This was written for a prompt on the LJ PR drabble Meme.

Prompt via goingvintage: Puck's worked for years to protect his heart. The moment he gets too close or feels himself falling, he walks away. His only problem is that Rachel is the first one to chase after him once he tries to end it.

So Many Reasons Why

It started when he was five.

He can still clearly remember the sound of his father's footsteps as they paced back and forth in the kitchen. Something so familiar, so ingrained, shouldn't have been something he was afraid of; but it was. He listened to each click of the heel in dread, counting the steps in his mind. It was during those moments when he didn't hear the click that he held his breath waiting for some noise, any noise to stir the silence. Often it was yelling and crying, on a rare occasion the sound of deep breaths echoing through the air. All of them seemed to terrify him though.

He would lie in bed, covers pulled to his chin, and his eyes clenched tight forcing the imagery and sounds out of his mind. It was easy for Puck to convince himself he was somewhere else, anywhere else. He pictured himself as Mario leaping through mushroom land and sweeping Princess Peach off of her feet. Other times he would picture himself as Superman, soaring above the street keeping people safe. He would pretend that he didn't hear the resounding smack or the sound of something breaking. It was easier to pretend then to face up to reality.

It was during preschool that year that he asked his teacher what love meant. It was a word that he had heard used several times, by his parents and his grandparents, and it had always confused him. "Love means that you can't live without the other person," Mrs. Peters had told him. She had ruffled the hair on his head affectionately and smiled as the blush filled his face. He nodded his head in understanding before shuffling his way back to his desk.

That night, he told his mother and his father that he loved them and it was the first time he felt like he meant it. They had looked at him, his mother in adoration and his father in amusement, and they had repeated the words back to him. If he would have known then the path that they would all take, if he would have known how the story ended, he never would have uttered those three simple words. Not then.

At the age of seven he learned how love could be broken.

The whole night is a blur of movement and sounds that are hard to really understand. He does remember a few things clearly, though. He remembers how angry his father sounded and the way his hand had swung back and clipped the side of his head. There was a loud pulsating ringing in his head, a subtle throbbing pain by his eye, and then there was darkness.

Puck woke to his mother beside him, a cool rag pressed against his heated skin. She had streaks of tears streaming down her face and he remembers thinking about how broken she looked. There was something different in the air that night, something almost palpable. His mother seemed more nervous than usual, more hesitant to leave his side. He listened to the clicks in the kitchen and hallway tensing each time one got louder than the next. His mother curled up in bed beside him, her arms wrapping around him like a cocoon. He listened to her soft crying and felt the way her hands clenched against him so desperately.

Sometime in the night he heard the crash. His mother had bolted out of his bed and down the hall, her voice rising above the loud grumbles and slurs escaping his father's lips. He listened to her beg, listened to her plead, and then he listened to the front door slam shut. The slam rattled through his bones and into him some place much deeper. There was a hollowness that was hard to describe as he climbed from his bed and peeked out the small sliver of open space between his door and the door jamb.

His mother lay on the couch, her world crumbling around her. He watched the tears drip down her cheeks and onto the fabric of her shirt. He remembered those words all those years ago that Mrs. Peters told him and he wondered if she would be able to live past this. After all, if it was love you couldn't live without the other person and somehow he knew his father was gone.

As the days passed and he watched his mother deteriorate bit by bit, his hope gave way to something similar to a desperate panic. If he loved her just a little bit more, behaved just a little better, than everything would turn out alright. It turned out that he wasn't what she needed. All she needed was growing inside of her. With the news of his new sister came his old mother and a new belief that Mrs. Peters was full of shit.

His first real kiss came when he was ten.

It wasn't like he hadn't kissed other girls but there was something about that particular kiss that made it different, special. When he looks back on it later in life he can think of so many things; the way her lip gloss tasted like strawberries and the way her tongue felt as it brushed against his. He can picture the way her hair whipped out behind her from the wind and the way she smelled like oranges and pineapple. And when the kiss was over? She had pulled back, her eyes sparkling with mischief and something he couldn't quite place, she giggled then and ran away.

