Title: If I Knew Then
Rating: PG for now.
Pairing: Noah Puckerman / Rachel Berry (Puckleberry)
Length: 3,405/ 4,466
Spoilers: Season one to be safe, though it's AU.
Summary: She cries all the way to her house, thinking of the things she'll never have, the love they will never share, thinking of what the future holds in store for her. The future without him. - When he wakes up the next morning, there's no sign of her, nothing but her smell against his skin and the memory of her body against his.
Disclaimer: Everything you recognize is not mine.
Author's note: This is unbeta-d. So all the mistakes - and I'm sure there are plenty - are mine. English is not my first language.
I. It's been all this time and I can't get you off my mind.
Shopping is for pussies.
Grocery shopping? Don't even let him get started on that shit. It's not that he doesn't know what he is doing, fuck no. He is Noah Puckerman and there ain't shit in this world that he can't do.
Well, actually there is, but you get his point.
He's no expert at that particular task (seriously, why the fuck would he want to be an expert at that?) but he has to feed himself and unfortunately he doesn't have his mother to do that for him anymore or his girlfriend (thank fuck, that chick was crazy).
Thing is, he's starting a new life. He's twenty four, single and he just got himself a pretty sweet record deal with a small label in New York. It's pretty dope, if you ask him. A small label in New York is about ten times better than the best label in Ohio, so it's not like he's gonna start complaining about it. Besides, he was a music major and he knows that he's already getting more than his former classmates are getting. Fuck people if they thought he was gonna be cleaning pools forever.
One way or another, he had arrived to the city that never sleeps just a few weeks ago and now he needs to have food in his apartment because he (unfortunately) can't live on take-out forever.
Yeah, it's stupid, he knows.
He tries not to think about a small brunette when he realizes that he's living in the same city as her. It's not that easy when he sees her name on billboards and all over Broadway marquees, but he tries his best to ignore it. She fucking left without a word and fuck her if she thought he was gonna cry over her.
(Well, he didn't cry, per say, and he wouldn't. He is no pussy.)
Sometimes, though, he can't help himself. It's not like wants to think about her, but just being here, in New York, knowing that she made it – after spending three years hearing her babble about how she would take Broadway by storm and shit like that – well, it was kinda hard not to think about her. So what? Sue him, he has memories. It's not as if he's gonna go after her just because he knows they're in the same city again. He has more balls than that, thank you very much.
And whatever, he has to focus on buying food anyway. And house products and stuff. How the hell is he supposed to know what kind of shit he has to buy? He can't cook, so it's really pointless to buy anything other than stuff he can throw in the microwave or that doesn't have to be cooked at all. Well, that at least narrows it down. He just needs cereal and ramen. And mac and cheese. Yeah, that will keep him alive.
Oh, and beer. He fucking needs beer.
See? Maybe food is not that hard.
He is just loading another pack of beer into his cart when someone stops by his side, studying him carefully. He feels antsy under that powerful gaze, much like he felt when a certain someone used to look at him and he tries not to feel too stupid about the fact that it's a kid who's making him feel like that.
He turns to his side to fully meet the boy's gaze, taking a second to look at him. He thinks that if Finn was here with him, he would make a joke about how one of his long lost children had finally found him. That shit wasn't funny, by any means, but it had happened once when they were still in college so he thought it would happen again if Finn ever saw the miniature of himself that Puck is seeing now.
Fuck, that shit is creepy.
The boy is young, probably over five or something like that, his skin the same tone as his, jaw set in the exact same way and expression that he used to see when he looked at himself in the mirror, back when he was a kid. He can even see a small mohawk in the boy's hair, though that clashes drastically with his pristine clothes, just as if he's walked out of a catalog of some children's fancy store. The only difference are the eyes. Deep brown eyes stare back at his hazel ones and it sends a shiver down his spine. Fuck, that is starting to get really fucking creepy.
"S'up?" he asks the boy, raising an eyebrow as he looks around, trying to find the boy's parents. Surely the kid isn't there alone, right? Also, what kind of fucked up parents can't keep an eye on their kid? Don't they know that there are like, crazy serial killers and shit like that out there? Well, apparently not.
"Are you aware this is bad for your health?" the boy asks, pointing to all the beer in his cart, but he's too busy staring at the kid to pay any attention. Okay, now he's really fucking scared.
"Where are your parents, kid?" he asks, because he needs someone to take this boy away from him right now. He's pretty sure he's gonna have nightmares already, and he seriously doesn't want to consider the possibility that he and...
No. He is definitely not going there.
"My name is Nathaniel, and my mother is just down the next isle, debating on the pros and cons of different tofu brands."
Shit. Couldn't the kid just give him a normal answer? He is already too freaked out as he is and that kid talking just... just like her, is definitely not helping.
"What's your name?" Nathaniel asks, raising an eyebrow at him. Fuck, can five year old kids even do that?
"Puck," he answers gruffly, running his hand through the back of his neck. "Why do you go back to your mother, huh? Bet she's gonna be worried."
"Well, you're rude," the boy says, making him roll his eyes at him.
