Title: The Promise

Author: GoingVintage

Pairing: Puck and Rachel

Rating: T

Word Count: 6,500

For Puckleberry Week on Tumblr – Day seven: New York/Happy Ending

Note: So I know the theme for Day 7 of Puckleberry week is New York/Happy Ending. Shannon was kind enough to tell me that the "/" could mean "or" so here you go… it's a New York story. As for the happy ending, well…

Opening night is exactly as she imagined it would be. The applause is so loud that it's nearly deafening. Two curtain calls and a plethora of hugs from her costars means that by the time Rachel Berry makes it backstage, her skin is covered in a thin film of perspiration and her heavy stage makeup is starting to melt right off her face. When she opens the door to her dressing room, the last thing she expects is to see all of them. But they're all there. (Well, almost all.) Finn, of course, Kurt, Blaine, Sam, Quinn, Artie, Mike, Tina, Mercedes, Brittany, Santana. Even Joe, Rory, Sugar, and Mr. Schuester. They all dart toward her at the same time. She's pulled into a huge group hug full of arms, laughter, and even some tears (her own.) She can't believe they're all here. (Almost.)

After she promises everyone that she'll go out for a celebratory dinner with them and calls her fathers to tell them where to meet the large group, she kicks them all out of her dressing room and begins the arduous process of cleaning the makeup from her face. She sits at the vanity, staring at her reflection in the harsh lights. She doesn't really see her features because she's remembering a not-so-long ago summer day.

"You'll be there, won't you, Noah?"

Noah dropped down next to her on the edge of the old rickety pier that jutted out into tiny Lake Lima, bumping his shoulder with hers. "'Course I'll be there, babe. Wouldn't miss your opening night for the world."

Rachel stared out at the way the sunlight shimmered on the water. The flash was so bright that it hurt her eyes. It reminded her of the stage lights that would one day illuminate her for the entire world to adore.

"But what if it's not for many years from now? I have college first and at some point, Finn and I are getting married, which might delay my inevitable climb to stardom by a year or two."

Noah scoffed. "I'll be there, Rach. No matter when and where, I promise that I'll be there."

Pulling herself back into the present, Rachel shakes off the memory as she reaches for her makeup remover. It had only been three years since that conversation but here she is, fresh from dropping out of NYADA so that she can pursue her acting career full-time. A college degree has to wait; the stage can't.

Rachel slides the wipe over her face, revealing her dewy skin beneath the makeup. She's so happy. She really is. She can't believe this night is finally here and that they're all here. Even still, she can't help but be hurt. He said he'd be here. She honestly thought about him at one point during her performance, just knowing that he'd be out there. She feels like an idiot now because he's not there. He lied. It's very odd, she realizes, that the absence of one person affects her far more than the presence of everyone else.

Being asked to sign autographs as she comes outside is surreal. She happily signs them, of course, complete with a star beside her name, and then hails a cab so that she can meet up with everyone from Lima. As she starts to slide into the cab, she thinks she sees a flash of a familiar face in the crowd. It's just for a second, though, because when she scrutinizes the group of people standing on the street further, she accepts that they're all strangers. He's not amongst them. It's silly to think that he is.

"You were pretty good, ya know, for being a hobbit and all."

The comment is so Santana that all Rachel can do is laugh and hug her friend tightly. They're in a private room at the back of one of her favorite restaurants. Her fathers are grinning maniacally and it almost embarrasses her. Finn pulls her away from Santana, wrapping her in a huge hug that lifts her right off the floor. He kisses her soundly, whispers that he loves her, and then passes her off to Sam for yet another hug. By the time all the hugs are finished, she's crying so hard again that her mascara is tracking down her face. Blaine finally pulls her down into a chair and hands her a glass of wine, which she gleefully takes. She downs nearly the whole thing and then chases it with some ice water before looking around the room. All these faces are so dear to her. They're all staring at her expectantly and it's then she realizes that they assume she is going to give a speech. That, she can certainly handle. She stands up again and is about to open her mouth when Finn drops his arm across her shoulder and squeezes her to him as he looks out at all their friends. "We're really glad you guys are all here," he says. "And we hope you'll all be back for our wedding. I know that we've been engaged forever and that Rachel wants to wait for a little bit to get married but put it on your calendar: sometime early next year, you'll all be coming back to watch us finally get married. For real this time." He looks pointedly at Quinn. "Don't screw it up this time, Q, ok?"

