Skin Deep
Chapter 10: Fireworks/Decisions

In which the colors light up the sky…

Puck leaned on the hood of his truck, taking a long swig of the beer in his hands. He'd been carrying the same bottle around most of the night, and now the bitter liquid was warm as it slid down his throat. Part of him wanted to spit it out, but he didn't. He'd drank way worse tasting stuff than warm beer before. So he certainly wasn't about to let this one get the best of him.

Looking down at the bottle in his hands, Puck listened to the party that was going on in the Hummel's backyard. The radio was blasting some old rock song, and Finn and some of the other guys were singing along. Santana was shrieking something at someone (most likely Rachel) in Spanish. Her words were slurred so Puck knew she was drunk. And from the sound of it, the other girls were trying to calm her down. Normally, he'd like to have seen Santana all worked up, perfecting her harpy routine.

But tonight… he just wasn't feeling it.

It was the Fourth of July, the last before his senior year, and he'd sought refuge on the driveway.

Granted, he could still hear all of the chaos of Finn and Kurt's bash. But standing in the front yard, beer in hand and lightening bugs surrounding him, Puck felt like he was in another world.

He wasn't sure how long he'd been out there, but dusk began to fall around him quickly. It was a sign that the fireworks would be starting soon. And according to Finn, there would be a great view of them from the backyard. Puck didn't really care though. He was content to stay where he was.

Looking up at the sky and lost in his thoughts, Puck didn't hear Kurt approaching. It wasn't until the other boy spoke that Puck realized he wasn't alone. "Didn't expect to find you here, Puckerman. I'm surprised you aren't out back taking bets on the mud wrestling."

"Huh… mud?" Puck tore his gaze away from the sky to stare at Kurt. "Is that what Santana's yelling about?"

"Yes, actually." Puck watched as Kurt wrinkled up his nose in response. "I walked in the house for a moment, and when I came out, Sam was offering to hose her down. He had out my dad's hose and everything."

Puck couldn't help but laugh at the picture that had just formed in his mind. It was no wonder Santana was screaming her head off. "So what are you doing out here?" He raised his eyebrows at Kurt. "This is your party. Shouldn't you be playing like… Host of the Year or whatever?"

"No, it isn't mine." Kurt came over to lean on the truck next to him, a barely touched wine cooler in his hand. "This monstrosity is all Finn's doing." Puck was surprised by the amount of bitterness in Kurt's voice. "After breaking up with Blaine, I wanted nothing more than to spend a quiet evening alone. My dad, however, wouldn't let Finn throw a party unless I promised to be there and help out." Kurt raised his drink in a mock toast. "So here I am."

"Ah." Puck nodded. He'd heard that Kurt and Blaine had split up, but he hadn't heard why.

The day after school let out in May, his mom had dragged him and his sister off to Florida to visit her parents. After that she wanted to go to Illinois to visit some other family members he'd never heard of. The only reason he was in town for Finn's party was because he'd refused to go anywhere else unless he could come home for the Fourth. It was his last summer before senior year, and he didn't want to miss out on everything.

So even though he'd received a bunch of texts about Kurt's breakup, each containing a different story, he didn't really know what had happened. And from the look on Kurt's face, Kurt didn't want to talk about it, which was just fine with Puck. "So…." He stared at Kurt, trying to think of something to say. "What are you doing out here?"

Puck watched as Kurt's eyes flickered from the hardly touched bottle in his hands to his house. "I was making my exit for the evening. I put in my appearance, and I was headed inside for some peace and quiet." At that moment, Santana screamed, and Sam hooted in amusement. "Well, peace anyway."

As Santana continued to howl, Puck and Kurt fell silent. But oddly enough, it wasn't uncomfortable. In fact, this was the most at ease Puck had felt in a long time. Night was upon them now, and there was a cool breeze. Not cold enough to make them shiver, but enough to take the edge off the summer's sun. It was a wonderful evening, and Puck realized that he didn't want to be anywhere else or with anyone else.

Feeling content, Puck raised the beer bottle to his lips and finished off the rest of the warm liquid. Once it was empty, he tossed the empty bottle into the bed of his truck where it landed with a clink. Kurt shifted closer to him, and Puck looked over. His eyes were trained on his own drink, but now they were so close that their shoulders were practically touching.

