Author's Note: I'm letting the wind take me wherever the breeze may go, so instead of one of the other pieces I actually have been working on, you get this instead. I'm blaming it on the fact that I've had about four of the "new" Matchbox 20 songs playing on repeat all day. In fact, one of them (go ahead and guess which one) is so stuck in my head that it inspired the title.
Regardless of all that, I hope you enjoy this oneshot - otherwise known as evidence that I haven't in fact fallen off the face of the earth.
The air in the stadium was electric. Rachel could feel the music pulsating through her and around her, the crowd on their feet and enjoying every single performance from the band thus far. She was relatively close to the stage, but she knew if it weren't for the powerful sound equipment and stellar acoustics of the venue that there might be a chance for those around her to drown out the band itself; no matter the age, gender or social status, everyone knew each lyric to every song that had been sung - granted, sometimes the women would take a break from singing to scream marriage proposals or throw their underwear on stage. It was such a vastly different experience than she was used to when she was on stage that it was almost enough to pull her attention away from the lead singer to people watch instead.
Noah Puckerman had always possessed an incredible stage presence. His chiseled good looks certainly helped, but it was more than that. It was the confidence he exuded, in his voice and in just the way he moved. He was expressive - but not overly so - and for those who knew him, they knew the ease and comfortability he clearly felt on stage was something he didn't have anywhere else in his life. He still used his charms and seductive gazes to rile up a crowd, but it was still amazing to watch the extremely guarded and extremely abrasive boy turn into a performer.
"Let's go!" Santana urged next to her, pulling at her arm with little regard to the appendage or the people she was pushing out of her way as she dragged Rachel from their seats. "We gotta beat the other skanks backstage."
"San …" Rachel trailed off, knowing her admonishment would fall on deaf ears. It was partially the reason she chose to bring Santana to the concert instead of Kurt. Both were able to push her out of her comfort zone, but the Latina was better at pushing other people around, too. "They still have an encore performance."
"Exactly. Let those bitches lip sync words to a song they wish was about them and we'll be first in line."
Rachel wanted to roll her eyes, but she was too lost in the moment as they flashed a badge toward a burly man guarding the coveted door. Backstage at a concert was nothing like backstage on Broadway - much in the way that the actual performances differed - but there was something about the setting that was all too familiar. Maybe it was because of what Santana had said, but Rachel swore if she closed her eyes it would be last week again.
Rachel laughed along with her castmate, each walking toward their dressing rooms with their hands full of bouquets of flowers. Saturday night was always a great show, and the reaction - from the audience and critics alike - to their musical was starting to get hard to ignore. The Tony nominations were just around the corner, and there had already been a lot of chatter centered around Rachel and her role to not only earn a nod, but to win the whole thing. She tried desperately not to think about it for a multitude of reasons, but after so many years spent yearning to reach her goal, it suddenly felt like all her dreams might finally come true.
"S'nice to be Rachel Berry."
His voice surprised her, but her reaction was far from shocked. Even though it had been years since she'd actually seen him, his presence had always managed to make her body hum and yet be completely still at the same time. "Being Noah Puckerman isn't so terrible these days, either," she countered, dropping the flowers onto her vanity and lifting a magazine up in presentation, his band plastered front and center on the cover. "How did you get back here?"
"I have my ways."
She rolled her eyes at his suggestive tone. "If you'd told me, I would have put your name on the list." She looked at him pointedly. "Then you wouldn't have been forced to do whatever illegal thing you did in order to achieve the same end result."
"Ain't nothin' illegal about … well, these looks are criminal." Puck ran one of his hands down his body, swagger in his voice despite the tired line.
He chuckled when she simply ignored him, opting to sit at the stool of her vanity and remove the stage makeup from her face. She could still see him through the mirror, and she watched carefully as he rose from the plush couch to stand closer behind her. Her movements slowed under his scrutiny, her eyes fixated on his through the reflection. He looked suddenly nervous, and she wasn't sure she'd ever seen such an expression on his features before.
"Aren't you still on tour?" She asked lightly, trying to keep her tone casual despite the thick tension she could feel filling the room. "You're supposed to be in California, right?"
