"Who breaks the thread? The one who pulls? Or the one who holds on?"
When Puck came to, his ears were ringing. He groaned and put his hand to his head, frowning when he pulled it back to discover sticky red covering his fingertips. Gently, he prodded the top of his head, wincing when it stung on his crown. He staggered to his feet, still deaf as he used the lockers next to him to hoist himself upwards. Blinking and trying to shake the blurriness from his eyes, he leaned back against the lockers and tried to remember what had happened. He looked down the empty hall, and froze when he saw a crumpled form against the door to the chemistry lab. With his vision still impaired, he couldn't tell who it was, but the sight was enough to make his heart skip several beats.
A muffled sound somehow registered in his head. He turned to where he thought it was coming from and saw Rachel standing a few feet away, her makeup horrendously smudged. She'd been crying. Her mouth moved, but he couldn't understand what she was saying. He was more focused on the fact that she looked shell-shocked, and her hands were trembling. Her hands… Oh, God. They were covered in blood. A lot of blood. It was smeared across her usually-perfect clothes, too, and a few small blotches of it dotted her cheeks and forehead.
Her attention suddenly shifted in the opposite direction; Puck heard shouts, deadened as if they were coming from underwater, and saw several EMTs striding their way. As two of the EMTs approached them, Puck couldn't help but watch as the others knelt over the lifeless figure on the floor, poking and prodding and finally covering it with a white sheet.
Somebody's fingers snapped in front of his nose to get his attention. An EMT was regarding him with a professionally expectant look. "Ah oo urr?" the medic asked.
He shook his head and gestured to his ear.
"Oo can eer?"
The medic nodded and he and his colleague guided Puck and Rachel towards the front door with steady, trained hands. As they passed the chemistry lab, Puck involuntarily glanced at the body on the floor. From beneath the sheet, a limp hand protruded, the nails painted black, and he caught a glimpse of splayed black hair streaked with blue.
Abruptly, Puck buckled in two against the nearest wall, violently emptying the contents of his stomach. The EMT stood beside him, a hand on his back, talking calmly though he knew Puck couldn't really hear him. Once Puck was finished, he was escorted outside, where the sun blinded him. Unable to see where he was going or where Rachel went, he just followed the EMT's lead, until he found himself sitting (thankfully in the shade) on the back bumper of an ambulance. The medic flashed a penlight over his eyes, checked his pulse, and then set about patching up the gash on his head.
As his eyes slowly adjusted to the light, Puck looked around the parking lot – there were flashing lights on at least every other vehicle present; ambulances, cop cars, even a fire truck, all crowded the lot while EMTs, policemen, and faculty and students ran about, the latter two categories looking scared out of their wits. He couldn't see Rachel anywhere, but he hoped that she was just going through the same patch-up process that he was going through now. Whatever was going on, it was bad. Like, national news level bad.
"You feeling okay, buddy?" the EMT asked, his voice finally clear enough to understand.
"What happened?" Puck asked, trying not to flinch as the antibacterial solution stung his scalp.
"What do you remember?"
"Uh…not – not much," Puck stammered, the image of the body (he refused to give it a name) looming large in his head. "There, uh… there was screamin', and then, uh, I heard – I heard shots," he said slowly. He stopped short; the flashing lights, the body, the blood…it was all adding up now. "No," he muttered, shaking his head. This wasn't supposed to happen. This didn't happen. Not in Lima.
"Well, you hit your head pretty good when you fell," the EMT stated, his voice oddly lighthearted, which made Puck angry. Nobody was supposed to be lighthearted when there was a body lying in the hallway of the local high school. "I'm guessing you tripped or something in the stampede."
The EMT's last phrase brought back the memories in a rush of color and erratic sounds. The screaming, the gunshots, the thundering of hundreds of feet pushing and fighting to get out of the school first. He'd been trying to see Quinn over the river of heads when more shots rang out and he stumbled, sucked under the current and run into the wall practically head first, and then everything went black. "Oh, Jesus," he said, burying his face in his hands.
"It's all right," the EMT said.
Puck shook his head. "No. No, it's not." Before the medic could respond to that, Puck sat straight again and asked, "Is Rachel okay?"
"Who, your friend?"
"Yeah, she was bleedin' a lot; she gonna be all right?"
"Oh, yeah, bit stunned, but she's fine. It wasn't her blood."
Puck fought the urge to vomit again as the medic finished taping the gauze over his head wound. "How many?"
"Hm? How many what?"
"How many people?" Puck asked, not sure if he wanted to know.
"Well, that's what they're trying to figure out now. You, however, need to go home and get plenty of rest. Call your parents, tell them you've got a minor concussion and that they need to come pick you up; you're in no condition to drive."
"I don't have a car," Puck said, as if this detail mattered. "I'll walk." He was striding away before the medic had a chance to protest. Scanning the crowds of people, he finally saw Rachel standing next to a cop car, a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. "Berry?" he said as he approached her. "You okay?"
"Oh, Noah," she said, her lip trembling. Before Puck knew what was happening, she'd thrown herself into his embrace, clutching at his dirtied shirt as if it were a lifeline and sobbing uncontrollably into his chest. "How could this happen?" she cried between gasps for air.
"I don't know," he said quietly. "They, uh…they said it's not your blood you're covered in… Whose is it?" Puck swallowed, bracing himself for the answer, but Rachel didn't speak, only sobbing harder. His shirt was getting wet.
"Berry?" he said, unsure of what to do. He wasn't good with crying girls, especially when he was as freaked out as they were. "Berry, whose is it?"
"Oh, Noah," she said again.
"Rachel…" he started, hoping that using her first name might have a better effect. "Tell me."
She didn't answer for almost a full minute. By this time, her sobs had faded to exhausted and breathy hiccups, but she still hadn't moved. Finally, she leaned back onto her own two feet instead of using him for support. Puck shifted from one foot to the other; her waterworks were making him extremely uncomfortable. "Noah, I was…" she began, her voice startlingly quiet and punctuated by hiccups. Where was the loud, annoying voice that made him want to light himself on fire most days? "I-I was talking to F-Finn when it happened, and we…we hid in the rehearsal room…" She stopped to hastily wipe away a fresh stream of tears. Puck didn't like where this was going; he could feel his heart rate picking up. "B-but he came in anyways…" Rachel's voice grew a little more hysterical here, and she hugged her arms around her as tightly as she could as she tried to get the words out between gasps. "He…he just opened the door, and I couldn't do anything – we couldn't do anything… Oh, God. He-he-he just pulled the trigger and left, like-like nothing had happened… and Finn f-fell down, and—" She stopped, unable to go on, her voice choked off.
Puck stared at her in disbelief for several seconds. "Finn's…dead?" he asked, not realizing that his voice shook a little.
"I-I don't know," Rachel whispered, shaking her head and hiding her face, her shoulders heaving. "I th-think so."
"Oh, Jesus," Puck breathed. He could feel his lungs constricting as Rachel collapsed onto his chest again, and he did the only thing he knew to do. He wrapped his arms around her shoulders, resting his chin on the top of her head and for once in his life, not caring if he looked like a sissy.
A/N: So I actually wasn't sure if this was really an okay thing to write about. If there's a huge negative reaction, I'll take it down right away, but please let me know what you think. At the start of each chapter, there is one line from James Richarson's poem titled Vectors: Thirty-Six Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays.