Ok, so this is going to be a series of one-shots all based on the infinite, random wisdom of my iPod. The stories won't be in any particular order, and they may not even exist in the same universe, but they will all be Puckleberry. Some will be friendship while others will be relationship, but they will all revolve around Puck and Rachel in some way. This first one is admittedly long, but still a one-shot story, as they all will be. I will put the title and author of the song at the beginning of each story, so if you don't know it, or even if you do, I suggest listening to the song either before or during reading, especially since some of them won't even be released for the radio. Enjoy!

~.~

"Wild Ponies" – Kellie Pickler

"Hey Q, I need you to do me a favor."

"This wouldn't be anything like the last favor I did for you would it? Because I don't exactly have nine months to spare."

"Haha, very funny. No, I need you to sing this during glee today." Puck shoved a set of sheet music in her face.

"Sing your own song Puck." Quinn slammed her locker and started walking toward her next class. "I don't know that Sam would appreciate me singing a song for my ex-boyfriend, or, well, whatever you are."

"Song's not exactly my style Q, and besides, your voice is actually kind of perfect for it. I didn't come to you because I have some big thing for you; I came to you because you would be good at it." Puck rolled his eyes. Yeah, so he and Quinn had a past. That didn't mean he was still hung up on her. "And I'll assure Sam myself that you're not singing it for me. Well, I guess you're singing it for me, cause I asked you to do it, but it won't be to me. It's just something that needs to be done."

Quinn hesitantly took the papers from her team mate. "And what am I supposed to do? Just stand up in the middle of glee club and announce that I have something to show everyone? I'm not Rachel," she scoffed.

"Ok, first of all, why do you need to bring Rachel into this? She's not even here and you're bashing on her? Give it a rest." Puck tried to control the anger caused by Quinn saying something negative about Rachel, but it didn't work. He took a deep breath and tried again. "Anyway," he continued much more calmly, "you'll know when the time is right. And if you don't, I'll tell you."

Quinn looked at him skeptically, and seeing sincerity in his eyes for once, she sighed and placed the sheet music in her binder. "Fine, I'll look at the song and as long as it isn't something completely ridiculous I'll consider it." Puck winked at her, trying to inject some sense of normalcy into the situation as he and Quinn went their separate ways to their first hour classes.

~.~

Quinn looked for Puck as she sat in the choir room after school. She had looked at the music he had given her. The song wasn't bad. In fact, she was kind of familiar with it and it was actually pretty beautiful. She just didn't understand why he wanted her to sing it. As her classmates filed in, she got lost in her quest to find Puck when Sam came to sit next to her and put his arm around her shoulders, talking animatedly about something that had happened that day. Before she had a chance to look for Puck again, Mr. Schuester was in the front of the room addressing the class. "Ok guys, so we're going to pick up where we left off with this week's assignments. Who's up next?"

"Hey, where's Rachel?" All eyes turned to Mercedes. "Has anyone seen her today?" The room was quiet for a moment as each member of the glee club considered that no, they had not in fact seen Rachel that day.

"I noticed she wasn't in English," Kurt added. "But I thought maybe she just had an appointment or something. She never misses glee! And she needs to get her little plaid-clad behind in here, cause I've got news!" Kurt looked around the room, attempting to build the suspense but quickly noticing that no one seemed all that interested, "Carol is taking me to New York over fall break and she got me two tickets to Wicked. I'm gonna take Rachel!" Mercedes squealed and hugged her friend as Finn smiled at his step-brother from across the room. He was glad Rachel had those two. Sure, he and Rachel were no longer together, and that was on him. He had screwed up, made some major mistakes and taken her way too much for granted, and now he was paying for it. But even if they weren't together, he still cared about her, a lot, and he was happy that she actually had good friends now. Especially since St. Jackass had conveniently come back to town during one of his stupider moments post-break up and had effectively wormed his way back into Rachel's life before Finn had a chance to come to his senses. He thought that Rachel's friendship with Mercedes and Kurt was one good way to keep her grounded while dating Jesse, who wasn't exactly encouraging of her status in glee anymore. Finn was pretty sure he heard Jesse mumble something when Kurt said he was going to take Rachel to New York. He would have to make sure to talk to Kurt and convince him not to let Rachel back out of this trip, no matter what excuses she came up with. Jesse had isolated her from most of the rest of glee already with his controlling ways; he couldn't break up the diva trio too.

Quinn scanned the room, seeing the intrigued faces that matched her own. Kurt was right; it was very out of character for Rachel to miss glee. She wondered if there was something really wrong. Was she sick? And even if she was, it would have to be bad. She had still shown up in her pajamas with that ridiculous cereal bowl when she had laryngitis. Quinn saw that everyone looked confused, talking quietly to one another about where Rachel might be. Everyone except the two boys in the back corners of the room. Jesse, their so-called 'consultant' sat in one corner looking very disinterested and studying his nails. 'Odd,' Quinn thought, 'he of all people should be able to shed some light on why Rachel isn't here.' In the opposite corner Quinn found Puck, who must have arrived after she started talking to Sam. Puck was slouched in his chair, arms crossed over his chest, staring daggers at Jesse. Hit with a realization, Quinn gasped as she jumped to pull her binder from her book bag.

"Everything ok babe?" Sam looked concerned.

"Yeah, there's um, just something I have to do." Quinn answered him as Puck's words ran through her mind. 'You'll know when the time is right.' "Mr. Schuester, I have a song I'd like to share with the class." Quinn made eye contact with Puck when she reached the front of the room and he nodded at her, almost imperceptibly.

