a/n: this is so different from anything i've ever done and i don't know how i feel about it, to be honest. i tried to make it as accurate and realistic as i could, so. please leave no hate! warning: character death! dedicated to rachel of course.
When Noah Puckerman spilled a cup of coffee down her gorgeous ivory blouse on her first day of classes at (the) Ohio State University, she'd expected to have found (another) nemesis for life. Especially when he'd muttered that it looks better like this anyways before stalking off. Misogynists are not her type, thank you very much.
Yet like some sort of cosmic intervention (according to Mercedes, at least), she kept running into him until finally, they wound up kissing at a party.
It's easy. Dating Noah, of course. Easy, because he makes her laugh, helps her loosen up a little (you're in college, Rachel), understands her Jewish heritage. She finds a synagogue and they attend weekly, much to Noah's displeasure. But after a while, he likes the routine, and he'll even take her hand during the service, which makes her smile, honestly.
Noah is fun, as Daddy tells her, a good college sweetheart, but he doesn't say good husband material, not that Daddy has ever said anything like that before. He's a little protective. But Papa loves Noah, and she does, too, and he loves her back, so when he proposes in the fall of their senior year of college, she says yes. Once he slips the ring on her finger, he kisses her and tells her he loves her and the evening is lost in the space between their mouths, their bodies.
The next full sentence he tells her is, "I'm enlisting in the army."
She might have passed out a little upon hearing his post-graduation plans. And she might have thrown her hairbrush at his stupid Mohakwed head, and she may have curled into a ball on their bed and cried herself to sleep, but eventually, she's fine.
As fine as she can be, considering.
"Rachel, I know you're mad," Noah says, grabbing her hand. "But, like…it's what I'm supposed to do. Y'know? I'm not gonna make anything of myself with a fucking sociology major. You know that, I know that, hell, my fucking advisor knew that. I did my mom her favor, I went to college, now it's my turn."
"I understand," she responds. She slips her fingers into his. They flex and squeeze hers. "And obviously, I respect your choices."
She sighs. "But?"
"But I'm still going to worry, Noah. You'll be in the army, across the ocean, maybe." Her lips shake as she pulls air into her mouth. "I might lose you."
"Yeah," he agrees, running a hand over his head. "But there's a risk to lose me when I get in the car, or like, walk by the bad parts of Columbus. You know?"
He lifts one hand to squeeze the apple of her cheek softly. "Still wanna marry me?"
She presses her mouth on his. "Yes."
Daddy and Papa are not pleased when she visits them at their house in Lima to tell them that yes, she is getting married this young, and yes, she is marrying Noah. She doesn't even get to tell them about the whole army thing before they're lecturing her about the merits of staying single. Part of her supposes they're just being overprotective dads, but another separate part suspects they have higher standards for her.
She wonders if she does, too, before she pushes that way, deep down inside. She loves Noah. Honestly. And the ring that sits on her finger is not heavy, but a comfort, something reminding her that someone loves her that much, to keep her around for the entirety of their lives.
"Princess, it isn't that we dislike Noah," Papa continues, and she funnels back into the present.
"Yes," Daddy chimes in. "He's a nice Jewish boy. But—what was his major, anyway, Hiram?"
"Sociology," Rachel cuts in. "But, Papa, Daddy, he's—" She breaks off with a dramatic sigh, wishing Noah weren't visiting a friend from high school so he could be the one to talk to her parents. "He's decided to join the army."
They're silent, then, jaws slightly ajar, frozen in place like photographs. "He—well. That's very honorable," Papa says, "Isn't it, Leroy?"
Daddy purses his lips, and his jaw clenches, and she knows he's grinding his teeth. Briefly, she remembers flashes of a memory of cuddling up to her dads in the middle of a storm, hearing Daddy's teeth grinding as she flitted in and out of sleep, scooped up, safe, between them.
"It's—it's going to be hard," she says slowly, "but we can do it. I love him."
"You're barely twenty-one," Papa says, voice soft as his hand curls around her shoulder.
"I'm turning twenty-three in December," she reminds him. "I can do this. I know I can. It feels—good."
"Good?" She nods. Papa shares a glance with Daddy before nodding once.
"What can we do but accept it, pumpkin? We love you. We'll get to love Noah."
She tosses her arms around the both of them, sloppy, a little out of control, but they catch her, and she swears it's going to be perfect.
Noah texts her a little later to pick him up at some dive bar in Lima. She hugs her dads goodbye and hops in the car, the little Prius she and Noah somehow manage to share. More often than not, she's the one driving it, because according to Noah, it's really fucking girly and small. Whatever. She likes driving the little car, anyways.
It's barely six in the evening and already the bar's fairly crowded as she steps inside to find Noah, who will not answer her calls. Typical, of course, as his phone is dutifully on silent, no matter how many times she nags him to keep it on ring. He never listens, just nods his head along with her rant, and then distracts her.
She squeezes her purse to her side and squints through the haze of cigarette smoke, trying to find her fiancé's head, but finds there are a few more Mohawks than expected scattered among the bar patrons. Finally, she spots him in a back corner, sitting at a table with a tall, broad man she doesn't recognize.
"Noah," she calls, and his head swivels to her at the sound of her voice. He smiles at her and motions for her to stand beside him. When she sidles up beside him, he kisses her on the cheek, and he smells like stale beer and peanuts, but she knows from his steady voice and clear gaze that he isn't drunk, or even tipsy.
"Rachel, this is Finn Hudson. Hudson, this is my fiancée, Rachel Berry," Noah introduces as Rachel sticks her hand out for him to shake.
