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There was this blinding jolt of pain, this searing agony that just spread everywhere, and absently, he had to wonder if he'd taken a hit on the field that he didn't remember. There's a hiss of air and the calm, constant beep of a machine and Puck realises that he's in a hospital bed. It must've been one hell of a hit. It takes four tries before he can open his eyes, the light above him blinding him momentarily before he realises that his throat is blocked. It's the gagging that draws attention and Puck starts to panic around the tube in his mouth.
"Noah, Noah, sweetie, just stop, its okay, just stop." It's Carole's voice, there's a hand stroking along his wrist and Mrs H. calls for someone out of the room while Puck tries to stop choking on the tube, tears springing to his eyes. There's a rush of doctors, nurses and whatever, Carole talking in a low voice and Puck remembers that she works here; they're her colleagues or whatever. Was that why she was sitting with him? Was she on her break or something? They take the tube out, his throat feeling raw and sore, and Carole's there with ice chips for him suck on while the doctors check his charts.
"Carole," it feels like he hasn't used his voice in days, rough and scratchy. Mrs H. strokes her hand over his scalp, waiting for his question while popping another piece of ice in his mouth. "Where's my mom?" Her face shutters slightly, eyes going a little misty and Puck frowns. "What's wrong?"
"Go to sleep, Noah," she's petting at him again, and he is still tired, and the doctor just put something into an IV that's connected to his hand, "go to sleep just now." Maybe his mom'll be there when he wakes up again.
The pain is back, which jerks him awake. Carole's still there and she leans forward, pressing something beside him before reaching for the cup of ice chips again, offering them over. Puck takes a few before relaxing back into the pillows, the pain slowly ebbing away. He still can't see his mom, but Carole doesn't look like she's moved at all. "What's going on?"
He can't remember why he's in the hospital, but sometimes when there are hard tackles the memory of it happening gets shot a little. It could just be that Todd or Azimio tackled him too hard in practice. But he would've expected his mom to be there, complaining about how football was going to scramble his brains, making sure he ate all the hospital food, telling him he needed to be more careful. She always got worried when they got hurt, even if Sarah just scraped her knee. "Where's my mom?" He asks her again, and the reaction is pretty much the same.
"She's not here, Noah." He doesn't get it. She should be here, even if she had to drop Sarah off with their Aunt Becka, she should be there. She always shows up, just to fuss for a little while, to ease her mind, Puck knows, he does it with Sarah sometimes, they always fuss when Ma gets a cold.
"Why not? Where is she? What's wrong?" He tries to sit up, but there's a flare of agony along his side and he needs to lie back down to stop it. "What the hell happened?" This was definitely not a football tackle injury, Puck was only just starting to realise that everywhere hurt -although it was this dull throb now.
"This is your morphine, you push the button when you need it, do you hear me?" Carole has that voice, the one that tells you when she's really serious and Puck nods slightly, because as if he's going to pass up drugs that stop him hurting like he got hit by a mack truck. "What's the last thing you remember?"
"Um, school. Well, I went home after school, and Sarah and I had dinner and went upstairs. Ma was working late. Is she still working? I don't have football on Wednesdays, why am I here?" He remembered Sarah doing her homework while he shoved one of their ready-meals into the oven to cook, then she watched TV and he did a half ass attempt at his own homework. Sarah went to bed just before nine and Puck did a few hours messing on the Xbox playing campaign with Artie before calling it a night himself. He was meant to meet Rachel early before school to go over one of her numbers for Glee since she'd asked him to play for her. But he didn't even remember getting up in the morning.
"Honey, you've been in the hospital for four days now." Four days. That made it the weekend. Why wouldn't his mom come to stay for a while? "You've had a pretty rough few days, and it's going to take a while to get better, but you're going to be fine, okay?" Carole ran her hand over his head again and Puck felt the dread coil up in his stomach.
"Carole, where's my ma? Where's Sarah?" They should be there. They should've been sitting by his bed, not Finn's mom.
"I'm sorry sweetie, Sarah's, she's, she's gone." Carole started to cry, and Puck knew it wasn't just a case of Sarah leaving with Aunt Becka for a girl's trip or something stupid like that. "Sarah's gone and Ruth, she's, oh baby, she did it."
