“This is all your fault, you know.” Rachel spoke over her shoulder to Sam’s back. Or, okay, she spoke to his legs and backside, since the rest of him was essentially buried in her refrigerator. Close enough.
“Huh? … Ow!” Sam backed out of the fridge, rubbing the back of his head as he went. “What’re you talking about?” He dropped the carton of salsa he had been digging for onto the counter next to him.
“This!” Rachel’s voice was shrill as she gestured dramatically to the counters around them, counters that were covered with tray after tray of nearly every type of junk food imaginable (and one of various cut vegetables – this was still a Rachel Berry co-hosted event, after all).
“Yeah, still not following,” Sam mumbled around a mouthful of pretzels. He started stacking trays however possible – sandwiches on top of veggies with a bowl of chips balancing on the very top in one hand, a platter of wings with a ridiculous number of dips and dressings and the bowl of pretzels in the other – somehow hoping to get all the food into the living room in only one trip. “Can you grab the pop?”
Rachel planted her hands on her hips, popping one to the side and shifting her weight to one foot. “I’m talking about the fact that ever since sectionals, my house has become the … the … BOY place. I mean, I was already outnumbered with my fathers, then you came along, and now Noah is planted in my basement nearly every waking second playing video games and -,”
“Hey now, Puck was over here playing plenty before I moved in.”
“Samuel Evans, don’t get cute with me. As soon as Noah realized that he could get from his girlfriend to his … his boyfriend,” she narrowed her eyes and smirked at the look of horror on Sam’s face as she gathered the bottles of soda, “without ever setting foot outside this house, he stopped going over to Finn’s or Artie’s to play those ridiculous, violent video games you all love so much and he barely leaves here at all. I’m surprised his own mother even recognizes his face.”
He shrugged, careful not to upset any of the food in his hands. “Not my fault it took the guy about 2.7 seconds to realize how awesome we are.”
“Yes, well, while that may be true, there are repercussions. Because where Noah is, Finn and Artie are.”
“Yeah,” Sam nodded begrudgingly in agreement, “and where Finn is Rory is, and where Artie is Mike is. I get it. But hey,” his whole face brightened when he smiled, “we – you – wanted glee to be like a family right? I mean, ya gotta admit, this is way better than Artie bein’ the sad, lonely AV geek and Mike bein’ the quiet guy that never says a word and Rory, well, I don’t know where Rory would be without glee. But most of all, you of all people gotta be thrilled that Puck and Finn are in the same room and no punches have been thrown and no furniture has been kicked.” He beamed down at Rachel, the girl he had accepted as not only a best friend but practically a little sister (yeah, so she was older, have you seen Rachel Berry?) since she and her fathers had welcomed him into their home months before.
“Sam,” she sighed, “of course I’m glad that Finn and Noah have rebuilt their friendship. I honestly don’t know if I could have forgiven myself otherwise,” she mumbled the last part almost under her breath before picking up steam again, “but that doesn’t mean I want all the testosterone in glee club congregating in my living room when I could otherwise spend this lovely spring evening doing something more meaningful and productive.”
“You don’t gotta stay with us, Rach. I mean, I live here too, remember? I can be the host and you can go … well, do whatever it is you wanna be doin’ on this ‘lovely spring evening,’” Sam mocked her, rolling his eyes and bobbing his head side-to-side as he spoke in the highest voice he could manage.
“I know,” she stared at her feet, watching her toe trace the pattern of the floor tiles, “but … Noah’s spent so much time with you and the boys lately. I just kind of want -,”
“I know Rach, it’s cool.” Sam pecked a quick kiss on the back of her head as he walked past her and out of the kitchen toward the living room. “You want some time with your man. I get it, and I think it’s pretty awesome of you to like, break out of your comfort zone or whatever to do it. Good news for you is, just a couple more days and you oughta get him back to yourself for a while. Ya know, minus a few marathon COD sessions here and there,” he grinned back at her over his shoulder before winking and joining the rest of the guys in front of the television.
“Rach! You comin’ babe? We only got a few minutes, and if we gotta explain this to you and Rory, I only wanna do it once.” Rachel smiled at the sound of Noah’s voice from the other room.
“Yeah, move woman!” She rolled her eyes at Artie’s mock bravado, “And don’t forget my Dr. Pepper!”
“Sorry sorry sorry.” She breezed into the room with a smile on her face, picking her way through the maze of furniture and male body parts to let each guy pull a drink from her arms, Mike grabbing his last then pulling the extras from her arms and setting them on the end table. “Thank you Michael.” He only smiled and nodded in response before dropping back into his place on the couch between Puck and Sam.
