Lauren's Birthday Gift

In this story Lauren is gothic. I wanted to do something different and new. Hope this works. This is my wicked mind doing what it loves best. Putting Puck and Lauren together… This is not something I think Puck would do, but hey he does it in my mind…

Puck felt out of place the minute he walked through the door, and could tell by the contemptuous stares that he received from a couple of clerks that he wasn't the only one who thought he didn't belong. He almost turned around and walked right back out-he didn't have to buy birthday presents for his classmates, after all-but gritted his teeth and forced himself to look around the shop.

One thing he was sure of: if he was going to find the perfect gift for Lauren, Hot Topic was probably where he'd find it.
His eyes scanned the rows and racks of seemingly-mismatched items-Care Bears hanging blissfully next to t-shirts with pictures of black-haired, waifish, deathly-pale cartoon characters with captions ranging from the fairly mild ("I was uncool before uncool was cool") to the very blunt ("fuck off"), wispy pastel-colored faeries, and an assortment of rock 'n roll bands and cult hit movies of the 70s and 80s. Briefly he wondered if he might be able to find a t-shirt with "fuck you" in ASL, but dismissed the idea. It didn't seem like the sort of thing that made an appropriate gift, for one thing, and for another, for all of Lauren's black hair and gothic look, she definitely lacked the angry punk attitude that so many of these items bore emblazoned.

Maybe something a little on the naughty instead of angry side, he mused, after contemplating a long-sleeved T cheerfully proclaiming "Just 'cause I'm adorable doesn't mean I won't rip your head off." He took a moment to envision Lauren in an extremely short, purple-green-and-black plaid Catholic-School-Girl skirt, then hung it back up with a sigh; she would never wear it to school anyway.

Maybe something more like-oh, hey, Daisy Duke! Looking surreptitiously around to make sure he was still being ignored, Puck drifted discreetly over to the mens' side of the store to admire Ms. Duke's very-short namesake shorts. Ah, nostalgia.

Okay, so the t-shirt wouldn't exactly be good for Lauren, but...

"Focus, Puckerman, focus," he scolded himself in a passable imitation of Gibbs. Forcing himself to put Daisy back on the shelf, he returned to the womens' department. "Okay, so what do you get for the girl who has everything...even a chastity belt?"

Okay, now even he had the good sense to be embarrassed by the way his body reacted just to the memory of that conversation. He cast another discreet look around the store. Good. There was no neon sign over his head blinking "turned on by chastity belts."

Then again...maybe there was and just no else in here found that unusual. He peeked upwards just in case. Nope, no neon sign. Thank God.

He forced his attention back to the rack of apparel. "Scariness is in the eye of the beholder"? He grinned. Nah, Lauren was too cheerful to be scary. Heck, even that dweeb Evans hadn't taken the hint he'd oh-so-blatantly dropped and backed off, and she hadn't discouraged him. He'd even gone so far as to tattoo his butt-cheek for her...Puck half-scowled at the memory.

The next one...oh, that was good. Or would be, rather, if he was actually dating Lauren and knew for certain that she didn't mind pink. It read, "thank goodness for strange girls. without them what would strange boys do?" But-he grimaced-number one, they weren't dating. And number two, he'd never seen her wear pink. Never. Not once. It wasn't worth the risk that she might hate it.

If he ever was going to have a chance with his friend, this first birthday gift had to be perfect. It had to set the standard for whatever came after.

Okay, so much for t-shirts. Maybe he should just go with a gift card...

No. Mouth set into a stubborn line, Puck perservered. The right gift was here somewhere; he just had to find it.

He almost settled on a long black velvet gown with full sleeves like something out of the Renaissance or the Lord of the Rings, but forced himself to put it back after looking at the price tag. Much as he knew Lauren would look stunning in the dress, he'd have a hard time justifying the $95 expense. The matching cloak, while not as costly, would be similarly difficult to explain.

As for the selection of lingerie...despite the fact that a couple of pieces were almost as titilating as a chastity belt, he decided that might be dropping a little too much of a hint.

Puck moved on to the jewelry display after passing over a case full of stickers as too cheap. Yes, he didn't want to give too much away by spending a lot on her, but he also didn't want to appear to undervalue their friendship.

There. There it was, staring at him from inside the jewelry case. The one thing in the entire store that screamed Lauren's name so loudly, it was a wonder people weren't turning to stare. Grinning like an idiot, Puck almost bounced over to the counter. The hot-pink-haired clerk behind it stared at him as though contemplating Chinese water torture. "Hey, can I get some help over here?"

~~~~~

"What's this?" Lauren asked as he slipped the small package into her hands after following Sam and Rachel into the choir room. To his embarrassment, she said it loud enough to draw everyone's attention to the box, which he'd wrapped in red paper and tied with a black ribbon.

Puck shrugged, doing his best to look nonchalant. "I heard a rumor it was your birthday."

The wrestler's face erupted into a smile so bright he couldn't help but return it. "You didn't have to do that."

"I've known you for two years; I figured it was about time," he said, still grinning foolishly.

Lauren turned to Sam. "You mind?" she asked, holding up the box.

Sam smiled and said,"Go ahead."

As she untied the ribbon and tore the paper off, Puck could've sworn she was humming something under her breath that sounded vaguely like Garbage. When the plain white box was revealed, Rachel raised an eyebrow.

"Jewelry, Puck? I must admit, I'm impressed."

For once, he didn't flirt back, just grinned cheekily at her. It was Lauren's reaction he was worried about.

He shouldn't have been concerned. When the lid came off, she let out a little squeal of delight. "Oh, it's perfect!"

Sam and Rachel didn't look convinced as she lifted the necklace from the box, holding it up proudly to her throat. Sure, it wasn't the kind of jewelry a man usually bought for a woman, but the way she fingered the artificially-aged gray metal dog-tag and the bullet that hung against it on the chain suggested she was happier with this than she would've been with a hundred diamonds.

"Dog-tags for the Navy, bullet for forensics," Puck explained to his two more bewildered-looking colleagues.

"It's me in a nutshell," Lauren agreed cheerfully. "Help me put it on?"

To his surprise, Puckerman's fingers shook slightly as he took the necklace from her and obeyed her request, unfastening the necklace she already wore and replacing it with his gift. He tried not to shudder as his fingers accidentally brushed the smooth skin of her neck. Finishing the job, he gave her back the other necklace and an awkward smile.

Still beaming, Lauren stood on tiptoe and placed an enthusiastic kiss on his cheek. "Thanks, Puck."

Puck found himself bringing one hand up to touch the place where the imprint of her lips still tingled. "Happy Birthday, Lauren."

Sam was still watching them with an amused expression on his face, and Rachel looked like she'd just had a revelation, from the pleased curl of her lip. "If you two are done, can we get back to class now?" Sam asked.

DiNozzo nodded sheepishly.

The wrestler grinned. "Sure thing, Sam." She turned her guitar on and showed them the sheet music and said, "Here's what I have so far..."

Puck's eyes didn't leave her during the entire explanation, even though he didn't actually hear a word of it. At one point, she snuck a look at him over her shoulder and he smiled hopefully at her. Lauren smiled back, her eyes full of promise as she reached up to finger the chain around her neck.

Oh yeah. Puck let out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding.

It was perfect.