First and foremost - I hope anyone reading this who is, has been, or knows someone affected by Superstorm Sandy here in the Northeast is safe and warm right now. I was about to post this when we lost power, and it stayed off for 122 hours. But I know that puts me among the lucky ones. Please help if you can, in any way - donations of food, clothing, baby supplies and money all happy accepted, and for a really easy way to make your donations count, visit diapers dot com forward slash sandy. Thanks. Now to my regularly scheduled author's note.
A.N.: So, um...hi? This is the long overdue continuation/conclusion to the Jar of Hearts universe. (Check my profile for the first two, "Jar of Hearts" and "You and Me".) Don't know how many chapters, but I'm thinking three? Second chapter is underway. It has taken me a while to recharge the muse, and in the midst of that I got engaged, and so now that the venue and photographer are booked, I'm back to stuff other than wedding and Pinterest. Heh. If you want an old school Puckleberry ride, I aim to please.
Oh, and just as a time check? Put "Jar of Hearts" into an AU version of Duets, "You and Me" instead of Never Been Kissed, and this one would be in place of The Substitute. Which means Sam and Quinn, and Kurt is a boy with a crush. (Relevant early on.) I also took some liberty and (inadvertently) stuck a performance of "One" where I needed it lol. Whoops...
Hopefully I haven't forgotten how to do this. Please enjoy!
Hope's on Fire
In the vacuum left after Puckleberry Finn exited the auditorium, chaos ruled. The Gleeks turned to Quinn, blankly staring after them.
Mr. Schue frowned, gaze shooting between the blonde Cheerio to the door and back again. "Quinn, is everything all right?"
"Fine." She folded her arms and looked away.
"That didn't look fine," Mercedes challenged. "That looked the exact opposite of fine."
Sam put an arm around Quinn. "Hey, c'mon, back off."
"Listen, hippo lips, you may be with Q right now, but we were here first." Santana glared at Quinn. "Spill. Now."
"There's nothing to say," Quinn insisted.
Shaking his head, Mr. Schue clapped his hands, leaving his desk and walking briskly down the aisle to them. "All right, guys, let's call it for today. Great run-through, hopefully we'll be back on track tomorrow. Have a great night and just lay off this, okay?"
The Gleeks remained silent.
"You're the only one who's not out there, Quinn." Artie looked over at her. "You sure there's nothing you want to say?"
"Guys, seriously, enough. Who knows what's going on, it's not for us to judge. Let's head home." Mr. Schue walked towards the choir room. "Now."
The Gleeks filed into the choir room slowly, Kurt moving towards Sam and Quinn. "Whatever Rachel is, she's not an idiot, and if she has Finn Hudson, there's no way she's falling prey to Noah Puckerman." Kurt sighed and rolled his eyes, continuing, "No matter what dear sweet Finn might think." He raised a brow. "Which means she's trying to help Puck improve his life, the only other time she's known to be around someone consistently. And it is insultingly obvious you and Beth are in the middle of that mess. Why bother lying to us? We have ears. If we're your friends, act like it."
Mercedes sighed at Quinn, shaking her head as she picked up her notebooks. "I thought you were better than this," she tossed over her shoulder.
"Better than what?" Quinn burst out. "You want to judge me for wanting that baby to have the best chance of a good life? For keeping my word that we wouldn't bother Shelby about her until she was ready? How is that wrong? How is that bad?"
"Quinn -" Mr. Schue frowned at the Glee Club, holding a hand out to still her. "Quinn, it's -"
"No. That's what he's wanted, okay? And that's probably why Rachel is out there. Her mom, his baby. So there, all right? Yes, it's a mess, and I could do something about it, but I'm not risking it. Shelby wants to be left alone. And I've got nothing to do with whatever just happened. That wasn't about me - I'm with Sam, she's with Finn, even if Finn doesn't know it, and Puck just doesn't know when to quit."
"You might be right about the first and third, but the second one's a no-go." Puck strolled across the choir room to grab his guitar. "Berry just dumped him."
"She what?" Kurt flew out the door.
Puck rolled his eyes. "Hudson. I don't fucking get it."
"Language, Puck, and we're definitely done for the day." Will looked at them, raising a brow. "Out. All of you. Puck, my office."
"Aww, come on! I didn't do anything!" Puck hung his head.
"I never said you did." Will waved the Gleeks out and shut the door. "I figured maybe you could use someone to talk to."
"Oh." Puck sank into a chair. "I, uh..." He cleared his throat. "Thanks."
"Puck. You really think no one noticed what was going on?" Will shook his head and sat behind the desk. "The whole group knows something is up. You just missed them badgering Quinn about it."
He frowned skeptically. "Really? They actually gave a sh-" Puck cut himself off at Schuester's look. "They cared?"
Will raised a brow. "Puck, think about it. Even though pretty much the whole club knew the truth about you and Quinn, no one said anything."
Except for Rachel. He shrugged. "Don't think it has anything to do with me, Mr. Schue. It just kept the peace."
Squeezing the bridge of his nose, the choir director sighed. "Part of the peace they were keeping was you not getting killed and not killing Finn. So it had a lot to do with you. And if you hadn't been so clearly miserable lately, no one would've known Quinn was part of the problem, it would've just been another Finn and Rachel blowup." He shook his head again. "So what's really going on?"