His grip is firm, steady, hands a little rough and calloused. "A pleasure to meet you," she says, meeting his warm, amber gaze. "How do you know Noah?"
"High school," Noah interjects, pressing his hand carefully over her wrist. She smiles at him. "Hudson's in the navy."
"Oh, really?" Finn nods.
"Yes, ma'am." He smiles a little wryly as her voice lilts over his don't call me ma'am I'm your age. "Old habits die hard. Sorry, miss."
"Yeah, Hudson," Noah agrees, "my old lady ain't old, you hear me?"
Finn holds up his hands, and she decides she likes him. He's got an easy smile, and a sweet politeness about him. "Sorry, sorry."
"Hudson here just returned from his first tour of duty."
"Really?" She lifts her brows, stares at his skin, which she supposes is tan for him, and he nods. "How long were you gone?"
Noah's pressed his hand between her shoulder blades, and she leans into him. "Just twelve months."
"I thought you two went to high school together?"
"Nah. When I was a freshman at McKinley, Finn had already graduated and was helping around at the football field before headin' out to Annapolis."
"That's very honorable, Finn." A blush spreads across his face, and she really does like him. "Noah, we really must be going."
He sighs. "Yeah, yeah. See you tomorrow, right, Hudson?"
"Affirmative." Finn smiles at her. "Nice to meet you, Miss Berry."
She smiles back, waves, and follows Noah out of the bar.
Two weeks before the wedding, they move into a pretty two-bedroom house in Lima. Her dads are ecstatic to have her back in their hometown, and Noah's glad, too. She always, always, always laughs at the irony that she's marrying a boy from her hometown she never even knew, as she'd attended a prep school two towns over for high school.
Finn stops by on the afternoon they move in, with a bottle of Merlot in his hand. Seeing him clearly in the waning afternoon light as compared to the dark, smokiness of that bar, she realizes just how handsome he is.
"Hello, Finn," she calls as he climbs the porch steps. She's swinging on the porch swing, book opened in her lap. "Noah is inside."
Finn nods dutifully, lips curled in that nice, easy smile, and he turns the knob and steps inside. Once he's gone from her sight, she's drawn back into her novel, all thoughts of Finn dissolved until she hears laughter and shouting from inside, and with a sigh, she closes her book and joins the boys inside.
As spectacular and refreshing as her personality is, Rachel doesn't have very many friends. Really, it's just Noah—and Finn, she supposes—and her two roommates from OSU, Quinn and Tina. And yes, okay, she's had many transient friends over the year, but they're the only two who really stuck, and she's happy having them stand beside her at her wedding. Noah, of course, has his brother and Finn opposite them.
Rachel teaches music at the local elementary school, teaching first through eighth graders how to sing and play a recorder (much to her displeasure) and how to read music (slightly). It pays surprisingly well, and is satisfying, despite those late night pangs that remind her she should be in New York, on Broadway, singing to a packed theater every single night.
Some dreams just aren't meant to take root from their loose roots in the ground.
It's hot on their wedding day. Sweltering, really, with humidity that feels like it seeps into her pores and fills them with water, and it's an unpleasant feeling, this bloating thing, but she supposes—she supposes she'll just have to deal with it. No use postponing a wedding over a little humidity.
Besides, the ceremony is inside. Her hair will hold up.
She thinks that, no matter the weather, today will be perfect. After all, she's marrying Noah.
Papa knocks on the door of her bride room moments before she's set to walk down the aisle. He looks handsome, in his pressed, gray suit and blue tie.
"Hi, Papa," she says, smiling at him through the mirror.
"You look beautiful, darling," he says, stepping beside her and pressing his hand on her shoulder. "The girls are all lined up. All that's left is you."
She nods, stares at herself one last time, and allows her lips to curl as she threads her arm through his. "I'm ready."
"Yes, Papa. I love him."
Her heart keeps its steady beat as her bridesmaids make their way inside the synagogue, and within moments, she's inside too, feet steady with her heart on her ribcage. Her stomach swoops when she meets Noah's sweet, loving gaze, and he isn't crying like in all her schoolgirl daydreams, and she isn't either, but his smile never wavers.
Before she knows it, Papa and Daddy kiss her on her cheeks simultaneously, put both her hands in Noah's, and they face the rabbi. And the ceremony is fast, honestly, in what feels like minutes, she's married—married!—to Noah Puckerman. Her college sweetheart.
He kisses her soundly amidst the cheers, smashes the glass with his arm wound around her waist, and they make their way out of the synagogue.
The rest of the day seems to fly by, through hurried congratulations and many, many hugs and Noah's soft kisses and knee squeezes, and she feels so, so happy.
They have two months before Noah is shipped off to basic, and most of those months are spent between the sheets of their bed, or sitting beside one another on the couch, palms flat, fingers intertwined. She breathes in as much of him as he'll let her, savoring what she can get, tucking every memory into the back of her mind for when he's gone.
Finn comes over sometimes, too, for dinner once a week on Sundays, and sometimes just to spend an afternoon with Noah. She likes having him around, he's funny and so, so intelligent—kind, too. Noah always laughs 'till tears run down his cheeks when he's around, and she likes seeing her—her husband this happy, especially before he has to go to basic.
The evening before he leaves, it storms. They invite all their friends—Quinn, Tina, Finn, a few of Noah's friends from high school—over for dinner, and it storms so hard the windows shake. But the night is nice, for a goodbye dinner, at least.
Later, when it's just her and Noah curled on the bed, thunder still rattling the shutters, Noah turns to her and asks, in the softest voice she's heard from him, "Will you shave my head for me?"
She cups his face in her hands when she finishes and kisses his worried brow. "Don't be so scared, Noah."