After a few more seconds of staring at the silvery label, Kurt whispered. "I don't even know why I have this. I don't like -"

"Here." Puck held out his hand for the bottle, and Kurt gave it to him. Now that he was holding it, Puck could see that Kurt hadn't even taken a sip of the peach-flavored alcohol. "It's no big deal." He lowered the bottle and poured it out on the ground before tossing it with his. (Even he wouldn't have drunk that.)

"Thank you." Kurt's voice was soft, and Puck couldn't help but look at him. There was a curious expression on his face, and his eyes were glowing in the moonlight. "So, umh… why aren't you in the back with everyone else? Lauren is there."

Puck wanted to look away from Kurt, but he couldn't. He was captivated by the mysterious expression on Kurt's face. "We broke up the last day of school. She didn't want to be tied to one guy over summer." The look on Kurt's face turned to amused confusion, and Puck shrugged.

"That doesn't explain why you're out here, though." Kurt's expression became unreadable once again.

Puck took a deep breath and shrugged his shoulders. Truth be told, he didn't really know why he was out front instead of helping Sam hose Santana down. All he knew was that he'd needed to get away from the screaming and people running around. For some reason, being in the backyard with everyone had made Puck feel claustrophobic. "Just needed some space, I guess."

It was totally dark by now, and Puck couldn't read Kurt's face when he spoke. "Well, I'll leave you to it then."

Overhead, a huge firework exploded, a bright flash of red and purple in the night sky. But Puck wasn't interested, because Kurt had moved away from the truck. And even though Puck couldn't totally see him, he knew that Kurt was getting ready to walk inside, leaving him alone.

Which Puck realized, was the last thing he wanted to be right now.

Without thinking about what he was doing, Puck reached out and grabbed Kurt's wrist. Spinning him around, Puck pressed his mouth against Kurt's. It was hesitant and questioning, and for one delicious moment, Kurt lingered. But just as another burst of color exploded above them, he pulled away.

"What are you doing?" Kurt's voice sounded shocked but breathy. "I'm not some drunken experiment, Puckerman."

"No, I…." Puck held onto Kurt's wrist, but his grip was loose. Kurt could have pulled away whenever he wanted, but he didn't. "I'm not drunk. I only had the one beer. And it takes way more than that to get me hammered."

"Then what was that about?" Kurt's tone had softened, but Puck could tell that he was still upset.

"I don't know. I didn't want you to leave." The sky continued to light up with colorful explosions. "And, I just… dude, I don't know." Flustered, Puck dropped Kurt's wrist. He expected Kurt to run inside, but he stayed put.

"So what… you decided that it might be fun to try kissing a dude for a change?" He stepped closer to Puck. Close enough that he was able to make out the confusion in his eyes as a rain of green and silver lit up the night.

"Hummel, you are not the first guy I've kissed." Puck laughed as Kurt's mouth fell open in shock.

"What?" Once again, Kurt stepped closer to Puck. He was now close enough that Puck could feel Kurt's breath on his face.

"Yeah…." Puck fixed Kurt with a devious stare, even though he knew he probably couldn't see it. "After you and Blaine left Rachel's party, Sam and I ended up playing a little spin the bottle of our own. And man… he's got skills. His mouth is -"

"Get to the point, Puckerman." Puck chuckled as Kurt crossed his arms over his chest. Or at least, that was what he thought Kurt had just done.

"Well, we never talked about it after, and I thought I only liked it 'cause I was so drunk." Puck shivered a little at the memory of Sam's mouth, hot and insistent, on his own. "But then my mom dragged me to Florida, and I went to a bonfire at the beach one night. And I met this guy named Jonathon who -"

"So what?" Kurt sounded confused, not to mention impatient. "You're gay now?"

Puck snorted. "No way." He paused, suddenly wishing that he hadn't drained the last of his beer. Because he could tell that Kurt was staring at him fixedly, his face cast in blue from above. "I'm bi."

This time, it was Kurt's turn to snort. "You have got to be kidding me. Of course, you would beli-"

"Did you like it?" Puck was eager to derail Kurt's rant. He had no desire for this, whatever thiswas, to turn into a fight.

"What… Why…" Kurt shifted uncomfortably, adjusting his arms on his chest. Puck couldn't help but smile wickedly. He had Kurt, he knew it. "That is not important, Puckerman."

