31 The Promise

Mr. Schuester was still talking, and Rachel could hardly stand to listen so lost in her own thoughts. Puck, Kurt, Shelby, Beth, Finn, Jesse, her dads...everything that had changed her, everything that she'd known and how she was now. She was staring into space and didn't even see Puck until he was standing right in front of her.

"You and me are gonna talk, now," He told her flatly.

Rachel nodded, "All right." She looked around the now empty choir room, "Here?"

"No," He shook his head. "I know Sam's takin' you home so I want somewhere neutral."

"The library?" She suggested quietly. "Neither of us spend much time in there."

"That'll work," Puck grabbed her things and his and began carrying them to the room he'd rarely frequented his first year and a half of school. Finally in a quiet study nook he stood and looked at her.

Rachel found herself returning his gaze, examining him for changes, for signs that he wasn't taking care of himself or was fighting again. Nothing except he was a little thinner than usual. He looked like he had when he'd gotten out of Juvie last year, muscular and chiseled, as if he wasn't bothering to eat but he was working out twice as hard. "Noah, are you...all right?"

"No, I'm really not," Puck shook his head. "How can you even think I would be Rache, you just stopped...everything."

"I didn't want to yell at you, or make a scene...make you feel foolish," Rachel whispered. "I didn't want to be...like I was with Finn...not with you." She couldn't, how could she act like that with Puck when she felt so much for him, how could she embarrass him like that?

"It felt like you didn't want to fight for me Rachel," Puck told her heavily. "It felt like you were just cutting me out of your life."

"No," Rachel shook her head and grabbed for his hand when he started to turn slightly. He was just putting his bag down but she'd thought he was going to leave and she'd grabbed for him to keep him with her. "No, Noah I... I didn't want to make a scene at school. I wanted to try and keep this...well private, instead of dragging the whole club into it. It felt wrong...to... I didn't tell anyone but Santana and Lauren what I saw and they promised me they wouldn't tell anybody. I don't know how the rest of the club found out. I never wanted them to know."

"I'm guessin' Kurt told them," Puck's fingers wrapped around hers. "Like he fed Shelby that line of bull about me being bad for you." He looked down at her and Rachel felt her eyes sting at the pain on his face. "Why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you yell at me in private Rache? At least I woulda known what was going on. One minute I'm waiting for you, I got Beth laying on top of me, and I'm having a good dream about you, kissing me. The next I'm shut out. You gotta tell me when I screw up baby. I can't deal with not knowing when I've done something wrong."

"It just hurt too much," Rachel felt her tears overflow and wiped them away in annoyance. "I hate crying," She muttered and shook her head. "I was trying...I was trying so hard to get to the point where I could talk to you about it. So we could...get past it. I just...hurt so much to see you like that, with someone else, as if you'd never loved me."

"That isn't possible," Puck pulled her closer and put his other hand over hers. "Rachel I've always loved you. There isn't a time when I didn't." His dark gaze was determined as he stared at her, "I get that it hurt. And I get that there'll be times I hurt you in the future, but just tell me that I hurt you. Even if you can't say why. Can you just tell me that much?"

"I'm sorry I didn't," Rachel shuddered and wiped away more tears. "I'm so sorry baby. I really am. I hate that I hurt you. Even when I thought you really had, I hated that you were hurting because I could see it Noah. I could see how much I hurt you..." She shook her head, "Part of me... part of me thought...well you know, that figures. I should have expected it, because everyone I care about...they leave me you know? But the other part... God Noah, what hurt the worst was seeing it and not being able to believe it."

"Aw Rache," Puck's arms wrapped around her and he pulled her into a warm comforting hug. "I'm so sorry baby."

"I just...I couldn't understand it. You never lie to me," She shuddered and shook her head against his shoulder. "I could see it happening, I kept seeing it, the two of you together, but I couldn't believe it. And it just made me feel worse and worse. I couldn't figure out what was wrong with me Noah. Because even when it hurt that much...I couldn't stop loving you."

