Summary: Father and son: the Puckerman men, in three parts. Co-authored with une_fille.
Author's Note: Got a few requests to re-post the stories I've been putting up on livejournal (of_hearts) here as well, so here we go! For maximum reading pleasure, listen to Springsteen's Thunder Road a couple of times and imagine Robbie Williams cast as Johnny Puckerman. (Seriously, Ryan Murphy & friends. Let's get on that.)
Disclaimer: The title for this was nabbed from the immortal genius that is Bruce Springsteen. OH AND OBLIG WARNING: WE DON'T OWN NOAH PUCKERMAN BUT WE WISH WE DID. However, we do own Johnny? THAT PLEASES US IMMENSELY.
A Chance to Make it Good Somehow
now those memories come back to haunt me
they haunt me like a curse
He comes into the world quietly. So quietly his father closes his eyes and his mother bites her lip so hard it bleeds, convinced that everything they'd been through the last nine months, everything was—
—and then, a healthy scream. The sound echoes through the corridors of Lima Memorial's maternity ward, and tears well in his mother's eyes, more out of relief than anything else. His father's shoulders sag as he kisses his wife's slick head and he whispers through her damp hair, "our boy's really got a set of pipes on him, don't he?"
"Just like his father."
When the doctor puts their son in her arms, he's so tiny she's scared she'll break him. In an instant, he stops crying and stares up at her, and suddenly that mixture of fear and relief that consumed her moments before is replaced with awe and wonder that that this little creature reaching his impossibly small hands out towards her, staring up at her with his father's big green eyes…that she made him.
She reaches a reluctant finger to her baby's hands, he clutches it and she swears he smiles.
"Johnny! Johnny did you see—" Tears engulf her words and she smiles tiredly when she feels his lips on her temple.
Back when she was still waddling around the house, planning nurseries and eating strawberry ice cream for breakfast, she decided she wanted to name him after her grandfather, Noah. (A good meydl never forgets, Dianna, he'd say as she traced the winkled ink on his forearm.) Johnny, of course, wanted to name him after Sly Stallone's mentally unstable and utterly badass alter ego, John Rambo. (Jonathan Puckerman, no son of mine will be named after some psychotic Vietnam vet, she told him.)
So they settle on Noah Jonathan.
The kid comes into the world on a cold February morning, three days after Lima's hit with the biggest blizzard they've seen since 1952. Naturally, Johnny is convinced it's a good omen. He always has his eyes peeled for signs of good luck; something – anything – that tells him his days of playing back-up for shitty Stones cover bands and eating beef jerky for dinner are over, and that his new life of fame and Fenders and gold records is just around the corner. When he finds out his Dee is pregnant, he knows things are gonna turn around. And when the little champ weathers the storm and comes out fighting? He can feel it in his bones: their luck is finally changing.
Johnny calls the crib a fixer-upper, Dee calls it a deathtrap. But they need to put the baby somewhere and when he saw it lying on the side of the road on the way back from the hospital, he knew it was one more thing in a long series of events that meant this kid was destined for greatness. They all were.
The first time they put Noah in the crib he screams 'til he's red in the face, and they tell each other it's the most beautiful sound in the world, but really it has to be unholy. Dee thinks there must be something wrong with it and Johnny just shrugs.
"Okay, maybe the thing's got bad vibes. Babies can read that stuff."
Dee has him sleep with them at night, except they don't actually get any sleep because the kid still screams. The only difference is that now it's right next to Johnny's ear and directly diminishing any chance his defunct sex-life ever had of being resuscitated. If anything left him sleep-deprived and sex-deprived, Johnny would usually beat it the fuck out of his life, but this was his kid. The fruit of his loins, the little cockblocker that he was. So he tells Noah, "shh, baby, shh, time to go to sleep," and rocks his little body between the two of them.
When even that doesn't work, the panic starts to set in.
Babies only cry when something's wrong and Johnny's already over it 'cause nothing's wrong; things are finally going in the right direction. Noah was supposed to be their good luck charm, but here he is screaming his fucking lungs off and Dee won't stop crying, convinced that she's a horrible mother, and Johnny? Johnny's pretty sure at this rate they'll scare away any chance at good luck they ever had.
"Babe, give the kid to me, he just needs his pops."
It starts with the standards: Rockabye Baby and the Itsy Bitsy Spider, Noah bundled in his arms, screaming his head off. The already threadbare carpet now has a track running straight down the middle from Johnny shuffling up and down the living room, dodging the couch when he can and clutching the baby to his chest when he doesn't.
His voice is raspy and his fingers tap out the beat on Noah's back, but he still squalls, drowning out the words. Johnny's halfway through promises of mockingbirds when he sighs, his heart just about broken and his spirit halfway there.
His nights used to be measured by the feel of Dee's soft thighs and dreams of stage lights; the sweet, quiet hum of love you forever and the roar of the crowd. Now he can't tell morning from night. When he falls to the couch, the baby cradled in his arms, he gives a tired laugh and tells himself this is the stuff rock ballads are made of.
The next night, he starts with The Boss, because he figures he might as well get the kid's education off on the right foot; none of that Seattle grunge bullshit they play on the radio these days. The River may not have the message he's aiming for - is a dream a lie if it don't come true? or is it something worse? - but the melody is soothing and he's pretty sure the words don't mean a thing to the baby.
After a couple of rough nights, they finally find their stride. Johnny gets his vocal practice in every day, Dee gets some sleep and their little boy stays quiet enough to stick around a little longer.
When Johnny gets home from the bar one day to find Dee thrusting her hips, her face red, voice breathless and huffy, singing some shitty B-52's song she loved in high school, Noah shrieking right along with her, he can't help the full-belly laugh he lets out. Plucking him out of the bassinet, the words of Neil Young's Old Man tumbling from his lips, he grins when the screams turn to gurgles and the kid's chubby hands fist themselves in his ratty white T-shirt.
He is his father's son.
