A/N: Alright, so for those who have seen this before, I'm giving this story a serious facelift. I find I'm doing that with most of my stories this summer. Taking my time and beefing them up a little. Here's the not so new but greatly improved!
Disclaimer: All set characters belong to their rightful owners. I only own the plot and any new characters that might materialize later.
The sun is blinding as struggles to greet it with open eyes. She hasn't been unconscious for long. It's only been one or two hours since she last set her gaze on the alarm clock. The weight of the morning, as it almost always does, takes the breath from her lungs. Quinn finds her hands settling almost without thought on her stomach, now void of the one thing that makes a full night of sleep virtually impossible. Today shouldn't mean anything to her. It's not even a marking of anything special. Mother's Day and Father's Day have both come and gone, the immense ache of either of those days two very good reasons to stay wrapped in blankets and sheets. They don't even help keep her warm anymore. It's been barely over a year and all that remains is ice. This should be comforting, something familiar she can't help but consciously cling to in order to keep herself from drowning. Now it's just suffocating.
She does it almost without thinking now, an act so routine she almost feels emptier without it. Her hands don't even shake with nerve anymore like they once had. Puck's voice seems to be the only thing that takes her anywhere these days, a notion that makes absolutely no sense to her. Except for the fact that he's the father of her child. As well as she knew this, she still had the gut to deny him in every possible way. The thought makes her stomach twist that much harder. She'd based all of his worth on the little he always had to offer. Thinking better of it, his friend did worse, offering absolutely nothing. He couldn't even keep a damn secret long enough.
Quinn should have known better. Secrets don't mean a damn thing to anyone, unless they themselves will benefit from keeping quiet. Finn Hudson had absolutely nothing to lose. Apparently the fact that he had a daughter meant he could be as loose with it as most fathers his age. Sickening to her was the idea that Noah Puckerman had to show him the basic principles of being a man. And even then he couldn't be bothered to step up.
But Puck had learned to stay awake with her late into the night no matter where he was. There were times she didn't even realize she'd fallen asleep and she would wake to his steady breathing on the other end of the line. Sometimes the man didn't even sleep and would wait until she was ready for the day before he so much as let her hear him yawn. On those nights she always felt the guiltiest. Not only did she keep him from sleeping but they were normally reserved for the worst nights when the air was caught in her lungs and she just couldn't stop crying. Puck was doing so now, his steady breath her only greeting before he so much as said "hello". After so many of these, verbal acknowledgement seemed unnecessary. He hardly said anything when she woke him the following morning, no matter where the sun was in the sky when she did. She shouldn't have to let him bear all of her grief. No matter what she had done to disgrace her family, Judy should at the very least be aware. Her mother it seemed lived in some blind oblivion, a practice enforced by her father no doubt. But Quinn didn't exactly make a show of it either. For all intents and purposes, everything was fine. Everything was always fine.
Mother's Day. At sixteen, it shouldn't have meant anything. A girl her age has got at least four years to go before she's joined the universal holiday. But she'd let the first come and go without a word. If she didn't let herself think about it, it wasn't real. Puck was equally good at playing dumb so she knew better than to ask how he decided to ignore his day. Today literally doesn't mean anything. It's just one of many where the blonde is left paralyzed in bed. All Quinn can do is stare blankly at her ten foot ceiling. As she mindlessly runs a hand along her abdomen (the place where permanent reminders come in the form of prominent stretch marks) the last year comes in a whirlwind of memories.
Sex and wine coolers, the weight of Puck's body on her own as he tells her repeatedly that she's not fat. The lies, the laughs, the chill of slushy facials. And then there's Puck himself. The one she pushed away repeatedly. In true form, he pushed back. He pushed back with every bit of hope and encouragement he had to offer. He should have won. He put up ten times the battle that she did. Instead, Quinn got exactly what she wanted. Puck backed off because that's exactly what she asked of him. In some weird, twisted way, he's always done what she wanted. Why, she wasn't entirely sure. So she walked away. She gave her up. She did the right thing. Right?
"Morning," he mumbled tiredly. This early in the morning he doesn't even have to ask who it is. Quinn calls like clockwork, whether she wants to or not. Puck doesn't even set an alarm anymore. A phone calls means he better get his ass out of bed or his mother will be calling an hour later to yell at him. But it's Saturday. His favourite Saturday of the year. For the next 24 hours, he can do whatever the hell he wants and nobody can tell him otherwise. Staying in bed seems like the best start to his day. Once he's picked up the phone, he puts it on speaker before burying his head back in the pillow to listen.
Over the last year, he's called her more than he has his own mother. It's gotten to a point where she's given Quinn her own ringtone to single her out. The best thing to do really when you've answered these calls half asleep. He kept to himself how nice it was that she even let him. She only ever ripped his head off in irritation or exhaustion. A few times he'd even gotten an earful when she thought he forgot to call.
She'd never tell him how happy that makes her. She hasn't even told him why yet and just having him there in all the quiet is enough to help her relax. To know that someone cares. She was never outright about it, how good it felt to know that someone cared. If she dared to say so in so many words, Quinn would never hear the end of it. Their conversations almost always went on without pause, often to finish an argument that neither would win.
They did that a lot. Argue. Nothing ever runs smoothly for them. Even when the topic ends up in safe territory. She knows this won't end well even before she's started. But Quinn's doing it anyway. Because she almost has to. Because it's expected in some way. Because only he will ever really get this.
"Fabray," he mumbles. He's greeted her at least three times and all he can hear is breathing. He doesn't point out that it's laboured. He makes a note of it for himself and his own sanity. If it continues, then he'll worry. His lazy greeting (probably due to the fact that she's woken him up) sends subtle warmth to her cheeks.
"Hey Puck," she whispers. "I'm sorry I woke you…Just call me back later," she says.
"S'cool. I'm up now," he says, forcing himself to sound more awake than he actually is. He's not an idiot. He knows this habit too well not to do something about it. It might help that it's his birthday today and a similar feeling he does everything to bury has washed over and almost choked him. It's an understanding that they aren't supposed to talk. He's just supposed to leave her alone now. They have absolutely nothing in common anymore. Except for her. "What's up?" he grumbles.
"I…I can't move," she whispers. Puck raises his brow on his end, completely lost.
"What do ya mean?" He asks it even though he too could care less about going anywhere. There's nowhere either of them have to be. Not even school is there to get him up on his feet. He's been better about it, going to class when he's supposed to. He even does his best to pay attention. She doesn't need a dad who just slept through high school. If he's willing to swallow it, his lack of motivation is at least part of the reason they're having this talk at all.
"I'm just kind of stuck…. Mom's usual breakfast just makes me sick. I…I can't go down there…" she finishes, a catch in her throat. "I can't look at her and not see her."
"How long?" he asks.
"Two hours," she says with a small smile. She knows he's asking how much she's been able to sleep. They've done this enough. Most nights he woke him up with nightmares and guilt. Today's no different.
"I got like three," he offers. He can't help the hint of guilt that washes over him when he realizes he managed an extra hour. He really doesn't know how. Maybe it's the fact that, over time he's learned to push it back. He's learned not to let it be the only thing he thinks about. He's learned to distract himself.
"Today's not supposed to mean anything…"
"It's always gonna mean something," he whispers. "Today, Mother's Day, Father's Day, her birthday, the holidays." He makes sure to leave out the fact that it's his knowing that if he brought it up she would just feel worse about "ruining it for him". "No matter how much we don't want them to, they're always going to mean something," he says, more awake now. Now that he's talking about it, Puck knows what she means. It's like he's kind of frozen, scared stiff.
"But I'm not…I'm not her…"
"Yeah you are," he says softly. Whether she's yours or not."
"Puck, I gave her up," she reminds him.
"Just because you gave her up doesn't mean you stop caring. Just because we gave her to Shelby, doesn't mean we don't love her, doesn't mean you're not a mom."
"That's just it. I shouldn't. She's not mine anymore."
"She is. Somehow, she'll always be yours." Even though he doesn't bring it up, he wonders how they're able to do any of this. The stone bones are an everyday thing, no matter how much they both wish it wasn't. How had they gone a year and still kept their heads screwed on?
"Ours," she corrects. Puck smiles still somewhat surprised that Quinn's identifying both of them now. She's only done that one other time. "I just feel like I…Like I let her down or something. She's going to grow up thinking we don't care, that her parents didn't want her."
"Quinn, you gave her up because you love her. Being a mom means making some of the hardest decisions. You've done that. And when she's older, when she wants to know who we are, we'll tell her why. We'll tell her that we loved her enough to give her to someone that could give her everything we couldn't."
"I…I...It's hard to breathe. This guilt, it's just too much."