Puck leaned his elbows on his knees, hanging his head. "You were trying to, y'know, bone Shelby, right? Did she give you her number?"
"Puck!" Will shook his head, laughing. "Only you would ask me that."
"Yeah, well...Mr. Schue, she's like..." Puck pressed his hands to his eyes, the rest pouring out in a harsh whisper. "Beth is six months old. I haven't heard anything about her. Nothing. And I thought the agreement was she'd send pictures and we could send letters but I don't even know where to find her and Q is no help at all."
Will sighed, shaking his head. "I'm so sorry, Puck. And I'm guessing Kurt's right that Rachel was trying to help, huh?"
He picked his head up, nodding. "Yeah. She - she gets it." Still freaks me out.
"I'm sure she does." Will frowned quickly. "And it's insensitive of us all not to get that you're both hurting. I'm sorry, Puck."
"Yeah, well Hudson doesn't give a shit." At least not about the right things. Puck looked up at the teacher. "Sorry. I get that you're like, whatever, his musical fatheror something, but he really is a douche."
Will shook his head. "I'm not even going there. I'm more concerned about you. I don't have any contact for Shelby, I don't think. Maybe an email somewhere if I really look." He held up a hand. "And I will. But what about Rachel?"
Puck glared out the window. "Nothing. Shelby gave her a mug and took off. What kind of mother does that?" And now she has my kid.
Will exhaled heavily. "I don't know, honestly. But I can tell you, whatever she may have done or said with Rachel...as horrible as it is, that only applied to Rachel. Shelby wasn't looking for her, she was looking for the second chance."
"Yeah, that's what Berry said." Puck rubbed his hands over his face. "Look, Mr. Schue, I appreciate the concern and all, but um, I'm ready to bounce. I've had enough of this place today." Plus, I have a feeling about something.
Nodding, Will gestured towards the door. "I get it, I figured I'd just give you a place to vent."
Puck smiled to himself. "I got one, thanks though."
Rachel groaned as she dropped onto the bench under the trees. Of course Dad and Daddy are busy - why would they think they needed to pick me up? She sat forward to glance around the trunk. Thank goodness Finn hasn't come this way.
Puck shook his head as he exited the school. I was right. "Chariot catch a flat?"
Rachel bit back a sigh, turning towards him. And the hits just keep on coming..."Hello, Noah."
"You got far." He dropped onto the bench next to her. "Or maybe you were waiting for me?"
"I was in no way doing so." She folded her arms. Though it doesn't hurt that you park on this side of the school..."I may have acted...precipitously and thus find myself without a means of transportation home."
He scratched his head. No need to let on I know what she means. "What does the weather have to do with your ride -"
"I didn't plan on doing this today!" she bit out. She winced. Maybe that last word wasn't the best...
Today? "But you did plan on doing it." He nodded, a smug grin spreading. "Nice, Berry. Glad to help."
"Noah!" She flushed. "I just - he was just so - and you - you said I -" You said I was worth more and I believe you...
Damn, she's cute when she's flustered. "C'mon, let me take you home." He stood and held out a hand.
"I - " She looked up, meeting an earnest hazel gaze. You mean it. "Thank you." Placing her hand gingerly in his, she pulled herself up. "I couldn't let him talk about you that way."
"I'm touched, Berry," he smirked. "Pothole." Puck tugged her hand lightly to guide her around it, pulling her into his side for a moment.
Rachel shivered at his touch. Goodness gracious, Rachel, danger! "Noah -"
"Relax." He tucked her arm through his. "I told you it's the hunt. I'm not gonna try to get too far today. You're probably pissed at me for throwing off your scheduled breakup with Hudson. I get it." He led her to the truck and stopped alongside, opening the door. Dropping her arm, he pinned her in between his body and the car. "Just remember you were gonna do it anyway, and there was something about how he came at us that you couldn't take."
"It -" She swallowed, shaking her head. "It is your fault, you know." Rachel licked her lips, her gaze dropping to his mouth before darting back up. "If you hadn't - if Finn hadn't seen -"
"Seen what? This?" Puck leaned in and kissed her deeply, pressing her into the truck. "Yeah, probably not the best thing to see your girlfriend doing with an ex. Need a hand up?"
"Considering my knees have been rendered inoperable, yes," she grumbled. Damn it, Noah...
He snickered. Didn't even pretend. I like it. He boosted her up into the seat and closed the door behind her. And I intend to do it again. He buckled his belt and pulled out of the parking lot.
Rachel glanced at him sidelong. What am I doing with him? Today, now? "Noah -"
"So, now that Hudson isn't cramping your style, do we get the Britney Spears look back?" He wagged his eyebrows at her. "'Cause honestly, Berry, you were fucking edible. I - who the hell am I kidding - the majority of the male population of McKinley would love to see that again."
She raised a brow, small smile playing on her lips. "Really?"
"Lemme tell you a little something." Puck drove through the back streets. "All that stuff I said about you being fucking hot?"
Rachel blushed, nodding. "I may recall something of that nature."
