Author's Note: I'd mentioned to some who'd reviewed "If She'd Let Me" that it seemed unfair to give another piece of this universe from Puck's POV without doing something for Rachel. Well, guilt lifted. However, I immediately have more ideas in mind in this same verse, so I wouldn't expect this to be the end. *sigh*
Regardless, I hope you enjoy this next installment. For those who haven't been following point for point, this is a followup to my story "To Be With You". You probably need to read that one to understand anything going on here, but you don't necessarily need to read "If She'd Let Me" because it is a prelude to "To Be With You". This is a postlude (though not really since I just said it likely wasn't the end).
Let me know what y'all think (good and bad; I'm tough enough to handle constructive criticism. Promise!). Thanks!
Rachel pushed back the shower curtain, breathing in the steam heavily as she stepped out of the tub and wrapped a towel around herself. She'd hoped the warm water would ease some of her aching muscles, but with each step she realized just how sore she was. Apparently a full day of classes paired with a rigorous rehearsal at the theater was more work than Rachel had anticipated. At least the smell that had permeated the air around her had cleared, the stench of sweat replaced with that of her intoxicating body wash.
Padding her way from the bathroom to her bedroom, Rachel quickly shed the towel and replaced it with a pajama set that was loose but would still keep her relatively warm when the temperature outside dropped as the sun set more and more. Sadly, it wasn't very late in the evening - another indication that Rachel was beyond tired after her full day. Instead of going to bed, though, Rachel grabbed the script she'd memorized weeks ago and made her way to her bed to read through her lines once more. Even though she'd only received the role of the understudy for the Fanny part, Rachel wanted to be more than prepared should she finally get her moment to shine. Plus, it was a rarity that the apartment was so quiet, and she wanted to utilize the silence.
Unfortunately, she hadn't even flipped to the first page after settling on the mattress before her phone rang from the bedside table next to her. Considering she was the only one home so far, Rachel expected to hear Kurt's custom ringtone or see Santana's evil glare pop up on the phone. Instead, when she grabbed the ringing device and focused on the picture, she was surprised to see Finn's face looking back at her; they hadn't talked since the non-wedding - he'd wished her luck on her Broadway audition through Kurt and she'd done the same for him regarding the start of his college career - but she had a pretty good idea why he might be calling.
"Hi, Finn," she answered, maybe a little too merrily in her attempt to cover up the anxiousness that swelled inside her.
"H-hey." There was a long pause before she heard, "I know it's been awhile …"
"I've been busy. We both have," she amended quickly. "Kurt told me how much you're enjoying college, though. I'm so happy for you, Finn."
"Yeah. Thanks." He paused again, this time even longer than before. "Kurt's told me some things, too, but … like, not everything. I don't think."
Rachel bit her lip, completely understanding what he was implying. It wasn't that she (or Noah) were keeping anything secret, but there was also no need to make a spectacle out of what was happening between them, either. For better or for worse, the people closest to them knew what was going on - including her fathers, which had been an even more awkward conversation than the one she was currently having. Still, in that regard, it was no surprise that it would eventually spread out to those left in the dark.
"I-is it true?" He finally asked, sighing before he said, "You and Puck?"
Right on cue, the sounds of the apartment coming to life could be heard past the closed curtain of her bedroom. Santana and Noah were bickering about what Rachel imagined had been a very exhausting shopping trip; a few days after Rachel and Noah had figured everything out (well, not everything, but the important things), Santana had again made a motion that she deserved a bed before Noah did. This eventually led to the two friends making a deal, where if the Puckleberry (Kurt refused to call it anything else despite the protests from Rachel that it made their relationship sound juvenile) reunion lasted more than a month that Noah would buy Santana any bed she wanted - under a thousand dollars.
Not that she was counting (fine. She was), but their relationship passed the month mark a couple of days ago. Noah had already installed the necessary hardware on the ceiling to zone off another area of the loft with curtained walls (leaving basically just the kitchen, bathroom and living room open), and, at the Latina's demanding, likely purchased a bed this afternoon. Rachel hoped that the entire grand wasn't used, but knowing Santana and her somewhat vindictive attitude, it wouldn't surprise her.