"There's nothing wrong with you Rachel," Puck's voice was strained, as if his throat was tight. "If you've got one flaw its that you don't think you deserve to be loved for who you are. You think you've gotta change for anyone to really love you. So you started to push me away because otherwise... well you said it yourself baby, everybody who says they love you leaves."

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to," Rachel looked up at him. "I...I just didn't know what to do."

"We'll figure it out all right?" Puck kissed her forehead, "Meantime, we aren't broken up. We still love each other, and you're still my girl. I'm still your guy." He reached under his shirt and pulled out her ring, "I never stopped wearing it Rachel."

"So we aren't..." Rachel wasn't sure what was happening. "Noah what are you saying to me?"

"I... damn you hurt me Rache," He told her. "You really hurt me because you wouldn't even let me know what I'd done wrong. That's gonna take me a little time to get over. It doesn't mean I don't love you and it doesn't mean I'm breaking up with you."

"But you need some time to get past the hurt just like I did," Rachel nodded her understanding. "That's fair Noah. I'm sorry I hurt you like that." She felt as if her heart was breaking all over again but she couldn't expect everything to go back to normal immediately. "Just...if you decide you can't... ever forgive me...do me a favor and tell me straight out that we're done and you want your ring back. That's how I'll know okay?"

"Pretty sure that's never gonna happen," Puck kissed the top of her head. "I love you baby. But maybe you aren't the only one who needs to get your head on straight. I'm not the... healthiest person in the world, mentally you know? Forgiving all that shit Finn pulled has got to be one of the dumbest things I've done."

"You're not dumb Noah Puckerman and I won't have you say you are," Rachel frowned up at him. "You're right that we both need time. But I... the worst part of all this has been not seeing you. Can we... can we have our study dates with Artie and Lauren and Santana and the guys? As a group, not like real dates. Please?"

"Set up the times baby, I'll be there," Puck nodded looking pleased. "I'm not giving up on you Rachel. I promise."

Puck had to bite back a groan as he closed his textbook. He and Rachel still weren't completely okay, but they were at least talking again. He just needed some time to be a little mad at her. It was stupid and it was a total guy thing and Dave and Artie had looked at him like he'd lost his mind. But he couldn't explain it. It was like now that he knew they'd be okay eventually he had all this anger, like leftovers from when his heart was just dripping blood into his stomach.

Rehearsals had been going better, though there was a coolness between Kurt and Rachel and the arctic chill between Puck and Kurt had solidified into a glacier. Rachel had chosen to keep Kurt's part in their problems undisclosed in the interests of a good performance and Puck had to admit she was probably right. They were decent actors but they were still kids and really, getting everybody in character and not hating someone at the same time wasn't easy.

Sam was actually doing great as Mark, he could sing, he didn't have to strut around half naked and Mark's nature, that of the outsider, the biographer, really fit well with Sam's personality. Puck grinned as Rachel began to strut in to do her scene, singing about lighting her candle. He let her wander around him, hands trailing while he studied her. "They used to tie you up," He realized in song.

"It's a living," Rachel sang back with a mischievous sweetness to her smile.

Back and forth they went, flirting, Roger fishing for answers, Mimi avoiding them, until she was calling her name as she danced out the door. "Cut," Artie called from the audience. "All right that was good. I like how it looks...we're gonna keep that blocking and we'll go over it again once the rest of the set is here." He hollered for Rachel, "I want you to try the song from the second act, 'Without You. Then we're done with you for a bit so you can go for the costume fitting."

"Where do you want me?" Puck asked curiously.

"She always sings better when you're in the room," Artie grinned. "So I want you over there, with your guitar as if you're working in another room, trying to ignore her."

