Rating: R for language
Characters: Kurt, Puck, Beth, Shelby, Will
Disclaimer: Don't own 'em, not making money off 'em.
A/N: Fill for Puckurt's Fic I Didn't Write game. I am aware of the grammatical and spelling errors in the note. Believe me; it cost me dearly to put them there.
It was nearly eight o'clock on a chilly Sunday morning in May. Kurt Hummel stood in the centre of the iconic red bridge, looking out towards the Atlantic. The occasional car shot past in front of him as he gazed through the fog.
It was an unusual chain of events that had led him here, trying not to freeze in his grey houndstooth trench coat. He glanced back down at the note in his hand, and looked for the thousandth time at the words scribbled there.
The note was old, but in pristine condition. Kurt had kept it safe, tucked neatly inside its envelope, which he had stored in a ziploc bag in his hope chest. Only the fragility of the creases gave away its age.
It was a note that Kurt had received ten years ago on this day.
Ten Years Prior
They were waiting in the choir room the Monday after Nationals. Eleven members of New Directions were sitting around, talking excitedly, when Mr Schuester wheeled in their trophy.
Yes, McKinley High's glee club had, after three years of work, finally made it. They had been crowned the best glee club in the United States. Their vocal coach, Miss Corcoran, followed Mr Schuester into the room.
They all knew it was due mostly to her that they had upped their game enough to win, but it was Mr Schuester who has inspired them to do it.
The group stood and applauded the two adults as they entered, who in their turn, applauded the group of teenagers standing before them.
Mr Schuester tried to talk them down with, "Guys, it's down to you that you won. You earned this fair and square. We just helped you along the way."
All this did was increase the applause, and the group moved forward to embrace their two coaches.
Before they reached him, however, Rachel cried out, "Where's Puck? He's always the first to initiate group hugs."
Everyone looked around the room, confused. She was right.
Where on earth was Puck? It was nearly the end of the semester; all the other clubs were finished for the year. Even this glee meeting was just for celebration, they weren't going to do any actual work.
After a brief discussion and several attempts to call his cell, they split up and searched the school, worried that perhaps the jocks had objected to his celebratory (shirtless) performance of We Are The Champions during the last game of the season.
But to no avail. They could find neither hide nor hair of him, and when Kurt jimmied open his locker (not for nothing had Kurt spent hours working in his father's shop), it was completely empty. Nothing remained to indicate that Noah Puckerman had even owned that locker.
Mr Schuester of course phoned Puck's mother, who said that he told her he was going to Glee and then on to Finn's house to spend the night. This was news to Finn and Kurt – while Puck had stayed over a few times over the last year, they hadn't expected him tonight.
The cheerful mood gone, the group departed and went their separate ways.
The next morning, the news spread around the school like wildfire. Jacob Ben Israel told all and sundry that Noah Puckerman had been chased out of town by an anti-semitic 'religious' colony that had recently been set up just outside of Lima.
Other, more likely, theories were discussed by all. Some thought he'd been kidnapped by a disgruntled Lima housewife, who was angry that he had stopped offering 'extra services' when he cleaned their swimming pools. Others thought he'd done something stupid to celebrate and been arrested. Some believed that he had run away to follow in his father's footsteps and try to make it as a musician.
Rachel suggested that a vengeful Dustin Goolsby had kidnapped him, and that he wouldn't be released unless Mr Schue and Miss Corcoran agreed to the ransom demand that they would shut down New Directions.
Speculation was rife throughout the school all day, but it was Kurt who, upon finally starting to clear out his locker for the vacation, found a note inside. It was in a small envelope with his name scrawled on it. This is what the note said:
May 18, 2012
Sorry to ditch you guys before graduation and all that shit, but this is something I gotta do. Tell Miss C I'm sorry, but I can't do this any more. She was awsome but this is just too hard.
But you gotta know, you were the best friend I had. Finn never really got over the Quinn and Beth thing, but you were always awsome to me. You forgave me for all the shit I put you through without me even asking (and I am sorry for that, dude, I really am). You let me crash in your house and you never bitched about me being there, even when you were yelling at me for spilling soup on your shoe roster or dumb shit like that. You let me into your place like I belonged there. I cant thank you guys enough for that.
Its all the stuff I love about you that makes this even harder. Cuz I do love you, Kurt. Like seriosly in love with you. I guess I always kinda felt it, but after I made you go to gay hogwarts, and you hooked up with the little guy with the Frodo hair… I knew it. Sorry I never told you, but it would of made what I've gotta do even worse if I had to tell you to your face. And your fucking intimidating, you know? You have this kind of aura, like your better than everyone else. I coudnt tell you cuz I coudnt have delt with it if you'd cut me down like you totally woud of.
