Four month. One week. Three days.
That was how much time had passed since he'd last been here, since he'd left in the middle of the night.
It was a strange feeling being there again, and for a few minutes they just stood there, staring at the house, and Puck couldn't help but tighten his grip on Sarah's small hand, just to make sure that she was still there. But even though he tried to tell himself, that there was nothing to be nervous about, his heart was beating faster than it should. After all, he was just going home, right?
Home. What a strange word. For most people it probably sounded nice and warm, like a promise of safety and happiness. But the only thing he felt whenever the word rushed through his head, were the chills running down his spine.
Maybe coming back here wasn't such a good idea. Not that the foster home had been a very joyful place, but it had been way better than any moment he'd spent at this house over the last two years. Who was there to say that the nightmare wouldn't just start all over again? That his mom wouldn't just look for the next scumbag to invite into their home? After all, most people don't ever change, and Puck wasn't sure if his mom really deserved a second chance.
The social worker appeared next to them and gave them a reassuring smile before she led the way to the door. Puck swallowed hard, tightened the grip on Sarah's hand once more and took the first step towards the stairs, before climbing them, one at a time, as if every step needed to be considered carefully before taking it, and finally came to a halt in front the white door. Though, white was probably the wrong description for the color. Over time, it had turned more of a dirty grey, and some of the paint had long splintered from the wood. But that was just one of the many indications of the fact that no one had really taken care of this house in a long time.
Their mom opened the door only an instant after they had heard the doorbell ring inside the house, as if she had been standing right behind it for quite some time, waiting for them to finally come home. She seemed nervous, a slight shiver noticeable in her fingers when she shook the social worker's hand before letting them in. The shy smile on her face seemed hesitant, as if she wasn't sure if she was allowed to be happy yet.
All but Puck went into the living room, while he kept standing in the doorway, staring at the bottom of the stairs.
Stories aren't real, Noah… none of them are.
For a moment, the world seemed to spin out of balance and he had to close his eyes as his sister's voice echoed through his head. He took a deep breath, somehow feeling the sudden urge to just turn around and leave as the memories of that dreaded night swashed over the edge of his mind. His knees seemed to quiver, slightly, when he opened his eyes again, half expecting to see his little sister lying at his feet. But she wasn't. She was sitting on the couch in the living room, next to Mrs. Jennings.
There was a lot of talking for the next hour, but neither Puck nor Sarah uttered a word. They had somehow become passive observers of their own lives, silent listeners who were no longer able to influence what happened to them. And then Mrs. Jennings left, closing the door on their lives when she stepped out of the house.
For a moment, all three of them just stood by the door, not sure, what to do, not sure, what to say. Awkward would have been an understatement. But then their mom gave them another shy smile and motioned for them to get upstairs.
They went into Sarah's room first. Puck couldn't really say why, but he felt like he had to make sure that she got in there alright. But he needn't have worried. The room was almost exactly as they had left it so many nights ago, except that it maybe was a little bit cleaner. But the shelves were still filled with more books than Puck would ever dream to read in his entire life, Sarah's two favorite drawings were still pinned to the wall next to her desk, and the stuffed tiger she had left behind was sitting on her pillow, as if he'd been waiting for her to come back.
Sarah put down her bag, sat down on her bed and grabbed for the striped friend as if he were the only thing in this entire room that she'd really missed. But still, she looked somewhat lost, and Puck felt weird thinking about leaving her alone in here, even if there were only a few feet separating their doors.
"Think you'll be okay in here?", he asked after a minute, somehow wanting to get the reunion with his own room over with as quickly as possible.
"Yeah, I'm fine.", she answered, trying to look confident, but she couldn't keep the sadness out of her voice, a last remainder of the past.
"I'll be back in a sec…" He gave her a quick smile before he made his way to his own room.
Someone had repaired the doorframe, the door now once again the entrance it was supposed to be, and Puck took a deep breath before he reached for the doorknob and entered the room.
