Notes: This is it! The last chapter, in which Puck and Rachel tentatively navigate friendship. I'd like to thank everyone for the amazing response. The reviews have been honestly some of the best I've ever gotten and I'm so glad people enjoyed themselves. I had a blast writing. I can't wait for the episode tonight! I've played Sweet Caroline like a billion times since yesterday.
xiii. What a beautiful state we're in
Finn's moment of insight had proved to be pretty on the money. The guy really was an idiot genius. A small pack of football players and Cheerio's had refused to interact with Rachel, or any of the other Glee clubbers, and had sequestered themselves in a gazebo in the backyard. Sucked for them as they looked pretty cold and bored. The majority of kids at the party had been pretty easygoing about the presence of Glee freaks.
Artie and Tina were in the living room, beating the crap out if anyone and everyone who dared challenge them at Rock Band.
Kurt was hanging out in the kitchen with the newspaper staff. Puck had high tailed it out of there pretty quickly after grabbing a beer. The looks floating between Kurt and the kid who took the pictures at football games? Not something Puck wanted to see.
Mercedes had strong armed Matt into dancing with her, despite the fact that no one else was. Other people had joined them eventually and they'd been at it for quite awhile, occasionally corralling the other Gleeks. Puck had been sandwiched into a circle of them and forced to participate. He made his reluctance known. He never danced at parties.
All in all, the evening was turning out to be pretty successful.
Even Rachel seemed to be having a good time and was mostly managing to overcome her lack of basic social skills. Initially, a lot of the people who approached her seemed hesitant, and looked at her kind of like she was a zoo exhibit, and might turn on them. But Rachel was making an effort at letting other people talk, and at actually listening to what they had to say. Puck was thinking she might have raided the self-help section of a book store.
There'd been a rough patch or two. Or, like seven, actually. Like when Rachel had gone into a loud defense of show tunes or Celine Dion or something stupid like that while talking to a guy in a Nine Inch Nails tee. And when she'd declared football to be for the ''mundane and culturally stunted.' Still, those were pretty minor offences, when you considered the possibilities.
People began trickling out at around 1AM and then Brittney started kicking people out in earnest at 1:30. Puck went to find Rachel, to see if she was ready to go. He found her in the kitchen, with Mike and Santana, holding a trash bag and collecting paper cups.
Rachel Berry. Model party attendee. Of course.
Santana gave him the evil eye as he entered. Puck really wished that she would just get over whatever her problem with him was. Did she expect him to pine over her, like some sad sack, floppy haired, guy on a soap opera? Maybe buy her something shiny and beg for her to take him back? Now that he thought about it, that's probably exactly what she expected.
But that was so not going to happen. Santana was hot, and had possibly the best rack of any girl in he knew, but she was a tease. And kind of a bitch. Puck had been over her approximately two days after she'd dumped him. And it had only taken that long because she'd done it publically. And embarrassingly.
And she'd totally been making out with Tyler Prescott like an hour ago. The hypocrite.
Puck ignored her. He couldn't wait until he left Lima and he didn't have to see ex-girlfriends every day.
He stood in the doorway for a minute, and listened in to the conversation. Mike was schooling Rachel on his theory of Smurfs. Rachel was nodding. Puck had heard it before. Pretty much every time that the dude had more than three beers in him.
Rachel was laughing when she looked up and saw Puck in the doorway.
Her face was really different when she laughed. Pretty, even.
Her smile faded, as he continued starring at her until he realized that he should probably say something, and stop gawking at her, "Hey."
Mike turned around, unsteadily. "Puck! How's it going, buddy? I feel like I haven't seen you in forever! Good party, huh?"
Puck tried not to laugh. The kid was a fucking hilarious drunk. "I'm good, Mike. How are you?"
"I am amazing. I was just telling Rach here about The Smurfs."
"There's only one girl Smurf, you know. Clearly there is something fishy happening in that village."
"I hear ya."
"It's a theory with merit, I think," Rachel said.
"Thank you!" Mike exclaimed. Loudly.
Puck gave her a warning look. A 'do not encourage this' look.