An uncomfortable chuckle fills the room at the memory of the near-nuptials that were foiled their senior year thanks to Quinn's car accident. Rachel peers up at Finn, trying to gauge if he's done talking yet or not. Before she can open her mouth to thank all her friends for coming to see her (and not Finn, she thinks), the waiters pour into the room, their arms laden with platters of food. Rachel's speech has to wait.

By the time they get back to their apartment, it is well after 2am. Rachel's completely exhausted, stripping off her clothes as she heads to the bedroom. She lets Finn check to make sure all the windows are locked (it's a very important safety precaution when living in Manhattan) so she's already half-asleep by the time he crawls into the bed next to her. She lets him kiss her as she starts to drift off but his voice pierces the quiet. "Nobody knows where Puck was. San said she tried to call him a few times but just got his voicemail. She left him a couple of messages but I guess he didn't get them or he would've been here."

Or, Rachel thinks sadly right before she falls asleep, he just didn't want to come.

Rachel joins Quinn and Tina for lunch the next afternoon. The rest of the group is still in town for another day or so and she hopes to see as many of them as she can at least one more time before they all leave again. She's having a great time right until the moment Tina says, "I really wish Puck would've come."

"He said he'd be here." The words slip out of Rachel's mouth before she can stop them.

Tina lifts her head and asks, "You talked to him?"

"No," Rachel shakes her head, sighing as she stares down at her menu, trying to mask the hurt she feels, "three years ago, right before I left for New York and he left for LA, he promised me that no matter where or when my very first opening night was, he'd be here."

"Then I'm sure something serious must have come up for him not to come." A reassuring smile graces Tina's face.

Rachel snorts out a derisive laugh. "Rory flew all the way in from Dublin to be here. Joe's wife is 9 months pregnant and could go into labor at any moment. If Noah wanted to come, he'd be here."

Quinn hasn't said anything so far. When Rachel looks at her, she seems far too interested in her menu and when Rachel says her name, Quinn literally jumps, a startled look on her face. Rachel knows that look.

"Quinn, what are you hiding?" Tina asks before Rachel can.

"What?" Quinn laughs nervously. "I'm not hiding anything. I don't know what you're talking about."

Rachel puts down her menu and glares at her friend. "You're hiding something. I'm not stupid. I can read that look."

For the longest time, Quinn doesn't say a word. She sighs, fidgets in her chair, and looks around the room like she's hoping someone will rescue her. "The thing about Puck…well, it's not what you think."

Rachel furrows her brow. "Elaborate? What do you mean?"

"It's just…" Quinn slams her menu down on the table. "Dammit, I'm not supposed to say anything. I promised him I wouldn't."

"Him?" Tina asks slowly.

Quinn stares at them both before shaking her head. "Puck. He was at your show last night, Rachel. He flew in for the show but flew back out right afterward."

Rachel's face falls. On one hand, she's elated that he kept his promise. On the other, it doesn't make any sense. "Why would he leave so quickly? Why didn't he say hello, at the very least?"

Quinn sighs. "Have you talked to him at all in the past three years, Rachel? Think about it…have you?"

Quinn has a point. From the moment they all said goodbye at the end of that summer, she hasn't heard from Noah. She's talked to everyone else but Noah, it seemed, was too busy or too involved in other things or just didn't care because she never heard from him again. Blinking, she shakes her head and admits, "No, I haven't. I just assumed he had lost touch with all of us except Santana."

"Well he hasn't. I talk to him at least once a month."

Tina interrupts. "I talk to him every single time he calls Mike, which is every couple of weeks." She snaps her mouth closed when she realizes that she's not exactly being helpful.

Rachel stares at both of them, her eyes burning with unshed tears. Why has Noah cut her and Finn out of his life when he hasn't done that to anyone else? And why did he come to her show last night if he doesn't even care? None of it makes sense.

Before she says goodbye to her friends, she demands that Quinn give her Noah's current phone number. Quinn looks pained but does it anyway. When she asks Finn if he's talked to Noah, he thinks so hard she's afraid he's going to get a headache. Finally, he says that no, he hasn't heard from him in years but he figured it was just because Puck couldn't afford to call long distance. Rachel doesn't even bother trying to explain mobile phone plans to him (again.)

