Author's Notes: Umm, so.
This is the end. I really don't know what to say except that it's been an incredible ride, you guys, and thank you all so much for the incredible feedback you've given me. This has been seriously THE most fun story to write, and I'm so sad that it's over! I cannot thank everyone who reviewed—you guys have been so incredible and I just want you all to be my best friends forever.
So with no further ado, I hope this lives up to all your expectations!
Set Myself on Fire
The shadow proves the sunhine.
Puck woke up to the scent of pancakes. (That should have been the first indication that Something Was Up in the Puckerman household; his mother never cooked.)
When the scent took hold and he realized it wasn't a dream, he sat up straight in bed. At the same time, his door slammed open and Sarah came hurtling in, leaping at him like some freak chimpanzee on 'roids (which he'd always kind of suspected she was).
"ARE YOU SMELLING WHAT I'M SMELLING?" she demanded, shaking him.
He frowned. "That's real?" he asked, jaw dropping. "That's ... there are pancakes downstairs?"
He was on his feet before he could think about it, Sarah clambering onto his back. "I think someone must have broken in," she said, in total seriousness. "There's no other explanation, unless aliens replaced Mom with some kind of a drone." She paused and then leaped at him. "HOLY CRAP ALIENS REPLACED MOM WITH SOME KIND OF A DRONE."
He rolled his eyes and hefted her into a more comfortable position. "It's not aliens," he said flatly. "...It's obviously robots."
Her grip tightened on him as they started down the stairs and she rested her chin on his shoulder. "Robots? That's just stupid."
"Yeah, because aliens are a totally legit theory."
She was in the process of punching him in the arm when they reached the kitchen, and then both siblings promptly shut up because what the hell was Rachel Berry doing in their kitchen cooking breakfast?
"'Morning," she greeted cheerfully without turning around. "I woke up with a headache and for whatever reason absolutely craving pancakes, so ..."
Too many words.
Once they'd assessed the situation and assured themselves that the food was neither an alien takeover nor a robotic ploy to win their love, he and Sarah hurled themselves at the table, shoveling down pancakes like it was a race (and it totally was, and Puck was totally dominating). Rachel watched them with a stunned lilt of her head and then shrugged, reaching over Puck's shoulder to smack his hand away from Sarah's plate when he tried to swipe one of her hash-browns. "Get your own," she said firmly.
After a few moments of food-induced tunnel vision, he felt a nudge against his leg. When he looked up, Sarah was glowering at Rachel in disgust, and when he turned to check it out he understood why.
She was putting syrup on her pancakes.
Before she could ruin the golden brown disc of beautiful perfection, he snatched the bottle out of her hands and scolded, "No, Berry. No. Not in my house."
She frowned, staring at him like he was about to attack, and honestly, if she'd tried that shit again, he might have. Sarah sighed heavily and rolled her eyes as Rachel asked bewilderedly, "What is the matter with you?"
"In this house, we put peanut butter on our pancakes," Sarah explained, slowly and carefully. "It's a Puckerman family TRADITION."
Rachel frowned. "But... I'm not a Puckerman," she said.
Puck and Sarah shared a look. "P-house, P-rules," they said at the same time, and Puck tossed the syrup into the trash can. He set the jar in front of her and she reached for it cautiously before spreading a thin layer of peanut butter across the pancake.
She hesitated, then took a bite, and then smiled.
Which turned out to be the solution Puck had been dreaming of all his life: after all, not even Rachel Berry could speak with her mouth glued shut.
Puck drove her home and walked her to the door; he offered to come in with her in case her fathers were displeased with the late hour of her arrival, but she assured him that they wouldn't mind, since she'd already called this morning and explained that she had fallen asleep at Santana's and would be home promptly.
He raised his eyebrows at her. "Lying to your dads? I'm so proud."
She rolled her eyes, shoving him lightly so that he fell back onto the first step. "Well, I considered telling them not to worry because I'd spent the night with you, but I figured that would probably have an averse affect."
He made a dismissive sound and shrugged. "Whatever, your Dads love me. I'm like the Jew boy they never had but always secretly wanted 'cause you turned out so bad."
"You're correcting my insults now?"
She shrugged. "Antagonism is no excuse for poor grammar."