"No shit, Sherlock." Okay, maybe that's no way to talk to a kid, but how is he supposed to know? He's never had one (and right then, he's thinking that he would like to keep that way).
"Swear!" Nathaniel exclaims, extending his palm to collect his money.
Puck sighs; ten minutes around this kid and he's gonna go broke. "I'm not your dad, I don't have to give you money."
(But he does anyway.)
"Thank you, Mr. Puck," Nathaniel says and he has the urge to roll his eyes again, because what's up with this kid? Can't he like, just leave him alone or some shit like that? He has nothing against kids, really, but Nathaniel just makes him anxious and he really doesn't like feeling like that.
They're having some kind of staring contest when he hears it, loud and clear, as if it had been just yesterday when he heard that voice.
He sees the boy glance at him one more time before he starts to move towards the voice, her voice.
"It was a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Puck." he says, turning around the corner and disappearing.
Puck thinks he should leave. Fuck the food, he has to walk away now while he's just thinking he's going crazy and everything that's happening is his imagination. Yeah, that's exactly what he has to do.
Before he notices, though, he is peaking down the next isle and, sure enough, there she is. It feels as if he's being hit by a wave of flashbacks, memories that freeze him into place, making him feel like he's sixteen all over again. It sounds like a fucking cliché, he knows, but it's hard to stop the feelings that take over him. And believe when he says, he'd very much like to stop them.
(Feelings and stuff like that? Definitely not his thing.)
But he just can't help it.
She looks good. No, scratch that, she looks fucking amazing. He had her in his arms once, and suddenly he feels likes he needs to have her again. Yet, he feels angry. Pissed, even. She has a kid? Why did no one tell him that? Yeah, fine, he hasn't spoken to Finn in a couple of years, but he had to have known about this, right? Puck knows for a fact that Finn and Quinn are engaged (facebook is a bless, really) and that Quinn is Rachel's best friend (freaky, huh?) so it's kinda hard to think that Finn wouldn't know about this. So why did no one tell him? Fine, he and Rachel were never friends, he knows that. For all that he can tell, Finn has no idea they even slept together that one time before Rachel left for New York with Quinn (they were supposed to be sharing an apartment together, since Quinn would be attending NYU), but still. It's a damn kid! Someone should've mentioned that. Especially when the kid is over five years and looks just like...
No. No way, no how. He just... he has to leave. Yes, that is exactly what he has to do. He has to stop looking at her and having these stupid thoughts because they're really not helping right now. He needs to go to a bar and get completely hammered, forgetting the fact that Rachel Berry even exists. He'd been doing just fine before.
(Well, not really, but whatever.)
One stupid encounter with her kid is not gonna change his life. He won't allow it.
So, with one last glance at her (and shaking his head at the fact that she's fixing Nathaniel's clothes and scolding him for wandering off on his own) he turns around and leaves, not even bothering with his food. He doesn't plan on eating much (or at all) today, anyway.
No, scratch that, she's exhausted.
She has eight shows a week, rehearsals and a five (almost six) year old who has a knack for trouble. So no, life is not easy for her, by any means. But honestly? She wouldn't have it any other way. Even after the struggle to get through acting college raising a boy, making a name for herself at the age of 24 and making sure her son had everything he needed, that she was home every night to tuck him into bed, even after all that, she doesn't regret it, not for a split second.
Nathaniel is her life.
Back when she was in high school, she never imagined her life would be like this. She had dreams of taking Broadway by storm, having won an EGOT by the age of thirty, being incredibly famous before she could even think about settling down and building a family. Fate, of course, had other things in store for her.
She thought she would marry her high school sweetheart, but she quickly realized that particular dream wouldn't come true when Jesse broke up with her on their senior year. She was heart-broken for a couple of moths, but her acceptance letter to Julliard arrived and completely changed that. She had plans, after all. She'd had them since she was eight, nothing could change that.
And then, just before she was supposed to leave, he came in and changed her life.
They'd dated for over one week on their sophomore year, but she never quite forgot how his lips felt against hers, how his touch could set her skin on fire. She'd dated Jesse for over seven months, but those months were nothing compared to that one week she spent with Noah Puckerman. She loved Jesse, she did, but the passion for the McKinley High resident stud burned brighter than she'd ever be able to admit. She spent years and years fighting it, brushing off his snarky remarks, his blatant flirting and his offers to get inside her pants.
Until one day, she didn't.
It was the last Glee club party before summer started. She hadn't told him she was leaving (partially because she didn't think she could and partially because she didn't think he cared) but for her (and Quinn) that last party was kind of a 'going away' party. She'd heard he was going to OSU and she didn't know when, if ever, she was going to see him again, so what harm would it do? He was drunk, she was tipsy, so why would she fight it? She wanted him, he wanted her, and one night wouldn't hurt. She just had to know how it felt to be in his arms like that.
So she'd given herself to him. Let him take the most precious thing she had, and in return, he'd given her the most important thing in her life.