Rachel gets through eight more performances before she finally caves and calls Noah. She's disappointed when the call immediately goes to voicemail but her heart flutters when she hears his voice for the first time in three years. "Yo, it's Puck. You know what to do."

She sucks in a deep breath as she hears the beep and then begins, timid at first. "H-Hi, Noah, it's Rachel. Rachel Berry. I just…well…I had my first opening night a week ago and I was hoping that you'd be there." She decides to protect the secret from Quinn that he had been in attendance. "And it got me wondering why you didn't keep your promise. You swore to me that you'd be here, Noah, and considering Rory flew in from Ireland, I find very little excuse for why you weren't here." She sighs, pinches the bridge of her nose. "Anyway, I guess I'm just trying to tell you in a roundabout way that I missed you and that I wished you'd have been there. I hope you'll call me back." She rattles off her phone number then quickly disconnects the call. Her face is blooming with embarrassment; she sounded like a total idiot. Still, she hopes that he'll call. She needs answers and he's the only one that can give them to her.

After four days of her leaping for her phone every time it rings, only to be disappointed that the caller is not Noah, Rachel realizes that he's not going to call her back. Part of her wants to just forget about it – forget about him. She has her show to think about and her future with Finn to concentrate on. She can't be worrying about a man from her past that doesn't have any interest in being part of her present. Still…he showed up and that has to mean something. It's that nagging thought that dogs her. On Friday night, after she's removed her stage makeup and changed out of her costume, she dials his number again. It's only after 8pm out in California so she thinks she'll be able to catch him. When it rings this time instead of immediately going straight to voicemail, she's filled with a hope that's quickly dashed when voicemail finally picks up. She listens to his message again and as soon as it beeps, she dives in. "It's rude not to return calls, Noah Puckerman! I know you got my last message because…well…I just know. The proper and polite thing to do is to return my call. I'm not asking for a long conversation or promises that you'll come to my show. I simply want to know why you went back on your original promise. I think I deserve that much. So call me back. Okay? Bye."

Rachel ends the call, furious with how bossy and demanding she came off. But maybe, she thinks, that will finally prompt him to call.

It doesn't. And the fact that it doesn't only serves to further infuriate her. He has a lot of nerve to just ignore her like that. She gets so riled up that on Saturday, right before she leaves the apartment for her show, she shoves her phone at Finn and demands that he try to call Noah. Maybe he'll have better luck. He stares at her reluctantly before eventually shrugging and putting the phone to his ear. Rachel holds her breath and chews on her lower lip as she watches Finn's face. When he starts speaking, she's momentarily excited until she realizes that he's leaving a message. "Hey, Puck, it's me…uh…Finn. Rachel's been trying to call you, I guess, so I thought I'd try to reach you, too. Bummed that you weren't here for her show but look, me and Rach are gettin' married early next year so we hope you'll come out here for that, okay? Give either one of us a call." Finn rattles off their phone numbers, then disconnects the call and hands Rachel her phone back. She thanks him before leaving the apartment to head to work, irritated all the while. Why in the world did Finn ramble on about their wedding when they haven't even set a date?

Rachel decides to change tactics. Since calling him in the evenings isn't working, she decides that if she calls him so ungodly early, he'll have to answer, right? Even if only to yell at her for bugging him and demand that she never call again, at least she'll finally talk to him and perhaps get some answers. When she rolls out of bed on her day off, she glances at the clock. It's 4:30am in LA. The Noah she remembers is anything but a morning person. Her calling so early will enrage him. That thought makes her smile as she dials his number. It rings twice and then voicemail picks up, which means that Noah ignored her call. Blatantly. "Noah Puckerman," Rachel snips into the phone, "why are you being such a big, dumb jerk? I know you're getting the messages and I know you just ignored my call! Yes, calling you at such an early hour isn't very nice of me but dammit, you're making me angry. Call me!" She punctuates the last two words with a growl and then hangs up. She spends the rest of her day unable to shake her bad mood.