She left him on the stoop and went inside, greeting her dads with a kiss on the cheek. Rachel showered quickly, and took an hour to decide what to wear; she had no idea what the proper attire for this kind of thing was, but this time she would figure it out on her own.
She called Finn.
When Puck got back to his house, Quinn was waiting on the front steps, arms crossed over her growing belly. He smiled as she lifted her head out of her hands. Before he could say anything, she stood up and kissed him once, quickly but firmly, on the mouth.
"That was a thank-you," she said, somewhat breathlessly, and then kissed him again before screwing up her face like she was about to take a shot of something nasty. "And that was an I'm sorry."
He frowned warily. "What are you sorry for?" he asked cautiously, not entirely sure that he wanted to know.
"I've been thinking," Quinn murmured, "and I know how much you want to keep this baby, but I'm not changing my mind. I'm putting it up for adoption and you have to accept that because I see you looking at me sometimes like you think I might ... that this baby might ... she can't be ours, do you understand that?"
"But she could be," he said quickly, "she could be, we just have to—"
"No," she interrupted. "That's what I'm trying to tell you. I'm not keeping it. I'm not. And before you start yelling at me, I have an idea."
"We're not giving our baby girl to the psycho school nurse," he said flatly. "I don't care if I have to kidnap the Drizzlet and move to Canada, there is no way I'm letting that wildebeest get her claws into my baby."
Quinn shook her head. "No. That's what I was going to say. I was thinking that we could just tell Mr. Schue the truth about his terrifying wife and give Driz... give the baby to just him."
On the one hand, he wanted this baby. He'd always wanted her, from the beginning, from the first second Finn had looked at him and murmured Quinn's pregnant. He loved the Drizzlet, even if right now she looked like this ugly little mutant freak that maybe had some fingers. And even if he did everything else wrong, he'd always get the loving part right.
But Quinn was saying no, and as his mother constantly reminded him, he couldn't exactly take care of Drizzle without her. He couldn't be a single dad. He wasn't even sure he had the financial security to be a not-single dad.
And furthermore, he definitely didn't want to marry Quinn. She was great, but they'd sort of run that course already.
After a moment, he sighed and said, "Man, I just know somebody's gonna cry."
Rachel felt that it went fairly well, all things considered.
Finn showed up promptly at three, grinning and asking what was so urgent. He'd just showered, so he had that fresh scent about him, and when Rachel brought him into the kitchen he started snacking on nuts.
She'd written the speech out over thirty-two index cards, but she'd only gotten through the first fifteen when Finn stopped her. "Um, Rachel, are you ... breaking up with me?"
She sighed, looking tearfully at her hands. "Well... yes," she muttered. "Oh, Finn. I cannot begin to tell you how very sorry I am about this whole thing, I feel like I've been leading you on for weeks now and that's absolutely unacceptable behavior."
He nodded, tossing another peanut into his mouth. "So ... is it Puck?"
She nodded miserably. "I'm sure that's a blow, too, especially considering what happened with Quinn."
"You know," he said thoughtfully, scratching a spot on his chin, "I guess I sort of saw this coming. You're a really great girl, Rachel, and I like you a lot, but you're a little ... umm ... intense."
Rachel threw her arms around him. "I'm so glad to hear you say that. Well, I mean, no, of course I'm not thrilled that despite my many attempts to dampen down my high-maintenance personality, I'm still too intense for one of my best friends, but--"
Finn grinned, pulling back to look at her. "First of all, don't make your personality damp, and secondly ... I'm one of your best friends?" he asked, and she blushed.
"I mean, if that's okay with you," she mumbled, pulling away. "I don't want to overstep my bounds."
"No," he laughed, and pulled her into another quick hug. "No, not at all. You're one of my best friends, too. I just don't really want to make out with you anymore, is all." He paused, and then added, "Oh, and one more thing. I know Puck's a jerk who makes a point not to have feelings or show emotion, but if you break his heart I'll probably have to, like, slushy you or something, and I really don't want to do that because I know how difficult it is for you to wash out of your hair."
After they told him, Mr. Schue was quiet for a really long time. Then he got up and left the room and didn't come back to school for a week and a half.
Artie ran glee rehearsals, because no one can say no to a kid in a wheelchair, particularly not someone like Artie, who could politely remind them that, "Practice makes perfect," and make it sound like One does not simply walk into Mordor.
