Chapter Notes: Judging from the reviews I got for the last chapter, I'm gonna start this off by saying I'M SO SORRY. And, it will probably get worse before it gets better, so sorry squared?

And for everyone questioning Rachel's motivations... she's 16 and human. There's not much else to it.

Also, fair warning: This chapter kind of turned into Puck/The entire world. I don't even know.

Chapter title: Sorry to go all high-school emo on you, but I think we can all agree that Dashboard Confessional exists solely for the purposes of teenage boys with cheating girlfriends, so let's let them do their thing this one time, shall we? And yes, I know Puck would probably punch himself in the nuts before listening to this. Whatever.

Mucho thanks to Barbara & Shannon for reading this and then giving me the exact same notes for one part in particular. Seriously.


Vindicated

I am vindicated
I am selfish
I am wrong
I am right
I swear I'm right
I swear I knew it all along

And I am flawed
But I am cleaning up so well
I am seeing in me now the things you swore you saw yourself

-------

Somehow, it gets worse.

Because even though Puck plans on ignoring Finn and Rachel, it seems as though one of them doesn't get the message. And it's not the one he wants it to be.

"Oh, dear," his mother mutters, peeking out through the curtains of the kitchen window. "He's at it again."

Puck shoves a spoonful of Fruit Loops into his mouth, slurping and chewing loudly. Finn can set up camp on his front lawn for all he cares; he is not going to go out there. And this habit Finn's developed of standing outside their house, waiting for Puck to hear him out, is hardly the weirdest thing he's tried since that shit with Rachel.

The weirdest is, hands down, when Finn resorts to committing a felony to get Puck's attention. He goes to pick Debbie up one day after school and feels a twinge of worry when the horde of little savages eventually scatters and she never shows. And then he spots Finn's beat-up Golf in the parking lot, Debbie sitting happily in the front seat and Finn standing awkwardly to the side of the car.

"Look, man," Finn starts, "I didn't want to have to do this. But if this is what it takes to have you listen to me, then I'm more than willing to fight dirty."

Puck's not exactly sure what the proper reaction is when your little sister is kidnapped, but it's probably not to drive away laughing.

He spends a rare night home alone and tries to pretend that he enjoys it. When the doorbell rings hours later, he finds Debbie standing there, a smear of mustard on her cheek and wearing one of Finn's McKinely sweatshirts. "So you're back, then," he says dully, turning around and walking up to his room.

He gets to the second floor when Debbie slams the door closed. "I want to live with the Hudsons!"

He kicks the dollhouse she'd left laying in the hallway down the stairs. "Well, here's your shit," he bellows. "I'll make sure to call Mrs. H and tell her to get some fire insurance."

Of course instead of sitting there crying like a normal little sister, she runs up to his room and hurls the dollhouse at his head and saves the tears for when their mom gets home.

So jogging to his truck and flipping the bird as Finn starts his "Puck, Puck, can you just listen for a second -" spiel is, like, a new morning routine that he gets used to pretty quickly.

It gets worse when he walks into Glee practice one afternoon and everyone's already seated and looking at him anxiously, except for Finn who's standing near the band, sweating like an iced-water pitcher, clutching some sheet music.

No. Fucking. Way.

Before he can make his escape, Quinn dives in front of the door and the band starts playing and Puck has to endure, for the longest two minutes of his life, another guy serenading him with The Cure's Boys Don't Cry. (Which, obviously, Finn cries the whole way through.) Given the way Rachel's eyes keep darting between him and Finn, he knows she is the brains of this operation. Mercifully the song ends and Finn stands there awkwardly before shouting "That was for you! The song I sang. I sang it for you!"

Puck almost, almost, grins at the indignant look on Rachel's face because Finn is obviously going off-script and you don't improvise in a Rachel Berry production. And then Finn stops shouting and just shrugs his shoulders and says "I sang it because I love you, man."

Kurt falls right off his seat, and Puck takes advantage of the distraction to simply walk out of the room.

-------

It looks like someone ate some fries hours ago and then yakked it all back up onto Quinn's plate. The way she's wolfing it down though, you'd think it was manna from heaven.