"Umm, you already performed your assignment this week Quinn, remember?" Mr. Schuester looked at her with a slightly worried expression. First Rachel was out and now Quinn seemed to be having memory problems. Was something bad going around?

"I know, this is just something else I'd like to sing," Quinn turned on the charm as she looked at her teacher sweetly. "Consider it … extra credit! Only I don't really expect any points out of it or anything, I just think everyone here really needs to hear this song."

"Ok then, take it away I guess. Oh, and as soon as someone does hear from Rachel, I'd love to know how she is." The teacher turned his attention back to the class before taking a seat at the side of the room. Quinn handed the music to Brad, realizing that suddenly the song's lyrics seemed to be burned into her brain. She scanned the classroom one last time, starting with Puck, who winked and gave her a very small smile, then landing on someone else.

She was a beautiful girl
She was wild as the wind
On top of the world
'Till she fell in love with him
Everyone told her that he was bad news
A boy goin nowhere ain't no good for you

As Quinn began singing, all eyes were on her. Santana turned to roll her eyes at Brittany; of course Quinn would sing a song where she got to call herself a "beautiful girl." Most of the rest of the class didn't seem to mind, watching and waiting, since many of them were not familiar with the country song. As she came to the end of the first verse, Sam started to grow uncomfortable, feeling his teammates' eyes on him as his girlfriend sang. 'What the hell did I do?' He stared at her with wide eyes and a slack jaw. He felt as if he were silently pleading with Quinn to just stop singing so she could tell him what in the world was going on. He was starting to hear whispers behind him and he didn't like it one bit. But as he stared at Quinn, he realized something. She wasn't staring back. She was looking somewhere else entirely, and not looking very happy.

Cause wild ponies are born to run
Don't you know wild ponies
Don't belong to no one
So baby, run, run, run away

Sam twisted in his chair to follow Quinn's line of sight. She was shooting daggers toward the back of the room, attempting to kill Jesse with her glare. Mercedes saw Sam turn, and first assumed he was only trying to avoid Quinn since he had obviously screwed up big time. However, when she looked over to Quinn and saw that she seemed to be looking in the same direction as Sam, she nudged Kurt and they both turned to look at Jesse as well. Slowly, the other glee club members all began to notice that the attention was being shifted to their recent addition and they turned as well, all except Puck, who had been studying Jesse the entire time. Once they realized that Quinn was singing to Jesse, it wasn't hard to figure out that she was singing about him. And she wasn't singing about herself, she was singing about a different girl, one with whom she had a very odd, strained relationship. It was no secret to the glee clubbers that Rachel and Jesse's relationship was different from most, and they could all see that she had changed since she started dating him again, but none of them, except maybe Finn, had ever called the relationship bad. And they all attributed Finn's negativity to jealousy. The students kept their eyes on Jesse but continued listening to the words coming from Quinn's mouth, waiting to hear what came next in the unfamiliar song.

The first time he hit her
Was right after church
He said he was sorry
But it only got worse

Puck kept his eyes on St. James, but saw movement out of the corner of his eye. Finn lunged, almost jumping out of his chair as soon as the word "hit" left Quinn's lips. Puck leaned over and grabbed Finn's shoulders, shoving him back into his chair. He couldn't blame Finn for the reaction; Puck was pissed as hell himself. But he wanted to let the situation play out a bit more. Finn turned to his friend with clenched fists and gritted teeth. Puck shook his head deliberately and Finn settled back into his seat. He knew that expression; it meant "Not now, but soon." 'He better know what he's doing,' Finn thought. 'What the hell does he know anyway? Obviously more than me.' Finn wasn't sure how to feel about knowing that Puck knew something about Rachel that he didn't.

Now she's not the same girl
That she used to be
He's breaking her spirit
He's fencing her dreams

Once Puck was satisfied that Finn was going to stay put for the time being, he moved to turn back toward the subject of the song. He didn't want to let the asshole out of his sight any longer than necessary. As he turned, he saw that Mike and Sam had both turned toward him and Finn as well, their mouths open and their eyes full of anger and questioning him. His jaw clenched as he made eye contact with each of them and nodded. Both boys tightened their hands into fists and scooted to the edges of their seats, ready to move at the first indication from Puck, their unofficial leader.

Cause wild ponies are born to run
Don't you know wild ponies
Don't belong to no one
So baby, run, run, run away

Kurt and the girls continued to stare at Jesse, stealing glances at one another occasionally. Kurt reached both hands in opposite directions, grasping Mercedes's hand in one and Tina's hand in the other. Tina's free hand flew up to cover her mouth as she felt Mike tensing beside her. She knew he was itching to go after Jesse, and she wondered why he hadn't yet, but she couldn't take her eyes off the apparent traitor in their midst. Brittany could sense the tension in the room, but she didn't seem to understand why, so she looked between Artie and Santana, hoping one of her two closest friends could fill her in. Santana nodded at Artie and pulled Brittany close to whisper in her ear. Artie reached out to squeeze Britt's hand when he saw the tears slip from her eyes. Brittany got herself caught up in some bad stuff sometimes, thanks to Santana and Sue Sylvester, but she really was a very sweet, innocent person and he knew it broke her heart to know that Jesse had hurt Rachel.

She went out for groceries
Just an ordinary day
She realized she was just a block from the interstate
She sat at the stop light
The wheel in her hands
And when the light changed
She knew this was her chance

The girls turned back to the front of the room, watching Quinn as they heard her voice crack when she reached the last verse of the song. Although she knew how the song ended before she started singing it, the realization of it hadn't come over her until she actually said the words aloud. Watching her, all the other girls figured out what Quinn was just realizing; Rachel wasn't sick, she was gone. He had driven her away.