There was a look of awe and revulsion on Finn's face as Puck explained it to him over lunch that day. They had nibbled on their sandwiches and chugged back their milk ignoring the looks that several of their fellow classmates were shooting them. When the story had finished, Finn had looked across the lunchroom at Santana Lopez for a moment, his forehead furrowed with confusion. "But why pick her?" he questioned. "Shouldn't your first kiss mean something?"

"No," he replied seriously, "because if it means something then you're doomed." As Finn went back to playing with edge of his milk carton Puck looked across the lunchroom at the girl they had just been discussing. There was a group of girls around her and she waved her hands in the air excitedly as she talked. It was better this way, he told himself. Because loving something, loving someone, meant that you couldn't live without them.

And Puck? Well, Puck learned long ago that he needed no one.

The news seems to spread through the school quickly and by the end of the day everyone knows. He's standing at the bus stop waiting impatiently when Quinn Fabray approaches him. She doesn't really say anything, but by the way she looks at him he just knows what she wants. He leans over and places a small peck on her lips, ignoring the prying eyes he can feel watching them. When he pulls back he sees three things simultaneously; her face turns a flaming red color, Santana is charging for the both of them, and Finn looks like someone punched him in the guts.

It's the first time he ever comes home from school with a black eye and when his mother asks him what happened, he lies. He tells her that some kids were picking on Finn and he stepped in to protect them. When his mother smiles at him and tells him how proud she is of him, he feels his stomach drop and he forces himself to smirk in return. Puck wonders what she would think if she knew the truth about the bruise but he tries to brush off the thoughts.

After years of pretending, he finds it remarkably easy to make up new truths, to create a new person. As more and more bits of him get lost within the stories, he finds he doesn't even mind.

It isn't until he's eleven that he notices Rachel Berry.

At first he kind of hates her. She's annoying and loud and it seems like all of the adults are in love with her. He watches her interact with her two fathers and all he can think about is lying in bed and cowering under the covers. It pisses him off, to be honest. He shouldn't have to relive the memories, shouldn't have to carry someone with him that he doesn't love and who doesn't love him. It's just not fair.

He and Rachel have gone to the same synagogue for as long as he can remember and he's pretty sure that they've shared a few classes through the years. The fact of the matter is, though, that she really hadn't been on his radar at all. Suddenly, she is.

And once he starts noticing her, well, it's really fucking hard to stop.

He throws his first slushy at her that year. He watches the watermelon flavored ice soar through the air and hit her skin and for some reason he feels accomplished. Puck watches her wipe the liquid and syrup from her eyes, her hands trembling as she takes in his defiant glare. Tears drip steadily down her face as she stomps down the hallway and disappears into a bathroom

When his mother confronts him about it later that night he simply shrugs his shoulder and tries to look remorseful. He mutters something about tripping and she scrutinizes his expression for a long time and then lets out a small sigh. Either she's too busy to deal with him or she just doesn't seem to think he would do something so cruel because she drops it almost immediately.

When it happens a second time, she doesn't even bother bringing it up.

At the ripe old age of fourteen, Puck loses his virginity to a Cheerio by the name of Cherrie. The irony of the whole thing is not lost on him.

The whole experience happens in the back of his truck. It's frantic and rushed and while neither of them really knows what they are doing, he still thinks it's one of the most amazing fucking things. She curls up beside him afterwards, her hand resting against his panting chest, and he wonders if this is what love is supposed to feel like. When he drops her off at her house later that night, he feels this strange stirring in the pit of his stomach and somehow he just knows.

They last less than a week.

When it's over he has a multitude of feelings that he can't quite place. He's sad that he hurt her and worried about what she will say to other people. But at the same time he feels this unbelievable sense of relief washing over him. It's like a huge weight has been lifted off of his shoulder and he can breathe easily once again. While Puck dates several other girls through the course of the year, none of his relationships really last.

At sixteen he understands what love truly means.