"Easy, Moses," he winces, fighting back the nausea.

"What?" she asks, but her mouth is full so it just comes out a slurpy Wuh? "Do you want some?" She holds out a fork-load of the brown congealed mess of fries and cheese and he backs away so fast he smacks his head against the wall.

Quinn shrugs her shoulders and goes back to eating, although that doesn't stop her from giving him a lecture in between bites. "What I want to know is," bite, chew, swallow, moan, "why are you being such an asshole about this?"

He glares at her but those looks stopped working on her about ten minutes after they first met. "See, that's the thing. I'm not. This is just the right amount of asshole I'm allowed to be given the situation."

She puts her fork down and even though the cafeteria is full, he can still hear her perfectly clearly when she softly says "Finn wasn't like this when he found out about us."

"Well, I'm not Finn, am I?" He tries his best not to sound like a fucking idiot when he says it but from the pitying look in her eyes, he knows he's failed.

She jumps up from her chair and grabs his wrist, yanking him up and dragging him out of the cafeteria. "Come on, I need you for something."

He knew this would happen. Thankfully, he has a speech prepared.

"Look, I get it. I'm a hot piece of ass. You..." he waves his hand in the general direction of her stomach, "...were once. It makes sense. But this whole cycle of pain and fucking has got to end somewhere. And I'm sure this is going to hurt to hear, but you're going to have to find another way to get your preggo hormone rocks off." He thinks the pat on her head at the end is a nice touch.

Quinn, apparently, doesn't.

"Oh god, as if!" If that isn't enough to kill his ego, the mock retching noises do the trick. "I need you to come with me because I'm finally going to confront Rachel Berry about being a home-wrecker."

"And why do I need to be there, exactly?"

"To stop me from killing her," she answers simply.

"And what makes you think I'll stop you from killing her?"

"Oh please," she snorts. "You won't let me a lay a hand on her." At his disbelieving grunt, she stops walking and turns to face him. "Oh, I'm sorry, are we still pretending that you're not completely in love with her?"

There are so many things he wants to say right now, but he's too tired to sort any of it out. He brushes past her, and clenches his jaw. "Yes."

She catches up to him and doesn't break her stride when she grasps his hand and says, softly "Understood."

-------

They find her (surprise, surprise) in the music room.

He feels like a giant tool, standing there with his arms crossed and no fucking idea about what's going on. That, and the fact that he can't decide if he wants to hold Rachel or shake her until she begs for his forgiveness is giving him a headache that is pounding right behind his eyes.

Puck has seen his share of catfights. Most of them were over him. He remembers a lot of hair pulling and name-calling (and at least one memorable occasion where he managed to peace-talk his way into a threesome.) What's going on right now, he has no clue. Even though Quinn and Rachel are supposed to be fighting over Finn, they're really just yapping on and on about things that have NOTHING TO DO WITH THE ISSUE AT HAND.

They each say "So..." about five million times and their eyebrows keep going up and down and at one point Quinn says "So, the roles were reversed. And you didn't come out shiny and spotless." And then they're hugging and crying and going about this all wrong and he's getting kind of turned on so they need to let go of each other. Like, now.

Quinn's the first to step back. She wipes at her face and you'd never know she'd just bawled her eyes out. "Now that that's settled," (Seriously, WHAT was settled?) "you two probably need some time alone." She hightails it out of there, but not before giving him a reassuring nod, and squeezing Rachel's shoulder.

Rachel stands there nervously in her tiny skirt, looking like a little girl sent to the principal's office. He remembers with a pang the times they'd actually played that game.

Hands in his pockets, he decides to break the silence. "Hey, Berry. Long time no see."

"Noah..." Whatever she says will do nothing to help his headache so he cuts her off.

"Thanks for arranging Finn's solo for me. If you wanted to kick me in the balls, fucking my best friend was enough. No need to make a great big homo spectacle of it."

She stomps her left foot. "He wanted to apologize. What happened was a mistake and he wanted you to know that."

"Oh, did he?"

She looks down at her feet. "He did."

