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2030

By nitefang

Humor / Romance

2030

"…just my 'magination, runnin' away with me-e. Tell you it was just my 'magination, runnin' away with me—"

"DAMN IT!"

"Nothin' you can do to stop me!" Puck crowed with a smirk. He tucked his hands under his head and crossed one leg over the other as he upped the volume, willing his voice to resonate through the police station as much as possible. "Ev'ry night on my knees I pra-a-ay, 'Dear Lord, hear my plea, yeah. Don't ever let another take her love from me or I will surely di-i-ie.' Her love is heavenly. When her arms enfold me, I hear a tender rhapsody, but in reality, she doesn't even kno-o-ow me—"

"JESUS CHRIST! SHUT UP!"

"Whoa there, detective! Calm your herpes!" Puck called through as some of the other detainees and prisoners laughed. "I know my body and my voice do miracles, but you can't go mixin' me up with the Holiest of Rabbis!"

When a travel coffee cup banged against the steel bars, Puck just laughed even harder. Thank god that cup was empty though. Walking around smelling like six hour-old coffee on top of whatever other fucked-up odors wafting from his person was a pain.

"I swear to God, I'm gonna—"

"I'm already in jail, Hartley!" Puck chortled, tipping the hat lower on his face as he shuffled to find a more comfortable position on the cold, hard bench. "What more can you do? Try and get me a death sentence—for being a fucking kickass human jukebox? We'll see how that'll fly with the D.A."

Hartley spluttered indignantly before slamming a fist on the table near the cells and violently grabbing his crime novel again. The other detainees laughed some more, and Puck smirked proudly. If he was gonna suffer through this, he was sure as hell gonna make the most out of the situation.

"THIS IS ABSURD!"

Well. Unless Hartley's balls were being squeezed to the point of his voice turning into soprano's, some serious shit was going on up on the ground level and making its way down the stairs toward the cells. And Puck totally meant "serious" in that there had most likely been a chick fight.

"I DON'T BELONG HERE!"

"THE HELL YOU DON'T! YOU KICKED ME IN THE STOMACH WITH A STILETTO HEEL! YOU COULD'VE STABBED MY SPLEEN! THE ONLY PERSON WHO SHOULDN'T HAVE TO BE HERE IS ME!"

Puck froze.

'Cause holy Mary Mother of God, he knew that voice. He knew that voice.

It could only come from one cracked-out, high-strung Jewish Polly Pocket with a stereo for a voice box. Of course he knew it—spent three years listening to it at least two times a week only to be met with an eight-year period of complete radio silence before suddenly hearing it fucking everywhere. Because Rachel Berry had shot to fame when she was twenty-five, and suddenly the whole damn world was obsessed with her and couldn't get enough of her voice, her acting, her personal life, her legs, and the fucking weird-ass fact that even now at thirty-five years-old, she was still single.

"BULLSHIT! YOU WERE ABOUT TO THROW ME ACROSS THE ROOM, YOU PSYCHOTIC LITTLE FREAK!" the other girl wailed.

"YOU'RE THE ONE WHO STARTED IT IN THE FIRST PLACE, YOU LITTLE INSTIGATOR!"

Puck laughed and pulled the hat off his face to sit up and peer around the corner, waiting for the woman herself to come into view.

"LADIES, PLEASE!" Officer Witwer cried from where the scuffle was sounding from the middle of the staircase. "YOU WERE COOPERATIVE ENOUGH EARLIER—"

"That was because I thought you were only trying to break up the fight! The only person you should be arresting is this bitch and her forty-cent extensions!" Rachel screeched.

"You were pulling my hair! It's still right there between your fingers!"

"Oh, get a grip! It's fake! Stop acting like I ripped off patches of your scalp, you melodramatic little blonde amoeba of an understudy! You bit me! I have been in this city for eighteen years, and no one has ever bitten me before!"

"Yeah, that was the biggest mistake of my night because now I can't get the nasty-ass taste of you out of my mouth!"