Three weeks before Regionals, Mr. Schue showed up at Quinn's doorstep and said, "If you're sure this is what you want, then I'd be honored to adopt Drizzle."
Quinn said, "Could ... could her middle name be Fabray? Maybe?"
Mr. Schue nodded, and Puck assumed there were tears.
No one really asked Mr. Schue what was happening with the wildebeest, but it spread pretty quickly that they were getting a divorce. Puck wasn't sure he'd ever seen Mrs. Pillsbury so happy or Coach Tenaka so depressed; either way, not his business.
Everyone knew that Finn and Rachel had broken up, which put him in kind of an awkward place with Rachel because he wasn't sure if she wanted him to like make a move or something. (He wasn't entirely sure that he wanted to. He knew this time it would be for the long haul, and Puck had ... never really done that before.)
Anyway, basically what he did was nothing.
They were sitting in her backyard. The JCC midgets had gone home and Puck was lingering for no real reason other than he had nowhere else to be. Somehow her head ended up on his shoulder and after a while he stopped contributing to the conversation and just let Rachel ramble on.
He had no idea what she was talking about half of the time, but he didn't mind listening.
On Tina's birthday glee met for dinner in the bowling alley. They played teams, and Rachel chose Quinn because Brittany had already chosen Santana and she wasn't sure if anyone else would and she didn't want Puck to.
"I'm really bad at bowling," Quinn admitted as they went to get their shoes, and Rachel shrugged.
"That's all right. I'm excellent, because my Dads and I used to go every weekend and play on a father-daughter team, so I'll be able to make up whatever points you cost us."
A year ago, Quinn would have given her a look of disgust or rolled her eyes or even insulted her general parentage, but now she just shook her head and laughed.
"Of course you can," she said.
No one really understood how Artie and Kurt, of all people, could have won.
Kurt clinked his Big Gulp against Artie's and said, "That's what they get for oppressing us, I suppose."
Afterwards, Puck drove Rachel home. He spent half the time wondering out loud how he got beat by a gimp and a gay, and she spent the other half bitching that she'd had formal training and Kurt just got lucky because he had a natural sway to his hips.
By the time they'd reached her doorstep, they mutually agreed that it was total bullshit and they were going to demand a rematch in which they would team up and surely kick minority ass.
"I oppose the phrasing of that statement," Rachel said as she reached for the door handle.
Puck shrugged. "I oppose your opposition," he said. "I win."
She frowned at her, hand stilled on the door. "You can't just oppose my opposition and declare it a win!" she cried, glaring at him. "That's not how debate works!"
"We aren't debating, Berry. I'm just winning."
"That is absolutely untrue. You have yet to assemble a remotely reasonable argument, and in fact, I'm not even sure what the point of contention in this conversation is!"
"Well, I'm not sure what point of contention means, so that makes us even."
She sighed and hopped out of the truck. He waited until she waved at him from the porch before driving away.
Rachel's thought was this: Puck was an emotionally closed-off human being, not given to commitment or relationships, so she had to ease him into it. And she was completely happy adhering to a 5-tiered plan to win him over until she went to the final football game of the season and sat behind Sally Jordan (who had lost quite a bit of weight of the course of the year) and heard her say, "Mmm-mm. Do you see what Puck Puckerman's got going on under his jersey?"
Her friend laughed. "No, but I sure want to."
Sally leaned in. "I'm going to go find him after the game. Who knows? By this time tomorrow I might be able to tell you."
In hindsight, Rachel would call what happened next panicking.
They won, which was a big surprise given just how bad the team was, so the locker room was loud and raucous after the game. Puck had just gotten out of the shower and was standing in his towel when the hoots started, and he turned to find Rachel walking toward him with a determined stride that made him both hot and nervous.
"Um, Berry, this is the boys'--"
But he didn't get a chance to finish, because suddenly she was kissing him, her hands on either side of his face and pressing herself closer, and he was a dude so his thoughts defaulted at sex. He didn't really know what to do, so he just kissed her back, and let himself snake his arms around her and stay there.
He thought maybe this was one of those weird Rachel moments and soon she'd pull away and freak out, but she didn't, she just ... kept going until the catcalls fell silent and it got kind of awkward.