It all starts with a positive pregnancy test. Between Quinn's avoidance of the topic and Finn's utter panic he has a hard time wrapping his head around the whole thing. And then Rachel Berry happens. He's not really sure how their whole relationship starts (one minute they are practicing for Glee and then next they are on her bed making out) but something about her determination rubs off on him and he finds he kind of likes it.

Not that his determination sways Quinn at all. It's an epic battle of push and shove and neither of them are really getting anywhere other than pissed. He's contemplating just telling Finn when his best friend slams through the door and heads straight for him. There are tears and fists flying and he just kind of lays there and lets his friend wail on him. It's the least he can do.

Apparently, Rachel is not only determined but also a loudmouth. He's kind of grateful for it.

When his daughter finally arrives he has a hard time holding onto his heart. Beth is perfect. She's so fucking beautiful that she literally takes his breath away. He's blinded by this all encompassing love and he finds himself telling Quinn that he loves her too. She looks at him and smiles and he kind of wonders if this time he actually means it.

Puck stays at the hospital with Beth until the last possible moment, her tiny hand squeezing his finger with all his might. She's the perfect mix of the two of them and he finds himself studying the slope of her nose and the pucker of her lips. Using his cell phone, he takes a single picture of her before placing her back in her crib for the last time.

And then he signs the adoption paperwork.

He crawls into bed later that night and pulls the covers up to his chin. His heart hurts so fucking much that he can barely breathe and he finds himself burrowing into his pillow as the tears tumble down his cheeks. There is a huge chunk of his heart missing and he knows that no matter what he does there is always going to be a Beth shaped scar there. Suddenly Mrs. Peters doesn't seem so wrong after all.

His relationship with Quinn dissolves pretty quickly. It's not that he doesn't care for her, because he probably always will. But, he also knows it's not love. He doesn't experience the aching need to be around her like he seems to feel when he thinks of Beth. Plus it's hard to be with someone who reminds you of the one person you would least like to remember.

Everything changes when he turns seventeen.

He's not sure how it really happens but he's pretty sure it has something to do with his promise to God (And let's face it; God's always kind of been pushing him towards Rachel Berry in one way or another). It's kind of like he doesn't have a choice, though. He sees the way she looks at the flier on the bulletin board and he can see the longing in her eyes. The Christmas Festival is a Lima tradition, one she's missed through the years.

Love is the last thing on his mind when he offers to go with her.

The air is chilled, their breaths misting out around them. Rachel cradles her hot chocolate in her gloved hands as she watches all of the children around them. He can't help but marvel in how she throws her head back to laugh when they do something particularly silly or goofy. There's something magical about experiencing this for the first time with her. It's like he's seeing the whole thing through a different set of eyes and he finds himself smiling and laughing with her.

When the parade finally starts she lets out this little squeak, her tiny body bouncing up and down in excitement. They've been standing in the cold for so long that his fingers and thighs are starting to go numb but when the first lighted float drives past and he sees the way her eyes sparkle and her face shines he finds himself thinking that it was worth every second.

After the parade the crowd is crazy. They are all pushing and shoving to head towards the park where the fireworks are going to be shot off. He thinks about how tiny she is and how easy it would be for her to get lost and finds himself reaching out to grab her hand and lead her. She squeezes his hand tightly with a mixture of excitement and anxiety and he finds the whole thing so adorable.

That's when he knows he's fucked.

They've been outside for about an hour now and he can tell by the flush on her cheeks and the way she moves that she is freezing. When he sees her teeth chatter as she leans back to look up into the night sky, he pulls her closer to him, his arms engulfing her tiny frame. "Thank you," Rachel whispers. She leans her weight up against him, her head resting just underneath his chin. He's trying to figure out how to respond when the first explosion of red and green bursts through the air.

The fireworks are awesome. What he sees of them, anyways. He spends more time watching her reactions than the show. She's really fucking funny, all oohs and ahhs. He can't help but wonder how she missed so much growing up. Sure neither of their families celebrated Christmas, but it was still a tradition in his family to come just for the fun of it.