Puck watched Jesse slip out of the room almost unnoticed when the girls turned their attention back to the performer in front of them. He knew the other guys were watching him, waiting. He wasn't going to let him get away, they should know that. He just wanted to give him a minute or two's head start to think he was getting away; it would be more fun that way. There was only one way to get to the parking lot from the choir room, so he wasn't worried about losing him. As he waited, Sam's, Mike's, and Finn's eyes on him, he thought back to what brought him to this point.

On Saturday evening, Puck sat on his couch, feet propped on the coffee table and ready to enjoy a quiet evening at home since his mom was working the night shift and his sister was at a sleepover. Yeah, he was a badass, but he had partied pretty hard Friday night, and even badasses need a break sometimes. He actually really relished in his alone time at home, especially since he didn't get it often. He cursed under his breath when he heard the doorbell ring. He shuffled to the front door, taking the long way around to make a loop through the laundry room and grab a t-shirt from the clean stack. It was probably just one of the guys wanting to play COD or something, but better to be prepared just in case.

He rolled his eyes when he peeked around the curtain on the front door and saw Rachel, in all her diva-glory, standing on his porch with her arms crossed wearing large, dark sunglasses. The sun was well on its way to setting, the sunglasses were a bit much. He threw the shirt over his shoulder and flung the door open, "Alright Berry, what is it?" He sounded exasperated at first, but his voice softened when he opened the screen door and realized that her nose was red and he saw the tear tracks staining her cheeks. "Rachel? What's wrong?" She continued to stand on the porch, her arms crossed over her chest and clutching her body. "C'mon, get in here," he tried to soften his voice even more to sound inviting. He didn't like that she was standing on his front porch crying. He wanted to get to the bottom of the problem, stat.

He reached out the door and grasped her arm, prepared to pull her gently into the house. He was not prepared for her to gasp and yank her arm away from him. His eyes grew and he looked at her in confusion. "I … I got hit with a softball at a family picnic. It's still sore," she stammered out an explanation for her surprising reaction as she stepped gingerly into the house. Puck nodded, apparently willing to accept her explanation.

"Ok, well, you're here for something, and obviously you're upset, so let's go talk about it." Puck moved toward the living room, but turned back when he realized Rachel was not beside him. She had taken maybe two steps inside the house before she stopped, again hugging herself in what appeared to be an attempt to either keep warm or stop herself from shaking. "Berry, you know we're friends now. And if something happened, I'm here for you. But I'd rather be here for you in there." He gestured toward the living room as he placed his hand midway up her back and pushed her in the direction of the couch. She grimaced and squeaked out a loud cry when his hand landed on her back. "Rachel?" he questioned her kindly, but firmly. This wasn't right. Rachel was not a clumsy person; the only time he'd ever seen her have an accident was because of dancing too close to Finn. Without a word, he hooked the fingers of his right hand under the hem of her shirt and gripped her shoulder in his left hand to keep her from moving. He let out a breath he didn't realize he had been holding when she didn't react to his touch. At least she wasn't hurt there.

Puck mumbled a long string of curses, trying to keep his voice low so that Rachel wouldn't hear him, when he saw the flat bruise running all the way from one side of her back to the other. "That's not from a softball, Berry."

"I fell on the stairs," she mumbled. He could barely hear her. "My foot slipped and I went down on my back." He shook his head. How dare she lie to him! It was no coincidence that showed up on his door crying and bearing mysterious bruises. He walked around to face her, cupping her elbows in his hands, careful not to hurt her but not wanting to give her a chance to get away from him. "Take off your glasses Rachel." She didn't move, just kept hugging her body and staring at the floor. "Berry. Take. Off. Your. Fucking. Glasses." He felt her shudder, and he really did feel bad about being so harsh, but if she didn't take them off soon, he was going to do it himself, and as pissed as he was, he didn't trust himself to do it without hurting her. After a deep breath, she reached up and slowly removed the sunglasses, revealing a fresh, dark bruise over her left eye, complete with a small cut crusted with dried blood at the corner of the eye. "Oh my God!" He leaned forward and grabbed her, wrapping one arm high around her shoulders and dropping the other low onto her hips, hoping not to hit anymore bruises. When she didn't flinch or pull away, he pulled her closer to him and she melted into his body, wrapping her arms around his back and clutching at his shoulder blades. She buried her head in the crook of his neck and began to sob.

"Shh, it's ok. I'm here, Rach. I'm here." He wanted to rub her back, but he was afraid of hurting her, so he settled for planting soft kisses just above her ear and murmuring what he hoped were comforting words. After a few moments, he guided her to the couch without breaking the embrace. "Stay here, ok. I'll be right back." He kissed her softly on the top of her head once more after he had her comfortably seated on the couch. He threw on his shirt and ran up the stairs two at a time to his room and bathroom, then quickly went back down to the kitchen to get her a glass of water. Rachel looked up as he returned to the living room, carrying an armful of clothing, a small canister of something, and a glass of water. "Here." He handed her the glass first, watching as she gripped it in both hands and gulped down the water like a little kid. When she finished he sat the glass on the table next to the clothes he had brought and opened the canister of muscle salve. "Ok, this is something Beiste suggested we use when we're sore after football. I can't promise it will make your bruises feel better, but it can't hurt. And if nothing else, you get a nice free massage out of the deal." He forced a small smile, hoping to lighten the mood a bit. She didn't smile, but she looked up at him and he saw that she was no longer actively crying.

