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For almost seventeen years, she'd been waiting for the call. "Mrs Hudson-Hummel?" It was Thursday night, she'd been enjoying family dinner with the boys, just clearing up table when the call had come in, "This is Detective Rivers," she wasn't exactly sure at the time, but there was something about the tone that had made her clutch her chest, turning towards Burt and the boys, "we've found your son, Nathan?" She almost buckled right then, reaching out to use the wall as her support. "Can you come to the hospital please, it's better to do this here." She agrees, of course she agrees, and Burt reaches her as the phone drops and her heart just bursts and tears start to fall.
"They found him, my Nathan, they've found him."
She'd told Burt shortly before they had married. They'd both shared their stories about their dead spouses, helped heal one another's broken hearts, and Burt knew she'd had a second son, but she'd never shared the whole story until that day. Nathan was thirteen months younger than Finn. They hadn't planned on him, and it had been the biggest surprise she'd had, following her husbands death, it was like Nathan was what he was leaving her. Two perfect little boys to raise, two perfect boys who would know their father's legacy. Only she lost Nathan; not to illness or an accident or death. He was five months old, they were in the mall, she turned away for just a minute, a minute and Nathan was gone.
Ever since, her heart has been a little bit broken; she failed her youngest, she failed her little boy, Finn lost his brother because she was careless. And now, finally now, they'd found him. They've got him back for her.
They all climb into the car, Finn's leg bouncing with thrumming nervousness -Finn's always known, always asked when he was little where Nathan was, where his little brother was, but Carole never had answers for him. She loves Burt all the more for how supportive he is, how wonderful Kurt is too, both of them standing strong for her and Finn when they arrive at the hospital. She's directed to the second floor, a police officer meeting her at the waiting room and taking her down a hall to see Detective Rivers.
"Mrs Hudson-Hummel?" She nods and they shake hands while she introduces her family. Burt is a solid strength at her back, his hand on her shoulder while Finn stands to her side, holding her hand and Kurt is there for Finn. Detective Rivers starts to explain things, and Carole is just anxious to see her Nathan, to get her boy back. Nathan was taken by locals, apparently, they'd been questioning the woman who took him; she couldn't get pregnant, her husband wanted a baby, she'd been at the end of her rope. Carole didn't feel sorry for the woman, she only felt anger. This woman had taken her son, this woman had stolen her baby. He'd been raised in town, they'd lied about his age, made him seem older, they'd been so convincing that police never suspected.
Apparently, Nathan had been injured, he'd been brought to hospital and they had to run blood tests, something popped on the database and it was recorded. This boys' DNA matched the samples of Nathan's baby things she'd given the police all those years ago. He was right behind that door, they were going to see him. "Now, I know that you want to see him, I understand that this has been a long and hard journey, but you need to remember, Nathan doesn't know you. He believes all the lies his captors have told him."
Carole gets that, she does, she understands how hard it will be to build themselves now, but she has to see her boy. Detective Rivers opens the door and Carole and Finn go in first, followed by Burt and Kurt.
They all freeze as a head turns and Carole is staring into those familiar brown eyes. "Mrs H? Finn? Dude, what the hell is going on?"
Noah Puckerman is sitting there, staring at her with confusion in his eyes.
Noah Puckerman is her little Nathan.
Puck is confused. Just a lot.
It had been a total accident, Sarah was just pretty stupid with things like cleaning up after herself and Puck didn't know where she picked up that habit, like, at all. Nope. Not him. But either way, the little brat left fucking nails lying around and her stupid Barbie car in the middle of the hall and that shit was just a death trap. So he'd tripped, slid down the hall and landed it with his hands out. It'd been funny for all of five seconds before he realised he'd just impaled his hand on those stupid nails she'd been using for the fence to her lame Barbie house and fucking ow.
His Ma had actually claimed that they didn't need to go to the hospital, it was fine and yeah, if he hadn't y'know impaled his fucking hand on rusty nails. Sometimes she didn't make sense. And it all brings him to now, where he's sitting in a private room after some big freak out by the nurses and some stupid phone call and really, he was close to panicking, because Sarah had been taken off by the nurses and a doctor had come in with a, "Mrs Puckerman, we need to speak with you," and Puck was just left there and told to 'sit tight'.