They spend Noah's fourth birthday with no heat, huddled around a cheap cake Dee made from the box. Johnny's gigs call him away more and more these days leaving her with their rambunctious little boy asking every ten minutes when Daddy's coming home and if Mommy'd sing him a song.
"Trust me, sweetheart, you don't want to hear mommy sing."
"You're right, you stink."
"Oh do I?" She laughs and musses his hair, and he beams up at her with a toothy grin.
(What he doesn't know is that beneath the smiles and laughter, there's a loneliness growing deep in the pit of her stomach. A loneliness that even her son can't fill, and that scares her.)
They sing happy birthday to their Noah Bear and she tries to pretend like everything's fine, she really does, but it's not because coming home for your son's birthday is important, but what about all the other days? The first words and first steps and first falls…He wasn't there for any of them, and now their boy is four and he has a father, but does he really?
"Hey Champ, look what your mommy and I got ya—" Johnny pulls a wrapped present from behind his back and puts it in front of his son. "Open it up."
Noah's face is bright as he tears at the paper and pulls out a small ukulele.
"What is it, Daddy?"
"You know how you love those songs I play for you? Well now you can play 'em too."
He doesn't say when I'm not around but it's implied and Dee hugs her chunky sweater close, plastering on a smile as the two most important men in her life start jamming out to Baby Baluga.
When Noah starts first grade, Johnny's on the road. The kid's too young to pick up on anything, but sometimes when he hops off the bus and charges through the front door he runs into Mr. Vargas in their foyer. Mr. V musses his hair and Noah doesn't think much of it because his mom's already told him about the talks they have when Mr. V gets sad. Turns out his wife got sick last year and went to the same place Noah's hamster Skippy went when he found him belly up on his wheel, so Noah understands.
After a month, they fall into a routine: when Johnny's away, Vargas comes over and has dinner with them. He always brings presents and sometimes he stays for dessert. Sometimes longer.
It's snowing outside the day Noah comes home to see his Mom crying on the couch and his Dad pacing the living room. When Johnny sees him, he clears his throat and quickly wipes his eyes. He walks to Noah and crouches down, placing two comforting hands on his son's shoulders.
"Hey Champ, why don't you go up to your room and play with your dinosaurs for a little while? Your mommy and I have some important grown up stuff we have to take care of."
Noah just nods and runs up the stairs because when Daddy tells him to do something, he does it.
(What he doesn't see is the opened box of pregnancy tests sitting on the coffee table or Dee's hands resting heavily on her abdomen.)
Dee always knew Johnny loved his music more than her. It came with the territory of marrying a musician, and she thought she was okay with it, she really did, because they had Noah and that had to mean something, right? If missing her couldn't bring him back home after weeks on end, surely their baby boy would.
It's okay though, because she's trained herself. For weeks, months, years even, she tells herself, today is going to be the day he doesn't come home from work. Somewhere along the line though, her emotional disaster preparedness routine turns into a pipe dream because no matter how long he's away or what she does behind his back, he always comes back, and he always loves her.
A part of her is glad he decides to leave on the day of Noah's first softball game. At least now the boy will hate him enough not to miss him, she thinks.
(She doesn't explain why, or tell Noah anything really. When he pounds his little fists against her thighs she steels herself, but then he slowly melts into a sobbing little boy, clinging to his mama, and she lets herself cry too.)
Sometime after Sarah's born, Noah decides his mom is sort of cool, but mainly because she's way too busy with work and the new baby to keep that much of an eye on him. It does get lonely though, and all it takes is a sniffle from Sarah and his mom's off running to her.
So he decides to ask for a puppy. She says no, absolutely not, and no amount of begging, crying, pleading or threatening to run away from home gets her to change her mind. When he crosses his arms and says mutinously, "Daddy always talked about getting a dog," she tucks his blanket up to his chin and kisses him on the forehead.
"Daddy said a lot of things."
When she comes home from grocery shopping to find him dragging a struggling Sarah around the living room, a haphazard leash tied around her waist, she yells and takes away all of his baby-watching duties. (Whatever, she made a shitty dog anyway.)
And then he meets Finn Hudson.
When his softball coach tells the team they have a new pitcher, some asshole named Finn with a cannon for a right arm, his first thought is, Second baseman. Again. Shit. And then the new kid shows up and trips over the pitcher's mound, grinning dorkily, his two front teeth missing. Everyone laughs as Finn scrambles up and dusts himself off.
"I fall sometimes and my name is Finn Hudson, hi!"
When he half-drags Finn back to his house after practice with promises of Oreos and Nintendo 64, they burst through the door to find his mom sitting at the table worrying over unpaid bills. Puck runs up to her and skids to a stop, breathless.
"Can I keep him?"
They're holed up in his room playing MarioKart when Finn says, "So you don't have a Dad either, huh?"
The question slaps Noah in the face because obviously he has a father, what a stupid question.
"What, you don't?" he scoffs.
"Oh, no," Finn mumbles, "he died fighting bad guys in the war."
"Yeah, mine too," Noah blurts without thinking, and he supposes he should take it back but then he sees the look on Finn's face, one that says, I'm sorry, I know this sucks, but we're kind of the same now, and he clamps his mouth shut.
The thing is, he doesn't want to be the same, he wants to be better, at least somehow, and the words come out before he can even process them.
"He wasn't just some lame soldier though."
Finn doesn't flinch at the obvious barb, instead he looks intrigued. He abandons the controller to hold his chin in his hands and stare at Puck, wide-eyed.
"What happened?" Finn breathes.
He tells Finn his tale, mashing his own imagination with the plot of some old war movie he watched over the weekend, and at some point it stops being a stupid make-pretend story and starts actually feeling a bit like the truth. Finn sits still in rapt attention as he stumbles over the details of his father's tragic death as a super secret spy.
"Damn Russians," he mutters when he's done, as Finn sits in near tears.
Before he knows it, Finn has him in a bear hug. "Your dad is a hero," he assures Puck firmly, obviously repeating something adults must have told him countless times before.
Puck knows it's a lie, but somewhere deep inside he thinks, yeah. Yeah he is.