Nothing works. She leaves three more messages at random times on various days. Two times, it rings for a while before voicemail picks up but once, it rings one time and then goes to his mailbox. It's that time, when he's deliberately ignored her call for a second time, that Rachel finally admits defeat. As she listens to the same recorded greeting that she's heard nearly a dozen times now, she grapples with what to say. There are a few seconds of silence after the beep before she says anything at all but when she starts talking, she can't even hide the disappointment in her voice. "Noah, I know that you came to my show. Don't be mad at Quinn for telling me, please? It just doesn't make sense why you came all the way out here and then left again without even saying hello. Or why you won't answer or even return my calls now. I thought, once upon a time, that we were friends. I realize now that it was stupid to think that, considering you've kept in touch with everyone but Finn and me in the last three years." She clears her throat, suddenly aware that it's burning with tears. "I won't call you again. I don't know why you don't want me in your life but I accept that this is the way it is. I have no choice. Goodbye, Noah."

Rachel works hard to push thoughts of Noah from her mind. It doesn't do any good to wonder about all the what-ifs or try to make sense of questions she'll never get the answers to. She continues to pretend that nothing is bothering her and after a week, she finally feels like the heavy weight of uneasiness that's dogged her for a while is starting to lift. Still, it hurts that Noah feels the need to withhold himself from her. An explanation, any explanation, would have been nice.

After her Sunday matinee, Rachel has a few hours to kill before the evening performance. She rarely goes back home, finding that she remains in the proper mindset by sticking around the theater. She orders in dinner from her favorite Thai place, pours herself a cup of hot tea, and settles in to watch a movie on her iPad. When there's a knock on her door twenty minutes into the latest Katherine Heigl movie (which so far, she has to admit, is a total disaster), Rachel presses pause, tucks her iPad under her arm, and opens the door.

The man standing on the other side is decidedly not the Thai delivery guy. She stares at him, her mouth opening, but all she can do is blink. Noah pushes past her and into her dressing room. She stares at the empty hallway for a few seconds, trying to process why in the world Noah's here now, after weeks of ignoring her.

"Nice digs."

His voice jolts her back to reality. She whips around, shooting him a withering glare before she puts her iPad down and braces her hands on her hips. "What are you doing here?"

He seems so nonchalant when he says, "Thought I'd return your calls."

"In person?" Rachel gapes at him. "Seriously, Noah, why are you here?"

He doesn't answer because there's another knock on the door. This time, it is the delivery guy. Rachel shoves a wad of bills at him and slams the door in his face so fast that she should probably feel guilty. (He delivers to her all the time; he's such a lovely person.) She drops her food onto her vanity, then pulls a bottle of water from her mini-fridge. She's ignoring Noah completely and is quite proud of herself for doing so. He shifts from one foot to the other before she sees him plop down onto her couch as she digs around her drawer for a fork. She's not even hungry now but she understands the importance of keeping up appearances.

She roots through the bag of food and hears Noah sigh. Glancing up at him, she says, "I would offer you some food…except I don't want to."

He snorts but doesn't respond. When he gets back up to liberate one of the bottles of water from her mini-fridge, she protests. He ignores it, of course, and screws the top off, draining the small bottle in three large gulps. The lack of communication on his part is killing her. When she can stand it no more, she tosses her fork down onto the table and glowers at him. "What do you want, Noah? You don't return my calls for weeks and now you just show up? I'm tired of these games you've been playing."

While she waits for him to talk, she studies him for the first time. He looks good. Fantastic, really. He's let his hair grow out and that ludicrous mohawk he had through most of his adolescence is long-gone. He's put on some weight but all it's done is to help fill him out in certain places. He looks older, more confident. Still very handsome.

"I'm sorry about not calling you back. I wish I had an excuse for why I didn't."

Rachel swallows. "So you just ignored my calls? Why did you even bother coming to my show in the first place?"

Noah's eyes find hers. "I made a promise."

"Yes, you did," Rachel admits. "A promise I didn't even know you kept until Quinn enlightened me."

He lets out a sigh as he shrugs. "What do you want me to say, Rach?"

"The truth would be nice." She looks away. "It really hurt knowing you were ignoring my calls."