A strange prickle spread from the back of his neck down his back while his eyes wandered over the belongings he had left behind. The only thing he had really missed, though, was the one thing he didn't have anymore: His guitar.
But then, why was his guitar case sitting so innocently on his bed? He was sure that he hadn't left it there… he hadn't even touched it since that night when Danny had destroyed his one most valued possession. He didn't really know why, but that black case seemed to draw him into the room like an invisible force pulling at his shirt, and before he even knew what he was doing, he had opened it.
Inside was a guitar and for one fleeting moment he thought that it was his own that had somehow found its way back in there, magically repaired. But when he looked a little closer, he realized that it had to be older. The strings looked as if they hadn't been played in a decade and he could see quite a number of tiny little scratches covering the surface. He stretched out his arm and flinched when his right hand closed around the guitar's neck, a slight pain still running through his fingers every time he moved them, even though his hand had healed just fine. But he'd forgotten all about that only a few seconds later when he sat down on the bed holding the guitar. He picked the strings one at a time, the unpleasant rattling noise telling him that they were more than a little bit out of tune. But he didn't really care about when his eyes suddenly fell on something that had been scratched into the wood of the guitar's neck: Letters. A name. His name.
"It belonged to your dad…"
Puck jumped at the sudden voice floating in from the door. But he didn't look up. He wasn't ready to look at her, yet.
"He always said that he wanted you to have it… when you were old enough. But… after he left… I just never found the strength to part with it."
Puck still didn't look up, didn't react to the deep sadness in her voice. He just stared at the name… the name he hated so much that it hurt.
"He did that the week after you were born.", she continued, and even though he didn't want to, Puck listened, as if waiting for some proof that this conversation was actually real. "I just… I think it's time you have it."
"And you think this is gonna change anything?" Puck couldn't keep the slight anger out of his voice. She didn't respond, but then he didn't really care. "Because it doesn't…"
"I… I know. I just… I just hoped that-"
"That what? That you give me the guitar and we'll have an happily-ever-after? That I'll just forget about what happened?" He didn't raise his voice, didn't feel the need to, didn't have the strength. He just felt tired. So tired.
"Sorry isn't gonna cut it…" He hadn't meant to say that, knew that it wasn't exactly the best way to start what was supposed to be their family reunion. But he just couldn't help it. The words just found their way over his lips before he even had the chance to think about it.
"I know." The sadness in her voice was almost unbearable. "I know that I can never take it back, Noah… that I can't undo what happened. But… a lot changed over the last few months… I'm not the same person anymore."
"You really want me to believe that?" The contempt in his voice didn't go unnoticed. "Do you really think that I'm ever gonna forgive you for what you did…?"
She took a deep breath in a feeble attempt to stop her voice from shaking. "Maybe someday…"
Silence filled the room while Puck waited for her to say something else. But she didn't, and when he looked up, she was gone. He stood up from his bed and placed the guitar back into the case, his hands jerking away from it as if the mere contact with it had suddenly become painful. He closed the case and put it under his bed, making a promise to himself that he would never look at it again.
Dinner that evening was a little more than uncomfortable, the food on the table acting as yet another barrier that was keeping them apart, the silence a permanent guest within their midst, and Puck was glad when they could finally say their mumbled goodnights before going back upstairs.
But Puck didn't really know what to do with himself after he got back to his room, and so he lay down on his bed half an hour later and turned off the light, even though he didn't feel like sleeping. But before his mind could drift off to the unwanted memories hiding in the back of his head, a faint knock at his door drew his attention.
"Noah? Are you awake?" The muffled voice of his sister sounded anxious.
"Yeah… come in."
The door opened with a slight squeak and a moment later, Sarah's face appeared. Even though it was dark, he could see that her face was rather pale, but knew, that he himself probably didn't look any better.