He sighs. ""m not scared."
"It's okay to admit to it." Noah sighs again. "I'm scared."
"You shouldn't have married me."
"Noah Puckerman! You stop that this instant. I married you, I love you, and absolutely nothing makes me happier. Okay?"
She wraps her arms around his head, pulling him against her stomach, and he nods minutely. "Yeah, yeah. Okay, munchkin."
He pauses once he stands up, takes her face in his hands. "You know I love you, right?"
"Yes, Noah. Of course." He rests his forehead against hers.
"Good. And now, bed."
At the bus stop the next morning, Noah tugs her hard against him. "You be good, huh?"
She laughs, pushes against him slightly, straightens his shirt. Always so disheveled. "You too, okay? I'll really miss you. And I love you."
He kisses her again, hugs her close, and boards the bus. She feels Finn's hand close over her shoulder, Papa's arm wind around her waist, her mother-in-law press her thin fingers against hers, and she wiggles the fingers on her free hand at him as he presses his hand against the window, mouths I love you to him and doesn't stop staring until the bus is far, far down the road.
Rachel quite thoroughly does her research on the merits and downfalls of being an army wife. There aren't many merits, honestly, and she misses Noah every single day. After getting so used to waking up next to him, the bed feels like it's nearly going to swallow her. The kitchen table becomes a banquet table, the couch too long and the bath too wide.
She imagines him in every spot, the porch swing, the patio out back, beside her on the couch as she watches The Bachelorette. Oh, she misses him, and her heart aches for him, but after her weekend of wallowing, she straightens her jaw and steels herself against every ache she has for her soldier.
It's easy while he's in training. He can call her sometimes, and the letters are frequent. Brief, but frequent. She writes him novel-length letters, but she figures it's only because he hasn't got the time like she does. It is summer, after all, though the days are winding down and she's already heading up to a teacher store to buy her supplies for the year.
She manages to keep busy. She begins plans for a vegetable garden for the spring, plans all her lessons thoroughly, and, of course, tries out many recipes. She becomes a vegan for a week before deciding it's a little too expensive for her right now, and cuts out meat products only.
Finn even visits her twice. He's always so polite, and she's finally managed to convince him to call her by her first name.
She decides to ask him about it one afternoon as she makes a pot of tea. "If you don't mind my asking, Finn…why are you so polite?" Her words blurt from her mouth and it is so not polite.
But he laughs kindly, running one hand over his hair as he ducks his head. His cheeks are bright, pink, and he looks so boyish in that moment. "I dunno. It was instilled in me by my mom as she raised me, and so on through my participation in the Navy, of course."
"It's very, very refreshing." The kettle whistles. "Tea, Finn?"
"One cup's fine. D'you have any sugar?"
"Yes, yes." She sits across from him after placing a mug embellished with I (HEART) NY on it. He smiles at the mug as he presses the edge of it to his mouth. "Do you?"
"Do I what?"
He rolls his eyes. She does not appreciate that! "Love New York, silly!"
"Oh, oh." She closes her eyes tightly, remembers a hollow black word on ivory stationary reject, apologies all around, but she brings herself back into focus. "Yes, of course. Why would I keep that mug if I didn't?"
"Because it's kitschy."
"I suppose, if you're a mug collector." He laughs, and as she always is, she's struck by how easy it comes from his mouth. "When do you head back?"
He understands her vagueness. "Soon."
She realizes she doesn't know that much about Finn, and she wants to know more. For some reason, she's drawn to him, and she supposes it's because he's so close to her husband and is also involved in the military. "Is it—Finn, may I ask you a personal question?"
"Why'd you join the navy?" He lifts his brows. "I mean, I just—"
"My dad was in the army and—and he died. And all my life, I've wanted to make him proud, make my mom proud. And I felt like this was the best way how."
"Well, I'm sure they're both very proud of you, Finn."
His cheeks turn that nice pink color again as he answers, "Well, I sure hope so."
Noah comes back on a Wednesday, unbeknownst to her. She simply wakes up beside him, falls back asleep, before realizing. "Noah! You're home!"
He's so different, broader, somehow, definitely stronger. His hair has grown a little, and he hasn't even shaved it into his Mohawk just yet. Noah looks—he looks older. Wiser. "I'm home."
She hugs him tight, feels his arms strong and sure around her, hears his heartbeat for the first time in two months, feels him…react to her.
"Hello, soldier," she teases, and he growls, flips her onto her back and smothers her in kisses.
Noah is barely home two months before he's already being shipped overseas, deployed just six months into the year, just before Hanukkah. She hates the army, the government, for taking him from her. She hates him, she hates her. She hates everyone.
"Princess, you mustn't let this ruin your holiday," Papa chides, sliding his arm around her on the couch in his living room. They've invited her over to celebrate the holiday, but it doesn't feel much like Hanukkah without him. She'd imagined their first holiday as a married couple to be intimate, special, but instead, he's overseas with the military, and from his letters, she knows he loves it so much.
Finn's gone, too, so there's no extra visits to brighten up her week even a little. Noah manages to Skype her a few times, though the connection is absolutely horrible. She has half a mind to send a complaint to the government, but once her pen hits the d in dear, she realizes how fruitless that would be. Instead, she sends another letter to Noah, though his have been coming fewer and farther between.
Just as she'd feared, he's coming to love the army as much as (if not more) than her. She's selfish enough to be mad at him, mad at the war, mad at the President. Really, though, she's mad at herself, for agreeing to marry a man she knew would be gone the moment he stepped foot on foreign soil, and at Noah, too. He never prepared her for this.