Rachel mimed zipping her lips.
"So, Berry, are you about ready to head out?"
Santana spoke up, "Oh right! Your curfew."
Rachel looked confused. "I don't have a curfew. That I know of."
"No. Puck does."
Puck grimaced. Yeah, thanks Santana. Having a mom that was kind of strict was so not good for the old reputation. His curfew was 2AM on weekends and, while he had a little bit of a grace period, if he was not in the house by 2:30 he could kiss his truck keys good-bye.
Rachel looked at him. "I suppose that makes sense, actually. From what I know of your mother..."
"You've met his mother?" Santana interrupted.
"Well yes. At that first Glee gathering. I met your mother, too. Didn't everyone sort of meet everyone?"
"But you said that you know his mother," Santana was looking between Rachel and Puck in a kind of suspicious/pissed sort of way that Puck didn't quite understand.
Rachel looked at Puck uncertainly. He waved a hand at her to proceed and say whatever she felt like. If they were doing the friends thing there was no point in doing it half-assed.
"Natalie, Puck's mom, and my dads have developed a rapport."
Santana looked at Puck, "Really?"
"Shocked the shit out of me, too, but they're like total BFF's now.
"That's..." Santana wrinkled her nose, "super cute."
Puck suppressed an eye roll. That was such a girl move. He hated that whole fake nice thing. But Rachel, probably unfamiliar with girl politics (being more used to direct attacks), smiled at Santana.
Puck cut her off. He was going to have to make her watch Mean Girls, or something. Rachel was no match for Santana's stealth bitchiness. "I really do gotta go," he glanced over at Mike, who had nodded off at the counter, "did he drive here?"
"No," Santana replied. "Matt drove."
Puck nodded. He'd seen Matt not long ago and he'd seemed sober enough. "'Kay. We're out. Rachel? You coming or you planning on hiking home?"
She tied the bag shut, "I'm coming. I am not a believer in communing with nature. I'll see you Monday, Santana."
"Yeah. See you, Rachel." If Rachel noticed the arctic chill of Santana's tone? She didn't show it.
"Later Santana," Puck said. She ignored him. He shrugged, and followed Rachel out the door.
He stopped himself before he reached out and put a hand on her back to guide her out. That wasn't a friend thing. He'd never do that with Finn, right?
Rachel poked him in the side as they were heading out. "So? How did I do?"
"At my first high school party. I don't know if you noticed or not, but I think I really committed and brought a lot of truth to the piece."
"Rachel. It was a party. Not a stage production."
She just looked at him expectantly. They reached his truck, and she turned to him and crossed her arms.
Puck groaned. "Are you seriously asking for a review, here?"
"Yes. Constructive criticism is a valuable part of the creative process. And, given our relative levels if experience, I thought that you might have some valuable notes. After all, I never hesitate to critique your singing or dancing, do I?"
"You really, really don't."
"Because, with all of my training, I know what I'm talking about and it would be unfair of me to keep all of my experience to myself."
"Oh," Puck deadpanned, "unfair. Totally."
"Come on, Puck. An honest critique so that I might improve for next time.
She had that look on her face. That stubborn, uncompromising look.
Puck caved, "Fine. Six and a half out of ten."
"What? That's outrageous!"
"You asked, Berry. Now," he reached past her and opened the door of the truck, "How about you get in, and then you can complain my ear off while I drive?"
She looked about to refuse, but he turned around and walked around to the driver's side. He climbed in and looked across at her, "Are those boots made for walking, Berry?"
She sighed and braced a hand on the door frame to heave herself in, "Of course not. These boots are barely fit to stand in, they're so uncomfortable."
"Then why, exactly, would you buy them?"
She gave him a look, like he was entirely too stupid, "Because they're gorgeous, of course." She crossed her kegs and rubbed a hand down the boot on her top leg.
Puck watched, kind of fascinated. The boots did cling to her legs in an interesting, very flattering, kind of way. A picture of her, wearing just the boots, flashed through his mind. And then he shook himself. He really needed to get a handle on these random sexual thoughts he kept having about her.