The thing is theres so many kinds of love. And this one love I have is the most important thing in my life, even more important than you or Glee or anything I left in Lima, even my mom and my sister.
I'm going away now and you won't see me again for a long time. But I can't live the rest of my life knowing for sure I'm never gonna see you again. So I've gotta ask you to do something for me.
Ten years from now on May 22 2022 at 8am meet me on the Golden Gate Bridge. That's long enough away that everyone else will of given up on me.
I know it's a random place, dude, but it's the only place I can think of thats out of the state and out of New York.
Don't forget. You gotta be there. Knowing I'll see you again will keep me from doing stupid stuff, cuz I always tried to do the right thing, but it never worked unless I thought about how you'd react to me fucking up again.
I've got some even more important now, but she won't know if I'm doing something stupid that'll screw her up until it's too late.
So its knowing that I'll have to tell you everything one day that will get me through, and keep me looking after her right.
Tell Miss C I'm sorry. I don't wanna hurt her, but it was killing me too much not to have her. I love her too much.
Between now and then, until I see you again, I'll be loving you.
Kurt stared at the note in dismay. At first he'd been scared that it was a suicide note, but this was something that was almost even scarier.
He ran all the way to Mr Schue's office before he remembered. He wasn't in today. Something to do with Miss Corcoran. Kurt looked back at the note. Suddenly it clicked into place. Puck had taken Beth.
In a vivid flashback, Kurt could see the expression on Puck's face when he had left Beth behind in the hospital for the last time. The look of desolation and loss on the hardened jock's face had stunned him.
It was the only time Puck had let anyone else see how much letting Beth go had cost him.
Kurt looked back at the letter, rereading Puck's confession of love for him. He could scarcely believe it. To be fair, he had never cared whether he was making sexual innuendos with girls or with boys, but it hardly seemed possible that Puck should be in love with him.
The last thing Kurt had known about Puck's love life was that he had been dumped by Lauren, which, like being dumped by Quinn, had hurt him far more than he had let on. He had never seemed to show even the slightest bit of romantic interest in Kurt.
Rereading the note again, Kurt realised what he had to do.
He found Rachel and, by alternating means of cajoling and threats, made her give him directions to Miss Corcoran's house. He drove there as fast as he could, ignoring his shaking hands and most of the speed limits on the way.
When he knocked on the door and heard her sobbing in the distance, he knew he had been right. Mr Schue answered the door, looking very surprised to see Kurt. He was wearing the same clothes as the day before and had clearly spent the night there. His hair was in an absolute state, but Kurt didn't have time to point this out to him now.
"Kurt, what are you doing here?" his teacher asked him, bleary eyed.
"Puck left me a note. He told me I had to tell Miss Corcoran something for him."
In a daze, Mr Schuester opened the door wide and allowed the boy in.
"Is he okay? What does he say?"
"I have to tell Miss Corcoran," Kurt said simply, moving in the direction of the staircase, from whence the muffled sniffles were emerging. "Can I…?" He gestured upwards.
"Go ahead, Kurt." Mr Schue waved him up the stairs, realising that explanations would have to come later.
Kurt hurried towards the sound, pushing open the door to the nursery. As he had expected, Beth was nowhere to be seen. Miss Corcoran was sitting on the floor, curled up against the side of the cot, clinging tightly to the railings.
"Miss Corcoran?" he asked softly, hesitantly, not wanting to startle her.
She turned around at the unexpected voice, her tear streaked face red and shining. Confused by his presence, she said nothing.
Kurt knelt down beside her.
"Miss Corcoran, Puck left a message for you. He wants me to tell you that he's sorry."
"Sorry?" she looked at him apprehensively.
"For taking Beth. At least… I think that's what he means." Kurt glanced down at the paper in his hand for clarification. "He just wants you to know that it's because he loved her so much, and he couldn't be apart from her."
Tears still falling down her face, she wordlessly held out her hand for the note.
Kurt recoiled slightly, holding the note out of her reach. "Some of things he says… they're not for you. I… I'll read out the bits for you."
He didn't hear Mr Schue approaching the door as he cleared his throat and started to read aloud.
"Sorry to ditch you guys before graduation and all that… shit," Kurt began, pausing before the curse word to which his tongue was so unused. "But this is something I gotta do. Tell Miss C I'm sorry, but I can't do this any more. She was awesome but this is just too hard."
