A/N: This little story was inspired by, but in no way affiliated with, 'Be Better' by the absolutely incredible Paceismyhero. (Seriously, read it. Go read it now.) I read that one and couldn't get this 'what happened next' picture out of my head. She is an absolutely incredible writer and I respect and admire her and everything she has written, so if this piece isn't up to par, don't blame her. This was all me (and the two lovely ladies – Tashana Ambrosia and SilverSnikle – who are always so incredible about helping me). That being said, I don't think it's awful, if I do say so myself, and I hope you enjoy it.
Brody couldn't say he was happy about Rachel's break-up with Finn. She was heartbroken, and given that he cared about her, he didn't want that. But he also couldn't say that he wasn't relieved when she came back from Ohio and told him, through tears and sniffles that he of course hated, that she and Finn were through and that this time it felt real. (He wasn't exactly sure what she meant by that last part, but it didn't seem like the right time to ask.) After all, he'd meant it when he told her that every time he was around her, he'd be thinking about kissing her. And then he'd tried to mean it when he told her he would just be her friend, hands-off. Of course, that hadn't exactly worked out, but he wouldn't take sole blame for that one, and it's not like she had complained. That's why it had been so unfortunate that Finn had chosen that moment to end his four months of radio silence. Brody was confident that, given one more week, he could've helped Rachel understand that it just wasn't practical to keep hanging onto a high school relationship with a boy who was hundreds of miles away and wanted completely different things than she did.
But Finn had shown up. And for a couple days, it seemed like all that progress he'd made toward helping her see the light had been for naught. She couldn't keep her eyes off the tall, undeniably awkward teen, even when he was the one singing with her. He began to think that maybe she really did mean it when she fed him all her lines about how she and Finn were 'meant to be' and that he was the only one she wanted for the rest of her life. (He never doubted that she thought she meant it, he just thought he knew better.) But then just as quickly as he'd shown up, Finn was gone again. And that was great, until Rachel disappeared right behind him. And Brody had to wonder if maybe things were over not only between him and Rachel before they really started, but if they were over even between Rachel and New York. If anything could hold her back, he had a feeling it would be Finn.
So when she'd come back after two days in Ohio, a little quieter and a little sadder, but overall (he knew, even if she didn't) better off, yes, he was relieved. And in the weeks since, the progress they've made, together, has been amazing. Rachel's thrown herself into her schoolwork with a passion he'd only seen a fraction of before the end of her relationship with Finn. She had been great before, but now, without half her head and half her heart stuck in Ohio, or Georgia, or wherever, she was incredible. Unbelievable, even.
Things have been progressing nicely, though slowly, between the two of them as well. She's stopped trying so hard to keep him at arms' length and seems to be welcoming him into her life and her daily routine. Sure, as of yet, it's been only in the role of 'friend,' but it's not like he had expected her to run into his arms just because she was suddenly single. Still, they had lunch together often, he's the only person she has asked to help her with a number, dance or vocal, and that smile – well, let's just say the smile he gets out of her is vastly different from the one she gives anyone else.
And because of all that, he feels perfectly justified in slipping into the building as one of Rachel's neighbors walks out and standing outside her apartment at 7:30 on a Thursday morning. He expects her to be surprised, they hadn't planned for him to accompany her to school, but he just knows it will be a pleasant surprise. It's just that, well, he's afraid if he doesn't make a move soon, he'll miss his opportunity. He wants to be her friend if that's what she needs from him right now, but he wants her to realize that's not all he ever wants to be. So he'll start here, and see where things go.
Brody straightens his shirt a little, smiles down at the two cups of coffee in a holder in his left hand, and lifts his right hand to knock. He chuckles a little as he does. He really can't wait to see the look on Rachel's face when she answers. He knows the only thing she really dislikes about her and Kurt's apartment is its distance from the city. She hates riding the subway in by herself on mornings that she has class earlier than Kurt has to be at the Vogue offices. He can fix that.
Only, when the door opens, he's the one who is shocked. Because the face on the other side of the door is more sleepy than surprised, and certainly not Rachel's.
