A/N: This thing started life as a five plus one story, and then my muse went crazy. I hope the result is okay. Also, this contains a vague spoiler from the preview that aired after Mash Up. If you don't already know what it is, I don't think you'll notice it.
Feedback: Is love. Please review!
The first day of school after kicking the winning extra point, Kurt comes into glee reeking of garbage. Puck stalks over to his side. "Who was it?"
"I have no earthly idea what you're talking about."
But he's Puck, so it only takes a few glares before the smaller boy gives up the culprit—Jason Steele, junior tight end and general all-around douche.
At practice that night he throws Jason into the lockers and announces to all assembled that the next person who tosses Hummel into the dumpster gets his face bashed in. Kurt stares at him like he's never seen him before, but Puck just stares back, like, what? As gay as he might be, they're on the same team now, and in Puck's mind teammates don't fuck with other teammates. That's all this is.
He gets out of his seat and heads for the exit, disgusted at the sight before him. Even he's more mature than Mr. Schue and Coach Sylvester are acting right now, and that's saying something. As he reaches the aisle he sees Matt and Mike awkwardly carrying Artie up the stairs. There's a way for the other boy to get out of the auditorium by himself, obviously, as he got in that way, but it involves going by the two so-called adults in the room, and Puck can understand why that's not a pleasant option.
They're strong enough to lift Artie but the balance is off, somehow, and he's tilting precariously to the side. Without thinking he grabs one of the arms and the wheelchair steadies. They easily make it up the stairs, and once they set him down Artie looks at him like Kurt did the week before. But it's just the teammate thing, albeit with a different team.
He didn't think it would feel like this.
He didn't think it would be this painful either, artificial sugar and ice making him half blind as Rachel leads him to the restroom. The bit of icy slime trailing down his chest isn't very comfortable either. But that isn't the worst part. The worst is standing in the middle of the hallway with everyone looking at him, staring at him, judging and rejecting him. He can barely see, but he can hear the pointed whispers and stifled laughter being directed his way. Noah Puckerman, coolest dude in school, has just been tossed to the bottom of the food chain. The brightly colored stain on his shirt is as much of a brand as a scarlet letter.
And this is how he makes Rachel feel every day?
The guilt and shame are overpowering as Rachel washes slush out of his hair, crawling over his skin to churn into his stomach. Even after he apologizes to her it doesn't go away, and he can't figure out why until he remembers pee balloons and porta-potties. He apologizes to Kurt and Artie and it's only then that the cloying, choking feeling finally dissipates.
He's not a coward.
That's why the clock is striking three thirty, and instead of running to the locker room and then the field he is pausing, turning, and walking slowly, hesitantly back to the music room. He's going to make his mom happy and date a Jewish girl, which means Rachel, and if that means choosing glee and slushies over football and popularity, so be it.
It's not because he enjoys their spontaneous jam sessions, where worries about status are cast aside for the joy of the music. It's not because he sings "Sweet Caroline" to Rachel and is surprised not only by the warmth of her eyes and smile on him but also by the thrill of performing, the cheers and applause more of a high than scoring the winning touchdown. It's not, and if anyone says differently he'll cut them.
(Cut them? Jesus fuck, he's been hanging around Mercedes too much.)
But if he's not a jock any more, then what is he?
(Rachel's hug helps more than he cares to admit.)
When Coach Sylvester gives Brittany and Santana the same ultimatum that Coach Tanaka gave the football players, he's not relieved that they choose glee over the Cheerios. He's not proud of them for standing up to the crazy bitch and reminding her that they're the best cheerleaders she has, now that Quinn's gone, and she's going to have a hard enough time winning competitions without her captain, let alone the two of them. No, that would imply that he cares about what happens to glee.
He just thinks that the murderous expression on the woman's face as she lets them back into practice is fucking hilarious.
The truth about Quinn's baby comes bursting out of him while he's practicing his duet with Mercedes, because he just can't hold it in anymore and she's there. He begs her to not tell anyone, and he knows she keeps her word because when the truth comes out (of course it does, did they really think they could keep this going forever?) Kurt looks completely surprised, and Mercedes tells Kurt everything.