"Can I stay here tonight?", she asked, still standing at the door. "I don't want to be alone…"
Puck just nodded. He knew exactly how she felt.
A moment later, she had crossed his room and crawled under the covers next to him, next to her brother… so she could feel safe for the night.
"Goodnight, little one…", he said softly, a sad smile on his face, and a few minutes later, she'd closed her eyes and fallen asleep.
But Puck didn't sleep that night.
At first, he just stared at the ceiling, waiting for time to pass, for the hours to tick away, his mind empty off all thoughts. He just didn't dare close his eyes, afraid to wake up and realize, that it had all just been a dream, afraid to wake up to his old life, the life in which Danny was making the rules.
But the thought of Danny sent chills down his spine, and a moment later he'd gotten out of bed. He walked over to the door, came to a halt right next to it, and listened… just listened. But even so he could hear absolutely nothing coming from the other side of it, he couldn't shake off that sickening feeling in his stomach, couldn't shake off the fear.
He took a few steps away from it before he sat down on the floor, his eyes never leaving the wooden surface of the only protection they had against whatever was luring on the other side. Only when the first light of the next morning started to crawl through his window, did he break the eye contact with the door, those few rays of sunlight finally able to take the nightly fear away.
The second night wasn't any different. Just that he sat on the bed instead of the floor, while Sarah slept silently next to him. He just couldn't close his eyes, couldn't risk loosing control even though he war more tired than he'd ever been in his entire life. But then, on the third night, he couldn't hold it off any longer, couldn't fight off the tiredness wearing him down. And he closed his eyes, just for a second, a moment of rest, just to wake up an hour later. Cold sweat was trickling down his face and his heart was racing, pounding against his throat, the heartbeats so load that he feared they could wake up the little girl lying next to him. But she didn't notice. Not his nightmares. Not his fear.
In the end, it took him almost two weeks until he was able to really let go enough of his fear to sleep through a whole night, but still, even though he was able to close his eyes and fall asleep, a small fracture of that fear remained, followed him through every night as his shadow followed him through the day.
And not just his shadow… the shadow of the past, too.
Of course he had already known that it wasn't going to be easy when they had reentered this house, but he'd just never figured it to be this hard.
Their mom mostly stayed out of their way at first, knew, that she had to let them decide when they were ready. But, somehow, it felt as if they were getting to know each other all over again, as if they had just met, and even though there was a kind of neutrality between them at the moment, there was no guarantee that that couldn't change... for better or worse. After all, they hadn't been a real family in a long time, even before Danny. But, back then, Puck had still be willing to help her, to tolerate her sometimes manic behavior. But now… with those two years in between… he just couldn't recognize his mother in that woman anymore. She had become a total stranger to him. And he just wasn't sure if he really wanted to get to know her again, because, no matter how hard she tried, how many genuine smiles she gave him, he just couldn't let go of the anger that burned up inside him whenever he saw her face.
But she wasn't the real problem he had during the days. At least he could hide from her. But he couldn't hide from this house.
The first few weeks, whenever a sudden noise echoed through the house, he would stop dead in his tracks, not able to move a muscle. And each time, cold sweat would appear on his forehead, a slight shiver would take over his body, and it would take him quite a while to remember that Danny wasn't there anymore, that Danny wound never be there again. At other times he would suddenly turn around on the spot for no good reason, just to make sure that no one was there waiting behind him.
He's dead… he can't hurt you anymore!
But even though he knew that, intellectually, he just couldn't quite get there, emotionally, wasn't able to shake off the fear just yet. It was just always there… a small, half dead something that was hiding out in his body, like a disease, waiting for the right time to resurface. And then there were the memories, the memories that were still clinging to his mind, that hung over him like invisible ghosts.
One of the few good things he could say about those first few weeks back, was that Sarah seemed to find her way back to her old self, and maybe one day that tiny scar at the back of her head would be the only reminder of that scary night when they had failed to escape out of this very house.
The other good thing was Finn.
