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It's not exactly 'unusual'. No one really knows why but McKinley has a long, colourful history of 'mental breakdowns' when it comes to teachers. Addictions and vices and just plain whacked out stupidity seems to run rampant on the faculty at the school. No one was surprised when Tanaka didn't return after summer. No one was all that concerned either. Least of all the football team. They couldn't have a coach worse than Tanaka, could they?
And they were right. Because chick or not -and even if she didn't exactly vibe chick- Beiste was an amazing Coach. She knew what she was doing, she motivated them, she hassled them to push it, she ran plays that worked. They didn't need to rely on dancing to win a game, they could play football and win. So it wasn't like they missed Tanaka. At all. Why would they?
Which makes it really fucking awkward when Beiste walks into the locker room one afternoon with Tanaka behind her. The whole place goes quiet, for more than one reason. Puck's actually sitting on the front bench for some reason, Finn and Mike are right behind him and he feels Finn's knee start bouncing a jig while Mike freezes up. Sam's beside Puck and mutters a 'that's your old coach' under his breath while the other guys start talking away -as if it's a good thing to see Tanaka, as if they fucking missed his pathetic, jilted fucking ass.
Puck is just frozen there, at least until he feels Artie roll forward, stopping just in front of Puck and pulling the break on his chair. Puck meets his eyes in a side glance and sees understanding and this spark of something that's almost protective and Puck feels his throat tighten. Artie's his boy, Artie's one of his main men now. Artie isn't supposed to be protecting Puck, that's Puck's job. Puck's job to take care of Artie and Kurt and Finn and Mike and Sam now too. Because Puck's used to it, used to being the one at the forefront of the fight, used to being the one taking punches or punishment, used to being the one that has to step up and get dirty.
He does it with pride because these are his friends and no one is going to mess with that.
But there Artie is; invalid, geeky, nerdy Artie, protecting Puck from his own fucking incompetence.
"What?" Tanaka's voice breaks through Puck's own inner diatribe. "You've got a cripple playing?" There's this smirk on Tanaka's face, as if he has any room to talk, and even the others on the team -like Karofsky and Azimo, they know better than to smack talk about Artie.
"And we're winnin' more games with him." Puck's jaw clenches, his fists ball up. It's not even like pushing or shoving with the others, he needs to not lose it here and now, because if he does, he's back in juvie. He can't get away with hitting a teacher, even a former one, even a piece of shit like Tanaka.
It takes Tanaka's attention off Artie, but it pulls it towards Puck and suddenly, Finn's knee stops bouncing. "Still not watching that mouth of yours, eh, Puckerman?" And he stands there, like he's their fucking Coach again and Puck's actually going to take this crap.
He doesn't need to though, does he? Because Tanaka's not their coach, and Beiste gives a crap -she's like Schue only with a back bone and a yell that stops you in your tracks- and there isn't anything Tanaka can do now. Is there?
But suddenly Tanaka is right there and Artie pulls his break off but doesn't get there fast enough and the bastard actually clamps a hand on Puck's shoulder. "Should've known nothing would straighten you out."
Puck's on his feet before he even knows what way is up and Tanaka's on his ass and -shit did he punch him, did he actually throw a punch in front of the entire locker room, fuck he's going back to juvie, shit he's as good as gone. "Don't you dare touch him." But Finn's beside him -when did Finn get up? And Mike's there and Artie looks like he wants to roll over Tanaka's head.
"What the hell is going on here?" There's nothing but the echoing shout of Beiste's voice in the room and everyone is staring, Puck can feel it, just like he feels his muscles almost begging for a fight. If he's going back to juvie, he's going to make it count, if he's going back he's going to go back knowing that he beat the shit out of that sad sack of bones.
He'll do it for Mike, he'll do it for Finn, he'll do it for himself, he'll do it for fucking Matt and he won't give a shit about juvie after that.
But Tanaka is behind Beiste now, and Finn's got a hand on Puck's chest, the rest of the team are ordered out of the locker room and they all slowly file out. It's just them, and Sam, the Glee boys. Tanaka's glaring at them, daring them, and fuck, Puck just wants to wail on the guys face until his fists break.
"I want to know what the hell that was about. Right now." Puck can't talk, can't answer Beiste, can't get control of his anger enough to formulate the words at all.
"You know boys," Tanaka makes it sound like it's nothing, "always holding grudges, blaming anyone but themselves. Puckerman's just a screw up." Like that explains it all, and Puck just wants Beiste not to believe it, wants her to call him on it, wants someone to just not believe that he's the screw up they all say he is.