When they finally make it back to their truck the two of them are shivering. He starts up the heater, cussing as the cold air blasts through the vents and looks at the line of cars in front of him. They probably aren't going anywhere for awhile. She seems to realize the same thing because she scoots closer to him, her whole body shaking. He wraps his arm around her and pulls her tight against his side, smirking as she lets out a small sigh.

"Thank you for tonight, Noah." She whispers. There is a vulnerability in her voice that he hasn't heard in such a long time, not since they sat together on the bleachers almost a year before. He's pretty sure that he's the only one that even thought of inviting her and it kind of pisses him off how much she is overlooked.

"It's not a problem, Berry." He tells her honestly. "I had fun." She looks up at him and her eyes are all sparkly and for a moment he thinks that she might cry. Instead he feels the warmth of her hand come in contact with his and the gentle squeeze of her fingers.

"Nevertheless," she continues, "it really meant a lot to me."

And then she kisses him.

It takes him a second to get over the shock before he finds himself pulling her closer; his lips meeting hers brush for brush. When she pulls back a minute later, her cheeks flamed, she turns and looks out the window. He can't help but chuckle. The heater is finally billowing out warm air and he puts his car into drive, ignoring the way his stomach flips as he peeks at her out of the corner of his eye.

Puck waits for some big change; some drastic event that tells him everything is different. But the next day at school she simply smiles at him as she passes. There are no dramatics, no declarations, just a simple hello and a head nod. By the time Glee comes around he's wondered if he imagined the whole evening. When he walks in the room and his eyes meet hers, he knows he wasn't imaging the kiss. He also knows that he's completely and royally fucked.

At first he does an awesome job of avoiding her. He pretty much knows her schedule which means he knows which hallways to avoid. They sit at completely different tables for lunch and he knows she won't approach him while he's sitting with a bunch of his fellow athletes. At Synagogue he spends time occupying his sister and appeasing his mother who seems to catch on to what he is doing by the sad look she shoots him.

The avoidance doesn't work forever, though. Rachel shows up on his steps the following Thursday. She has this look in her eyes like someone has kicked her puppy and she's carrying a small container of cookies that she holds out to him like a peace offering. He looks over his shoulder at his sleeping sister and curses. There's nowhere to run, so he simply steps to the side to let her in.

He motions her past the living room and into the kitchen, setting the container down on the table as he pours himself a glass of milk. "You're avoiding me," she whispers. He can't help but flinch a bit at how hurt she sounds. Puck takes a huge bite of the cookie, chewing on it for a moment before he responds.

"No clue what you are talking about," he replies with a shrug of his shoulders. He's expecting her to be angry, to yell and tell him off like all the other girls in his life have done, instead she just kind of wilts into her chair with this confused look on her face. She sits for a moment in silence and then she looks up at him and smiles.

"So you don't remember our kiss," She whispers. There's a moment where she looks all vulnerable and a bit sad, but then she gets out of her chair and moves closer to him. Her fingers brush against his side as she steps in front of him, her arms wrapping around his back, "Because I sure do."

For a moment it's like he's back in that truck with her and he can clearly taste the hot chocolate on her and feel just how warm her body was next to his. But then he remembers the way his stomach twisted when he dropped her off and he's jerked back to the present. "I don't do relationships, you know that." He tells her bluntly.

"But you could," she responds softly. Her hand brushes against the small of his back and it makes the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. She's so close to him that he can feel the heat from her body and each little shift that she makes.

"No, Rachel. I can't." His voice is harsher than he means for it to be, but he needs to make her understand. He pulls back and allows both of them some moving room and it's like he can finally breathe again. "I think it's time for you to go." She doesn't cry or scream when he escorts her to the door, she just looks at him from underneath her eyelashes and smiles. Then she leaves without drama.

She calls him two days later, her voice filled with panic. She's hard to understand between the sniffling sounds she's making and the way her voice is so high pitched. He gets the gist of what she's saying, though, and he feels his stomach sink to his toes. "Where are you?" he questions. She gives him directions.

