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"One two three and-" Schue's running through their latest routine for a school assembly, something about the dangers of drink driving (and Puck hates that everyone looked at him when they announced it before he remembered that oh yeah, he'd done that apparently) and somehow they were to pull something off like the whole Alcohol Awareness. Beyond driving a car through the gym, Puck isn't sure how the hell singing and dancing is supposed to convey the message that drinking and driving is likely to kill someone but no one really listens to Puck anyway so whatever.
They're three quarters of the way through the routine when there's the sound of a voice clearing and everyone stops. Puck actually trips over his own foot when he sees her in the walkway of the auditorium. She just giggles a little and he actually manages to blush. This, Puck notices, draws looks from Santana, Quinn and Kurt. "I'm sorry to interrupt; I need to speak with Mr Puckerman." Without waiting for the okay, Puck just walks to the edge of the stage and hops off, slipping through the seats to reach her.
"Hey, Nicky, how's it going?" Nicky -or Nicola as she insists that Noah call her but he never does- is a thirty three year old social worker; she's got hair like Quinn's and a laugh like Tina's and a heart of fucking gold and Puck always tries to be polite and nice with her. Aside from the name thing that is.
"Now you're stealing my lines, Noah. And it's Nicola. Or Mrs Roberts if you know what's good for you." She has this way about her that Puck really likes; she's friendly but has an air of authority that makes it easy to talk to her, to trust her. She's been there ever since things crashed down and he's never once regretted blurting everything out to her in a fit of panic (in truth, she was more like a mother than his own mother ever tried, but she's too hot to think of like a mom and too mothering for Puck to be anything but respectful with her). "Seriously, how are you doing Noah?"
"Good, actually. Mrs Forbes is really great, she's awesome. And Sarah's back to dancing so that's been good. I mean there are issues, but it's so much easier to deal with." Puck learned early on not to bullshit with Nicky, she picked up on it fast and it was just himself he was screwing over, and Puck was sick of being screwed over.
"That's good to hear," she stops them at the door to the auditorium, and even though Puck can hear his classmates going through the routine again, he knows some of them are watching him. "I got your medical reports, everything is clear and good and there don't appear to be any problems, but remember, if anything comes up, you go straight to the doctor." Puck nods his head sharply, because he's not interested in going down the road he's been on thank you very much (yeah, nine fucking days of not sleeping coupled with anxiety and a fucking headache to kill all headaches and fucking withdrawal will do that to a guy). "I mostly wanted to drop off these papers for you." She hands him a manila envelope with a sticky note on the front. "That's the helpline, so if you get into any trouble filling any of these out, just give them a call." Puck opens the envelope just to read over everything, nodding his head again.
"And the stuff to get financial help?"
"It's already in the system. You will need to wait until you're eighteen to file those, but everything will be waiting for you once that's done." Puck has never wanted a birthday this badly. "Are you sure about this Noah? It's a lot of responsibility. Sarah is a bright and capable girl, I'm sure she'd be fine staying with Mrs Forbes for a while longer."
"No, I mean, I'm sure, yeah. Sarah's been through enough, you know. I just want her at home, with me, happy and just being a kid. Mrs Forbes is great, but she's got other kids to take care of. Sarah deserves the world. I'm gonna get that for her." Puck isn't sure how Sarah's come through this all without losing her mind, they both had one hell of a time after the car crash, and then trying to keep everything quiet while getting through all the shit they did. Puck's just glad Sarah isn't as messed up as he's been.
"You'll be great," Nicky gives his cheek a pat, leaning up to kiss his other cheek before closing her brief case, "you need anything you call kiddo. Martin wants you to come over and help lay the patio decking, but I think it's just so he doesn't have to do it all himself." The thing about Nicky is that she's more than just this worker bee. She's a social worker that has to work herself to the bone if she's like this with every case, because Puck's convinced that she's a saint or an angel or something. Nicky's family pretty much adopted Puck and Sarah, and that was scary because on that first night, right after the crash, Puck and Sarah had no where to go and Nicky just took them home with her, like it was nothing. Martin accepted it like she did it all the time and Puck wouldn't be surprised if she did. Her two kids didn't bat an eye when they woke up the next morning to a scared little girl and a shaking teenager sitting in their living room. And ever since, Sarah's been having play dates with the kids and Puck's started to develop some crazy big brother/uncle/father figure thing with Martin.