When they ran out of breath, she pulled back and said fiercely, "Don't you dare even think about going near Sally Jordan, Noah Puckerman, don't you dare!"
"Berry," he said.
"Because I know we aren't dating or anything but I forgot to factor other girls into my five-step plan, so I'm not prepared to handle this situation, except to be completely up front with you and say that I hope, in the near future, to be a significant part of your life, but that's not going to happen if you have sex with Sally Jordan. Or anyone else. Oh my God, I forgot all about those ladies whose pools you clean, I mean,that has to stop."
"Berry," he tried again.
"And I know that you aren't exactly Mr. Commitment, but I think that I've suffered enough for this, and frankly, I'm done waiting around for you to man up and realize that you love me, too, because I do, I love you--"
She startled and then looked at him, clapping a hand over her mouth. "Oh, no, that was too soon, that was way too soon, you weren't ready to hear--"
He kissed her to shut her up and then said, "This isn't the best place for this conversation. Maybe we could talk later."
She nodded. "Yes. Um. Sorry. Carry on."
Then she turned and ran.
So, Puck was pretty confused up until he found Sally Jordan sprawled in the back of his truck wearing nothing but her underwear.
"Uhh, hi, Sally," he said, not looking at her because, well, he was a guy, and he could hardly be blamed for appreciating a naked girl sprawled willingly in the back of his car. "Now's not a good time."
She giggled, trailing a hand across his shoulder. "Oh, come on, Puck. Any time's a good time for you."
Puck closed his eyes. He knew he was going to regret this, but he couldn't make himself stop.
Old habits die hard.
Rachel was sitting in the music room when he found her. She wasn't crying, exactly, because Rachel had trained herself scrupulously not to cry in public places. Still, when the door opened and he walked in, she swiped at her cheeks and braced herself for the worst.
He sat wordlessly next to her and for a long time they didn't say anything. Then she murmured, "I'm sorry about the locker room. The whole point of the 5-tiered plan was to avoid that exact scenario, but I guess I just went crazy for a minute."
He laughed quietly. "Berry, your default setting is crazy."
She managed a smile, because teasing was good. Teasing meant that he wasn't going run away screaming, at least. She took a deep breath and squeezed her eyes shut so that she wouldn't have to look at him. "I wasn't lying, though. I do, um, love you, I mean, I think, because I've never been in love before, and I know that that probably freaks you out. But I freak you out anyway, so it's not that big of a change, right?"
He didn't say anything, so she slumped against the piano and looked at her hands and focused on not crying.
"So, Sally Jordan was just naked in my truck," he murmured, after she'd been stewing for so long that her hands were starting to shake.
She froze. A kind of horrified terror shot through her and then she climbed to her feet. "I see," she said. "Well. Okay."
She started moving toward the door when he grabbed her hand to stop her and asked, "Where are you going?"
Rachel didn't turn around. "Home. I'm going to rent a musical and sing along to remind myself that I'm extremely talented and then when we see each other tomorrow I'll be able to be your friend without--."
"Whoa, whoa, hold up. I just said she was naked, Berry, I didn't say we'd had sex."
Rachel's eyes widened and she spun to face him. He was wearing this wide, smug grin and she hit him as hard as she good on his chest. "Don't do that!" she shrieked, bringing a hand back to hit him again.
He caught it on its way towards its target and laced their fingers. "Dude, seriously? You spend like 23 hours a day talking about things that don't make sense, and you want me to be concise?"
She frowned and muttered sourly, "I didn't know you even knew what the word concise meant."
He rolled his eyes at her and shook his head. "Look, Berry, I'm not good at this, and it takes a lot for me to admit that. But I just turned down a more-than-half-naked babe offering herself to me in what might be my hottest fantasy, because I wanted to come hang out with you." He hesitated. "And ... and while I was asking her to put her clothes back on, I kept thinking old habits die hard, because... because doing stuff that I think would make you proud of me has become sort of a habit. So what I mean is that I--"
He was cut off by a squeal and her mouth as she threw herself against him, nearly knocking him over. He laughed against her lips and pulled away. "You didn't let me finish," he said, raising his eyebrows.
"You don't have to," she said fondly, bringing a hand up to cup his cheek. "I know what you were going to say."
They kicked ass at Regionals.