"Yes," Rachel finally answered, smiling to Noah when he pushed through the curtains mumbling about what a bitch Santana could be. She waved off his immediate reaction to retreat once he saw she was on the phone, mouthing Finn and watching the way his eyes rolled while his face simultaneously tensed. He didn't interrupt the phone call, but he collapsed across the bed, resting on his stomach for a few minutes before rolling over to his back and gathering her feet to rest on his chest.
She sighed as Noah massaged away some of the stress she'd collected through the day, almost forgetting that she was on the phone with her ex-fiance as she lost herself in his touch. It was a bit unfair considering his day was likely just as exhausting. The shopping trip from hell aside, Noah had started taking a couple of classes at a nearby community college and was also working the day shift at a music store not far from the apartment. It was slow enough most days that he could do his schoolwork while manning the front, but the owner had recently granted him permission to offer private lessons during his work hours. He didn't have too many clients just yet, but he knew how to read music and was familiar with just about every major instrument that it was only a matter of time. Plus, any extra money helped.
"I knew he was in New York," Finn remarked slowly, muttering something about Jake and the glee kids talking. "And I knew he'd been around. I just … I didn't think …"
Rachel didn't want to feel guilty. In fact, it upset her that just Finn's surprised tone could provoke such. She was happier than she'd been in a long time, if not ever. Yes, she understood that it was sudden and to others might seem irrational, but she loved her life with Noah in it. She loved coming home from school and getting to share her day with him. She loved how natural it felt to be with him, whether they were gathered with friends or alone in their room. She loved that he knew her coffee order at the place across the street and that she'd figured out a vegan dish that he'd said was just as good as the meat version.
She loved Noah.
"After everything that happened with that Brody guy and then Puck coming …"
"It has nothing to do with that."
She didn't mean to sound defensive, but she also didn't want to be anything less than firm with her words. The guilt she was feeling had nothing to do with whether she'd chosen wrong. Her breakup with Brody and Noah coming to her rescue were both independent to the relationship they were starting. Maybe a catalyst, a blinding mirror to see the reflection that had always been hiding in the background, but not the sole reason. And she'd tried to explain it to her fathers already, as they'd been just as skeptical as she could hear in Finn's voice, but knew better than to bother with Finn.
For better or for worse, Finn would always see her as the same Rachel Berry he'd known in high school. He'd made it very clear at the non-wedding that she wasn't fitting into the image of her he had in his head, and while he'd been partially right considering she was faking a lot of things, much of it was just him not being able to accept change. In fact, until recently he'd been holding onto the past very strongly, his current college enrollment the first thing he'd done successfully to mark a change between his adolescent self and his young adult self. It sounded almost patronizing, but she hoped the experience would help open his eyes up to how much there was to experience in life.
There was more than just Lima.
It was a fact she'd always known, but something she knew Finn had yet to agree upon. Logically he knew it, of course, but for all intents and purposes, Finn was a homebody. Rachel hated to think that he'd sequester himself to a town that had so little to offer - especially since he had so much potential, even more than he gave himself credit for - but she also couldn't be the one pushing him forward anymore. Now that she'd discovered more about who she was, she couldn't keep pretending to be the same sixteen-year-old girl.
And that's exactly how she felt with Finn, even now. No matter what, Rachel would always picture him as the star quarterback and her the show choir diva. She still got a rush of emotions and excitement that someone like him would even talk to someone like her, and even though the love that she maintained was true and real had now faded, it was still there in a pure and innocent form - constantly reminding her of the memories they'd shared with one another and no one else.
Their relationship had likely been the reason she'd clung to what she had with Brody so strongly. It was almost the complete opposite, the adult version to the teenage romance she'd experienced with Finn. Brody was charming and attractive. He was so upfront with his attraction to her that it was almost as ridiculous as Finn's attention had been in high school, only Rachel ignored it in an effort to gain confidence - in her body, in herself. Their relationship had been mostly physical, built on a strong chemistry that happened to extend into their careers.