He's pretty sure Nicky Roberts saved his life.
The group halt in their performance when Puck climbs back onto the stage and places his paperwork on the piano with a look at Brad who just nods. And then it's back to his spot on the stage, ignoring the looks from everyone. Until Mike smirks at him. "Hot ass cougar, bro. Nice." For some reason, he can't just let them think that of Nicky, because she's better than that.
"Shut up dude, it's not like that. She's-" he can't really say that she's his social worker, because none of them even know he and Sarah have been moved into foster care never mind what happened with his mom, "She's not like that." She's not some bored housewife looking to score and Puck's not doing that any more anyway, because he's better than that, and when he's not out of his mind he's not thinking about sex twenty four seven anyway (sometimes he wonders just how many of his bad habits came from his mothers one bad habit and really, he might not be so screwed up if she wasn't so screwed up and man, that's just a fucking pain in the ass).
They go back to rehearsing, everyone lets his quick meeting with Nicky go for now and the get the choreography down for their mash-up. At least until everyone is packing up and Puck's standing talking to Sam and Artie about the merits of Han Solo versus Luke Skywalker and he forgets that he left his documents sitting out where any nosy little diva could rifle through. "Petition for Legal Guardianship of a Minor? Noah, what are you doing?" Puck checks out of the Star Wars geek out so fast his head nearly rolls and practically glares at Rachel.
"What the hell Berry?" Realistically he shouldn't have expected her not to look, because he did leave them beside her sheet music or whatever, but she could've at least shut up and not announced it to the whole club (because now he's got everyone staring at him while Schue finds something fascinating on the floor). "Do you have a difficulty with 'none of your business' or something?"
"These are to get you guardianship of a minor," she's waving them around like they're the tickets to her favourite Broadway show or something. "What are you doing with these?" It's like she's developed Finn's stupidity through osmosis or something (and shit he's actually paying attention in class or something because he sucks at biology).
"I'm petitioning for guardianship of a minor. What do you think I'm doing, running for Presidency?" He doesn't want to deal with this and shit, he should've just put them in his back pack but stupid him didn't want to take up more time of rehearsal and piss Berry off more.
"Are you- are you," now Quinn's getting into it and Puck just wants to beat his head against the piano. "Is this about Beth?"
"No, okay, it's not Beth, I signed away my parental rights to Beth, we only had six months to change our minds on that." And he dropped the ball because by that time his mom was cooking and he was slowly but surely losing it and things like Beth and wanting her and fucking sleep were a thing of the past.
"Then who are you wanting guardianship of?" It's like he's a fucking zoo exhibit, he didn't feel this on the spot when Finn punched him for knocking up his girlfriend, he also didn't feel this well observed when he came back from 'juvie' and frankly, he does not like being the centre of attention when it is not on his terms.
"Sarah, okay? I'm looking to get legal guardianship of Sarah when I turn eighteen." Because even if he is her big brother, he still needs to prove that he is a capable guardian and that she will be safe and loved and cared for with him just as well if not better than if she were in the system. It's sort of like fostering his own sister but Puck doesn't really understand the system well enough to really work out the details. "Mom's out of the picture, so I need to jump through the hoops." Funnily enough, he's loathe to outright lie to them -mostly just to Finn and Santana and maybe Artie because they're sort of friends now. They talked about support systems out with the clinic and Puck didn't think he'd need them, because he had Sarah and he had Nicky who was always willing to listen and his Bubbie made a point on calling when she could now (apparently she tried a lot before things got too bad, but his Ma hadn't exactly been the sort to remember to pass on the message).
"Dude, what's wrong?" And damn Finn and his stupid 'I want to help' stuff. Because Puck wants to tell him, he figures out of everyone he can really just sit down with Finn and talk until his throat hurts and that Finn will understand because Finn has to have seen that things aren't okay with his mom anyway, and this, well this is just the sort of thing that he'd had talked about with Finn two years ago.
"You know you won't get it." Rachel's reading through the pages and Puck feels like she's just slapped him.