They're all sitting around the table for dinner, Sarah slinging peas from her highchair, when Noah's diverted from shooting her dirty looks by the scrape of Finn's chair against the linoleum of the kitchen floor. Finn marches over to Puck's mom without a word, and flings himself into her lap, his arms wrapped around her neck. "I am so sorry for the loss of your husband, Mrs. Puckerman. He was a brave man."
The somber words are offset by the sloppy kiss he leaves on her cheek and his reminder of his allergy to strawberries, in case there might be dessert.
After Finn leaves, Dee slaps Noah for the first time since he kicked down Sarah's crib with her in it.
Every year Noah gets his yearbook and sees Noah Jonathan Puckerman printed in bold letters by his picture, he throws a fit and begs his mom to change his middle name. As far as he knows, he has no father. (Sometimes it scares her to hear such venom in a ten year-old's voice.)
The summer after fifth grade, she gives in and agrees to do it.
(Or at least that's what she tells him.)
Puck hates spring break. Every year, he watches his friends leave town for Florida when he just sits in his pyjamas for a week straight, eating Cookie Crisp from the box and playing PlayStation 'til his eyes water. It's not so bad when Finn sticks around, but March his eighth grade year, it's just him.
After a couple of days, he falls into a routine: wake up at eleven, just in time for The Price is Right ("For the love of God, say Plinko, Bob. Say fucking Plinko!"), around noon he warms up some ramen noodles and checks the mail before settling in for a hard day of gaming. He doesn't have any real reason to check it – it's not like he ever gets anything – but it gives him a chance to get off the couch and he'd be lying if he said a part of him didn't secretly hope there was a little surprise waiting for him in there every afternoon. He hopes for things, sure, but he never expects them, so when he sees a cushiony package stamped fragile with his name on it – his full name – his pulse picks up. And then he sees the return address.
He thinks about dumping it in the trash bin outside on his way back to the house, but curiosity gets the best of it him, so he takes it in and when he gets to his room, he finally tears it open.
Puckerman Demo Tracks, 3/2006.
He stares at the disc, unsure if what he's feeling is anger or sadness or just emptiness, but the feeling doesn't last long because he shuts it down (he's gotten really good at that over the years) and shoves the case in the stack of CDs on his bookshelf without looking back.
(He ends up burning the envelope; he doesn't want to know where his dad lives, not now, not ever.)
For his fifteenth birthday, Puck asks his mom for a guitar. She asks why and he says, "just 'cause."
Against her better judgment, she actually gets it for him.
When Puck gets his PSAT scores in the mail, he blows his fucking top, and it has nothing to do with his abysmal results.
"Mom, you told me you changed my fucking name when I was eleven. What is this shit?!"
"Noah Puckerman, you do not talk to your mother like that or you will not be seeing any of your friends for the next three weekends."
"I told you, I don't want his fucking name."
That night, Puck decides he doesn't need his mom's permission to do jack shit: he does what he wants, when he wants, and right now, he wants his fucking father out of his life for good. Hell, if he could change his last name, he'd do that too, but he's pretty sure if he did, his mom would disown him altogether. And let's be real here: giving up her double fudge, mint chocolate chip cookies totally isn't worth it. So instead of moping around, he parks himself in front of his computer and does a little research.
Turns out it costs $35 to officially change your name in Ohio, which isn't that much in the grand scheme of things, but for someone who currently has seventeen cents and two sticks of gum to his name…It's kind of a lot. He tries brainstorming different jobs he can take on to make some extra cash (Delivering pizzas? Doing yardwork?) but he doesn't get far before Sarah barrels into his room looking for the Ken doll he lit on fire last week. When she lets out a whiny, "No-ah," he knows exactly what he'll do to get the money.
Puck tells Sarah he's taking her to get snowballs, but really they end up at the pawn shop downtown. He's really close to making some serious cash from pawning his little sister off to some a dude with a lot of scary-ass tattoos and more than a couple of freaky deaky piercings, until Finn bursts through the door and scoops Sarah into his arms.
"Dude, what are you? A fucking ninja?!"
"Puck, you can't sell your little sister."
"Seriously, where did you just come from?"
"I work at the body shop across the street, dumbass. You got me the job."
"Oh yeah. Shit."
"Come on, Sarah, let me take you home."
Sarah's got that moony, dreamy expression she gets whenever anyone so much as mentions Finn's name, and Puck immediately pulls her towards him.
"Whoa whoa whoa, what do you think you're doing, Hudson? The twerp's mine."
"Dude." Finn stares at him expectantly until Puck finally let's go of his sister's arm.
"Okay, fine. But you're helping me get this money whether you like it or not."
They end up fishing through Finn's garage for things to sell. They make almost triple what Puck actually needs, but he doesn't tell Finn that; just pockets the cash and skips school on Monday to go to the city courthouse.
(When Puck returns home as Noah Rambo Puckerman, Dee doesn't know whether to laugh, cry, or slap him upside the head. So she does all three.)
Around the time Puck turns seventeen, he kinda sorta has a change of heart, and decides his dad wasn't a complete waste of a human being after all. Because really, if it wasn't for him, he wouldn't have thought to learn how to play the guitar, and if it wasn't for the guitar, he wouldn't be bonin' the hottest cougars in Lima every weekend. Seriously, he was getting so much ass these days, it didn't matter that his dad was a giant douchebag who destroyed his life, because Puck was starting to think it was pretty cool to see himself getting better at shit with each passing day (the bonin' and the guitar).
So after a while, he stops thinking about his deadbeat dad altogether. He keeps the anger and resentment burrowed somewhere deep inside, and for his mom's sake, he tries to keep the douchebaggery he directs at Sarah on a regular basis to a minimum (he doesn't always succeed though). For the most part, he's pretty pleased with how things are going. That is, until Quinn finds out she's fucking pregnant.