"I practically have to hose Finn off my lawn every morning. I know he's sorry." He stops talking because if he says Where have you been? he'll have to cut his own balls off.

"Was it..." Good? Better? Worth it? "Did you, did you do it to get back at us?"

"No. Yes. I don't know. All I know is that I wish it never happened." That makes four of us.

"Well, good luck with that." He's about to head out of the room when a hand on his arm stops him.

Rachel looks up at him with her big brown eyes and he can see the struggle for restraint on her face. For the first time in his life, he wishes she would just say what's on her mind. "Noah, I miss you."

"Rachel," he murmurs, putting his hand to her cheek. She rubs her face against the palm of his hand and brings up her hand to entwine her fingers with his. "I hope we can still be friends," he deadpans before dropping his arm and leaving her standing there in shock.

-------

Their season ends with a whimper. When he walks off the field after an unsurprising loss, he sees Brian Berry sitting by himself in the stands, which means he must have bought his own ticket. He catches his eye and Brian gives him a smile and Puck nods his head at him and wonders if Rachel knows her dad is here.

At their final practice two days later, Coach Tanaka gives them his standard "You're all a bunch of dumbasses and I would give my left nut to never see you again if I still had it. And if you don't sign up for basketball, I will find you and kill you" end of season speech.

"That man gives me douchechills," Kurt snots as they walk off the field.

"So... that means no basketball?" Puck asks. "I figured with Basketball Boy in the picture, you'd give it a shot."

"Ugh, my days as a jock are over. Besides, I've found other ways to keep him interested." Kurt sways into the dressing room to the hoots and hollers of the team. At Puck's raised eyebrow, Kurt winks. "A lady never kisses and tells, Puckerman."

"Slut," Puck says fondly, ruffling his hair. "Are you going to bring him to the party at Santana's tonight?"

"As much as I'd love to do keg stands in honour of our stellar 2-8 season, I have plans tonight. I'm doing the whole girls' night thing with Rachel."

Oh.

"We've talked about it," Kurt blurts. "Not a lot. She's uncharacteristically quiet about it usually, but sometimes the insanity takes over and she'll talk about it."

Puck stills for a moment and then goes back to emptying his locker out.

"I don't like to meddle," Kurt says, shooting Mike a dirty look when he laughs at what he's said. "But she thinks you hate her. And she thinks she deserves it."

Puck keeps zipping up his bag.

"I asked her what she wants. I told her, in the immortal words of the Gaga, 'Do you want love or you want fame?'"

Puck swings his bag onto his shoulder but he's given up pretending he doesn't care what Kurt has to say. He throws his arms out in a Well? Get on with it! gesture.

"She said all she wants is you."

Puck slams his locker closed. "She has a funny way of showing it, don't you think?"

"Oh, I'm sorry. Were we talking about your other sane and emotionally stable girlfriend? Because I thought we were discussing Rachel."

Valid point.

"It's almost not fair. You have a girl who despite appearances is probably the most self-conscious, neurotic person on the planet and a boy who'd rather gnaw his own arm off than discuss his feelings. If it wasn't going to end like this, I don't think murder/suicide was that far off."

"So you're saying we basically never had a shot at this."

"I'm saying if it ends, it's going to be because neither of you thinks the other wants it as badly."

Puck's saved from answering by Finn, who walks out of the showers, his wet hair sticking out all over the place.

"How's it hanging?" Finn asks nervously.

"Eh," Puck shrugs. "A little to the left."

An old inside joke of theirs. Something they had heard during their first ever JV practice and only understood when they hit the showers with Bruce "Lefty" Tourainne. Lefty was long gone to Ohio State but Puck and Finn had kept the saying between them, and even though Puck doesn't feel sure about where he stands with his best friend, it feels wrong not to give him that answer.

"Well, why don't we make the reconciliation official with a kiss?" Kurt asks.

Finn blushes a bright red, and Puck just snorts, "In your dreams, Hummel."

"Trust me, you have no idea."

--------

He spends the whole party hitting on Santana like his life depends on it.

Santana spends the party avoiding him like a leper.