One cold day in February, she finds a letter from Finn, and it makes her smile, though it really shouldn't.
I hope you don't mind my sending you this letter. I just don't have many people to write to, you know? Like, I've got my mom and stepbrother, and that's it. It'd be nice to get something out to someone besides them.
I don't really wanna talk about me, so tell me about you. Puck—Noah, I mean, wrote me a letter a few weeks ago, and he seems to really be taking to this whole army thing. Congratulations to him, and to you, I suppose. You should be real proud.
How's your class? How's Lima? Write me back, if you can.
His letter is sweet, and she can nearly imagine the lilt of his voice saying the words aloud to her, and it makes her smile, this thoughtful, kind man. Only thinking of others, really.
So she writes him back, a simple explanation of her class, her holidays, asks him how his holidays overseas went, keeps it short and simple.
She doesn't even mention Noah in the page and a half long letter.
She's so proud of Noah, she is, but she's selfish, too. She wants him with her, wants him to be proud of her, too.
She misses him so much more now than ever before. Army Wives didn't quite prepare her for this in the way she'd hoped, and she supposes each bit of this pain is unique.
Her heart is split, torn between being happy that he's happy, and hating that he's happy. Rachel will never admit this to anyone, but she feels—she feels cheated on. And it hurts, of course, but it fills her with this fury that sort of just simmers inside of her, and it'll never, ever be released.
On Valentine's Day, her first graders sing songs for her and bring her little cards asking her to be theirs, and they're all so cute and sweet she nearly cries. At home, she folds out the cards so they all stand proud on her nightstand.
She curls up on her couch with a novel when she sees the mail man pause by her mailbox before moving onto the next house. Happily, she pulls on snow boots and stomps through the snow. She's expecting a new issue of her favorite Broadway gossip magazine, but there's no magazine in the stack of white.
Although, she does see a sliver of pink that makes her heart race. It must be from Noah, really. Who else would send her something pink? Who else knows it's her favorite color?
But the envelope with Noah's scrawl covered in it is not pink but plain white, and she tears it open, reads of his love and devotion, how he misses her, and she misses him so, so much she can nearly feel his kiss on the nape of her neck. So vivid is the feeling that she glances behind her, despite knowing very well that Noah is nowhere to be found.
She tries to keep the pink envelope in the pile with the others, bills, credit card offers, all to be read later, but it keeps catching her eye, so she tears it open.
Finn, of course. It's a simple card, white with a big red heart on the front, and the inside is blank. His handwriting is slightly boyish, but clear, something she marvels over in every note. Noah writes in very neat calligraphy and cursive, masculine, of course, but his writing is clearer than hers, and she always, always, always teases him about it.
Happy V-Day. Hope Lima treats you how you deserve! Missing your cookies (and you).
Short and simple, and she really likes how to the point it is. It adheres very clearly to Finn's personality, and she always appreciates his honesty. Her heart does this little flutter upon reading his yours, Finn, and the stirring beside her sternum makes her stomach drop, and she supposes these feelings are simply due to the large latte she'd imbibed just hours ago.
She reads Noah's letter three times before bed. And just before her subconscious completely drags her down, she pulls out Finn's card and reads it, fingers tracing over the marks in the paper made by ballpoint pen.
It's the last thing in her head when she falls asleep, that dizzying yours dancing all over her closed eyelids.
Noah comes home for their very first anniversary, a brief reprieve from his extended deployment. She's so happy to see him she cries, her tears soaking into his tanned neck. He's different, of course, even more so than when he came home from basic.
"I missed you," she tells him. He puts her down and kisses her forehead, then her lips, right there in the middle of the airport.
"I missed you, munchkin."
She nuzzles her forehead against his cheek and steps out of his embrace. "Papa and Daddy have the car stalled out front, Noah. Let's go grab your luggage and—"
"Rachel, this is all my luggage," he says, shrugging the shoulder that an army green duffel bag is tossed over.
"Oh, right. Right."
"Let's go—let's get in the car, 'kay?" She nods and he slings his arm over her shoulder, pulling her to him, and she's missed his heady, clean smell and the familiar weight of his arm on her shoulders.
And of course he's different. Stronger, leaner, lines in his face and body harder, and he talks about the army with a renewed light in his eyes. Later, when they're curled beneath the sheets of their bed, facing but not quite touching, she presses her index finger over each new hardened plane of his body.
"You really love it, don't you?"
"Love what?" His eyes are half-closed, heavy lidded, and she knows he's seconds away from succumbing to the exhaustion that draws his eyes down.
He sighs, presses his hand against her cheek, and it's rough, calloused, and somehow still familiar. Still Noah. She smiles, nuzzles a little into his hand. As a couple, they've never been much into cuddling but for after sex and occasional nights. "I do," he confesses, "I really love it. It's like what I was meant to do, or somethin'. I dunno."
"I'm—I'm happy for you. Really, Noah." As much as it may hurt being away from him, watching him fall more in love with his work than he ever did with her, she's truly happy he's happy. She supposes that means they're in a healthy relationship, and puts a gold star beside all the thoughts that swim in her head.
"Love you," he murmurs, a bit of an afterthought once they've already rolled onto separate pillows.
She repeats the sentiment in kind.
Papa and Daddy stop over for a goodbye lunch the next day, their anniversary. Noah's got a ten pm flight today, so she's very sad. Daddy tries to get her to sing a few bars of Sinatra with him, but it's fruitless. She's got this aching, clawing sadness in her gut that she can't seem to get rid of.
"Don't be sad," Noah reminds her, pouring her a glass of white wine. She shrugs and thanks him, fingers winding around the stem of the glass tightly.
