"Puckerman, for the love of all that is good and bright in this world, could you please just use my actual name when you address me? We are neither in the military nor the—"
"For God's sake, Berry. It's still your name. If you hate it so much, then go get married or something. Quit whining. And you call me 'Puckerman,' so it's not like you can talk. Now what the hell happened in there?"
Rachel blinked up at him innocently. "Happened where, Noah? The bathroom? I would think even someone of your inadequate intelligence would know exactly what happens in the bathroom."
Puck narrowed his eyes and stared the midget down. She thinks she can just fucking distract him with big-ass words, huh?
No. The Puckerone's nobody's fool. Even if it's a hot, little Jewish-American fool with—
"You know what I'm talking about. Don't play stupid with me," he growled, setting his hands on his hips and backing her up against the lockers without even touching her. "And don't insult my intelligence, you little gnome."
Rachel's mouth dropped. In all the years of her life, she'd been called "midget," "shortstack," or "dwarf"—despite her insistences that she was well within average height—but never, not once, had anyone ever called her a gnome.
"NOAH PUCKERMAN, HOW DARE—"
Puck sighed and rolled his eyes dramatically before reaching out and clamping one hand over her mouth. She tried to wrench away from his grip, but even with the agility her small frame allowed her, she couldn't get away from him.
"Would—you—quit—being—so—damn—squirrely?" he gritted out as he grabbed her right up against him, one arm wound around her waist while his other hand was still pressed against her soft, smooth—
"I followed you out here 'cause I saw you and Quinn run out of the gym like y'all's dresses caught fire—which would not have been my fault this time, by the way—and I know that as soon as we leave you and Quinn alone in a room with no witnesses, something bad's gonna happen," he said quickly before Rachel could figure out that biting his hand would actually be a pretty effective way of getting it off her mouth. "Now, tell me what the hell happened in there because I definitely heard a slap."
Rachel immediately stopped fighting and slumped against Puck's hold.
"It really was nothing, Noah," she said solemnly when he finally pulled his hand away. "She acted on impulse, but she apologized afterward."
Puck frowned before cupping Rachel's face and turning her head back and forth to examine her cheeks, stroking his thumb across the soft skin just in case Quinn's ice-cold bitch-hands left some sort of mark or bump.
"It's faded by now," Rachel sighed, wrapping her little hands around his wrists and pulling his hands away, ignoring the warmth of his skin and the gentleness he used. "She must not have slapped me that hard, though I have nothing to compare it to since I've never actually been assaulted like that before, but I can definitely use it as a memory to call upon when I'm required to be in a scene where—"
"What? Like an acting spank bank?"
"Well, the comparison works, doesn't it?" he said with a shrug, and then he glanced back at the girls' bathroom on the other side of the hallway where Quinn probably still was. "So...what? You two are copacetic now?"
Rachel scoffed. "I wouldn't go so far as to say that, but we won't be engaging in any catfights or screaming matches."
And right on cue, Puck smirked. "Damn. I mean, yeah, we saw one catfight with Finnderella and the Saint of Douchebaggery, but it just wouldn't have the appeal of a catfight with you and Blondie."
Rachel rolled her eyes and huffed indignantly, but she couldn't hide the small smile that Noah Puckerman always managed to elicit—even if she managed to hide it most of the time.
Rachel cocked an eyebrow, waiting for the rest of whatever he was gonna say.
What exactly was he gonna say? He was Puck, for fuck's sake. He doesn't do this type of shit. The most he'd do was check if his hot-ass Jewish-American princess was bleeding, smirk, throw some dirty joke at her to make her blush and huff, and then he'd walk—no, swagger—away.
He doesn't do this shit.
In all honesty, if he was checking up on people, he should be checking up on Hummel. That shit wasn't kosher. Even if he hadn't had that stanky-ass ecclesiastical revelation in that Port-A-Potty and even if his holy homedawg, J-Man, hadn't absolved him of his past indiscretions, he still wouldn't have pulled that kind of bullshit stunt.
That was some jacked-up dumbfuckery, yo.
"Yes, Noah?" Rachel prompted patiently. "You don't have to worry about dropping your badass façade; there's no one around."
Puck scowled as he remembered that fucktard, Jew-fro, and his godforsaken blog. Puck would legit score some sort of computer engineering degree just so he could personally create some sort of virus to infect all of Jew-fro's tech so that idiot would never be able to touch another computer, phone, or i-fucking-Pod without having the whole thing explode.