"Well, it mixes well with the taste of my ass from all of the times you kept trying to kiss it!"

"Miss Berry, Miss Freeman, for the love of God, shut up!" Officer Rosenbaum suddenly barked. "The both of you are damn lucky that the bouncer broke up your little fight before anyone noticed and called the paparazzi!"

Puck grinned as a fairly hot blonde chick was practically carried down the rest of the steps by Officer Witwer. She kinda looked like the hooker from last month. And then Puck full-on laughed when the first thing he saw right after those two was a blue mini-dress clad ass. Officer Rosenbaum had slung Rachel freakin' Berry over his shoulder, caveman-style.

"So why are we here?" Freeman the Blonde Amoeba demanded petulantly.

"Because I know you two are just gonna end up taking the fight somewhere else, and I'd much rather be sure that I know exactly where you are so I know for a fact that there are metal bars separating the two of you! I don't trust the whole damn city enough to be sure you two won't meet up and start tearing at each other again!" Rosenbaum snapped.

"W-Wait! You're not gonna put us in with these other cretins, are you?" Amoeba suddenly asked tentatively as Puck heard one of the cells down the hall rattle open. "W-W-We're Broadway actresses!"

"No, you delusional psycho," Rachel drawled acidly from where she was practically propped up on her elbow against Rosenbaum's back. "I'm the Broadway actress. You're an off-off-Broadway actress who's pretty enough to be able to seduce a producer into making you the understudy, but not nearly talented enough to get an actual part."

But Amoeba was beyond worrying about her sham of a career. "Can't you just put us in separate interrogation rooms or something like in the shows? Why do you have to put us with these people?"

"Miss Freeman!" Stanky the Stoner slurred in excitement. "I'm your biggest fan, Miss Freeman! I'll make space for you in my cell!"

"EW! EW! NO!" Amoeba screeched. "Officer, please, please, please! Don't—"

"Tonight's your lucky night, Stanky!" Witwer announced over the other woman's screaming. "Miss Freeman, your suite awaits!"

Puck smirked at Rosenbaum as the officer unlocked his cell door and gently set Rachel onto her feet. It was only then that Puck noticed why she was being carried: Rachel gingerly hobbled on one foot and leaned against the wall, her shapely back to her cellmate as she tried to poke her out from between the bars.

"No, you creep! Get the hell away from me!" Amoeba Freeman squealed from down the hall.

"Miss Freeman, I'm six feet away!" Stanky protested, sounding hurt.

"You might want to maintain that six-foot distance, Mr. Stanky!" Rachel called witheringly. "Any closer and she'll start sucking the very life out of you!"

"Have a good night, ladies," Rosenbaum said as his and Witwer's footsteps faded up the steps. "Have fun babysitting, Hartley."

"Shut up, Rosenbaum," Hartley grumbled over his book.

Rachel hopped on one stiletto heel, hissed as she pulled off her shoe from her injured foot, and chucked it against the wall in frustration. Puck sighed and shot off the bench. She was gonna freak out, and he was gonna relish it. She screeched in surprise as he bent, scooped her up into his arms, and set her on the bench.

After all these years, she still weighed like sixteen pounds.

"Excuse me! Excuse me, what the hell are you—"

"You sprained your ankle. You take another step in those shoes, and you're gonna end up adding a concussion on your list of injuries," he interrupted her flatly, making sure she didn't see his face as he turned his back to her and held a hand out between the bars. "Hartley, go get me some bandages, would ya?"

"I'm not your servant!"

"No, but you are a bitch! Go get me some bandages!"

Hartley glared at him from over his book before tossing it onto the table and stomping toward the supply room.

"Wait," Rachel suddenly barked. "I know that voice."

Puck smirked as he slowly turned around and winked at her. "Well, that's a fucking shock since we hardly ever talked in high school."

And there she was—smoky eye makeup, tight-as-fuck dark blue mini-dress, kitten heels, and the legs that should—and probably were—insured by Lloyds of London.