So at least he has something to be grateful for as he nurses his bloody nose in the silent music room. Santana, Brittany, and Kurt have gone after Quinn while Matt, Mike, and Rachel are searching for Finn. Mercedes, Artie, and Tina stay with him, cautious and hesitant in the still room.
"D-d-do you want to t-t-t-talk about it?" Tina asks softly as Artie hands him some paper towel for his nose.
"No," he says, and so they don't. They just sit, his bloody nose slowly drying up, until Rachel appears in the doorway. The others file out, leaving them alone. She takes the seat beside him and stares straight ahead.
"I talked to Finn. He's too angry to talk to you right now, but he'll hear you out tomorrow. Half an hour, before school. That's all I could get him to agree too."
Puck says nothing, just nods, because it's more than he deserves. He knows Rachel wants to say more, wants to ask "What the fuck?" and "What the hell were you thinking?" and "How could you do this to your best friend?", though with more words and less cursing. But for once in her life she actually stays silent. Instead she puts her hand on his shoulder, and it's like that time on the bleachers but better because he doesn't pull away, just sits and lets the warmth from her small hand leach into his body.
"Why are you doing this for me?" he asks, and she squeezes his shoulder.
"Noah, when I said I hoped we could still be friends, I meant it."
Finn walks into the music room the next morning stiff with anger and circles dark under his eyes, and Puck knows he doesn't look any better. His (former?) friend asks the questions Rachel left unspoken the night before and there is no maneuvering, no evasion or excuses or lies. Because as simple as the quarterback might be Finn's always been there for him, ever since they were Noah and Finn, two little boys from broken homes, and he didn't realize how much he cared about his best friend until he didn't have him anymore.
They're not instantly best friends again, and probably won't be for a while, but Finn forgives him, and he goes weak with relief.
The recent drama in his life hasn't helped his already poor academic performance. Mr. Schue pulls him aside after glee to inform him that if his grades drop any lower, he's not going to be eligible for football or glee. Rachel overhears, because along with the ability to speed talk she apparently also has super hearing, the hell, and ambushes him after Mr. Schue leaves.
"Noah, you can not let this happen. If you aren't eligible for glee then we won't have the required number of students, and there's not enough time before sectionals to train another person up to your level, which while not as high as mine is still quite proficient, and if we can't compete in sectionals then regionals are a moot point, and glee club will be disbanded."
She takes a deep breath and looks up at him with wide, determined eyes. "I am going to make it my personal mission to improve your GPA."
And that's that, really, because once Rachel Berry sets her mind to something, not even a fucking act of God is going to change her mind. His nap during math class becomes a thing of the past, because it turns out they're actually in the same class (hard to notice when you're not there), so she knows if he's attending or not, and the only thing more annoying than a determined Rachel is a nagging Rachel. Jesus.
He's not even safe at home, because Mr. Schue, that bastard, actually calls his mom to inform her of the situation. So when she demands to know what he's doing to fix it, he has to let her know that someone from glee is helping him, and she wants to see this happening instead of just hearing about it.
Which is how they get into the routine of her coming to his house twice a week, and absolutely charming his mom, and him coming to her house once a week, and totally not charming her two gay dads. At first it's just homework, homework, and more homework until his brain's about to ooze out his ears. But soon enough, when Rachel's not as worried that he's going to single-handedly end glee and, by extension, all of her life's ambitions, some of their sessions turn to music. They'll finish an assignment and he'll get out his guitar and they'll start practicing a song, or seeing what new material they could suggest to Mr. Schue.
It's during one of these instances when Rachel cocks her head and looks at him, considering. "You know, I stand by my assessment that, with practice, you could reach that high B. It's not a required part of your repertoire, but it would certainly help us in competitions. Would you like me to help you with that?"
If Finn could do it, he has to be able to, right? And if it means less time working on school shit…
"Sure," he says, "why not?"
(It actually ends up adding to the amount of time they spend together, but he never really notices.)
Puck wants to take care of his baby and Quinn wants to stay with the plan she already has, and things get pretty tense until Rachel drags them both into the music room, where the rest of the glee club has already assembled.
"What the fuck is this?" he asks the room at large, and Rachel answers him.