"Don't get me started on that. People are starting to talk that Lauren's got a firm grip on my balls—in all the wrong ways. I gotta squelch that nonsense before it all goes DEFCON-one and—WOULD YOU QUIT SIDETRACKING ME, WOMAN?"
Rachel pursed her lips and exhaled exasperatedly. "What did we just discuss about the usage of my na—"
Puck threw his hands up in the air. "For crap's sake, shut up and let me talk!"
"All right! Calm down; there's no need to raise your voice, Noah," she said in an earnest attempt to placate him.
See? He's got a whole fucking arsenal of big words! He's not a moron!He can use "placate" correctly!
He sighed and unconsciously hunched his shoulders as he stuffed his hands into his pockets and leaned toward her conspiratorially. "You okay, Berry? Not just about the slap. I mean about Finn and St. Asswipe."
Rachel's hands dropped and she blinked at him blankly. "Wha—"
Puck grimaced and leaned away from her a little. "Oh, don't sound so shocked. If a fellow Jew gets smacked around by any Gentile—bitchy baby mama or not—I'm religiously obligated to step in. What the more someone like that self-righteous, curly-haired son of a bitch?" he said matter-of-factly. Then he added, "See? I know big words. Don't call me stupid again."
"I-I apologize, Noah. I sh-shouldn't have insinuated—" Rachel stammered, a little taken aback.
"Can you just say 'I'm sorry' and tell me if you're freaking okay or not?" Puck sighed, rolling his eyes.
Why does she have to make this shit so damn difficult?
"'Cause last time I checked, St. Brillo Head was persona non grata here at McKinley," he continued as Rachel continued to balk up at him like a fish. A cute, little pink-dress-wearing fish with plump, glossy—
"And next thing I know, you two are all smiles and giggles and Jheri curls on the dance floor. Did those dead baby chicks rise from the dead and tell you to go to prom with him? What the hell, Rach?"
She suddenly looked in pain, and, fuck, he'd be in pain too if he ever realized that he'd been brainwashed by the patron saint of chicken infanticide.
"He apologized, Noah," she protested feebly.
"Did he apologize to all the dead chicks he chucked at you? Because the Rachel Berry I know would've dragged him to the parking lot and made him apologize to the spirits of those damn chicks."
"That's ridiculous. I would never—"
"Woman, you made me apologize to spirit of that lizard I roasted when we were in the third grade!"
"That was on an entirely different level, Noah! That was cruel and unusu—"
"Dead chicks, dead lizards—they're the same thing, Berry!"
"You really have a penchant for interrupting me, don't—"
"It's 'cause I gotta cut you off before you really start going otherwise you're never gonna stop. You really gotta learn how get to the point quicker, baby."
Rachel scowled, but Puck didn't give her time to argue about her "impeccable conversational skills" or some shit like that.
"Look, I know you're in that weird space with Finn that's, like, identical to what happened last year. Actually, all this is freaking identical to what happened last year. Finn, St. Bitchface, even the return of the Ice Queen."
Her scowl transformed into a pained grimace. "Noah, what are you trying to say?"
"I'm trying to tell you to break the pattern, Rach," he said, setting his hands on her shoulders and giving her a little shake.
She frowned a little, contemplating his point as he continued.
"And you should legit be listening because if I'm the one telling you this, it's high time you figure your crap out. Finn's kind of a dick because he's sure as hell thinking with it. He wants to give one ball to Quinn and the other to you."
He gave her a pointed look. "But so damn true."
"The only reason he's torn between me and Quinn is—"
"Dude! Forget the reason. The fact that he's torn at all should kind of give you a damn heads-up that Finn's not exactly in the right state of mind to be in any kind of relationship if it's not with a grilled cheese sandwich. I love that numbskull like my brother, but he's an idiot."
"He's my endgame, Noah!" Rachel finally snapped. "When all is said and done, when the curtain falls, and when lights go off, it'll be him and me in the end."
Puck narrowed his eyes at her, his expression darkening.
"Exactly. When the curtain falls—when you guys aren't in the spotlight. When the lights go off—when no one can see you. When all is said and done—because he won't actually get into an argument for you; he'll just sit back and watch it all go to hell. Yeah, that's a freakin' awesome endgame right there, Rach."
The horrified expression on her face would normally make his stomach jolt a little, but this time, he was glad that face was up because it meant his shit was sinking in.
"You need a guy who'll be with you on either side of the curtain, when it's light and dark, and will be doing a lot of saying and getting a lot done instead of sitting back until it's all said and done. Get your priorities straight, Berry. I thought you wanted to go to Broadway."
