Author's Note: Not much to say other than the standard THANK YOU and the only-recent weird mix of sadness and excitement that the story is wrapping up. Oh yeah. PLEASE REVIEW! :D
Rachel stood inside Kurt and Blaine's penthouse condo, trying to catch some of the warm air exiting a nearby vent while still practically pressed against the full-length window and enjoying the view. She was nearly frostbitten from her outside concert that had just ended, but she missed the city at night too much to squander an opportunity to watch the hustle and bustle from her current vantage point. She loved seeing people navigate through the downtown area, watching the snow dance around everything as if to music. Moving to LA had been the hardest decision of her life, and even though she enjoyed the beautiful weather and knew it had been the right choice for her career, Rachel never regretted any time she had to spend in New York. She'd come straight from Ohio, after spending some time with her fathers for Hanukkah, but was staying until the beginning of the New Year. It wasn't going to be all fun - some of the time would be spent making special appearances and performing small concerts (the rest inside, thankfully) – but it was a perfect escape for as long as it lasted.
"Double hot chocolate, soy milk and no marshmallows – even though I maintain it's not hot chocolate without them."
"Thank you." Rachel rolled her eyes, accepting the mug with both hands and sighing at the warmth she felt instantly enter her bloodstream. She followed Kurt to the couch, tucking her feet underneath herself in an effort to warm them faster. "It's quite delicious."
"I use real chocolate," Kurt remarked, taking his own satisfying sip. "Blaine's working out again and I'm sitting on my fat ass drinking in calories."
"You're exercising your mouth," Rachel joked lightly, her smile forced when she heard the host on the television announce the next guest. New York was supposed to be her escape, but she wouldn't be able to avoid her thoughts for much longer with Sam on the small screen.
"Did you know he was in town?" Kurt asked quietly, still not sure how to broach the subject even after six months.
"No," she answered softly. "I knew he was starting a promotional tour, but that is only because Santana mentioned it in passing before flying off to Bali."
"Should I change it?"
Rachel shook her head, not because she didn't want to appear weak, but rather because she was curious about the blond. They texted every now and again, but their friendship had definitely fallen by the wayside once they'd finished recording the duet they'd worked on together. After everything that had happened, she knew Sam was in a difficult position, and she didn't want to make it any harder on him. While she enjoyed his company and wanted nothing but good things for him, Rachel knew their friendship was nothing compared to his and Noah's. And if she didn't, then Sam just made it clear by telling the talk show host and anyone watching just how vital Noah was in his life.
"I still think he's gay," Kurt mentioned, mostly to distract his friend from the melancholy he saw creeping into her posture. He hadn't been able to be there for her as much as he'd hoped since she'd been so busy with her album and touring, but he knew her well enough to infer the things he didn't know. It had been six months since Rachel had spoken to Puck, and clearly she wasn't over it. She put on a nice front for all the magazines and appearances and whatever, but it wasn't even close to the Rachel he knew. The last time he saw that girl was … that night.
He sighed heavily, hinging forward to place his mug on a coaster on the coffee table before his eyes drifted to the crestfallen expression of his best friend. "I know I asked already and you said things were better this way, but … are you sure?"
Rachel hid her frown behind her own mug, taking a sip of the chocolaty drink to give her a few moments to formulate a proper response. Pouting certainly would be called for, but probably not appropriate. Unfortunately, it didn't seem sufficient to give the right answer, which was that she had absolutely no idea; she'd never been in this situation before, so she had no basis for how things were supposed to be/feel. She'd been heartbroken before, sure, but this … after her and Finn had parted ways for good, Rachel had been sad, obviously, but her focus had moved to herself. It made her feel empowered, stronger than ever. And she'd tried to do that again, to focus on her career and forget everything else, but she couldn't. Not this time.
"No, OK?" Rachel snapped, uncrossing her legs to lay her feet flat on the floor as she turned to place her cup down on the coffee table. "I'm not sure, and you asking a million times isn't particularly helping." She blew out a frustrated breath, slowing turning her face back to his. She let her eyes apologize for her, but wasn't quite done venting. "I appreciate your concern, Kurt, but considering you were against it all from the beginning, I'm not entirely sure I'd tell you otherwise."
