanks girl! I'll pass the message along."

The slim brunette perched herself up on the counter and blew a small bubble with her gum. "So where are ya'll going-"


"Okay, okay, I'm leaving. I know when I'm not wanted. Although, they lied when they said three's a crowd." She cast a flirtatious gaze at Mercedes. "With the right people, it's a party." With a flip of her long, dark ponytail and a swish of her hips, she disappeared into the kitchen.

Sam was on the verge of popping a gasket, when he felt Mercedes looking up at him with a deliciously wry smile on her lips.

"Santana's a trip, huh?" She giggled melodically. He let out a long sigh.

"You have no idea."

"I feel like I'll find out, eventually." They laughed.

"You know," he began, "I was just on my way to come pick you up. Why'd you walk here?"

"Well that's very chivalrous of you and all," she said, teasingly, "but Tina was driving me up the wall, and it's the perfect kind of chilly outside, so I figured I'd walk over."

"Well I was gonna drive, and I still can, but would you want to walk it?"

"Where are we going?"

"Sushi at Uni, it's a nice place in Greyson Square, it's like 10 minutes from here. We could-"and then something important occurred to Sam, something he maybe should have thought about ahead of time. "Unless you're, like, allergic to fish? Oh god you are, aren't you?!"

"Actually, sushi is my third favorite thing to eat like, ever." Her eyes twinkled in amusement. "And I'd love to walk."

Sam nearly sagged in relief. He opened the door for her, and they started downtown. They fell into an easy conversation, and about a block and half into the walk, their hands brushed. It was electric – it sent a jolt up Sam's arm the same way it had when he handed her coffee the other day. That brush led to another, and another couple blocks later, they were walking hand in hand, pace slowed, savoring the verbal conversation as well as the tactile.

They were seated near the wall-long tank at Uni, which lead to some silly impressions on both their parts. Sam forgot all of the nerves he had leading up to this – he couldn't even remember why he was nervous about it in the first place. Whatever this was with Mercedes was new, but felt familiar and comfortable; it didn't have any of the usual "first date" awkwardness. He didn't care anymore that she didn't fit his rigid paradigm - he'd done an impression of a goddamn eel within the first five minutes of being seated, for fuck's sake. And she laughed, genuinely.

They talked about their days, and Mercedes cracked up at his description of his day with Beth.

"She sounds like a handful and I love it! A lot like my little sister at that age – little divas."

"Elizabeth Puckerman is a diva extraordinaire. It's her world, and we're all just living in it," he laughed.

She told him about her dentist father's melodramatic monthly lamentations of her decision to pursue a degree in English, the trip to Kenya she took the previous summer to teach EFL, that one time in fourth grade when she hung upside down off the monkey bars and exposed her Powerpuff Girls undies (Buttercup, she never lived it down), and love of all things retro.

He told her how a skinny, knock-kneed little girl defending him against some grade school bullies led to a life-long friendship, how he wanted to use his degree to be more than just a banker, how he secretly sneaks pastries up to his apartment when Quinn isn't looking, and how every time she smiles it makes him want to kiss her even more.

That last part (while true) might have slipped out after a bit of sake.

Her eyelashes fluttered, and a sexy smile spread slowly across her full lips. "Lucky for you the night's not quite over…"

Sam grabbed her hand and grazed her knuckles with a light kiss. "No, it isn't," he murmured against her soft hand. He was satisfied to see her gasp softly, her mouth dropping slightly open at the contact.

Ordering the green tea ice cream, though it was delicious, ended up being torturous for Sam. If he had to watch her pillowy lips slide over that spoon one more time, he was going to have to kiss her right there and then, chivalry be damned. As if she could read his thoughts, she offered him the last bite which he of course insisted she have.

"I couldn't!"

"You kinda have to have it. It's in the gentleman's code – subsection 57-J."

She chuckled throatily. Slowly, she scooped up the last bit and savored it, licking an errant drop off the spoon.

She was trying to kill him.

Warmed from sake and flirtation, they made their way back to campus. The walk back was very different, there was very little conversation – of the verbal sort, that is. The way he guided her out of the restaurant with his hands caressing the small of her back said quite a bit, as did the way she threaded her arm through his, gently stroking his bicep. Sam's hands may have lingered a bit when he placed his jacket on her shoulders.

Their eyes said even more; from the shy, innocent smiles to the gazes of a not-so-innocent nature. Soon they reached the courtyard outside her dorm room, and settled onto a bench, neither of quite ready to say goodnight. He wrapped his arms around her, both of them feeling a shiver that had nothing to do with the temperature. And in a moment as natural and intense as the rest of their acquaintance thus far, his lips met hers.

Later on HTMS: a bit of Mercedes perspective on the date, Santina goodness, and more.

I really hope you guys liked it. Writing this felt like catching up with an old friend.

As always, I'd love it if you took a second to leave a comment, reaction, or prediction in the reviews. They make my day!