He shook his head, his eyes cast downward but focused on her exposed shoulder, if she had to guess based on the angle in the mirror.
"No." His voice was gruff, far away and yet right there. "I think I'm right where I'm supposed to be."
The humming turned to a violent vibrating the second the pads of his fingers brushed against the skin of her arms, moving slowly up across her shoulders and into her hair. She'd been watching him through the mirror, but her eyes fluttered shut at the sensation of his hands on her. Faded memories long pushed in the back of her mind came flashing forward, coursing through not just her mind but through every nerve ending in her body. She could remember every piece of their life together, however short it may have been, and everything about her wished to turn back time.
"Noah," she choked out, unable to form the rest of the words that had always been on the tip of her tongue. The excuses they both used, through email and texts and to their friends who always wondered why they broke up. What they had back in Rachel's sophomore and junior years of college was fantastic, but there was too much in the way. Their careers had been pulling them apart the more each of them flourished, and they'd agreed to end things when they did so they could at least salvage their friendship. Because despite what may or may not have been true that day on the bleachers in high school, that friendship was important to both of them.
And yet with him standing right in front of her, that look in his eyes that always made her forget everything - why she'd been mad at him or even just her name - the excuses were just meaningless words. Meaningless not just because they'd been thought/said so many times before but because they'd always been a lie. "I've missed you."
His lips were on hers in a second, her shoulder blades pushed into the edge of the vanity. The mirror rocked haphazardly and she felt his hand move from her side to splay across the center of her back, pulling her up from the stool and right against his body. She melted into his frame, into the kiss, her hands resting lightly on his chest and her neck angling back a little more to deepen the embrace. A quiet moan echoed in her ears and she wasn't sure if it came from her or him, but either way it forced her to hold him tighter.
That was definitely him and she couldn't help the whimper that escaped her after his words rushed along her heated skin. She'd always considered him so vulgar and crass in high school, but after growing up a little bit and dating him for more than a year she'd learned to take pride in provoking such a reaction from him. He'd certainly had his fair share of sexual encounters, and yet somehow he always managed to make her feel more special than anyone before her (or before him).
"Noah," she tried again, his name coming out as little more than a breath between them as he started to push her toward the couch. He used his lips to navigate her steps, his hands secured to her hips while his kisses moved from one side of her body to the other. When they'd switched positions, he pulled her back to him, the force causing each of them to fall to the plush cushions - her on top. "Noah."
It came out as a moan that time and she couldn't help the way her lower half ground into him. There were a million reasons why they should stop, but none of them seemed to matter when they were outweighed by a nearly equal amount of reasons why they should keep going. Why they never should have stopped.
"Don't stop," she begged, even though there was no way he could have known what she'd been thinking nor had he given any indication that he would. The almost-bruising hold he had on her hips told her just the opposite, but she'd always struggled to keep herself from saying exactly what she thought in the heat of the moment. "Don't ever …"
"Never," he grunted, his hands working up the skirt of the dress she was wearing and then sneaking underneath the fabric. "Never have."
Rachel nearly came undone at just the power of those two words but was too caught up in the power of his touch to fully comprehend the hidden promise with the small phrase. It was strange considering her vast vocabulary and knowing tendency to put so much stake on communication, but words between them had always played second fiddle. Shared looks, stolen kisses and purposeful touches said so much more about them than either could express vocally. For instance, the urgency in his grip as he shuffled the barriers between them out of the way to connect their bodies was much more important than the stuttered affection that passed his lips once they started to move together.
"Ya ready, baby?"
It was a rhetorical question, considering the length of time they'd been joined together and the telltale, erratic pace their thrusts had started to take. She was obviously more than ready, and she refused to consider his words for anything but face value. It didn't matter that the conversation they'd had before calling it quits boiled down to the realization that maybe they just weren't ready to pick one another over their careers. It didn't matter that she'd later regretted her decision and wondered if Noah ever felt the same.