"Nice big breath. It's gonna be okay."
"No, Puck. No it's not going to be okay. I'm afraid to leave my room…I'm always so afraid. Knowing I have to call you is probably the only reason I still make it to school." Well that's ironic as hell. "I've been seeing her everywhere for the last week…" He hears a change of tone and feels a piece of himself fall away. She's crying. It's quiet but he knows she's crying. Just like everything else that's happened to Quinn in the last year, this is his fault.
"Please don't cry," he sighed. "I'm really bad with crying." She stops for a minute, not even aware of the moisture on her cheeks until he's pointed it out. "You know what? I'll be over in five. You're gonna have to get outta your room at some point. Get dressed, we're going out."
"We…we are?" she asks, completely caught off guard.
"Yes, we are. You got five minutes, Fabray. Oh and, if you can, wear somethin' blue," he smirks.
"Why blue?" she asks curiously. Why she's asked such a stupid question is beyond her. Maybe it's the panic that sets in when she realizes the conversation's about to end. She just wants to keep him talking, needs to keep him talking.
"Just do it," he says impatiently.
"Fine, whatever, I'll find something blue." His change of tone puts the breaks on her earlier thought, the desire now completely evaporated. How could one man be so stupidly comforting and then turn right around and ruin it? She quickly realizes he's probably not impatient at all and it's more suited to something she wants. If they kept these short, it meant they weren't friends. If they didn't make these any longer than they had to be, it didn't mean anything special.
"Good. I'll see you soon." His last phrase is met with the dial tone. They never actually said goodbye anymore. They never even really said hello. It was a silent agreement that they just launch into whatever it is they chose to talk about.
Somehow Quinn's found the energy to make it to her closet. She frowns when she realizes that despite Puck's one request; blue is nowhere to be found. Giving up, she settles for pink blouse instead. He'll just have to deal with it. Somehow, the blouse has made it to the very depths of her walk in closet, hidden in a stack of carelessly thrown clothes. As she ruffles through, she finds a single blue dress. It's hidden behind a stack of what's supposed to be her rotated wardrobe. How does he always get what he wants? Not really caring, she throws it on, pulling her hair back.
Fifteen minutes have passed and he still hasn't shown. She rolls her eyes. Typical Puck. He's never on time for anything. She drums her fingers impatiently, watching out the window for his truck to pull in. Eventually, when she's decided to try and take a small nap, (not that lack of sleep gives her much choice) the roar of the engine startles her. Finally. Before he can ring the doorbell, she swings the door open, a solid line of frustration on her face.
"Morning," he mumbles. She wants to roll her eyes now. He said the same thing not even an hour ago. Limited vocabulary. One of many reasons they are where they are now. She offers him a small smile instead, taking in a face that's much like her own. Signs of sleep deprivation are more than evident. He's got a hand behind his back and she can't help but raise a curious brow. "I couldn't find lilies so you're gonna have to settle for sunflowers," he says apologetically.
"How do you…? I never told you…"
"I've got my sources," he smirked.
"Thank you," she smiles. The expression is more genuine now (even if it's not by much) as well as one that shields the sudden desire to let her eyes well up. He can tell that it doesn't quite reach her eyes. To anyone else it might look as real as any other but he's known her too long not to know better. He just nods. "So, where are you dragging me off to?" she asks, quickly filling a vase with fresh water.
"You make it sound like I'm kidnapping you or something. Taking you against your will. If you don't remember, I'm here to save you," he laughed.
"Well, you really didn't give me room to say no," she pointed out. Considering all the sleep he's lost because of her she knew better than to say it at all. But to make him think so would go with their little charade.
"But you agreed," he countered.
"True. So, where are you taking me then?" Even though she's asked, the where hardly matters any. As long as she gets away from here, he could take her behind the bleachers for all she cared. The single adventure didn't exactly end well for them but considering their track record, it would almost feel normal. She needed normal. They both did.
"That's for me to know, and you to find out," he smirked. Quinn just rolls her eyes.
"You're making this sound like some kind of date," she laughed.
"Not a date. It's more of a…prison break." Of course. When it comes to Puck she should know by now to expect nothing less.
"Just tell me where we're going," she sighed impatiently. It still doesn't matter but she knows that if they stay too long in this friendly mood he's going to think something's really wrong with her.
"Stubborn," she mumbles. If she's being completely honest, the fact that he's making it a surprise is almost intriguing. She's always hated them. The last year gave them both the surprise of a lifetime. Anything smaller than that wasn't going to send her into a panic attack if she just let him lead her.
"Takes one to know one." She offers a small smile, letting him walk her to his truck. When the door slips open, it takes everything in her to act natural about it. The Puck he she knows doesn't open doors for anyone, especially her. So taken by it, the blonde can barely manage a quiet sign of gratitude.
"Thank you," she whispers. He pulls around to the driver's side, turning on the radio. Driving on his own, he's more than happy with a little metal. At least to wake him up. He's in better company than that. Digging in the armrest, his iPod comes out of hiding and he tosses it to her. For now, she leaves it forgotten, taking hold of it while she glances around his vehicle. She sighs when she takes in his less than tidy floors. While he's not looking, she picks up a discarded bag and throws it in a small trash bag. Before she does, she notices the logo of a small bakery down the street. Without thinking, she finds her hand has wandered to her stomach, for much the same reason it did this morning. "Why do you always have to be such a pack rat?" she grumbles.
"I stopped for breakfast this morning. I knew you'd be pissed if I was late so I ate and drove. I bought six and left your favourites. There's one each in there." It's such a sweet gesture that she doesn't even have the hart to remind him that they were just a craving. She only let herself even touch them once a month under normal circumstances. She's already used her monthly reward.
"You were still late," she reminds him.
"Blame the florist chick," he mumbled. She notices him unwrapping a Hershey's bar with one hand and takes it from him. "Hey!" Puck knew she had a tendency to steal. In the quiet when they were left alone she often did so, with very little argument from him. Except when the taken object was of the chocolate variety.
"Eyes on the road." Quinn peels back the wrapping, taking a fairly big piece for herself before giving it back to him. Taking it back, he grimaces noticing she wasn't shy at all about taking a ginormous bite out of it.
"I was gonna ask if you wanted some when I opened it. You didn't have to put your entire mouth in it..."
"That's not my whole mouth," she clarified. "You got that extra hour. If anything, this chocolate bar should be mine."
"Sharing is caring," he mumbled.
"Says the one who failed Kindergarten," she laughed. "I don't even know how someone's able to do that."
"I told you before, I hated nap time."
"Now you love it," she mutters. "Now we can't even get the pan out of the cupboards without you throwing something down the stairs...Which is really funny since you aspired to be the next Ringo Starr..."
"A kid has to keep himself entertained somehow. All they freaking had were pots and pans."
"You're impossible," she mumbled. Puck just smirks, opening the armrest again.
"There's a bag of chocolate in there for you, you know. You didn't have to take mine." Despite the fact that she's shoved a quarter of it into her mouth, he still eats from it. Unlike Quinn, he doesn't freak out about sharing germs. They've shared a whole lot more than that over the last few months. She turns to see him offering her a bag of Hershey's kisses. She smiles. Another favourite. She's beginning to wonder how exactly he remembers all of this. Given her inability to keep her eyes open, she takes them without any questions. Instead, she just smiles. That's three now she thinks. "I say you gotta gimme at least three," he says, an open palm ready to accept what's his.
"An eye for an eye, Fabray. You take mine, I take yours."
"That doesn't even make sense." And it's not that he doesn't get the reference. When both parents come from the same damn place, it makes a guy pretty pure. He has to bite back the laugh he's let crawl up at his own joke. Nobody in this truck was untouched by anything.
"Yes it does." He's going to have to explain it to her later.
"Just eat your damn chocolate," he mutters.
"Gladly," she smirks. As she pops another one into her mouth, she flips through his iPod. She isn't surprised to see that ninety percent of it is Rock. As she scrolls, she almost chokes while she reads the name of one of his playlists. In it is a list of songs that are probably hers. Quinn doesn't remember giving him anything but grief. How the hell did she end up having a private selection on his music player? Surprisingly, it's a song she actually likes. "You listen to Parachute?" A dumb question but it's the only one she can think of to distract herself from the small realization.
"Just the one song," he says. She smiles, settling for the one track, laying her head back.