"You trust me, right?" Puck asked, hoping she would answer positively. She didn't answer verbally, but she nodded her head timidly. "Ok, just remember that." He reached toward her and tenderly grasped the hem of her shirt on either side. She looked at him with wide eyes as he tugged the shirt upward. "Trust me, remember." She swallowed and lifted her arms over her head. He stood as he pulled the shirt off her. He turned to drop the sweater on the coffee table and pick up the cream. When he turned back, he saw something he had missed the first time, probably because of the position of her arms. On the front of her right shoulder was a dark, oddly shaped bruise that he could tell, based on the coloring, was older than the one on her back. There was a large red area around the bruise that looked raw, like maybe some of the skin had peeled off.

Seeing that he was staring, Rachel offered an explanation. "Coffee cup." The words were so quiet he could barely hear them.

"Mother fu-," he caught himself, knowing Rachel would not appreciate a profane outburst. If anything, it would scare her or make her more upset. "Was there … Was there coffee in it?"

"It was my fault," she whispered. "I made it wrong." Puck's jaw dropped as he stared at her. This was not the Rachel Berry that he knew. What had that asshole done to her, besides the obvious?

"Look at me," he cupped her chin and guided her eyes to his. "That," he nodded toward her shoulder, "could never be your fault. Never." He held her hands and rubbed small circles over her knuckles with his thumbs. "Now, lay down on your stomach for me, k?" she nodded and he held her arm lightly, guiding her down onto the couch. Before he took his hand from her arm, he slid it up to where he had grabbed before and confirmed what he already knew. That was no softball bruise; the five small bruises almost fit his fingers exactly. The handprint looked to be from about the same time as the bruises, plural, on her back. Now that she was shirtless and laying on her stomach, he saw two more bruises matching the one he had seen on her lower back, each about six inches higher than the previous one. "Rach, what happened to your back?"

"I already told you, I fell on the stairs."

"Berry -,"

"Really, Noah, I fell on the stairs."

"You fell? Or you were pushed?" Her silence told him what her words couldn't. That explained why the bruises on her back seemed to be from about the same time as the one on her arm, they were probably a matched set. "And your face? That one looks new. What happened?" She took in shaky breath and stared at him for a moment, hoping he would let it go if she stalled long enough. But he kept staring at her, expectantly, and she knew it wasn't going to happen.

"My dads are out of town until Monday, so Jesse said he was going to come stay with me," Puck nodded, that explained why she hadn't been at temple that morning. "Everything was fine until about an hour ago. We had just finished dinner, and Jesse went to get dessert from the freezer, but I had forgotten to pick up his regular ice cream and all I had was soy, which he hates. So, he umm … got upset," Rachel unconsciously lifted her hand to touch the tender skin around her eye. "Then he sent me out to get the kind he likes."

"And that's how you ended up here." He meant for it to be a question, but it was really more of a statement, since he didn't even need to see her nodding her head to know he was right. "Well, I'm glad you're here. I mean, I'm not, because none of this should ever have happened in the first place. But I'm glad you're here now, that you trust me and that you didn't wait any longer."She buried her head in the couch cushions to try to hide the tears coming back into her eyes. He clenched his hands a few times before grabbing the canister off the table to rub the cream into the muscles of her back. The only thing keeping him in the house and not out hunting down Jesse St Dickwad was the way Rachel looked at him. There was no way he could leave her when she needed him so much. She flinched when he first ran his hand across the bruise, but she didn't cry out, so he thought that was a good sign, at least. There was no way to do this without touching her, so he was just trying to be gentle. Once he had rubbed the cream into her entire lower back and could feel it warming under his hands, he rested his hands on the back of her bra. "I'm going to unhook your bra, ok? I promise, I won't look at you or touch anything I shouldn't, but this will work a lot better if it's not in the way." She only nodded her consent. He unhooked the bra and pushed it aside, repeating the process on her upper back. Once he had covered her entire back, he ran his hands down her sides and across the top of her skirt to rub in any remaining cream on his hands. He felt her flinch when his fingers grazed her waistband and he saw that her legs were pressed incredibly tightly together. "What was that?"

"Hmm?" She answered innocently, not wanting him to ask any more questions.

"I barely touched your skirt and your legs locked up tighter than Fort Knox. Berry, tell me right now that he didn't do anything to you … down there." He tried to study her face, but she turned her head away from him. "Dammit Rachel! Tell me he did not r-r-r," he stuttered over the word, not able to actually complete it. "Shit, just tell me he didn't."

"Of course not," she tried to sound indignant, but it wasn't working. She reached behind her to reclasp her bra, but he pushed her hands away and did it for her as she turned to look at him again before sitting up once her bra was fixed. "He's my boyfriend. A boyfriend can't do that."

"Here," he handed her the t-shirt he had brought down from his room, a gray one with the words 'Property of McKinley High Football' in red across the front, and sat on the coffee table to face her. "You don't want to put your sweater on with that stuff on your back. This'll be pretty big, probably just as long as most of your skirts, but I brought you some pj pants just in case. You'll have to pull the drawstring as tight as it will go, and they're probably six inches too long, but you'll be comfortable."

"I have one of these," she said sadly, fingering the lettering across the front of the shirt. He knew it couldn't have been hers originally, only football players got those shirts.

