18 The Ballad of Serenity Valley

Rachel braced herself and dialed the number. "Why are you so nervous about this assignment," Blaine asked as the phone rang.

"It's not as if singing is difficult for you," Kurt agreed.

"Singing is fine," Rachel shrugged, "It's the attitude. This song…isn't going to be as easy as you two would think." Her attention snapped to the phone as someone picked up on the other line. "Hi, Santana? It's Rachel." The conversation that followed was a little surreal in her opinion but it did end with Santana agreeing to come over and watch Rachel perform with Blaine and Kurt.

Santana greeted Rachel at her front door with a nod, "There's a fee for this service Berry." She warned the smaller girl. "An' I don't take cash."

"I'll be happy to view your own performance with an eye to how you can improve if that's what you want," Rachel offered as she closed the door behind the Cheerio. "Though your voice and range has greatly improved since sophomore year."

"Thanks Berry," Santana rolled her eyes and Rachel folded her arms, a bit annoyed. "But that isn't what I want."

"I'm not kissing you," Rachel shook her head as she led Santana down to the basement where she and the boys had been practicing.

"And what if that was my fee," Santana put a hand on her hip as she regarded the little diva. "What if I wanted to see what's got Puckerman tied up in knots?"

"Then you'd have to wait until I discussed it with him," Rachel ignored Kurt's stare of astonishment.

"What happened to the diva who made out with Puck while dating Finn because Finn slept with Santana," Kurt asked curiously.

"First of all, that was ill-advised," Rachel folded her arms and regarded Kurt with a frown. "Second of all, I learned from that mistake. And thirdly I don't want to hurt Noah like that. Finn was more angry than hurt, but Noah would be hurt…" She looked at Santana, "And if that's your fee then I'm sorry you wasted a trip over here because I won't kiss you unless Noah is here and doesn't mind."

Rachel was surprised when Santana began to laugh. "Relax Berry," The Latina shook her head. "Puck's my boy. Just messin' with you."

"Really Santana," Rachel rolled her eyes. "Your humor leaves something to be desired."

"Only if you're an uptight priss," Santana shot back. "Nah, my fee is I wanna hear you play your fiddle."

Rachel blinked and recoiled slightly, something she saw Santana did not miss, "Why?"

"Because you said you took lessons; an' every other thing you took lessons in you can't wait to show off," Santana reasoned out with a smug grin. "But your fiddle, you didn't say word one or offer to play for us…so I wanna hear you play."

Rachel tilted her head, "After you help us with the song." She stipulated firmly, "And I want Noah here. If I'm going to embarrass myself I want the support of my boyfriend." She looked at Kurt and Blaine, "Artie's coming over for dinner with Noah anyway, would you all like to stay?"

Santana's eyes lit up and Rachel's smile tilted in appreciation of the greed on the Cheerio's face, "Your dads cookin' again?"

"I am," Rachel shrugged, "But I like to think I can equal Daddy's stew with manicotti." She regarded Santana with a little smirk she knew she'd picked up from Puck. "An equitable exchange?"

"Yeah, if your dads aren't wastin' away I'm guessin' you're a decent cook," Santana chuckled a bit. "All right, lay it on me."

Rachel grinned and went to sync up the music, "We've been working with the band. Apparently they'll work for sugar cookies." She took her place at the microphone and couldn't help the twitch of her hips as the music started. Putting herself into the mindset that she was singing for her boyfriend, wanting to make him mindless with lust she started with a purr into the microphone and let the volume grow until the song was pouring out of her in what she hoped was a growling wail.

When she finished the final staccato verse she switched off the microphone and looked at Santana, "So I really can't get a good idea from Kurt and Blaine if I'm singing this at all effectively." She explained. "Noah told me to think of sex when I was singing and I—"

Santana cut her off by standing up and shaking her head, "Exactly what are you thinking about when you're singing this Berry?"

Rachel blushed slightly and moved away from Kurt and Blaine so she could speak quietly with Santana. Kurt was a friend but he was also an inveterate gossip, "I think about Noah." She said quietly, "Why? Is it not right?"

"What specifically about Puck are you thinking about?" Santana persisted and Rachel frowned, she couldn't read the gleam in the other girl's eyes.