"Shall we toast?" Daddy says, standing as soon as Noah's finished filling all their wine glasses. Rachel meets Noah's gaze, feels him place his hand on her knee as her daddy stands. "To Noah, may he serve our country faithfully and fruitfully, and may the good Lord watch over him. Noah, gay ga zinta hate."
It's almost better, this time. Easier to be without him since she's used to it and all, and it's much like the first time: letters scattered from Noah and Finn, too. Her garden flourishes especially in the last weeks of the summer, and she'll miss devoting her time to it, but school starts again, and like clockwork, she's buried in lesson plans and new, refreshing ideas.
This year, the school has asked her to use her elementary education degree and she has her own classroom. When she tells Noah in her letter, he's excited—or, she imagines. It's hard to really capture a tone in ink and paper, but she knows he'd be happy for her. She decides to tell Finn, too, and he responds in similar congratulations.
The letters are few and far between by November and completely halted by December. She assumes he's on a mission, determined to be positive, glass half-full, and she doesn't belay her worries to Finn, who has, like her husband, extended his deployment another six months.
She's lonely, and in a fit of loneliness buys a little brown dog. Well, more like adopts from her local APL. Who can blame her, really? She's an army wife, after all, and her friends have moved farther east than she can manage to visit, what with work and whatnot. She picks up a volunteer job at the hospital, but that fixes nothing, especially when she comes home to an empty house.
Plus, the puppy she adopts was rescued from a puppy mill. Who can blame her, really! And he's so cute and clumsy, this little brown puppy with his white chest and belly, and he reminds her instantly of a butler, and so she names him Wadsworth.
Because she's received no news from Noah, and her letters sent to his previous address come back unopened, she assumes he's moved. It keeps her up at night, the worry, and Wadsworth knows, of course. He's always whimpering and pushing his nose against her hand as she rolls back and forth on the bed, unable to keep her heart from breaking or her tears from falling.
Volunteering at the hospital, she meets Finn's mother, who is a part-time nurse there. "Oh, you're Noah's wife! I've heard so much about you."
"Well, it's a pleasure to met you, Mrs. Hummel."
"Please, sweetie, call me Carole."
"Finn's a very good man," she tells him conversationally, "you should be so proud."
"I am, it's just—well, you know. The worry."
Rachel shudders. Delicately, she hopes, as she's working on her different types of shudders. So far, she's got terrified, disgusted, and now, hopefully, delicate. She is an actress at heart, after all. Or so she hopes. Just because she's got her dreams on the backburner doesn't make them obsolete, right?
So she keeps her chin up. Waits for letters from her husband that will never come, reads Finn's descriptions of life at sea, or wherever he is, and enjoys dividing her time between volunteering and working and playing with Wadsworth.
Her heartaches, but that's not to say she's unhappy. The contrary, actually. She refuses to be saddened by her husband's absence any more than is necessary. She will not wallow, she will not bury her feelings in food, she will simply go on with her life. For now, she's just going to miss him.
The news comes on a Wednesday. It's snowing outside, and she's curled on the couch with Wadsworth knitting a scarf for Quinn for her birthday, and there's a knock at the door. She isn't expecting anyone, so she supposes it must be Mr. Sanders next door, looking to shovel her drive. He knows she's alone, and his wife always invites her over for dinner, which she politely declines. It hurts, really, seeing happy couples when she misses her husband so much.
There's a second knock. Her footsteps are soft, echoing in her ears as she steps towards the door. Because it's Lima, she doesn't bother looking through the peephole and swings open the door.
Standing before her, shoulders lightly dusted in the falling snow, are two men wearing military coats. Somehow, she knows what they're going to say before they lift their somber expressions to address her, and she falls onto the doorframe for support.
"Mrs. Puckerman?" She can only nod. "We're sorry to inform you that your husband, Noah Puckerman, was killed in active duty."
Her stomach just sort of—it sort of drops. And the pain, of course, stabs her like a knife and she can barely remember what she says to these two men before she's closing the door and stepping back inside her house—their house. It feels like the part of her heart she'd given to Noah has been torn out, wound left ragged and pulsing. She's faintly conscious of the dog rushing to her side as she collapses on her bed, and she feels numb, so numb.
After hours of lying there in the dark, feeling the cold press all around her, and oddly, she remembers she didn't remember to turn the heat on, but can barely manage to slip beneath the covers of her (their) bed, let alone get up and turn the thermostat on.
Rachel fades in and out of sleep, finds her pillow soaked in tears and barely gets one sleepy eye open before she's staring at the empty expanse of bed that once belonged to her husband and crying, again. She tries to go to work but ends up unable to climb out of bed and manages to leave a jumbled voicemail at the school that must be something along the lines of, "My husband died I can't come to work this week," and she hates how silly she sounds, how broken she sounds—but she's broken, she's lost.
She never got to say goodbye. Not for real. Not permanently. The phone rings, and it's Daddy, and she doesn't answer. Wadsworth's barking, wanting to be let out, but she can't—she can't even manage the strength to lift her hand and wipe the sleep and tears off her face. How can she take out the dog? How can she—how can she live when he's gone? When he won't be there to take out the heavy trash for her, or pull something off the top shelf?
The day is swallowed in her wallowing and her tears, fitful sleep peppered with nightmares and lucid dreams where he comes home, whole and Noah, but she wakes up every time feeling a little lonelier.