Except when he catches her alone in the wine cellar, and he kisses her like he used to and she gives in for, like, a second before she pushes him away.

"I can't. I don't think this is a good idea. And besides, Rachel..."

"When did you two become friends?" It hurts, a little. He and Santana may have never been close but they always understood each other.

"I don't really know," she says, looking genuinely baffled. His eyes follow her as she scopes out her parents' impressive selection of imported wines. Almost a shame it's going to be wasted on kids who won't be able to tell if it came from a box or not. "One day you hate her and you know why. The next, you still hate her but the why is getting kind of hazy. Until one day she's just there and she doesn't seem to be going away and that's... kind of ok."

So, maybe they still kind of get each other.

He reaches out his hand to take one of the bottles she's selected from her arms, and she shoots him a grateful smile. As they walk back up the stairs, she has a look on her face. It's one that he's been getting a lot lately and it says There's hope for you yet, Noah Puckerman.

But this whole idea of change is making him itch. So he takes the bottle and Christy Bradley up to the Lopez's master bedroom.

As he closes the door to the room, Christy pulls up her skirt and gets on her hands and knees before he even says a word. Some things haven't changed, he thinks, unbuckling his belt.

-------

Despite his opinions on the matter, the Glee club doesn't exactly revolve around him. Despite her efforts, it doesn't revolve around Rachel, either. Just as things start to go back to normal (for the club, because this isn't really normal is it?) Glee is rocked by another scandal. At a regular after-school practice, Artie pipes up out of nowhere and says he has a solo he wants to try out. He rolls to the front of the room and faces Tina, and Puck almost gags from the estrogen as all the girls "awww" in tandem and melt into their seats.

And then Artie starts singing Usher's Let It Burn, and everyone's jaw drops straight to the floor. Tina runs out crying before the song's even over. Puck is torn between being pretty pissed on Tina's behalf, and just being totally in awe of Artie being one stone-cold motherfucker.

Mr. Schuester cuts practice short, and the girls just swarm to the door en masse to find Tina, Original Gleeks and Cheerios alike. Kurt brings up the rear but Puck yanks him back.

(It's a Tuesday. Besides, the kid really needs to start hanging out with the guys more. It's good for him)

As the Glee boys noisily drag their seats to where Artie sits, head bowed, Puck realizes that this would never happen at a football practice.

"So, what's all this about?"

Artie looks like he's about to throw-up but he pulls himself together enough to thrust his chin in Mike's direction. Finn, Matt and Kurt go slack-jawed again, and Mike gets his deer-in-the-headlights look (which to be honest, isn't that much different than how looks all the time).

"Artie!" Mike squawks, "I never touched her, I swear."

Artie lets out a humourless chuckle and pats his hand on Mike's shoulder. "I know that, Mike. I'm not blaming you."

Mike lets out a breath that he'd been holding since Artie sang to Tina, and when everyone else focuses back on Artie to hear his explanation, he throws a quick look in Puck's direction.

"Ever since you've been helping Tina with her dance moves, I've been waiting for her to wake up and realize she deserves a boyfriend who can at least walk her to class for once, instead of the other way around. Mike, this isn't your fault. I know nothing happened."

(Except Artie doesn't know, because something did happen and besides Mike and Tina, Puck is the only person that knows this.)

"I just don't want to slow her down anymore."

Puck's observation that Tina probably gets places way faster with Artie's wheels under her is met with stony silence and a punch in the arm by Finn. He is trying to help.

So now the club is always walking on egg-shells around Artie and Tina, and it pisses Puck off because they used to walk on egg-shells around him and Rachel. Now that everyone's so focused on the Artie/Tina drama, they've forgotten to be awkward around him and her and it's almost as if he's the only person who remembers that it happened. The only thing that pisses him off more is the fact that is pisses him off at all.

-------

Sometimes, he tells himself he needs to stop drinking. Usually it's when he wakes up in a bed he doesn't recognize. Or when the last thing he remembers is point A and then suddenly he's fucking Point B and for the life of him he can't recall how he got from one to doing the other (although he concedes that it probably took minimal effort on his part.)