She looked fucking gorgeous.

Puck's eye twitched, and he clenched his jaw together. Control, he chanted. Control.

Her big brown eyes widened as she stared at him in disbelief. "Noah?"

He grinned at her. "Hey, Berry."

Her expression went from shock to happy before graying into disappointment. "Oh, Noah, what did you do to land yourself in here?"

"Thanks, bitch," he said to Hartley, who'd returned and slapped an ankle wrap and some ice into his chest. Then he turned and walked back to Rachel. "I should be asking you the same question, Rach. What the fuck is a five-time Tony award-winning actress doing in here?"

"She ripped my hair out!"

Puck rolled his eyes as he lifted Rachel's injured foot slowly and turned her so that he could sit on the bench and rest her leg on his lap. "Shut the fuck up, Amoeba! Maybe if you keep that giant trap shut, your IQ points won't leak out so fast."

Rachel threw her head back and laughed before shaking her head. "What are you doing in here, Noah?"

"Just fulfilling my destiny as a fuck-up," he answered nonchalantly as he began to wrap Rachel's ankle securely. "I said I was either gonna end up in jail or dead by the year twenty-thirty back in senior year, remember? So here I am. At least I upped my game to a New York prison rather than the Lima jail, right?"

She looked absolutely horrified. "But that doesn't make sense! If you were honestly as much of a screw-up as you think you are, you would be in an actual state penitentiary and not—"

"Jesus, Berry," Puck chortled as he purposely brushed his fingers across her legs with every movement, making goosebumps sprout across her skin. "Either way, I'm in jail, and the last person I would ever think of meeting up with in here is you, so you best be telling me what the hell happened."

Rachel's expression darkened as she scowled at the general direction of Amoeba's cell. "I got in a fight at a club. My understudy decided that she'd had enough of my existence and kicked me in the stomach."

"You deserve it, bitch!"

"Shut up, tramp!" Puck snapped again before finishing up the wrap. "So instead of taking the high road, you fought back?"

"There's a line between taking the high road and simply defending yourself," Rachel answered matter-of-factly as she pushed her hair off her shoulder and showed him the red bite mark on her skin. He ignored the soft, smooth expanse that he remembered sucking on back in his sophomore year of high school and zeroed in on the teeth marks. "I was forced into the latter option after she turned into a vampire on me."

"And you taste like shit!"

"You are shit! Would you just shut the fuck up?" another detainee yelled from the other end of the hallway.

Puck sighed and rubbed the stubble on his cheeks as he balanced the ice pack on her ankle and then patted her knee. "What do you say we get outta here, midget? I wanna hear the rest of your story without the commentary of the wailing Chihuahua."

"Fuck you!"

"Up yours!" Puck shot back unaffectedly.

"Noah, w-what are you talking about?" Rachel demanded, staring at him. "In case you haven't noticed—"

"Hey, Hartley! What time is it?" Puck called as he gently slid out from underneath Rachel's foot.

Hartley came into view and glared at the taller man through the bars. "I hate you, Puck."

"I saved your life four times. You love me," Puck reminded him smugly. "It's been three days and two hours, so now I win the bet plus an extra twenty bucks. Open the damn cell."

"Bet?" Rachel echoed.

Puck shrugged as Hartley unlocked the cell and rolled it open, grumbling under his breath. "First thing you gotta know about Detective Hartley here, Rach, is that he's a dumbass who's questioned my badassness one too many times. I made a bet that if I can stay three days in a jail cell, then he would have to man up and do what he's been planning to do for the last two years."

"I hate you so much, dude," Hartley whined, blushing a furious shade of red. "Don't tell."

Puck ignored him. "He's gotta propose to his girl."

"Wait, wait, what?" Rachel demanded as Puck picked up her stray shoe and helped her to her feet. "Y-Y-You weren't actually arrested?"

Puck scoffed. "I'm not a dirty cop, Rach."

"WHAT?"

Hartley pulled a badge out of his pocket and slapped it into Puck's open hand with a grimace. "I hate you so much, Puckerman. Seriously."

"Shut up, Hartley. Just shut up," Puck chuckled, shaking his head in amusement. Then he steered Rachel out of the cell.

"B-But I can't just walk out of here like—"

"THAT'S NOT FAIR! SHE CAN'T JUST LEAVE!" Amoeba screeched furiously.

Puck rolled his eyes. "I'M POSTING HER BAIL, AMOEBA! SHUT THE FUCK UP!"

"Noah—"

"Oh, relax, midget," Puck said as he helped her hobble out.

"B-B-B-But I thought—"

"You wanna stay in here?"

"No."

"Then move your cute ass."

Puck stepped out into the cool, New York City September air and stretched his arms over his head, sighing as his joints popped. He needed a fucking shower, but he was acutely aware of the eyes of the midget that limped up on the sidewalk beside him. He hadn't seen her in eighteen fucking years—half his life. He wasn't about to ditch her and head home 'cause he wanted a damn shower.

It was Rachel Berry, for God's sake. Sure, he could just get her number and make plans to hang out sometime in the future, but her being a Broadway actress meant having to make plans around whatever hectic schedule she had. She seemed free for the night since she was still wasting time ogling him, so he was gonna take advantage of that.

He let his eyes wander up and down the street, just waiting for her to say anything, but when she didn't, he decided he wasn't inclined to waste their time together and wait for her to form words and say them.

Usually, she wouldn't shut up. Now she wouldn't say a word.

Change wasn't always a good thing.

"It's the symbol for the Marine Corps," he said, knowing exactly what she'd been staring at for the last minute or so. He smirked when she jumped a little, breaking her out of her little shock-induced stupor.

"Y-You joined the Marines?" she asked in a tentative, disbelieving voice that sucked him back to a time when he was offering her slushies instead of chucking them in her face.

"No, Berry. I just got the tattoo 'cause I wanted to have three balls on my person," Puck deadpanned, giving her a longsuffering look and then smirking at her.

She closed her eyes and held up her hands as if trying to stop something. "W-Wait, so you're telling me that instead of going to California to start up your career as a prostitute masked by your pool business and sleeping your way through the entire cougar population of Hollywood like you planned with Finn, you joined the Marines and came to New York City to become a-a-a-a police officer?"

"Detective," he corrected her, his smirk fading a little.

She just continued to stare at him in shock and confusion. He honestly thought she was kinda blowing things out of proportion, but then again, once he considered the sharply contrasting images of High School Puck and Legit Marine/Detective Puck that she probably had, he had to give her a little leeway.

"Is that even allowed?" she continued. "With your, um, record and all?"

"Depends on the recruiter," Puck answered with a shrug.

"But why?" she asked.

He successfully clamped down a smirk. "'Cause they're the ones you gotta admit your criminal record to in order to—"

She clicked her tongue on the top of her mouth and rolled her eyes as she leaned against the metal post to take some weight off her ankle. "You know what I mean."

He shrugged again. "After my jackass of a father showed up senior year, rocked out on my heartstrings, and got me to hand over all the dough I was gonna use to get to Cali, I decided to take masochism to a whole new level—met with a recruiter and got tossed into boot camp."

"But why?" she persisted earnestly. "How could you just—"

He scowled at her. "You got something against the corps, Berry?"

She pursed her lips in frustration and twiddled her fingers, trying to find the right phrasing. "Of course not, Noah. It's just that you never gave any sort of inclination that you wanted to join the military—in fact, you generally gave off an utter disdain for working for anything that had you answering to the government."

He sighed—he needed real food before he could talk about this. That was enough deep shit for now. If that even qualified as deep shit. Whatever it was, he was done wading through shit.

"Come on, midget," he said, stepping forward to snake his arm around her waist and help her down the sidewalk. "Let's get some chow. I'm starving. They don't feed legit food to detainees, you know."