"Deciding what to do with the baby is a monumental decision in both your lives—in her life—and you should have all the facts and figures at your disposal before you make your choice. And you both need to agree, or else you're going to regret this for the rest of your lives."
It turns out that the others have combed the internet for information on all their options, from abortion to adoption to keeping it themselves, and they spend the next hour and a half going over all of it.
Somewhere between Ohio's laws on abortion and the required list of infant vaccinations, Puck realizes that there's no way he's ready to raise a child, no matter how much he wants to take responsibility for his actions, to be better than his father.
Sometimes, being responsible means letting go.
In the end, they decide on an open adoption. He insists on helping with the medical bills, because he'll be damned if he doesn't help somehow.
He's so worn out emotionally that he doesn't even argue when Rachel insists on driving him home.
Of course, discussing what they were going to do with the baby meant discussing Quinn's original plan, so now they all know how batshit crazy Mr. Schue's wife really is. Quinn confronts Mrs. Schuester at Sheets & Things the next day and lets her know that their deal is off. If she wants this baby, she can adopt it legally, and tell her husband the truth—or they'll tell him for her.
They know when she fesses up because Mr. Schue misses a day and then comes back looking like shit, like he's living out of a suitcase. He never says a word, but the entire school is buzzing, teachers and students alike discussing his divorce like it's the latest Hollywood gossip. He puts on a fake smile and makes them try another pansy-ass Broadway number, but when he doesn't think anyone will notice he looks at Quinn's stomach like his heart is breaking.
They all work their hardest, but really, it's not like that's going to help much.
He and Quinn try hooking up again, now that she's single and the truth about the baby is out in the open, but it doesn't work out. Whatever they had, or whatever he thought they had, just isn't there anymore.
Quinn sits up and rearranges her shirt over the just visible swell of her stomach. "Noah Puckerman, saying no to a makeout session. I never thought I'd see the day."
He shrugs, because he never thought he'd see the day either.
"You've been spending a lot of time with Rachel lately."
He scoffs, because it's not by choice.
"Yeah, because I have to. If my grades get any lower and I have to quit glee, Rachel might actually kill me in my sleep. You never know with that freak."
Quinn just gives him a soft, sly smile, like she knows something he doesn't.
Rachel and Finn date for about two weeks before they decide that they're better off as friends.
This in no way makes Puck happy.
Not at all.
It's been a month since the clandestine baby swap agreement was revealed, and Mr. Schue's divorce has long since been finalized, but he's still moping around the school, which makes Ms. Pillsbury make sad eyes at him, which makes Coach Tanaka angrier than usual, and really, it's not a good situation for anyone.
(Clandestine? God, Rachel's rubbing off on him.)
So the girls plus Kurt put their heads together (And really, when did they all become bestest best friends? It's kind of freaking him out.) and come up with a plan straight out of a fucking soap opera, good God. They manage to convince the other guys to join in, and he finally concedes because it may be a crazy ass idea, but if it helps things go back to some kind of normal, he wouldn't complain.
(The fact that Rachel turns her wide, pleading eyes on him has nothing to do with it.)
Finn heads the group that talks to Mr. Schue, because they've got, like, a bond, and Rachel's in charge of those going to Ms. Pillsbury, because she may be the only one who could out-reason their guidance counselor. Puck leads the rest of them to Coach Tanaka, and instead of following the long, complicated script Rachel gave him he pretty much just looks at the older man and goes, "Really, Coach? Really?" until his face gets red and he throws them out of the locker room.
By the next day the new gossip is swirling around the school, that Coach Tanaka and Ms. Pillsbury are off and Mr. Schue and Ms. Pillsbury are on, but really, no one's that surprised. They are surprised, however, when they're married within three months. Everyone but Puck, that is, because there are whirlwind romances that Hollywood stars have that get annulled the next day, and then there are ones like his mom's grandparents, who got hitched after knowing each other for a month and stayed married until they died, and somehow Puck has a feeling that their teachers are more like the latter than the former.
(Is he getting sentimental? Screw that.)