The entire school knows what's going on before the end of Thursday.
On Tuesday night, for an unknown reason, Ruth Puckerman snapped. She swallowed a bottle of pills, drank half a bottle of vodka, took a kitchen knife to her daughter's throat and proceeded to stab her son thirteen times before stumbling down the stairs and passing out on the living room floor with the knife still in her hand. Sarah's school called the house when the girl didn't show up. Noah's probation officer called the house when the school notified her of Noah's absence. Ruth's work colleague's called when she missed her shift. At three in the afternoon one of the nurses stopped by the house, finding Ruth unconscious and the kids in their beds. She called the police, and then the paramedics when she found a pulse in both Ruth and Noah.
Mrs Puckerman woke up in the hospital the next day after having her system drained of the substances and left under supervision to come back around. Carole Hudson had been in the room when Ruth, in a cold and drained voice, had confessed. "I killed my children." She didn't have a reason, she didn't offer an excuse. No one told her that Noah wasn't dead.
Carole went home to her husband and sobbed in his arms while Finn and Kurt sat on the stairs, stunned and speechless. "He's just a boy, he's already lost so much," Carole barely left the hospital, even as the rumours and stories started flying around school.
Santana looked a little lost and scared, while Quinn just stared off into the distance at random intervals, Brittany spent a lot of time curled up in Artie's lap, her head on his shoulder while he stroked her back. The football team were somewhat subdued and not a single slushy was thrown for the remainder of the week. Kurt and Finn routinely found their phone ringing, people calling to see if there was an update on Noah's condition.
By far, the strangest of those was Azimio. "Um, hey, Kurt, um...do you know anything new about Puckerman?" Kurt was stunned for a blind moment before he informed the jock that Noah had woke up for while and was off the ventilator, that doctors were sure he was out of the woods and on the home stretch and could he please pass on the news. After the first day that Noah wakes up, Carole spends the night in the hospital -he'd asked for his mother, she'd said, she didn't want to leave him in case he remembered something, it didn't seem right.
No one could really imagine having to explain that not only was his sister gone, but his mother was the one that killed her, and tried to kill him. Carole comes home after telling Noah, they'd had to sedate him apparently. She breaks right there in the middle of the living room, with half the glee club sitting around their house.
There isn't even anything they can say.
It's a week before they let him out of the hospital. They were burying his sister the next day. His Aunt Becka came up from Florida, Nana Connie wanted to make it, but with her condition, she just couldn't. There wasn't any word on his dad. The doctors were sure he would make a full recovery, although the nerves in his side sometimes tingled and went numb and his hand didn't always do what he wanted it to. Just tissue damage, he was told, it would clear up with some physio.
Aunt Becka wanted him to stay with her, but he really didn't want to go to some generic hotel room right then. Truthfully, he wanted his own room, but that wasn't happening, even if it wasn't a crime scene or whatever. He was sitting on the end of his hospital bed, listening to the doctor go on about supervision and treatment for his wounds and what to expect when he turned to Carole -Carole who had barely left his room the whole week- and practically pleaded, "Can I stay at yours? Just let me crash on the sofa or something."
"Nonsense, Noah." Her hands found the side of his head again, stroking along his skull and Puck wondered if maybe his head was the only place without a scar, "We've already made up the guest room for you." Puck had to admit that he liked the Hudson-Hummel home, he always had loved Carole and Finn's place -it was always warm and inviting, it felt like a home, even with the urn of ashes sitting for Mr H. in the family room. He used to think his house wasn't too far off it, they just had a lot of bad memories tangled up in the place, but his Ma did her best. Until she didn't.
Burt gives him a nod, a tight smile, and squeezes his neck reassuringly. Everyone knows how awesome Burt Hummel is, and Puck's never had something like that directed towards him, its weird how a simple squeeze can make things seem okay, just for a second. Out of everyone in the house, it's Kurt that surprises him; Finn gives this weird shuffle and sniff before nodding, but it's Kurt that just walks up to him and fucking hugs him. And he's never really been friends with Kurt, not even in Glee, not really. Yeah, Puck would kick anyone's ass that dared mess with Kurt if he knew about it, but that was because he was a Glee Geek, and the Glee Geeks were off limits.