Should've kissed you there
I should've held your face
I should've watched those eyes
Instead of run in place
I should've called you out
I should've said your name
I should've turned around
I should've looked again
Quinn blinks several times, taking in Puck's rugged features as he's staring straight ahead. She can't help noticing how the sun plays on his face, revealing his defined jaw. It reminds her how solid, how determined Puck himself is. Now his demand to keep her makes even more sense. Just like her, it's who he is. The little she knows about his family is another nail in the coffin. He may not give a damn about anybody else but the guy stretches himself paper thin for his family. For just a second she wonders, quick to shake the thought free. She lost that right almost as quickly as she lost the right to their daughter, the reminder putting a fist in her throat.
I should've spoken up
I should've proudly claimed
That oh my head's to blame
For all my hearts mistakes
Her hand shoots out to turn it off before the song can go any further. She knows what's coming next. She knows what it means. She doesn't need the playlist title to know who it's for.
"I wasn't lying," he whispered. "I meant what I said."
"I know," she says softly. And she finds she's not just saying it either. Something about Puck has always made her so terrifyingly honest. Scarier still is the fact that she doesn't even have to think when she's around him. Quinn doesn't have to feel bad for saying anything, doing anything, being anything. "I'm sorry..." she barely whispers. She doesn't even know how much she's sorry about. In all the years she's known him, the things she's done to validate them have come together on the longest list she's probably ever made.
"S'alright," he shrugs. "I kind of am," he admits. He doesn't need words to tell him what all she's apologizing for. The loser comment was spot on. He hadn't exactly done anything to prove otherwise.
"No, you're not. I was just too stubborn, too scared to see it."
"I'm confused." It wasn't exactly a new feeling for him but the fact that she seems to be dancing around something just makes it more so.
"We both know how much alcohol we had that night."
"Barely anything. Those things are like juice."
"So, in a way, we were perfectly sober," she whispers, her voice catching as she lets a liquid warmth come down her cheeks. Anywhere else she would fight them off but Puck had already seen her at her literal worst.
"Yup. I told you the day she was born, too." He knows she's crying but also understands that it's best he doesn't say anything about it unless she wants him to. The second part of his confession makes her whimper pathetically, one she knows better than to swallow in his presence. No one had ever uttered anything close to that to her. Not even her mother. And even though they weren't the exact words, she knows what they lead to.
"I…" Puck sighs pulling over on the shoulder and throwing the car in park. He has to keep his hands steady if he's got any hope of continuing this conversation normally.
"I know you don't feel the same way. I'm just bein' honest with you," he said quietly. Quinn honestly has no idea what she feels. At the moment she's the one who feels like a loser. So much so that she can't even look at him. She sighed, finally letting the lyrics fade as she watched life pass by through her window. As quickly as the conversation started, it died. She blinks, now completely lost. She'd never been in this part of town before.
"Puck, I think we're lost."
"Not lost," he said. "We're not there yet either though."
"Where are we going? I've never been this far out before." The notion should have flat out scared her. Quinn always knew where she was going and how long it took to get there. With nothing to go on, she should be close to some kind of breakdown by now. But the idiot somehow had a way of making it all okay.
"Still not telling. You'll just have to wait and see."
"I hate you," she growled. If she let him, they'd probably be in Texas by nightfall.
"I know," he smirks. After a few minutes, they finally pull into an unfamiliar neighborhood. For some reason, Quinn can't breathe again. Her heart's racing much faster than it should. There's only one reason they'd be….
"Puck….What are you doing?" He just continues driving, quietly pulling into a steep driveway.
"Come on," he says when he's finally pulled around to her side of the truck. Oh god, they have to turn around. They have to turn around now.
"Puck I wanna go home. Please just take me home..."
"Don't make me carry you, Fabray," he mutters. Biting through her lip, she can feel the bones in her legs rattling angrily. How the hell does he know that?"
"We're trespassing!" she hissed. "Now you're really going to have to bail me out of jail!"
"Just calm the hell down, Quinn. Get outta the car or I'm gonna be forced to throw me over my shoulder." She groans, slowly stepping down.
"Whose house is this? Why are we here? How many illegal things are we doing at one time?" She knows the answers to all of these but if she keeps talking, she doesn't have to think about how wrong all of this is.
"Quinn, shut up and keep walking."
"Well I'm sorry if I don't wanna get arrested!"
"You're not gonna get arrested," he laughed. "Just trust me." She sighs, knowing where that line got them once before. She gulps as he leads her up the walk way.
"Puck, take me home!" she practically shouts. They're close enough that she knows they're going to come face to face with her soon, the idea making her physically sick. "Noah Puckerman, take me home!" He ignores her, almost ready to carry her the rest of the way. Both because she's getting extremely annoying and she can't seem to move anymore. He rings the doorbell, stepping back. "Why…?" Doesn't he know that this hurts too much already? Being here just makes it worse, not better. Puck quietly opens the unlocked door, taking Quinn with him as he steps inside. "You're just gonna walk inside?" she hissed. "This isn't even your house!" He just shrugs, guiding her into the foyer.
"Quinn, do a guy a favor and shut your freakin' trap. I warned her ahead of time. She knows it's us."
"Oh….Well, it's still rude to just walk into somebody else's house." Puck had warned Shelby. For some reason, that makes her even angrier. It makes her feel like she and Puck have these secrets, little things they do, that she hasn't been a part of. That she's not allowed to be involved in. You didn't exactly make it known she reminds herself.
"In the kitchen," Shelby calls. Puck releases the hold he's had on her waist. As subtle as it is, she can't help missing it now that it's gone. After several steps, Puck turns to face her.
"You coming?" Taking a deep breath, she forces herself forward. "Just breathe," he whispered. She nods, trying to do as he's suggested. Timidly, she makes her way into the kitchen. Almost immediately, there are hints of her everywhere. Forgotten bottles, a highchair, plastic spoons sitting on the counter.
The weight is back, twice as heavy now. As hard as she tries, the tears just won't stop. It's just a kitchen. It's no different than any other home. Except for the fact that it is. Blinking furiously, she finds a chair and throws the weight of her body into it.
"I'm sorry the kitchen's such a mess. I've been running around trying to get some kind of organization going and it really just never seems to stay that way." Puck just shrugs, taking an open seat next to Quinn. Taking her shaking hand, he offers her a squeeze, a quick glance to make sure she's okay. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the question in his eyes. All she can do is shake her head, not exactly sure if she is or isn't okay. "How have you been, Puck?" Shelby asks, pulling out three glasses and filling them with water. Quinn can't help throwing him a glance. They're talking like he's been here before. She made a quick note to ask about that on their way home.
"I've been…good," he says, taking an obvious pause.
"That's good. I hope school's going alright for the two of you," she smiles. Noticing that she's made the question plural, Quinn wonders if that's a cue for her to finally open her mouth and say something.
"Same as always," she shrugs. Except it's not. If it's made her sound rude, Shelby shows no sign of being offended. The conversation between the three of them is obviously forced. It's not hard to notice how awkwardly everything has been said and asked.
"She's up in the nursery if you'd like to go see her," she offers.
"Thanks," Puck says, already getting up from his place at the table. Quinn glances between the two of them, not exactly sure what's going on. Okay, she knows what's going on, the whole thing just seems so….easy. She'd expect Shelby to be defensive, forcefully accepting that they've come to see Beth. She almost seems….okay with why they're here. Quinn can't help wondering why that is. Hesitantly, she follows him out, taking careful steps, like she's now on forbidden territory. Which she has to admit, she kind of is. She shouldn't be here. She shouldn't be intruding when all of this was really meant for Shelby. Beth's real mother. She can't help but envy Puck. He doesn't have to compete with anyone. Beth's only ever going to have one father. Whether he's raising her or not, that's always going to be his place. Quinn gave that up. Now she's here, acting like she should be allowed to take it back. She's not. She's not allowed to erase the choices she's made.
As they make it to her nursery (the one room with a carefully sculpted Beth carving on the door), nerves completely consume her. What is she even doing here? Beth has no idea who she is. She has no idea that the woman downstairs isn't her actual mother. Yet, that's all she does know. That's all she's ever going to know. The truth of that statement hits Quinn like a solid brick. She can't help feeling deprived. Deprived. The one feeling, along with so many others, that she's not allowed to feel. She chose this. She's going to have to live with it. Yet, the idea of her daughter calling someone else her mama? That hasn't settled. That's not okay yet. It probably never would be. But again, it's a consequence of her ultimate decision.
Puck quietly opens the door, stepping inside. Quinn follows close behind, letting the tears build again as she takes in the smiling little girl keeping herself entertained. Finally alerted to company, she looks up at them. A set of eyes identical to Quinn's looking right at them, a wide smile on her face. A smile that is all her father.
"Hey you," Puck smiles as they both watch her crawl over to him. "How's my girl?" A raging fire fills Quinn's chest. The envy is back worse than before. She knows him.