It was only because Puck was a detective—not because even after eighteen fucking years, he was acutely aware of even the smallest expression changes on Rachel Berry's face or anything—that he noticed the pain Rachel winced at during her first few steps. So without any further ado, he swung her up into his arms, bridal-style.

"NOAH, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!" she shrieked, causing almost every passerby to stop and stare at them.

"Oh, quit your dramatics. Your ankle hurting hinders my need to grab some food. Therefore I need to carry you."

"Can't you just call a cab or something?"

"Lazy ass."

"I'm injured!"

"So what does it look like I'm doing?"

"Making a spectacle of the both of us!"

He rolled his eyes and started walking down the sidewalk. "I'm solving the problem of you being injured, dumbass. And trust me, I could think of ways to make a spectacle out of the both of us that would be a lot more fun."

"Would you just put me down?"

"So you can put unnecessary strain on your ankle? No."

"That's your fault for dragging me with you on your quest to sate your caveman appetite."

He stopped walking. "You want to head home then?"

"No!" she snapped, eyes wide. "I'm just…um, worried that you'll wind up throwing out your back or—"

"Holy fuck, Rachel! How old and decrepit do you think I am?" he demanded, on the verge of laughing. "You weigh as much as a four year-old. Don't worry about me."

She huffed exasperatedly but slipped her arms around his neck, ceding the battle. He smirked in satisfaction and continued walking.

"So where are we going anyway?" she asked, ignoring the cursory glances people were throwing at them.

"I want some pizza. There's this really good place a couple of blocks from here."

"Eighteen years hasn't changed my veganism, Noah."

"I'm not Finn, Berry," he said lightly even though his jaw twitched a little. "They offer vegan pizzas. They don't have any cheese, but you don't even miss it."

He saw her blink in shock out of the corner of his eye. "You tried it?"

"I got curious." Because he saw a news story about how she got another Tony last year on the TV above his table and suddenly got a huge craving for veggies.

She was quiet for a couple of seconds, and he felt a little bit smug that even he remembered she was a vegan after eighteen fucking years of no contact.

"You know, I think you're fascinated by my ass."

He nearly tripped over his own feet. "What?"

"You've called my ass cute, dumb, and lazy in the last half-hour. I'm starting to think you're very interested in my ass."

He stopped and turned to look at her full in face. The sparkle in the top left corner of her brown eyes was a reflection of the streetlight; he knew that. Didn't stop him from believing he put that little sparkle in her eye. A hint of a smile twitched the corners of her lips, and she held on to him a little bit tighter.

"Your ass is very interesting, Berry. Thought so ever since high school."

"In spite of the fact that you've insulted it?"

"Boys tease girls they like, remember?" he pointed out.

She grinned. "I'm well aware now, thank you."

Didn't seem so aware of it back when he was insulting her and giving her slushie punches on a regular basis, but whatever. That was a whole new world for his court-mandated therapist to psychoanalyze. He turned and started walking again.

He really needed some food to deal with this.


"Do it."

"No."

"Do it."

"No!"

"Oh, come on! Do it!"

"Noah, stop being so juvenile!"

"Berry, this is hardly juvenile. I don't know what the hell kind of kids you know, but this definitely not juvenile. Do. It."

Rachel narrowed her eyes at him, but she was obviously trying not to grin.

The first thing Puck had learned about this new Rachel was that she'd changed. This led to him learning exactly how much she changed, and he was about to test her new boundaries.

"Do it, Rachel."

"Noah, for goodness sake, we're in public!"

"Well, lucky for me you're used to doing shit like this in public."

"Not like this! There is a vast difference."

"Come on, you said you liked it. This would be a much better form of repayment than tips. It's free publicity."

"It would be bad publicity on both my part and the restaurant's!" she continued to protest.

"No, it wouldn't! You don't have to completely blow it out of proportion like in the movie, but you just do a little bit," Puck countered calmly.