It's awkward for the two seconds it takes Puck to just stop trying and hug Kurt back. Carole's been great, but she's been hesitant to really touch him, but Kurt's sort of careful -he's not gripping anywhere that hurts, and Puck's cool with dropping his arms over Kurt's shoulders and giving him a sort of hug back. It's more than Puck feels he deserves.
Sarah is buried twelve days after she died. It's longer than they'd usually wait, being Jewish and all. But the police needed to do whatever and Becka said she didn't want to rush things before Noah could say goodbye. He doesn't really get it, he said goodbye. His goodbye was a kiss on her forehead the night she died; it was some stupid flippant comment about monsters in her closest and calling her a brat. He didn't need to stand in front of a mahogany box to say goodbye, he'd screwed up that last time he'd get to see her, to talk to her, and he didn't even know he'd done it.
He doesn't realise he's shaking until Rachel's gripping one hand tightly in hers and Quinn's holding his other and he's just letting the tears fall, fuck anyone who says shit, because that's his little sister, she didn't even make it to double figures and she's in a box and all he can wonder is, if she was meant to die, why the fuck wasn't he?
What's really good is that no one expects anything from him right then. Carole makes sure he's eating and sleeping, although that's a joke. Every time he closes his eyes he sees his mother, and he's not even sure why -he didn't know what was happening, he's not even sure he woke up when she stabbed him (maybe he did and he just didn't remember). He's constantly wondering why. He'd left some dishes in the sink that night, had that pushed her over? After the whole year, and the one before it, he thought they were doing better, getting past Quinn and Beth and juvie and the 'pool cleaning' and everything. His grades had actually picked up, he wasn't getting in trouble. He just couldn't figure out what he'd done that had been the last straw.
He knows that obsessing over it won't bring Sarah back, but he can't help what want to understand what it was.
People talk in quiet voices around him now, he doesn't even care anymore. Rachel's the only one who still touches him -it's just little grips to his arm, where she knows there isn't a scar, mostly just to get his attention. His first day back at school, everyone stared and Puck didn't even glare at them, not once. He just let Rachel or Quinn or Tina -seriously, Tina- pull him to his classes by his hand. He didn't even pretend to take part in class; didn't answer questions when directly asked, didn't open his books, didn't take notes.
He's sitting in Spanish, ignoring Finn, when Azimio spills a cherry slushy over the floor and Puck's just suddenly hit with this nausea that he jerks from his seat and out the door without explanation. He's in the bathroom emptying his stomach when Finn slinks in awkwardly. He can't stop picturing it now; he'd never been able to before, he'd just seen her like he always had, smiling with her front teeth missing, all bouncy and happy. But as the slushy had just dripped off the table he'd seen it -lying in her bed, limp and gone with blood staining her little neck.
Choking on a sob, he hears Finn leave and really, he's glad for that fact. Finn's a decent guy and all, but he's not exactly helpful. Puck would rather have his breakdown in peace. Puck's still hunched over the toilet when he hears the door open again and a soft whisper. He's not even sure how it happens -he definitely locked the stall, but somehow, he's leaning back against her chest while she wipes a damp clothe -apparently Kurt keeps them everywhere for slushy attacks- over his forehead and just soothes him while he sobs some more.
It's not badass in the least, but he doesn't give a damn, when they end up sitting against the wall, between the toilets and the sinks, his head on her shoulder while he stops fucking crying. There are a few times he hears Finn outside, and it's just so Finn that he'd run to get a girl and then stand guard. "You're missing class." It's the first thing he's said all day, beyond the heaving and the sobbing.
"I don't mind," and she knows he means it. "You look tired."
"I am. I'm just so fucking tired." There's something almost safe about a public toilet, and he finds it comforting that most of their moments are in high school bathrooms. "I keep wondering why, why she did it, why Sarah, why she screwed up with me. It's not fair," Rachel's hand rests on the shaved part of his head, her fingers just trailing against his hair, "why Sarah?"