"I do, and Finn will be right there with me—"
"You sure New York's his dream, baby?"
"I've known Finn all my life, and the dude is more than happy staying in Lima. He's got less of a reason to leave than either of us."
Rachel hesitated despite the assurance in her voice. "He'd come to New York for me."
"If you say so, baby. Just remember what your focus should be," he said, relaxing his stance and shrugging. "Broadway or Finn?"
He was about to walk away with what was left of his balls because good God, Puck was not supposed to be talking about shit like that. Hell to the fucking no.
But then he remembered exactly why he was trying to find Rachel before—not just because of that slap-thing. He was supposed to…
Well, he could forget about it.
He could totally just forget about it.
His ma could bitch and bitch and bitch and bitch, but—
He just had to give her that entire spiel right before. Jeez.
Shit shittingly shitting shit.
"Hey, Berry?" he asked, running his hand through his 'hawk and rubbing the back of his neck as he turned back to face her.
She pulled her eyes from where she'd been staring at the floor, fiddling her fingers. "Yes?"
"Um, save the last dance for me, okay?"
That effectively pulled her out of her little stupor. "W-What?"
"My ma made me promise to dance with you. Lauren's gonna leave a little bit after the coronation, but I gotta stay since I'm Artie's ride. And he's desperate as hell to get Brittany to dance with him at least twice tonight so we're probably gonna be here until she leaves. And we all know chick ain't gonna leave 'til Figgins throws her out at four in the morning or something."
Shit, his nervous rambling was acting up.
She didn't seem fazed by it though. "Noah, your mother would never be able to tell if you danced with me or not."
"Nuh-uh, Berry. Woman's hugged you at JCC before—she knows what you smell like. If I come home, and she doesn't get a whiff of your perfume on me, she'll literally drag my ass to your house and man the boom box while we dance on your damn driveway."
And then he was kind of glad he manned up and asked her because she legit threw her head back and laughed, and, fuck, that sound made him happy and guilty at the same time. Happy 'cause even if she had a big-ass laugh, it was fucking great. Guilty because of his little plot to spike Sue's punch.
Then he remembered that it was Sue's punch, and he didn't feel so guilty anymore.
"Okay, Noah. You're marked on my dance card as my last dance," she said with a small smile, miming writing something in the air.
"Jesus, Berry. As if I'm signing up for the goddamn quadrille."
Oh, he did not just throw out that word. He wasn't supposed to know that word.
Fucking Quinn. She made him watch that shit with her when she was still pregnant with Beth so he would be "on hand" when her cravings acted up. She always got weird, desperate cravings when she watched Jane Austen movies.
Fucking Jane Austen.
And because he knew that if he stayed a second longer, his balls would shrivel and sprout pansies, he tossed her a crooked smile, turned, and walked back toward the gym.
"And now, ladies and gentlemen, the night's last dance," Figgins droned into the mic on the stage.
As if he actually had to announce that shit. The man just loves hearing the sound of his own voice—especially when he says "William McKinley." Dude just loves saying that name. Puck's pretty sure that Figgins's shrine to McKinley could rival Sue's shrine to herself.
But because dwelling on Figgins's obsessions and Sue's self-worship wasn't exactly something Puck wanted to do for longer than .3 nanoseconds, he stood up and immediately spotted his gnome—because no one else could call her that and get off so easily.
He moved away from his table and made his way toward the edge of the dance floor where Rachel was standing with her back to him. And because he was Noah Puckerman, the one who managed to pull off one of the most kick-ass performances of The Lady Is a Tramp, he grabbed her hand and spun her onto the dance floor, shocking her into laughing as he pulled her right up to his chest.
Whatever prom-goers were left started drifting onto the floor with them, and Puck saw Brittany sitting on Artie's lap with her arms around his neck and her head on his shoulder as he began to spin them in lazy circles. Sam came up to the mic as the speakers started to play the piano intro to that sappy song Puck heard him rehearse before.
"I knew you were a wonderful dancer because of your light-footed rendition of The Lady is a Tramp, Noah, but I never knew you were as classically trained in the waltz as you are now," she said as he pulled her closer and began to lead her across the dance floor to the slow rhythm.
He glowed with pride that she'd thought of the same performance, and then he wanted to clamp down that pride because that was kind of embarrass—forget it! That song was badass.
"I gotta develop my other skills to really make the girls go wild, Berry. Dancing is, like, the prime example of how well a guy is in bed. If he can move, he can rock your world. If he's got two left feet, you're kinda screwed—in all the wrong ways."