That was three fucking hours ago. Sarah still had to get her homework finished, clear up her stupid toys -although getting the blood out of the carpet might have to come first- and get her bath and bed, because they had school tomorrow. And his Ma was supposed to go to work in like an hour and fucking hell what was taking them so long? Just bandage his damn hand and send him the fuck home. He'd get the blood results later.
He knew that something was wrong when Finn's mom showed up, with Finn, and Hummel, and Hummel's dad. Shit, Puck knew that every night was family night for the Hudson-Hummels, but he totally didn't expect that meant a family trip to the hospital. "Mrs H? Finn? Dude, what the hell is going on?" See, if something came up, he totally expected that they'd call his Aunt Becka. She was the only one on his Dad's side of the family that actually, y'know, stuck around after the deadbeat bolted. And Sarah liked Aunt B, so really, why the hell was Mrs H here?
"Nat- Noah. Sweetie, what happened?" Carole sort of hesitates to come in, and there's this guy behind the Hud-mel clan that slinks in and closes the door. He frowns at her weird stutter over his name.
"Sarah made a mess, I just tripped. It's no big." They gave him a fucking tetanus shot and left him sitting around for fucking ever. "Where's my Ma? Where's Sarah? What the hell is going on?" He just wants a few answers, because seriously, it was just an accident and no one can really turn this shit around into something else, surely.
"Noah, honey, there's some things you should know." Now, Mrs H has always been awesome. He's known her since he was five and met Finn in the play park, he'd still been pretty small for his age back then and got pushed around a little, he still let people call him Noah. He'd gotten a bloody lip from a fight with some older kids and Finn had just showed up and been like his back up. Ever since, he and Finn had been tight -until Puck fucked it up by fucking Quinn. And Carole had always just accepted that sometimes, Puck couldn't be at home, because his Ma drove him a little crazy and Sarah was a fucking handful and sometimes he just needed to get out of there. And Carole let him, just let him waltz into her house at three in the morning and crash on the couch.
But she had never, ever called him anything but Noah. Never pet names, never 'sweetie', or 'honey', those were for Finn, who sometimes got embarrassed about it, but Puck never said anything, because Mrs H was fucking epic.
He does not understand why she is telling him about her other son -Puck didn't even know that Finn had a brother, no one ever mentioned it. But he sort of got why, when she said he was like, kidnapped or whatever. She just sits there on the stool in front him, telling her story with everyone watching him like it makes any sense.
"I don't get what this has to do with me."
"Because," she takes his hand, really careful about all the bandaging around his thumb and index finger where the nail when through, he doesn't tug his hand back -because it's Carole, and his hand does hurt a lot, and she's weirdly emotional. "Because you're my Nathan."
"No I'm not." Seriously, sure they sounded the same, maybe, but Nathan wasn't Noah. "Besides, I'm the same age as Finn." He was like two months younger, not a whole year or something. "Where's my Ma, she'll tell you this."
"Ruth Puckerman has already confessed, son." The guy steps forward and Puck wonders just how big of a joke this is. "The blood they took from you today matched DNA in the system from when Nathan was abducted. It's a match. You are Nathan Hudson." Puck takes his hand back now, frowning at them all.
"I wanna see my Ma." There's no way this is real, it's a mistake or something stupid like that. "I wanna see my mom." He doesn't want to sit there in that room and listen to this. He hates that Mrs H looks so sad and shit but fuck, that's his mom they're talking about, she wouldn't do that shit. She wouldn't.
The words hurt. She understands why he says them, understands his confusion and why it's difficult to understand, but it still hurts to hear him call that woman his mother. It's hard enough to know that he'd been right there, right there under her nose this whole time, and she didn't recognise him, she didn't seeit. But she agrees with him, he should talk to Ruth, she needs to explain to Noah why she lied to him his whole life. She needs to look at Carole and explain how she could pretend all these years.
Detective Rivers doesn't think it's a good idea, but Ruth is brought to the room -she's in handcuffs. "Do you want me to get Sarah?"
"No," Ruth answers in a calm voice, looking at Rivers with a steady gaze, "I don't want her to see me like this." And Carole feels a stab of pity; for the children. For Noah and Sarah, who believe this woman as their mother, and she wonders if Sarah is a stolen child too.
"Ma," Noah doesn't step towards Ruth, and Carole comforts herself with that. It might be the handcuffs, it might be the niggle of doubt, he might know, on some level, he might know that he's her boy.