"Noah, you can't think like that."
"It doesn't make sense, she's just a kid, there's so much she could do. She's so smart, y'know? And she's got so many friends, she had a sleepover once, and she was allowed to invite all her friends and Ma thought it'd just be two or three, y'know? I only ever really had Finn growin' up. But she had like twenty. Ma freaked cause it was just meant to be me watching them all. Had to get Britt and San over to just make sure there were enough of us. God, she loved Britt. She wanted to learn to dance like Britt. And you. She saw you tap dance once, she wanted to do that." It's nice just talking about her, but it doesn't ease any kind of ache that Puck feels. "Why'd it have to be Sarah, Rach? Why not me?" He's not expecting an answer, she doesn't have one, he knows that. "I screwed up so bad last year; I'm such a fucking screw up. An' Sarah was just getting older; she would've gotten through this. Aunt Becka would've taken her to Florida; she could've started over without Ma and me screwing her up. She could've been better than us."
"Noah, stop, just stop." He's crying on her shoulder again, her arms around his neck in a hug.
"It should've been me." He doesn't know when Rachel starts crying with him.
The school are very understanding; Mr Schue doesn't comment when Noah starts skipping Spanish, he can't stop seeing the slushy spill over the desk. Rachel convinces him to ask for the material in Glee and she'll help him through it. Somehow, she talks him into asking at the end of class for a copy of the teachers notes, and Rachel goes over all of those with him too. The school seem to understand that he can't focus in class, but they all love Rachel -every teacher does, even the ones she doesn't have- so they don't mind giving him the notes when he says she's helping tutor him through it.
It's surprising that Rachel becomes this safe area. The glee kids sort of buffer him at school. He can't do much basketball because of the damage to his right thigh, but Coach Beiste lets him do his physio exercises in the weight room and he runs track sometimes to try and build up the muscle strength again. He's not getting a sports scholarship now, for one blinding moment he'd thought maybe that could be his ticket out, after they started winning there was the chance for it. Rachel is adamant that he can still do well with his grades, that he isn't going to give up.
But it's Rachel's house that he ends up at most days, tucked up in her room going through his class work. Things slowly start to get better, although the guilt still eats at him. She's explained it to him numerous times, he doesn't have anything to feel guilty about, he shouldn't think about the 'what if' all the time. He still can't help but think everyone would be better off if Sarah had lived instead of him.
"I flinched at Mrs H. yesterday." Rachel's never asked him to open up, never pushed for him to talk about his feelings, he just feels comfortable to do that with her without prompting. She's a surprisingly good listener. "They were making dinner, Kurt and Mrs H. and I usually set the table just so that I'm not totally scrounging off them, and Finn was goofing off. I mean, I know it wasn't anything but, God," Rachel leans her head on his shoulder, something she does that is pretty good at calming him down, just like when her fingers rub little circles into the back of his hand. "She slammed something and shouted at him and I acted like a damn rabbit. They all noticed, but no one said anything."
"Does it happen a lot?"
"Just around moms." It was, what did Rachel call it, ironic? Moms in general starting to set his teeth on edge. Quinn had taken him out one night -he didn't realise she meant it as a date until they were on her doorstep, and then he couldn't figure out why he didn't care- when her mom had sort of appeared, all stern face and blue eyes just watching. His heartbeat doubled in a second and Quinn said he went white as a sheet. He ended up in Quinn's kitchen with a glass of water, trying to get his hands to stop shaking. The 'lets just be friends' talk was made even more awkward by Mrs Fabray's hovering. "I mean, it's stupid, Mrs H. has been awesome, she's always been awesome. She's never once hit Finn, y'know? Like even when he was stupid and deserved it. And they've practically took me in, I mean, she went back in there just to get my guitar. And I'm fucking acting like a pussy cause of one thing."
"It's going to take some time, Noah, it's not like you can flip a switch. I think, maybe, you should think about talking to someone. Someone more professional than me." She'd given him a whole bunch of print outs about stuff like this, told him what it was he was feeling, why he felt it. He didn't understand what she was meaning, because he knew all that, he was feeling it. But she'd always left it open. "And, if you want, my Dads wouldn't mind you staying with us." He frowns at her, not sure how that would help things. "I don't have a mom."