"Yeah like Roger could ever ignore Mimi," Puck chuckled and smiled as he pulled out the prop guitar and began to play it soundlessly, acting as if he was writing music. Rachel's voice wound sweetly through the air, "Without you the ground thaws the rain falls the grass grows." Puck listened as she sang about death, about love and death and how being without someone was like dying. He knew that feeling, knew that too well, and he hated it. He was staring mindlessly at the paper in his hand when Rachel stopped singing.

Puck looked up as she walked off the stage and smiled at him before she left for her fitting, "So what's next boss?" He asked Artie with a forced grin.

"Whatever you were thinking... its a good look for Roger, but I'm not so sure its that great for you," Artie said quietly. "Are you all right man?"

"I'm just pissed," Puck admitted. "I was miserable without her man. I mean gut wrenching misery drown myself in beer if I could get it miserable. And now that I could have her back, I could be with her again, I'm so fuckin' pissed off that she just... didn't believe me."

"Thought that was the problem, her brain and her heart were telling her two different things," Artie offered.

"I get that, I do. I mean if I saw her sucking face with Hudson I'd probably have a coronary after I punched the douche's lights out," Puck admitted. "But then I'd ask her why."

"Well that's the problem then isn't it pumpkin," Coach Beiste walked up to them and smiled at him. Coach had the nicest smile. Artie gave him the nod and rolled away, Puck got the idea that his pal was figuring Coach'd be better at getting Puck's head on straight than he would.

"What's the problem," Puck shook his head in confusion.

"Rachel thought or thinks that she already knows why," Coach shrugged. "You used to have the same problem, still do to an extent. You thought you weren't worth loving. You'd rather get mad and push the girl you love away than take the chance that she'd leave you someday. Rachel did the same thing. She thinks that someday you're gonna find someone better. And you'll leave her because she's not good enough."

"I'd never leave her," Puck shook his head. "She's...she's everything Coach. How could I leave her? How could there be anybody better?"

"I'm gonna assign you some homework pumpkin," Coach went to her purse and pulled out a paperback, handing it to him. "You read this. When you're done you give it back to me. But it has some things in there that you really should learn."

"Like what?" Puck rarely had time to read for pleasure these days. "And will this count as an English assignment because I've got two other books I'm supposed to read and they both suck."

"I'll tell your teacher I assigned it," Coach chuckled at him. "But you read that. Because you're gonna throw away the best thing in your life if you don't get a grip soon."

"I told Rachel I needed a little time," Puck protested. "She knows I love her still. I haven't cheated, I haven't even really wanted to cheat."

"Puck every day you stay away from her you're just proving to her that she's not worth the effort," His coach sighed in exasperation. "Now go home. We're all done here for the day."

Puck would never admit it to anyone but in the three days since Coach had given him the book he'd read it twice. He'd gotten his paper written too and really hoped Coach hadn't been joking because at least he'd also gotten homework done. It was a good book. He wondered if the guy who'd written it had written other stuff, and when he looked it turned out he wrote for TV and he'd helped write the screenplay for the movie Rent. That was a funny coincidence.

Finally he gave the book back to Coach and handed her his paper to read. When she handed it back he took a deep breath, "Is that what I'm doing Coach? Only accepting the love I think I deserve?"

"We all do to an extent pumpkin, even me," Coach smiled at him sadly. "I think the trick is... to love someone else enough that you'll accept more from them than you think you deserve because you want to be with them so badly."

"Yeah," Puck nodded slowly. "Yeah I think I got that part," He looked at her with a half smile. "So I got an idea, of how to get Rachel back for real this time."


"Yeah and I've got an idea for a duet for Nationals, since you know we're gonna own these competitions," Puck grinned.

"First things first," Coach grinned back at him. "What do you need from me?"

Schuester hadn't been exactly thrilled with Puck's request but with Sue interested and Coach saying that it would be a good potential song for the competitions since it was retro he'd been outvoted. So a week after he'd talked to Coach, Puck was standing on the stage with Artie and the band.

