Title: The Ultimatum
Prompt: “I won’t be your consolation prize. I love you, and you’re either going to love me back or leave me alone.” – PuckRachel Drabble Meme on LJ (by: num_nums312)
“I won’t be your consolation prize. I love you, and you’re either going to love me back or leave me the hell alone.”
The words were whispered; but, the emotion that soaked his tone powered them so they almost slapped Rachel with their force. She felt her body subconsciously pressing against the doorway of his apartment, trying to get further away from him, as his hazel eyes glared at her with a ferocity she had only ever seen directed at others; never at her. Not even in the beginning of high school, well before their friendship, had Noah Puckerman ever directed such a look her way.
Lust, amusement, boredom, exasperation, even anger…these were all emotions she was used to and could recognize. But this look, it dismissed her like she was nothing to him. Like he couldn’t care less if she disappeared into smoke right in front of him. His tone told her what that look masked and that was what had her stomach churning and her heart pounding in something close to terror.
She wasn’t scared of him. He would never hurt her. Even though the same couldn’t always be said for the opposite. She was scared of that look; of what it meant for their future – their friendship and anything else. She was scared that she had broken them.
Which was why she found herself compelling the door to open, wishing herself anywhere but there, getting ready to try clicking her heels three times if necessary; anything to not be held pinned by that gaze. She needed to be somewhere else before either one of them said anything else and destroyed what might be left to salvage between them.
Shame had never been an emotion that Rachel Berry dealt well with and she was currently drowning in it.
When her hand finally found the doorknob Rachel turned it quickly and stepped forward, pulling the door with her and sliding through the opening into the hallway. She saw a flash of pain in his eyes before they shuttered back to the blank stare that chilled her, and as much as she knew she should, she couldn’t bring herself at that moment to assure him that her leaving was not her answer.
Instead she choked out the only words she could fully process, an apology that was perhaps years too late, “I’m so sorry Noah.”
And she ran.
“How did we get here? How the hell,” Rachel sang under her breath sitting at the top of the TKTS bleachers as she studied the tourists moving below her in Times Square on the same hot July Wednesday night. “Why are entire years strewn on the cutting room floor of memories? While single frames of one magic night forever flicker in close-up on the 3-D IMAX of my mind,” she continued, finding it ironic that the words of a fictitious bespectacled film maker could perfectly sum up what she was feeling at the moment.
“I’m not going to continue the song,” a familiar voice interrupted her singing. “Mostly because whatever you’re doing is more pathetic then poetic.”
“Funny Jesse,” Rachel mumbled back as her, finally no strings attached, friend took a seat next to her and handed over a Starbucks cup. “Thanks.”
“Hey, you 911 texted. I came running. Considering my roommate also texted me 911 I’m hoping I made the right choice here Rach.”
“I think I got into a fight with Noah,” she explained and winched when her friend only rolled his eyes and shook his head.
“Translation, Puck finally called you on your bullshit and you bolted. You better make with the explaining in better detail or I’m thinking I picked the wrong 911 text to answer and instead should have brought the biggest bottle of Jack I could find back to my apartment where I could be helping him get trashed.”
“Alex broke up with me,” Rachel began, studiously avoiding Jesse’s eyes because she knew he was right and was beginning to wish she had texted Kurt rather then Jesse. Jesse might have, technically, been her’s first but she had a feeling he might be breaking some major “bro code” rules at the moment. She didn’t need to feel worse about the situation.
Especially since, she still found it ironic even seven years later that somehow Noah, Jesse and Blaine had become some strange inseparable trio between senior year and their freshmen year at NYU (Jesse having gotten his head on straight and decided to try college again). It had gotten to the point that last year, when Kurt and Blaine decided to move in together the other two had actually insisted on a contract with Kurt for visitation rights to Blaine. Rachel still thought they were a little insane (and she knew that said more then a little about the situation) because she was the one that had wound up living on her own as Kurt had moved out of their place.