He needed to put Rachel Berry in the friend zone, and make her stay there.
"So, regarding your unfair review."
"Berry, you insulted football. At a football after-party. In front of football players. When you clearly know nothing about football."
"Please. A bunch of overly large, overly aggressive men smash into each other repeatedly over an oddly shaped ball. I fail to see the point of it."
"Yeah. No idea what you're talking about. Football is complex. Strategic."
"Now, that's very un-American, Berry. My mom and I are coming over to your place tomorrow, right?"
"Yes. Daddy's making Moroccan."
"That sounds... interesting." Gross, actually. He made a mental note to Google. And pick up some Tums. "You are going to watch a football game."
"I'd really rather not. Besides, how do you know there will be a football game to watch?"
"It's a Sunday." She looked at him blankly. "Never mind."
"I don't know if we subscribe to those channels."
"Excuses, excuses. I'm sure I can find something. It would be a shame to let that sweet flat screen go to waste. Think of it as educating yourself. Maybe one day, Ryan Seacrest will ask you about your Super Bowl pick. You do know what the Super Bowl is, don't you?"
"We watch the half-time show every year."
"Of course you do."
"Fine. But if I'm going to waste a valuable afternoon watching football, instead if doing something productive, you, at some point in the near future, have to sit down and watch a musical, of my choosing.
"Ugh. How about I promise you my left kidney, should you ever need it?"
"No deal. My kidneys are unlikely to fail."
"This is not a negotiation, Puck. My terms are unflinchingly rigid."
"Fine. But I can't promise not to fall asleep."
"And I can't promise not to throw blunt objects at your head, should you fall asleep."
Puck laughed. It always surprised him when she was intentionally funny. When he glanced over at her she had that look on her face again. The one that made him uncomfortable.
"Nothing. Nothing at all." The innocent expression she'd slapped on her face was fooling no one currently in the truck.
"C'mon Berry. You're looking at me like I'm sheet music you've never seen before."
"It's really nothing. You're just very different from the image you project to the world. It's fascinating. I sort of keep expecting you to revert back to your previous alpha male jock posturing."
Puck didn't answer for a moment. He didn't blame her for the lack of trust.
"Sorry to disappoint, Berry, but you're stuck with me now."
"Who said I was disappointed? My dry cleaner might be, though. He was paid extravagantly for resuscitating my cashmere."
Puck turned on to Rachel's street. "Are you going to be able to sneak back in okay?"
Rachel waved a dismissive hand, "Of course. My dad's are not light sleepers. I could mount a revival of South Pacific in the den and they wouldn't stir."
"Lucky. Even if I manage to be quiet enough my mom always checks the security system logs."
"I'll have to initiate a discussion about a curfew tomorrow. They'll be pleased. They think it's adorable when I act like a teenager."
He pulled up next to her house, "Did you at least have some fun, Berry?"
"Yes. Surprisingly. I had always thought that I didn't need cliché rites of passage. I think I was wrong."
Puck nodded. "Definitely. Next time, you're playing beer pong."
"Ew. I watched a match. It was unsanitary."
"Watch it, Rachel. You don't want to end up like Miss Pillsbury, mixing your own cleaning products."
"I'll buy my own package of ping pong balls."
"Awesome." A drunken Rachel had the potential to be hilarious. "I'll see you tomorrow?"
"Ugh. And football."
"I'm going to need a little more enthusiasm out of you."
"Improbable. Good night, Puck."
"Night." Puck watched her walk up to her house. It was completely dark, so she was probably right about her dads. She unlocked the door and waved at him. He waved back, and pulled away.
Tomorrow was looking to be a good day. He'd sleep in, watch football, hang with his new bud (friend zone, he reminded himself, friend zone) Rachel. Provided, of course that Moroccan food didn't make him hurl.
School on Monday, though? Puck figured it couldn't hurt to prepare for the worst. Mixing up the social order had gone relatively smoothly, after a winning game, with music playing and beer flowing. Puck was not nearly so stupid as to believe that there wouldn't be some backlash when they were back at McKinley.
Monday could be interesting.