But anyway, Coach doesn't mope for long, and Mr. Schue and Ms. Pillsbury are actually pretty discreet about the whole thing. She keeps her last name, and they must get enough of it at home because they barely make eyes at each other at school, so it's almost as if nothing happened.
(He does catch them making out in the music room once, but hey—newlyweds. He'll cut them some slack.)
Quinn's got a new plan, after they all sing at the wedding. And it's another crazy, insane, soap opera plot of a plan, but…he agrees with her. And when they discuss it with the rest of the glee club, they agree with her too. So that's why he and Quinn are sitting down with Mr. Schue and Ms. Pillsbury in her office after school.
"You know that Puck and I decided to give the baby up for adoption," Quinn starts, nervously. "And we've been working with an adoption agency, but no one feels…right. And she was almost yours, anyway. And…so…"
Quinn's stuck, tripping over her words, so he cuts to the chase, blunt as always. "Do you want to adopt her? If, you know, you want."
Ms. Pillsbury gets teary, Mr. Schue hugs them both really tightly, and it's the first time Puck's not embarrassed to see a grown man cry.
He doesn't cry, though, or even tear up. He's too badass for that.
(There was just something in his eye.)
There's a party at Artie's house after they win sectionals and he goes, even though another football player's throwing a party the same night. Well, it's less goes and more is forced, as Rachel drags him there, spouting some bullshit about club unity. But it's actually not that bad. They order a ton of pizzas, Artie's mom bakes them some amazing cookies (no, really, where have these cookies been all his life?), and they stay up all night playing Rock Band and watching DVDs.
Rachel, of course, has never played Rock Band ("Why would I play this simulation when I could actually sing?" "Because, Berry. Because."), so he goes over the basics with her. She sits in his lap as he does so, and it's much, much more distracting than it should be. She only moves when Mercedes shoves the guitar in his hands, and he looks up to see Mike smirking at him. He glares, and makes a mental note to shove Mike into some lockers on Monday.
So after they get bored with Rock Band Tina pulls out some DVDs she brought with her—some cancelled TV show? They spend the rest of the night and the early morning hours burning through those, and by dawn they've all gone crazy, tweaked out on caffeine and no sleep, pretending to be space cowboys and spouting off lines about chains of command and big damn heroes and going crazy and falling asleep and fuck, what have they done to him?
He consoles himself with the fact that the other party got broken up by the police, and crazy is better than arrested.
Finn and Quinn are slowly but surely making their way back to each other, but Rachel doesn't seem to care.
(Not that he's watching Rachel, or anything.)
Mr. Schue and Ms. Pillsbury decide that they want everyone to have a hand in naming the baby, so everyone makes his or her own list of baby names and one night after practice Ms. Pillsbury comes by, and they start comparing notes.
"Still a no on Drizzle, Finn."
"Aw, come on, Quinn…"
"Ugh, not Sue. Just…no."
"That's a beautiful name, Mike, but I don't know if everyone would be able to pronounce it…"
"Noah, do you have any names on your list that aren't sports related?"
"Yes! Right there."
"…Caroline? Under all those layers of muscle and swagger, you're really just a gleek, aren't you?"
"The hell I am! And like all your names aren't from musicals."
"I never denied that."
"We're not naming the baby after a fashion designer, Kurt."
"Amanda," Matt says, and everyone looks his way. "It means 'loved.' And she will be, because she'll have all of us."
There's not really any need for any more discussion after that.
They win at regionals too, but there's no time to celebrate glee's salvation because they've just pulled into the school's parking lot when Quinn's eyes go wide and she announces to all assembled that, hey, her water just broke.
He would find the ensuing panic and chaos hilarious if he wasn't so freaked out himself, but somehow they all make it to the hospital. (Rachel, not surprisingly, is quite good to have around in a crisis.)
Most of the club hangs out nervously in the waiting room, but Quinn's room is still pretty crowded. Besides him and Mr. Schue and Ms. Pillsbury, Finn is there, because really, he's practically an honorary father, and this way Puck won't be the one who gets his hand crushed and his ear screamed off. Bonus.
Rachel's there too, because he latched on to her at some point in the drive over, and he can't seem to let go.