"Still!"

"At least there aren't any kids right now. Come on, Berry. Do it."

"Stop using peer pressure on me!"

"Peer pressure? Jesus! Come on. Just do it. Like Nike. Just do it."

"No."

"Yes."

"No."

"Yes."

"No."

"Come on, Berry. Don't chicken out on me now."

She glared at him before glancing around at the other customers. "Fine," she surrendered, "but you have to do something in return."

Puck smirked and leaned back in his seat, preparing himself for the show. "Name it."

"You have to answer my question after I…do this ridiculous dare," she answered. "No deflections or subject changes or whatever other diversionary tactic you'll try to pull out of your arsenal."

Well, he had one full pizza stashed in his stomach, so fine. "On my honor as a United States Marine, I will answer your question—no diversions, deflections, or other such dumbfuckery. Happy?"

She smiled, nodded, and straightened in her seat. Taking a deep breath, she lifted the last slice of her vegan pizza and took a slow bite, her teeth clamping down on a soft mushroom and cutting it cleanly in half. She closed her lips over the bite she took, her lips dragging over the bread as she pulled away. Her tongue flicked out to catch the small piece of the green bell pepper at the corner of her mouth before she let out a deep, low moan that reverberated above the din of the pizzeria and made Puck shift in his seat and his eye twitch. She locked eyes with him before groaning as she chewed slowly, her jaw moving in slow sensual circles as she tilted her head to the right, letting her long, brown hair fall from her shoulder and expose her neck. The muscles under her smooth skin rippled with every chew, and her eyes closed when she sighed in ecstasy. Puck jumped when she slammed her free hand down on the table, causing everyone to stop and stare and/or pull out their camera phones. Her moans tapered out into a slight whimper that had him digging his fingernails into his thighs.

He did say he was masochistic.

Mackenzie practically sprinted toward the table, looking like she was scared shitless. "Miss Berry? Miss Berry, are you okay?"

"Mack…Mack, you don't even understand," Rachel groaned between chews. "This is…just delicious."

"Check, Mack," Puck choked out on an octave he hadn't attempted since glee club. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Check—I need the check like now. Now. Mack, now."

The blonde let out a nervous laugh before bolting away from the table. Puck turned back to the midget who'd straightened back up to innocently finish the rest of her pizza. Almost every other table had its occupants leaning in and whispering about Tony award-winning Broadway actress, Rachel Berry, getting off on a slice of pizza.

"Satisfied?" she asked, swallowing.

He shrugged and pulled out his wallet after their ninja of a waitress materialized with the check and dematerialized with another nervous smile. "I give you an A for effort. B-plus for execution."

She balked at him. "A B-plus?"

"You need some practice, baby." Honorable Marine or not, he couldn't stop the lecherous smirk from sliding onto his mouth.

She smiled at him primly and dabbed at her mouth with a napkin. "Enough with your shenanigans, Noah. I want an answer to my question."

He sighed. "Fine. Go ahead, Berry."

"Are you finished mentally preparing yourself?"

"Jesus Christ, you gonna ask me the secrets of the universe or something?" he asked, chuckling a little.

She cocked an eyebrow. "Well, it may as well be."

"Ask your question, Rachel," he sighed exasperatedly.

She set her hands in her lap and stared at him right in the eye. "Why did you join the Marines, Noah?"

He looked at her, his expression blank, but he was studying her expression, trying to gauge whether she was asking out of pure curiosity or because of something else. She simply met his gaze head-on, waiting for her answer.

"People change, Berry," he answered simply. "You of all people should know that."

Her eyes narrowed at the new ground they'd begun to tread. "What are you talking about?"