She wakes the next day with renewed energy. She presses her hands against the dresser, steadying herself as she accidentally pulls open a drawer of his clothes. Clothes he loved and hated, clothes he'll never wear again. But she manages to pull through the grief that rips her insides apart and finds her own clothes, and she refuses to wear anything different than her usual dresses and tights but she can barely get the tights over her knees before she has to steady herself against an onslaught of—of grief. She brushes her hands over unworn shirts of his, presses her fingers on the soles of leather shoes that'll never be worn, and after a moment of tear-clouded vision, she pulls the tights over her hips and stands strong.
Papa and Daddy are standing in her kitchen. They're standing in her kitchen, and talking in hushed voices that silence once she comes down the stairs, and for a moment, they just stand and stare at her in silence. But after that one moment, Papa rushes forward, takes her in his warm arms and kisses her cheek. She hugs him so tight, feels his arms hold her up and she lets a few tears escape.
"I'm so sorry, sweet pea," he murmurs, and Daddy hugs her, too, and they stand there, the three of them, hugging, just like that.
She can't walk inside that synagogue. Can't see her husband's closed casket, American flag draped across it, or the soldiers from his squadron standing in the first row. She doesn't want to, but she hates the country that stole him from her, the government that fights this unnecessary war, and she knows she's being silly, ridiculous, even, but she thinks it's warranted.
Her head leans against the synagogue wall, and she has maybe five minutes to pull herself together and be strong. She's not the only one who lost Noah.
There's a hand that presses against her shoulder, two arms that envelop her and pull her against a familiar chest, clad in a formal navy uniform.
"Finn," she breathes, pressing her face against his chest, feels his heart warm and steady against her cheek.
"I'm so sorry, Rachel," he murmurs, and kisses the top of her head. "I'm so, so sorry."
She squeezes closer to him, revels in his familiarity, his comfort. His arms tighten, and she curves against him, feels his breathes and his
"C'mon," he says softly, grabbing her hand in his and escorting her into the synagogue.
"Will you—" she breaks off, voice shuddering, "will you sit beside me?"
She feels awfully jejune, asking this question, but he manages a small smile and nods.
He holds her hand all through the ceremony.
She's so, so sad. Even in the weeks past burying her husband, it feels like she's buried her future, too, all her possible children buried with Noah. The months without him pass, and suddenly, it's summertime again. Odd how she's been married to Noah nearly two years and has barely spent more than six months with him. And now he's gone.
Finn visits sometimes. He's done with his deployment a few months after Noah's funeral, and his mom tells him he's home the same day he knocks on her front door. He brings over pink wine.
"Rosé," he tells her as he presses the bottle into her hands. It's been months since she's seen him and she hugs him tightly, breathes him in, feels his presence spread over her in that sweet, comforting Finn way.
"How did you know I liked my drinks pink?" She breaks away and leads him in. Wadsworth hustles over to him, and Finn laughs. She remembers the first time she heard that laugh, remembers how it'd crawled its way inside of her chest and planted itself there.
"Had a feeling." He's pulled Wadsworth into his arms. "Yours?"
"I got it a few months before—" Her words stutter, tongue thick in her mouth, and her eyes cloud. "Before."
It's definitive. He understands, of course, and puts Wadsworth on the ground. "How're you holdin' up, Rach?"
She's never had a nickname like that before. Her dads call her sweet pea, princess, pumpkin and the like, and Noah of course called her munchkin. She likes that he calls her Rach.
"I'm—holding up. It gets easier everyday, but…"
"It wasn't supposed to be like this," he finishes and steps closer to her, hugging her tight. "Puck really loved you, y'know? You're so, so strong."
She doesn't cry, and she thinks this is progress. Death isn't something she can just…get over. But it's something she can deal with, something to learn and grow from, an inescapable part of life. It would've happened eventually, she tells herself. But the devil's advocate that dwells in her brain tells her that eventually would've included a long, happy life together.
"Thank you, Finn," she murmurs quietly. "That means a lot to me. Do you want to help me with dinner?"
Finn releases her from the circle of his arms, and she's surprised when her stomach swoops in disappointment. But rather than taking a moment to analyze that reaction, like her therapist (she prefers grief counselor) tells her to do, she buries it deep inside.
"Yeah, 'course, Rachel."
Finn is so helpful. He comes over once a week and makes dinner with her, and it's nice to not have some leftovers for once. He eats a lot, and if there are leftovers, she can force them on him.
The house is falling apart. The grass grows tall in the front and back, the porch is in desperate need of paint touch ups, and many light bulbs are burnt out. A shutter is a little crooked, and the windowpane in her upstairs bathroom is warped. The wallpaper in the dining room is yellowing, the hinges squeak, the doorbell won't ring.
With a sigh, she realizes that it is quite the house of a widower. Resolve curls into her sternum, and she wakes at dawn on a Saturday and sets about making the necessary repairs. She peels off a line of paint from the porch and has the blushing boy who works at Sherwin Williams match it exactly.
By the afternoon, she's exhausted, and sits on the front porch swing with a glass of water. From this elevated point, she observes her work, and for a novice, she's done quite the good job. All the bits of chipped paint are covered, and sitting there, swinging gently back and forth, she's abruptly reminded of when she moved in here, with Noah, and shakes her head at her naïveté. She thought they'd live here together forever.
As always these days, her thoughts drift to him. And, oh, she misses him, but it's easier everyday, and her therapist tells her it's good, it's progress. She's healing. And, as always, her thought seem to dissolve into someone else, another man with broader shoulders and lighter hair, into a smile that curls crookedly, dotted with dimples, but as soon as those thoughts come, she shakes them away.
She about falls to her death. "Cleaning the gutters. Finn, you about killed me, there!"
"Rach, s'not my fault you didn't hear my truck pull into your drive."
Her cheeks warm. "Um."