"About…how it feels…" Rachel knew she was blushing. "About how his fingers…feel, how his tongue feels…" She shuddered slightly in remembered desire, "Inside me."

"Son of a—" Santana blinked. "You're thinkin' of Puck fingering you when you're singing that?"

"Well yes," Rachel shrugged and hoped she wasn't completely red in the face. "It's as close as I've gotten to sex. Noah's been…incredibly patient with me." She shook her head, "I can't have sex before I'm ready just so that I'll perform a song better."

"Uh, no, Berry, you really don't gotta do that," Santana shook her head. "I'm pretty sure that with the right clothes you'll drive Puckerman right out of his mind." She tilted her head at Rachel in an evaluating manner. "Tell ya what, I'll bring some a my stuff on by tomorrow, we're about the same size, you can try it on. We'll get you costumed up."

"Oh I've got to get in on this," Kurt declared. He'd been busily drinking a bottle of water and whispering with Blaine. "If we're going to get the diva all tarted up I have to help."

"I'll give you an honest opinion Rache," Blaine smiled at her. "Sexy doesn't mean cheap."

"I'd appreciate all of your help," Rachel smiled hopefully, "Something more to attract Noah's eye and less 'sad clown hooker' would be appreciated."

"Sad clown hooker?" Santana blinked and looked the boys for clarification. Since Blaine looked clueless and Kurt wasn't much better the Latina switched her gaze back to Rachel.

"Finn said I looked like a sad clown hooker when I got…tarted up for him," Rachel confessed quietly. "I put on spandex pants and a tube top so I'd look like Sandy in Grease… he didn't appreciate it."

"Lemme see this outfit," Santana grinned. "I think we both know that Finn's taste is a little skewed."

"After dinner," Rachel suggested. "If you'll come upstairs with me we can talk while I work on the manicotti." She led them upstairs and began to pull out everything she'd prepared the night before. "All I need to do is stuff the noodles and add the meat sauce." She explained as she set the bowls of cheese out on the counter. "I made up the sauce last night so its been in the fridge all day and the spices will have gotten into the meat." She pulled out a bottle of water and gave it to Santana since her latest guest seemed to be eyeing Kurt's bottle thirstily.

"Thought you didn't eat meat," Santana commented with a smirk.

Rachel tilted her head and then grinned, "I don't consume animal flesh." She corrected the Cheerio, "I'm a vegetarian. You'll have to ask Noah about anything else."

Blaine chuckled as Santana nearly choked on the water she'd been drinking, "I think Puck's been corrupting our innocent little Rachel."

Santana shook her head, "Innocent my ass. This girl told the entire celibacy club that girls want sex too."

Rachel smiled and knew her expression was smug, "I told you to ask Noah." She shrugged, "He hasn't complained to me."

Kurt chuckled, "Finn said something once." He commented as he leaned against the counter. "Would that be accurate?"

"I wouldn't know what Finn has said about me," Rachel gave Kurt a hard stare. "And I have no desire to know," She looked down at the pasta shells she was stuffing with cheeses. "I know that regardless of what I did he wasn't satisfied therefore he couldn't have been complimentary in what he said."

Before anyone could say anything else the doorbell rang and Rachel looked at her hands, "Would someone mind answering that? This isn't exactly a clean job." She had cheese mixture all over her hands despite using a plastic bag and squeezing it to fill the noodles.

"I got it," Blaine put down his water and sauntered off to answer the door. Puck's voice was heard soon enough along with Artie's cheerful tones. The two boys wasted no time coming back to the kitchen and Rachel was gratified that Puck came straight towards her to plant a solidly sweet kiss on her mouth.

"How're you doin' baby," He murmured against her lips and she couldn't help smiling up at him.

"Got my hands full but I'm good," Rachel stood on her tiptoes to kiss him again and giggled when he obligingly bent down and let her kiss him for a good two minutes before she groaned and pulled away. "Love that but I'll never finish dinner if I keep going," She admitted. "How're you?"

"Sooo much better now it ain't even funny," Puck grinned at her and began to open the cabinets. "So what's goin' on?"