"Yeah, well, I wasn't blowing smoke up your ass." He turned the last corner. "Speaking of asses..."
"Oh, no..." Rachel shook her head. "I cannot believe this." She glared out the windshield at Finn's car. "He really has the gall -"
"He's gotten under those skirts, a damn lot further than I have. I wouldn't give up that easy either." Puck smirked quickly. "So. Leave you here to walk the rest of the way?"
She folded her arms. "How exactly did he expect me to make it home? Carrier pigeon?"
"It's Hudson. He probably figured you had ruby slippers." Puck grinned.
Rachel scoffed. The Wizard of Oz? Really? "I don't even own a pair of red heels. I somehow doubt red flats would have the same effect. And you're making a U-turn."
"A -" He smirked. "Worked faster than I thought, U-turn it is." He blew her a kiss.
Oh, Rachel. Maybe this wasn't your brightest idea..."So, The Wizard of Oz, Noah? I wouldn't expect that from - oh." She smiled, leaning back and looking at him. "You have a younger sister. I always forget about Sarah..."
Shit. He rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. "I only know about it from some old porn."
Raising a brow, she smirked. "I may be naive, Noah, but I somehow doubt they'd go through the trouble of having her ruby slippers take her home. That would be a bit more plot than I'm given to understand these movies have." Her smirk bloomed to a full-fledged grin. "You babysit her, don't you."
"Wanna see? I'll bring you back to my house and start your porn education." He flipped a turn signal at the stop sign. "What d'ya say?"
"Darling, you are the only exception...you are the only exception..."
She grabbed her cell from her bag. "I think I should probably -"
"– not answer." He turned to look at her. "You're playing the game good, Rachel. Let him wonder. That is Hudson, right?"
She pursed her lips. "Yes. That would be Finn."
"You answer now, you start a fight. You leave it, and you leave him wondering." A devilish glint in his eyes, he added, "He deserves to."
She dropped the phone back into her bag. "You do have a point." Tilting her head, she looked him up and down. Which brings us to the next issue. "And speaking of you...are you all right, Noah?"
He frowned quickly. "Yeah, why wouldn't I be?"
"Oh." She shrugged, glancing out the window. "Then I suppose you meant to confess that you miss Beth in front of everyone."
Fuck. He tightened his hands on the steering wheel. "I'm fine."
She narrowed her eyes at him. "Liar."
Give me a fucking break. He glared back. "You can walk."
"I could. Go ahead and let me out then." She looked up as they hit another stop sign and turned to unlock the door. "Perfect, I'll just -"
He reached across her to lock it again, pressing his arm deliberately across her breasts. "Fine, no. Not okay, didn't mean to say that in front of the fucking world, and I don't have faith that Beth is gonna know fuckall about me. Wanna help me forget all that? Stay right there and just let me -"
Rachel shivered, the beeping of her phone vaguely registering. "Noah -"
"I think I'm feeling better already..." He grinned and leaned in towards her mouth.
She turned her face so he caught her cheek. "This is your definition of not too far, Noah?" Get a hold of yourself, Rachel, you sound breathless.
He nibbled her ear and pulled back. "Considering what I could be doing? Yeah." He shifted the truck back into drive and entered traffic flow again. "Look through those backyards there. Do you see his car on the street?"
Do I - where are - "Oh! We're on the opposite side of my block."
"No shit, Sherlock. Figured Hudson was calling 'cause he was tired of waiting. Is he still there?"
Rachel sighed as she looked out the window. "He isn't."
"You sound disappointed." Puck raised a brow. "Wanna check your phone?"
No. She blinked as she realized the truth in the thought. But I should. Right? Swallowing hard, she nodded. "You can - "
Puck turned onto her block. "Step ahead of you for once, someone alert the media."
She swatted at his arm, logging in to her voicemail.
"Uh, hi, Rachel. I, um, I just - I was hoping to catch you at home, but I, uh - I guess - oh, crap, I guess you didn't get a ride. I - I just am so -"
The soft beep in Rachel's ear startled her. Oh, no...call waiting. She pulled the phone back to look at the display.
"He's calling back, right?" Puck grinned. "Now you take it. Tell him you're home. Don't tell him how. Rush off the phone."
Frowning quickly, Rachel scrutinized his face. What is going on here, Noah?
"Trust me, Rachel. Do it."
Rachel clicked over to Finn's call. "Hello."
"Rach! I - I'm so sorry, I'm back at McKinley, are you - are you still here?"
She glanced at Puck and bit her lip. "No, I'm home. No thanks to you."
"Is that - is that Puck? Rachel, did you - but you said - your dads - "
"Finn, I have to - " She swatted at Puck while he leaned towards her. "I have to go."
"Rach, I -"
"I have to go, Finn, bye!" Rachel snapped her phone shut.
Puck grinned. "He'll be out of his mind for the rest of the night."
"You are an instigator."
"Gimme a few, I can instigate something else." He leaned towards her again.
"Noah!" She laughed, pressing a hand to his chest. "Stop it. You stop it right now." Because I should not be feeling this way not even an hour after breaking up with Finn. She frowned.
Puck watched her expression. "Hudson's an asshole, Rachel. You know that as well as I do."