"I never really meant for this," Carole wants to slap the woman, Burt must know, because he keeps a hand on her wrist the whole time, "I don't even know when it got to the stage it did. But then I saw him," she looks towards Noah, some thing tender on her face and Carole is really to claw the face off her. "You were so small, and perfect and something just clicked. I don't even know why, I knew it wasn't right, but she had two, she had two and I didn't have one and I just," Noah's shaking his head, stepping backwards to lean on the bed and Carole desperately wanted to go to him.
"What about Sarah?"
"Before your father left, I, I found out I was pregnant." So the little girl was Ruth's, but Noah, Nathan wasn't. "I told your father the truth, he'd never known. I had told him you were born while he was away, that I didn't want to stress him at work. But when Sarah came along," Ruth shakes her head, "he left us. It was just you and me and Sarah, and I couldn't lose any more."
"You lied, you lied every day," Noah stood up, shouting at the woman and Finn crossed the room in two steps to take his brothers shoulders in a tight grip and hold on. Carole felt a swell of pride as Noah didn't pull away, leaning a little towards Finn and she was so thankful that they at least had that, they knew they could rely on each other, they still had each other in some way.
Ruth was led out the room and Noah just sort of sagged there, staring at the floor with a lost look she'd never seen on the other boy. "What's gonna happen?" Carole didn't know, she looked to Detective Rivers for answers.
"Well, Ruth Puckerman will be charged with kidnapping, she'll be tried and based on her confession sentenced."
"What about Sarah? And, well, me?" Noah glanced at Finn, looking back to the detective right after. Finn didn't move from Noah's side.
"I'm afraid Sarah will be placed in temporary foster care until we can find a home for her. You, however, have a family here."
"You can't do that, you can't just put her in some strangers house. You-" Finn's hand squeezed Noah's shoulder and the anger in his tone sort of filtered out, "What about Aunt Becka? My da- her Dad's sister? She lives in Columbus, we stay with her sometimes. She's family, right? She could take Sarah." Carole looked to Burt, she knew it was a lot, she knew it was massive, more than he'd ever considered when they'd gotten married, but she had to try.
Burt, bless his soul, read the question in her eyes and gave her a small smile. "Why doesn't Sarah stay with us too?" Carole hugs her husband close to her, even as Finn and Kurt exchange looks and one to Noah. "It would be better for her to stay with Noah, wouldn't it?" Detective Rivers looks like he's closes to arguing, but doesn't, just nods once before leaving the room.
"How're you doing, Noah?" Looking at him, remembering he's Noah and Nathan, that he's her little boy but also her sons best friend; the one that jumped off their garage roof when they were seven, the one who told him wax fruit was totally edible, the boy who helped him get on the football team by running drills with him in the backyard until it was dark, the boy who always showed up on the anniversary of his father's death, just so that Finn wasn't by himself. They were the same boy, and they were right in front of her, and he was finally coming home.
"It's all, I just, it's," Noah shook his head slightly, looking away, and Carole nodded with understanding. Everything else is put on hold as the door opens and Sarah launches herself towards Noah, trusting him to catch her -even with a wounded hand- and babbling into his shoulder as he holds her close.
She can't feel an ounce of pity for Ruth Puckerman, not after the woman lied to her face all these years, after she smiled and counted on Carole and called them friends, all the while knowing the truth. But she can't help but feel terrible that Sarah's just lost both her parents.
It takes forever, like an extra two hours, to get all the documents and whatever sorted out so that Sarah and Puck can go to the Hud-mel home for the mean time. Finn goes with Carole and Burt to see about things while Kurt stays with Puck; Sarah ends up falling asleep in Puck's lap after twenty minutes and he's loathe to let go of her but he does place her on the bed to sleep for now, absently running his hand over her hair once in a while. She's a pain in his ass most of the time, but God, he's practically helped raise her.
They're siblings, even if he's not her blood, he's not letting go of her, the system can go fuck itself if it thinks they're taking his sister away from him after this. "How're you doing?" Kurt gives him a weak smile, "Really, no bullshit." Surprisingly, Puck doesn't really mind the kid right then.