Puck took a step closer to Kurt, a low laugh rumbling deep within his throat. "You totally did."

"So what if I did?" Puck watched as Kurt shook his hair back defiantly in a shower of golden light. "I do not believe in bisexuality. It's -"

"Dude, what does it matter what I call myself?" Puck reached out and smoothed the bangs Kurt had just ruffled. He knew it was a bold move, but Kurt didn't resist so he didn't stop. "You liked kissing me. I liked kissing you…." Puck leaned forward a little, hoping Kurt would do the same.

"That doesn't mean…." Kurt's voice trailed off, and Puck saw him lean little forward just a little bit.

"Hmmm," Puck pretended to be thinking. "Don't really care." He tentatively slid his hands around Kurt's back, his palms coming to rest at the base of his spine. He knew that Kurt still seemed to upset, but he also hadn't run into his house. So Puck decided to go for it.

"No." The protest was weak and lessened even more by the fact Kurt had placed his palms lightly on Puck's chest. "Don't…."

"I'll stop if you want." The words came out of Puck's mouth, but they meant nothing now. "Just tell me to…." He continued to lean in, his breaths shortening as his heart began to speed up.

On his chest, Kurt's fingers flexed a little. "Don't…." Puck watched as Kurt's eyelids fluttered shut. "Stop."

Puck held his breath for a second, wondering if Kurt really did want him to quit. Everything seemed to contradict that; Kurt's hands were still on his chest, and his eyes were closed. But still, he'd said…

"Please, Noah. Don't stop." Kurt whispered the words against Puck's lips, and Puck felt his heart thud painfully in his chest.

Any other time, Puck could have come up with a witty response or something. But Kurt's lips were ready and waiting, and the fireworks were still exploding overhead. And all Puck wanted was to feel Kurt's mouth on his once again….

Without another word, he leaned forward and pressed his lips to Kurt's. Unlike before, this kiss was surer, because now he knew that Kurt wanted it as well. There was no question or hesitation in the way their lips moved together. Or in how Kurt slid his arms around Puck's neck while Puck dug his fingers into Kurt's back.

As the fireworks continued, Puck held Kurt close, praying that the moment would never end.


In which Puck says goodbye…

"So…." Sully crossed his arms over his chest, and Puck knew that it was because he was upset. "Where you plan on going?" His voice was tight. Puck understood that it wasn't because he was worried about losing one of his employees. And that really, it had much more to do with the friendship they'd developed over the past few years.

"Chicago." Puck mirrored Sully's earlier movements and folded his own arms over his chest. "I've been there before. It's an awesome city."

Puck thought about how his mom had dragged him to Florida and Illinois during the summer before senior year. For most of the trip, he'd felt like clawing his eyes out, but it hadn't been all bad. Before leaving Illinois, they'd spent a day in the city. As a family they'd visited Water Tower Place and had lunch at Food Life. Afterward, they'd walked around Michigan Avenue and waited in line for forty-five minutes at Garrett's Popcorn for the most amazing cheese corn he'd ever tasted.

That day really was one of his favorite childhood memories.

And now, he wanted to go back there.

For himself.

"Ah, that's a great place. I know a lot of people there." Sully reached out and grabbed Puck's shoulder. "Once you get there, you give me a call. I'll get you set up with a job." As he pulled his hand away, Puck nodded.

"Thanks." Puck smiled and nodded once again as his throat began to grow tight. He wanted to say more, to thank Sully for everything he'd given him and done for him. But he couldn't make the words come out.

The next few moments were filled with heavy silence, but Sully seemed to understand what Puck wasn't able to say. And before either of them could speak, Sully pulled him into a bone-crushing hug.

When his ex-boss finally released him, Puck had to clear his throat before he could speak. "Uh…." He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. It was folded in half sloppily and "Kurt" was written on the outside. "Here." Puck handed the note to Sully, who looked at it questioningly.

Puck watched as Sully held up the note. "You really expect him to show up here?"

Before responding, Puck shrugged. "I don't know. Probably not. But if he does, will you give that to him?"

"Yeah, of course." Sully smiled reassuringly at Puck. "You take care of yourself, ok?" He gave Puck's shoulder another squeeze.