She swallowed, nodding slowly.
"So, what's there to feel bad about? You were gonna do it anyway."
"I - eventually, Noah, but -"
He pressed closer. "So why fight it? It's natural, we're the two hot Jews."
"Because we're both too...riled up." She moistened her lips. "If we do anything, I don't want it to be out of pain."
Puck winced. "Way to kill a mood." But that 'if' has possibilities. He retreated to his side of the car. "In that case, you're home."
"I know." Rachel swallowed slowly, tucking her hair behind her ear. "Would you like to come in?"
Puck smirked. Inviting me into your empty house? "I thought you didn't want anything to happen?"
She rolled her eyes. "That is a true statement. I was merely being friendly. We are friends, after all."
Friends with Rachel Berry. He stopped to consider her. "Yeah. Yeah, we are." Not a bad place to be.
She beamed at him, opening her door. "So, come on. Let's see what we can find out about Shelby Corcoran." She got out of the truck, beckoning him to follow.
"What would you even say to her?" he blurted as she let them in.
Rachel raised a brow, closing the door and dropping her keys on the side table. "Me? Nothing. She said goodbye. She has no interest in me anymore. We're looking for your sake, and so Beth..." She cleared her throat, suddenly tight with tears. "So she..."
He frowned. Way to go, dude, just ask her like it was nothing. Idiot. "Rachel - Rachel, you don't -"
"So Beth never wonders like I did, so we both can know that for sure. Yes, Noah, I do. I want to." She sighed. "I think I need to." She turned away, heading upstairs.
Finn slowed as he drove past, slamming a hand on the wheel when he saw the familiar truck parked in front.
Puck rubbed a hand over his mouth. All that talk about how good she is and I just forget who Shelby is to her. "Look, Rachel, you really don't -"
"Noah." She stopped to face him. "I know I don't have to do this. Honestly, you're not even the one asking me to. I -" She swallowed. "You want to be part of her life. You want her to know you. And it seems Shelby is shutting you out. I -" She looked at the floor. "I was a mistake to her, a financial arrangement. I don't - I don't ever want Beth to think that. The fact that I know that's all I was to Shelby, that's all I still am? I can never erase that knowledge. But I can make absolutely, positively certain that Beth knows she's more than that." She continued up the stairs and into her room.
Puck shook his head and followed. "You -" He cut himself off. "Thank you, Rachel."
Rachel blinked, startled, and sat at her computer. "You're - you're welcome, Noah." She smiled, waving him over. "Come on, let's see what we can find."
He grabbed the Phantom mask from her wall, putting it on with a smirk. "You're like an amateur detective over there. You found me, now we're trying to find Shelby. You sure you wanna be on Broadway?"
"Noah!" Rachel shook her head, flushing. "Finding you wasn't difficult. Hopefully finding Shelby won't be either."
He shrugged, leaning against her desk. "I don't have anything better to do tonight."
Rachel frowned quizzically. "Really? I would have thought you would have some carnal encounter scheduled or -"
"You woulda thought wrong." He quirked an eyebrow. "You offering?"
"Noah!" She blushed. "Again, this is not too pushy?" She chewed her lower lip, turning her attention to the screen.
"If you want, I can show you pushy." He leaned down next to her, staring at the screen and brushing her hair behind her ear.
Rachel shivered, mouth going dry. "I - you don't -"
"Your very own Angel of Music." He breathed the words against her skin. "You of all people would enjoy that."
She shuddered, hands flexing against the keyboard. "Noah..."
"Darling, you are the only exception, you are the only exception..."
"He's calling again, huh?" Puck stayed at her ear. "Must be missing you." He trailed a finger down her neck. "Can't blame him."
"And that would be me being pushy." He took a breath and stepped back, sliding the phone towards her. "Answer that before I have to throw it out the window." And before I try to find out for myself what's under those skirts and buttoned up blouses...He put the mask back on the wall, watching her stunned expression. Fuck if I don't think I could right now...
Rachel blinked, shaking herself. Note to self: Noah Puckerman is dangerous to your...everything. She fumbled the phone open. "Yes, hello?"
"Rach?" Finn pumped a fist in the air. "Hey, I want to come over. I drove past before and I saw Puck was there so I didn't wanna ring the bell, but I -"
"I'm sorry, what was that?" Rachel's eyes narrowed. "You drove past my house and saw what, precisely?"
"I saw his truck, so I know he drove you home. He must've left by now, so -"
"Yo, Rach, is this good?" She sounds pissed, may as well throw in a nickname to needle Hudson. Puck leaned in by the phone and the computer, googling Shelby's name. If I'm gonna be an instigator, I'm gonna take every shot I can...
"Is he - are you -"
Rachel slapped Puck's arm, rolling her eyes. "I am with Noah, yes, Finn. He was kind enough to drive me home since my fathers are unavailable."
Finn's brows furrowed in confusion. "Right. But then he should've left."
"I'm sorry?" Rachel drew herself up. "He should have left?"
"Well – I mean – he doesn't – and you don't – I just – why is he still there? And is what good?"
"I'm sorry, Finn, but as my ex-boyfriend, I don't see that as any of your business."