"Rehearsal," Blaine explained. "Santana came over to give Rachel an unbiased opinion. Since Kurt and I aren't really qualified," He added with a smile.

"And what's the verdict?" Puck turned to look at Santana, his hands full of flatware.

Santana made a whistling noise like steam from a teakettle and fanned herself, "Had to ask the girl what the hell she was thinkin' of when she sang. Scorchin' hot."

"Yeah?" Puck grinned at Rachel.

She couldn't help the groan, "I can feel myself blushing." She objected, "How am I going to get through a performance if I'm turning red."

"Didn't blush when you were singing," Santana observed. "Just afterwards." She tilted her head towards Puck, "He's going to lose his mind you know." She told Rachel matter of factly, "He's going to lose his shit."

"Which he ain't known for," Artie put in his two cents. "Got me curious to see this number Rache, any chance of a preview?"

Rachel shook her head, "I really wasn't planning on showing anyone until it was time to perform. It's not exactly my usual."

"Yeah but getting out of your usual has worked pretty well in the past," Artie observed. "I mean, Alanis Morisette, Linkin Park and now Nine Inch Nails, you nailed the first two."

"Oooh punny," Blaine made a face and Artie laughed.

"I'm still curious about the accuracy of Finn's statement," Kurt drawled the words out. "Rachel won't say."

"Like I give a shit about anything Finn says," Puck snorted in derision and Rachel smiled in satisfaction as she continued to stuff the noodles. "Angel how many places should I set?"

"Santana is staying," Rachel looked at the Cheerio who nodded emphatically. "You and Artie," She looked at Kurt and Blaine, "Can you stay or do you two have to be home."

"I have to get home," Kurt rolled his eyes. "Family time in the hopes of keeping my idiot brother from doing anything else insane. Carole is ready to tear her hair out."

"I'm sorry," Rachel sighed. "How's your dad?"

"He's coping," Kurt shrugged. "I think he's grateful Blaine and I are dating. This is the least dramatic my life has been in a while."

"That's sayin' something," Artie laughed as Puck handed him a stack of plates.

"So you and Blaine can't stay," Rachel surmised. "If you aren't here after dinner you don't get to hear the violin playing." She warned them with a half smile, "I'm doing this once and one time only."

"I think we'll live," Kurt chuckled. "Now as to the accuracy of Finn's statement..."

"What exactly did he say," Rachel sighed in exasperation. She loved Kurt dearly but he was like a dog with a bone at times. And he fixated on the oddest things."

"He said you were a..." Kurt frowned and shook his head. "Never mind... it's not a nice thing to say now that I think about it."

Rachel frowned and took a deep breath, "Then I know what he said." She straightened her spine and looked her friend in the eye, "He said I was a tease didn't he. And then he said that I sucked his cock." She was vividly aware of Santana sputtering as her water went down the wrong way, shock at Rachel's language having made the Latina take a sharp breath mid gulp. Blaine and Kurt looked dumbfounded while Artie's mouth had fallen open. Puck's reaction was most telling, his fists clenched and he took several deep breaths before he visibly forced himself to relax. Rachel looked at each of her friends, "Finn complained that I wouldn't have sex with him. I didn't even let him get to third base with me. But I gave him fellatio instead." She shrugged, "After he left me alone at the Holiday Tree Lot I really didn't expect that he'd keep his mouth shut about that."

"Damn," Santana was still coughing up water and Rachel passed her a towel. "Thanks," The Cheerio coughed a bit more. "You've got stones to just come out and say it Berry."

"He tried to beat Noah to death," Rachel shook her head. "He abandoned me at a tree lot when it was twenty below. He dumped me for kissing Noah when I was lonely and upset and angry because he had lied for a year about his relationship with you. He tried to keep me from being friends with Noah. He prayed to God so he could touch my breasts when Kurt's dad was in the hospital." She shrugged, "Him bragging about what I did in private is the least of his offenses. And quite frankly I'm amazed he hasn't said worse."

"What about his...problem," Santana asked curiously. "Because that was... well an issue."