Sure, he knows he's not the most mature or responsible dude at McKinley to have a kid with, but what does that bitch know anyway? All she sees is his shitty truck and his single mom and a house in a part of town she'd never be caught dead in. She has no fucking clue who Noah Puckerman is. She doesn't know what it's like to have a dad who was your fucking world and then wake up the next day and he's gone. Puck's not a particularly empathetic guy, but if there's one thing he's sure of, it's that no one deserves to have that taken away from them. And he sure as Hell didn't plan to follow in his pop's footsteps.
None of that matters though because Quinn never gives him a chance. He tells himself he doesn't give a shit (it's not like he needs some bitch baby mama holding him down anyway) but sometimes he gets lost in his head and the thought that his daughter will never know where she got her eyes or badass temper from makes him want to smash things. Or maybe just cry.
He feels like such a pansy, but he can't help it; he doesn't want to feel like this, he just does. But of course, in grand Puck fashion, instead of facing the shit cards he's dealt with like a man, he pussies out and decides it's easier to just not give a fuck. About anything. He already doesn't care about most things, but interestingly enough, the transition to caring even less ends up being pretty startling. He lets his Mohawk grow out, stops shaving, and spends his frees in the weight room instead of behind the bleachers fucking doe-eyed little freshmen. He stops lashing out at people, sheds his jackass demeanor and gets high before every single Glee rehearsal because seeing her face and that belly and Finn—
He's doing a pretty good job at digging himself into a life-encompassing abyss of failure until one day, he comes out of the gym late and finds Rachel Berry sitting on the hood of his truck.
"Yo, move it."
"No abrasive one-liners, I see," she says, rubbing her gloved hands together.
"Listen, my mom's making chicken pot pie tonight and I'd rather be eating it than talking to you. So would you please just get your ass off my car?"
"And using please, at that!"
He's losing his patience now, and sparks of the old him shine through.
"Seriously, Berry, go fuck yourself."
"Ah, now there's the Puck McKinley knows and loves." She hops off the hood and takes a few steps so they're standing toe to toe. Her voice drops when she looks up into his scowl. "Our fellow Glee members are worried about you, Noah. We voted and decided that, as captain, it's my responsibility to make sure everything's all right. For sake of team unity, of course."
"You think I actually give a shit about team unity?" He laughs bitterly as he tosses his things into the back. "And why am I not surprised no one wants to come within ten feet of me?" He slams the passenger side door and makes a move towards the other side when she stops him.
"I hate to break it to you, partner, but you're a part of this group whether you like it or not and we look out for each other. It may not seem like it sometimes, but we do." She stares up at him and he's looking anywhere but at her, so she takes his face in her hands and lifts it up. "So go ahead and say all the mean, vulgar things you want to me, but I'm not going anywhere."
When he ended things with Berry the first time (that's how he conveniently remembers their short-lived relationship) it was because he still had feelings for Quinn. When things start back up again, it's because he doesn't.
In the beginning, she invites herself over for dinner at his house a couple days a week. First he's really fucking annoyed (who does this bitch thinks she is?) but his mom and Sarah can't get enough of her, and he figures bonus points with the parental unit couldn't hurt in the long run. What he doesn't admit to himself though is that there's something about this vaguely psychotic munchkin freak that makes him feel…Less shitty all the time. She says she just doesn't want to see him turn up dead in the woods (or worse yet, graduate McKinley with no plans for the future) but he's pretty sure there's something else there, too. He just doesn't know what it is yet.
Whatever though, it's not like he thinks about it. Most of the time she comes over, she wants him to talk about how he's feeling and he fucking hates that shit, but really only because he's crap at it (too many years of pretending he didn't have feelings, he guesses). But somehow, she has this way of asking questions – or maybe it was wearing tiny skirts – that makes him feel really at ease, so he sits there strumming his guitar on his bed, letting the back of his forearm graze her leg as she leans against his headboard, and he actually talks. When she asks him about the Quinn stuff, he finds himself telling her all this fucked up shit about his dad and she doesn't quite understand where it comes from, but she listens. She always listens.
By the time a few weeks pass, Rachel's a bit dumbfounded by what she's found in Puck. She can't explain it, but there's something in him, something that makes her feel such sorrow and yet such hope…For his future, for herself, for everything really. She knows what she's feeling is crazy and inarticulate and makes absolutely no sense, but she keeps thinking about how this new friendship in her life (her first real friendship) was born from second chances, and something about that inspires her and…Really turns her on.
She doesn't think much about the consequences of her actions when she reaches out and pulls his lips towards hers, just that everything about her life amazed her and god that she is so happy to be alive for this.
As she fumbles with his belt buckle and he flings her cardigan across the room, she's convinced he feels the same way.
(He kinda does.)
"Babe, seriously, don't move." He's pulling his shirt over his head, hopping on one leg trying to get his pants up as the sound of his mother shouting his name up the stairs echoes through the house. He shouts back. "I said I'll be down in a sec, Ma! Jesus."
Rachel's lying on his bed in her bra and little plaid skirt, her cheeks flushed and her hair a mess. She smiles as he leans down and gives her a quick kiss ("—fuckin' gorgeous—") before running out the room, closing the door securely behind him.
When he comes back, he's grumbling about how they should just put Sarah up for adoption, but Rachel's not where he left her. He already has his shirt off and jeans unbuttoned when he hears music coming from his speakers and realizes she's standing in front of his stereo, fully dressed and staring down at something. He sighs and zips his pants back up. "What part of 'don't move' do you not understand?"
"Noah, you didn't tell me you made a demo! This is amazing." Her eyes are big and bright, but even that smile can't stop the impending shit storm that's about to go down. He crosses over to her and with his best badass scowl, snatches the CD case she's holding from her hands.
"What have I told you about going through my shit?"
"I'd hardly call this snooping; it was sitting around for the world to see!"
"Shut up, Berry."
"You didn't answer my question. Why didn't you tell me about this?"
"Because it's not mine, genius."
"Don't lie to me Noah, it says Puckerman Demo on the—"
"Yeah, well it's not me, okay? So just drop it." He takes the disc out of his CD player and tosses it into the trash. "Man, way to kill the mood, B. For real." He falls onto his bed and puts a pillow over his face.