"So this is an old one, but it's good," Puck spoke into the mike. "And as all my songs are, this is for Rachel. Baby I promise, I'm done bein' mad. I'm done with bein' stupid. If you'll have me back, I'll be there for you for the rest of my life." He could see her nodded and grinned, "Don't agree yet, you might not like the song."

Her tear choked laugh was the best thing he'd heard, in like ever, and the piano began the opening notes of the song. The guitars came in a little after and then the beat of the drums began. And finally it was time for him to sing,

"If you need a friend
Don't look to a stranger
You know in the end
I'll always be there

And when you're in doubt
And when you're in danger
Take a look all around
And I'll be there..."

He sang directly to her, knowing she'd understand, putting every bit of his promise into the words. The chorus was particularly appropriate for him, he couldn't say anything right the first time, but he'd always try,

"I'm sorry but I was just thinking of the right words to say
I know they don't sound the way I planned them to be
But if you wait around awhile I'll make you fall for me
I promise
I promise you, I will..

Sam and Artie joined in on the chorus, overlapping his voice, giving the song more depth than he could manage on his own but they left the next verse for him,

"When your day is through
And so is your temper
You know what to do
Gonna always be there

Sometimes if I shout
It's not what's intended
These words just come out
With no grudge to bear,"

Their voices with his again on the chorus and then they were repeating, overlapping, and layering until it was a single cry of need, repeating over and over again.

"I'm sorry but I was just thinking of the right words to say
I know they don't sound the way I planned them to be
But if I had to walk the world I'd make you fall for me
I promise you
I promise you, I will

I tell ya
I gotta tell ya
I need to tell ya

I'm sorry but I was just thinking of the right words to say
I know they don't sound the way I planned them to be
But if you wait around awhile I'll make you fall for me
I promise
I promise you

I'm sorry but I was just thinking of the right words to say
I know they don't sound the way I planned them to be
But if I had to walk the world I'd make you fall for me,"

Everyone else's voice died away and Puck sang softly into the mike, his guitar pushed behind him, his eyes on Rachel,

"I promise you
I promise you, I will
I will
I will
I will...

The applause felt deafening but it was Rachel he still looked at and Rachel who flew out of her seat to race up the steps and throw herself into his arms. And he finally got to kiss her, finally had her mouth under his again, sweet and sexy and God she was so damn hot he was gonna burn up kissing her.

"Hmm..." He groaned as she began to pull away, "Uh uh baby, I aint't stoppin'," He kept his hands on her hips, pulling her towards him.

"You'll stop Puckerman or you'll be slapped with a public indecency charge," Sue's voice was better than a bucket of ice water for reining in his lust.

"Shit," Puck breathed and let Rachel down. "What do you say Baby? Will you have me?"

"Damn right I will," Rachel nodded.

"All right then," Puck grinned and began to walk down the stage steps only to have Rachel step away. "What the fuck baby?"

"I have a song prepared," Rachel looked towards the back of the auditorium and Puck saw the Trouble Tones coming in. "And they need to hear it too."

Author's Note: So bonus points if anyone catches the book/movie reference I slipped in there. I know a little bit about abused and neglected kids/teens and the pattern of behavior is very clear. Self destruction, lack of self esteem, low views of self worth, and a disbelief that anything will ever change. We tend to push people away because we're convinced they'll leave anyway, either with behavior that is intolerable or by becoming abusive ourselves. Alone is safest you see. If you're alone…you can't get hurt.

On a side note 'The Promise' is a song my husband played for me in the car when he was helping me move. He can't sing worth a damn but he tried and it meant a lot to me because at that point in my life I didn't have many people I could trust. Promises are important to me. I don't make them lightly and when I do I keep them. I expect the same of the people around me.

So I hope you liked this and know that I've got the next chapter halfway finished and I'm framing out the next one. Be patient with me, I'm trying to make the wait worthwhile.