"That's not it," it's Finn that speaks up, and Mike gives a stiff nod while Puck just tries to incinerate Tanaka with his glare, "if anyone's the screw up, it's you." Things are tense, horrifically and awkwardly tense, and Puck's aware of Sam standing there, as if he had a place there, and Artie's just waiting for the shit to fall. Artie knows, of course Artie knows, and Puck's overly grateful that the kid wasn't on the team last year, and that Kurt had bailed out long before. Even if they both know about it, they never dealt with it. "You took it out on us as if it would change anything, but it didn't. You left her, remember? You stood her up and you knew, everyone knew. But it wasn't Mr Schue's fault, and it wasn't our fault."
Sam's trying to work it out, Mike's hunching in on himself and the rage is slowly ebbing out of Puck. They've never said anything out loud, never had to. Kurt figured it out one day after practice, Artie figured it out soon after that. And then Tanaka was gone and they never mentioned it again.
"Hudson, what're you talking about?" Beiste is frowning, trying to figure out what they're trying to say, and Tanaka is panicking.
"It's lies, they're lying."
"The fuck we are." That rage is back, and Puck just doesn't want it to go away, "The shit you pulled? The extra practice, the body checks, the laps, we took those, cause fuck we sucked anyway. But the hits? The blows? You fucking broke Rutherford's wrist you piece of shit." It's like a fucking release, getting it out there. "You got all hot over a girl that didn't want you and you couldn't take it when it fell apart. And you were too chicken shit to man up with Schue that you took it out on us. Fuck you if you think it's happening again."
"Now you listen here," Tanaka takes two steps forward and Puck muscles past Finn -because yeah, Finn has the height and the build but he's a total pansy when it comes to throwing a decent punch- and Puck's just itching for a reason. He's pretty sure his probation officer won't say shit when it comes down to protecting himself against physical abuse from a former-teacher.
It doesn't get that far though, because Beiste steps in. She's ten times scarier than Tanaka and twice as imposing -which isn't really that hard- halting him from stepping any closer. "I think we've all heard enough." Her voice is tough as nails, she's this solid wall of strength between the boys and their former coach. Puck's pretty sure she's on their side, that she believes them, that she can actually do something and will. "And it's time for you to leave."
When Puck walked back into school after summer, he wasn't expecting to stay on the team. He'd stay as long as Finn and Mike were there and then he was gone. He didn't honestly believe that Finn or Mike would stay -not after what happened to Matt- but Finn was stupid about popularity sometimes and Puck had to stay around to protect him. But Tanaka wasn't there, and Beiste was, and even in the beginning when they were a little weirded out that she was a woman, Puck could've kissed her. Because she wasn't Tanaka, and even if they did suck he could still play football. But she made them good, made them a team, pulled them together and Puck respected the shit out of her.
Right then, he could fucking kiss her again.
Tanaka walked out, glaring and muttering and fuming, and Mike sank back to the bench and Artie, in a somewhat awkward show of solidarity, clapped a hand on Mike neck tentatively. "Boys," Beiste turned to face them -she didn't look angry, or disappointed, or pitying, just concerned, just worried, like Schue got when Finn fumbled around for words or when Tina started crying or when Kurt showed up with a bruise on his neck from Karofsky and his idiot friends and their locker checks. "You guys need to talk to me, to trust me. What happened with Tanaka needs to be discussed and dealt with."
Finn ended up sitting beside Mike, staring at the floor and Sam was looking over at Artie as if to ask what to do. Puck didn't even know either.
"After Sectionals last year, Tanaka got, I don't know, messed up or whatever. It's always been pretty clear that Miss P and Mr Schue have got the hots for each other, but he was married and she agreed to marry Tanaka. She came to Sectionals with us, he called off the wedding and then-" Puck trailed off, feeling emotionally and physically drained, like no game or practice or anything ever left him.
"And then he started treating us differently." Mike picked up, not looking up from the floor. "Longer training, more laps, harder body checks. He had Finn take hit after hit, saying that it would be good for his dodging. Then one night he threw a football at Puck in the locker room. Hit him square in the head, he said that if he couldn't learn to catch a ball, he was off the team." Puck remembered that concussion, it was horrific and brutal and that was the day that Kurt figured things out. Kinda hard not to when you're smart like Hummel and Puck's bent over the toilet for the best part of an hour puking his guts up while Finn freaks the shit out.