Rachel rolls her eyes and sneaks over to the trash can. She picks up the CD and slips it into her backpack before taking a seat next to him on his bed.
"You never told me your father's a musician."
"I also never told you I'm half fucking Chinese. So what?"
She slaps him in the gut and takes the pillow from his face, places it next to him, and rests her head on it. He turns to her and she runs her hands over his stubble.
"We've talked a lot about him and I never thought to ask what he does."
His eyes are closed as he grips her hips and pulls them so they're flush with his.
"Seriously, babe, just drop it." He burrows his face in her neck and she can't help but grin.
"Hey, watch it. I'd prefer to come to school one day this week without a hickey the size of Texas." After a minute, she gives in and her hands start exploring. "I'm just saying," they make their way under his shirt and he smiles against her neck. "I understand his abandonment of your family has tarnished your image of him permanently, but Noah, your father is very talented..."
Puck pulls back and stares at her accusingly.
"Oh my god, don't even think it, Berry."
"Don't 'what' me…I know that voice. It's the voice that almost dry-humped Shue that stupid fucking ballad day."
"Excuse me, but I take offense to that. You know I was in a very fragile emotional state when that little episode happened, and you're completely out of line by bringing it up—"
"Whatever, B. All I'm saying is forget about the old man, okay?" She crosses her arms and stares him down, and he just clenches his jaw. "Seriously."
Finding his dad ends up being a lot easier than Rachel expects. Devising a way to get Noah to see him play, however, is considerably more difficult.
"I can't believe they actually let us in. I mean, your fake ID's quality shit, but I swear to God, Rach, you look like you just robbed a Gymboree."
"There's nothing wrong with embracing the whimsy of youth."
"The what-y of huh?"
Rachel rolls her eyes as they take a seat at a table in the middle of the smoky bar. The lights are dim and the air thick, and it's some place Rachel would never be caught dead in, but these are extreme circumstances. Thanks to her top secret, investigatory Googling the week before, she knows Puck's dad is supposed to go on in ten. According to his website, he and his band play gigs across the state, but tonight's a special show: a solo all acoustic tribute to The Boss. She didn't tell Puck who was playing but it turned out she didn't need to: the promise of beer and Bruce Springsteen was enough.
In reality, Puck almost keeled over from shock when she suggested they ditch Hummel's party to check out this piss awful Pour House joint in Toledo. Berry's not the kinda chick who passes up Lady Gaga themed dance parties to see no-name bands in seedy bars an hour out, but he decides it's just his good influence rubbing off on her and tries not to think much of it.
(The truth of the matter is this: Puck's pants were around his ankles, his hands tangled in her hair when she first suggested it. Shit, baby—The Boss—Shit, just like tha—yeah, babe, just like— And every other time he tried to bring it up, she was conveniently in various stages of undress. He does try to ask her about it during the car ride up, but right then Rachel found Elton John on the radio, so naturally, he had bigger fish to fry.)
When a waitress comes over eyeing them suspiciously, Puck pretends like he doesn't notice and orders them a round, kicking Rachel under the table when she pipes up about wanting a Shirley Temple. When the waitress leaves, he leans back in his chair, soaking it all in, nodding his head faintly to the croon of Tom Petty echoing through the speakers. When the roadies start setting up, he tries to watch out of the corner of his eye but really, it's almost as cool as the actual performance. Just as he gives up pretending not to be into it, he feels Rachel hand slip into his.
"You'll have people do this for you one day. Although I'm sure the venue will be considerably more prestigious."
"What, you mean maybe I'll be playing weddings or some shit?" He snorts into his drink and watches her stir the ice cubes in her glass methodically.
"I was thinking Madison Square Garden."
Puck just stares at her from behind the rim of his glass. How she consistently has such unflinching faith in his sorry ass is completely beyond his scope of reason. (Sometimes he doesn't know what he did to deserve her.)
When the house lights dim, the stage is shrouded in darkness and faint applause rumbles through the audience. Puck squints, trying to make out the indecipherable blob of shadow fiddling with some switches on the floor before finally positioning himself comfortably atop a stool front and center. The stage lights are still dark when the first chords of The River drift through the speakers.
Puck recognizes the voice before he even sees the face.
"Noah, wait—" When he storms out of the bar, knocking his chair over and pushing people out of the way, Rachel immediately bolts after him.
Dee sends Johnny photos of their son every couple of years: Puck playing football, Puck with his friends, Puck sitting on the hood of his first real car. The last photo he got was just last year, when Puck decided to shave his head into that awful Mohawk. The boy clearly takes after his father, Dee had written. He sent her an e-mail the next day: He may have gotten my brains but at least he got your looks. –J
Johnny doesn't need the photo Rachel e-mailed to spot Noah. His son is his son.
"Fuck, Rachel. This is my life. This isn't some fucking Lifetime drama shit you can make happily ever after."
"You can't just drag me to the middle of fucking nowhere and pull this shit, okay? If I wanted to find that asshole, I would have done it myself."
"Just calm down for a second—"
"No, I'm not gonna calm down! I don't want to—" Puck stops pacing around the dark, wet alley, and covers his face with both his hands before rubbing his neck angrily. "I don't want to see that fucking asshole."
"You don't mean that."
"What do you know about my life, Berry?" He stares at her with such intensity and she knows she should probably be scared, but there are exactly two people on the planet he can't fool with his bad boy schtick: one of them is currently working a double shift at Lima Memorial, and the other is standing in front of him.
"I know that hating your father's a lot easier than making things right so you don't even bother."
He laughs bitterly, his hands gripped tightly on his keys.
"You know what, Berry. You should just quit while you're behind if you don't wanna have to catch a cab back to Lima."
"And I also know you love telling that sob story about your deadbeat Dad who disappeared when you were six, but you conveniently leave out all the times he's tried to see you. To talk to you."
"Fuck this noise, man," he puts his head down and turns on his heel, muttering things under his breath that Rachel's sure she doesn't want to know. Quickly, she rushes in front of him to block his way.
"You're not going anywhere, mister."