"How does she recognize you?" she asks, jealously more than obvious in her question. She knows she shouldn't be feeling anything close to this. She had chosen to close all doors. Who's to say that Puck didn't still keep some of them open? He had every right to want that. The fact that Shelby seems to allow it makes all of that easier to achieve.
"I come and see her every couple weeks," he says, letting Beth play with his fingers, barely blinking when she shoves one of them in her small mouth. Quinn watches her settle in, smiling around her father's finger. "You like that, huh?" he laughed kissing her temple. Beth hums in response perfectly content.
"You're here every couple of weeks and never even bothered to tell me?" she glares. She has no idea where these accusations are coming from. What the two...three of them decide to do has absolutely nothing to do with her. It's when the little girl presses up against her father's chest that Quinn feels her stomach start to heave.
"Quinn, it's not like that," he sighs.
"Enlighten me," she bites back fighting the bitter taste in her mouth. "Tell me why our daughter knows you and has no idea who I am."
"You were the one who said we shouldn't talk anymore. You were the one who said you wanted to be left alone. I know how sore a subject this is for you. I knew that bringing it up would get you mad. So I just…didn't."
"So very kind of you," she growls.
"Hey, I was only doing what you told me to do. I left you alone. Leaving you alone means conversations are slim to none." Funny since they seemed to have two of those a day for well over a year. In those talks she let Puck see more of her than she ever thought she would be willing to show.
"You could have at least let me know," she whispered.
"Kinda hard to do when you don't even look at me," he pointed out. Quinn sighs, not wanting to argue.
"I'm sorry, okay? I know I haven't exactly been the easiest person to deal with."
"Are you ever?" he smirked.
"I really don't want to start a pointless argument, Puck. Not today," she whispers. She looks up to see that he's not even paying attention to her anymore. The two of them are sharing a secret that she can't even make out. She just rolls her eyes, until finally, she notices Beth slowly making her way over to her. When she settles in front of her, curious eyes wandering her face, Quinn has no idea what she's supposed to do. Beth's just…staring at her. "Hi," Quinn whispers, a small smile on her face. Beth small hand traces her palm and Quinn can feel tears once again gathering in her eyes. The action is so simple, so innocent.
Beth's small hands come up to trace her face now, stopping for a second at the gathering moisture. Her small lips begin a tremor as her own eyes well with tears.
"Crap, now I've made her cry," she sighs. Instinct takes over as she takes the baby into her lap, running her hand quietly through her hair. She smiles, once again struck by how similar it is to the man beside her. Puck can't help noticing the interaction. Quinn seems so natural. "Shh,"she whispers.
"She tends to be really empathetic," he offers. He groans when her eyes widen, mockery at the tip of her tongue.
"You actually know what that means?" she gasped, her face splitting into an unexpected smile.
"Quinn, I'm not a moron." He knew little to nothing about a lot of things but his word selection wasn't that small.
"Could've fooled me," she laughed. "How often do you see her?" she whispered, barely flinching when small hands reach for and tug at her lip.
"I come by after games and stuff. Bored outta my skull after most of them. We never win anything." He keeps to himself just how much it would mean to be with her if they did. "Gives me an excuse to see her."
"Shelby doesn't mind?" Even while she asks, the earlier conversation says she does. Puck just doesn't care. And even though she knows that he should at least be kind enough to respect her wishes, there are certain things she knows not to fight him on.
"Well, we're not exactly best friends or anything but she's kinda come to accept it."
"You're lucky," she whispered. "You have the guts to come in and be a part of her life. I….I don't know if I can…" And she really doesn't. Not after being so firm on the adoption. Even if she was, something told her that having both of them show up all the time would ruin any future opportunities for Puck. She wasn't about to get in the way of that while he still had them.
"All you have to do is ask," he says. He says it like it's the most straightforward concept ever. They both know it's not but he always had a way of looking at the other end of it. She knew he fought to get the little that he already does. Puck was lazy yes but when it came to his daughter? There was literally no stopping him, no matter what arrangement they made.
"I don't think you get it, Puck. You don't have to compete with anyone. You're always going to be the only father in her life. Over time, she's going to look at you as exactly that. If I step in I'm just going to confuse her." Puck just smirked as he pulled out his wallet. Raising her brow in curiosity, Quinn watches him put it on the floor next to Beth. Small fingers dance across the image in wander. It's a candid of her, in a light blue blouse, much like the dress she's wearing now.
"How did you…How did you get that picture?" Much like he's been doing the entire day, he ignores her question, now focusing his attention on Beth.
"Beth, who's this?" he whispers pointing to the picture. Wide eyes turn to Puck and back to Quinn several times, the little girl's brow knit in concentration. "Beth, who's that in the picture?" The little girl turns to her father, her small face creased in frustration she's adopted from Quinn. Her mouth opens and closes several times before she makes a first attempt.
"A…Am." Quinn can feel her tears spilling over again as she watches Beth's struggle.
"Almost," he says quietly. Little fingers trace the face in the picture before coming up to the one in front of her. "You got it," he whispered. Quinn waits as he mutely mouths the word to her and resists the urge to cry openly now. "Who's she?"
"Ma…" It's quiet and almost inaudible but she's heard it. "Ma…" she says again. By now any composure she's kept is gone. The tears are flowing openly; Beth's small hand coming to gently absorb what her tiny hand can of the tears.
"How…?" she asks, incapable of uttering anything else.
"We've worked with this picture for the last few months," he says. "Took her a while but a couple of weeks or so ago, she started doing it all by herself."
"Shelby's gonna kill you," she whispered. Puck just shrugged. She knows he's dealt with worse than the woman downstairs but it's more the fact that he didn't have to do this at all. His time with Beth was his. They didn't have to waste it on getting her to recognize a woman she was never going to see.
"I'm still breathing, aren't I?" he smirked.
"As sweet as this is, you know it's only gonna confuse her more, right?"
"Don't know. I think I gave her the talking gene. Shelby hasn't gotten excited over first words yet." Well he just kept piling them on, didn't he? Her two favourite guilty pleasures, a list of songs that reminded him of her. And now this. Quinn was her first word? None of it made any sense. "When do you find time to do this?" she smiled.
"I don't party too much anymore. Friday nights mostly."
"What's she gonna do to you when she finally catches you?"
"There's not much she can do. It's the truth. She says she wants to be as honest as she can with Beth. So she doesn't repeat the sh—stuff that went down with Berry. If it happens, it happens." As believable as that was, the blonde somehow doubted she would let it go that easy.
"But it's not fair," she sighed.
"It's as fair as we want it to be," he says.
"Shelby's her mom, Puck. In every way that counts, Shelby's her mama. It might take a while but I'm getting used to it. This is sweet, Noah but honestly, it's not fair. You have to earn labels like that. You have to live up to them."
"You're getting used to it? Really?" he asked, his tone speaking to everything she tried so hard to cover up.
"Noah..." He hates it on anybody else's tongue. The only people allowed to call him that are his sister and his mom. But right here, right now, she's almost caressing it. Gone are the knives she keeps, tucked away late at night when it's just them. He's heard it then too and just chooses to keep silent about it.
"Do you want to be as big a part of her life as you can?" He asks that like it doesn't have the most obvious answer in the world. As confused as she is, of course she does. Quinn just knows that she's not allowed.
"I don't know….It might end up hurting too much. To know that she's worked so hard, and to want to take that away from her? It isn't right."
"Up to you," he said. "You either find a way to be a part of her life or you let the guilt eat away at you."
"Now you're making me look like the bad guy," she sighed.
"I'm trying to help you, Quinn. Tell me honestly. How do you feel right now?"
"Free? Liberated? Like that weight has been taken off my chest? I don't know."
"How often have you let yourself smile in the last ten minutes?"
"I think I counted four," he smirked. "Four of 'em and they all reached your eyes."
"That doesn't mean anything," she countered.
"Yeah, it does. Just being around her makes you feel better. I haven't seen you this happy since she was born. I've seen you angry, I've seen you upset, I've seen you down-right pissed at people. I've never seen you really happy."
"I think about it every day," she whispered.
"I know. I see it your eyes. I do it too." The fact that he watches her so closely should make her angry. Instead the bubble she swallowed early resurfaces. After everything she's done to him, taken from him. The way she's treated him probably sits worse than anything else. The guy's lost hours of sleep for her. He's listened her talk in circles. He's heard her cry. Puck has been a witness to gut wrenching sobs and all she seems to do is spit in his face.
"Puck, we have to learn to accept things the way they are."
"Doesn't mean we can't find some kind loophole. Come with me next time. See how you feel after and see if it's anything like how you feel right now."