He almost feels bad for making her think about Shelby again, but she doesn't say it like that, she just states the fact as if it's the solution to everything. She sits with him in the Hudson-Hummel kitchen with Burt and Carole when he tries to explain things. He doesn't want Carole thinking he doesn't appreciate everything, she's always been like a second mom, and that's partly why he doesn't want to put this strain on her, because she's got two of her own boys now, she doesn't need his drama too. He knows she doesn't mind, she says as much, and Carole makes Rachel promise to join them all for dinner on Friday's. Because Friday night is family night.
And that's how he ends up living in the guest room of the Berry's house. Hiram and Leroy like him. He doesn't know why, they go to the same Temple, they know everything about him, but they still like him. But they knew his mom and Sarah too, so it's not like he ever needs to explain anything. "Hey Rach," the room almost feels like its his, Rachel decorated it for him, he knows, because she thought gray was too depressing. "You said your Dad knew some grief counsellor, right?" She gives him this mega watt smile that reminds him of last year, when she was still the bright, loud and somewhat annoying Rachel Berry who talked too much but kissed great.
And if he can think of how she kisses, he thinks he's making progress.
It takes a couple of months, although the counsellor helps, but it takes him a few months to actually laugh. It's in glee, and Mercedes and Kurt are being their little bitchy selves, and Puck doesn't even know what it is, but Santana says something funny and he all out laughs. It feels strange, and it sounds it too. Santana gives him this look, like he's insane, but she's got this little smug grin on her face and he knows that she sees significance of it. He gets a look from Quinn when Rachel leans in against him and he just lets her.
Quinn is Puck's dance partner, now that he's not too stiff to actually do the routines without wincing with every move, and she's just smiling at him with this weird, contented look. It's a little creepy if he's honest. "What?" The choreography isn't too difficult that he can't question her while keeping up with the steps, and he's not really much more than back up in this number anyway.
"You're doing better." And he is, really. But it's strange that anyone else noticed. He didn't think he'd changed that much, maybe he wasn't as brash as before, but he was still himself, wasn't he? "You barely even looked like you were with us at first. It's good to see the change." He isn't really following, but Quinn seems to think it's all a good thing, so he's not really that concerned. "It's just odd that Rachel Berry would be the driving force behind it."
There isn't even a reason to call Quinn on what she's trying to say. Because Rachel is a big part of it, from the first break down to the first counsellor session to the first family night at the Hudson-Hummel's, she's just been this steady hand on his back, encouraging him along. She's the reason he's starting to get comfortable in his skin again, she's the reason he doesn't flinch from slamming doors or raised voices, she's the reason he's stopped being so self-conscious of the scars, she's the reason he's getting B's and B+'s in his classes. Really, he's sure she's the reason he hasn't jumped off a bridge.
"Isn't Rachel Berry the driving force behind everything?" Quinn's expecting him to deny it; he can see that on her face. There's no point in trying though, not at this stage.
He asks her out after glee, he knows she's not dating Hudson, she's not all that fussed about dating right then, so it's not like he's trodding on toes or whatever. There's this weird little Italian place that isn't Breadsticks about a mile outside of town, he knows they do vegan stuff, because the Berry's sometimes order in from there. It's really easy to relax with her, to just enjoy himself without thinking too much, and he already knows that she's fun when she's not stressing out over whatever.
Kissing her is practically as easy as breathing. It just sort of feels like the logical next step.
His mother's trial starts almost nine months after the attack. Carole, Burt, the Berry's and Rachel come with him to witness. Carole had tried to talk him out of going, they didn't need his statement, since he couldn't really tell them much, so he didn't need to go, but he'd been pretty adamant about going.
Rachel asked him why later. "Because I still have questions, and I don't know if I'll get answers from her, or if there are answers, but if I don't try then I don't know if I'll ever really get past it." The great thing about Rachel, or one of the great things, is that she never waits for him to ask for a hug; she just barrels right in there and dishes them out.