"What?" Is she saying he's not capable? That he can't take care of his own sister? She doesn't even know what the hell she's-
"It asks here if you have a criminal record, if you have a criminal record you can't legally obtain guardianship of a minor because of the potential hazards to the minor. Sarah will be awarded to the state because of your stint in the juvenile hall." Oh, right, they all think he's some stupid reckless asshole who drove through a store window to try and steal an ATM (he didn't want to think on just what that meant of their opinions of him that they thought he was stupid enough to try it but he had been pretty irrational all summer so it might've seemed like a logical step for his behaviour to take). It does mean that he needs to bite a bullet though.
"I wasn't in juvie." It sort of feels stupid. He'd let everyone think he was a delinquent rather than tell them that his mother was a crack head. God, he was messed up. "I spent three weeks at a drug rehabilitation centre, not in juvenile hall." And that sure as shit shut them up.
It's still somewhat surreal, looking back. Because he never even noticed. Things went from one thing to another and he always just felt like shit for Sarah because she never got to see their mom before she went to hell and just gave up. He hates his dad every day for what he did to her, but he hates her for driving him away. And then he hates his dad for leaving him and Sarah behind. And then he just hates himself for hating them both. It's a pit that he's only just starting to climb out of (self healing is the path to self acceptance or some shit like that). But what started as booze and pills developed into booze and pot and then it amped up to cocaine and fucking Christ that was hard to hide from Quinn for those few months she stayed with them. Keeping Sarah away from it and then Quinn away from it while still cleaning up around the place and making sure everyone stayed fed nearly drove him off the deep end himself, but hell if he was letting Quinn see that.
Pretty soon not even the cocaine was enough and she'd moved up to meth. God that stuff was the worst. She was great when she was on a high, but when she crashed it was hell (and how messed up was it that he liked his mom more when she was off her face?). But then it got too much like a hassle to toss her dealer off for a fix (which Puck flipped out about because Sarah was in the fucking house at the time) and she started cooking the stuff herself. Turns out his mom is pretty smart when she has some incentive. Puck figured that if he kept Sarah away from it, away from their moms twisted little meth lab in the garage, then they'd be fine, they'd get through it.
He didn't know that that shit got everywhere. Didn't realise that any time they fucking breathed in they were getting that shit all up in their systems (it explained why he had trouble sleeping, and got restless as shit, and had this weird need to nail anything with fucking tits, and twitched like a motherfucker). And then Sarah went to a sleep over, and Puck didn't go home, and he must've started to crash out or whatever because he got all ansty and nervous and paranoid and depressed as shit and the next thing he knows he's crashed his moms car into the side of a store. Where the story of the ATM came from, Puck has no idea, but he ended up in the hospital with a concussion and they ran blood tests and found the meth in his system and hell, he was adamant he didn't do that shit; he wasn't going to end up like her.
And then Nicky walked in.
But he's not sure how to tell them this, because not a single one of them noticed anything. Finn and Quinn and Mike and Santana who fucking know him, they didn't see anything, because they were all wrapped up in their own shit, so they shouldn't care about his shit now (he knows it's not fair, but he's still working through this crap).
"What do you mean, 'drug rehabilitation'?" Jesus, they want him to spell it out for him. "If you've got a history of drugs, they won't give you Sarah either." Mercedes is clearly trying to be supportive but firm, he wonders if she gets that from her mom. All he's gotten from his mom is self-loathing and whiplash.
"I don't do drugs, my mother did." He says it as slow as he can, because if they ask him 'what' he's going to flip out, anger management or no. "Okay, I'm going to spell this out for you then I'm going to take my shit back and go before I punch something." He's working on that, the getting into fights and stuff, juvie is a good excuse, because people think he'll go back if he gets into fights. Really he just doesn't want to be angry all the time any more. "My dad walked out, it screwed up my mom real bad. She drank herself drunk then medicated herself sober then repeated. It was pretty fucked up. She got into meth, Sarah and I got secondary transfer or whatever. I crashed a car, doctors ran some tests, social workers built a case, mom went the jail, Sarah and I are in foster care." It's hard saying it out loud, he's been living with it for a few months now and while things are definitely better like this, (because Sarah's laughing again and playing in the back yard and not locked in her room and he gets to be a fucking teenager and not a meth heads son) it's still hard to admit it all.