Kurt was silent as he scanned down the letter. "The thing is, there's so many kinds of love. And this one love I have is the most important thing in my life, even more important than-" Kurt cut himself off, then took a breath before finishing, "Even more important than anything I left in Lima."
After another brief pause, Kurt read aloud the last part for Shelby. "Tell Miss C I'm sorry. I don't wanna hurt her, but it was killing me too much not to have her. I love her too much."
"That's it," he finished. "That's what he said."
Once again Shelby silently extended her hand for the piece of paper. Kurt clutched it to his chest, shaking his head, trying not to let tears form in his eyes. "I'm sorry, Miss C. I can't. The other things he says… they're private."
Quietly, she spoke. "She's my daughter, Kurt. He's taken my daughter. I have the right to know anything he has said that might help me find her."
"But there's nothing else in here, Miss C. Not about that!" Kurt's voice grew louder, and Mr Schue entered, concerned.
Shelby looked up at him, pleading for his help. "Will… that letter, it's from Puck. He took her. He took her back, Will," Miss Corcoran said, trying hard not to let her tears stop her speech.
Kurt stood up, backing away from his teachers until his back was against the wall.
"No, Mr Schue," Kurt said, in an equally pleading tone. "I've read out everything he says about Beth."
"Kurt, Miss Corcoran is Beth's mother. She has loved her for the last two years. She deserves to know! That letter is a page long. Are you honestly telling me that three short paragraphs are all he wrote about Beth, the cause for his running away?"
Tears now running down Kurt's face, he backed into the wall, the letter tightly in his hands. He shook his head again. "He wouldn't want me to-"
"I don't care what he wouldn't want, Kurt!" Mr Schuester yelled, angry that Kurt would put Puck's feelings before Shelby's. "He has kidnapped Shelby's daughter and we have to find him. That note might give us some clue about where they are. Now let us read it!"
"No!" Kurt shouted back. "She's his too!"
The resounding silence was deafening. Mr Schue shook his head in utter disappointment, turning away to lean against the wall.
"Please, Kurt." Miss Corcoran begged him from her position on the floor. "Please?"
Kurt looked from his teacher to the empty cot and back again. However much he might want to protect Puck, he couldn't deny Shelby this. She was right. She deserved to know everything.
"Okay," he whispered.
"Finally!" Mr Schue exclaimed, turning back from the wall and reaching out for the note.
Kurt pulled back from him, holding the piece of paper away from his teacher. He was not going to let Mr Schuester read that note. The man hadn't seemed to care at all about what Puck had gone through during his time at McKinley, and Kurt felt that he had relinquished all right to give a damn about Puck a long time ago.
"No, Mr Schue. Just Miss Corcoran. She deserves to know. You d-… um…" Kurt stumbled for words. "Miss Corcoran can read it. If she wants to tell you, that's up to her. But you mustn't read-… it's too private."
One look at Shelby's beseeching face, and Mr Schuester withdrew; standing back, out of sight of the letter, which Kurt placed in his bereft teacher's outstretched hand.
Eagerly, she brought it to her eye level, scanning it hastily. He saw the surprise and hesitation in her eyes as she reached Puck's declaration of love for Kurt, and he saw her gaze flick briefly towards him before she returned to the note.
He saw a pained expression cross her face, and he knew she had reached the part where Puck said, "She won't know if I'm doing something stupid that'll screw her up until it's too late."
Kurt could only imagine what it must be like to know that the child you had raised as your own flesh and blood was in the hands of a runaway teenager. No matter how much that teenager might love that little girl, he was still Puck. Miss Corcoran had got to know him, sure, and she knew he had matured. But Kurt doubted that she would have entrusted Beth to him for so much as an afternoon's baby sitting. He was sure she knew how much the boy loved his daughter, but she would not have had any faith at all in his capabilities as a parent.
Mr Shuester, seeing that Shelby had finished the note, started forward, hand out, asking, "Can I?"
Shelby looked up at Kurt with a depth of understanding that startling him. He didn't even need to start silently begging her with his eyes for her to pass the letter back to him.
"No, Will. It's Kurt's note. There's nothing for me in it but apologies."
"Can I talk to Kurt alone, Will?" she sounded so sad and weary as she spoke.
Befuddled and slightly hurt, he nodded and left the room.
"Thank you for letting me read it, Kurt. I see why you didn't want me to."
He slid down to kneel on the floor beside her once more and nodded his appreciation. Tentatively, he reached out a hand to take hold of hers.