It's hours and hours of hurry up and wait, pushing and screaming and then stopping and starting it all over again, over and over and then suddenly there's crying, and he's looking down in awe at a bright pink, impossibly tiny human being.
His little girl.
The doctors give her to Quinn first, and after she and Finn coo at her and count her fingers and toes and just stare and stare, she looks up at him and beckons him over.
And he's terrified, because there's no way he can hold something so delicate and perfect, he'll crush her, or drop her, but Rachel's hand is on his back, encouraging, always encouraging, and so he takes her from Quinn. Cradles her in the crook of his arm, heart aching as she nestles into his chest, and carefully, so carefully, walks over to Mr. Schue and Ms. Pillsbury.
He gives her to Mr. Schue, who looks like all of his dreams have just come true, and Puck thinks he might understand. The teacher looks up at his wife, and smiles, and everyone's teary, everyone's crying, but not him, he's not—
Oh, fuck it.
He's totally crying.
Nationals are a month away, and Mr. Schue says that it's okay, glee club has already been saved, they don't have to go. Quinn just gave birth, and it's perfectly understandable if she's just not up to it yet.
The girl in question looks at him with wild eyes and tells him, in no uncertain terms, where he can shove that idea.
They knew they weren't going to win nationals, with their little first year team from Lima, Ohio, but they weren't expecting to place, either. So when their name is called there's a moment of complete and utter silence before pandemonium erupts. Everyone's going crazy, shouting and cheering and he's right in the middle of it, because, let's face it, he's been a gleek since he joined this band of misfit toys. Mr. Schue has found Ms. Pillsbury in the crowd and is kissing her, Mercedes, Kurt, and Brittany are jumping around in a circle, Finn has Quinn in his arms, and Mike and Matt are trying to hoist Santana onto their shoulders. Tina comes zinging his way and he picks her up and swings her around, laughing at her shriek of joy. When he puts her down she bounces over to Artie and hops in his lap, and then suddenly Rachel's in his line of vision, so happy she's practically vibrating, laughing and glowing and so beautiful, and hey, carpe diem, right?
(He thinks he learned that from Kurt.)
(He doesn't really care.)
He cups her face in his hands and kisses her.
The others start razzing them, whistling and cat-calling, so he pulls one of his hands away and flips them off. He might be a gleek, but he's no pussy.
They all laugh, and he can feel Rachel smile against his lips.
In the end, they all make it out of Lima.
Kurt goes to New York and takes the fashion world by storm. Mercedes follows him there, singing and coaching other singers and sometimes modeling for Kurt, because there's no way he's going to let his best friend look anything less than fabulous. (There's some grumbling from the fashion elite about a high-end line going into plus sizes, but even they can't argue against record sales.)
In college Finn discovers that he's good at playing football but great at teaching others how to play, and is currently a rising star in the ranks of college coaching. Matt, on the other hand, broke out in college, and now plays pro ball.
Mike's popping and locking out in LA, and Brittany's out there too, modeling and keeping Mike company. Artie and Tina have some kind of technical consulting company in Chicago and are probably two steps away from taking over the world. Santana's a teacher, surprising everybody, while Quinn's baby drama led her to nursing. Rachel's on Broadway, which no one ever doubted, and as for him, well…
He'd follow Rachel Berry anywhere, but he's glad he only had to go as far as a loft apartment in New York City.
He's an architect now (because, hey, once Rachel gets him to start studying he's actually not that bad), so during the day he designs buildings and at night he watches Rachel and plays music and sings, and it's really pretty much perfect. They might be spread across the country, but everyone's just a phone call or a text or an instant message away, and they get pictures and updates from Will and Emma (who stopped being Mr. Schue and Ms. Pillsbury a long time ago) weekly.
They try to get together whenever someone has a vacation, which sometimes happens and sometimes doesn't, but no matter what they descend upon Lima once a year, for Amanda's birthday.
Amanda Pillsbury-Schuester, who is the luckiest girl in the world because she has two moms and two dads and an honorary dad and five aunts and four uncles, and they all love her more than life itself.
They come bearing gifts and stories and smiles and laughter, and the entire day is filled with singing and music and dancing.
They are his friends, his family.
They are his fellow gleeks, and he's no longer ashamed to admit it.