"Oh, come on. Don't play that. Almost everyone in that damn glee club went through some sort of personality change," Puck said, tossing down a few bills and shoving his wallet back into his pocket. He leaned back in his chair and settled down for the explanation her expression demanded. He redirected his eyes to the ceiling as he started listing people off. "Finn got super douchebaggy, Jones realized she could turn up her diva-dial all the way up into bitch-mode, Evans threw out the boy-next-door shit and became a stripper who tried to step into Finn's shoes as a successful male home-wrecker, Jackie Chang finally managed to grow some balls and dance and sing his way into his dad's good graces, Santana openly admitted to actually missing you, and Brittany managed to become fucking class president. Hummel, Cohen-Chang, and Wheels managed to stay kind-of-the-same, but you, me, and Quinn were practically unrecognizable."

He chanced a look at her just in time to see her entire face shut down. He couldn't tell if she was disappointed, angry, or just completely indifferent to what he was saying. Well. If she was gonna make him talk about it all by himself, then fine.

"I went from not giving a flying fuck about my future to hoping to God that I would be able to graduate if only to not end up a fuck-up. The entirety of fucking Ohio knows about all the shit that's happened to Quinn that eventually got her to the point of getting her shit together enough to actually becoming friends with the chick she tortured on a regular basis. And you—you nearly gave up Broadway and New York 'cause Finn didn't know what the hell to do with his life. Which is how twenty million other high school seniors felt at the same time, by the way."

"But I'm here now," she said finally.

"And what exactly changed you back?"

Rachel frowned. "Finn didn't tell you?"

Puck scoffed. "I said I loved every single one of you nitwits, but once I was outta Lima, I checked outta all of y'all's lives. I haven't talked to anyone until now."

Her frown deepened, and she leaned forward on the table, her arms crossed. "What? You haven't spoken to e-e-even Mike or Sam?"

He shook his head once. "No."

"Why? Noah, why didn't you tell anyone you came here? Why didn't you ever tell anyone you joined the Marines? We could've sent you letters, care packages, or something. God only knows what you saw out there. Maybe we could've given you some sort of comfo—"

Puck just scoffed and rolled his eyes. "You didn't care about my problems when I was five feet away. Why would I think y'all would care from a couple thousand miles?"

Her face just sort of dropped, and her shoulders sagged in the kind of defeat he remembered wishing she would never go through. He almost took it back, but it was the truth. She asked for it, and he wasn't going to lie to make her feel better. Picking the napkin off her lap and pulling herself to the edge of her seat, she used the table and the back of the chair to help her stand.

"Thank you for the pizza, Noah. It was really good," she said in an empty voice before turning and limping away pathetically.

He clenched his teeth together before throwing his own napkin onto the table and dashing after her. He didn't even stop as he hooked his arms around her back and under knees, sweeping her up into his arms for the third time that night. A few of the other customers applauded and whistled, but neither of them looked back.

She hesitated but then looped her arms around his neck again and rested her head against the corner of his neck and shoulder. "I'm sor—"

"Don't you fucking apologize," he said flatly, not wanting to hear those words.

"That's not fair," she said, guilt softening the intended bite of her statement.

"Ma and Bekah knew where I was. If you honestly gave a shit about me, you would've called either one of them up and demanded to know where in the name of God I managed to hide myself in your typical Rachel Berry fashion, and they would've gladly told you."

"Noah, that's not fair. You knew exactly where I was, and you never initiated contact either," she pointed out. "We all parted on good terms because we were sentimental and we weren't classmates or teammates anymore. Graduation dissolves strong bonds no one ever thought would break, and we weren't the exceptions. You all knew where I was, but aside from the occasional congratulatory message, I've only managed to stay in contact with Kurt, Blaine, and Quinn."

"Well, you seemed pretty adamant on forgetting nearly everyone in Lima yourself, so I was simply obliging. Phones and letters work both ways."

"Stop it."

"You stop," he ordered as gently as he could. "It's in the past, Berry. Doesn't matter anymore."

"You're not going to ask about Finn?" she asked after he'd carried her a few blocks. He was almost halfway to her apartment, having seen the address on her forms at the station. As much as he wanted to stay with her, this had just been one long fucking night.