But both of those sides of her were each just half of the truth. In all honesty, Rachel was a mix of them - and likely much more that she hadn't learned quite yet. She was still the overzealous, hopeless romantic that she'd been with Finn, but she'd grown up past the notion that love could conquer all or that putting a gold star next to her name would be enough to make all her dreams come true. Now she was willing to work for the things she wanted most, whether that was love or a role. She wasn't, however, willing to hurt the people closest to her in an effort to get to that next step, which might have been a lesson she should have learned in high school with Sunshine but one that only cemented itself this year with Brody (at Kurt's expense).
"I love him," she finally summarized, smiling bashfully when Noah's eyes moved from the ceiling to hers. His expression was not one of fear or ridicule or even irritation - at her or at what he must assume led to the response. Instead, the hazel depths were open, honest and completely unwavering in the silent reciprocation of the sentiment. It was so unlike the old Puck, and yet, after all her introspection during the short phone call with Finn, it was the perfect explanation for everything that had happened.
Together, they'd managed to salvage parts of their old selves while cultivating the new pieces they were discovering. With Noah, there was still part of her that felt like the luckiest girl in the world to be with a star football player even though she was just a drama queen, but there was also the other part that felt completely empowered by the notion - and knew exactly how to express such feelings to make him feel like the lucky one. And even though he'd always be a little jaded and keep his feelings close to the vest, she'd noticed him opening up to her more and more - most recently about his classes, where now that he'd found something he enjoyed, he didn't seem to feel like he was floundering anymore.
They balanced each other out, in almost every way.
"He hung up," Rachel stated in a mix between pity and bewilderment.
"Probably hit the end button while kickin' himself for not comin' when Satan called."
Rachel's frown deepened as she finished putting her phone back in the charger. She removed her feet from Noah's grip, submitting to straddling his back when he immediately turned back to his stomach - likely to hide his expression from her. She allowed him a few moments of reprieve, repaying him for the foot massage by gliding her hands over the tense muscles of his back. She waited until he was mostly relaxed before continuing the conversation.
"It wouldn't have changed anything. Not in the grand scheme of things." He just grunted in reply, eventually rolling back over to his back with her urging on his side. She'd only lifted herself enough that he could rotate his frame, settling back high on his thighs once he was flat on the mattress again and pleading with him, "Noah. I love you."
"I know." He hinged forward, placing each of his hands behind him on the edge of the bed to keep himself upright. His face was only about a foot or two away, but Rachel moved her hands to his shoulders to keep him from getting closer in an attempt to bypass the discussion.
"You just don't think I love you as much as I loved him?" She guessed, knowing she'd hit the nail on her when his eyes flashed with a subdued anger. As her gaze lowered on a sigh, though, her vision was diverted to the scar on his lip. She moved one of her hands to his jawline, letting her thumb trace the healed injury that was a constant reminder of his devotion to her (even before they were together). She couldn't very well replicate the circumstances to earn her own badge of honor, but she could offer to at least fabricate the same amount of loyalty to him.
"I'll make you a deal." She smiled at his intrigued expression, leaning forward enough to kiss the once wounded area before pulling back again. "If the Puckleberry reunion," she used air quotes to assure him she was not pleased with using that term without mockery, "lasts more than a year, I'll brand myself as yours in an equally permanent manner as this."
Her thumb traced over his scar once more, and she felt the small digit vibrate as his low moan filtered into the room. He'd expressed to her once when they'd walked by a tattoo parlor how sexy he thought it would be if she got one. And, honestly, she'd always thought the same thing; not in a tramp stamp kind of way, but with a gold star on her hip or something equally significant in a place where only someone intimate would ever know about.
She wanted that someone to be Noah.
"Do I get to pick the spot?" He asked, sitting up completely so his hands could move from their perch on the bed to slide up her bare thighs.
Rachel shivered as his thumbs curled under the fabric of her short shorts, the pads brushing against her inner thigh purposefully. "Yes," she hissed out, partially in response to his question and partially in response to feel of his lips climbing up the column of her throat. "If," she forced out, "you concede to never compare my feelings for you to those for anyone else."
She gripped his shirt almost out of reflex when he started to pull away, but her hold loosened when she focused on the expression staring back at her. Obviously one conversation/bet couldn't fix all his insecurities, but there was a sense of pride coursing through his gaze that was impossible to ignore. She could feel the promise in his touch - desperate on her hips before searching for the hem of her shirt to tug it above her head - but she wanted to hear the words before she completely gave in.