"I knew it! You and Puck are –"
"If you finish that sentence, Finn Hudson, know that there is no going back. There is no making up, no giving it another chance."
Finn frowned. "I just wanted to talk, Rach. Look, I'm sorry I blew up before. I should trust you, you're right, and –"
"Finn, I'm in the middle of something." She narrowed her gaze at the computer screen. "Something actually important. We can speak tomorrow."
"But I –"
Rachel closed the phone, trailing the cursor over the first search result.
Puck snorted a laugh. "Holy shit, Rachel. He's gonna be out of his mind by tomorrow."
"I don't care," she replied, waving him off. "Here, look at this." She pointed to the third result. "LinkedIn profile. Supposed to be for professional connections, and knowing Shelby, whatever she might've said, I'm willing to guess it's updated and monitored."
Puck rubbed a hand over his mouth. "You really think so?"
She nodded. "I'm going to click it, okay?"
He swallowed hard, nodding.
Rachel blew out a breath and clicked. That's her. My mother. Not that it's worth anything for me now. She moistened her dry mouth and spoke. "I think that's jackpot."
Puck grabbed Rachel's face in his hands and kissed her soundly.
Rachel whimpered in his grasp. You just broke up with another boy, you just broke up with another boy, you...
Puck released her, grinning. "You're fucking amazing, Rachel. I can't tell you just how amazing you are."
Rachel took a shuddering breath. I think you just did. She cleared her throat. "I – I really didn't do much of anything, Noah –"
"I wouldn't have thought about just, you know, googling her. I would've done it ages ago if I did." He shook his head. "Coulda spared some months of dealing with Q's bitchiness."
Rachel gave a half-smile. "And one ATM?"
He chuckled. "Probably." Puck eyed her. Actually..."That wasn't so bad, though."
"That –" She looked at him incredulously. "What do you mean? Noah, it was miserable in there, they were horrid!"
He shrugged. "Yeah, but –" Don't be an idiot. "It's pretty badass that I went to juvie."
She rolled her eyes. "Of course that would be your concern."
"Would it be better if I said because if I hadn't been in, you wouldn't have come to visit, and I wouldn't get to feel you up and kiss you again?"
Rachel's mouth dropped open as she sputtered.
"Yeah, I thought so." He leaned down to look at the screen. "So how do I reach her?"
A full bodied tremor rippled through Rachel before she answered. "I - you -" She shook her head and leaned closer to the screen. "It looks like you might need to make one of these. A profile on here."
He frowned warily. "What do they - is this like a dating service or some shit?"
"Noah!" Rachel looked over at him. "It's a professional networking site. It's like a dating service for jobs, how's that?"
He snorted. "Sounds weird, but I'll go with it. Am I old enough to sign up?"
Rachel's brows furrowed as she continued to skim. "It appears so? I'm not quite sure. Do you want to try now?"
He shrugged, crossing to sit on the bed. "Unless you've got a better offer..."
Rachel rolled her eyes as she turned. "Enough, Noah. I just broke up with Finn, I don't think –"
"I like it when you don't think." He laid back against the comforter, looking over to her and grinning. "Wanna make out?"
She laughed despite herself. "Noah. Focus, please."
He leaned up on his elbows. "I am. Just not on what you think."
She shook her head, sighing. "Do you want to do this tonight or not? I do still have homework to do –"
"Inviting me back over tomorrow? What'll Hudson say?"
Rachel pursed her lips, turning a heated stare at her phone. "Whatever he wants."
She is really fucking pissed. "Rachel."
She rubbed a hand over her forehead before moving to meet his gaze. "Yes?"
"You deserve better." He sat up. "You know it, everyone knows it. The two of them can't get their shit together and you said it, you need to know that he's only thinking of you."
She chuckled. "Noah, I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but it still boggles my mind to hear that from you, of all people."
He raised a brow. "Hey, just 'cause I'm not serious about anybody doesn't mean I don't know how it should go. It's just..." He shrugged. "Just not for me, I guess."
She moved to sit next to him, patting his hand with a soft smile. "Not yet. But I said it before and I meant it – you're a good person, Noah. If you showed that to more people, I think you'd be pleasantly surprised at what you find in return."
He smirked. "You sure you don't wanna make out?"
Rachel flushed and slapped his hand. "Noah. Stop it." She raised a brow. "If you're not ready to do this, or if you want to do it on your own, it's okay. I'll email you the link and you can contact her when you're ready."
"I'm ready," he said, frowning. "I've been ready."
Rachel nodded slowly. "I'm certain you have been. That doesn't mean we have to do this now. It's been an...eventful day, to say the least."
Puck grimaced. "True. Shit, I didn't even tell you what happened when I walked back into Glee."
"When you –" She frowned. I'm almost afraid to ask. "What happened?"
He smirked. "We missed everyone ripping Quinn, apparently."
Rachel fought the smile. Serves her right. "They did?"
He nodded. "Schue told me. I, uh –" Shit. "I might also have said you dumped Hudson."
This time she grinned, rolling her eyes. "And pandemonium ensued?"
He nodded again. "Hummel went running out to find Hudson, Q was freaking out, and Schue set everyone home."