Rachel’s head swiveled from one side to the other, surveying the scene. She sighed when she saw that actually sitting on her own furniture was not an option, since even Rory was already sprawled across the carpet. Resigned to taking her own place on the floor, she turned to step gingerly over Finn’s leg, which she noticed with a grimace was hanging off the arm of her daddy’s recliner. Before she could actually move, however, a pair of strong hands wrapped around her thighs and she felt herself being pulled backward and squarely onto Noah’s lap. “Hi,” she murmured softly when she turned her head to brush her nose against his cheek.
“Hi.” He grinned before turning to capture her lips in a quick kiss.
“Okay okay, no time for that,” Sam grabbed one of the abandoned throw pillows from the floor next to his feet and chucked it at Puck and Rachel, barely giving Mike a chance to duck out of the way. “We got like, five minutes to tip-off and Rach and Rory both need the run-down before it gets started.”
“He’s right, Noah.” Rachel sat up straight and moved to perch on Puck’s knee, folding her hands primly in her own lap and looking with wide eyes from one boy to another. “Teach Rory and me all about Spring Insanity, or Sports Craziness, or whatever it is you all had to gather here for.”
“Ra-ach,” Finn whined, “it’s March. Madness.” He enunciated each word slowly and clearly, as if he were teaching Rachel brand new words, the way one might to a toddler or a person trying to learn a second language.
“Of course,” she waved a hand flippantly in Finn’s direction, “March Madness then. Anyway, fill us in, because according to Sam, we don’t have much time before the competition starts.”
“Okay, that right there, that’s first,” Sam pointed at her with the chicken wing that he had been in the process of lifting toward his mouth. “It’s a game, Rach. A game. Not competition. Not contest. Not match or any other ridiculous five dollar word you might think of. Basketball. Game.” He turned his attention to Rory after watching Rachel nod and sigh dramatically. “Got that, Irish? Basketball game.”
“Good.” Sam shoved the wing into his mouth and nodded at Puck to pick up where he left off.
“You know a little about basketball, right babe?”
“Umm, well, I know the little that we were forced to play in freshman physical education, although little attention was paid to rules and conventions. Ms. Lewis was basically satisfied as long as we ran from one end of the court to the other and threw the ball occasionally. And I’ve been to a few McKinley games, but not nearly as many as football. Mr. Schuester and Miss Pillsbury were of very little help in guiding me to understand the game,” she threw a quick glare in Sam’s direction before continuing, “so since I didn’t have any particular reason to continue attending the events, as I did with football,” she blushed when Puck smirked and squeezed one of her thighs. “I decided to spend my evenings elsewhere.”
“What about you, Kermit, what do you know?”
“Umm,” Rory blushed and rubbed the back of his neck bashfully. “Nothing?”
“Wow. Ok then,” Puck dropped his head onto the back of the couch and exhaled deeply, sliding his hands up Rachel’s legs and onto her hips to pull her back against him. He didn’t lift his head again until he felt Rachel wiggle on his lap and settle her body against his. “Alright, just the basics, we’ll have to fill you in on the other stuff as we go along. Ya got five guys on each team, and the goal is to get the ball in that hoop,” he gestured toward the television, where the players were stretching and shooting around. “It ain’t a full-contact sport like football, so it’s okay to like, bump into people and shit, but if ya actually reach out and touch somebody, that’s a foul. That’s bad.” He looked first at Rachel, who was concentrating on every word he said, then at Rory, who wore a look of mild understanding. “That’s like, pre-school shit right there, but Rach is a fast learner and we don’t got time to teach Rory the full history of hoops, so that’s the best you’re gonna get tonight.”
“If you have any questions,” Finn started, more to Rory than to Rachel, because it’s not like Rachel needed the reassurance, “just ask. It’s really not all that complicated, and the rules are easier to follow than football.”
Rory nodded timidly at his unofficial mentor then looked to Rachel for some sign of camaraderie or a small sense of both of them being in this thing together, but was only mildly disappointed when he found her already fiercely focused on the television. It wasn’t as if he had a reason to expect anything different.
Rachel’s body was relaxed, her side pressed into Puck’s front and one hand playing with the fingers of his left hand atop her thigh, but the other hand gripped the arm of the couch tightly and her eyes narrowed at the 55 inch screen on the wall in front of her. “Noah,” her eyes never left the television, “I’m a little confused.” She ignored the groans from Finn and Sam.
“Rachel,” Artie’s voice wasn’t without frustration, “the game hasn’t even started yet.”