"Yeah, this one won't be quite that big," he chuckled, referring to the size difference between himself and Finn, "but it'll still swallow you." He watched as she slipped the shirt over her head then pulled on his flannel pants, slipping her skirt off over top of them. When she tossed her skirt next to him on the table and it landed on top of her sweater beside his knee, he remembered their previous conversation, or attempted conversation. "Rach, what did you mean when you said 'a boyfriend can't do that?' Did you mean like, he can't because a boyfriend cares about you and could never do something so horrible?" He picked at the drawstring on his own pajama pants, afraid to say what he really needed to say next. "Or did you mean he can't because like, there is no such thing when it comes to boyfriends?" He was waiting, praying, for her to tell him it was the first answer, to gasp and even get offended that he would suggest such a thing. Anything to take away that feeling in his stomach, that feeling that was telling him to get out of the house right now and hunt down that asshole. "Rach?" he finally looked up at her, trying to prompt her to give him some kind of answer.

"Well, I mean, that's true right?" Rachel couldn't meet her friend's eyes. She knew he didn't want to hear what she was about to say, and she really didn't want to tell him, but he wasn't leaving her much of an option. "I'm his girlfriend. It's kind of his right, isn't it? I mean, I don't really have a right to tell him no." She had dropped her head and studied her fingernails while she was speaking, but she looked at him once she finished, hoping her answer would be satisfactory. Apparently, it wasn't. His jaw was lax and his hands clutched his knees until his knuckles turned white. She had never seen his eyes that dark before. "Anyway," she continued, hoping to smooth over the situation, "it's just sex."

Puck jumped off the table and fell to his knees on the floor in front of Rachel. He took a few deep breaths to steady himself so that the scream ripping in his throat wouldn't tear its way out when he tried to talk to her. He cupped her face in his hands and lifted her head, which kept finding its way staring into her lap, to make eye contact. "Ok, first of all Berry, I know you, and there is no thing as 'just sex' when it comes to you. Secondly, that," he grimaced, "is not sex. You don't deserve that. No one does. Sex is sposed to be fuckin' awesome. Sex is, well, sex is what you would have with me." She blushed, but he rushed on quickly, because for once, he wasn't trying to tease her or get a rise out of her with sexual innuendo. "I mean it, because I at least care about you, I mean, we're friends, right?" He watched her and waited for confirmation. She nodded at him with big eyes. "Ok, so yeah, we're friends so I care about you in some way, and, let's face it, I know what I'm doing, so it would be pretty amazing. Point is, that's what you …" he was about to tell her that was what she deserved, but as he watched her broken form in front of him, he realized something. "No, you don't even deserve that." She looked at him, trying to decide if she should be offended or intrigued. "You're special Rach, you deserve someone who will hold you, and kiss you, and well, love you. You don't deserve what he's doing to you, and you don't even deserve sex, you deserve to be made love to. Hell, you deserve Finn."

Puck stood as he finished his speech, even he was surprised at the words pouring out of his mouth. He hadn't intended to say all of that, but as the words came out he knew they were true. And yeah, maybe he shouldn't have brought Finn into it without his friend's permission, or even his knowledge, but that part was just as true as the rest of it. Finn loved her more than anything, he would treat her like a princess if he ever got the chance to be with her. And he knew Finn wanted that chance. Finn would do anything to … oh God, Finn. Yeah, Puck was pissed, Rachel was one of his best friends and his hands were itching to get ahold of Jesse, but Finn, he was in love with her. He was going to take this even worse than Puck, if possible. Although, the longer he stood there, watching Rachel cry at his reference to what she was missing out on, the more he started to feel that it would be impossible for even Finn to be any more pissed than he was at that moment. "Be right back," he kissed the top of Rachel's head and rubbed her back before picking up the glass he had brought her and walking toward the kitchen.

He had to get out of that room for a minute. He was on the brink of losing it, and he didn't want her to see that. He placed the glass on the kitchen counter as gently as possible, then kept walking out the back door. He walked to the back corner of his yard, putting as much distance between himself and Rachel as possible. "Fuuuuuuuuuuuuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!" He shook the fence with his hands as he screamed up into the sky. Puck was an asshole. He'd always been an asshole. And he never treated girls right. But dammit, he was completely appalled at what had been happening to Rachel. He had never laid a hand on a girl when it wasn't out of affection or admiration, and although he had a tendency to be persuasive, he knew what "no" meant. Even Quinn, who had probably taken the most persuasion, had never said no. In fact, Rachel was probably the only girl who had ever actually turned him down, and that was that. He respected her, they were friends, and while he was often flirty, he never did anything she didn't want him to. What kind of guy, creep, would even want it that way?

Finally calm enough to rejoin Rachel in his living room, Puck made his way back into the kitchen. He grabbed the water glass he had taken her earlier and filled it with orange juice. He reached into the medicine cabinet over the fridge and grabbed one of the over-the-counter sleeping pills his mom kept around for when she switched back and forth between day and night shifts and had a hard time adjusting to the change. As he crushed the chalky pill with the back of a spoon, he wondered for a moment if this made him as bad as Jesse. He pushed the thought away, telling himself that he was doing it for her own good. He knew she would have a hard time sleeping tonight, and he was afraid he wouldn't be able to convince her to stay if she had too much time to think about it. There was no way he was letting her walk out that door when there was any chance she would go back to her house, where there was no one except maybe Jesse.

"Here," he handed her the glass of tainted orange juice when he made his way back into the living room. She looked up at him through watery eyes and took the glass.

"I'm so sorry," he looked at her quizzically as he dropped onto the couch and propped his feet on the table in front of him. "I shouldn't have just come over here and dumped all this on you. I was out of line." He watched with satisfaction as she finished the juice, then took the glass from her and sat it on the end table. He wrapped an arm around her shoulder and pulled her so that her body was flush against his and her head rested on his shoulder.