“So the douchebag broke up with you? Is this going somewhere Rach? Because, if this continues with ‘And I went to your place to fuck your roommate slash best friend who is completely in love with me with no intention of ever telling him that I feel the same way’? Well, we’ve done this song and dance for years. Hell, we did it in high school…minus the fucking. Quite frankly I’m even sick of it.”
Again, that feeling of shame.
“He told me he loved me and that either I love him back or I leave him the hell alone.”
“Bravo Puckerman,” Jesse muttered and Rachel flinched.
“So you agree with him?”
“Yes,” he replied bluntly and that in itself reminded Rachel as to why she had texted Jesse and not Kurt. Jesse had never minced words with her. He understood her too well. He loved her too much to ever not tell her exactly what he thought about something. She was just grateful that at some point during senior year he had stopped believing he was in love with her. “Gimme a second,” he added and took out his cell phone, texting a quick message. “I’m sending Blaine to my place with alcohol. Hummel can whine about tomorrow being boys night some other time.”
The duo sat in silence for a few minutes, sipping their drinks, as Jesse stared at his phone before it blinked and he smirked.
“He’s already there. He said he loves you but you’re kind of a bitch.”
Rachel didn’t even bother rolling her eyes. Mostly because she knew, at least right now, it was true.
“I do love him you know,” she whispered.
“That’s the only reason I’m sitting here right now. The question is, what are you going to do about it?”
“I only just turned twenty-three Jess; I don’t know if I’m ready for forever.”
“Translation time again,” he replied, spinning so he was straddling the large bleacher and facing her instead of the intersection. “Finn fucked you up in high school. You were so caught up in your idea of forever with him that you didn’t want to see the truth of it all. You didn’t want to be wrong. No one could have told you differently and we all sort of accepted that. Then, when you two imploded by Sectionals Senior Year…again…you just shut yourself off to the idea of any relationship ever working out. So, how did we get here? You let yourself get here Rachel. There’s no other answer but that.”
She listened to his words, had known the truth in them for far too long, and kept her gaze steady on his. Jesse’s eyes were the opposite of what Noah’s had been earlier. Jesse’s held love and acceptance and sympathy. Jesse’s held understanding.
“But,” she began and then froze when he held a hand up to stop her.
“Uh-uh. I talk, you listen. Now, no but’s Rach. No exceptions. No explanations. No excuses. Just actions. You’re twenty-three years old. You’re the second female lead in an Off-Broadway show that is poised to move onto Broadway within the next year. Your career is on the fast track to greatness. You’ll have everything you could ever want professionally waiting for you on a silver platter within the next few months. You need to let go of what happened in high school and that Rachel that didn’t ever really know what she really wanted. You got here to New York and you changed in the best way possible. You calmed down, you made friends, you flourished. You were happy; but, you could be so much happier. He loves you; he’s been in love with you since, God, I don’t even know anymore. He’s been waiting. And to be brutally honest Rachel, I’m surprised he’s waited this long.”
“He’s always sleeping with all those girls,” she whispered in reply, staring back at him with a lost expression. “They always come to his shows and he just goes home with them. What was I supposed to think?”
“Jesus Christ Rachel! Just, for once in your life accept that a lot of the time people are smarter then you and let it go. Puck owes you nothing; he doesn’t have to prove himself to you by waiting around for you to be ready.”
“But, if he loved me,” she tried, desperately searching for a way that she wasn’t at fault.
When Jesse actually narrowed his eyes and glared she figured she wouldn’t fine one. And when his tone turned cold she knew she wouldn’t, “There’s no ‘if he really loved me’ to play here. You never once told him you wanted more from him then an occasional cheap fuck.”
Rachel let the shame and everything that came with it in; the guilt, the anger at herself, the anger at Finn that she had never really accepted and asked the one question that had bothered her for years, “Why’d he wait for me at all?”
“Probably because he’s the only person you’ve ever wanted an occasional cheap fuck from. And to him you’ve never been a cheap fuck. Not since you broke up with Finn and gave Puck your virginity. Secret time Rach? He thought he was getting you for good when you did that. I hated you a little for that.”
“For sleeping with him?” she questioned, honestly confused.