“I’m aware of that, Artie. I may not know a lot, but I can recognize warm-ups when I see them. But as I was about to point out to Noah, I am also aware that the Buckeyes typically wear red, and I don’t see any red anywhere on that court. Or even in the stands, for that matter. And my experience watching football games with Noah and Daddy in the fall has taught me that Ohio State fans usually show up to these events wearing as much red as possible.” She turned her attention away from Artie and toward Puck, letting the agitation slide out of her voice. “Do they wear different colors for different sports?”
“Nah babe,” he smirked at her cluelessness (not something any of them got to see in Rachel Berry very often – or ever), but set his pop on the end table just beside the couch and ran his hand soothingly over her hair. “The Buckeyes ain’t playin’. They actually went out a couple rounds ago.”
Rachel ignored Finn’s grumblings about ‘upset’ and ‘Florida State’ and ‘weren’t really even playin’ then’ and questioned Puck further. “Then … if Ohio State is out of the tournament, why all this?” She gestured into the air around them.
“It’s the Final Four babe! I mean, this is like it when it comes to college sports. Don’t matter who’s playin’, ya just watch.”
Rachel scanned the room for confirmation, taking Artie’s ‘Preach!’ and Mike’s emphatic nod and accompanying, ‘Absolutely,’ as just that. Accepting Puck’s statement for truth, she turned her gaze to Rory and offered him a small smile and a shrug.
“Well then …” she was clearly thinking hard about something, finally seeming to settle her internal debate with a decisive nod, “which team is the underdog? You know how I believe in supporting the little guy, the team that is undervalued and unappreciated.” She ignored the snickers from the other guys (except Rory, who was still clearly as much in the dark as she was) and kept her attention on Puck.
“Babe,” he started gently, “this is Duke and Kentucky. Ain’t no underdog in this game. You’re lookin’ at college basketball royalty here.”
“Oh.” Her nose wrinkled and her eyes squinted as she studied the television for a moment, eyes darting from one side to the other as both teams retreated to their benches to prepare for the starting line-up introductions. “Well, I guess we’re cheering for Kentucky, then? I mean, Kentucky and Ohio are kind of neighbors. Oh!” She sat up straighter and bounced excitedly on Puck’s lap, causing him to let out a quiet groan and grab her hips with both hands to still the movement. “And Sam lived in Kentucky for a little while.” She grinned at her friend, earning an amused smirk in return.
“Sure babe,” Puck leaned around her for a sandwich, “whatever works for you.”
“Besides,” she settled back into Puck’s body with a disapproving look at the screen as the announcer began introducing Duke’s starting line-up, “I much prefer Kentucky’s colors.”
Puck buried his face in Rachel’s shoulder and bit down on it lightly to hold back the laugh that threatened to bubble out. The other guys didn’t even try.
“But …” Rory interjected, appearing as confused as ever, “both teams are blue.”
"Yes," the others - except Puck, he knew better - groaned, knowing that some kind of Rachel Berry rant was coming based on her tone of voice alone, "but Kentucky is purely blue and white," she squinted at the screen, trying to study Kentucky’s uniforms in the dark, since the Duke players were still being introduced, "with a few silver accents thrown in for good measure. Duke has large patches of black on their jerseys and their shorts. Black is symbolically a bad color, the color of evil, even. That, along with the reasons I already stated, is enough for me. I'm cheering for Kentucky. As soon as Noah explains what is going on and when I should cheer," she looked at him sheepishly before lowering her voice to speak directly to him. “As you said before, I’m a fast learner. I’m sure once I see the players in action it won’t take long.”
"Ya know, Burt says Duke is evil like the Nazis." Finn spoke casually without taking his eyes off the screen and the guys all nodded as if what he had said made perfect sense. Rachel's eyes widened almost comically at the comparison.
"No actual connection to the Nazis, babe," Puck reassured her, closing one hand over her knee and rubbing the other soothingly up and down her back. "But still, go with your gut. Kentucky it is."
Puck wasn’t lying when he said Rachel was a fast learner. Artie even went so far as to call her a basketball savant when, after 10 minutes of game play, she was catching things the guys were missing. Mike and Sam shared a look, eyebrows raised, when she called a Duke travel before the whistle blew. Hell, it was like the girl had a direct line to God (or, ya know, John Calipari) when she demanded that Lamb come out for a stupid foul and 30 seconds later he was on the bench with Miller taking over his spot on the floor.
“That was a foul!” Rachel screeched with only seconds remaining in the half, throwing her arm, index finger extended, in the direction of the television. “Noah, that was a foul.” She turned toward him and softened her voice considerably.