This is not one of those moments. He is sober(ish). Point A was the door to Santana's house for another party and Point B is Tina Cohen-Chang. Alcohol isn't to blame, just plain ol' desperation but sometimes that works better because they're in Santana's little sister's room and he's pretty sure Tina didn't show up to the party topless.

"You've already been with three girls from Glee, what's one more?"

"Um," is all he manages to get out before Tina climbs into his lap and kisses him. It's a testament to how much he actually likes her when he neither deepens the kiss nor pushes her off of him. He just sits there and let's her do this, because he's pretty sure she feels like she has to, and he just hopes that his virtue won't be compromised in the process. Heh, he thinks to himself.

The kiss lasts about a minute before it's too wet, the salty kind of wet that he remembers from kissing Rachel after her ferret died.

Tina doesn't get up, but she shoves her face down into her chest and cries so quietly that only the shaking gives her away. He knows it's stupid to wait for her to do something, because if she's embarrassed even just a fraction as intensely as he is, she probably wants to go crawl into a hole and die.

He wishes Rachel were here to tell him what to do.

(He wishes Rachel were here to see him making out with one of her best friends.)

He pats Tina awkwardly on the back, and he knows if he opens his mouth he will say something awful and inconsiderate. But he says it anyway because it's not like he asked her to come to him for comfort and she should know better than to think she would find any with him.

"Now I know I'm not that bad a kisser, so the problem must be you, Cohen."

"It's Cohen-Chang," she huffs. He's never going to use her full last name. She's never going to stop correcting him.

"Whatever, Cohen. Nice boobs," he smirks.

Tina blushes and smacks him on the head and after she puts her shirt back on, they spend an hour reading little Gabriella Lopez's diary to each other and putting all of her stuffed animals into dirty sexual positions before heading back downstairs.

When he offers her a ride home he makes sure both Mike and Artie see them leave together. He remembers how good it feels to be the one starting shit.

-------

"I think it's deplorable to use emotionally vulnerable girls for sexual gratification."

He closes his locker to find Rachel standing by his side, arms folded in her out for justice pose. He'd rather go to history class than deal with this shit, although he can't say he's surprised when she trails after him, yapping at his heels like that puppy who loves you more the harder you kick it away.

"Remember when I wasn't talking to you because you fucked me over and you weren't talking to me because, well god knows why, but whatever, and it was good? Let's go back to that."

"No. I'm not going to stand idly by and watch you take advantage of Tina." Sometimes the rumour mill at McKinley was nothing if not impressive.

"Hey, maybe Cohen's taking advantage of my emotional vulnerability. I've been meaning to thank you for giving me the broken-hearted card to play, Berry. Works like a charm."

He's all set to walk into class but for reasons he can't even begin to fathom he feels compelled to keep talking. "Look, nothing happened."

She doesn't even bother to hide the eagerness in her voice. "Really?"

"No, not really." Her face falls but once again, something stops him from making his perfectly-timed exit. "But it was nothing major, and I just drove her home. So call off the guard dogs. She's safe from big bad Puck."

Rachel rolls her eyes but puts her hand on his arm. "Tina's lucky to have a friend like you. And if you ever, you know, became more than that, then she'd be even luckier."

It's Rachel who makes the dramatic exit and Puck, as usual, is left standing there feeling like a fucking moron.

-------

Glee practice starts of pretty normal (at some point, awkward drama became their default setting) but during a quick break, Tina asks Artie if she can speak to him outside. The rest of the Gleeks wait around with bated breath until Tina wheels Artie back into the room a few minutes later. They don't say anything but they each have a small smile on their face.

They don't get back together but Puck's the only one who's not surprised. If anybody knows how hard it is to convince people they don't deserve to be miserable, it's him.


A/N: For everyone wondering about the Wheels/Asian/Other Asian dramarama, it'll be the focus of a short ficlet in the (near) future. Eventually. Fingers crossed.

And Quinn's craving of the moment is actually very, very delicious poutine. A shout-out to Jess who can't have any in China.

Reviews still make my life. It's still quite sad.