"Rachel, I swear to God, if you don't move—"
"You'll do what? Hit me?" She tilts her chin up and stares at him defiantly. There's something about her steely determination and unwillingness to just leave him the fuck alone that softens him.
"I know you're scared, Noah."
"Okay Little Miss Shrink. What am I so scared of?" He tries to muster his best dispassionate scoff, but really he's terrified of what she's going to say next.
"You're scared that your dad loves his music more than he loves you." He doesn't say anything in return, just clenches his jaw and focuses on the tattoo parlor across the street. Rachel bridges the gap between them, wraps her arms underneath his jacket and securely around his midsection, pressing her head firmly against his chest.
"If you really want to leave, I'd understand," she whispers into his sweater.
Rachel doesn't know how long they stand like that, but after a while, she realizes it's his arms that are shielding her from the cool, early spring air, and his cheek resting against her forehead.
"I don't wanna stay," he says it so softly, she's not entirely sure she actually heard it. After a long beat, he continues. "…But I'm not sure I want to leave either."
Rachel knows Noah, and there's no chance in hell they're leaving before he talks to his dad. But there's also no chance in hell they're sitting through an hour of the best and worst of his youth staring them in the face. So they end up spending the whole set sitting on the hood of his car talking about tattoos.
"All I'm saying is a little gold star on your foot would be sexy as shit." Her legs are sprawled over his lap and he's holding her foot, investigating closely. He traces his finger over it, then up over her ankle, gliding his palm over her shin. "I mean, I wouldn't complain if you went for something bigger on that spot right above your ass, but baby steps, right?"
"Why are you always so quick to jump on the objectify Rachel train?"
"First stop: Orgyville."
"Why can't you be the one with the stupid tattoo?"
"Listen, I don't do needles, okay?"
Just as she rolls her eyes and hops off the hood, they notice a rush of people leave the backdoor of the bar and Puck's head immediately snaps up. A man ambles out, his shaggy brown curls littered with grays, jeans torn at the knees, sporting a white v-neck tee Puck wishes he could rock but always feels mad homo in. He's got a harmonica around his neck and is downing a beer and suddenly Puck's frozen to the spot. Before Rachel has the chance to do or say anything, Johnny's spotted them from across the street. Puck scrambles off the car and grabs Rachel by the hand.
"Shit, let's bounce."
"I will do no such thing!" Rachel plants herself firmly in front of the car, and Puck panics.
"Fuck this," he mutters, shoving his hand in his pocket, fishing for the keys, but before he realizes it, they're no longer alone.
Puck clenches his jaw and plants his gaze firmly on the ground. Johnny stares at him, waiting for something (anything) but all he gets is silence. After a long moment, Rachel sneaks one hand into Puck's and reaches the other out to his father.
"Mr. Puckerman! I'm Rachel Berry, the one who's been haranguing your site's webmaster for the past week. I'm so glad we were finally able to get in touch!"
"Please, call me Johnny." His shakes Rachel's hand but his eyes never leave his son. "I'm glad you guys decided to make the trip up, Noah."
"The name's Puck, old man."
Johnny rests his beer on the hood of the truck and chuckles to himself. "Oh yeah, your mom was telling me that's what you go by these days…Sweet ride."
A heavy silence lingers in the air between them as Puck refuses to take his eyes off his feet and Johnny stands awkwardly, not sure what exactly he can say to make things less fucking awful. So he doesn't really say anything: just jams his fists into his pockets and tilts his head at Rachel with a sad smile.
"Why don't you guys come inside? I've got a few more songs left in the set, then maybe we can grab a bite or something."
Puck refuses to move, but Rachel loops her arm through his and pulls him along anyway. She doesn't know if she'll come to regret this, but at this point, she really doesn't care.
The set ends to the surprisingly enthusiastic applause of the crowd. The rest of them don't really hold a candle to Berry's standing ovation, but Puck scoots his chair far enough away from her that he's pretty sure people won't realize they came together. Once the house lights come back on and the roadies start rolling up wires, he jumps from his seat and yanks Rachel up, steering her towards the door.
"Noah, we said we'd wait—"
"No, Berry. You said you'd wait. I'm getting the fuck outta here. So unless you wanna hitchhike home—"
They're practically at the car when they hear Johnny call out to them. "Leaving so soon?"
They both turn back and see him standing behind them, his guitar case swung over his back and his keys dangling from his fingers. Puck swallows the urge to tell him he learned about leaving from the best.
"Yeah well, Berry here's got an early morning appointment with her shrink that she can't miss so..."
"I do not!" She hits him in the stomach and put her hand on her hips. "Mr. Puckerman, you should know that I am quite well, thank you very much, and do not require the help of a mental health professional despite what Noah may or may not think."
"Uh, yeah." Johnny's eyes widen as he jangles his keys. "So you guys wanna go grab a bite?" He points his thumb over his shoulder, "Joe's is just down the road and he makes a killer cheeseburger."
Puck grabs Rachel's wrist his eyes narrow. "Sorry dude, I'm a vegetarian."
"Noah—" When she starts to speak up, he tightens his grip and shoots her a death glare, to which she simply rolls her eyes.
"Look, this wasn't my idea, okay? I don't want to be here. And I sure as shit don't want to be here with him."
Johnny chuckles and Puck whips his head around to glare at him.
"Sorry, sorry. I'm just thinking about that day at the circus. You remember don't you? When that clown tried to hug you and you nailed him in the junk with your tee ball bat?"
"Yeah, right before you promised you'd take me back there, asshole."
They stare at each other, Johnny with a hurt look on his face that he really has no right to have and Puck breathing hard. In the back of his mind he can hear Rachel rambling off some story about her own brush with clowns but she trails off when she realizes nobody is actually listening to her.
"Look, what more do you want from me?"
"Nothing! Seriously, dude, nothing." He turns to his truck and flings the passenger door open, looking about ready to just pick his girlfriend up and throw her in there.
"Fuck off," he mutters.
"Hey, listen to me, you little piece of shit!"