Puck dug his fingers into her hips momentarily (he hadn’t let his hands venture from that position for quite some time – Mike’s safety depended on it) before giving her a smirk. “I know baby. The refs missed that one.”
Rachel barely had time to turn her attention back to the game before the buzzer sounded, signaling the end of the first half. “Wait, where are they going? Is it over?” She actually looked sad, and Puck wrapped his arms all the way around her waist to hug her to him.
“Halftime, babe. They getta go take a breather for a while. Well, sorta,” he snickered, “I mean, both teams’ coaches are probably gonna rip ‘em a new one in the locker room.”
“So there’s more?” He smiled at her and nodded. “Oh. Okay then. So how does this work, exactly? I mean, is it like, say, tennis, where they start over and have to win a certain number of rounds?” Rachel shot Finn a glare when he sighed and dropped his head back onto the chair, throwing an arm over his eyes. “Or is it more like football, where the score stays the same and Kentucky will still be in the lead?” Puck nodded again and Rachel’s mood brightened to one of cheery happiness as she kissed him on the cheek and wiggled out of his grasp to stand in front of the couch. “More snacks boys?” She surveyed her guests and picked up a few empty trays from the coffee table.
“Umm, yeah, sure.” Sam nodded and the others mumbled their agreement. Undeterred by their apparent lack of enthusiasm, Rachel literally bounced out of the room toward the kitchen.
“Holy crap, man!” Artie, who had managed to wheel himself almost to a back corner of the room without anyone noticing, appeared next to Sam.
“Seriously,” Mike scooted to the edge of the couch and looked around, making eye contact with each of his friends in turn, “is anyone else a little scared?” Finn and Rory both nodded dramatically, eyes wide for added emphasis. Neither Sam nor Artie disagreed, but Puck looked at them all like they were crazy.
“You kiddin’ me?” He paused to shake his head in apparent disbelief. “This shit is fuckin’ hot!” He smirked at their unbelieving expressions. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love Rach, and she’s pretty much always awesome, no matter what she’s doin’. But even I never seen this Rachel before, this crazy, angry, fiery, Rachel that’s all passionate about something that’s not like, her own future-,”
“Or you,” Sam grumbled under his breath (seriously, one, not nearly thick enough, wall separating his room from Rachel’s), but Puck only ignored him and kept talking.
“- and it’s sexy as hell.”
“Easy for you to say,” Puck turned to smirk at Mike’s response, “you’re the guy who gets Rachel’s tongue down his throat every time UK scores. I’m the guy that almost gets a backhand to the face every time they screw up.”
“Hey man,” Puck shrugged, “I’m tryin’ to hold her down.” He laughed when Mike only shook his head and flung himself back onto the couch. Rachel was the kind of person who, when she got into something, she got into it. That philosophy, apparently, extended to basketball, because every time Kentucky scored she squealed and bounced a little on Puck’s lap (either she didn’t realize what that did to him or she didn’t care) before turning to kiss him just as enthusiastically. On the other side of that passion though, was her reaction every time Kentucky gave up a turnover or committed a foul, or allowed Duke an easy basket. Any time her new favorite team made a mistake on the court, she jumped practically off of Puck’s lap, full of anger and fire, and flung her arms around, gesturing wildly and berating the team for falling short of perfection. Three minutes in, Puck had given up any hope of getting to relax and snack through the game as he usually did with the boys, because he had to plant his hands on Rachel’s hips (not that he would ever complain about that) and focus on making sure she didn’t break Mike’s nose. Honestly though, it didn’t bother him at all. It was sexy, and it was kind of cool to get Rachel interested in something new, something none of them would ever have expected her to care about.
“All I got to say,” Sam started, stopping abruptly when Rachel walked into the room with freshly filled snack trays. Six pairs of eyes followed the hostess as she placed the trays gingerly on the coffee table before turning to ruffle Sam’s hair and grab his empty Coke bottle out of his fidgeting hands. She didn’t say a word as she walked around the back of the couch, stopping only to drop a kiss to the top of Puck’s head and pick up his and Finn’s empty bottles off the end table between the couch and the recliner before she breezed back out of the room.
“Really Finn,” Rory started, moving from his spot in the middle of the open floor to sit beside Finn’s chair, apparently hoping to use the chair as a shield from the couch where Rachel would undoubtedly go back to sitting as soon as she returned. “I’m scared.”
“I know buddy. I think we all are,” Finn offered Rory a reassuring smile. “’Cept Puck, but he doesn’t count ‘cause he’s got like, special Rachel-powers. And,” Finn bent to speak quietly, “he’s kinda crazy too.”
“Anyway,” Sam started again, shaking his head to bring himself back to the moment, “all I got to say is, Puck, if Kentucky loses, you’re stayin’ here tonight. And guy code be damned, you’re sleepin’ in my bed.”
Puck snorted. “Sorry Sammie, but I got news for ya. If I’m staying over at Casa Berry, it ain’t gonna be to share a bed with your pretty self.”
“Don’t worry man,” Mike nudged Sam with his elbow, “if things go south, you can come to my place tonight. No way I’d leave ya with just a wall separating you from the Wildcat Wonder in there, even with Puck here.” The two bumped fists in silent agreement.
“Damn straight,” Artie agreed. “Seriously Puck, you can’t honestly say even you’d wanna stay here with Rachel if this game doesn’t go her way. She’s terrifying. Legit.”
“Like I said,” Puck smirked and shrugged, “’s hot.” The others only shook their heads. “’Sides, I’m with my girl on this one. I don’t think it’s gonna be an issue. Cats got it in the bag.”
“Dude,” Finn shook his head a little and grabbed a handful of chips from the newly filled bowl on the table. “I hope you’re right, but I mean,” he leaned back into the chair and threw his leg back over the arm where it had rested for most of the first half, “four points isn’t really -,”
“Foot on the floor, dude.” Sam and Puck spoke nearly simultaneously. Finn looked back at them as if they were both crazy, but obeyed the command. “Berry rules,” Sam shrugged before taking a swig of his Coke.
“Yeah, Rach was too distracted to notice or somethin’ during the first half I guess, but just think what’s gonna happen if she notices in the second half. ‘Specially if the game’s not goin’ her way.” Puck smirked at the look on Finn’s face as he stiffened in the chair. “Know what,” Puck pushed himself up off the couch and jerked a thumb toward the ceiling, “up.”
“What?” Finn looked back at him, wide-eyed. “I won’t do it again, I swear. Ya don’t gotta kick me out.”
“Seriously dude, don’t be a pussy.” Puck smirked. “We’re tradin’ seats. Now get up. ‘Fore Rach gets back.”
“I said I wouldn’t do it again.” The other guys all groaned at the whiny tone of Finn’s voice. Seriously, he was their boy and all, but really. “It’s really comfortable,” he mumbled.
“Don’t care. You say that now, but you forget things and you don’t seem to have full control of those long-ass limbs of yours sometimes. Now c’mon. I’m doin’ you and Chang’s face a favor here.”
Mike visibly brightened and nodded enthusiastically at Finn, patting the now-empty seat beside him. Finn only nodded his agreement and moved into the seat without further argument. Without saying a word, Rory crawled from his position beside the chair to the opposite end of the couch, resting his back against the end table so that he sat beside Sam’s feet. Puck could only laugh and roll his eyes at the way all his friends seemed to be terrified of his girl – his five-foot-two, 90-pounds-soaking-wet, violence-is-never-the-answer-so-let’s-sing-it-all-out, awesome girl.
Said girl didn’t return to the living room until the end of halftime. Puck wasn’t sure if she was keeping tabs from the other room or if there was just something awesome about her that made her sweep into the room just as Clark Kellogg was ‘sending it back to Jim Nantz.’ Either way, there she was, not really paying any attention to what she was doing, setting more food onto the table and getting ready to drop onto Finn’s lap just as the camera panned the court that had been installed in the Superdome.
Puck cleared his throat just loudly enough to get her attention. “Babe,” he smirked when she looked over at him with wide eyes then did a double-take to find Finn sitting directly behind her.
“Oh!” Rachel was clearly startled that she had almost found herself sitting on the wrong lap, and she blushed and lowered her head as she apologized quietly to Finn and took the three steps necessary to sit in the chair with Puck instead. Puck only grinned as he wrapped his arms snugly around her waist while she made herself comfortable against him.
The first time during the second half that Rachel almost came out of his lap, when Kentucky had allowed Duke to go on a run and take over a three-point lead, Puck reacted by reaching down to his right and jerking the lever on the side of the recliner, sending their feet flying off the floor and their upper bodies backward so that they were a bit more horizontal than before. She must have gotten the hint, because she looked over her shoulder sheepishly at him and for the next 10 minutes of game play (a blissful 17 minutes in real time) her outbursts were strictly verbal. Sure, it was still pretty intimidating when she went off on a tear (a very loud tear) about how the referees must be blind if they honestly thought that the block they just called against Terrence Jones was ‘legitimate,’ but at least no one was having to shield his face from oncoming blows.