"S'up." The man just inside the apartment juts his chin at Brody once before yawning.
It's impossible for Brody not to notice that the man in front of him isn't wearing a shirt, one hand scratching lazily across his bare stomach while the other rests on the door knob. It's also impossible for him to ignore that the that the rugged, stereotypically masculine-looking man in front of him looks like the type to be much more comfortable in a traditional lumberjack plaid than the classic Burberry check pajama pants currently falling to just above his ankles. And that's why it takes him all of about half a second to decide that those pants definitely don't belong to that man. (It takes even less time for him to decide who they do belong to. There's really only one option, considering that even as small as they are on him, they're still nowhere near small enough to be Rachel's.)
"I, um … hi." Brody shakes his head a little and extends his hand toward the stranger in his friend's apartment. "I'm Brody."
For a couple seconds, the man only stares back at him. Brody knows it's not fair, because he doesn't know this guy at all, but he has to wonder what in the world Kurt was thinking. In addition to the fact that he is as far from Kurt's type as Brody can imagine (if Blaine is any indication of Kurt's type, at least), he's either not very bright or not at all friendly. Honestly, Brody finds him, well, not scary, exactly, but certainly intimidating.
"Oh. Right," a hand finally reaches out and callused fingers wrap around Brody's in a firm shake. "Puck."
Brody doubts that this was what Shakespeare'd had in mind all those centuries ago, but at least knowing that the man takes his name from a mythical fairy clears up just a tiny bit of the mystery surrounding the idea of him and Kurt together.
"Is, um," Brody tries to discreetly peer around Puck into the apartment. "Is Rachel available?"
Puck nods. "Just a sec." He holds the door open with his foot and twists his body so that he's facing back into the apartment. He gropes around the side of the pants he's wearing for a second, for a pocket, Brody guesses, before finally settling on hooking one thumb into the waistband (which just pulls the already low-slung pants even lower) as his other hand comes up to cup around his mouth. "Rach! Company!" He turns back around and Brody finds it rather unsettling the way he just looks at him. He doesn't move, doesn't say anything, he just looks. And he doesn't appear to be uncomfortable at all.
After what must be a full minute, at least, Brody speaks up again. "So, how's Kurt?"
Puck cocks his head to the side just a little and narrows his eyes in what Brody guesses is confusion. Finally he shrugs. "S'cool, I guess."
Brody understands the concept of a rebound. He knows that they're casual and sometimes meaningless in the long run and often completely different from any other relationship the person has ever been in. He also knows nearly everyone has them. Still, even under the current circumstances, he never pegged Kurt as the type for a one-night-stand. Yet, from all accounts, that's exactly what this appears to be. It surprises and confuses him more than a little bit.
"Seriously!" Brody jumps and focuses again on the man in front of him when he shouts toward Rachel's room. "Ya got somebody out here waitin'. What the hell you doin' in there anyway woman?"
Rachel's voice soars through the apartment and Brody bites back his smile when Puck turns back in his direction and rolls his eyes.
"I was just trying to make myself a little bit presentable." Her voice gets closer as she makes her way through the apartment toward the door. "Would you prefer that I come out here -," She trails off as she comes into view around the curtain that serves as a wall between her room and the common area. "Oh," she stops abruptly when her eyes move from Puck to Brody and she blushes a little. "Good morning Brody. Please excuse … that. Noah has a tendency to be a bit insufferable when he feels like it."
Out of the corner of his eye, Brody watches Puck – Noah – stick his tongue out at Rachel. She huffs and rolls her eyes, even stomps her foot a little, but as soon as he turns his head, she sticks her own tongue back out at him.
Brody is baffled. Not only because of the silly, immature display he just witnessed that he would never have expected from Rachel, or anyone she would choose to associate herself with, but also because, if this is presentable, what was she like before? He has to stop that train of thought quickly though, because right now, she's almost right in front of him wearing nothing but a plaid button-down shirt that falls to about mid-thigh in the front and back and cuts up even higher on the sides. He doesn't want (okay, he does want, but that's exactly the problem) to think about what she was like before she made herself 'a little bit presentable.'