"You're right. You were out of line. But only because you should have been here after the very first time so that I could put a stop to it right then. I would -," Puck stopped as he heard a light snore coming from his side. He laughed lightly; she must have been really tired when she came over, those pills didn't work that fast. He debated waiting it out on the couch to make sure she was really asleep, but he was impatient and willing to take a chance on her own exhaustion combined with the drugs he had given her. Bracing her back with one arm, he stood and hooked the other arm under her legs, lifting her easily to carry her to his room. Halfway up the stairs to his room, Rachel began to stir and he froze.

"Noah? Where are you taking me?"

"To my room. To bed," Puck rolled his eyes at the panicked look on her face as she tried to squirm out of his arms and he kept walking. "Don't worry, I don't plan on staying there with you. You just need a place to sleep, and there's no way I'm leaving you on the couch." He had made it to his bedroom and he lowered her gently onto his bed.

"I can go home," she muttered, but even as she did her speech was slurred and she could barely keep her eyes open. He resisted the urge to laugh when she snuggled into his pillow and blankets, even while trying to convince him to let her go home.

"Yeah, ok." He scoffed. He could see she was going to try to fight him on it some more, so he picked up his guitar and gently strummed out the opening chords before quietly singing the words of "Sweet Caroline." She was snoring before the end of the first verse. He closed the door softly and padded down the stairs to slip on a pair of sneakers and grab his keys and cell phone. He figured Jesse would have realized by now that she wasn't coming home and left, but part of him actually hoped that he would still be there. When he came to a stoplight, he texted his mom. He knew he shouldn't text and drive, but he wanted to give her a heads-up, just in case she got off work early or something. He didn't expect her to, but he certainly didn't want her getting the wrong idea if she came home to find Rachel in his bed. 'Ma – rach staying night. Dnt worry, nuthin dirty. Had some problems at home and dads out of town. Takin her to beccas in the mornin'

When Puck pulled into Rachel's driveway, Jesse's car was noticeably absent. 'Probably for the best,' he thought. As much as he would love to get his hands on him right away, Rachel's house was probably not the best setting. He ran up to her room and straight into her closet. He found a small suitcase on the shelf in the top of the closet and started throwing things in. He grabbed a few skirts and a handful of sweaters. He didn't notice if they matched or not, but it didn't really matter, partly cause Rachel's outfits never seemed to match, and partly cause no one would care what she was wearing where she was about to go. He didn't bother with shoes because she had to have been wearing some when she got to his house. He assumed that underwear and those knee socks she seemed to be so fond of would be in the top drawer of the dresser, and he was right. He filled the remaining space in the suitcase with Rachel Berry's delicates, something he never expected to see, let alone have in his hands. He was headed for the door when something occurred to him and he dropped the suitcase and turned back into the room. He started with his own hiding place, the bottom drawer, but he found only an extensive collection of Broadway hits on DVD. He went through the rest of the drawers quickly but found only regular clothes and other very-Berry items. 'Dammit. Where would that thing be?' He looked through her closet quickly, but it was extremely organized and there was no way he was missing what he was looking for.

'One last shot.' He fell to his knees and looked under her bed. 'Bingo.' He grabbed the box, a shoebox covered in gold wrapping paper with the word "faithfully" painted in large black letters on the side. He considered bringing the entire box, but there really wasn't room in her suitcase, so he opened it, and the first thing he saw was exactly what he had been looking for; Finn's football t-shirt. He knew she appreciated him letting her wear his, but nothing would compare to Finn's. He took a second to look in the box, feeling a little like a voyeur for spying on his friends' past. Most of the things he didn't even get, like the weird little plastic cups, but some things were totally obvious. The most obvious was the picture just under the shirt. It had the entire glee club from their first year at regionals, but most of them were blurry, with Rachel and Finn standing at the front of the stage as the focus of the photo. They were in the process of turning back toward their teammates, his hand outstretched and waiting to grasp hers. She was looking up at him, her eyes full of adoration, and he was smiling at her, both of them looking like they were the only two people in the world. He wasn't quite sure how Rachel had gotten the picture, it was obviously taken by someone in the audience, but he knew she cherished it, just like every other thing in that box. He also knew that adding that picture and Finn's shirt to the belongings in her suitcase was more than a little manipulative, but he didn't care. He didn't exactly think that Rachel needed to just bounce from Jesse back to Finn; he knew that wouldn't be healthy. But he did want to remind her that she was worth more than that creep and that there was someone out there who knew that. And he knew that whenever Rachel was ready, Finn would still be waiting to prove it to her.

He was almost out the front door when his phone rang. "Yeah ma?"

"Noah! What on earth is going on?" His mother's voice was breathless and he actually felt kind of bad. His text from before probably really freaked her out.

"Ok, first, calm down." He paused to climb into his truck and start the ignition as he heard her take a deep breath. "Rachel came over tonight, and she, well, she's kinda covered in bruises." He waited for his mother's hysterical reply.

"What! How the hell did that happen Noah? Was she in an accident? What about her fathers?"

"Again, calm down." He rolled his eyes as he approached the stop sign at the end of Rachel's street. "No. she wasn't in an accident. It was that … boyfriend of hers." He practically spat the word. "And her dads are out of town, so I guess our place was the only safe place she could think of to go to. She's asleep in my room now – I kinda gave her one of your sleeping pills, I hope that's ok. I didn't want her waking up and trying to go back home alone. I'm taking her to aunt Becca's in the morning. I don't know what else to do. I just know she can't see him again, ever." Rebecca wasn't actually his aunt, but an old friend of his mom's who they had stayed with for a while when his dad first left. She ran a home mostly for battered women where she helped them get back on their feet and become independent again.