"Yes, God. Please," she pleaded, though it was needless. He'd never denied her anything she wanted that badly, especially not in the bedroom (or dressing room, as the case was). Still, that didn't stop the way her breath caught in her throat, the burst of pleasure and joy and a thousand other emotions nearly strangling her as she tumbled over the edge. His shaking grasp was the only thing that kept her grounded (read: on Earth), another wave hitting her just as strongly when he surrendered to his own primal needs.
"Noah," she tried again - even though her breath was ragged and her throat was dry and she felt half dead but somehow more alive than ever - hoping it might actually stick this time now that there was some distance between them. She lifted her head from its sagged position against the back of the couch, crossing her legs self-consciously despite the fact that she couldn't (and would never want to) change what had just transpired between them. "Why are you here?"
His eyes were closed and he looked just as disheveled as she imagined her own appearance to be, but she could tell he'd heard her question. She could see him trying to figure out the best way to answer, or the second best way since he'd likely maintain his first attempt had been pretty spot on. "We finished the next album."
"On the road?" She blinked in surprise, biting back the thing they never talk about and replacing it with much more suitable commentary. "That's incredible. You're not even done with the tour! When will it be released? Are you planning another tour? International, maybe? How did …"
"Every song is for you."
She was once again rendered speechless, her mouth agape as she watched him move from the couch. Noah wasn't the kind of man who paced unless he was trying to talk himself out of hitting something or somebody, but his tense position in the middle of the room spoke volumes to how uneasy he felt right then. She couldn't comfort him, though; not when she was still trying to wrap her head around his previous remark.
"That's gotta mean somethin', ya know?"
Rachel couldn't help the sad smile she let cross her face. She knew all too well what he'd meant, but, "We agreed …"
"I know what we fuckin' agreed on, but … fuck," he swore, running his hands over his face in frustration. "I don't know. I thought we could agree on somethin' else."
History told her the answer immediately. They rarely agreed on anything through the years, and that likely wasn't ever going to change. But she knew the deeper meaning to his words, understood the pull they had toward one another wasn't just a passing attraction or even some strange addiction. Loving Noah had never been the question, but the answer was so terrifying - for both of them - that they'd ignored it as best as they could. Now it seemed unavoidable, literally staring at her in the face, and Rachel still was too petrified to think it could all be that simple.
"Just, think about it." He shrugged pathetically, interrupting whatever she might have considered saying, eventually. He produced what appeared to be a rough cut of the aforementioned CD and set it on top of the rest of her gifts. "You know where to find me."
"Rachel, Christ!" Santana shook the petite brunette back to the present. "Can ya try not to look like a fuckin' serial killer?" The Latina gave her a once over, sighing a little in desperation. "And hike up your boobs. I'll do the talking."
With the fog of memories still clouding her mind, Rachel simply nodded and kept behind Santana as the Latina sauntered toward an even burlier man than had been guarding the VIP room. He was holding a clipboard with a pristinely white piece of paper on it, the names written on it hidden from view despite Santana's first lame attempt. The two women had already gone over the game plan on the way to the concert, but clearly Plan A of using a fake name from the list wasn't going to work. On to Plan B.
"You look awfully lonely out here, sugar," Santana purred, evading the doorman's personal space so much that her body pressed against his seductively. "Want me to keep ya company?"
"That's sweet," Santana churned, unrattled by the man's faithfulness - slash rejection. She trailed her index finger over the man's thick forearms. "I do threeways."
"Go away," he warned evenly. "And take Bambi with you."
Rachel sighed heavily, the sound of Santana's Spanish rant tuned out as her mind wandered. She wasn't even sure why she'd put herself in this situation. She had his number. She could have just called him. She could call him now and explain everything, including the fact that he was about to lose a bouncer to Santana's rage. But ever since she'd sorted out her feelings about everything, the only thing she'd wanted to do was see him. She'd wanted to surprise him the way he'd surprised her (the second time, though she wouldn't turn down the first), and she couldn't do that over the phone.
"I beg your pardon, Sir, but we know the artist." She spoke calmly but quickly, knowing that probably wasn't the first time someone had tried that one on him. "My name is Rachel Berry and this is …"
"Wait. Did you say Berry?"