Rachel doesn't fight when he snatches back the documents and leaves the auditorium. He wonders if he should just leave, but Mrs Forbes doesn't need to deal with his mood and he's not going to let Sarah see him like this. He ends up in the nurse's office, because it's deserted and he needs it. He's not sure why he fills the sink with cold water and tosses an ice pack in, but it seems like a good idea. His back pack and documents are sitting on the bed and he's pulled the little stool over and then he just dunks his head. It's not as good as the cold shower he'd usually have to clear his head, but it's close enough.
It's fucking refreshing, just staying there and counting backwards from ten. Then he pulls up, takes a breath and goes back for more. He's on his forth dunk when a soft hand runs up his back and stops at his neck. He keeps going until he gets to one before rising up. There's a towel for his face before he's even decided not to do it again. "You can't drown yourself in a sink, Puck." It'd be funny if he could. Except not.
"I know, but it clears my head." Quinn runs the towel over the front of his 'hawk, smoothing it back while the tips of her fingers play with the end of his hair. "Why are you here?" He knows he's got a lot he wants to say to her, but he doesn't know how to say it without blaming her. She made him give up Beth, and at the time he'd been too tired to fight her any more, and when his mom started cooking it was easier to think it was the right thing, but now, now he misses her like there's a hole in his chest and he doesn't know how to deal with that.
Focusing on Sarah is a good start, because if he can prove to himself that he can take care of his little sister then he'll be proving that he could do the same for his daughter, not that he'll ever get the chance to do it now. But it's important to him to know he's not like his parents, that its not etched in stone or whatever that he's destined to be a fuck up.
"To apologise." He didn't expect that. "I feel like you've been asking for help without saying it, and I've been ignoring you." And sometimes it did feel like that, but he never really got around to actually asking for help. He tried a few times, but he just ended up in the bed of some faceless woman ignoring the world for a while. "That's why you were so reluctant for me to live with you, wasn't it."
"I never wanted you to see that," he nearly killed himself keeping Quinn from the truth, keeping his mom from Quinn, keeping that away from his daughter. "I was still hopeful we'd keep her, y'know. And I didn't want that tainting her. I didn't want it hurting you." Because his mom could be a vindictive bitch, and Quinn had to take that a few times, but he never let her see his mom on one of her binges.
Quinn's hand ran over his head, pulling him towards her and he just fell into it, his head resting against her chest while she held him tight, arms going around her waist and just holding. Sometimes he just wanted to scream, because it wasn't fair that this shit kept happening to him and couldn't he just get one break? Just for a while. He thought he'd got it way back, when Quinn had turned to him and he'd been the one she wanted to comfort her when Finn was being a douche. But that wore off within a few hours and Quinn was back with Finn and he was breaking apart all over again and no one fucking saw it.
"I'm sorry; I wish I'd known, I wish I could've helped." Puck's almost glad she didn't, that she couldn't, that it happened the way it did. Because he's messed up, and he's screwed over, but he doesn't want to drag anyone else down too. Quinn's not perfect, she's not even close to it really, she's a grade A bitch sometimes, but she isn't tarnished like he is.
"Help me now?" Being strong with the distraction of a drug addicted mother is hard enough, but dealing with the reality of having no parents, of struggling to keep from falling on old habits and just losing it all, it's fucking killing him sometimes.
"How?" He'd really like it if she didn't think he was a loser, he'd really like it if she just looked at him once and saw him instead of who he had to be, if she'd stop with the perfect little good-boys like Finn and Sam and just stopped to see that he wasn't the guy everyone said he was.
"This is a good start." But he'd take what he could get. "I'm scared I'm gonna screw Sarah up more than she did. That she'll be better off where she is and I'm just messing it all up. What if I screw it up?" He wants so badly to do right by Sarah, but he's terrified that he's doing the wrong thing.
"You're not going to screw it up, you're not. You're seventeen years old, and you're fighting to keep your sister. You're already proving that you can do it." She sounds pretty sure on that, and he just closes his eyes and breaths in the soft smell of her perfume and shampoo and feels her press a kiss to his forehead. "You are so much better than either of them."
And that right there is all the belief he really needs.