Rachel laughed and knew it sounded a little mean, "Oh you mean the premature ejaculation?" She rolled her eyes, "That never went away. Half the time he'd shoot on my face, once it got in my hair. That's when I refused to do it anymore." She looked a the manicotti she'd filled and tilted her head thoughtfully. "Would you open the cabinet and grab another box of noodles please," She asked Santana. "I've got enough filling to do at least a dozen more and that way we'll have plenty and Noah can take some home for his mom."

"Yeah," Santana nodded and watched as Rachel began to fill another pan with noodles. "So what the hell was he bragging about then?" She asked Kurt, "I mean, shooting on Rachel's face isn't exactly the sort of thing the other guys are gonna think is cool. Down her throat yeah, the lack of gag reflex..." She slanted a glance at Puck who was looking pissed at the conversation and protective of Rachel both. "I'm guessing that's a helluva lotta fun."

Rachel giggled and looked at Puck with a smile, "Like I said before. Noah hasn't complained." She finished filling the rest of the noodles and washed her hands before she took the containers of sauce out of the fridge.

"You're not pissed that Finn's been talking about you like that?" Artie asked quietly. Rachel saw the look he was giving Puck, the smaller boy was worried about Puck's temper.

"I'm irritated but considering his past behavior I'm hardly surprised," Rachel shrugged it off and looked over at her boyfriend. "Baby I've got a couple loaves of bread in the pantry, the long skinny kind. Would you grab those for me please?" Puck nodded and shot a glare at Kurt before disappearing around the corner. Rachel regarded her friend thoughtfully, "You prodded Lauren into kissing me at Sam's party this summer. You accused Noah of wanting to marry me and keep me in Lima. Now you're bringing up things Finn has said about me. What is going on with you Kurt? I love him. Noah loves me. What are you trying to do?"

"I just..." Kurt shook his head, "I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop with Puck. He's..."

"I'm what," Puck's voice was low and hard. "Not good enough for her? I know that. She don't care and I'm just selfish enough to ignore it so I can be with her. I'm a loser? Maybe. But I'll get out of this town if I die tryin'." He shook his head, "Can't convince you with words Kurt. But you weren't around for most of last year. You didn't see what Finn did to her. So you don't get a say in whether or not I'm with Rachel."

"I care about Rachel," Kurt protested. "I don't want her hurt."

"Nobody wants that," Artie shook his head, "But this shit you're doin' man? That's what's hurtful. So give it a rest would ya? Just let 'em be."

"I'll try to take a step back and just watch," Kurt said quietly. "I just..." He met Rachel's gaze and she sighed at the amount of affection she read in those dark eyes. "I don't want you to get stuck here Rachel. You'll waste away in this damn town. That's the one thing we've always had in common. We knew we had to get out of here."

"That hasn't changed," Rachel smiled. "It just means I've got someone else in my corner now."

"All right," Kurt nodded slowly. "All right. We'd better get going." He pointed at Santana, "I want a full report on this violin playing. And tomorrow we'll meet up before school and determine a time and place for costume consultation."

Santana grinned, "Seriously Kurt, chill. We'll text you." There was a chorus of good byes and kisses blown, with Kurt insisting on his hug from Rachel and Blaine cheerfully immitating him before the two boys left.

Rachel took a deep breath and shook her head, "I love him to death but he's as bad as I am for drama." She declared as she poured the sauces over the manicotti and slid them in the oven. "So I've got one with meat sauce and one with non meat sauce," She told them. "I'm going to make a good salad and some bread to go with it... and there's tiramisu for desert if you have room."

"You made tiramisu?" Artie rolled up to Rachel and wrapped his arms around her legs in a hug. "I love you. Marry me?"

Rachel was laughing, Puck was rolling up his sleeves in mock menace and Santana couldn't stop giggling when LeRoy walked in the door. "Something funny Babystar," The lawyer asked with a smile.

"I made tiramisu last night for desert tonight. Now Artie wants to marry me," Rachel laughed and disentangled herself from Artie before she looked at Puck. "How about you? Do I get a proposal from you if I make Key Lime Pie?"

"You already got one baby," Puck laughed and began to pull glasses down from the shelves. "Back when we were five remember?"

"I never did get the ring you promised me," Rachel shook her head with a pleased smile. "You said it would match my tiara so I could be your princess."