It's hard to actually see his mother in the woman before him. She's drawn, tired and just a little unstable. Puck knows that she spent months in a mental ward, undergoing evaluation before being declared of sound mind. He half wishes she'd been told she was crazy, it would make things far more bearable if she'd just been mentally ill. He makes it three days through the five day trial before he stops going.
She doesn't have answers, she doesn't even look at him, her voice is just void of emotion and her eyes are hollow. It's suggested that his Dad remarried -he wasn't even aware his mother had divorced him- and she'd found out and snapped. She doesn't have a defence to it. Beyond being under the influence, beyond having tried to kill herself with drugs and alcohol as well, there's no excuse, there's no reason, there's nothing. The day they bring out the photos of his injuries, of Sarah's body, of the knife on the floor and the scenes of their rooms, he walks out of the court room and he knows everyone is watching him.
Rachel never lets go of his hand.
It's in Mr Schue's class that Miss P. pulls him into the guidance office to tell him that his mother was sentenced. Life without parole, but that doesn't mean she'll be in prison forever. He doesn't know if it's enough for taking Sarah away from him, but he doesn't want his Ma dead too. His heads just pretty messed up on the whole thing. He texts Rachel and bails on the rest of class -he knows she'll lecture him later but he just does not want to deal with this just now.
He chills out on the bleachers until school ends, because he drove her in so he'll wait to take her home, it's one of those 'considerate boyfriend' things that he's discovered he's actually pretty good at. She knows that this is where he usually ends up, that's one of her considerate girlfriend things, when she sort of figures out his tells. He doesn't need to explain to her, because the whole school knows already, it's good that he doesn't need to tell her, but it sucks that they whole school knows his shit. She just presses against his side, one arm looping through his while the other wraps around his shoulder to reach up and stroke his head. It seems to be everyone's starting point for dealing with him now.
"Would you like to talk about it?" He just shakes his head marginally, because he's not ready to discuss anything, he's not even sure what he thinks about it all in general.
They end up having a big dinner at the Berry's house, the Hudson-Hummel's coming over with Blaine and Mercedes, which prompts a call out to Quinn, Santana and Britt and before long the entire glee club were out on the deck at the Berry's house. Puck called dibs on one of the pool loungers and, midway through the evening, ended up curled around Rachel, playing with her hair and talking against her neck quietly.
"I'm really glad you talk to me."
"I'm really glad you listen." He'd actually put on a wife-beater instead of a long-sleeved shirt. Summer was coming up, if he didn't start getting used to things, he would probably end up with heat-stroke. Her fingers ran along his arm where it curved around her waist, absently running along the line of a scar curving on his bicep.
Her Dads never seem to mind when they act all cosy and stuff in front of them, he never really minds that they usually end up cuddling for no good reason. He so wishes it was the weekend so that they didn't need to deal with school in the morning, but it does make everyone leave sooner rather than later. Puck and Rachel move from the pool lounger to her bed, because her room is just that much more comfortable. It's like a bubble; he just blurts things out in her room because it just feels safe.
"I'm worried that Sarah's birthday is going to change things."
"What do you mean?"
"That I'll go backwards. That I'll start hating Ma again, that I'll start hating me again. I miss her everyday," he knows that Rachel understands, Rachel went through all the photographs she had from years of JCC summer parties and fund raisers just to find a picture of Noah and Sarah to print and frame for him, "but I don't hate myself for living any more. What if it changes?" Rachel twisted to lie over his chest, her hand running along his stomach and not even faltering against any of the scars -she'd seen them plenty, she'd helped when he pulled stitches and the wounds bled, she'd been there when stitches had been removed, she'd spent some of the harder nights wrapped against his back, hugging his chest and not even bothered about the thin lines over his body. He loved her a little just for that.
"I won't let it happen." The kiss she presses to his lips feels like the seal on a promise, and he trusts her more than he'd ever think possible, enough to know that she meant every word she said.
"You're fucking amazing, you know that? I don't even want to think where I'd be without you."
"That, Noah Puckerman, is something you'll never need to worry about." And yeah, he totally loves her.