"Honestly?" He figures that this, well, this is something he can't really shrug off, not completely, "My head is fucking spinning. I mean, Christ." He can't really process it all, Carole being his mother, his Ma not, his Dad knowing what happened and just walking away rather than doing something. Back when he was eight, before his dad walked out, he'd sometimes wished that his mom would be more like Carole, sometimes got super jealous of Finn that he had such an awesome mom. He'd always felt that there was something about him that made his Ma hold back, he'd thought it had been any likeness he had to his father -they had similar hair, similar structure, he'd learned all his mannerisms from the man. So he'd stopped answering to Noah, started using Puck, shaved the mohawk in when he was eleven and pretty much stopped even talking about music or baseball -it became football and video games. But nothing really changed. "Everything I grew up with was just," he shrugs slightly, he was Jewish because his family was Jewish, he was called Puck because his name was Puckerman, his bubbie thought the world of him even with all his screw ups and she wasn't even his grandmother, she was Sarah's. Sarah wasn't even his any more.
"We'll get through it."
He doesn't know how though. Because he doesn't think he can just switch it off. He gets that Carole's all happy and stuff, sort of. He's really fucking grateful that they're willing to take him in, and Sarah. But it's just weird. When they finally get to the Hud-mel home, Carole offers the guest room for now, until they figure out something a little more permanent, Puck just nods. He doesn't let them set up the sofa for Finn so that Sarah or Puck can have Finn's bed, because he'll just share with Sarah. She's still dead to the world and Puck's pretty sure he's not going to sleep anyway.
He ends up in the kitchen at three in the morning, nursing a glass of milk with his good hand just thinking far too much. It doesn't surprise him too much when Burt comes in and takes a seat at the table. He gets that Burt Hummel is like the most awesome man alive or something like that -seriously, he's this amazing dad, he's totally accepting of Kurt, forgiving of Finn, he's even giving Puck a chance despite the fact that lawn furniture is very hard to unstick from the roof, for sure, Puck knows that shit. Burt doesn't say anything, doesn't push, doesn't ask a question, he just sits there calmly and waits.
"I don't know what I'm supposed to do."
"You're not supposed to do anything, kid. You just got hit with a lot of information, and that'll take some time. But I've got one request," Puck looks over at Burt, waiting for it, "you give Carole a chance." He didn't really understand, frowning slightly. "She's been looking for you for seventeen years," and Puck still had to get used to actually being younger than he thought he was. "She's never stopped loving you, always believed you were out there somewhere, that some day she'd find you again." And Puck believes that, because Carole never gives up anything, and she never stops trying, and she's just really great.
He gives a nod, and Burt claps a hand on his shoulder and squeezes before leaving Puck with a, "Don't stay up too late," like it's not already too late.
Sarah and him both stay off school the next day, but Kurt and Finn need to go in. They go over to the Puckerman home to get their stuff, Sarah rushing in first to hold her arms out in the hall where Puck tripped. "You can't walk here, you'll break something else." He just laughs at her and pulls her up the stairs. Carole helps Sarah pack -so far, the girl only knows that they're moving in with Burt and Carole for a while, and their Ma isn't going to be around. Puck thinks it should worry him just how accepting Sarah is of that. Burt follows after Puck and he tries to figure out what he should take with him. In the end, all his clothes are shoved into a duffle bag, he packs his laptop, his CDs and some of his games that he knows Finn likes but doesn't have, and his guitar. It's all he needs.
Sarah has nine boxes of toys.
"We'll find a bigger house." Burt says in the car and Puck argues -there aren't bigger houses than the Hud-mel house, not unless they move further out and that's just stupid. He says he'll share with Sarah, they'll change the guest room and he'll just split it with Sarah, since Carole makes it clear she's going to try and keep the girl. He wonders if Burt ever bargained for this when he married Carole, getting an eight year old daughter and a fuck up of a son on top of Finn. Sarah thinks it's a great idea, but she wants her room painted pink. She starts going on about "half pink and half that silly blue colour that Noah likes, and we can have a net tube like in the shops for all my toys and Noah can get a desk," and she doesn't shut up until they get back to the house and then she drags Burt upstairs so she can show him what she means.
He and Carole sit in the living room. "I know this is a lot, but, you do want to stay here, right?" There's always his Aunt Becka, or Sarah's Aunt Becka, but she's in Columbus and it means moving and Puck's only got senior year left and Sarah has all her friends here, so he'd rather not move. And Burt's right, Carole deserves a chance, she deserves more than a chance, she deserves him getting his head out of his ass and figuring this shit out.
"When was I born?"