He winced at the admission, hating the idea that she would hide her true feelings from him. However, he wanted to point out that he had been right. She'd obviously moved way too quickly with her relationship with Puck, otherwise things like his prior relationship with Quinn would have become known much sooner. Then again, maybe that wasn't the point. "A girl has the right to change her mind."
"You're not a girl, Kurt." Rachel shook her head, grabbing the mug again and lounging back into the sofa with a exasperated sigh. "You're gay."
"Semantics." He winked over his mug and smiled into his next sip when Rachel managed to laugh at his joke. They'd come a long way over the years and learning to have these types of conversations without swearing to not talk to the other for the rest of eternity had been a long-taught lesson. "My concern doesn't have anything to do with whether I was right or not. I think it is irrelevant when it seems like Blaine might have also been right." He shrugged softly, hoping not to hurt her too much with what he intended to say. "You were happier than you'd been in a long time."
Rachel's breath caught in her throat as a million memories coursed through her mind. Some were from high school, others in college, but the bulk were from two months of the current year. They were thoughts of spring and love being in the air, flashes of whispered dreams and shouted pleasure. Every seemingly insignificant (at the time) detail clouded her mind, leaving Rachel in too much of a fog to respond to Kurt's observation.
"I mean, I love my brother, but we both know you too just don't work in a relationship together. He's too preoccupied thinking you're perfect, and you're too busy trying to impress him." Kurt sighed a little, shaking his head. "I guess the same thing could be said for your relationship with Jesse, though I think the second time around was more out of desperation than anything else."
"It was more than that," Rachel defended weakly. "We weren't in high school anymore. He knew the business." She shrugged weakly. "He'd helped me get into NYADA."
"So you owed him?" Kurt's eyes widened, but he sighed in relief at Rachel's reaction. That clearly hadn't been what she'd meant. Thank. God. "It's just … I don't know. Maybe it was because I was witness to Finn and Jesse and," Kurt swallowed thickly, muttering out, "Brody," before continuing, "more than I was Puck. But, even in the short time and through all the weird obstacles you'd put in front of you ... you'd seemed really balanced." He shrugged in an attempt to make it seem casual even though he knew everything he was saying was probably like little knives poking her in the heart. "The best version of you."
Rachel hiccupped out a strange mix of a laugh and sob, the room eerily quiet except for the sound coming from the television. The show had just returned, and Sam was on stage preparing to premiere his brand new single. She'd heard in passing that Noah had helped write some of the lyrics, and even though she knew the creative process can be tricky when collaborating, she found herself listening harder to pinpoint which lyrics might be his versus Sam's. The sound was obviously the blond's choosing, but the stubbornness of the lyrics were soaked in Noah. And while there were some lyrics that Rachel suspected were his (Somehow when she's around it's like I lose my mind; I keep getting in my way, and my friends say I'm crazy) and some that she hoped were his (I know, I know, I can't leave her alone), there was one that she knew was him.
I've never been good with words
Well, at least not the sweet kind
The lyrics couldn't have been anymore true for Noah. He was the epitome of the strong, silent type; even when he was being sweet, it was usually more with actions than words – and if it were words, then there was still an obscenity or two to disguise it. Rachel had been privileged to see his vulnerable side a few more times than she imagined most others had, but more than how the lyrics applied to Noah, she wondered how they fit her. Everyone knew she talked too much, but was she good with words?
She'd never felt like anyone really understood her, and maybe that was because she didn't really say what she meant. In high school she chose to express herself through song more than anything, hiding behind the thoughts and emotions of others. And even though Rachel felt like she'd opened up to Noah just as much as he had to her, she knew she'd closed herself off to him much faster, too. After everything that happened, she'd refused to listen to anything he or anyone else said, pushing him away because she didn't know how to express her feelings – that by blurring the image she had of him in her mind, she couldn't see herself next to him anymore.