"He wanted us to go to Mr Schue, he wanted to like rub it in his face or something. We didn't and then there were punches and he threw a shoe at Mike once. Two days before summer started, he grabbed a hold of Matt -he was on the team and with us in Glee, Matt's wrist broke from the force that Tanaka yanked him with. He's never gonna play ball again because of that jerk and-"
Silence reigned down on them and Puck found a spot on the far away wall to stare at. He didn't want to see Mike beating himself up about not being able to protect Matt, about losing his best friend because they moved away. He didn't want to see Finn's shame and hurt, because it just digs up all that self loathing Puck feels, all that blame he puts on himself.
"We're gonna deal with this, guys." Beiste's hand clasps Puck's shoulder tightly, and he doesn't flinch, doesn't shudder, doesn't move, because it feels like support and hell if he couldn't use some of that.
It's the next day before anything really happens. Sylvester and Beiste have a meeting with Figgins and Tanaka is -presumably- brought up on charges. Beiste goes down as witnessing the assault, and Puck's pulled in to explain the incident in the locker room. They can't charge him with anything unless they have evidence of the incidents the year previous, and none of them have anything, so it's just the thing from the day before.
It doesn't matter, Tanaka gets the can and isn't allowed to teach again. Puck just sits in front of Figgins' desk for five minutes processing things while Sylvester and Beiste argue over involving Schuester in things. Funnily enough it's Coach Sylvester that doesn't think it's a good idea, that Schue would blame himself, that it would make him pull back from the kids, that it wouldn't be fair. Puck agrees.
"We never told him before, we're not gonna do it now." They just need to figure out how they'll play it off. People were going to ask questions, and they'd need to have some kind of answer that didn't involve Puck slamming his fist in someone's face.
It turns out to be a whole lot easier than that. Puck leaves Figgins' office mid way through a period, so there's no one in the halls. Only Mike and Finn pretty much abduct him into the deserted choir room where Sam and Artie are waiting. "The rumours have already started running wild. They're saying that Tanaka abused you last year, that's why he's getting kicked out and going in front of the school board. What's happening?"
"He's getting charged for laying his hands on me yesterday, but they can't do anything about the other stuff." Sam looks like he's about to start shouting. "It's just as well. We'd need to testify, Schue would find out everything." They'd taken too much, they'd put up with it for the right reasons, they weren't blowing that now. "We let them talk, just let them think he did what they say, I don't care. Schue doesn't find out the truth."
Sylvester and Beiste swore they wouldn't talk. Figgins agreed. Puck can shoulder this, everyone thinks the worst of him anyway, he can take it and no one can smear Finn or Mike with any of this bullshit.
Puck gets looks, there are whispers in the hallways and mutters from people. But Karofsky approaches him just after lunch, the rest of the jocks huddling back a little. "Can I help you?" He needs to stay calm, keep his cool, at least until Finn or Mike or hell, even Berry shows up -Rachel usually shows up around about now to make sure Puck actually attends his English class.
"Is that stuff true?"
"Vague much, Dave?" Puck knows exactly what they're talking about -Puck was a mess after Beth, Puck pretty much stumbled through that last month and a half of school, there had always been bruises, he'd sometimes been drunk or hungover coming into school. Puck knew exactly what Dave was referring to. All the rumours that were bouncing around about just why Puck was more of a mess, why Tanaka had been in the school and kicked out with a police escort. And the guys had seen the blow up in the locker room before.
"With Tanaka. That stuff that they're saying, about what-" Puck slams his locker shut, turning on Dave with nothing but blind fury in his face. Just talking about it sets him off. It should be enough to confirm anything Karofsky or the others want to think. "Shit man," Dave actually sighs and runs his hand over his hair.
"Noah," there's a small touch against his elbow and Puck only makes himself stay still because it's Rachel, he doesn't need to flinch from Rachel. "Come on, we have class."
"Dude," Dave looks like he's about to reach out before he thinks better of it, "we're sorry we didn't notice. Man, sorry we didn't do anything." And really, Puck isn't sure if he should be stunned or not, because it looks sincere. Even if they don't know the whole truth, even if they don't realise it wasn't just Puck, it's still sincere.
"Whatever." Puck just turns away with Rachel, leaning an arm around her shoulder that she doesn't shrug off and Puck doesn't read into because he just needs that support there. "Nice timing, Rach."
"It's something I've been working on." She tries to keep it casual, that much Puck knows, but she's not exactly great at doing it. "Are you okay?"
He really isn't, because the stress is cloying and the looks are suffocating and he feels like he's going to claw out of his own skin. But Mike and Finn aren't dealing with this, Artie and Sam don't need to deal with it. Kurt is safe at Dalton.
Puck's finally doing what he's supposed to. He's protecting his boys. The only way he knows how to right then. And that's just going to have to be enough for now.
"I will be."