"Thanks, I will." Puck rocked back on his heels. He knew he needed to get going, but he wasn't ready to say goodbye to someone who had become such a close friend over the years. "Uh, well… I'll talk to you soon." Smiling at Sully one last time, Puck headed towards the door to the employee room. He could have gone out the front way, but his car was parked out back. And anyway, he wanted to walk through the store room one last time.

Once he was in the backroom, Puck heard the tinkling bell over the entrance ring. For old times' sake, he turned to the small TV screen that Sully used to monitor the front door. He was curious to see who would come in so early in the afternoon. Normally, it was only stay-at-home mothers and business men who came into Skin Deep before six pm.

What he hadn't expected to see was Kurt, his hair and clothes a rumpled mess, searching the store frantically.

Puck's first instinct was to run out there, to see what Kurt wanted. But he'd promised himself that, no matter what, he wouldn't cave to Kurt again. He needed time to find himself without Kurt's shadow hanging over him. So, instead of going to Kurt, Puck stood and watched the soundless monitor.

On the small black and white screen, Kurt still looked upset, but now his eyes were focused on something. And the next second Sully walked into the tiny picture.

Puck couldn't tell what was being said, but Sully was shaking his head and Kurt's face fell. And even though the screen was small, Puck could make out how upset he looked. The expression on his face gripped Puck's heart, but still, he stayed put. The next thing he knew, Sully was handing over the note Puck had given him not ten minutes before.

As Kurt unfolded the paper and looked down at it, Puck thought back to the night he'd shared with Kurt.

After pulling off Kurt's shirt, Puck had turned Kurt so that he could see his shoulder. Ever since Kurt had told him that the tattoo was the words he'd written, Puck had been desperate to see it for himself. And when he finally had, when he'd finally seen the words etched into Kurt's shoulder, he'd closed his eyes in relief.

Because there, on Kurt's pale skin, were the lyrics he'd written so long ago. And pressing his lips hungrily into them, he'd repeated the words in his head. "Always, sing your love to me softly."

Now, as Puck watched Kurt unfold the note, Puck understood that they'd always be connected. No matter how long they spent apart, there would always be an invisible bond connecting them. But for now, that wasn't enough to make Puck turn back. Someday, it might be, probably would be. Not now though.

Turning away from the screen and from Kurt, Puck walked out the back door. Hopping into his car, he gave Max a quick scratch on the head before starting the motor. "Alright, Max, time to go." In response, Max barked once. It was an enthusiastic woof that made Puck smile as he headed his car east.

As he drove, Puck thought of the note he'd asked Sully to give to Kurt. It had contained only two words: Three years. He hadn't signed it or anything, just scribbled the message before folding the paper in half. At the last second, he'd decided to write Kurt's name on the outside. He didn't know why, but that had seemed important at the time.

Deep down, Puck knew that Kurt would understand that the note was a promise. That three years from now, he would be waiting at the football field of William McKinley High at seven fifteen.

This time, however, Puck wasn't going to spend his years living for that moment. Instead, he planned to find himself without Kurt's shadow cloaking him from everything. He was going to build a new life that was free of past lovers and misdeeds, mistakes and heartbreaks. He was moving to Chicago to do the thing he'd never been able to…

Live as himself.

And if, three years from now, Kurt decided to show up in Lima, that was fine.

If not, that would be fine too.

Squeeka Cuomo's Notes
- Just like before, the song lyrics are from the Weezer song Always.
- If you're ever in Chicago and have the time… Go to Food Life or Garret's Popcorn. Trust me. ;)
- And… there you have it. The end, the very end. I would like to thank all of you, from those of you who have reviewed every chapter down to the lurkers. Your dedication and… passion for this story has been astounding. You support has meant the world to me. And some days, it was the only thing that kept me going with this. It's been a very emotional journey for me and more than once I wanted to just call it quits. So thank you all so very much for keeping me going. I truly appreciate each and every review.
- Quack: Once again I find myself at a loss for how to properly thank you. Your support and encouragement with this has been amazing. Thank you so much for listening to me whine and complain (and then whine some more). I'm sure that can't have been fun for you, but I've appreciated it so much. I really couldn't ask for a better beta or want a better friend. Thank you so, so much.
- Reviews are love.