He showed up at Puck's house almost every day, his reasons for coming over sometimes so adventurous that Puck asked himself why Finn had even made them up in the first place, when they both knew perfectly well why he came: to make sure that everything was okay. And even though Puck would never admit it, would never say it out loud, he was thankful for it, thankful that there was someone out there who was willing to make sure that he was alright.
It was as if baby-gate had never happened, as if they had just turned back the clock.
And Finn came over that one Sunday night three weeks after Puck and Sarah had come back to live with their mom. They wanted to watch the final game of the NBA play-offs at Finn's place, while Sarah had a sleepover at a friend's house.
Puck was in a slightly desperate search for a clean shirt, when Finn opened the door to his room. Puck turned around instantly at the sudden noise, and his heart skipped a few beats before he realized that the person standing at the door, wasn't Danny.
"Dude… don't sneak up on me like that…"
"Sorry… I didn't mean to… I mean, I just…" Finn didn't seem to be able to find the right words as a hint of guilt flashed over his face.
"It's okay… no need to bite your tongue off.", Puck replied before he turned away to continue his search. "I guess I'm just a bit on edge lately…" That was probably an understatement, but neither of them commented on that.
Finn just kept standing at the door while Puck looked through his clothes, his eyes wandering over the room before they came to a rest on the scar on Puck's lower back. Finn had never seen that one before, but by now he had heard about how that had happened, and couldn't help but flinch at the thought of the glass table breaking under the weight of Puck's body, the glass shards piercing through his skin. But then Puck turned around, a clean shirt finally having found its way into his hands, to reveal the much fresher scar on his stomach. Finn didn't even notice Puck looking at him until he heard his voice. "What're you staring at?"
"Nothing… I mean…" Finn tried to take his eyes away from it, but they seemed to be glued to that scar. "Does it hurt?"
"Sometimes… but not in a bad way… not anymore." Puck swallowed hard, trying to get the lump out of his throat that had appeared instantly as his minds had rushed back to that tiny fraction of a moment that had almost ended his life.
"What do you mean?", Finn asked, finally raising his head.
"I don't know… I can't really explain it." Puck shrugged. "It's like that pain's telling me that I survived, you know? Like a war wound or something."
"But it will also remind you of what happened… always…" Even now, the thought of what had happened that night seemed to scare Finn more than anything else ever had.
"I guess I'll just have to live with that…", Puck replied before he put on the fresh shirt. "And besides, chicks dig scars, right?", he added, a hint of a smile on his lips.
"You're unbelievable…" Finn shook his head, but returned the smile. "So… you're up for the game?"
"Can't wait…", Puck said as he picked up his bag.
"I thought you didn't like watching basketball."
"I don't." Puck seemed amused just from seeing the slightly confused expression on Finn's face.
"Didn't we, like, agree that you wouldn't lie anymore?", he asked as they left Puck's room and went down the stairs.
"Hey, you asked… and watching the game is better than staying here, so… I'll pretend that I like it…", Puck replied when he closed the front door behind them a moment later, the smile still on his face. For the shortest of moments, the old Puck came back to life behind that smile, and when they walked over to the car, Puck suddenly turned back around, thinking that, one day, he might even call this house a home again.
And with another smile on his face, he added: "Besides… what's in a lie anyway?"
So, this is it! The final chapter...
It's not what I would call a real happy ending, but then you won't ever find that in my stories... especially not in stories as dark as this.
Okay... another thing: this is the first long fanfiction that I've ever finished, and I have to say: It feels awesome!
And now, that you all have read through the whole story, I really, really hope that you will let me know what you think, to give me a final review on this story! ... pretty please? [Even if it's been months or year since I've posted it... I will still read them!]
Oh, and of course, I want to thank ALL OF YOU for reading and reviewing! THANK YOU so much!
Until next time!
p.s. next storie's already building up in my head... just need to find time to write it down. See you there... =)