Rachel's mouth drops open into a shocked "O" but Puck just hunches his shoulders, looking like a scolded child.
"Your mom, she's got her shit together okay? You don't want me in your life, trust me." Puck scoffs, because really? She has her shit together? Double shifts and struggling to make ends meet, all while trying to keep him and Sarah under control—
"Mr. Puckerman, if I may interrupt, I think you've underestimated Noah's need for a father figure."
"Oh really?" He cocks his eyebrow but Puck can tell he's getting a kick out of her, which whatever, is something he sort of gets.
"He's a delinquent who takes no pride in his endeavors, academic or artistic. He drinks. He smokes. He's slept with a frighteningly large portion of Lima's female population. Suffice it to say, your son is an absolute train wreck."
"Fuck Berry, tell me how you really feel."
It's getting really fucking ridiculous when Puck realizes that all he needs to do is get in his truck and drive away; just leave this idiot standing there in his fucking cowboy boots. So he's more surprised than anyone when he stays rooted to the spot. Of course, Berry isn't done.
"—He fathered an illegitimate child at seventeen."
"Fuck, Rachel," Puck breathes, too shocked to do anything but focus on the tightness in his chest.
Johnny's eyes are wide open in disbelief and they fall to stare at Rachel's torso.
"Oh, no! God no! Not me, nope," she stutters, arms flailing in protest. Catching the hurt look on Puck's face she trails off weakly, "It was someone else."
"Does your mom know?"
"Fuck no, and you're not going to tell her. She's got enough shit to deal with." The pointed look he gives his father is lost on no one. "Besides, the baby's fine. It has a family."
"She," Rachel pipes up. "She has a family." When Puck shoots her another glare, she goes back to trailing her fingers through the dirt on the truck, drawing stars and hearts with initials in them.
Puck expects Johnny to blow his fucking top, but instead, he just laughs. "Funny, huh? Here I am ready to give you shit when I did the exact same thing." He shrugs his shoulders and shoves his keys in his pocket. "Come on, we can talk about it over burgers—"
"If you think I'm going anywhere with you, old man, you're out of your fucking mind." Puck stares at his dad defiantly, and Rachel winces at his words.
"Kid, what's your fucking problem? I know how your life's going and to be honest, I'd be more fucking grateful for what you do have."
Puck can't help but laugh and Johnny never expected this to hurt so bad, but it does.
"Yeah, man, cause every kid dreams of growing up without a dad."
It's Johnny that winces this time, and Puck knows he hit the perfect chord.
"One day when you're married, you'll understand." His voice is quiet and guarded, and they both ignore the excited squeak that comes from the direction of Rachel. Puck doesn't care how the dude feels; honestly, the more it hurts, the better.
"You didn't even try. You didn't even put up a fight." Puck tells himself he's not gonna fucking cry, but seriously, it's harder than he expects it to be. "You just left. Who leaves their fucking six year-old son?!"
"Look, I get that you're pissed—"
"Jesus fucking Christ."
"—But you don't know the whole story!"
"What, that you loved the road and music and the groupies more than your own family? Man, you're a selfish bastard who obviously doesn't understand the concept of too little, too late. Tell me, what the fuck am I missing?"
Puck and Rachel get back to Lima a little after two in the morning, and it's way too late for either of them to walk in the front door, so they climb in through the window in Rachel's room. Puck flops onto her bed face first and she sneaks down into the kitchen and comes back up five minutes later with a carton of General Tao and two bottles of water. They eat together in silence, Rachel peering over at him every now and then, his eyes glued tiredly on his food. She waits a good fifteen minutes before finally speaking up.
"I'm sorry I sprung this on you Noah," she assumes he'll fight her on it, so she rushes to get it all out in one breath, "but I felt like you needed it and it didn't go as planned but we can always look at this as a spring board moment, you know? A starting point of sorts. A new beginning that we can build on—"
Rachel stops mid-sentence when she realizes he's not pushing back. In fact, he's just kind of staring at her with a weary face and heavy eyelids. He's too tired from everything that happened and the drive and even this fucking chicken to really say anything, so he plucks the carton from her hands, places it on the nightstand, and pushes her gently back on the bed.
"How quiet do you think you can stay if you tried really hard?" The familiar warmth of his body on hers makes her heart heavy—this is his modus operandi, and she knows it, but there's something about that look in his eyes that's slowly chipping away at her resolve.
"Noah it's clear you're using sex as a distraction from having to deal with what just happened," she says, his lips on her chest. He lifts his head up and looks her in the eye.
"Obviously. Now shut up and let me."
The next morning, Puck sneaks through the front door at 6:30, figuring there's no way his mom would be up this early after pulling a double shift the night before. So when he slowly locks the bolt and sneaks by the living room only to see her pacing back and forth and his dad (shit) with his head in his hands, he's this close to whipping out his phone and breaking up with Berry then and there.
When they start fighting about curfews, unaccompanied jaunts across the state and girlfriends ("You realize that chick is psycho, right?" "Since when do you have a girlfriend?" "BRB, KILLING MYSELF.") he almost feels like they're an actual family.
In the spring, things change. Dee must've given Johnny Puck's e-mail address or something because every couple weeks "" shows up in his inbox. Back in the day when people still wrote letters, Puck would get a couple every now and then, but they usually went straight into the recycling bin. Now, he actually reads his dad's messages. It takes a month or so for him to actually muster the courage to hit reply, but whenever he does, Johnny responds a couple hours later.
It doesn't make up for nine years without a dad, but it's a start.
(Puck knows it's pretty gay to admit, but whatever: having someone to talk about his Rachel shit with is kinda nice because his mom and Finn always take her side. Johnny, on the other hand, never fails to give advice that Puck's all for. YO BE A MAN AND JUST TELL THE CHICK "THIS IS HOW IT'S GOING TO BE FROM NOW ON." Johnny almost chokes on his coffee when he checks his e-mail the next morning: LOL THX POPS WORST ADVICE EVER.)
The first time Johnny shows up at a Glee show, Puck almost shits himself.