She shook her head. "Are all high schools like this, I wonder?"
He quirked a brow. "Which part? The slushies, the drama, the love triangles or squares or whatever the hell we're at now?"
Rachel giggled. "All of it." She pointed a finger. "Though the slushies are off the table for you, Mr. Puckerman."
He held his hands up. "No shit. Have you seen me slushy anyone since..."
She met his gaze steadily. "Since you experienced it yourself? No, not at all." She softened her voice to continue. "Which is why the whole juvenile delinquency debacle came as such a shock to me."
He smoothed his Mohawk, exhaling. "Yeah, I just...I flipped. I lost it. And I thought maybe if I – if I'd had more money..."
Rachel kept her voice soft. "You could have kept her?"
"We could have kept her. Quinn and me." He swallowed, glancing at Rachel. "I wanted to help, I wanted to be there, but she...she was just so – She wouldn't let me. Called me a Lima Loser." He scoffed. Like Hudson's such a fucking catch? "She would've lied about it for the rest of her fucking life, if she could've."
If I hadn't said anything, you mean. "Noah, I'm so –"
He waved her off. "We went over this already. Don't apologize. It's done. And actually I'm glad you said something. I just – I didn't know what to say to you."
That look. "I didn't either. Sorry seemed woefully inadequate." Rachel bit her lip. It still does.
He chuckled. "Yeah, well...I guess if you want to be technical I owe you an apology too."
"You –" She frowned. "For what?"
He raised a brow. "She was pregnant when we were...whatevering."
"Oh!" Rachel pressed a hand to her mouth. No wonder he was so bitter about it in the end..."Oh, my goodness. I –" I never even thought about it. She tilted her head. "How about we call it even, then?"
He nodded. "Works for me. How about a kiss to seal the deal?"
"Noah!" She shoved his shoulder.
He fell back on the bed. "Damn, getting handsy there. I think I like it."
She rolled her eyes. "I'm sure." She rubbed her hands on the comforter. "Would you like to –"
"Make out? Sure. I guess you wanted to ask yourself, I get it. You're a strong chick, Rachel. I'm into it." He puckered his lips.
She laughed. "You would be into anything that got a girl in your bed."
He leaned up on his elbows and caught her eyes. "Only if I wanted the girl."
"Rachel? Sweetheart, is that Noah's truck outside?"
Rachel blinked. "That's my daddy." She stood and crossed to her door. "Hi Daddy, yes, that's Noah's truck. He's here with me."
Puck sat up and moved quickly towards the computer as her father entered the room. He held out his hand. "Hi, Mr. Berry, how are you?"
Her father shook his hand. "I told you when you were last here, Noah, call me Stephen. And thank you for bringing Rachel home."
Puck nodded. "Not a problem. She's helping me with something. It was my pleasure."
Stephen smiled at his daughter. "That's Rachel, always trying to help people. Even when they don't appreciate it." He shook himself. "I don't mean you, Noah, I just know my girl is...misunderstood."
Rachel tucked her hair behind her hair. "Thanks, Daddy, we were just doing some research online."
He raised a brow and approached the computer. "Really? Anything I can help with?"
Rachel looked from Noah to the screen to her father. "Actually, yes." She took a deep breath. "Did – did Shelby leave any contact information with you two?"
Stephen pressed a hand to his heart. "Rachel! Why would you want to contact that vile excuse for a mother? Hasn't she done enough –"
"She adopted my daughter," Puck said quietly. "I haven't heard from them and I...I just want..."
Stephen clapped his hand over his mouth. "Oh, Noah. I'm so sorry. Rachel did mention something about you and that Fabray girl. I didn't know that was the end of the story." He blew out a breath. "Rachel, I'm sorry, sweetheart, but she didn't leave anything with us. Is that –" He waved towards the screen. "I take it you're trying to track her down?"
She nodded, taking the seat. "We found her on LinkedIn, but we haven't contacted her yet."
"That's probably best." Stephen sat on the bed, rubbing his temples. "She's...not the most friendly person."
Rachel's face took on a pained expression. "Daddy, I'm sorry. I didn't – I didn't mean to upset –"
He waved her off. "No, no, honey. It's understandable and admirable for you to help." He stood, clapping a hand on Noah's shoulder. "Well, I'll leave you to it. Good luck, Noah."
"Thanks, Mr. Berry." I, uh, I think I might need it."
Stephen chuckled. "Stephen, and I know what you mean." He looked to his daughter.
"Your homework, my dear?"
She nodded. "I know, I will. I've had a...difficult afternoon."
Stephen rolled his eyes. "Sweetheart, if you mean Finn, he was driving back and forth past the house when I pulled in. I think I freaked him out."
"He was – what?" Rachel stalked to the window, throwing the curtains aside to glare at the street. Of all the nerve..."I told him to stop."
Puck scoffed. "Like that would make a difference? Look, I'll go, I don't want him to be a pain in the ass and you know that's what he's looking for – my truck to not be there."
She pursed her lips and folded her arms. "Which makes me want to have a sleepover."
"What?" Stephen sputtered. "Rachel, sweetheart, I know that we're very understanding but –"
She sighed. "I know, I know, and it's not like Noah would stay anyway. But honestly. I will never understand Finn Hudson."