"I got it but you got mad at me the next week when I didn't want to play the Scarecrow to your Dorothy," Puck remembered. "We didn't talk for two weeks and Hiram told us that if we were going to be so childish we weren't allowed to get married yet."

LeRoy, Artie and Santana were listening with amused smiles to Puck's recollection and Rachel smiled, "Well Dad was right," She admitted. "We were a little young."

"Yeah, except every now and then when Mom's pissed she brings up the fact that we could have gone to a shadchan and we would be formally engaged by now," Puck shook his head. "Usually that's when she's seen you at Synagogue and I've managed to piss her off. She's eased up on that but every now and then she makes noises about starting up a shidduch."

"She's welcome to try," LeRoy was chuckling as he loosened his tie. "Hiram would probably back her but I'd rather have Rachel graduating from college before she gets married." He pointed at Puck, "You remember that Noah. Propose all you want, but no marriage ceremony until after you two graduate."

Puck grinned and shot Rachel a heated look, "Long's I can hang around in the mean time don't think I'm mind too much." He slipped up behind Rachel and kissed her cheek. "Need any more help?"

"Could you and Daddy start on the bread? I don't want to use garlic really, just butter and I'll slide it in the oven under the manicotti so it toasts," Rachel requested as she grabbed fresh greens from the crisper. "I've gotten the dressing together already so I just need to do the salad and we'll be ready by the time Dad gets home."

"Two whole pans Rachel?" LeRoy had looked in the oven, "Are you trying to make us fat?"

"Artie and Noah and Santana are staying, so that's six of us," Rachel reminded him, "Plus you'll have some for lunch and I'm sending some home with Noah for his mom too."

"Let me change out of this suit and I'll give you a hand with the bread Noah," LeRoy walked off tugging at his tie irritably.

Rachel smiled to herself as Puck began to cut slices in the bread and Artie and Santana finished setting the table, talking about some movie they'd gone to with Brittany and Lauren. It was like having a big family, all the people in the house, talking and laughing. It was nice.

"What're you thinkin' baby?" Puck's voice was gentle, his smile sweet as he looked at her curiously.

She couldn't help smiling wider, "Oh, just thinking about how lucky I am to be here, right now with you and our friends. It feels like family."

"It is," Puck grinned at her. "Don't even mind too much that I'm not gonna get you alone tonight," He winked at her and added. "Much."

"Hmmm..." Rachel sighed, "I know. And we've been really good about non PDA at school mostly."

"Well Santana can drive Artie home after we study some, an' then maybe we can have some quality time," Puck suggested with a wicked grin.

"I like how you think," She grinned up at him. "I still have to pay Santana's fee for her consultation though."

"What fee?" Puck blinked at her and looked at Santana as she and Artie came back in the room. "You're charging to hear my girl sing?"

"Don't get your shorts in a bunch Puckerman," Santana rolled her eyes. "I just wanna hear her play the fiddle."

"Well as soon as the salad's thrown together," Rachel tossed the greens into the bowl and mixed them with her hands. "We'll be done with this for a few minutes." She put the bowl back in the fridge and washed her hands before she led them into the family room where she kept her violin. It took a few minutes to tune but finally she couldn't stall anymore. She looked at the three of them and frowned thoughtfully, "Only my dads have heard me play." She cautioned them, "I don't know if you'll like my music or not."

Puck sat at the piano bench and leaned against the closed lid of the instrument, "Pretty sure it'll be awesome regardless angel."

Rachel sighed and smiled slightly before she raised the bow to the strings, "All right." She looked up as her daddy leaned in the doorway, "Here we go."

The song was simple, easy for her to sing and the fiddle took most of her attention anyway but it was something she'd never shared before.

"Take my love, take my land
Take me where I cannot stand
I don't care, I'm still free
You can't take the sky from me

She filled in the empty spaces with riffs on the fiddle smiling when her Daddy's guitar joined her to fill out the song.

"Take me out to the black
Tell them I ain't comin' back
Burn the land and boil the sea
You can't take the sky from me.

Leave the men where they lay
They'll never see another day
Lost my soul, lost my dream
You can't take the sky from me

On the third verse her Daddy's voice took over, his rich dark bass filling the room.