"Can I help you?"
"Excuse me? Get down from that latter, girl. I'll clean the gutters, you finish your painting job."
"I don't need your help," she ascertains, even in climbing down the steps of the ladder. Listen, there were some huge bugs in those gutters, and she'll need at least four mental baths before she's completely comfortable outside.
"But," he smiles, like he knew she'd continue, "it would be quite nice to have some help. I want to paint the post for the mailbox, too, to match? Because it's brown, you know. The porch is this lovely off white and I'd like things to match."
"Go on," he nudges her towards the porch. "I'll take care of this, promise."
Sometimes, she catches Finn staring. Like, when she weeds her garden while he mows her lawn (much to his insistence), sometimes she'll lean back on one hand and wipe the sweat from her brow, or when they're spending time on her front porch swing watching the sunset, because Mr. and Mrs. Rodgers across the street finally cleared out that old dead tree and the view is lovely.
She loves sunsets, loves how the world lands and rolls and orbits in the dim yellows and oranges and pinks, lingering in the sun's fire for just a few moments before careering into blues and grays. When Finn comes for dinner, now three times a week, they end the night on the front porch, side by side but not touching on the swing, rocking back and forth and watching the glow change. That's when she catches his eyes on her, in that haze between orange and gray, his eyes caught on her face rather than the metamorphosing sky.
Rachel Berry (Puckerman) is not a liar. But rather than facing the truth of those clandestine gazes, she tucks them into the back of her mind, reminds herself of the ring she still wears on her finger, the grave her husband is buried beneath, her blissful vows to love him forever and ever. She likes to think of herself as confrontational, but rather than tell Finn that his touch and his gaze set her on fire (she can't decide if that's good or bad), she just smiles, gives him a short (friendly) hug and sends him on his way.
She finds a letter from Noah cleaning out his closet the week before she returns to school after Christmas break. She can't believe he's been gone a year. She decides it's a new year, a new start, so she changes her name back to Berry. Really, she never felt like a Puckerman. Daddy and Papa smile in encouragement and Finn shoots her a cautious glance, like are you ready for that but she's ready. Her therapist says she's doing great, well, on the right track. Sometimes, she wonders, track to what, exactly? Where is she going? She'll never forget Noah. She'll never stop loving him. But she supposes that someday, it won't hurt so much to get out of bed. Someday, it won't feel wrong to want to revel in Finn's gaze. And someday, her therapist tells her, is right around the corner.
She keeps the rings, but puts his things in boxes in the attic, sorts them by use and then by color, and sandwiched between two pairs of dark wash jeans is a folded up note.
Either I'm dead or you're snooping again. But I'm guessing it's probably the former and you're going through my stuff and moving it somewhere. You won't get rid of it or anything, but it's okay if you like put it in the attic and forget it or something. I get it. You're gonna move on and you're probably gonna have really gorgeous kids with some fucking douche bag. How can you get better than me?
I'm kidding. You've got really fucking high standards and I'm so glad you lowered them for me. This new dude's gonna have to be like really great. Really awesome for an awesome girl. I really love you and I always will and I know you will too. It's okay to move on too that's what they always say on those girl shows you make me watch. I want you to be so happy, find someone or something that makes you happy please go on Broadway and make yourself happy cause I know wherever I am now I'm probably real happy. Jewish after life, you know?
She's crying. She's crying, and she can't really breathe. She can't really breathe, she's crying, and she's just—so. She feels good, and glancing upwards, where she's sure her late husband now lives (in heaven, not the attic), and sends up a quiet thank you.
The year passes so fast. She gets her hair cut, and Finn picks her up because she's starting her new eco-friendly trend and is also a vegan now and Finn presses his fingers against the tips of her chin length hair, and she feels her cheeks get that familiar pink color when his fingers brush her jaw.
"Pretty," he murmurs, and she'd like to kiss him right here, weeks after the one year anniversary of her husband's death, wants to press her body against his and feel him against her, but maybe this is not the appropriate form for kissing Finn Hudson.
"Did you hear about the heat wave?"
"Which one?" He's smiling as he shifts into reverse and puts his arm around the back of her seat as he backs up. For a second, she wants him to leave it there, to drape his arm around her shoulders and to pull her into his side, but soon enough he's got both hands on the wheel and is driving her home. "We live in Ohio."
"Very true. But it's supposed to be nearly a hundred and ten tomorrow!"
"Why would I joke about this, Finn Hudson?" He shrugs. "Anyway, my concern, as it always is, is you."
"Your apartment is not air conditioned, Finn. And my home is. Well, actually, if you could please help me with the thermostat n my bedroom? Then it will be nice and cool. Anyways, I would like to extend an invitation to you to stay in my house. Just for a few days, until the heat surpasses. I wouldn't want you sweating to death."
"Yes. Of course, Finn, I care about you I don't want you to—"
"Not that." He's smiling. "But okay, yeah. I'd really, um. Really like that. Staying with you, I mean."
"Perfect! Then it is settled."
He really likes helping her. She sits on her bed and watches as he presses buttons on the thermostat, and after a moment, she hears the air conditioning power on and stands beneath the vent and revels in the cold air.
Finn stands beside her, not quite touching her, but she shifts so her arm brushes his, her bare skin against his. She's trying to be less impulsive, but she can't really be sorry for placing both her hands on Finn's neck and pulling his mouth onto hers. Of course, he's so tall she has to stretch onto her very tiptoes, but it's worth it because kissing him is so different. It is everything and nothing, and his mouth is rough but gentle, his lips pressing on hers, chapped and insistent and her stomach feels like coffee percolating, like a million fireflies all lighting up in that one, instantaneous instant only for them to light again moments after going out.