"You're in my arms, and all the world is gone, the music playing on for only two…"
Well, this isn't a fucking awkward song to be dancing to, and he knew that if someone didn't start yakking, this was only gonna get even more awkward.
"So did you think about what I said?"
Her chipper little smile vanished as she frowned and nodded a little. "Yes, actually. I tried to really immerse myself in the prom experience, but I couldn't stop thinking about it. I really should be focusing on my Broadway career, but I still love Finn. And I know that, despite your misgivings, he and I are meant for each other. He's my leading man, Noah."
"No, no," she cut him off. "It's my turn to talk right now. You're the one who breached the subject."
He smirked and fell silent.
"But then I realized that when considering my twenty-year plan, having a soul mate isn't exactly high on my list of priorities. To win at least five Tony awards before I turn thirty means that my most serious relationship would have to be with a stage and whatever character I'm worthy enough to play. You're wrong when you say that Finn and I are all wrong for each other, but you are right to lecture me about my priorities."
Puck raised an eyebrow at the ridiculous amount of words it took her to say something that could be condensed into three little words: "You were right." But he was used to this. His brain was almost to the point of being conditioned so that he could catch the general gist of what she was saying.
"Okay, so now what?" he asked.
"Now I'm going to focus on getting to Nationals as a step to getting my foot into the door of the Big White Way."
"Whatever, Berry. As long as you quit mooning over Hudson. You need to quit that."
"How you manage to use words like copacetic yet still be able to mar your vocabulary with such atrocious grammar is beyond me, Noah."
"It's a skill, baby. I've got my own badass version of English."
"Does everything have to be badass to you, Noah?"
"You're seriously asking me that? Badass is my default setting, babe. It's ingrained into my DNA."
She scoffed. "I think that Puck is just your defense mechanism. Noah, on the other hand, is what's ingrained in your DNA, but you're just suppressing it."
"Oh, don't start getting all psychoanalytical on me, midget," Puck growled, squeezing her waist a little.
"…so close to reaching that famous happy ending. Almost believing this one's not pretend, and now you're beside me, and look how far we've come. So far, we are so close…"
She narrowed her eyes at him and pinched his neck. "You had your try at psychoanalyzing me, now I have to return the favor."
Her jerked away from her grip and spun her around to escape those nails. "How can you return the favor? You don't know a thing about me. You're as easy to read as 'See Spot Run,' Berry."
He yanked her back up against his chest, almost lifting her feet off the ground. She glared at him but made no move to get out of his hold.
"Well, don't think you're harder to read than 'War and Peace,' Noah," she shot back. "You're easy enough to figure out. You father left, and that set off a chain reaction of issues that led you to act out and suppress your true personality. You're not Puck; you're Noah. You're the one who gave up football for me, serenaded me in front of our fellow gleeks, was the first to jump to my defense when I told you that Jesse and Vocal Adrenaline egged me, cried when he saw his baby for the very first time, and waited for me to come out of a bathroom after a dramatic confrontation with Quinn. You're…actually very amazing."
"If I'm so amazing, why'd you dump me?"
Rachel's eyes widened, and she stopped moving, forcing them to come to a complete standstill. He still held onto her even though some people were watching them now. He wanted to hear her answer and moving them to somewhere private would break this weird little spell that she was under—the weird spell that was forcing her to talk about this and forcing him to listen…and care.
"Because we were too hung up on other people, Noah. You had Quinn and the baby, and I was still smarting over Finn's rejection. If we were ever to actually try a legitimate romantic relationship, that wasn't the time. It wasn't our time."
He pulled her back into the dance, and then he asked the one question that would infect his relationship with Lauren and give it some weird, incurable cancer that would eventually kill it:
"Do you think we'll ever have our time then?"
She looked up at him with those big, brown sparkly eyes and answered quietly, "I don't know."
And so they fell silent, Puck holding her close as her cheek rested on his chest. It wasn't nearly the most compromising position he'd ever been caught in, but it sure as hell ranked pretty high. Here he was, the badass boyfriend of Lauren "I-can-kill-you-with-a-Twinkie" Zises, dancing very closely with Rachel "Finn-and-I-are-forever" Berry.
People could talk, but for that moment, he couldn't give a flying fuck what shit they'd say.
"...let's go on dreaming, though we know we are so close, so close and still…so far."
So this is a one-shot, but "Sour Patch Kid"—my other, longer Puckleberry story—is following on the same line as this story in that it's like a continuation, but it's not a direct sequel. They're both standalone fics, but you can read them together.Get what I mean?