"I don't know…"
"You don't know until you try," he pointed out. "Hey Beth." She turns her head quickly, focusing her attention on Puck. She smiles widely, crawling over to him and promptly settling herself in his lap. Her head settles on his chest again, small hands grazing the stubble that's started to grow on his face. She laughs, running her hands along the prickly texture again. "I guess that tickles, huh?" he smiles. "Just like….this," he says letting his fingers dance across her chest. Her response is an uncontrollable laugh that echoes through the room. As it carries on for the three minutes in which she's being "tortured", Quinn notices just how infectious it actually is. Without reason, she too is laughing. It takes her a minute to realize just how foreign a feeling it is. She hasn't let herself laugh like this in almost a year. It feels good.
"You're good with her," she observes.
"Thanks," he smiles. "I love you, Beth," he whispers. Quinn smiles, knowing he probably didn't intend for her to hear that. She watches Beth set her hand on his chest and just lets it sit there. It's nowhere near where it's supposed to be but the symbolism is enough. She's not the only one who does she thought. Admitting it to herself is scary enough. She doesn't even know if it's true. For now, she'll let the idea roll around in her head. Maybe it's true, maybe it's not. She knows now that ruling out the idea entirely isn't an option anymore. They've shared too much for her to do that to him. "Hey, who's that over there?" She knows that he's only doing it to please her now. Or maybe he's not. Either way, the smile on her face is still as wide as the first time.
"Atta girl," he grins.
"So that's why you made me wear blue," she laughed.
"That and the fact that I really, really like it on you. Makes you look hot," he smirked. The typical comment isn't even relatively related. But all at once, she realizes why they're here at all. She wonders if that's why Shelby put up no fight to them being here.
"Thank you," she smiles. Now she knows that he definitely didn't have to invite her. If anything, her presence could sour it in seconds. Even on his birthday Puck wanted to give her something so irreplaceable and special. She should be the one to do all of those little things for him. Maybe she'd skip out on the part with the flowers but everything else..."Happy birthday," she whispers. She wants to punch herself for crying again. Now she just looks ungrateful for such a gift.
"Glad you could make it," he smiles. She makes a mental note to keep remembering them. Puck deserves that much. "You look beautiful, Quinn," he mumbles. Those few words sober her up more quickly than almost anything else. This side of Puck is a rare sight, one she's only seen when curtains are drawn. Even though the words hardly seem to pass his lips, the little things he seems to always be doing for her make the words even more believable. He seals it with a kiss that she gladly gives him. It's the best she can do since coming in empty-handed and ripping his head off moments before.
"I should be thanking you," he corrected. She wants to ask him why, when he just presses on. "You gave me this," he whispers. Knowing exactly what he was talking about, the subject of their new conversation giggles, almost as if she knows.
"Oh look, a true, Puckerman," Quinn joked. "Thinks that all we do is talk about her."
"Well she's not wrong," he grinned. "Are you?" he laughed biting playfully at her chin when she stands perched on his legs. Beth lets out a round of uncontrollable laughter that knocks her off balance. The little girl is barely phased as she's landed right back in his lap. "Careful you don't pee yourself. Then we're gonnna have to tell her how you got out of this ugly pink dress. Not that you have a lot of great options..."
"Hey, pink's a perfectly fine colour," Quinn countered.
"Quinn, Puckermans don't wear pink...Becca couldn't stand the colour. I don't know how she can."
"You can thank me for that," she said poking out her tongue.
"Okay so Mama might put you in a ton of that but I won't..." It scared her how easily he talked about it, about them, even though the situation left virtually no room for it. Worse was how easily Quinn found herself feeding into it.
"Just don't put her in black and I think we can all be happy."
"Q, not even I where black in this heat."
"You actually do."
"Leather jacket doesn't count."
"Whatever. Puck, you didn't have to-"
"Wanted to," he said easily cutting her off. "It's my birthday and I can do what I want," he smirked. On any other day she would have scoffed. But everything he'd done was so intimately thought out. He had given her literally everything in the span of a day that was supposed to be all about him.
"Thank you, Noah," she repeats offering him a flighty kiss on the cheek. He's a little shocked at what she's just done. She knows it by the way he's stiffened up a little. He probably thought the one he'd gotten earlier was a heat of the moment thing. As much as she would like to think so, as easy as it would be to just chalk it up to that, there were few things the blonde could forget. Near the top of that list was the taste of his kiss. She knows it's selfish to ask for it after so much time has passed but she's beyond stopping herself when she finds the warmth of his lips and how easily he takes to them.
"Welcome," he mumbles, too stunned for anything else. He turns to her, selfishly wanting more than what she's given him. But that's just who he is. He always wants more than what he's already been given. For one reason and one reason only. He's Noah Puckerman. He can pull whatever he wants from a girl without even trying. He's learned that Quinn's different. She gives people what she wants and nothing more than that. He's going to have to settle for what he's gotten and be grateful for it. Even though he knows it's a lot more than he deserves.
Puck's final phrase hangs in the air for a minute before Quinn lets herself nod. She can deny it all she wants, but the truth is sitting in that very room. She glances over to see Beth staring at her, her fist in her mouth. Yes. The truth is looking her right in the face. Whether she admits it out loud or not, everything holds more meaning now. Only Puck's second birthday as a father, but the first that Beth might actually remember. At least through shared memories. Memories that weren't going to disappear just because she tried so hard to make them fade. Not just because she remembers the pain but because ever since, there's been a void. A space that only the little girl laying her head comfortably against her father's chest, can fill. Quinn offers a small smile, reaching over to take Beth's fist from her mouth. Her reply is a solid pout that makes Quinn chuckle.
"Just like her old man," Puck mumbles. "Doesn't like to be told she can't have something," he smirks. She gently shoves him with a roll of her eyes. Quinn just sighs when she sees that, only moments later, her fist is in its rightful place. "She's done that twice now. Shelby says it means she's hungry." He notices her visibly stiffen and offers her hand a gentle squeeze. Her reply is a reluctant sigh as she puts a larger distance between them.
"I guess we should head back down then," she whispers. As much as she knows they have to, she really doesn't want to go. Once there, reality will hit her harder than when she first came in. That's where Shelby is, filling the space that she chose to give up. That's where she's eventually going to have to leave Beth. That's where the truth will hit her like a thousand knives. The fact is that this isn't her life, this isn't her daughter. Sure, she's given her life and a string of DNA but that's really all Quinn has done. Puck nods helping her to her feet. He hasn't missed the shadow in her gaze. A quiet whimper sends Puck's hand gently along her back as her head settles in the crook of his neck.
Once they've made it back to the kitchen, Shelby looks up with a sigh. She's already got a plastic bowl sitting on her tray and silently asks Puck to set her there. He sighs, preparing himself for the struggle she's so famous for. Like him, she hates being trapped. As he lowers her, she's already started resisting. Once he's let her go completely Beth whimpers in protest. Shelby smiles widely offering her a spoonful of food. Frustration bubbles up inside of him when she hardly seems to notice the little girl's discomfort.
"Well, it looks like someone's hungry," she says softly. Puck restrains the urge to roll his eyes at the woman. He wants to remind her that Quinn is standing right next to him but just lets his lips form a solid line, his arm coming to rest on her lower back. He notices her close her eyes for a minute and realizes that her weight has shifted. He's careful to keep her steady as they make their way back to the table. As he sits, Quinn finds herself landing in his lap. Right now, where she is and who it is doesn't matter. All she knows is that she's not willing to move. If she moves, she runs. If she steps away, she'll find her way to the front door and down the street, before she can second guess her actions.
Shelby has turned to face them now keeping a pace with Beth's breakfast. Turning to face them, she raises a curious brow. She frowns when she sees that Beth's aimed her gaze directly at Puck while she eats. Quinn notices this as well and can't help the smirk that crosses her lips. Puck uses her long blond hair to muffle a chuckle and hide a satisfied smirk of his own. When he's pulled himself out, he notices Beth reaching to close the distance between them. He turns the two of them around to face her as he offers Beth his hand to take hold of. Both he and Quinn can't help a short laugh when they realize which finger she's grabbed. Shelby's face flutters a look of disappointment before letting a short-lived chuckle escape.
"The finger?" Quinn whispers so only Puck can hear.
"Don't look at me, I didn't teach her that. And it's not like she didn't try and get her attention like a normal person. Just doesn't care. Now that it's "wrong" she cares." Quinn wanted to point out that the implication she's unknowingly made is wrong but Shelby's overly chipper mood stops her from saying so.
"It's just coincidence," Shelby says quickly. To himself, Puck likes to think otherwise and just lets a smug look be directed at the kitchen floor.