"Well Noah," she seemed to have calmed a bit, she now only seemed pissed rather than frantic, "Rachel isn't exactly a battered woman."

"I know, but neither were you when we went there. She needs to get herself back on track. I know she's not married, or even an adult for that matter, but he's really messed her up, ma. He's destroyed her, and not just physically. She has no idea who she is anymore, or what she's worth. She needs some time somewhere that there is no chance of her seeing or talking to him, and she needs some therapy. I know she can get both of those things there. I'm actually on my way home from her house now. I packed her a bag and as soon as she wakes up in the morning, we're gone."

"Ok." His mom sounded quite calm. Actually, she was very proud of him for what he was doing for his friend.

"Ok?"

"Yes. You're right. I'll call her fathers tomorrow and let them know what's going on. I can't promise they won't go right up there and get her, they'll undoubtedly be very upset about the whole situation, but I'll try my best to convince them the way you've convinced me. Just promise me something Noah."

"Yeah, ma?" He had arrived home a minute before, but remained in his truck to finish the conversation with his mother. He was kind of dreading going back into the house, knowing Rachel was in there, like that.

"Please take care of her. She's a good girl. She doesn't deserve any of this."

"I know ma. And I will." He hung up and climbed out of the truck, closing the door quietly behind him. He left the suitcase in the truck, knowing that Rachel would probably argue with him if she saw it in the morning and he wanted to make it as easy as possible to get her to go with him. He also didn't want her finding what he had snuck in for her until she was at Becca's. He walked quietly up the stairs and to his closed door to check on her. He opened the door slowly and as he stood in his own doorway and watched her sleeping peacefully on his bed, that bruise around her eye glaring back at him, he felt something burning in the back of his throat. Noah Puckerman didn't cry, but if he did, now would be a damn good time.

Wild ponies are born to run
Don't you know wild ponies
Don't belong to no one
Baby, run, run, run away

Quinn finished the song and dropped her head and her hands, which had been furiously wringing in front of her. She wasn't sobbing, but there were noticeable tears streaming down her face when Mr. Schuester came to put his arm around her shoulders. "Well, Quinn," Puck stopped listening to whatever Schue was saying. Jesse was gone, Mike, Sam, and Finn were still staring at him, and everyone else had turned their attention to Quinn. He nodded subtly to his friends and the four young men slipped out the back door of the room, seemingly unseen by their classmates and teacher. Although Jesse had left almost a full minute before them, they caught up with him quickly, heading toward Rachel's locker. 'Maybe there's some evidence in there he wants to get his hands on,' Puck thought. Finn was the first to reach him, almost breaking into a run as soon as he had seen Jesse. He grabbed the smaller man by his collar and lifted him to eye level, slamming him into the lockers behind him.

"So what, you and your Neanderthal friends going to gang up on me now or something?" Finn, unable to form a coherent sentence at the moment, only growled and tightened his grip on Jesse's shirt.

"Teamwork, right?" Mike spoke up when he noticed that Finn was at a loss for words. "Isn't that what you taught us, Mr. Consultant? Find your strength and everyone else rally around that?"

"Yeah," Sam pitched in, "and we're actually two teams, if you think about it. I mean, between glee club and football, we're basically together all the time. It's like we can read each other's minds. So I guess we'll be a doubly good team." Finn might have been able to find the wit in his friends' comments if he could have heard anything over his own blood pounding in his ears.

"And besides, if you find it fair for a big tough guy like yourself to beat up on a sweet, innocent little girl like Rachel, it's only fair that the four of us get to work together to teach you how fucked up that is." Puck was standing only inches from Finn and Jesse. He would let Finn get in the first shot, but he was going to be right there to get his turn next.

Apparently, Puck's words brought Finn back to reality and, still holding Jesse against the lockers with his left hand, he punched Jesse hard in the stomach then let go, leaving the doubled-over young man to fall into a heap on the floor. Still trying to display his so-far only slightly bruised ego, Jesse forced out a laugh as Finn took a step back. "So that's it, huh?"

Finn lunged, but before he could get within striking distance again, Puck was on top of Jesse, his fist flying across Jesse's jaw. He cocked his fist, ready to go again, when a smirk grew on his face and he climbed off Jesse, looking at Finn knowingly. "You know Finn, he took something that should have been yours." Puck threw a glance at Sam and Mike, who moved to hold Jesse against the lockers by his arms as he walked toward Finn.

Finn looked at his friend, not quite knowing what he was referring to, or why he was smiling like that. But the longer he looked at him, the darker Puck's look became, and he thought he understood what Puck was getting at. "No," Finn shook his head violently, "no. She wouldn't give that to him. She wouldn't the first time," he looked at Jesse in disgust, "and she wouldn't have this time. I know her better than that; I know what she wanted, Broadway, a Tony, 25. We talked about that." He kept shaking his head. If he kept saying no, it wouldn't be true.

"You're right Finn," Puck spoke slowly and deliberately. "She wouldn't give it to him. But that doesn't mean he wouldn't take it." Mike and Sam, clearly confused by the conversation, jumped out of the way when they heard a completely new noise escape Finn's throat and saw him lunging in their direction. Finn again lifted Jesse to meet his eyes, this time with his hand wrapped around his throat. He squeezed until he could feel that Jesse's breathing was labored, but still possible.