“No,” Jesse responded, shaking his head in the negative. “For not dating him after. First of all, it killed him a little and he’s gonna kill me for telling you that. But if you pull your head out of your finely shaped ass it’ll be worth it. Also, I lost one major Glee Club betting pool too. I only got the “v-card” part. Santana got the rest ’cause she said it would be a revenge fuck.”
“You spend too much time with Noah. You sound like him now.”
“But in comparison, he speaks in full and complete sentences now. It helps his song writing. I count that as a win.”
“I think that’s more the BA in Music Composition and Theory and the MA in Music Education then your influence Jesse.”
She giggled slightly before turning serious once more and asking her friend the most important question of the evening, “Is this fixable?”
She didn’t know what his answer was when all he did was kiss her forehead and pull her in for a tight hug.
She waited a full two days because Jesse had texted her Thursday morning and informed her that Noah was still drunk and that the situation didn’t look like it would change anytime soon. When she asked him to possibly sober his roommate up so she could come and talk to him, he replied with a simple, “Nope. It’s your turn to wait.”
Which was why Friday night she told her understudy to be prepared to do the Saturday matinee and evening shows and was now standing outside Noah’s apartment door nervously. Jesse was at his own theatre, on Broadway (though unfortunately for him only a chorus role), and she knew Noah was home due to the sound of the guitar she could hear behind the door. She just hoped that Jesse’s “all clear” text that afternoon had been an indication that he was finally sober.
Sometimes she hated that he had found his calling as a music teacher. Because, as proud of him as she was? Noah having the summer’s off to do nothing other then play his music in bars left him little responsibilities to be concerned about if he wanted to go on two day benders.
Shaking off her doubts Rachel finally nervously raised a hand and knocked on the door. When the guitar didn’t stop she debated using her key; but, without knowing what her reception would be she didn’t want to overstep any potentially new boundaries. Instead, she just knocked again.
This time she heard a change in noise inside the apartment and waited with baited breath as the dead bolts were unlocked (internally cursing him for not checking the peep hole first; honestly, they were in New York City not Lima). When the door swung open she exhaled slowly, not having realized she was holding her breath, and met Noah’s hazel eyes nervously.
Eyes that held a look of hopeful surprise this time, rather then any form of, faked, casual indifference.
“Hi,” she whispered, feeling her eyes burn slightly. It was the hope in his gaze that brought on the beginnings of tears. She knew what Jesse’s kiss and hug had meant now.
“Uhh, hi?” he replied and seemed to be attempting to school his expression as it became more guarded. “What’s up?”
“Can I come in?” she asked cautiously.
“Oh. Okay, I can understand that,” Rachel responded, nodding slowly and ordering her thoughts while glancing up and down the hallway to see if any of his neighbors were around being that it was still early enough in the evening.
“What do you want Rachel?” he finally asked, breaking in on her frantic nerves. “I’m exhausted and I’m sort of in the middle of something.”
She paled at his words and briefly considered kicking Jesse’s ass, “Did you have, uhh, company? I can come back?” When he smirked a bit she felt the nausea growing quicker. “Right..okay then. Yes, I’ll come back. I didn’t mean to interrupt,” she continued, back tracking quickly both verbally and physically.
“Wait,” he finally groaned. “No one’s here. Not that it would matter either way. I was just working on some new music.”
“Oh,” she replied, again and wondered where her impressive vocabulary had gone. “I can still come back if now’s not a good time,” she pointed out, surprisingly not to get out of the conversation but because she felt that she owed it to him to talk on his terms.
“No,” he mumbled. “Now’s fine. Just, get in here before the entire building knows our business,” he added, backing into the apartment and walking away from her.
Rachel followed him in quickly and closed the door behind her; this visit she took the time to turn the locks, something she hadn’t gotten quite so far with a few days earlier when she thought barging into the apartment and declaring herself single and needing him had been a good idea.
When they were settled on the couch, after Noah had stuffed his staff paper into a folder and pushed it to the other end of the coffee table, Rachel found herself being studied silently. She didn’t expect this to be easy and decided to fully take Jesse’s advice to heart.
She let it go.
