Puck snuck a hand out from under the covers and turned off the alarm a few minutes before it could go off, as usual. He wasn't sure how he woke up on time every day; he guessed his brain just knew when it was time. Sometimes, when he was a kid, he liked to lay there and watch the numbers as they changed, knowing he still had three more minutes of time to himself, where no one was watching or telling him what to do. It felt sneaky. He'd done a ton of sneakier things since then, of course, but it remained a private daily ritual, and every day he reveled in it.
He pushed back the covers and reached for his guitar. That was another daily ritual. It felt like a part of him, like another limb. This Gibson was new, purchased with pool money he'd saved up for two summers running; her voice was sweet and clear. (He wasn't a total loser - he wasn't going to name her or anything - but, he thought, guitars, like cars and boats, are always chicks, you know?) He strummed an A major progression and sang a quiet verse by Neil Diamond:
But it don't sing and dance
And it don't walk
And long as I can have you here with me
I'd much rather be
Forever in blue jeans
Pretty much the only things he'd gotten worth getting from his father were his bowling ball, his musical talent and his Neil Diamond LP collection. He didn't have many good memories of his dad, but he did remember sitting on the couch late at night, wrapped in an afghan, while his father and his father's buddies talked and smoked and joked and played music.
A loud knock and his mom's voice didn't distract him from his playing. "You up, Noah? Time for school."
"Yeah, ma," he called back, switching to B major and strumming the opening riffs of Sweet Caroline:
Where it began
I can't begin to know when
But then I know it's growing strong
Was in the spring
And spring became summer
Who's have believed you'd come along
Puck knew there were few things in life he was really good at, but he also knew he was a fucking awesome singer. Most of his life it had been something he'd done for himself and a few close friends. Until now. He loved performing in Glee. Mostly, he loved the way the girls looked at him - like I'm God or something. Even football players didn't get that kind of adulation.
Not that he'd ever had trouble getting girls to go out with him. Cougars notwithstanding, he did pretty well for himself in the dating department. He didn't bother to go after girls. Mostly, he waited for Finn to point out the girls he liked. Puck didn't usually notice them until Finn mentioned how cute her hair was, or how perfect her tits were - but the funny thing was, he was usually right. I guess we have the same taste in chicks, he thought. He just looks more closely at them than I do. He focused on playing his guitar and being a badass and waited for Finn to say he had a thing for some girl, and then Puck knew who to ask out that Friday.
He remembered one time, when they were in eighth grade, Finn had a crush on Amy Rodriguez, the bleached-blonde nice girl of the popular crowd. She liked 80s pop music and got straight As, but she'd been pretty hot for an eighth grader. Finn did a lot of smiling around her and made some shy eyes at her in the hallway, but he took too long. Puck had no idea how to maintain a relationship, but he could get anyone to notice him. It didn't take long before he'd convinced her to ask him to the Sadie Hawkins dance. They double-dated in his big brother's Volvo, he and Amy and Finn and Jessica Flynn. Finn never said anything to Puck about it, but he could tell Finn was more interested in what Amy and Puck were doing in the back seat than what Finn was getting from Jessica in the front. Puck and Amy had never gone out again after that, and Finn had never pursued her.
And that's just the way things had always gone between Puck and Finn. If Finn wanted it, Puck wanted it, and usually, Puck was the one who got it - and if Finn got there first, Puck usually took it from him. He had no explanation why this happened time after time.
Earlier that year, it had been Quinn. When Finn and Quinn started dating, it was more or less habit for Puck to aim for drunk sloppy sex with her. It wasn't so much who she was or even what she looked like - although he wasn't complaining about banging the head cheerleader. It was just what he did. Finn wanted; Puck took. On one hand Puck knew Finn would be pissed for a while, but he'd get over it. He always did.
Only this time, Puck had left behind some over-enthusiastic Puck Jr.'s, which made this particular conquest much more complicated. Puck regretted not telling Finn about what had happened long ago. Now Quinn was lying to Finn, which made Puck's lie of omission somehow much worse. He didn't mind lying, but lying to Finn made him feel uncomfortable.