"Yes," she stated hesitantly.
The man looked her up and down, awe melting onto his features. Rachel knew the look of a man who knew her from the theater, and this was not that look. This was something else, something she couldn't figure out in the short amount of time between him looking at her and then looking at his clipboard and then back again. "Can I see some identification?"
"Don't you recognize her, asshat?" Santana sneered. "She's fuckin' famous!"
Rachel blushed, pulling her driver's license from her purse and holding it out in presentation. While the man glanced at the name and photo and then back at Rachel, the two women participated in one of their silent conversations. Santana managed to give her a shot of confidence while basically telling her to fuck off. And Rachel wanted to laugh, mostly because she wasn't done gloating about the fact that her plan - Plan C, play the Celebrity Card, which had been quickly nixed by the Latina for being stupid and completely inaccurate - looked to be the one that was going to grant them access.
"OK. You can go in." The man's soft eyes turned cold again as he moved his gaze back to Santana. "You stay."
"We're a packaged deal, buddy."
He scoffed. "Her name's on the list. Yours isn't."
"You don't even know my God damn name," she pointed out quickly.
"I don't need to." He turned his clipboard toward Santana, righteousness in his tone as he said, "Hers is the only name."
If Santana looked like a deer in headlights, then Rachel's expression would be likened to a minute later, after the deer has been hit and was lying stiff on the ground as its heart slowed to a stop. She wasn't even aware of the fact that Santana was pushing her through the door that the man was opening. She couldn't focus on anything but the echo of his previous words and their implications. Until … him.
"Hey," she greeted softly, a slight smile crossing her face when his head snapped up and his eyes widened. He had downed at least one bottle of water already and had tried to wipe away some of the sweat dripping off him, but she could still see some moisture lingering across the nape of his neck and she was overwhelmed by her desire to run her fingers (or tongue) across the area. He'd clearly awoken something inside of her last week; there was no way she would have been capable of living with these feelings had they not been suppressed inside her. It only took her a week to fly halfway across the country to see him, and even that had only been delayed because of her understudy.
"Hey," he parroted, removing the small towel from his shoulder and throwing it down on the vanity counter. He cleared his throat. "I, uh, wasn't expectin' ya."
"No?" She asked, trying to hide the nerves she could feel pricking every pore of her body. "My name was on the list."
"Yea, but …"
He trailed off and she wanted to know why. Was he hiding something or had she really been so blind for so long. "But what?"
Her question had been desperate, breathless. She wanted an answer - which hardly seemed fair considering the main reason she was there was because she'd been too dumb/stubborn/scared to give him an answer last week - but he was stepping closer and it was hard to keep from reaching out for him. The bulge of his bicep called out for her hand to curl around it. The crease on his forehead yearned for her fingertips to stroke away his confusion. The downward twitch of his mouth needed calmed by her lips.
"But," he began again, his voice rough and raw. Maybe it was from singing, or maybe it was for the same reason she was currently unable to speak. "But it always is."
Rachel hiccuped a breath, her hands unable to hold back any longer as she fisted the loose fabric of his T-shirt, pulling him even nearer. "I was the only name on the list."
She didn't intend for the sentence to carry so much meaning, but she could tell immediately that he recognized the double meaning just as quickly as she had. Her heart raced as she waited for his response, then stopped dead in its tracks when Noah wove his fingers through her hair and held it in place behind her head so he could look clearly into her eyes. He wasn't performing right then, but Rachel had never seen him as unguarded as he was right then.
"Ya always were, Berry."
Her blinding smile was met with his trademark smirk, and she couldn't help but feel an immense weight lift from her shoulders. It was as if a huge burden had been lifted, which made absolutely no sense considering she hadn't noticed the pressure of it until it was gone. If anything, it would make sense to feel more overwhelmed than before given that she still wasn't sure how they were going to manage to balance everything to make it work between them this time. All she knew was that they would.
Well, that and that they had a lot of time they'd wasted that they needed to make up.
"Here." She pulled the CD he'd given to her out of her purse and pressed it into his chest at almost the same moment she stepped impossibly close to him. "Play track 5 and kiss me."