Noah takes a deep breath and stands up. He takes a few steps toward Rachel and then pauses, his gaze trained on something across the room. Rachel follows his line of sight and realizes that he's staring at a photo of her and Finn. She's wrapped up in his arms and they're both smiling for the camera. Rachel turns her attention back to Noah, staring at him quizzically. He apparently feels his eyes on her because he clears his throat and then points at the picture. "That's why I didn't tell you I was here. Or return your calls."

Rachel cocks her head. She's confused. "What? That picture?"

Noah shakes his head. "No, you and Finn." He sounds so frustrated.

"I…I don't know what you mean, Noah. I'm trying to understand you but you're not giving me enough information." Rachel's frustration is quickly growing to match Noah's now. This cat and mouse game of question and answer is making her crazier by the second.

Noah stares at the picture. An awkward silence settles between them as she waits. He opens his mouth once, starts to say something, then cuts himself off again. She watches his Adam's apple bob when he swallows. "Did you know that it took me three years and 3,000 miles to tell myself that I wasn't in love with you anymore and only fifteen seconds of seeing you on that stage to realize that I still was? Still am, I guess."

Rachel can only stare at him. Of all the answers she expected, this was not it. It wasn't even something she suspected. Her heart rate picks up, blood rushing through her veins, as she gapes at him. She has no idea what to say. He stares at her for the longest time and she sees his face go from worried to… to an emotion she can't quite define.

"See, that's why I left and why I didn't call." He points at the picture. "You're still his. After all these fucking years, you're still his. I should've stayed away, Rach. I came because I made a promise to the girl I loved and I wanted to keep that promise. I left because I still love her and still don't have a fucking chance in hell with her." He blows out a breath, swiping his palm across his forehead. "Look…just forget it. Forget I showed up today. Forget I said anything. Just go back to not calling me and I'll go back to pretending like I don't feel anything. Hell, maybe eventually, I actually won't."

He walks toward her dressing room door and she knows he's about to leave. She has to say something. Rachel! Her insides are screaming. Say something to him. Stop him. He's going to leave again! But she doesn't say a word. She doesn't know what to say. When he turns back to look at her one more time before he walks out the door, he has the same look on his face that she recognizes from earlier. This time, she realizes what it is. Pain.

Rachel gets through her evening performance even though it nearly kills her. She keeps replaying Noah's words in her head to the point where she nearly misses her cue more than once. She can't focus because she can't believe what he said. After all these years, he chooses now to tell her how he feels about her?

As she changes out of her costume for the night, Rachel replays his words again and again. She wishes she were shocked but when she thinks about things – and really scrutinize their interactions from high school – she realizes that she shouldn't be surprised at all. He's always cared about her and it was obvious. She just didn't see it. Or didn't want to see it because it conflicted with the carefully devised plans she had for herself and Finn.

Her face falls when she thinks about her fiancé. She has no idea how she's going to go home and act normal. Her entire world has just been rocked. How does one act normal after hearing a confession of love that she never expected to hear?

Finn is asleep when she gets home, thankfully. She undresses, slipping one of his McKinley t-shirts over her head, and then crawls into bed. She grabs her phone to make sure her alarm is set and that's when she sees that she has a voicemail. Glancing over at Finn, she bites her lip as she dials in and listens.

"Rachel, it's Quinn. Just talked to Puck. He feels like a total idiot. He's probably at some bar downtown right now, getting drunk off his ass. Anyway, his flight doesn't leave until tomorrow morning. He's staying at the Radisson on Lexington, room 557, in case you're interested. You may not be but I think you are. So…there's the information. Do with it what you will. Bye."

She's out of bed, pulling her clothes back on in seconds. She has no idea what she's going to say once she gets there or why she's even going at all. She just knows that she has to go. He can't go back to LA and leave things like this. She's afraid that she'll die if he does.

Rachel pauses at the bedroom door, turning to look back at Finn. He looks completely serene, obviously ignorant to the misery raging inside her. He doesn't deserve what she's about to do. He doesn't deserve for the woman he loves to be tracing halfway across Manhattan in the middle of a night to see another man. Still, she has to go so before she can allow her guilt to freeze her in her spot, she darts out the door.

It doesn't take long to hail a cab and make her way to the hotel. She bypasses the front desk and makes a beeline for the elevator, impatiently waiting for the thing to get to the lobby. The ride up to Noah's floor takes even longer. The entire time, Rachel's heart is pounding out an erratic beat in her chest. She still hasn't thought of a single thing to say, still has no clue why she's so compelled to do this. All she knows is that she can't let Noah go back to LA without talking to him again.