Stephen dropped a kiss on her head. "Maybe you're not supposed to, honey. Good luck with this." He left the two teens in the bedroom.
Puck smirked. "I might be willing to stay, but I wouldn't wanna sleep."
Rachel rolled her eyes. "All right, Noah, we'll do homework all night."
"Biology?" He wagged his eyebrows.
She rolled her eyes again. "Incorrigible."
He grinned. "Studly."
She caught his gaze. "Human."
He lifted a brow. "Better than. I'm the Sex God of McKinley High, babe, don't you forget it."
Rachel ignored the flutter in her stomach at the sound of him calling her 'babe'. "And don't you forget that I see past the bluster, Noah Puckerman. I'm happy to help you if you drop the –" She waved a hand. "– the Puck with me."
I already do. He chuckled. "Can't handle it?"
She raised a brow right back. "Any more than you can handle the fact that I can look at you and see how deeply you want to be loved – truly loved." It's like looking in a mirror sometimes...
He scoffed. "Whatever you wanna think."
"And whatever lie you may want to tell." She sighed. "Do you want to stay? I must start on my homework, but if you wanted to try a message, I can postpone a bit longer."
"I –" don't have a fucking clue where to start. Or how. He rubbed his hands over his head."Can we just send like, a 'where the fuck are you' kind of thing?"
Rachel rolled her eyes. "Is that precisely what you'd like to say?"
No, I wanna say give me my daughter back. He swallowed, pursing his lips. "No, I'm not stupid. But something like that. Nicer, or whatever, but that."
Rachel took a deep breath, tilting her head. Well, that shouldn't be too difficult, right? "I think I can do that." She turned back to the screen, flexing her fingers before setting them to the keys.
Dear Ms. Corcoran:
Rachel froze. Wait. That's it. She blew out an audible breath, hitting the delete key. "Do you trust me, Noah?"
He frowned behind her back. Do I trust you? "I –" Fuck it. "Yeah, I do." More than anyone right about now.
Rachel inhaled slowly and started to type.
Puck paced the room, listening to the tapping of keys. What the fuck is she doing? He bit his lip. It's been forever. "Uh, Rachel?" This shouldn't be complicated.
"Trust me, Noah." She kept her eyes on the screen. "If there's anything that should get a response, it's this." She finished typing and stood. "Go ahead and read it, press send if you think it's good."
He frowned as she walked away. "Um, sure." Sliding into the seat, he angled the laptop to read.
I know you didn't want me to contact you, but I'm not contacting you for myself. I'm actually reaching out on behalf of Beth Fabray-Puckerman, the beautiful baby girl that you've been blessed with through the generosity and yes, necessity, of my friends, Quinn Fabray and Noah Puckerman. I'm sure by now she has Noah's lips and Quinn's eyes, and perhaps you can't see that. But the two of them could, and they should. From what Noah tells me, and I know he remembers, she should be six months old by now. For someone who loves his daughter as much as Noah does, it's an eternity.
I'm not reaching out for me. That time has passed, and I understand that. But Beth deserves to know that she's loved. It's the last thing that I'll ask of you. I have two loving parents, and that's all I need now. Beth would be lucky enough to have three. Please, Shelby, let them be part of Beth's life.
Noah's email is npuckerman whmhs. edu. He'll be waiting to hear from you.
Puck swallowed hard against the lump in his throat. Holy shit. She put herself out there for me. Again. "Rachel...I – this is –"
"Press send or don't, Noah. The content isn't up for discussion." She blinked back the tears in her eyes behind her textbook. "I must start my homework."
He hit send and shook his head. "You are un-fucking-believable." He scrubbed his hands down his face. "You didn't have to do that, Rachel. You didn't. And I'm an asshole for putting you in that position." He cleared his throat. "You're too fucking good to me, it's no wonder Hudson is jealous."
Rachel scoffed. "He's only jealous now because you're here. Once you leave, there's nothing for him to worry about. It's not like the boys are lining up for me."
Puck nudged her over on the bed, sprawling next to her. "They'll have to get in line behind me."
She looked at him skeptically. "Behind you?" She shivered lightly. That is not a thought that should elicit such a reaction today, Rachel! She shook herself. "And that's presuming a line would even form, Noah." She sighed. "It's sweet of you to say but it's really not my fate."
He frowned at her. "What're you gonna wear to school tomorrow?"
She blinked. "I, uh, I'm not sure, I have to see how I'm feeling in the morning, what the weather is like -"
"Screw that. Go in your closet right now and pick out an outfit you always wanted to wear but didn't have the guts to. Every girl has one." Puck nodded towards her closet. "Or I can take the fact that you're still on the bed next to me as an invit-"
Rachel bolted from the bed.
"Aw, I'm hurt!" He chuckled and leaned up on his elbows. "I only bite as hard as you bite me."
Rachel flushed. Thank goodness I'm not next to him right now. "I - I'm sorry I -"
"Don't even finish that sentence, Rachel." He grinned. "It wasn't a complaint."