“I’m sorry,” she began. “It’s two simple little words that carry the weight of everything in them and if you’ll allow me one little old school Rachel Berry mini-rant, I think I can get all of this out and we can maybe, fix things.”
She waited for a moment, let her words soak in and breathed a sigh of relief when he only nodded for her to continue.
“A very smart person recently pointed out a few things to me. Apparently what it boils down to is Finn fucked me up and I never let it go,” she told him bluntly, allowing a slight smirk at his look of surprise over her word choice. “I’ve probably been in love with you for longer then this, but I knew I was in love with you Sophomore Year of college when we drove upstate to go apple picking that weekend in October. You knew I wanted to go, so we just did. I think I knew then that you’d do anything for me.”
“Course I would,” he interrupted in a tone that implied Rachel was stupid for thinking otherwise.
She just nodded in agreement and continued, “I was just too scared to admit that I loved you, mostly because I’ve never had a relationship that worked, like really really worked, before. That’s not an excuse I know. But it’s the truth. I love you Noah and I sure as hell don’t want to stay away from you. Ever. I understand if it’s too late or if you can’t trust me; because, I should have never doubted that I wouldn’t be able to trust you.”
She watched as he ran a hand over his face and noted how tired he looked. She found it amazing how years earlier she would have been thrilled that a boy was losing sleep over her but now it just made her disappointed in herself. She had caused this pain in someone she cared about; inadvertently or not.
“I wasn’t lying the other night Rachel,” he finally spoke. “I love you so fucking much it scares me sometimes. But, God, I don’t even know. We’ve been in this weird fucked up cycle since Senior Year. I don’t know how to get out.”
“I know Noah. I also know I did it.”
“Yea, you did,” he agreed. “But…maybe I should have said something a lot sooner. You aren’t the only one with more then their fair share of trust issues. We’ve got some things to work through together. Truth is, I didn’t say anything sooner ’cause I was afraid you’d take option B. No matter what Jesse and Blaine’ve been telling me.”
“Blaine called me a bitch,” Rachel mumbled, blushing when Puck snorted in laughter. “Hey.”
“What? It’s kinda the truth,” he responded shrugging and still chuckling; laughing harder when she joined him in nodding.
“Fine, fine, whatever. I’m a bitch. I’m blind. I got the memo last night.”
“Oh, yea. And you have to take Kurt to a spa day to make up for the fact that apparently Blaine cut off a blow job to run over here and get me drunk.”
Rachel blinked in pure shock at his statement and choked out one word, “What?”
“Yea…I really didn’t need to know that either. But…yea.”
“Wow,” Rachel mumbled but began laughing harder at his expression. When she finally calmed down she turned serious again and asked, “So what now? Balls in your court from now on Noah. We do this however you feel comfortable.”
“How about dinner tomorrow night since your show’s dark?” he asked studying her face intently as he spoke. “We can take it from there.”
“That sounds wonderful,” she agreed smiling softly and brightening it when he smiled back in response. She almost immediately began standing up, not wanting to over stay since she wasn’t sure how steady the ground they were on at the moment was and honestly feeling bad about interrupting him working.
“Where the hell do you think you’re going?” he asked then, looking at her half raised form in confusion.
“Home? You were working and, well, you said dinner tomorrow.”
“And you’re going to go and stare at your walls when you obviously got your understudy working tonight? We might have shit to work out but we’re still like, friends and shit. There’s beer and left over Chinese in the fridge. Sit your ass down.”
Rachel smiled brighter then she was certain she ever had and dropped back down onto the couch where she had been sitting next to him as he stood up and walked back towards the kitchen. Two hours later when she was stretched out of the couch with her head on Noah’s chest, as his fingers played with her hair, watching a movie she couldn’t help but wonder why it had taken her so long to see what had been right in front of her for years.
“Stop thinking so loud. Sometimes shit needs to happen the way it does for a reason,” Noah’s voice interrupted her thoughts and her eyes flew up to his. “No, you didn’t say anything. I just know you is all.”
“You do. Don’t you?” Rachel replied, not expecting an answer other then the soft kiss he pressed to her lips before turning his attention back to the tv.