He knew he didn't want to be a father, not now, and not with Quinn. Puck liked the idea of being a dad - someday. He felt bad for Quinn that she was going to have to deal with a kid before she even graduated high school. I'm definitely too busy with my life to be responsible for someone else's, he thought. I couldn't even keep track of that stupid egg in biology class for 24 hours. He'd ended up including it in the hollandaise sauce for breakfast the next day.
But Finn - he had way more going for him than Puck did. Between Glee and football, Finn was likely to make it big enough to get out of Lima someday. And him getting roped into being a teenage dad for a mistake that Puck had made - that was totally unfair. He thought about it a lot, but every day it seemed more impossible that he could tell Finn the truth without destroying their friendship, and that was not something he was going to risk, not for anything. So he just watched Quinn lying and kept his mouth shut.
Last week, it had been Rachel. Puck wasn't known to back down from a challenge, so when Rachel said she didn't think he was man enough to sing a solo, he knew he was going to have to come up with something. Fortunately, eight years of guitar lessons gave him a large repertoire to draw on. Neil came through for him again.
Hands, touching hands, reaching out
Touching me, touching you
Rachel ate it up. I could have made her come in her pants just by strumming my guitar and belting out a couple more F#'s, thought Puck with satisfaction. But seeing Finn, staring at Puck with this stunned expression, looking more discomfited than he'd seen him in a long time, was even more satisfying. Puck was Finn's own personal traffic accident: he didn't want to look; he couldn't look away. Puck smirked.
After that performance, Finn had caught him at his locker. He eyeballed Puck. "So... you and Rachel, huh?"
Puck nodded. "For now. She's a good Jewish girl. My mom would approve."
"Yeah, I guess." Finn's face was perplexed.
Finn's gaze went far away and he squinted, wrinkling his nose and shaking his head. "I don't know, man."
"Just say it."
"Are you... sure she's your type?"
Puck grinned. "Warm and willing? I think Rachel qualifies. She's hot, single, talented and when she's not trying to talk, we get along pretty well. So what's your point?"
Finn exhaled. "I just don't want her to get hurt. I like her. She's a good person, Puck."
"And I'm not?" drawled Puck.
Finn snorted. "Do you really want me to answer that?"
"Hey!" Puck thumped him none-too-gently on the side of the head.
Finn grinned, relenting. "You know I've always got your back, bro."
Puck started to make a clever response, but it caught in his throat as he found himself lost in a sudden memory of Finn, leaning over him and digging his thumbs into Puck's shoulders. He slammed his locker, running a hand through the stubbly hairs on his neck.
"Don't worry," Puck said flatly, falling into step beside Finn. "She's just a chick."
"Bros before hos," said Finn, raising his hand for a high five, which Puck automatically completed.
Puck's hand tingled, and he rubbed it on his jeans to stop the itch.
Puck thought it was the fact that Finn didn't generally get mad that made him keep doing it. On one level he knew it was stupid. It was almost as though he wanted to make Finn angry, which didn't make any sense, but he still couldn't stop himself.
Like this thing with Quinn and the money. She was really pissed at Finn for not paying for the baby bills, and Finn kept whining about it, how hard it was on him. He could have done something to help if he'd really wanted to. Instead he became Mr. Super Whiny Loser Dickwad.
So when Puck woke up that morning, he thought, I can do that. Finn is being a wuss, and I'm going to take care of it. Even if it pisses him off, for real.
Puck only had a fistful of bills left over from his summer pool money, but he brought it to school anyway. He found Quinn by accident in the home ec room when he went down to make some cupcakes for the Glee bake sale.
"What's this?" Quinn said.
There was no way she was going to accept it, but he tried to force the money into her hand anyway. Even if you're making him take the fall for this kid, he thought, this is something I can do to help Finn.
Then it just got silly with the egg-cracking and the salt-shaking, and she was smiling at Puck, and he couldn't help but think, she does have a killer smile. He had flour and sugar and all kinds of kitchen shit all over him when Finn found them.
"What the hell?" Finn demanded, and Puck took his hands out of Quinn's hair.
"We're baking," she said brightly, and the look he gave her was so hurt, so full of stupid Finn confusion. It was just what he'd wanted. Wasn't it?