"Even if I did still …" Rachel cleared her throat, not willing to say that word out loud, "… it's too late. We haven't talked in months and …"
"It's never too late!" Kurt shouted, springing up from the couch with such force that he knocked the coffee table and his mug wobbled enough that Rachel leapt forward to keep it from tipping over. "The show is live! You know the studio! We could get there …"
"Ut oh," Blaine laughed from the doorway, sweat circles evident under his arms and cascading down his torso but his amusement hiding his exhaustion. "He's in full-on matchmaker mode now." He shook his head at Kurt's complete disregard to his appearance in the loft, the latter's focus entirely on Rachel. "I could hear you from the hallway. What's going on?"
"Nothing," Rachel answered immediately, refusing to let Kurt pry her off the couch despite him currently yanking her arm.
"Not nothing. If we left now, we could …"
"Nothing," Rachel repeated, finally standing just so he didn't pull her arm out of the socket. "Even if this wasn't the most ridiculous plan you've ever had – and that's saying something - there's just no way it is feasible. The show is nearly over, and it's not live. It's on a delay."
"We can …"
"Sit in traffic for hours?"
"If we leave now …"
"In my pajamas, Kurt?"
"Like it matters what you're wearing!"
"It most certainly does!" Rachel argued back, pointing to the television screen where Noah had joined Sam on the couch opposite the host. His face was clearly distressed and his tone wasn't how she'd remembered it, but he looked as good as (if not better than) ever. "That man does not end up with someone like me."
"You're gorgeous!" Blaine volleyed back.
"You can change into something in the car!" Kurt added.
And then Noah's voice came through the television. "A girl like that would never go for a guy like me."
Rachel blinked in surprise, her eyes bulging a little as she faced the bright light of the small screen. The host had moved on to discussing Sam's album more and the upcoming show in a few days, but Rachel stayed focused on Noah's face. It remained unchanging, a hint of melancholy hiding under the façade of practiced ambivalence. Six months ago at the record store, she'd told him that she couldn't be with someone who put her on a pedestal, but that's not what he was doing.
That's what she was doing.
For all her claims that Quinn wasn't the issue, there was clearly still some insecurity when it came to the blonde. Rachel had finally learned to appreciate the differences between their physical appearances and knew every man had his own preferences, but there was still the part of her that envied Quinn. The blonde wasn't just beautiful, but she exuded the confidence that came with that acknowledgement. Rachel, on the other hand, still couldn't shake the feeling of needing to look behind her if she caught the eye of someone looking longingly her way.
She'd never been the hot one – or the super hot one. She'd never even felt that way … until Noah. Even at the end, when their relationship had developed far beyond the bedroom, he never shied away from making it perfectly clear how much he'd wanted her. Whether it was with a look across the room, his touch on her lower back (or inner thigh) or even a strangled sound seconds before she gave in to him, his desire for her was evident no matter where they were or who else they were with. He may have had a reputation for being a ladies' man, but when he was with her, his attention never strayed.
"The defense rests," Blaine joked, throwing both Kurt and Rachel their coats. "Let's go."
Rachel exhaled a shaky breath, her eyes moving off Blaine's and back to the television. The host was reminding people of Sam's album's release date before he said goodbye. Credits for the show ran over the screen, but Rachel honed in on Noah's easy expression. His smile (even the fake one) made her heart race more than it already was and she'd wondered how she'd gone so long without that feeling. Why had she'd held onto the pain for so long without realizing all it would take to make everything better was him?
"Kurt," Rachel said, her eyes hard but a smile slowly creeping onto her face as she swung her coat over her shoulders. "Hurry up and pick something tasteful." She laughed out loud when he practically fell over himself running toward the guest room, a cloud of smoke in the shape of Kurt practically forming he'd left so quickly. She'd barely had time to grab her purse and retrieve her phone from inside before he was back and ready to go.
"The car's ready," Blaine announced from the doorway, propping the exit open with one hand while his cellphone was perched in the other.
"Good." Rachel nodded her head, clicking away on her own mobile device. "I've got a plan."
The last sound the apartment heard before the door closed and the trio left to right all the wrongs was the loud, high-pitched squeal Kurt let out in glee.