"It's her inner badass," he whispered. Quinn shoves him gently but smiles just the same. Puck looked up at the sound of a muffled grunt to see Beth's pleading eyes. She's rejected her next bit of food as she pushes forward in her chair.
"C'mon Beth," Shelby pleads, again presenting her with a small portion of mixed veggies. The offering is knocked right out of her hand and onto the kitchen floor. Puck waits only ten seconds for some kind of reaction before directing his attention at Beth. With an expression that looks a lot like her mother's, the little girl looks ready to blow her top.
"Shh," he whispers. "Relax. I'm not big on veggies either but they gotta down." He says it even though it's not even about the food being shoved in her face. It's easier than why she's really freaking out. It wasn't the first time he'd seen such a reaction and he had a sinking feeling it wouldn't be the last. After two more tries with little success, Shelby huffs in frustration following the little girl's line of vision. The fact that she's got a death grip on Puck's finger is hard to miss.
"Maybe she just doesn't like the chair," Puck offers.
"She never does," she laughs. He gives Quinn a gentle nudge and walks over, removing the tray and lets her settle in his lap again. She sighs happily clinging to the hem of his shirt.
"I bet you feel better now that you're free," he whispers. She only laughs. The breeze of his breath probably tickles. "Open nice and big. The sooner that's gone, the sooner Daddy can get you a present." She throws him a grateful glance as Beth now willingly accepts. The conversation between father and daughter seems to go right over the older woman's head. Out of the corner of his eye, Puck can see Quinn go stiff for a second as he talks softly to her. Shelby's too enthralled in Beth to notice Puck throw her an apologetic look. Quinn just shrugs, not wanting to make a big deal of what she sees. Deep down though, she can't help but envy the woman with a plastic bowl in her hands. With Beth sitting happily on Puck's lap, she can't help feeling like a third wheel.
"Would you mind if I use your bathroom real quick?" Quinn asks, cutting Shelby's conversation with Beth off mid-sentence. Finally looking up at her, she nods.
"Down the hall and to your right," she supplied. Before she can get another look from Puck, the blonde makes her escape. Closing the bathroom door behind her, she leans against it for a minute, blinking several times. For a minute she wonders why she's even here. It's clear that Shelby doesn't want her around. It's been an hour and the two have barely said three words to each other, even if it is his birthday. He could just as easily make them two separate events but he went ahead and shoved them all together making it all kinds of awkward for everyone. She knows that she's intruding but really, if she wants to point fingers anyone it should be Puck. He's the one who brought her. Puck's the one who put a glitch in Shelby's perfectly peaceful Saturday.
Despite her front, Quinn knows it's not even about Puck. He seems to be well-behaved enough to earn the right to keep coming back. She's the one who's never been here, an open threat to the owner of the house. All the same, it hurts to watch. It kind of irks her to see how accepting (albeit not all too happily) she is of his being there. Her little girl knows them. It stabs her to admit that she really has no claim to Beth. She's just visiting for the first time (she was really not planning to visit at all) so of course she's not going to get a reaction out of her. In the silence of the bathroom she hears them laughing. The sound pulls at her heart more painfully than she'd ever say out loud.
Quietly letting herself back into the hall, she finds herself gravitating toward the front door. If she leaves now, if she's quiet enough, they won't even notice she's gone. She knows Puck will corner her about it later but right now getting out is her best option. She can't go back in there. If she does, she's only going to blend in and go unnoticed. She'll be forced to watch while they paint the picture of a perfect little family. Quietly, Quinn pulls on the front door, cringing as it squeaks. The shuffle of chairs sends her eyes darting back and forth.
"Quinn?" she hears him call out to her. Shit. Slowly, she returns to the kitchen, palm outstretched for the keys to his truck. Pulling them out, he eyes her suspiciously, keeping the collection of keys firmly in his palm.
"I left my chocolate in the truck," she said. "I'm this close to falling asleep," she sighed. He nods, giving her a solid look before relinquishing them. The minute she has them, Quinn finds herself making it to the door in leaps and bounds. Once inside, she just sits there, hands on the wheel, her precious chocolate sitting in her lap as she eats them slowly. If she just stuck them in the ignition, she could be off before Puck had a chance to catch up with her. It's not like he would miss his truck right away. From the way she'd seen him with Beth she knew he'd be there for a while. Quite possibly until dark, at which point the heat would die down and he can walk to her place to get his truck back. For a minute, she considers if maybe that's a little cruel, considering all that he's already done for her today. But soon she just shakes her head. It's the perfect punishment for what he's forced her to be a part of.
"But then I'll be forced to listen to him yell at me for hours tonight. He'll carry the fact that I ruined his birthday and hold it over my head for the next decade," she sighed. The last thing she needed was to be up for hours on end during another one of their arguments. Noticing that the bag is still half full, she smiles, quickly deciding that she will stay, but it sure as hell isn't going to sit there quietly anymore.
Slipping back inside, she takes the seat next to Puck. He can't help noticing the change in her energy and smiles. He throws her a curious glance as his eyes fall on the half eaten bag. He nods, glad to see that she's got something to lift her spirits a little. Puck lets his hand slip discreetly into view showing her his open palm. Sighing, Quinn rolls her eyes dropping a few into his hand after unwrapping them. He's still got a firm hold on Beth, who probably has no intention of moving. As he pops them into his mouth, he growls quietly when he notices that some of it has melted into his palm.
"See that, Quinn? I'm just that hot," he whispered. Quinn lets out a frustrated sigh, careful to keep the rest of the bag out of his reach. She lets out a subtle growl at the sight of his familiar pout. "You agree with me then?" he whispered.
"I never said that," she shot back.
"How'd she get here then? Cause I mean, I haven't exactly made a lot of 'em but I know I don't make ugly kids."
"The stork." she said simply.
"Bullshit," he mumbled. Puck redirects his attention at Beth who's got a persistent beat going as a way of demanding his attention. "What?" Beth lets a small finger graze the chocolate that lathers his palm. She studies it for a minute before tentatively bringing it to her mouth. Before she can get a taste Shelby's hand quickly pulls it away.
"No baby. You can't eat that," she snapped. Being denied the mysterious treat, Beth's eyes have begun to well with tears. Puck eyes her questioningly, trying his hardest to keep the coat of anger from his gaze. Shelby stands, taking Beth to her silently. Again the little girl has put up resistance, reaching frantically for the man with the candy she's barely tasted. Being taken from Puck has only made her even more upset, her deep wails echoing through the kitchen. Quinn tries not to cringe at the extreme volume, glaring daggers at her as she tries (with little success) to quiet the crying child.
"What the hell?" Puck mutters. The sound of his daughter's cries, no thanks to her adoptive mother, cut Puck deeper than he'd ever felt before. It's like someone has taken a rock and pelted it at him before he can defend himself. He rises angrily following Shelby's figure as she paces the kitchen with a red-faced baby on her shoulder. The fact that he's throwing him a set of pleading eyes while reaching for him just makes him feel even worse.
"I know baby but you're too little," she whispers. Both Quinn and Puck roll their eyes at her ridiculousness, trying their hardest to be unnerved by their daughter's helpless expression. The woman can't even wrap her head around the fact that there was so much more to it than that. Puck's suspicions aside, Shelby had scared her for absolutely no reason.
"I'm sure a little bit of chocolate wouldn't have hurt her," Quinn voices over her daughter's consistent protests. The older woman spins to glare at her, her mouth forming a grim line.
"She's one year old, Quinn. She shouldn't be introduced to sugar for at least another year."
"That's a load of crap," Puck mutters. "Ma gave me tastes here and there before my first birthday."
"Shelby, it's not even that much," he says carefully. "A little taste wouldn't have killed her."
"And how do you know?" she shot back. "For all we know she could be lactose intolerant. She could get rushed to the hospital over your carelessness. Why do you think I fed her formula for the first year? I didn't want to risk it!"
"Oh I don't know, maybe because you're not her mother?" Quinn finally says, drawing enough strength to finally speak. It's a grain of common sense that once again has been readily ignored. If Quinn was really concerned about putting their daughter in a good home with accomplished parents, they probably should have looked a little harder.
"You heard me. You aren't her biological mother so logically you're going to give her formula. You have no other choice." The three seconds of pain that fly across the woman's face don't have Quinn feeling an ounce of sorry. After what she's seen today, she has to wonder where her head was a year ago. The three of them were only alone for an hour and in that time she's seen more potential in a self-proclaimed badboy than she has in a woman well into her forties.
"Yeah, you don't have the tits," Puck clarified. She glares at him out of the corner of her eye but says nothing. "She hasn't stopped crying since you took her from me and if she's anything like her mother, she's not going to stop until she gets what she wants."
"You're not giving her the chocolate, Noah."