Suddenly Puck realized he really didn't want to deal with it, not just then, so he avoided Finn's eyes and ducked out. "I'm going to go change."
Finn didn't challenge Puck, so he figured he was safe, but he'd only managed to get clean and halfway dry by the time Finn stalked into the locker room.
Now the look he gave Puck was more cautious than hurt. "That was stupid," he said petulantly.
Puck raised an eyebrow, drying his neck. "What can I say? I'm hard to resist when I'm covered in cupcake batter."
"She doesn't want you," Finn said through gritted teeth, leaning on the sink.
"Dude - give me a break. Everybody wants me."
Finn avoided his eyes. Puck came over beside him, hair still dripping, and put a damp hand on Finn's shoulder.
"It's not personal," he lied. Not in the way you think.
"She's my girlfriend!"
I don't even want her, Puck wanted to say, but that would have opened up all kinds of questions, so he just said, "Okay."
"What I mean is... she's carrying my baby," he said quietly.
Puck flinched, but kept his hand on Finn's shoulder. "I'm not going to do anything to hurt her," he told him. Again, he didn't say. Then, tumbling out before he could stop it: "Or you."
Finn did look at Puck then, quickly turning toward him, and all the fire went out of him. Finn sagged, stumbling forward a little so that Puck had to back up or catch him, but he didn't want to do either one. Puck's hands went around Finn's biceps and kept him there, inches from his face, breathing hard. Finn's eyes were afraid, lost. Puck stared at his parted lips, fascinated.
"I don't know how to give her what she needs, Puck," he whispered. "I can't find a job; I can't be that baby's daddy; I can't make her happy. She's always angry at me."
"I know it sucks, but you've got to try," Puck said. "You have to be a man for her."
"What about what I need?" Finn said.
Puck swallowed, his throat suddenly dry. "What do you need?"
He could barely hear Finn's reply. "Never mind. It doesn't matter."
"It's your life, too!"
"Right now, all I care about is her."
It was the worst thing he could have said. Puck felt the walls inside come up like steel. He uncurled his fingers and pushed Finn away from him, cocking his head resentfully. "Have it your way."
Puck wheeled around, grabbed his shirt and slammed out of the locker room without even bothering to put it on first. He didn't feel like sticking around to talk about it anymore.
This was getting far too complicated for his taste. Finn was supposed to be Puck's no-complications friend, his video game buddy, his teammate. He didn't want to work so hard at being around him, or to leave every encounter feeling so frustrated and confused. He didn't want to dialogue, didn't want to share his feelings, and he definitely didn't want to look too closely at the picture of Finn's parted lips in his head and how it related to the hardness in his pants.
What about what you need, Puck?
He had no idea what it was he needed.
Luckily, baking scads of triple-chocolate cupcakes in the empty home ec room was a great distraction - much better than math, which he hadn't attended for two years. Some guys go to the gym when they're stressed. Puck cooked. There was something about making a really kick-ass torte or a killer béchamel sauce that calmed him down. By the time the last batch of cupcakes came out of the oven, he was feeling nearly himself again.
He managed to balance three trays of frosted cupcakes and carry them into the cafeteria without dropping them. Finn was already there with Quinn and Santana, looking around hopefully as people walked by their empty bake sale.
"Ready to make some money?" Puck deposited the goods and slid into the empty wheelchair beside Finn. Their knees just touched under the table, and Puck didn't bother to move away.
He looked at Puck briefly, face even, friendly smile intact. Puck gave him an equally bland nod, and everything was fine.
Like he'd said, no complications.
Puck decided rolling around in that wheelchair all day was getting to him. The muscles in his back were knotted, and he could feel a headache creeping up his neck and into his skull. Maybe it was all the cupcakes he'd eaten. So when Finn started in again with his whining about not being able to find a job, he was already ready to pick a fight with him.
"She has a point. You are kind of an idiot," he told Finn.
"Like you'd do anything different," Finn snapped.
He looked contemptuously at Puck. "Like what? No one's hiring."
Puck could think of a dozen ideas right away, some of which were illegal; only a couple were within the realm of possibility for a straight-laced boy like Finn. He suggested a few, ending with, "Whatever it takes."