When the elevator dings, the doors don't open for a few seconds. Rachel nearly claws them open, her impatience making her heart throb loudly and her breathing get all uneven. As soon as the doors finally glide open, she stumbles out into the hall, her head darting left and then right. She sees his room down the hall a few doors, nearly sighing with relief. She raps on it, her nerves completely frazzled. When there's no answer, she knocks louder. What if he really is downtown getting drunk? She'll wait if she has to. The door finally opens a crack and she sees Noah's eyeball staring at her. She hears him swear before the door widens enough for her to come through. She breezes past him and into the darkened room.

The television is on, casting the room in a flickering blue and grey hue. The queen-sized bed is messy, the comforter half hanging off. She feels Noah behind her and her spine stiffens. She can smell him; he smells the same as he always did. He brushes past her and she notices for the first time that he's just wearing a pair of boxer briefs. She turns her head away as she hears him slide into a pair of jeans. When the bedsprings creak, she faces him again.

"What do you want, Rachel? It's the middle of the night and I have a fucking headache."

This is the time for her to figure out what she's going to say. He's looking at her and his face is so angry that she wants to reach out and caress him, maybe run her fingers along his jaw until the tension eases. She's got so much inside of her that she needs to get it so she knows she really needs to start talking.

She starts crying instead. At first, it's just one tear, but that one is quickly followed by another and then another until she's completely sobbing. She hears Noah mutter "Goddammit" under his breath before he shoves a tissue into her hand. She stares at him, sees the concern that's written all over his face, and starts crying harder. Her legs feel like they're about to give out so she falls onto his bed, a pathetic cry leaving her lips.

Noah paces in front of her, periodically shaking his head and swearing under his breath. He eventually stops in front of her, dropping to his knees so that he can look her in the eyes. Tears are still leaking from her eyes but when he puts his hands on either side of her hips, she reaches her hand out and finally touches his face. "I'm sorry," she whispers.

"For what?" His voice is gruff but she can't tell if it's from emotion or sleep.

"I..I…I don't know!" she wails, fresh tears pouring from her eyes.

Noah sighs and moves his hand to cradle her hip. His skin is so hot that she can feel it through her pants. All of her feels so cold and his body is simply radiating heat. Without thinking, she winds her arms around him, pressing her head against his collarbone. Her lips accidentally brush against his skin and she feels him stiffen. She jerks away, wiping at her eyes and glancing over his shoulder at the TV.

They sit that way for a few minutes before he moves away again. She immediately misses his warmth.

"You okay now?" he asks.

"I think so," she says uneasily.

"Okay then… so why are you here?"

Rachel stares at her hands. "I don't know. I just had to see you. I can't stop thinking about what you said and it's not supposed to affect me like it has but it has and I can't help it." She raises her head and meets his eyes. "Why didn't you ever tell me, Noah? Why?"

"Because of Finn. Because no matter how I feel, Finn's always in the way. I'm not stupid enough to go after a girl that doesn't give a shit about me, either, or maybe I would've said something before now. I just always figured there wasn't a point."

Rachel doesn't answer because she can't. Noah seems to realize this. He heaves a heavy sigh and moves away from her, across the room to the window. He pushes back the curtains and stares out at the dark Manhattan night. "I used to imagine that you'd break up with Finn not long after you got here and then, once I knew you were single, I'd move here. I never thought you and Finn would stay together because frankly, your relationship is so fucked-up and one-sided that it's ridiculous. But every time I talked to San or Q or Mike, they confirmed that you two were still together. I finally realized that you weren't breaking up any time soon, and now you're getting married. I guess I just wanted to tell you before it was too late."

"I don't know what you want me to say, Noah," Rachel says softly. She's so conflicted, so torn up inside.

Noah's shoulders droop but he doesn't turn around. "There's nothing to say, Rachel, other than goodbye. I'm going back to LA, you're getting married, and that's that." He turns around as he slides his hands into his pockets. His jeans are unzipped and Rachel can see way, way too much skin. She glances away before staring back down at her fingers. "I shouldn't have come. I'm sorry I did. It won't happen again."