"I'm sorry he took her. I'm sorry you had to lose her for him to have her."
"Did you…" She swallowed and plucked her courage to ask him, "Did you know he was going to take her?" She didn't know if she could forgive him if he had.
Kurt shook his head fiercely. "No. I could never have let him just take her. I'd have told him to find another way to see her. There must have been a way better than this."
"But you didn't want to help me find her."
"I… I…" Kurt glanced around the room, desperately hoping for some inspiration. "I don't think he should have taken her. But I couldn't have helped someone take her away from him. Again. I just… I can remember his face…"
Tears filled Kurt's eyes as he pictured that look of utter despair and hopelessness Puck had worn as he left Beth behind him in the hospital.
"I'm so sorry, Miss C," he repeated.
A watery smile appeared on her face. "I know. At least…" she trailed off, then gathered herself together. "At least I know she's with someone who loves her, who won't try to hurt her."
Kurt nodded. "Are you… are you going to try to find them?"
"Of course," Shelby said simply. "She's my daughter. I can't imagine spending the rest of my life without her. I gave up one daughter and I always, always regretted it. Even though I knew she would have such loving fathers… she was mine and I gave her up. Not again. I am never going to give up on my Beth."
Nodding again, Kurt squeezed her hand and then stood up. He gestured at the letter, trying to find the words he wanted to say. "Do you… if… do you want…"
"Do I want what? The letter? No. There's nothing for me but empty apologies. Sorries won't bring my daughter back."
"I meant… in ten years time. If you don't find them… do you want to be there? Do you want me to write it down somewh-?"
"No," she said decidedly. "I have to believe I will have found her by then. I can't be without her for ten years, Kurt, I simply can't."
Finding nothing further to say, Kurt took his leave and made his way downstairs. Mr Schue was waiting there, sitting at the bottom of the staircase.
"Kurt!" he exclaimed, as his pupil passed him by without a word.
The weary teen turned to face him.
For once, Mr Schuester showed uncharacteristic forbearance. He didn't press Kurt for the letter, or for more information about Puck's disappearance. He simply asked, "Are you okay, Kurt?"
Kurt shook his head. "No. And I won't be for a while. But Miss C needs you more."
His teacher nodded and made to go back upstairs, but stopped himself to speak again to Kurt, unable to let it go.
"Why wouldn't you let me see the letter?"
"It's not your business, Mr Schue. I know Miss C is your friend, and you're worried. But you never gave Puck any reason to think you gave a damn about him unless he did something bad." Kurt laughed bitterly. "I guess this kind of proves he was right. You might not care about what he would have wanted, Mr Schue, but he's my friend. And what he said in this letter… was meant for me and me alone.
"I let Miss C read it because she just lost her child. But you haven't earned the right to care. When Beth was born you didn't even ask Quinn or Puck how they felt about giving up a baby."
Mr Schuester gaped at him, hurt and horrified. "He could have talked to me. My office was always open."
Kurt looked at him almost pityingly. "You didn't even see it, Mr Schue. As long as Finn and Rachel were happy, and none of the rest of us were acting up, everything was fine. You didn't even bother to ask."
Kurt patted his stunned teacher's hand gently. "We all knew you meant well, though. That's why we still all loved you. It just felt like a very one-sided relationship sometimes."
With that elegant parting line, he walked out of the front door and closed it behind him.
The Present Day
The wind whipped through Kurt's hair, ruining his earlier careful styling. He could hardly believe that he would be seeing Noah Puckerman again after so long.
Then again, he reminded himself. Ten years is a long time. It was entirely possible that Puck had given up on that long ago crush and moved on with his daughter somewhere else entirely.
No news had ever been received of them, not a single word or line to any of them back in Lima.
Kurt had never told anyone else about the letter from Puck. When he realised that Puck hadn't even told his own mother that he had been going to leave, he would have felt utterly cruel to come out and tell her that he had received a note when she hadn't.
Besides, he had rationalised. There was nothing to be gained from telling everyone just before they all went off into the big wide world. They scattered across the country, making their way through their own lives.
Quinn had never found out that Puck had taken Beth. Shelby had kept it quiet in Lima, though she had never given up the search for her little girl. She had known that Puck wouldn't be so foolish as to remain in the state. His note to Kurt had proved that.
She had always wondered, though, why the runaway had also mentioned New York as a place he would be avoiding.