When he pulls away he's still cradling her face with one hand, his other wrapped in hers. His brow hardens and softens inexplicably, and he breathes her name and his mouth is still so close to hers and he kisses her bottom lip and then her top lip and he holds her close against him and she feels like—she feels like the most beautiful woman in the world.
So she grabs his hand intertwined with hers and puts it beneath her shirt, just above the curve of her hip, and his eyes lock with hers asking, and she supposes hers answer when he tugs her into his arms is her legs automatically wrapping around his waist.
It's so—so natural, pulling off each other's clothes, noses and elbows and arms bumping as they explore these new expanses of skin, and instead of the traditional spots, she's fascinated with the bend of his elbow, the smooth curve of his neck into his shoulder, the gentleness of his fingers as he runs them down her spine and kisses her clavicle, and she feels him steeling himself into her heart when he pulls away from their kisses, hard against her thigh, fingers pressed between her thighs and he gazes at her like—like maybe he's fallen in love with her, and his free hand brushes back her short tresses of hair and he kisses her once more before pressing into her.
It's a little uncomfortable, at first. He takes a moment, waits for her to get accustomed before moving a little slowly. She's not so much thinking about him inside of her, but the way his hand intertwines with hers, his mouth sweet and warm as his hips press a little more insistently against hers, and his other hand's between her legs, and she sighs and groans and he moans and in one fast moment, the coil that's wound in her stomach comes undone and she squeezes his shoulders, feels him come with her, too, and for a moment, she's falling and flying and when the sensation ends, Finn's arms are around her, and he's caught her.
Finn is really cuddly. After sex and before sex and on the couch when she doesn't want to have sex or when she's sitting beside him in the truck and she really likes this (loves this) about him. He's really—really perfect.
She puts a cupcake in his hand, and he glances up at her, surprised, and smiles. "Thanks, baby girl."
"I made it for you."
"I realize." A beat, and then, "Why's that?"
She sits on his lap. "Because I love you."
If he were drinking, he'd choke. His eyes bug out a little and his face gets all red and he's trying to suppress that sweet smile she know is threatening to spread his lips. "You—you do?"
She rests her forehead against his cheek. "I really do. I think I fell in love with you when you sent me that Valentine's Day card. And again when you held me at—at Noah's funeral."
"I've loved you from the moment you told me not to call you ma'am, and fell more in love with you every time I saw you."
"I loved Noah—love him, still." She pauses. "But it's so different from how I'm in love with you. I can feel you here," she places his hand over her heart, "even when you're not around. And I just want you to know that."
He presses her back against the couch and kisses her and kisses her and the rest of the afternoon is swallowed in Finn's gentle hands and words and mouth.
The day she marries Finn, it snows.
And she dreams about Noah the night before, sitting with her at dinner and pouring her a glass of wine and telling her how happy he is, how he's so glad that she's found her soul mate, because he's found his, too, and he dissolves with a raven haired woman and within seconds, his place is filled with Finn and his warm, sweet eyes and she can't hear in the dream, and then everything goes white.
Her dress is strapless, this time, a pretty sweetheart neckline, and her hair is at her shoulders, now, curled softly and hanging down her back as far as it goes, which isn't very far, but she feels beautiful, gorgeous, and Papa and Daddy each take one of her arms and she feels her eyes well with tears as she walks down the aisle and sees Finn standing at the end, handsome and smiling and she thinks this is the happiest she's ever seen him, and when she gets close and Papa presses her hands into his, his eyes are wet and starry and her heart does that thrumming thing it always does when she's around Finn, and she knows his heart's repeating her pattern, and she feels the tether that binds them together solidify as they repeat their vows and—and suddenly, she's married again.
Finn kisses her again at the end of the aisle, and she kisses him in the limo, her fingers curled in his shirt and he pours her a glass of champagne and kisses her cheek.
"I'm gonna make you really happy," she tells him suddenly, "I promise. Okay?"
"Okay," he murmurs. "I'm gonna make you mildly happy. Okay?"
She giggles because he makes her feel like she's fifteen years old again, in love for the very first time. "So okay."
Tina tells them they're sickening and she just sticks her tongue out at him and kisses Finn again.
Finn manages to squeeze into the space beside them on the hospital bed, arm curled around her. "Hi," she murmurs, and maybe she's talking to him, or maybe she's talking to the little blue bundle with new, pink skin in her arms. Both, she decides as Finn nuzzles his cheek against hers.
"What should we name him?"
She runs her finger over the baby's chubby cheek, and he opens his little mouth and wiggles a little before settling. "I—I was thinking, um. Noah."
Finn's still got his cheek pressed against hers, and she curves her body against his, lets it rest there and she kisses his cheek, feels his scruff brush against her mouth and wrinkles her nose. "That's—it's perfect, Rachel."
"Yeah," he murmurs, "I love you. Both of you. You and Noah. Noah…"
"Noah Christopher Hudson. After the two best men in my life."
He kisses her on the mouth. "We're gonna be the best parents."
She thinks it's been a long road here. To babies, to loving again, to realizing the difference between her love for Noah and her love for Finn. She still calls her therapist to ask questions, like is it okay that she thinks about Noah still, even in loving Finn, being married to Finn, and of course it's okay, her therapist reminds her, and she's so lucky to have had two boys (now three) who love her in three very different ways.
And so she cuddles closer to Finn, and he presses his hand against her forearm which holds their baby with the knowledge that, wherever he is, Noah's looking down on her and smiling.
pls don't leave any sort of hate re: p/r pls! thanks for reading!