The next time it happened was at least for a positive reason. The Wildcats had gone on a run of their own, culminating in a scorching three-pointer by Lamb which Gilchrist quickly followed with a sneaky steal and a half-court pitch for an alley oop dunk by Jones, to not only regain their lead but extend it to double-digits. Rachel’s arms, hands balled into tiny little fists, flew over her head and her “Yes!” was nearly ear-splitting as her entire body arched up off Puck’s. Seriously. He didn’t know how she did it (Although he wasn’t opposed to seeing if he could somehow make her do it again. Later. Privately.), but he was sure that for one good second, not one inch of her body was still making contact with him or the chair. As she was settling herself back against him, Puck opened his legs a little wider so that she slipped down between them, then twisted his body slightly to one side and threw his right leg over both of hers. Rachel huffed noisily and crossed her arms over her chest, but didn’t say anything.
When the clock ticked down to 45 seconds and Kentucky had managed to hold onto a seven-point lead, Puck didn’t think he could have kept Rachel in the chair if he had flipped his entire body over on top of hers (besides, all his boys were in the room, and he didn’t roll that way). She managed to wiggle her way out of his grasp and literally bounced around the room as the seconds rolled off the clock. What she didn’t expect was for those last seconds to turn into five minutes. And while she understood the strategy behind Duke’s repeated fouls, their apparent inability to foul anyone other than Davis (or Kentucky’s uncanny ability to keep the ball in Davis’s hands, depending on how you looked at it) seemed to her to make the ‘strategy,’ nothing more than a fruitless waste of time, seeing as how, if anything, the freshman only improved upon his 85% free throw average. Finally, with five seconds left and Duke in possession of the ball, it looked that the game would finally come to an end.
“Sam! Did you see that block?” She stood behind the couch and grasped his shoulders, shaking him a little. “Finn, Mike, look, we’re going to win!” She kept one hand planted on Sam’s shoulder and pointed at the television with the other. Finn only nodded, eyes huge, but Mike couldn’t help but smile at her over his shoulder. This Rachel was much less scary, and, quite frankly, just plain amusing. When the last few seconds ticked away and the buzzer sounded, cementing the final score at 63-76, she hopped on the balls of her feet a few times and clapped her hands before clasping them together in front of her chest. “Noah,” she said, almost dreamily, “they did it! The Wildcats beat the Nazis!”
Puck chuckled low in his throat as he watched his girlfriend give Sam’s shoulder one more squeeze before she walked back around the couch toward him. “Babe,” he smirked up at her, “’s not their actual mascot.”
“Yes, I know,” she agreed, perching daintily on the arm of the chair and looking back down at him, “their actual mascot is a devil.” Rachel lifted one shoulder in a half-shrug. “Close enough, right?”
“Sure babe. Close enough.”
“So,” Rachel brightened and scanned the room, meeting each boy’s eyes briefly, “now what? Where do they go from here?”
“Well,” Finn sounded hesitant as he shifted in his seat, “it’s a tournament, Rach. When a team loses, they’re out. So Duke’s done.”
She sighed dramatically before looking from Puck to Sam through narrowed eyes, then back to Finn. “Finn, I could not. Care. Less. About Duke. I want to know what’s next for the University of Kentucky.”
“There’ll be another game in about 30 minutes,” Mike stretched leisurely as he spoke, “and then Monday night Kentucky’ll play whoever wins.”
“Okay,” Rachel chirped. “And then …”
“There is no ‘and then,’ Rach,” Sam corrected her, “that’s it. Monday’s the championship.” For a moment, a crestfallen expression crossed her face, but she brightened as soon as Sam said the word ‘championship.’
Artie rolled forward slowly, tentatively. “Now Rachel,” he started, staying safely at the other end of the couch, “you should know, the next game is between two number three seeds. That means that, no matter who wins, the team Kentucky plays against on Monday will be the underdog. Are you … I mean, how do you feel about that?”
She surprised everyone, even Puck, when she only shrugged again. “I think I’m okay with that. While I do feel that it is important to support the underdog, I also think that loyalty is an absolutely essential quality in a person. And, in addition to my overall appreciation for the team, I found myself being increasingly impressed with number 23, Davis, as the game went on.”
“Even I thought he was incredible,” Rory agreed, “and I barely understood what was going on.”
“Word,” Artie nodded and bumped fists with first Rory, then Sam.