But Kurt had known. It was because that was where he was going. Off to college, to try to make it as a Broadway star. He liked to think that Puck had mentioned it so that Kurt wouldn't always be looking out for him on every street corner he turned.
Still, he thought, as he gazed out over the foggy waters. It had probably been a total waste of time, arranging all of his work, his meetings and his appointments around being in San Francisco on this date.
He hadn't made it as a Broadway star. His style was, as it always had been, too different for most audiences (and consequently casting directors) to appreciate. So he had slid sideways into fashion journalism, giving up auditioning for show after show, and getting a job for a fashion magazine.
He had gradually worked his way up the ranks, including a gruelling year as assistant to the editor-in-chief, and now he was co-editor of his own magazine, nabbing the best people from the business to work with, including renowned British fashion obsessive Gok Wan. The two made a formidable pair. It wasn't the most popular or well-known magazine, not by a long way. But it was respected, for both good writing and for reflecting Kurt's own impeccable taste.
He had achieved a great deal for a young man of twenty eight. He had learned everything he possibly could about everyone in the fashion world. You had to, if you were going to make it in that industry.
But there was one person who had always eluded him. Because of course, Kurt had keenly followed the ever-fruitless hunt for Puck and Beth.
Somehow, Noah Puckerman had defied all expectations and avoided being identified for ten whole years. The police had always been on the lookout for them; any young girl brought into missing persons was always compared to an aged-up photo of Shelby's missing daughter.
At first, Kurt had been glad that nothing had been found. While he hated that Shelby had had to lose her second child after giving away her first, he couldn't help but feel that Puck deserved to have this chance to prove himself capable, and to raise his daughter himself.
But as time as gone by, Kurt had started to worry more and more. Much as he had wanted Puck to prove himself, he hadn't believed he would be able to do it. And the lack of news was either a good sign or a very bad one.
When the time and date of the planned reunion came around, Kurt had debated with himself whether he should call Shelby and ask if she wanted to come with him. One half of him was insisting that it was only right that he should. The other half was reminding him that, by now, Beth would be Puck's daughter far more than Shelby's. Doing anything to reopen old wounds would just be cruel.
Either way, Kurt's conscience would not let him rest. And so he went for the easier, perhaps slightly more selfish option. He would not call her. He wouldn't betray Puck's trust, even though it might mean he was betraying Shelby's. She hadn't even considered that Beth would remain unfound by this point, but Kurt was reasonably confident that she would want to come.
He just couldn't bring himself to do something that might end up separating a little girl from the man who had raised her for ten years.
Sighing, Kurt looked back down at the letter.
After he had got over the initial shock at Puck's confession of love, he had come to see how it just might have been possible. They had ended up spending a lot of time together, during that last year at McKinley. Puck had often crashed at Kurt and Finn's house, watching TV, playing computer games, or just hanging out with a guitar and singing. They had performed the lead vocals together in one of their winning songs at Nationals, just a few days before Puck had run away.
He had never let himself consider Puck romantically. Before Blaine, Puck had always been with someone, and Kurt had given up going after taken straight boys. After Kurt had broken up with Blaine, just after Christmas, he had been too grateful to have Puck as a friend to even contemplate anything more.
And after Puck had left, Kurt refused to let himself dwell upon the idea. Looking back and examining his feelings for a man he would most likely never see again was utterly futile. So he had moved on with his life, dating numerous men in New York, but never finding anyone with whom he truly wanted to settle down.
Perhaps he wasn't quite on track with his plan to be married by thirty, but on the whole, Kurt was happy with his life. And now, just maybe, he was finally going to be able to satisfy that curiosity, that little thought that had been gnawing away at the back of his mind since he had read that letter, standing by his locker in a high school corridor. Would he and Puck ever have worked?
Kurt's heart leapt as an almost forgotten voice startled him from his reverie. He span around to face a familiar face.
Noah Puckerman was standing before him. His face was a little more lined, his expression a little softer, his posture a little more unassuming. His hair was cut short, not quite a buzz cut. He looked uncharacteristically sheepish as he stood, shifting uneasily in the cold wind.
Both men spoke simultaneously, prompting both to smile, almost to laugh.
"Yeah," Kurt replied. "Curiosity got the better of me."
Puck nodded, offering his right hand to shake. He was clad in his battered old leather jacket, - the same one, Kurt was sure, that he had worn to slash the tyres of Vocal Adrenaline twelve years prior.
Kurt shook his hand firmly, saying, "I'm glad to see you again."