Finn rolled his eyes and heaved a sigh. Puck pulled to a stop in the middle of the hallway, suddenly pissed at him, at the end of his patience. He spat names like "punk" and other stupid accusations at Finn. Finn's eyes burned into Puck, and finally he reached across the distance and smacked Puck on the arm, yelling, "You're a punk!"
Puck punched Finn in the face. Then he didn't think after that, abandoning the wheelchair and toppling onto the floor, grabbing at Finn, rolling over and over on the floor of McKinley High while other kids gathered around to witness the fight.
Puck was on top of Finn, balling his fists in his shirt and knocking him back to the tile, but Finn was a couple inches taller than Puck, and way better at wrestling than Puck would ever be. He quickly flipped Puck over and landed a good punch on his mouth. Puck grunted, feeling his teeth slice into the back of his bottom lip.
Just for a second, their eyes connected. Finn's were burning with fury, no wimpy confusion remaining in his pose or his actions. He knew what he wanted: to kick Puck's ass. And he was going to do it.
Puck felt his eyes widen in response, a little fear, but mostly shock and - god, something, a wild, churning morass in his gut. Finn leaned a little toward Puck, and Puck suddenly realized he was rock-hard against Finn's hip. It was just a moment of contact, but Puck knew he could feel it, too. Finn's gaze didn't waver, and Puck thrust up against him, one desperate attempt to connect.
Touching me, touching you...
Then Finn was being pulled off him, the connection lost, Mr. Shue yelling for them to break it up. They were on opposite sides of the hallway. Puck stared at Finn, but Finn avoided his eyes, taking a slow, shuddering breath and looking at the floor in confusion and defeat. The sure and confident Finn of a moment ago was gone.
"You guys are best friends," said Mr. Shue. "What the hell's going on?"
Puck mumbled some excuse about the bake sale, which clearly wasn't cutting it with Mr. Shue, but Mr. Shue let him walk away without further questions. It was just as well, because he had no idea what he would have said if Mr. Shue had made him talk to Finn.
He felt numb inside, like a shock had been applied to his system. Finn.
I am absolutely fucked.
He managed to stumble into the men's bathroom and snarl, "Out," at the two freshmen gawking at him. They scattered like pigeons back into the hallway, leaving him alone with his confusing thoughts and bloody lip.
For about three seconds. "Puck? You okay, man?" Mike Chang's dark head popped through the doorway, followed by a carefully coiffed Kurt bearing a first aid kit.
"Do I look okay?" Puck ground out, feeling his headache get worse.
"We saw the whole thing," Kurt said briskly, setting the kit down on the sink next to him and pushing his hands out of the way. "Move your hands - they're filthy and you're going to give yourself an infection."
Puck lowered his hands and stared at himself in the mirror as Kurt began his tidy ministrations. His own hollow eyes stared back accusingly. What had he done?
"I don't know - you tell me," Kurt said. Puck looked at him. Apparently he'd spoken aloud.
Kurt glanced from Puck to Mike and back again. "Mike, can you go get Puck's wheelchair out of the hallway and let Mrs. Rasmussen know we'll be a little late for English?"
"No problem," said Mike, disappearing as quickly as he'd appeared.
Kurt smiled thinly at me. "I was guessing the fewer witnesses, the better. Now, come on, Noah, you were saying?"
"Why are you being so nice to me?" Puck's teeth had gone clear through his lip and it was swelling up quickly. He poked at the blood still seeping from the cut. Kurt slapped his hand away.
"Infection. Well, let's say I have a unique perspective on matters regarding Finn Hudson." Kurt's eyebrows furrowed. "You need someone to talk to who understands."
"Understands? Hell, I could use some of that." He laughed, a hollow sound.
"So, why did you punch him?"
It'd been a pointless fight. Even Puck could see that, only minutes afterwards. "He was being a jerk about Quinn."
Kurt's eyebrows climbed higher. He got out a tube of Neosporin. "And Quinn is so important to you?"
"Yeah." No. Puck looked at Kurt and took a deep breath. "No, I guess not."
"Who is Finn to you?"
"He's my best friend," he said automatically.
"Oh, yeah, I can tell." Kurt spread the ointment on a clean cotton swab and deftly applied a layer to the cut. "Because guys always knock up their best friend's girlfriends, right?"