Rachel starts crying again as she lifts her head to stare at him. "So that's it?"

Letting out a bitter laugh, Noah's eyes drift over her face. "I'm at your fucking mercy, Rach. I showed up like a fucking d-bag and told you my biggest secret. I don't expect you to say you loved me back. You've never loved anybody but Finn." Noah walks over to her, bending to grasp her wrist. Rachel gasps at the heat of his hand as it touches her. She lets him pull her up but when she realizes he's guiding her toward the door, she tries to jerk her hand away. He doesn't let go. "Leave, Rachel. Go back to Finn. I'll be outta here in the morning and then we can both forget this ever happened." He reaches around her and pulls open the door before nudging her into the hallway. Before she can even turn around, he closes the door. She hears the chain slide, effectively shutting her out for good.

Her chest hurts so much that she can't breathe as she blindly makes her way back to the elevator. She cries all the way to the lobby, which, thankfully, is totally deserted. Instead of stepping out into the night to hail a cab, she flops down into an overstuffed chair by an ugly, fake tree in the corner. She uses the sleeve of her jacket to wipe at her eyes. She's just trying to get her breathing under control and then she'll go home. She's surprised that Finn hasn't woken up yet, realized that she's not home, and called her in a panic.

She sits there for a while longer, until her breathing eventually evens out and her tears finally cease. The clock in the lobby tells her that it's nearly 3am now. She knows she needs to get home and get into bed but she keeps thinking about Noah. He's always affected her in a way that she can't explain. From the time he first threw a slushy in her face freshman year to the promise he made her at the end of their final summer, she's always been drawn to him. It's magnetic, she thinks. Over the last three years, she's thought about him off and on but she realizes, regretfully so, that Noah's right. It's always about Finn. It always has been about Finn with her. She thought she finally had everything, though – with her show and her wedding coming up, she's managed to snag her dream while keeping things with Finn exactly like they've been since she was just fifteen.

Rachel's so lost in thought that she almost misses the elevator opening and Noah stepping into the lobby. He's dressed now, his duffel bag thrown over his shoulder. She watches him go to the front desk and realizes that he's checking out. His flight can't possibly be leaving this early, can it?

She continues to watch him until he slides his wallet into his back pocket and turns toward the door. He stops in his tracks when he sees her in the corner. She hears him mutter a swear from all the way across the quiet lobby. She's out of her chair and walking toward him just a nanosecond later.

"You're leaving now?"

"Moved up my flight." He looks away. "I'm ready to go home. Why aren't you home, by the way?"

"I don't know."

"That seems to be your answer a lot tonight, huh?" He meets her eyes and she doesn't miss the sadness in them. It makes her ache all over and feel like her throat is clogged.

"I'm sorry, Noah."

"Stop fucking saying that!" He takes a few steps away from her, moving closer to the door. Panic wells up inside her because she knows he's going to leave and she knows – she knows without a doubt – that once he walks out that door, she'll never see him again. She can't stand the thought. It was one thing when she thought his life was just so busy that he didn't have time for her. It's a whole completely different thing knowing that he's staying away because she keeps breaking his heart. Repeatedly.

"Noah, please," she tries to reason, "don't leave like this. It's not fair for you to drop this huge bomb on me and then walk out of my life before I've been given time to process it!"

His sadness seems to flare into anger. "Is it going to change anything? Because if I thought it would, I'd never leave, Rachel. I'd stay here and do every damn thing I could to finally make you mine. I know the answer, though, so I'm going." He moves toward her, standing so close that they can feel their breath on one another's faces. Finally, he leans in and brushes his lips over her cheek. "Goodbye, Rachel."

He's through the door by the time she realizes that the voice inside her head (and maybe her heart) is shouting for him to stay.

A/N (May 19, 2012) - as you may have noticed, I took the second chapter of this fic down and marked it complete. I'm leaving it as a one-shot and calling it done. Why? The show has completely destroyed Rachel Berry as a character that I can root for and in all honesty, she doesn't deserve Puck. It's just really hard for me to write fic these days. It's not fun anymore and when it feels like it's this much of a chore, it's time to walk away. Anyway, I apologize to you all who put this on alert and who expected the story to continue. I hate to disappoint everyone; I hope you'll forgive me.