“Yes,” Rachel nodded her agreement, leaning back against the back of the chair as Puck snaked an arm around her waist, “his overall athleticism is quite outstanding. And the way he managed to block the other team’s shots as he did – well, the only word I can even think of is ‘intuitive.’ But it’s more than that, even. I mean,” she smiled and shook her head lightly, “he’s so tall and thin and his limbs are so very long – he’s just lanky, really. He looks almost like he hasn’t fully grown into himself yet and he won’t know what to do with those arms and legs that just seem to be everywhere. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that he just looks like he would be, well, awkward, kind of like -,”
“Bambi,” Rachel finished, ignoring Sam’s interruption, even though the guys were still laughing. “But that’s not the case at all. The fact of the matter is, he’s a very talented young man and he knows exactly how to use all that length to the advantage of himself and his teammates.”
“Hey,” Puck smirked up at her and wrapped his arm a little more tightly around her, his fingers tracing patterns over her hip, “If that’s all it takes to impress you – someone who’s talented with his length -,”
“Come on man.”
“Please just stop.”
The guys all protested quickly, each begging in his own way for Puck to stop before going any farther, but it was Rachel’s voice that cut through the group and caught him off guard. “Noah Puckerman,” she maneuvered her way out of his grasp and stood from the arm of the chair, flitting around the room and picking up the trash that had accumulated throughout the game. “If you so much as think about finishing that sentence, you will be buying yourself an opportunity to find out just how talented you can be with that length of yours. Alone.” She cradled the paper plates and empty coke bottles to her chest and flounced easily out of the room, six pairs of eyes following her, accompanied by six matching, slack jaws.
“Did she just …?” Finn looked incredulously from Puck to Sam after a few moments of stunned silence.
“Yeah,” Sam scratched his fingers through his hair, just over one ear, “I think she did.”
“When the hell did that happen?” Each of the boys turned his attention fully on Puck.
“You askin’ me?” He smirked at his friends, who he decided slightly resembled five nodding fish with their unblinking eyes and open mouths. “Dunno,” he lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “’M tellin’ ya, girl’s just badass. I didn’t make ‘er that way, it was always there. Guess I just like, bring it out in her or whatever.”
“I can understand that, but aside from being utterly shocking when coming from Rachel Berry, did that last statement not bother you, even a little? I mean, you’re Puck, and she just essentially challenged your manhood in front of all of us.”
Puck laughed a little and shook his head at Artie. “Nah, like I said before, she’s badass. ‘S hot.” He watched it sink in, even though the confused expressions on his friends’ faces told him that while they might be hearing him, they still didn’t really get it. Whatever, that’s why she was his girl and not any one of theirs. (That, among many, many other reasons.) “And on that note,” Puck slapped his thighs before pushing himself out of the chair, “I’m gonna go take a piss then see if my girl needs my talent for anything in the kitchen.” He wiggled his eyebrows at his friends before leaving the room.
When Puck joined Rachel in the kitchen, she was making herself a sandwich with that weird oily peanut butter she liked so much and sugar-free strawberry jam. He slipped in as quietly as possible, seeing her diverted attention as an opportunity. Before she even knew he was in the room, his hands were sliding across her hips and around her waist. “Mmm,” he hummed into her hair as she let herself fall back against him, her head dropping back onto his shoulder. “You know you’re awesome, right?”
“I’ve been told I have some positive qualities, yes,” her eyelids drooped and she smirked when Puck’s lips found the pulse point in her neck.
His fingers drifted under the hem of her top and Puck darted his tongue out to tickle the skin of her neck when Rachel giggled.
“Noah,” she whispered breathily, “stop,” she half-whined. “The boys are just in the next room.” She spun in his arms and pressed a finger to his lips when she felt his chest swell with a deep breath and heard the rumble that started low in his throat. “Don’t even go there. We were in my room, the door was locked, and I didn’t know Sam was home.” She lowered her head and looked up through her lashes sheepishly, “He was supposed to be staying at Finn’s.”
“Fine,” Puck pouted, but turned to walk across the room after giving her hips one last gentle squeeze. “Seriously though, babe,” he spoke to her over his shoulder as he tied off the now-full trash bag and lifted it out of the can, “you’re awesome.”
Rachel wasn’t quite sure what to say to that, so she didn’t say anything, grinning up at him sheepishly from under her lashes.
“I mean, you went to all this trouble to put together like, a Final Four party, and you don’t even care about basketball. Didn’t even care,” he smirked. “That’s cool shit, Rach.”
