Author's Note: So … a bit more serious than the last one. I blame the last scene of "Mash-Up."

to tempt bad luck

(Puck doesn't say it back.)

--

On his sixth birthday Puck's father wakes him up early, when it's still dark out, and gently runs a hand over his son's bangs, smoothing them. He's half in shadow and his face looks pale in the yellow bead of light rolling in from the hall.

"I was thinking about making waffles," he murmurs. "Would you like that?"

Still mostly asleep, Puck nods. "Yeah," he mumbles sleepily. Waffles are his favorite, and Dad always puts chocolate chips in them, even though Mom tells him not to.

"I have to go to the store to get the stuff," Dad whispers, and his voice cracks as he says it. "Are you sure this is what you want?"

"Umm-hmm," he hums, nodding.

He closes his eyes again as Dad beds down to kiss his forehead. He lingers for moment, thumb soothing the crease between Puck's sleepy eyes. "Okay, son," he whispers. "Okay."

He leaves the hall light on when he goes, and for some reason that's Puck's only thought when his mother tearfully hands him a pancake and says that his father's gone.

--

(He wants to, sort of. He knows he should. Puck's not the smartest kid on the block, but he's not an idiot. He knows this is the best thing that's ever going to happen to a Lima loser like him. Still. He's been sabotaging his own happiness for years; why stop now?)

--

Puck's first time happens when he's thirteen. Her name is Jaymee Marks. His babysitter. she's from the outer limits of town, and his mom hired her because she didn't ask for much and she'd gone to a few of the Jewish Community Center events. Puck argues vehemently that he doesn't need a babysitter, because he is not, in fact, a baby, but when his mother tells him that fine, she won't hire a sitter as long as he looks after four-year-old Sarah, he shuts up.

Jaymee's sixteen, all legs and boobs like two huge cups of Jell-O, and after Sarah goes to sleep she winks at Puck and says, "Okay. Your turn."

He laughs because he's not really sure what else to do, and he assumes that she's kidding but on the other hand, she's a babe and she wants to put her hands on him, so…

He's just at the age where the word sex doesn't automatically trigger a cringe, so he follows her into his bedroom. He can't really remember the details of it; he's pretty sure he mostly just lay there. Can't even recall it feeling particularly good, but, well. It must have, right?

Right?

--

(They both pretend not to notice that her smile slips and that she gets very still, for a moment, frozen in the horror of oh-my-god he doesn't feel the same way. He does, he thinks, maybe. Sometimes. When she's laughingsmilingsingingdancingshoutingwalkingbreathing. But only then.)

--

She's the one that comes and finds him the year he turns fifteen and his Dad comes back. He's in the parking lot of the JCC when out of nowhere this horribly familiar blue Mazda rolls in and this drunk, unshaven, dirty man spills out and mumbles, "Noah?"

And Puck's like no, this cannot be happening, this is not his father. He's not sure when he started telling himself the lie that his father had gone off because the family was rotten and he was destined for great things, but if this is greatness than Puck's not sure he wants to see what could possibly be second-best.

His Dad tries to hug him and Puck slugs him in the face and then runs away, as fast as he can, not stopping even when he starts wheezing and panicking and freaking the hell out.

He's in Smith Weiss' tree house when she climbs up. They've just started high school, and he dumped a Slushy at her last week. But he doesn't turn away when she puts a hand on his shoulder and says quietly, "I would have hit him, too."

He doesn't look at her. "What do you know?" he snaps, folding his arms over his knees and trying to stop panting.

She just looks at him, like use your words Puck, you're a big boy, and tells him calmly, "I've always wondered what it'd be like to have a mother."

And Puck thinks: oh, yeah. "Sorry," he says gruffly, and he sort of means about dumping a Slushy on her and sort of means for forgetting that even if she is a freak, she's a freak like him.

--

(There's little things he knows about her—things he just picks up from hanging around the JCC. You can't know somebody practically since birth and not pick up on the fact that they only like sorbet, not ice-cream, and only raspberry; can't watch her politely turn down Coke for seventeen years and not get it through your head that she just doesn't. like. soda; can't go to a thousand bar and bat mitzvahs together and not note that she eats her food one color at a time, in the order of the rainbow. Roy G. Biv. When they were kids, he used to make fun of her for it. "RGB," she'd told him, haughtily, like he was the crazy one. "Rachel Geraldine Berry. It's obviously fate, and I'm not going to tempt bad luck, okay. What would you know anyway, Noah Puckerman?" And he thinks: good point.)

--

His house has a kitchen fire in the middle of his sophomore year and his mom ships him and Sarah out to stay with friends. He wants to stay with Finn, but his mother worries that they'll have to shuttle him back and forth from school and the JCC so she puts him up with Jacob Sexton. They can see into her bedroom at night, and she's still innocent enough not to notice and forgetful enough not to close the curtains.

Jacob hands him a pair of binoculars and says, "Man. I'd hit that like Sammy Sosa in the World Series."

Puck grins, but he's always been uncomfortable talking about her. He'll cover her in Slushy and follow her around pretending to smell wet dog and casually trip her in the hallways, but when it come to speaking he clams up. He never knows how to pinpoint exactly what it is about her that annoys him, that makes him absolutely nuts. So he shrugs and just says, "Yeah. Wanna play Halo?"

When Jacob's mom calls him downstairs, Puck picks up the binoculars again. She's sitting on her windowsill with her feet hanging out, and when she sees him she waves, thinking he's Jake. He doesn't know what to do, so he waves back.

--

(She gets up and leaves him there, jaw tight. She's gone faster than he can think to ask her to leave. He knows he won't catch her alone again, knows that she's so badly burned she'll stay away from S'mores for the rest of her life.

He didn't say it back, but what no one understands is that he wanted to.)

--

(Rachel doesn't say it again.)