She rested her head on the cool metal closet rod. "I see," she managed. This is madness. She grabbed the V-neck tank top and skinny jeans. "I had a moment and bought these jeans, the top I just don't know that I can...compete."
Puck raised a brow. "Just means you're gonna have to try them on for me."
She rolled her eyes. "I surmised as much, Noah. But if I change in the closet, you have to promise not to peek in!"
He smirked. "Trust me, Rachel, if I wanted to see you naked, I have better ways than watching you change."
She flushed, stepping back into the closet and closing the door. "You - you are too much, Noah Puckerman."
Puck laid back on the bed, listening to zippers and the rustling of cloth. "You haven't even had me, really. You might handle me just fine."
Rachel blew out a breath, opening the door. "Very witty, Noah. I caught the double entendre."
"The only doubles I'm catching are your boobs. Damn." Puck stood and approached, looking her up and down.
Rachel backpedaled, a hand drifting to her clevage. "I - they're - I know I don't have Santana's endowments, but -"
"Santana's endowments are from her daddy's checkbook," he tossed back, smirking as he reached her. "Hot damn, Berry." He stroked a hand down her side, resting on her hip. "Yeah, you gotta wear this tomorrow."
She shivered. "I - I do?"
"You want a line, this outfit will get you one. I just want one thing." For now, anyway. He caught his breath at the track his thoughts had taken. For now? Watch yourself, Puckerman...
She frowned slightly. "What is this 'one thing'."
"It's what, Thursday afternoon? Don't get back with Hudson till at least next Monday." His thumb rubbed slow circles at her waist. "Give yourself one weekend to be not his girlfriend. Give him one weekend where he sits around with his thumb up his ass." He grinned. "Go to San's party with me."
"Don't - give - what? Where?" Rachel took a step back, shuddering. "You are terrible for my equilibrium."
"I like that." He quirked a brow. "So, Saturday night?"
"I can't say I was aware Santana was having a party." Rachel frowned. "I certainly don't expect I'd be welcome."
Puck rolled his eyes. "You're going with me, she can suck it."
Rachel swallowed, licking her lips. "Noah -"
Fucking shit. "You have no fucking clue what you can do to a guy, do you." And what the hell is wrong with my voice? He cleared his throat, hands flexing at his sides. "Wear that tomorrow, and come with me Saturday. Wear the Britney outfit." So I can try to get you out of it. He shook his head. "I should get outta here before I do something you regret."
"I - that - what?" She shook her head. Get it together, Rachel. "I'm lost, but I didn't mean to -"
He chuckled. "That's the whole damn problem." He blew out a breath. "Look, I'll see you tomorrow. If you're not wearing that outfit, I'm gonna be really upset. We bonded here."
She smacked his arm. "Fine, I'll think about it. I don't know that I have shoes that work, though."
Puck closed his eyes. "Rachel, if you think anyone will give your feet a second of attention, you haven't heard a damn thing I said today."
She blushed, smoothing a plait of hair through her hands. "Thank you, Noah. I just want - if I'm going to do this and change my usual attire, I don't want it to be remarked on negatively. I don't even know that I want to change so drastically so quickly."
"That's the point. Shake everyone up. Make him pay attention if that's what you want. If he's not looking at you, make everyone else look."
She frowned slightly. "I suppose it couldn't hurt."
"Not you, anyway." He smirked. "The rest of us guys might be a little uncomfortable."
"What? Why?" Her eyes widened with panic. "I don't want to make anyone uncomfortable, I -"
He chuckled. "You got the one where I said you might handle me, but this one you totally miss." He raised a brow. "You're definitely behind on your sexucation."
Why would he be uncomf - "Noah!" She blushed furiously. I would never have thought...She took a breath. "Do I -" She looked up at him through her lashes. "Do I really dress so poorly? Is that why I can't keep anyone's attention?"
"You kept mine," he murmured. Shit, did not mean to say that. "Anyway, I'm out. See you tomorrow."
Rachel shook her head. "I'll walk you out, Daddy would be upset if I didn't."
"Then please, after you." He gestured ahead with a smirk.
She shrugged. "Certainly, but -"
He gave her a light smack on the ass. "Exactly," he murmured.
"Noah!" She turned her head, glaring.
He grinned. "That would sound so much better in my ear with you under -"
Rachel grabbed for his arm as her knees went weak. "Not going to rush too much, you said?"
He only smirked, tucking her hand into his arm. "If I wasn't taking it slow, you never would've made it into those pants," he countered.
She shivered again. "Maybe I should have just let you see yourself out anyway."
Somehow they made it down the stairs, Puck exchanging polite goodbyes with her father before opening the door. "Want a ride to school tomorrow?"
Rachel raised a brow. "I don't know, do I?"
"Ha, you're learning. I'll pick you up by 7:30, you can make an entrance."
"At least you didn't say you'd be making an entrance," she muttered.
He smirked. "See you in the morning."
Rachel closed the door behind him with a sigh.
"Everything all right, honey?" Stephen kissed her cheek, rubbing a hand down her back. "What's going on today?"
Rachel gave a strangled laugh. "I only wish I knew."
A.N. Thanks to any of you who have actually read this far! :) Hope you've enjoyed, and working on the rest of it, now that there's power and Internet.