"I feel the black reaching out
I hear its song without a doubt
I still hear and I still see
That you can't take the sky from me

The fiddle wailed and the guitar wept and Rachel grinned at her daddy when he nodded to her. The two of them meshed their voices for the last verse,

"Lost my love, lost my land
Lost the last place I could stand
There's no place I can be
Since I've found Serenity…"

Rachel stopped playing the fiddle and sang simply as the guitar died away, "But you can't take the sky from me."

"Wish you'd let me know we were having a concert," Hiram's voice spoke from behind LeRoy, amusement in his tones. "I would have gotten here earlier."

"Just paying a debt," Rachel smiled and put the violin back in its case. "Dinner's almost ready."

"What was that?" Santana asked looking from Artie to Puck and then at Rachel.

"The Ballad of Serenity Valley," Artie proclaimed in something like awe. "Seriously Rache, you are the Queen of the Geeks. I'mma start callin' you 'Your Majesty' at school."

"Yeah, I'm not even a court princess of the geeks...so could someone explain a little more?" Santana shook her head.

"It's the full length version of a TV show's theme song," Rachel took pity on the Latina. "The show was called Firefly. It got canceled but it was...awesome. Funny and dark and sweet and... it was about trying to be an individual, trying to go your own way when everything and everyone in the 'Verse is against you."

"So perfect for Glee then," Santana chuckled. "I guess its not exactly a popular show?"

"It's a western set in space," Artie explained and Santana followed him back into the kitchen while Rachel put the violin case up.

"So?" She finally looked at Puck, "What did you think of your geeky girlfriends violin playing?" His hazel eyes were green with warmth and he smiled up at her from where he still sat on the piano bench.

"I think my girl is awesome," He told her with a grin. "Can't wait to hear you play more. And you've gotta let me see this show you love so much."

"I've got the boxed set and the movie," Rachel admitted with a sheepish grin. "Maybe we could watch it sometime."

"Its a date," Puck tugged her closer and into his lap. His mouth came down on hers gently, sweet fire burning through her and Rachel couldn't help moaning slightly. His lips nibbled and teased her, his hands rubbing over her back, stroking through her hair as he deepened the kiss, sucking slightly on her tongue until she was squirming to get closer and LeRoy's voice was calling for them to come and sit down for dinner.

"Hmmm... Now I really want dinner over with quickly," Rachel moaned slightly as Puck pulled away. "Was I happy to have guests earlier? Because I'm so not thrilled at the moment."

Puck laughed, a bit ruefully, and nodded his agreement before he stood up and set her on her feet. "C'mon, let's fuel up for studying," He teased with a smile.

"I love you Noah," Rachel whispered suddenly feeling shy.

He looked at her with a smile and took her hand, leading her towards the kitchen, "I love you too Rachel."

Author's Note: So this was something that came to me when I was supposed to be working. I wrote it up as quickly as I could and I apologize if it echoes my one shot Gleeful Firefly. This is a separate 'universe' from that story but it was something I felt both Rachel's had in common, a love of things that weren't totally 'cool' or mainstream. To be honest it was a toss up between the theme of Firefly or 'Wander My Friends' by Bear McCreary from Battlestar Gallactica another show I thought Rachel would like. But I found the longer version of the theme song and since I couldn't use it in Gleeful Firefly I used it here.

I hope you enjoy and the next chapter will have Rachel and Puck performing their assignments. Please let me know what you think of this...I'm trying to show that there is a reason for the way Kurt is behaving and that Santana and Rachel are growing a little closer.

Thanks so much for all of the support. Keep in mind when you're reading this that these are teenagers, they might have good intentions but they're going to screw up. Kurt and his well meaning goofs, Lauren letting him goad her, even Finn is still a kid.

Finn's also an idiot but he's a kid. I'm doing my best with the Finn situation to make it realistic. Having been on the sidelines during a criminal trial the wheels of justice grind exceedingly slow. It's not uncommon for a minor to be released into the custody of a parent while awaiting trial if the minor has a good lawyer or no previous record, and bail money. Try not to worry too much though okay?

You guys are awesome and I appreciate all the reviews, follows, and faves. I'm happy to answer questions so drop me a line in the review box and ask whatever you like. I try to reply to people when they have questions.