There is metal everywhere in the street, he thinks, as he pulls up behind her car. She's sitting on the curb and her body shaking. He's not sure if it's from the cold or the shock of the whole thing. When he finally reaches her, he makes her stand and he's surprised at how wobbly she is. Puck checks her over to see if she's bleeding (she isn't) and wraps his arms around her helping her to support her weight.

"I'm okay," she whispers as she burrows his head against his chest, "I'm okay." He's not really sure if she's saying it for her benefit or his, but his entire body is shaking too. He finds himself squeezing her to him tighter. "I just wanted to get some juice," she mutters. He looks over at her banged up car, noticing the few grocery bags in the passenger's seat and his heart drops.

"Everything's going to be okay." He tells her and he can't help but think that he means it.

Rachel's fathers are out of town and he finds himself bringing her home to his mother and sister, something he always swore he would never do. His mom fusses over her and his sister looks at her like she's the next Hannah Montana or some shit. Then, his mom offers for Rachel to say at his place. He's surprised when she accepts.

They hang out together over Winter Break and Puck's surprised to find that she's actually pretty fun. It isn't until he finds her sitting with his little sister watching some horrible show on the Disney Channel that he realizes how ingrained into their lives she's become. He finds that he kind of likes it. Her car is still in the shop getting repairs, so he drives her home that night surprised once again at the lights being off.

"Aren't your fathers ever fucking home?" he questions. She shrugs her shoulders and he can't help but notice how sad her reflection looks. He takes her hand and squeezes it, ignoring the burning he feels in his chest and the way his stomach flops.

"Noah," her voice is soft against the roar of the engine and she turns to look at him. "I've tried to forget but I just can't." Her words are breathy and full of emotion. He can feel each thump of his heart in his chest and he can't seem to find the words to respond.

Rachel leans up and places a peck on his lips, her hand resting against his face for just a moment. Then she pulls back, opens her door, and hops out. He lets her get all the way to the steps before he hops out after her, shouting her name through the air.

It takes him a minute to tromp along the un-shoveled path of their walkway and then he finds himself standing in front of her on the porch. The air is cold and each breath that plumes from his mouth leaves a trace of white in the air.

"It's easier this way," he tells her. She looks at him in sadness, her head shaking back and forth.

"It's truly sad that you think that." She replies earnestly. Her hand rests against the side of his face for a moment and then he hears the words he's been dreading all along. "I think I'm falling in love with you."

"Don't," he tells her desperately, "please don't use words that you don't understand." A small scoff escapes her lips and she grips the side of his face harder, slamming their lips together. When she finally pulls back her cheeks are flushed and her eyes are black.

"Don't fucking tell me I don't know what love means," she replies bitterly, "Because I do. I know the damage the words can cause, know the scars they leave behind." Her breathing is ragged against the cold air, her fists clenched tightly. "I've got my fair share of scars too, believe me." She lowers her hand to rest over the top of his heart and he can feel the heat of her fingers pressing into his skin.

"I don't give a shit if you can say the words or not, because I know that you feel it too."

"I'm going to hurt you," he tells her softly. "You're going to end up hating me."

Her eyes finally meet his and for a minute he's lost in the possibilities there. "I trust you," she murmurs.

He wants to tell her not to, but he can't. There is a jumble of thoughts and emotions running through his head and only one word seems to reverberate more than the others. Mine.

She takes his silence as rejection and he can see the tears roll down her face and into her hair. She fumbles with her keys for a moment, shoving one into the lock and twisting it, her breaths echoing as shallow pants.

For a moment it's like he's five again, afraid to stand up for what he believes in (for the people he loves). But then his arms move and snake around her, pulling her back into him as soft whimpers escape her lips. He's terrified of the moment, of getting swept away in her and her determination and love.

"Rachel," he whispers, ignoring the way his stomach drops and his heart pounds in his chest.

"I know," she cries.

He thinks about everything that has led up to this point and he kisses her.