When she found out about the pregnancy, she wanted to kill him. She spent nights and nights crying on Quinn's shoulder, or listening to Santana curse his behind into the next century in Spanish while she cried on the phone, wondering how she could've ruined her life like that. She thought about not keeping the baby, about how her career and her future were more important than that. But the truth was, they weren't. The moment she saw that plus sign staring at her, she knew that her priorities had changed.
Her dads didn't think twice about moving to New York. She thought about telling Noah, but in the end, she decided that he was probably better off, though he was to blame about that pregnancy just as much as she was. But he was all the way in Ohio and he wasn't a part of her life, never really had been, in all reality. Also, she feared that he would tell her he didn't want anything to do with it, or try and change her mind about keeping it. So she sworn her friends to secrecy and kept going with her life.
Even when she had to stop her studies for six months, even when Nathaniel was too sick for her to leave his side... she made through it all. Not without help, of course, but still. Her life is the way it is today because of that one night over six years ago, and she wouldn't change a thing if she could.
He had his name; she'd made sure of that. Though he barely used, the P. on his middle name stood for his father's last name and Rachel never hid from Nate who his father is. He couldn't understand things (as bright a kid as he is) but she refused to lie to him about that. Honestly, there were only so many secrets she could keep.
She thought if her son wished to go after his father when he was old enough to do so, she wouldn't stop him. She just didn't know fate would decide to bite her in the ass before that happened.
"Ma?" she hears, the voice small and coated with sleep. It's just after eleven and she is sitting in the TV room of her apartment, quietly sipping on her tea while she takes notes of all the things she has to do in the morning before she's due at the theater. Nathaniel's voice shakes her out of her thoughts and she turns around to find her son standing at the threshold, holding his favorite teddy bear and scrubbing the sleep off his eyes. It's only been a couple of hours since she sent him to bed.
"You okay, Munchkin?" she asks, patting the spot on her legs and throwing her things to the side, so that the boy can climb on her arms, resting his head on her shoulder.
Nathaniel is quiet for a few minutes and she thinks that he might have fallen back asleep, but then he starts stirring again, biting his lips as he looks up at her.
"I met my father today," he whispers and Rachel feels cold all of sudden, just as if someone had slushied her. She takes deep breaths, trying to remember that such thing her son is telling her is completely not possible.
"Nate, baby..." she starts, trying to keep her voice calm and soothing. "I told you already that your father lives far away. There's no way you could've met him."
She watches her son's face fall, and her heart breaks at the realization that he misses a father figure, that he is what she had heard Noah say that his kids would never be, that he'd be there for them. Now he doesn't have a son and Nathaniel doesn't have a father and it's all because she's been too scared to do the right thing.
"Today at the supermarket," Nate starts again, resolve taking over his feature. "When I walked away, I met a man just like the one in that picture you gave me. But he doesn't have a hair like mine anymore."
She watches as he runs a hand through his own mohawk, the stupid haircut she hates and loves at the same time. Nate is rambling, a particular trait he's certainly picked up from her, his little face lightning up as he goes on and she thinks she might have entered some sort of alternative universe, because there's no way Noah could've been in the same state as her, let alone the same supermarket. He whole idea is unfathomable.
"Maybe it was just someone that looked like him, sweetie," she reasons, trying to find a logical and acceptable explanation that can justify her son's encounter.
"He told me his name was Puck," Nate whispers and Rachel feels her heart skip a beat inside her chest.
Her son is not a liar. She'd like to believe that he's making that up, that it's just something he's doing to make up for the fact that he's never going to meet his father, but... he is her son. She knows him better than she knows herself and he is a Berry, honesty is one of their most recognizable traits. And if all that isn't enough, he also happens to be a Puckerman, which means he has no qualms about what he says, which has caused Rachel more trouble than she cares to admit. One way or another, she just knows that the moment she's been dreading her entire life has finally arrived.
She has absolutely no idea how she's supposed to deal with this new-found information and, of course, of all the ways her son could meet his father, fate would choose the less likely one to bring them together. Rachel likes to think that it would make a good story in the future, but at this particular moment, she just can't bring herself to appreciate the irony.
"Nate, munchkin, we don't know for sure if it was him and even if it were, the circumstances are quite unique an it's highly possible that you won't ever see him again."
Nathaniel frowns, his round, big brown eyes filling with tears and she feels her heart breaking into a million pieces because she's the reason why her son is broken like that. She's the one who made the decision of raising him without a father and she can see now that there's nothing Nathaniel wants more than someone to fill that role. And what kind of mother would she be if she didn't at least try to give him that?
"Look," she says, making Nate turn his bright eyes to meet hers. "I'll look for your father. If he's here, in New York, I'll make sure that you'll get to meet him. How does that sound?"
He grins at her, nodding excitedly and Rachel has to stop the feeling that takes over her as to what it'll mean to their lives if Noah indeed is in New York.
"I love you, Ma." Nate whispers, and she can tell he's falling back asleep.
She can't help the tear that rolls down her cheeks as she lets out a soft, "I love you too, Nate," in return. She just knows her entire world is about to be shaken out of its axis and she's not sure how she's going to deal with the aftermath of her lies.