He met her gaze for a couple of seconds. "No."

"Why?"

"You're not with him anymore, right?"

"No."

"He's got absolutely no hold on you anymore, right?"

"No."

"He's not in the city, right?"

"No."

"Then it doesn't matter anymore."

"Then what does matter?" she sighed tiredly.

"The fact that after eighteen fucking years, Rachel," he said, "you managed to land yourself in my jail cell on the last night of my bet—two hours after I was supposed to get out."

She blinked. "What does that mean?"

He smirked, deciding that was enough seriousness for tonight. "It's a sign from God, baby. The good Lord decided you needed to take some time out of your busy-ass schedule to meet up with an old friend."

"And spend some quality time with your very nice guns?" she asked with a small smile.

He suddenly got a mental image of her in a black mini-dress, armed with his Glock. His eye twitched again.

"If you weren't injured, we could've spent a little more quality time together," he said.

"Didn't I say you were going to injure yourself if you spent the night carrying me around New York City?" she huffed.

"I'm not injured, midget. I'm fucking tired."

"Tired enough to call it a night?" she asked.

He glanced at her. "Depends, I guess."

"On what?"

"On whether or not you're gonna try to ask me those kinds of questions again."

She fell silent again, and it unnerved him. She was too quiet. He turned and looked at her again, frowning worriedly at the way she was watching him seriously. But she didn't say anything. Even when he walked into her apartment building and carried her through the elevator ride, she just hung in his arms, staring at him. It wasn't until he deposited her in front of her door that she finally broke the silence and made him realize she could've done pretty well as a therapist too.

"You have to talk about this sometime, Noah," she said quietly. "With me."

"No, I don't."

"You have to stop running, Noah," she insisted, grabbing and holding on to his hand as she held her keys in the other. "You ran from Lima and joined the corps because you were afraid of failing in California since you gave your father all your money. You continued to run away from your past by severing all ties from us. Don't run away from me now."

He blinked.

"You're not gonna run away from me?" he asked.

"No," she answered.

"Not even if I end up pissing you off?"

"I'd kick your ass before you manage to get five feet away."

He smiled. "Fine."

She grinned. "You mean it?"

He didn't listen to God once. He wasn't gonna make the same mistake twice.

As her answer, he bent, gripped the back of her thighs, hauled her up, pressed her back against her door, and kissed her. She wrapped her arms around his neck, her legs around his hips, and her lips against his bottom one. Sophomore year, she tasted like strawberries. Junior year, she tasted like cherries. At thirty-five years old, she tasted like…home.

But getting sucked back into memories of playing/torturing his baby sister and pranking Figgins's house went right out the window when Rachel's little hand snaked under his shirt and ran over his stomach. The both of them froze, though, when she felt something…different.

"Noah?"

"Promise me you'll comply with a demand if I tell you," he said breathlessly, meeting her eye.

"Promise," she answered, swallowing.

"That's what got me discharged from the corps," he explained, pressing his forehead against hers and forcing out the words before he could clamp them down. "Team got caught in an ambush during a rescue mission. I was the only survivor, and even I died for a minute and twenty-one seconds. S'why I joined the NYPD. Couldn't save my guys. This is me trying to make it up to them by saving someone else."

"Oh, God, Noah."

He tilted his head and kissed her again, and she pressed herself even closer to him than before. When she gently ran her fingernails through his closely-cropped hair, he nearly forgot their agreement. With a herculean effort, he detached his lips from hers and pressed their foreheads together again. "Go out with me."

"No."

"Go out with me."

"No."

"Go—"

"No."

"Go—"

"No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no."

"Go out with me, Rachel."

She smirked. "No."

He narrowed his eyes at her and ground his hips harder against her, making her suck in a deep breath, clamp her eyes shut, and drop her head against the wall. "Why?"

She dragged in another ragged breath before opening her dark, dark, dark eyes. "Because I want to stay in with you, Noah."

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