"In the October, right after Finn's first birthday." Carole smiles slightly, "I'd just lost your father, and we'd tried to celebrate Finn's birthday, and he was convinced that you were celebrating with us, because you kicked the whole time we were at the party. You were a little late in coming, but you were utterly perfect. And after the labour with Finn it was a blessing." He'd never asked his Ma about this stuff, she'd never spun little stories beyond telling people that Sarah's pregnancy was so much easier than Noah's.
"Are, I mean, I can keep my name, right? I mean, Noah. I just,"
"Sweetie, of course." Carole's hand closes over his and he smiles slightly, squeezing her hand back. "I don't care what you call yourself, I just want you home." He figures he can work on that.
It's not easy, not by a long shot. They deal with legal matters first, the courts try to track down Mr Puckerman since he technically has claim to Sarah first and foremost, but it's a long and painful process, and only after that can Carole and Burt petition for legal guardianship. The schools are informed of all the changes and Noah explains that he'd like to keep Puckerman as his name -mostly for Sarah's sake, until she claims she wants to be a Hummel and then things are all over the place again with legal issues.
Sometimes, Sarah screams for her mother, being rude to Carole and screaming with Noah until one of them slams a door and then, twenty minutes later she'll come out and cry on his shoulder and apologise to Carole and hug her. It's a dysfunction that Carole always understood was in the Puckerman house hold, shouting and screaming and crying was just how they dealt with things. Noah still called Carole 'Mrs H', and she understood it wasn't a slight or anything like that, he simply wasn't used to calling anyone but his 'Ma' by that name.
Two months later, Ruth Puckerman is sentenced to fifteen years in prison for child abduction and Sarah is named a ward of the state, Burt and Carole file to legally adopt her and a further three weeks later Sarah is officially Sarah Puckerman Hummel. Carole knows that Noah appreciates just how well Sarah slots herself in; she schools Finn at video games because she's grown up playing them with Noah, she loves when Kurt helps her pick out outfits and teaches her how to use make-up properly, she adores Burt like no one would've guessed and she takes to Carole very easily.
Sarah does have a few stumbles; she's picked on at school, people comment on her change of name, rumours are spread that she was stolen at birth, that she was abandoned, that no one wanted her. She comes in from school one day crying and not willing to talk to anyone and actually throws Noah out of their room so she can scream into her pillow. She won't talk to anyone until dinner and even then, it's Carole she wants to see, Noah just shrugs as he explains it.
"They said that I'm an orphan, but I'm not right? And that Noah's not my brother. And that I don't have a family, but I do. They're just being so mean and I hate it there." Carole wraps her arms around Sarah and tries to soothe the girl -it's been a long time since she dealt with a pre-teen, she's never had a pre-teen girl.
"Sweetie, of course you have a family. You have all of us. You have three big brothers who love you."
"And an awesome mom and dad. Those girls are just totes jealous. My family is the shit."
"Sorry." It's shockingly easy to console the girl, and her mood swing so drastically that Carole is almost worried about what will happen when she hits puberty.
Noah is a slow but steady process. He sometimes makes remarks about Kurt that make Burt stop, but it's noticeable that Kurt and Noah both know it isn't anything derogatory, Finn explains that it's just their way of teasing. After a while, he stops using 'Puck' as a nickname, people know by then what happened and there have only been a few instances where Burt has been down to the school to shout at Principal Figgins about his attempts to punish Noah for other students being problem children -the main issue was when Noah broke Azimio's jaw for a poorly placed comment. A few weeks after Sarah's name is legally changed, Noah surprises Carole with his own name change -they'd been processing his legal birth certificate to change his name and Burt had helped with a request and then everyone is informed at Friday night dinner that Noah is legally Noah Nathan Hudson.
Carole cries a little.
It's a week before graduation that it happens. Sarah took to calling Carole and Burt 'mom' and 'dad' fairly quickly after Noah told her it was okay to do it, Burt insists that it's okay for Noah to just call him Burt, and Carole knows that Kurt sort of prefers it in his own way too. But that one night, when the boys were going out to a party, Kurt was getting ready while Noah and Finn played video games in Finn's room.
"Boys, dishes before you go, you're not getting away with not finishing your chores." Finn makes a fuss, almost stomping down the stairs like a child, while Noah just smiles and follows.
"Yes, Mom." He places a kiss on her cheek and Carole feels her heart burst all over again.
But in a good way this time.