"Don't call me Noah," he bites. "And I may or may not give it to her. Depends on how I feel in a few seconds. Gimme my daughter." He knows better than to add what day it is, knowing that for this lady it wouldn't make a difference if he told her he was dying of cancer.
"No. She'll be fine in a few minutes. She just doesn't like to be told no."
"You scared her, Shelby. She's not going to calm down anytime soon," Quinn says evenly.
"I'm sorry Quinn but how would you know that? You've been here for no more than a few hours. Please don't go about telling me how to be a parent."
"You have no clue," Puck muttered. If she had any idea, they had yet to see a decent effort put forth. If anything, Shelby should be overdoing it to show them that they'd made the right decision. Instead he's wondering if she's figured anything out since her attempt with Rachel. The fact that Beth's birthday has come and gone (along with their chance to take her back without any questions asked) seems to be proving irrelevant.
"Say that again?'
"Beth's your first real shot at the parenting thing." As he speaks, Quinn feels the heat of a thousand little lit up signs indicating her poor choices as a mother. If this gets worse, she'll never hear the end of it.
"I vaguely remember giving birth to another little girl about seventeen years ago," she smiled. It's nothing genuine. Quinn can read that for miles. She can pull those off ten times better and make them a hell of a lot more believable.
"You've barely said two words to Rachel," Quinn laughed. "When you met she was already practically an adult."
"Doesn't mean I didn't try when she was born." Shelby didn't have to try. Berry had never shut up about her family life. The way in which she was conceived was a story they had all heard more than a few times.
"Turkey baster baby," Puck mumbles. "You didn't have to try. You just gave her the x, signed your name in a couple of places and forgot about her."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Her flustered expression gave him enough time to quietly take her back into his arms, smiling softly when her fingers brushed his stubble.
"Hi there pretty girl." She let out a shaky sigh, meeting him with flushed cheeks and glazed eyes.
"Ma..." she barely whispered.
"Give her a minute. She'll be right over." Turning his attention back to Shelby, he watched a wide smile break across her face. That's not for you he thought. "That ship has sailed," Puck reminded her. "It left the harbour the minute you offered her to two guys who were actually mature enough to be parents."
"Exactly. It's been a few years. I'm more mature now, more experienced. When I had Rachel I was just barely your age, in no position to raise a child. I had school and dreams to fulfill. Which is why, Beth is here with me."
"Just because you're older, doesn't mean you're qualified," Puck laughed.
"Parenthood doesn't require certification, Puck."
"Uh yeah, it kinda does. Those adoption papers we signed a year ago? Yeah, those were signed as a promise to us that if we couldn't take her, then you'd do your very best to provide her with a life that we couldn't."
"And I have!" she bellowed which only made Beth startle and continue to cry. Puck growls quietly to himself, pulling the baby closer to him. The sudden move has surprised her yet again but the gentle rubbing of her back calms her enough to settle her tear-stained cheek against his shoulder.
"You really don't know how to argue with a baby, do you?" Shelby just blinks several times before returning to her solid glare. "You don't raise your voice at or around them. It's common sense."
"He's right," Quinn muttered throwing him a smile.
"Oh and I suppose you know everything when it comes to babies," she scoffed.
"I babysit enough," she said. "She's just a baby, Shelby. She doesn't understand the difference between getting yelled at and just being denied something. It's all in your tone."
"My tone was just fine," Shelby muttered. "Beth just puts up a fight when she can't have what she wants."
"She must get this a lot then," Puck whispered. Quinn offers him a subtle nod in agreement. He sees the bag she's still got a hold of behind her back and quietly takes one. While Shelby's muttering to herself he quietly pops most of it into his mouth, offering Beth the small piece that's left. "Here you go, baby girl. Try this," he whispers. He has to go in search of her mouth while her head sits on his shoulder. After a minute she opens her mouth letting herself whimper for a few seconds. With a bit of gentle coaxing she accepts the treat as Puck makes sure that Shelby still isn't looking. He smiles when he notices that Quinn's got her very well distracted.
"…be gentle with her." Puck can't wipe the smile off his face. Not only is it extremely entertaining to watch a toned down catfight (sans claws and violence) but from the pouty expression on Shelby's face, his baby mama's winning.
"Don't tell me how to raise my daughter, Quinn." He sees her go stiff and keeps himself from commenting, his daughter a welcome distraction. Her moistened face is directed at him now, his knuckle brushing the streaming tears.
"If it wasn't for my age and the fact that I was still in school, you wouldn't even know about Beth," she snapped. "So as far as I'm concerned, she's as much my daughter as I want her to be."
"If it was up to me, she'd be ours," Puck supplied. "But it's not. The choice was Quinn's to make and now that she's offered you round two, you best treat it with the respect that it deserves. And that means treating Quinn with a hell of a lot more than she's been getting. She didn't have to give this to you and now that she has, you're throwing it in her face."
"I am doing no such thing," she whispered.
"I can tell that you purposefully do and say things just to set her off. Before she left for the truck, you just let her sit there and watch. You didn't even try speaking to her."
"Beth and I are so used to having the place to ourselves that being social really isn't a norm." Puck raised his brow and bit back a harsh laugh. "I'm sorry if I haven't been so engaging lately," she sighed. "This is all so new, so different."
"And what do you think all of this is for her? Hell, it's even different for me. I should be at home drinking and smoking some weed or something. God knows it'd be nice to after a day like this. But that's not how I wanna spend my birthday. I'd rather be here, spending it with my daughter and her mother. 'Cause the truth is, that's what 'normal teens' are supposed to do. Smashed till they can't see straight and so high they don't even know their own name. But we're not 'normal teens', are we?" Puck asked. "Let's be real. I brought here for me. I was sick and tired of watching a girl who had a foot in every ivy league school in the country put her grades in the toilet when I know that's not who she is. I was sick and tired of sitting on the phone with her through the night while she cried for the daughter she sacrificed because she knew that she deserved better. I'll sit on the damn phone till the sun comes up with this girl but it's when she cries that I just wanna be done."
Even though she knows that's not at all what he means, his little rant makes Quinn feel guiltier than ever. She steeled herself, preparing for his next words, knowing that when he jumps on this train, what he lets come out isn't scripted at all. "Because I can't do anything. I used to be able to fix everything. That's not me being cocky, it's the truth. 3am I shot out of bed before she had to ask me twice. I barely had my pants on when I made it to the truck. The graveyard guy even looked at me like I was a damn psycho half the time. But I did it. I fixed it. Rubbing her feet for so long she'd fall asleep. I held her hair back when she puked. I snuck bacon into the house for her too." Quinn had to find a place at the table to hold what little of herself she still had together. All of it was so painfully true. "Who held her for two straight weeks when we gave you Beth? It sure as hell wasn't you. You were supposed to be holding this, loving her. And what do we see? The exact opposite. Even if she isn't ours, today is going to mean more for the rest of my life. The guilt of what she's done is eating her up inside and being here; being with Beth helps her forget that for a little while. So, I'm sorry if we're, intruding on your precious Saturday. I'm sorry that the reality of the situation is too much for you."
"It's not that," she whispered. "It's just…You have no idea what you being here and leaving does to her…"
"Oh I have a very good idea," he said softly, brushing Beth's hair back tenderly. "She won't let go of me for at least an hour but I have no other choice. It kills me, Shelby. It kills me to know that I have to walk in and out and let you fill in the blanks. It kills me to know I can't be a father to my own baby. You're going to have to kill me before I become my own father." Quinn's gut twisted painfully while she fought the bile rising in her throat. Even if he's never said it, she knows that's what she's done. To some capacity, in an attempt to prevent absentee parents, she made that of them.
"You are her father, Puck," Quinn offers quietly. "You're her daddy. I'm the one who's intruding."
"Maybe this would all be easier if you just stopped visiting all together," she suggested. Two sets of blazing eyes shot toward the older woman, Quinn's muscles tighter than they'd been since early this morning.
"No way in hell," he muttered. "I read somewhere that we have up to a year to change our minds."
"She already had her birthday," Shelby pointed out. He swallowed, his rant leaving his mind completely blank for those few moments.
"After what we've seen, I'm not sure it matters," Quinn said quietly. "I'm not letting my daughter grow up like this...like me."
"Like us," Puck added roughly.
"You've barely been here long enough to accuse me of such ridiculous things," Shelby muttered. "So I snapped. That doesn't make me a bad mother. Neither does not giving a baby sugar. If anything I'm teaching her proper eating habits. And instead of being grateful, you throw me under the bus. I don't care whose birthday it is. I will not be disrespected in my own home."
"And I don't give a damn who you are. My daughter deserves better than being treated like a caged animal."