Rachel finally stops walking when she's standing right next to Puck. "So, what brings you around so early?" She smiles up at him, but all Brody can really focus on is the way she's standing so close to Puck that her shoulder brushes against his (rather large) bicep as she uses her other hand to roll up her sleeve so it doesn't hang below her fingertips.
Brody's still kind of just staring, dazed, when Puck clears his throat. He looks up to see the other man looking down at Rachel. "Coffee?" She smiles up at him and nods, and Brody thinks he notices her rock forward on the balls of her feet just a little before Puck walks away. He can't see Puck's hand, and he knows that means it's behind her somewhere. He tries to pretend that can't possibly have anything to do with her moving that way and smirking and blushing as her eyes follow Puck across the apartment.
"What about you, Brody," Rachel finally turns her attention back to him once Puck is out of sight. "Would you like some coffee?"
Brody glances down at the two cups of coffee in the carrier in his hand, making no attempt to be discreet. "No thanks. I'm good."
She still doesn't seem to notice that he already has a latte – just like she likes it – ready for her, because she only gives him a small smile and nods. "Um," she knits her brow and looks a little confused, her head shaking just a bit from side to side, "I'm sorry, what was it that you came for?"
Brody smiles and slides his free hand into his pocket. He shrugs casually, "Just thought I would accompany you to class this morning. I know how you hate riding in alone."
"Oh." Her eyes widen as she looks up at him. "I'm," she covers her mouth and lets out an unconvincing cough, "I'm not going to make it this morning." She shakes her head again, more forcefully. "I'm really not feeling up to it."
"Rachel," he frowns at her, "you're not – you're skipping class?"
"No!" She coughs again, and it sounds a little better the second time around, but it's still very obviously fake. "I'm not skipping. I really don't feel well."
He narrows his eyes at her and tilts his head down and to the side. "Rachel."
"Ok, fine." She rolls her eyes and crosses her arms over her chest briefly before dropping her hands to her sides to tug at the bottom of the shirt she's wearing. "It's just, well, I thought it would be nice to take Noah to breakfast, help him get familiar with the city."
She's now made it all but impossible for him to keep pretending this man is here for Kurt, and that annoys him. "And he's okay with that – you skipping class on his account? Nice."
Rachel's eyes drop to the floor and she goes from pulling on her shirt to twisting the bottom of it between her fingers. "He doesn't know. He's not exactly familiar with my schedule."
Brody can't help but shake his head and even snort a little. Of course he's not.
"Besides," she's meeting his eyes again and there's a fire in her voice, "it's history of the theatre." She scoffs. "I could practically teach that class." She squares her shoulders and grins mischievously. "I have a feeling I'll be much better in time for my voice techniques class with Ms. Thibideaux."
Brody wants to comment again, to tell her what a bad habit she may be creating by skipping class just to go to breakfast with her guest, but out of the corner of his eye he sees the visitor making his way back toward them, cradling a coffee mug in both hands.
"Sorry," Puck says when he's standing at Rachel's side again, his head down and a little grin on his face as he looks at her through his eyelashes. "Got a little carried away with the creamer. Used the non-dairy stuff, though. Hazelnut."
It's almost like this is a completely different man from the one who answered the door, and if Brody weren't so busy being angered by it, he'd be thoroughly impressed. Rachel doesn't seem to have that same issue, though, beaming up at him as though there were a Tony somewhere under all that caramel-colored coffee. She wraps both of her hands around his on the mug and bends down a little to suck some of the coffee off the top of the too-full cup. Once the liquid is safely below the rim, Puck gently slides his hands out from under hers and turns to head back toward the kitchen.