"The only reason you're going to be leaving this school alive today," he leaned so that his lips were only an inch from Jesse's ear and growled so lowly that even his friends couldn't hear him, "is because there wouldn't be anyone to look after Rachel if Puck and I go to prison."

~.~

"Oh, Mr. Schuester, one more question," Tina waved her hand in the air. It was her turn to try to come up with something to keep their teacher busy.

"Look, Artie, Kurt, girls, you can stop trying to distract me now. I saw Jesse leave, and I saw the guys leave a minute later. I'm not stupid. But I will play dumb if they get caught." The remaining members of the glee club breathed a collective sigh of relief and the guys walked in as if on cue. Sam and Mike were first, looking surprisingly collected and going to sit on either side of their girlfriends, who were now sitting next to one another. Finn and Puck followed, seconds behind, each cradling his right hand against a bag of ice. Everyone in the room followed them with their eyes as they made their way to the back of the room and sat down in silence. "How … how is Jesse?" Mr. Schuester stammered. "Do I need to be prepared for a visit from the police?"

"He walked out," Finn grumbled, obviously not happy about that.

"Yeah, and I wouldn't worry too much about the fuzz, Mr. Schue," Puck added, "cause if he goes to the cops they'll find out why we did what we did, and he doesn't want that. Neither does Rachel," he added quickly, "just so you all know." Quinn and Tina cast another glance at Finn and Puck nursing their swollen knuckles, then shot withering stares at their boyfriends.

"What the hell Sam," Quinn hissed.

"Yeah," Tina added, "did you two just stand there and watch?"

"You don't understand!" Sam defended himself, eyes wide.

"Yeah, they just, they just lost it. They wouldn't let us do anything besides hold him," Mike chimed in. "As soon as one of them would move away, one of us would start to do something, but the other one was right there before we had a chance."

"It started off normal, like, they looked pissed, but it looked like a fairly normal fight," Sam lowered his voice and Quinn and Tina leaned in closer to hear him better. "But then Puck started telling Finn how Jesse stole something from Rachel or something, I didn't really get it," Mike shook his head when the girls looked at him, he didn't get it either. "Finn went nuts. I thought he was going to strangle Jesse right then, but he said something I couldn't hear before he punched him right in the nose." Sam was shaking his head at the memory. Finn was a big guy, and it didn't surprise him that he could do so much damage, but he had never seen Finn act like that before.

"Yeah," Mike added, "then Puck said something about making him cry the way Rachel cried, and next thing I knew, Finn was crying."

Sam interrupted quickly, almost as if defending his friend's honor. "But it wasn't like, sad crying. He just looked really really pissed. And then him and Puck were all over Jesse, and like Mike said, the only thing we could do was hold him when one of them moved to let the other get in a shot."

"It looked kind of familiar," Mike spoke up, looking sheepishly at Quinn, "only this time Finn and Puck were on the same side." Quinn's face glowed but she didn't say anything.

"So," Tina inquired, "was Finn telling the truth, did Jesse walk out? I mean, they didn't like, do any permanent damage did they?" She noticed the looks the others were giving her, and quickly added, "I don't want them getting in any trouble!"

"Yeah babe, he walked out. Barely. And not before they made sure he won't even think about Rachel ever again."

"How long have you known?" Finn growled at Puck, trying to make sure their classmates couldn't hear. Now that Jesse was out of the way, he was able to go back to one of his previous thoughts, 'what does Puck know?' He wasn't so sure he shouldn't be pissed at Puck as well.

"Saturday." Puck saw his friend's face visibly relax. Did he really think he would have known about this and done nothing? "I guess she finally decided she'd had too much, so she came over. I talked to her for a while, calmed her down, you know, friend stuff. Then I kind of slipped her a sleeping pill so I could go get some stuff from her house cause I planned to get her out of town first thing yesterday morning."

Finn nodded, he wanted to ask where he took her, but he knew it wouldn't do any good. "So …" Finn hated that he was being so selfish as to think about himself and his own feelings in this situation. "She was upset. And she came to you." Puck couldn't miss the way his friend's shoulders slumped in defeat.

"Yeah man. But he was still at her house when she left. And what if he had followed her or something? Your house is in the opposite direction from where she was supposed to be going, she probably wouldn't have even made it there. Besides, I'm sure she wouldn't want to dump all that on your door with your family and everything. Not so much to worry about with me." Puck shrugged. He didn't really know why Rachel had come to him and not Finn, and yeah, he was making all this shit up as he went along, but he didn't want his friend to be hurt by it.

"Yeah, ok," Finn wasn't convinced. But he tried to just be happy that Rachel had gone to a friend who could actually help her. In fact, it sounded like Puck may have done more for her than he would have been able to anyway. He didn't know where he had taken her, but he knew Puck had connections from when his dad had left. Finn probably wouldn't have even thought of something like that. "I just, I want her to know she can still come to me and stuff."

"She knows," Puck clapped his uninjured hand on Finn's shoulder. "We talked about you, ya know." Finn looked at him hopefully. "And she knows you're here for her. But she's, she's not really, available right now, you know? And she probably won't be for a while." Finn nodded. He understood, but that didn't mean he was giving up. Eventually she would be available again, and she would need someone who really loved her and understood her, and he would be that person.

"Can you, just …" he didn't know how to say what he needed to say. Rachel was the only person he could ever really explain his feelings to.

"Yeah man, next time I talk to her, I'll let her know," Puck smiled at Finn, who still looked a little lost. "And when she comes home, you'll be the first to know, I promise."

"Thanks."