"I'm not too good at math but putting two and two together isn't that hard. We found her perfectly happy just playing with her toys by herself. She lit up like a damn Christmas tree when we got there."
"Because she knows you," Shelby said rolling her eyes.
"Then tell me why I couldn't get her in the chair? Tell me why when I did she threw herself at me until I let her out.".
"Babies are smarter than you think. They can smell tension for miles," Quinn mumbled.
"Don't treat me like a brainless fool," she snapped.
"Then you should see these things! Instead it seems you just ignore them hoping they'll go away. Is that how you look at Beth? Something that stopped being fun and someone who's just going to disappear if you ignore her for long enough? She's not Rachel. You're supposed to be it. You promised us you could do it. Now I'm starting to see that I should have done a little bit more research..."
"I'm perfectly capable! You just came in on a bad day. She has a lot of those. But we have great days too. Feel free to come back in three or four days, she'll be a completely different person."
"I don't think that'll be necessary," Puck muttered. "She's a Puckerman and a Fabray. We don't scare easy. That tells me that this isn't the first time this shit has happened."
"You say this like you expect me to pack up her things and hand her back to you. That's not how this works."
"You think we're stupid? We know there are hoops and I will light them and clear every single one if it means making sure that my little girl grows up happy and healthy. I don't doubt you go the healthy part down. I just haven't seen happy," he shrugged.
"This isn't your call," Quinn said evenly. "You're giving us a lot of room to reconsider. You're disregarding Puck when he's making perfectly valid points. These are papers. They can be torn up and re-signed in our favor if you push us that far."
"You're being here is only confusing her more," she defended.
"She's a year old," Puck said rolling his eyes. "Of course she's going to be confused. Time will teach her that she's got three parents who love her."
"You're just teenagers. You both have so many dreams to fulfill before you have children," she sighed.
"A little late for that, don't you think?" Quinn laughed.
"Well yes, but that's not what I meant."
"I didn't want to do this," Puck reminded her. "I let Quinn decide and in the end, you got her. The least you could do is treat her with the decency she deserves. I mean, after all, she gave you my kid."
"And I thank her for doing so. I know from experience how tough a decision it is to make. You have to consider more than just you. It's the baby as well." Puck sighed impatiently, already at his wit's end.
"Isn't that what we're doing?" Quinn asked with a raise of her brow. Shelby lets out an exasperated sigh. The blonde has to fight the laugh that bubbles to her lips at how mature she's being at the moment.
"You honestly don't realize how much your actions affect other people, do you?" Shelby raises a curious glance in Puck's direction and crosses her arms defensively. "Let's look at Rachel for a minute. All she wanted was to know who you were and all you did was spit in her face." Quinn opens her mouth to warn him about language but stops herself when she sees the determined look on his face. "Do you have any idea how terrifying it is to walk up to a complete stranger and introduce yourself as their kid? It scares the shit out of you. You spend your entire life not knowing who the hell they are and then out of nowhere, there they are. That one piece of your life that makes everything make sense. And all you want is for it to mean something, to make something of the situation you're in. All she wanted was to get to know you as a person. You didn't have to step in and be her mother; she's got two fathers who love her just fine."
"I didn't want to confuse her. I've told her this already," Shelby whispered.
"Bull," he muttered.
"Puck!" Quinn hisses.
"You just didn't wanna try. You were too happy with the life you had. Rachel would have just been an inconvenience for you. You really should've thought of that before you spread your legs for some pimp." He knows the last part isn't true but the blanch he gets from her is enough to leave him satisfied.
"Noah!" she growls. He sees her stiffen and does nothing to hide the smirk that's come across his face. Seconds later he turns to Quinn, his expression that of a lost puppy when he meets her gaze. He knows he may have taken it just a little too far but at this point, he really doesn't care.
"You have no idea what happened so before you go accusing, shut your damn mouth!" Shelby snarled.
"It really doesn't matter what happened. Whether you were a surrogate or her legit mother doesn't excuse your actions as a human being. I've come in here every single week and seen how you are with Beth. You treat her like she's in some bubble. She can't do this, she can't eat that. For Christ's sake Shelby, she's a kid. She's not even two! You gotta let a kid be a kid for as long as they are or else they're gonna grow up trying to claim a part of themselves that they never got. I like Rachel, don't get me wrong but it's like she's stuck between growing up and trying to get back a lost childhood or something."
"She's a teenager, Puck. She'll grow up."
"Hasn't she already done that? What'd you do, give her dads some guide on the perfect Broadway prodigy? Because everybody sees that's all she wants in life. To be a star, to live up to your legacy. Tell me, Shelby. Why do you think she pushes so hard to get there? Why do you think that's all she ever thinks about?" The older woman can only stare at him. "She wants that one thing, that one connection that's going to bring her life full circle and shit. If stardom's the only way to do it, then she's going to do it."
"Yeah, you didn't know or care."
"I did care, I still do! I sang with her that day."
"What, one song? You think one song's gonna make up for sixteen years of not being there? I mean, I know most of it wasn't up to you but when she came to you wanting to make you more than just a stranger, you brushed her off. I'll be damned if you do the same to my daughter,"
"What? Beth? I would never…"
"You're doing a pretty good job of proving him right, Shelby," Quinn said carefully.
"Time changes things," she defended.
"Prove it," Puck muttered. "She's in there somewhere," he said setting his phone on the kitchen table. "Find her and call her."
"And why would I do that?"
"What day is it today?"
"Saturday?" she said obviously.
"What kind of Saturday?" he asked slowly. If he didn't know any better, Puck could have sworn he was speaking to a small child as opposed to the adult that stood in front of him. He took a second to see that Beth had now fallen asleep, though how she's done it with all the yelling, he really isn't sure. He nods to Quinn as well as to a sleeping Beth. Understanding his silent communication, she quietly walks over to stand in front of him. She stands frozen for a minute, not exactly sure if taking her is the greatest idea. "You're fine, she sleeps like I do. I would do it myself but I'm not quite done yet," he whispers.
"I heard that," Shelby grumbled. "And you're not taking her anywhere."
"Watch me," Quinn growled. Careful not to let her stir as she took her from him, Quinn brings her to her shoulder, whispering softly to her as she notices the change of hands. "Shh Beth, you're okay. Go back to sleep, baby," she says calmly, running a hand along her back.
"Da…" she whimpered. It takes Quinn a minute to make sure she's heard correctly. The solid look of disapproval from Shelby tells her she has. She and Puck share a look of surprise before she sees the familiar smirk on his face.
"Just like her mama," he smirked to himself. He keeps quiet the fact that she's managed her first two words in one day, not wanting to into great detail as to why "mama" has nothing to do with Shelby.
"He's right there, sweetheart," she whispered. He makes sure he's looking directly at her while he drops a kiss to her forehead.
"I love you," he whispers, his lips pressed to her forehead.
"Are we ready for our nap now?" Her response is willingly dropping her head back onto Quinn's shoulder at which point she makes a quick exit. Once she's up the stairs and out of earshot, Shelby spins in Puck's direction.
"What the hell?" she shouted. "This is my house. I make the rules!"
"And that's my kid," he shot back.
"Not according to the adoption papers. Once those were signed, all legal rights went to me. Me, not you. I can just as easily keep you from Beth all together."
"Do that and I can take her out of your hot little hands in two seconds flat," he growled.
"And what's the judge going to believe? A couple of teenage parents or an actual adult?"
"We've got enough evidence to take her from you right now. Quinn doesn't know half of what I've seen in the past year. You tempt me to bring those up and it's bye bye Beth."
"This is ridiculous!"
"What's ridiculous? You're attitude? 'Cause if we're looking at just that, you're digging your own little hole."
"Why are we fighting? We all know that Beth's home is here, with me."
"I wouldn't hold your breath. Wait long enough and you could pass out or something. Call your daughter," he demanded.
"And say what? I honestly have nothing to say to her. I don't even know her."
"And whose fault is that?"
"Well it sure isn't mine. They wanted a surrogate, they got a surrogate."
"Refer back to my first half of this argument. She's trying, Shelby. Even if she has to do it on her own, she's trying. The least you can do is reach out." Rolling her eyes with a heavy sigh, she scrolls down and presses the "send" button angrily.
"Why am I doing this again?"
"'Cause it's my birthday," he smirked. "The one day I get everything I want. I've got just about everything. Just have one more thing to check off. You're welcome, by the way."
"What the hell for?"
"You're a little late on Mother's Day. Berry never got her phone call."
A/N: Just a reminder that this is written pre season 3 so there may be minor changes to Beth's appearance that come out. I know this was crazy long but I just didn't have the heart to break it up.