"Noah," Rachel nearly giggles out his name as he walks away. She shifts the coffee mug so that she's holding it securely in one hand and reaches out for him with the other. She hooks her fingers in the waist band of the pajama pants he's wearing (which Brody now really doesn't understand why he's wearing, given that he is very obviously not there as a friend of Kurt's – surely the man has his own clothes) and tugs in an attempt to bring him back to her. It's clear that the action does nothing other than pull the elastic waist dangerously far off of Puck's hip, but he stops anyway and comes back to stand next to her. Her hand doesn't move. "You didn't let me introduce you to Brody."
Puck nods once in his direction. "We've met."
Rachel huffs a little and rolls her eyes, and Puck chuckles at her. "You opening the door and grunting at him like a caveman is hardly a proper introduction."
As far as Brody is concerned, he's seen far more of Puck than he ever really needed or wanted to. A proper introduction would imply that Puck is going to be around for a while, and because of that, Brody is just as satisfied as Puck had seemed to be with the idea of skipping that particular formality. Rachel doesn't seem to pick up on this, however, and charges ahead with the introductions.
"Noah," she chirps, "this is Brody, an incredibly helpful classmate of mine. He's been an invaluable asset in helping me get adjusted to NYADA and to the city." She turns her smile from Puck onto him, and he can tell that Puck knows just as well as he does that she's waiting for the two of them to respond in some way.
"S'up," Puck says after a couple seconds. This seems to be his go-to greeting. Brody only nods back at him the same way Puck had done before.
Rachel seems satisfied, because she nods just the tiniest bit and goes on. "And Brody, this is Noah, my … Noah's a …" Puck takes half a step closer to her and Rachel untucks her fingertips from the waistband of his pants to slide her arm around his back. "Noah and I have known each other for a very long time. He's very important to me." That seems to be all the explanation he's going to get at the moment, because she looks up at Puck and blushes when she finds him smiling back down at her and neither of them looks too eager to give him more than that.
"It's nice to meet you," Brody lies. Rachel doesn't seem to notice. She continues to look up at Puck until he smirks and winks at her, then she blushes an even deeper pink and puts her head down to take a sip of her coffee. "Well, I, um," he clears his throat and the other two finally acknowledge his presence again, "I'm going to get going so you two can start your day. Rachel, I'll see you in Carmen's class, right?"
"Yes," she nods quickly, "yes of course."
Brody only nods back at her and backs out the still-open apartment door, pulling it closed behind him when he gets out into the hall. He tries to tell himself he has nothing to be concerned about. This Puck – Noah, whatever his name is – is just another small-town boy from her past. Not even a high school sweetheart like Finn. Insignificant. And besides, just as he'd told himself when he thought the other man was there with Kurt, rebounds are incredibly common. He should have never expected Rachel to be the exception to that rule. In fact, he should probably even be happy about this, because she's getting the rebound out of the way and will be that much more ready for a real relationship with him when his turn comes.
He knows better, though. And he actually believes, something he hasn't done before, that he isn't going to get a turn. He may have only just met him and spent no more than five minutes in his presence, but he knows that none of those things he just tried to convince himself about Puck are true. Well, except that part about him not being like Finn, that part, he knows, is very much true. Because with Finn, even though his being there worried Brody a little, he could always tell that things just weren't quite right. Finn couldn't seem to keep up with Rachel. And he thinks Finn knew it too. Every time he looked at Rachel, it was with this sadness, like he could feel her slipping away and he just knew each look was going to be the last. But whenever Puck looked at her back there in her apartment, both of them half-dressed, there was this awe, like he couldn't get enough of her, as if it was the first time, every time.
When he leaves the building, Kurt is standing on the front step patting his pockets frantically.
"Oh Brody! Thank goodness! I pulled an all-nighter with Isabel and I think I forgot my keys again."
Brody manages a weak smile as he props the door open with his foot. As Kurt walks past him he pulls the latte from the drink carrier he's still holding dumbly and offers it to Kurt. "Here. Non-fat soy chai latte."
"Oh." Kurt looks up at him, a little confused. "Is this for Rachel, or …"
"Nope," is all he manages before he gives Kurt a half-hearted wave and drops his own medium drip, still in the carrier, into the trashcan beside the bottom step as he heads back toward the subway station.