First of all, he explicitly made a point of not telling anyone about their performance—something about Broadway, an homage to Cats, and a grand finale in togas. And he thinks he does a pretty good job of keeping it hush-hush until he finds out the day of about the weekly e-mail newsletters Rachel sends out to all the parents. When he sees his mom in the crowd, her big ass camera all up in his face, all he thinks is, FUCK. When he sees his dad sitting next to Sarah, a dreamy grin on his face as they play Miss Mary Mack, Puck's heart practically stops in his chest.
"It's not as gay as it seems, I swear," he says to Johnny when he meets up with his family after the show.
"Uh huh, yeah, sure," Johnny's not paying attention to anything Puck's saying, his eyes glued on Santana instead. "Who's the Latina?"
Puck glances over his shoulder and catches Santana throwing his dad what has to be the dirtiest wink he's ever seen in his life.
"Psh, been there, done that." Puck pretends he doesn't hear Rachel squawking about being right there and hearing every word, Noah Puckerman, just laughs and pumps his fist.
"That's my boy," Johnny laughs back, knocking fists with a son clearly after his own heart.
From: PUCK puckmehard69 (at) yahoo (dot) com
To: Johnny Puckerman johnny (at) vintagerecords (dot) com
Date: April 18 2010 4:20:26
yo, you ever think about getting back together with mom?
It's not that Puck particularly cares if his parents get back together or not, but a part of him will always be that six year-old boy waiting for his daddy to come home with a bouquet of roses and a plastic ukulele. The second he hits send, he immediately regrets it, but he puts it out of his mind and makes a point to not check his e-mail for the next couple of days.
On Friday, Puck's walking back from the diamond, his baseball bag slung over his shoulders grass stains on his knees, when he sees Johnny leaning on his Mustang sporting aviators and a Neil Young tee. He nods his head and gives him a little wave before tossing his stuff in the back of his truck and walking over.
"Hey Old Man, aren't there groupies out there you should be fucking?"
"Shut up and get in."
Johnny decides that the only thing that'll cushion the blow is ice cream, so they grab some Cold Stone and shoot the shit before heading back to the school. When he puts the car in park, Puck makes a move to leave, and Johnny stops him.
"Sarah's not my daughter."
Puck doesn't speak to his dad for almost a month after he finds out the truth. He knows the old man wants his sympathy, wants him to understand why he left, but he doesn't and he never fucking will. His mother's a fucking saint and the way he sees it, the dude must've fucked her up bad for it to get that real.
Things are weird between them for a while until Johnny shows up at the house looking for Puck. He tells his dad to get the fuck out, but Johnny grabs him by the T-shirt and drags him up to his room. Puck doesn't know what it feels like to get lectured by your dad and he knows he should be fucking pissed but the fact that Johnny came all the way down to—
"—I know it's hard for you to understand, but I'm just gonna need you to try, okay? It's something you can't really get past, you know? And fuck, no matter how hard I try—" Johnny pauses for a long beat, clearly pained, and Puck actually starts feeling pretty bad. "I think I'll probably be in love with your mother 'til the day I die." He shrugs and stares at the ground, shaking his head before looking back up at Puck. "All these women...None of it's the same."
Puck stares at his dad for a long while before he realizes it: it's kind of their curse, isn't it? Loving women who are too good for them. Mr. Vargas, Finn…It's the same story, except his isn't finished yet.
"I get it."
He never brings the issue up again.
When Puck and Rachel break up (for the third time) Puck decides he's going to become a roadie and hit the road with dear old dad. Johnny doesn't see anything wrong with it, except Puck is, quite literally, the worst roadie ever, refusing to do any heavy lifting and spending most of his nights chasing groupies (the rest, getting trashed).
Johnny thinks it's hilarious until he finds Puck backstage with the waitress he's been laying his game down on for months.
"What the fuck?"
"Yo Pops, being a roadie is fucking awesome."
The next day Johnny drags Puck back home and he ends up on Rachel's doorstep with a strawberry milkshake and Sweeney Todd.
From: PUCK puckmehard69 (at) yahoo (dot) com
To: Johnny Puckerman johnny (at) vintagerecords (dot) com
Date: May 20 2010 2:32:03
hey old man- we made the championships. game's tues 4, if ur into that stuff
(not that i want u to come or anything, just fyi)
Puck's used to Championship games without his mom around. He never has a cheering section, and usually Finn's mom made up for that, but even though Finn got over all the baby shit, his mom never really did. So Puck tries hard not to pay attention to the eerie quiet whenever he comes to bat, but he doesn't really try to fight the part of him that falls into the comfortable habit of cursing his father's goddamn existence. (One fucking game, he thinks, and he can't even get that right.)
But at the top of the fourth, he sees Johnny sauntering down the path, Sarah on his shoulders, Berry beside him. He only feels a little bad for thinking such awful shit about him, and pretends he doesn't see them.
(Turns out Johnny was late because he stopped at the house on the way down; Dee was heading out the door to pick Sarah up from her ballet class – which Rachel conveniently teaches – and he offered to grab them on the way down to the field. "You're a lifesaver, Johnny," Dee had said. "Say that again, but slower and lick your lips this time." As she laughed, he couldn't help but think, maybe…)
They lose the game, but Puck's not too broken up about it 'cause he gets three RBIs and makes a miraculous catch in shallow left center that's all the buzz even after their heartbreaking defeat. When he changes out of his cleats, Rachel jumps in to his arms, still in her tutu. He plants a long, sweaty kiss on her.
"Ew, gross!" Sarah shouts and he swats her away like a fly.
"Shut it, twerp."
"Good game, boy," Johnny grins, ruffling Sarah's hair before pulling away and telling her Noah might want some alone time with Rachel. The sound of her retching fades and Puck blinks against the sun, Rachel's face a dark blur in the light.
"Your dad said something about ice cream."
"Alright, but none of the frozen yogurt shit."
"Huh," she laughs. When he slings his arm over her shoulder and gives her a quizzical look, she reaches up to kiss his cheek and whispers in his ear, "he said the same thing."