Puck just stared at Kurt. He didn't even protest. "How - when did you find out?"
"I have connections," Kurt said smugly, sorting through the bandages and selecting a small, round circular one.
Puck sat down heavily on the floor. "Oh, God."
"I won't tell Finn," Kurt assured him. "I wouldn't deprive you of the pleasure."
Somehow he hadn't even worried about that. Kurt was - trustworthy. What's said in the men's room stays in the men's room? Puck opened his mouth, closed it, and tried again.
"Finn is my best friend. So why am I so determined to treat him like crap? I mean, sometimes he is a wuss, but he didn't really do anything to deserve it." And of all the reasons he could have chosen to rip him a new one, he didn't need to pick obnoxious, status-conscious, self-absorbed Quinn. "She's not worth - She was just a - Finn is way more - "
My head pulsed and my lip throbbed. Puck remembered the look in Finn's eyes when he'd punched him, and his dick throbbed in response. He groaned and lay his head back against the bathroom wall. "What the fuck is up with me?" he roared.
Kurt crouched down gingerly beside Puck, distastefully balancing himself so as not to touch the admittedly less than sterile floor with his hands.
"If I may make a suggestion?"
"Be my guest," Puck said.
"You clearly have things you need to say to Finn. So - talk to me. Pretend I'm him. I won't judge and I won't interrupt. It'll give you a chance to sort out your thoughts. Then you can go and apologize. Finn's a good guy. He'll understand."
Puck gave a short bark of laughter. It sounded a little bit like a sob. "Yeah, well, I don't think he'd understand this."
"Then you can decide how much you really want to tell him after you figure it all out. Come on, Noah, you're a mess. Trust me, I know - I'm an expert on denial." He peeled the wrapping off the bandaid and pressed it against Puck's oozing chin, then he sat back on his heels and looked at him expectantly. "If you don't let it out, you're going to make yourself sick thinking about it."
Puck eyed Kurt balefully. "What are you, my therapist?"
Kurt's lip quirked. "Just an interested third party, trying to maintain peace and harmony in my environment. If you guys aren't speaking to each other, we're not going to get a lot of singing done, and we need all the practice we can get."
"Where do I start?" he groaned.
Kurt thought for a moment. "Try telling me - Finn - what you said before. About how you treat him. You said he doesn't deserve it?"
Puck closed his eyes, marshaling his thoughts. He tried to picture Finn there, waiting patiently. Finn always was.
"You... are the only one who treats me like a human being," Puck said slowly. "Everybody else expects me to be an asshole. Yeah, I pretty much am, I know, but you always gave me another chance. Even when we were kids. You've always been willing to let me try again, even when I don't deserve it."
Puck took a deep breath and let it out, continuing. "The thing is, I treat you like crap anyway. I have no idea why you haven't kicked my ass a thousand times. I'm a jerk. And I want you to know... I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Finn, and I can't promise I'll never be a jerk to you again, but here's me doing the best I can. You're a good friend - maybe my only real friend - and I... well, I guess I'm glad you're still around."
Puck opened his eyes to Kurt's thoughtful expression. "Okay," he allowed. "That was good. Really good. Now tell Finn why you slept with Quinn."
"I can't tell him about that," he snapped.
"So pretend you could."
"Kurt, I'm - I'm not ready to talk about it," he said, looking at Kurt pleadingly. "Really."
"Then when? This is a limited time offer."
Puck closed his eyes. "Give me until after sectionals."
"Too long. How's Sunday?"
"Fine." He looked up at Kurt, defeated. "Want me to come to your office, doc?"
"I'll be helping out in my dad's shop. Meet me there at noon." Kurt stood up and stretched his stiff legs, snapping the first aid kit shut. "You've got three days to sort this out, Noah." Then he strode out.
Puck looked after him, bemused, but feeling calmer, his headache subsiding, his muscles relaxing for the first time in days.
There was no reason he couldn't tell Finn all the things he'd just said to Kurt. He was his best friend. He deserved it. An apology was what he - what Puck - needed. And all that other stuff (Puck really wasn't ready to think about it) - it could wait.
Time to man up, Puckerman.