She shrugged, playing it off as casually as possible. (And why the fuck did she do that shit, anyway? She practically demanded praise in every aspect of her life, but when it came from him and wasn’t about some performance or other, she looked like, uncomfortable as shit.) “It was really nothing, Noah. I mean, Sam -,”
“Nuh-uh babe. Don’t play your, ‘Sam-lives-here-too-maybe-this-was-his-thing’ card. First,” he leaned back against the counter and held up one index finger to emphasize his point, “Sam wouldn’t even turn on that tv without your say-so. I mean, the guys say ya got me wrapped around your little finger – and yeah, okay, fuck it. They’re right. Whatever.” He watched her smirk back at him for a second before pushing off the counter and lunging forward to grab her by one wrist, pulling her body against his. “But if ya got me wrapped around this one,” he shook her hand playfully in front of her face, “then ya got him on the other one. I mean, it’s different, a’course, but the same way Sarah’s got like, this power over me, well, you got that with Evans.” He waited, watching her cheeks tint pink as that sunk in. “And second,” he continued when he could sense her getting ready to move away from him, “Sam didn’t spend – lemme guess, a few hours – shoppin’ and puttin’ all this shit together and makin’ sure there was a separate bowl ‘a those nasty-ass salt and vinegar chips Chang loves that the rest of us would rather starve than look at.” Again, Rachel ducked her head and avoided his gaze. Keeping his grip on her one wrist, Puck cupped his free hand under her chin and lifted it to bring her eyes back to his. “So Rach, you’re awesome. I know it,” he nodded toward the living room, where they could hear the sounds of the guys bickering over something, “they know it, and you might as well just suck it up and accept it too.”
“Thank you, Noah.” Her voice was soft, but she beamed back at him.
“You got it, babe.” He slapped her butt lightly before stepping around her and moving to the other counter to put the finishing touches on the sandwich that he had (literally) pulled her away from before it was ready.
Rachel watched with her hands behind her back and a smile on her face as Puck folded the two slices of bread together then screwed the caps back on the peanut butter and the jam. She couldn’t help but roll her eyes when he took a bite out of the sandwich before passing it off to her on his way to put the jam back in the refrigerator. “Thank you,” she murmured, earning herself a quick kiss, one that tasted of her peanut butter, as he passed by her again on his way to put the peanut butter back into its rightful place in the cupboard.
“So,” he started, leaning on the doorjamb with his hands in his pockets once he had finished cleaning up after her impromptu dinner. She looked back at him with curious eyes, and he couldn’t help but grin at how adorable she looked (and yeah, he used the word adorable – doesn’t make him less badass long as it’s true) nibbling away at her sandwich. It actually made him feel a little ridiculous about what he was getting ready to say, even if he knew that it was still completely valid. She just seemed totally like, cute and harmless at the moment. “You’re like, all in for Kentucky, right? I mean, no matter what happens in the next game, you’re pullin’ for the Cats to win it all?”
She nodded, her mouth too full of peanut butter to actually give an answer, and walked toward him when he held out a hand to her.
“Cool. In that case, ya think, maybe,” he rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly as she laced her fingers into his other hand and stared up at him expectantly. “Well, the thing is, you got a little … intense … in there. Think this time around we can maybe just, chill and watch the game? Ya know, not really get into it so much? Since the outcome don’t really matter, and all.”
“Noah,” she grinned up at him mischievously, “did I intimidate you with my newfound passion for the game?”
“Hell no, baby,” he pulled her tight against him. “In case you couldn’t tell, and I’m pretty sure you could,” he growled a little on the last part, “I was enjoyin’ the show.” He leaned in to whisper hoarsely in her ear, “And all the bouncin’.” He snickered a little when Rachel let out a small growl of her own then pulled away to give her some space. “But ya scared the shit out of the other guys.”
Rachel’s hand flew to her mouth to muffle the giggle that she couldn’t contain, but after just a few seconds, her hand dropped and her eyes narrowed. “Fine.”
“Fine … you’ll tone it down?” Puck looked down at her suspiciously. He knew his girl, and he knew when the wheels were turning.
“Mm-hmm,” her voice was sweet, and that only worried him more. “On one condition.” She smiled as he lifted one eyebrow, silently asking her what that one condition might be. “We’re going shopping tomorrow. I need you to take me to one of those fan stores like where we got daddy’s Buckeye jersey for his birthday.” Rachel ignored the way he was staring at her, eyes almost slits as he tried to figure out exactly what she was up to. “Or a costume shop,” she shrugged nonchalantly and started to walk out of the kitchen and back to her guests in the living room. She stopped after a couple steps, extending her hand behind her for Puck to take and turning to call back to him over her shoulder, “I need some blue face paint.”