Author's Note: Short and sweet. Enjoy!
If there was ever any doubt Rachel wasn't ready for the complex emotions that were required on stage, it would all be lost after tonight's performance. She'd been the perfect hostess, mingling between the several different sets of visitors with nothing but a smile perched on her lips and usually with a serving platter of something in her hand. She'd made introductions, kept conversation flowing, laughed at stupid jokes and even lent someone a shirt after a terrible mishap with a ketchup bottle. And she'd done it all while sweat ran down her back, the smell of burning animal flesh clung inside her nostrils and the gnawing feeling in her stomach moved further and further up until it was choking her heart.
She sighed, sinking deeper into herself while she took reprieve in a hidden corner of the roof. They'd decided last month to have a small Fourth of July party, which thanks to Kurt turned into an event - like everything else he was involved in. There were some classmates from NYADA and guests from Santana's workplace. Blaine had flown in and Noah invited Jake (who brought Marley), too. Quinn had also shown up by surprise, which was admittedly why Rachel currently needed at least a few minutes to herself.
"There's my girl." Noah approached her, holding out something resting inside a napkin. "Made ya a s'more with some fuckin' gross vegan marshmallows I got."
Rachel accepted the treat with a soft smile, feeling the vice grip on her heart loosen a little before it clamped back down. Quinn was in her line of vision, the blonde making perfectly nice with anyone she talked to even though everyone she actually knew was at least ten feet away. Rachel sighed again, turning back so her elbows rested heavily on the brick ledge of the building. She picked at the dessert as she considered saying the words that had been tumbling through her mind all night.
"S'nice here." Noah rested his hip against the ledge, his body angled toward her but his gaze set toward the skyline. "Might need to take a leak in that corner, though. Our bathroom has been full for like, five fuckin' hours."
Rachel laughed lightly, though she could hear how fake it sounded when they weren't surrounded by the buzz of other people's conversations. Noah would know immediately that something was wrong; then again, considering he was standing there with her instead of visiting more with his brother or Quinn, Rachel suspected he'd already caught on to her mood - perhaps she wasn't that good of an actress. "It's good practice, you know. We're going to be stepping on one another as soon as Blaine moves in next month. It will be like an episode of The Real World."
"I know." Noah moved so his back was resting against the exposed brick, his gaze somehow even more firmly on her. "I've heard you make that joke at least twice now."
Rachel frowned, gently placing the s'more down despite the fact that she continued to study it as she again tried to find the right words. "Quinn looks good."
"Uh," Noah blinked, his eyes moving away to find the blonde for a few seconds until they moved back to Rachel. "I guess. Sure."
"Noah." She rolled her eyes, resting her hip against the short wall. "This isn't some kind of trap. She looks good." Her eyes left his and landed on the blonde. "She seems to be doing well. She's happy and single and …"
"You're pissed Quinn is here?"
"No, of course not." Rachel huffed, turning back to face forward, her fingers playing with the hem of the napkin again. "We're friends now."
"The way Finn and I are friends, right?"
Her smile was somewhat lopsided, but it was covered up by her sideways glance. It wasn't particularly funny, but it was almost endearing that they both could read these signs between them. "Do you remember junior year, when Finn and Quinn got sick?" She waited for him to nod before continuing. "Finn had told me that he saw fireworks when he kissed Quinn," she rushed out, following just as quickly with, "Is that what you felt?"
She closed her eyes as soon as the question was out, embarrassed she'd even voiced it and unnaturally terrified of what his response might be. She was secure in their relationship and Noah had never been shy about telling her exactly what he liked about her - in fact, even in high school he'd been one of the few members of the Glee club to stick up for her. Ever. But much in the way Finn was a hot button for him, Quinn was one for her. In Rachel's eyes, the blonde was everything she'd never be, some for the good and some for the bad.
"Fireworks burn out, ya know?" He shrugged pathetically, as if even he knew that wouldn't be enough of an answer. Sighing heavily, he looked at her and said, "I ain't gonna lie. She's a good kisser." He spoke over her face falling, even just a little. "You don't become cheer captain without it. But, she's also got an agenda." His eyes drifted over the party guests, landing once again on the blonde. "It's almost formulaic. Like a chess master or some shit. She's got every move planned out and that gets old quick, no matter how hot ya are."
Rachel nodded her head softly, willing to accept that answer before he added to it.
"You mix it up. You can be like the embers, slowing heating up, or like a damn explosion. And every hot level in between." He shrugged, but his smirk was not as lackadaisical. "I dig it."
She blushed heavily, leaning her head against his when he rotated into her space. His one hand rested on the ledge by her opposite hip, his chin perched on her shoulder while his other hand wove around her frame. He dropped a soft kiss to the back of her neck near her ear, and the exhale of his breath running along her skin managed to cool her overheated body - hot from the humidity that was still lingering from the day despite the setting sun and scorching from the look he'd given her moments before.
"Thank you," she finally said, her hand sliding across the arm he'd secured around her while each of them focused on the skyline once more, the random sparks of fireworks appearing like a punctuation mark to Noah's reassurance. "For the s'more."
His low chuckle vibrated through her, causing her own light giggle as she relaxed into him even more. From then on, she wouldn't have to pretend to like the Fourth of July.