"Same here. I… do you know how my mom and sister are doing? I couldn't call th-"
"They were fine, the last I heard. Dad said your mom had married again. A nice man. I think he was a dentist. Sarah went off to college a few years back."
Puck nodded gratefully.
Determined not to let an awkward silence develop, as it was threatening to do, Kurt asked, "Beth?"
"She's fine. I didn't screw her up. She's doing real good," Puck replied with a slightly proud smile. "I got a job, I looked after her. She's so smart, like Quinn, but everyone says she looks like me." There was no disguising the pride in his voice now.
Kurt sighed with relief. He felt reassured in his decision not to call Shelby. He still felt guilty that she was in the dark for longer than absolutely necessary, but if she had been here, he was sure that she would have tried to take Beth back.
"I meant what I said, you know," Puck said, conversationally. "It really was thinking of you yelling at me if I screwed up that stopped me doing the really stupid stuff."
Not knowing what else to say, Kurt replied, "Really?"
"Uh-huh." Puck leaned back against the rail, still looking at his old classmate. "Whenever I had an idea, I just thought, 'Would Kurt like it?' If you'd've told me off for doing it, I didn't do it. I think Beth just thinks of you as this fictional guy like my own personal Santa."
"What?" Kurt exclaimed. "How am I like Santa?"
"If she asked to do something stupid and I wanted to say yes, but knew I shouldn't, I told her that Kurt wouldn't like it. And she'd ask how you'd know, and I said that you always knew if I'd been naughty. Seriously. Remember that time I moved around all your DVDs from alphabetical order? You knew I'd done it without even looking at the damn things."
Kurt laughed. "I guess that's true." He looked his old school friend up and down. He seemed more at peace than he ever had at McKinley. "You talk to her about me?"
"All the time." Puck's expression turned slightly embarrassed. "Stupid, really. I guess we've both changed a lot since then, but… I dunno. You were the only person who ever really accepted me as I was.
"Well, Rachel did too," Puck amended. "She was just too irritating to hang around with all the time."
Kurt tried to look disapproving, but couldn't keep a straight face and snorted with laughter.
Puck, laughing as well, said, "Sorry, dude, I know she was your hag for senior year."
"We had similar tastes in music and men; we bonded over heartache and Broadway," Kurt recalled with a wistful expression. "I haven't seen her for over a year now. Last thing I heard she was back with Jesse. Again. I think this is the seventh time now."
Puck chuckled, "Yeah, she always seemed better suited to him than Finn. Pity he was such a dickwad."
"He still is," Kurt informed him. "Things haven't changed that much since you've been away."
"Yeah…" Puck said, looking out over the sea. "I missed you guys."
"We missed you too, Puck. No-one else knew where you were, what you were doing. No-one else at school found out about Beth. Shelby kept it quiet in Lima."
Puck nodded. "I hated having to do that to her. But Beth… I couldn't not be a part of her life, Kurt. I don't regret taking her. She's the best thing I've ever done."
"I can believe that. Where is she now?"
"Sleeping over with some friends in the city. She loves your magazine. I've never told her that the amazing Kurt Hummel is the same Kurt who wouldn't let me buy her a pet boa constrictor."
"A boa constrictor?" Kurt exclaimed in horror.
"That's what I thought you'd say. She wanted to call it Rupert."
Shaking his head in disbelief, Kurt looked back up at the city stretched out to his left, he asked, "Do you live here now?"
Puck shook his head. "I stayed away from the big cities. I didn't know how hard Miss C would look for us. We live out in Kentucky. I'm a cook in a hotel in a sports resort. We live in a little house there. It's not much, but it's ours."
"Just the two of you?"
"Yeah. Dating never seemed important once I had Beth, and I never met anyone who I liked enough to change my mind."
"Are you happy there?"
"Pretty much," Puck said, nodding, a smile on his face. "It's not what I expected to do. I just got on the road with her and found someplace far enough away. I was really lucky with the place I picked. I found this place in Kentucky, and I just needed somewhere to stay for a few nights, but the couple there had their own kid, you know? They needed someone to look after him while they worked around the resort and stuff. So she gave me a job, and I looked after their boy when they were working, and they looked after Beth when I was working in the kitchen."
"So everything worked out for you? You're happy?"
"In the end. Sometimes I thought I couldn't do it, you know? I looked at her and thought, 'I can't be everything this perfect little girl needs.' Then I thought about Shelby, and what you'd say if I'd caused her all this heartache for nothing, how much I'd be letting my daughter down."
With a faint smile on his face, Kurt responded, "I'm glad I could help."
"You really did, though, dude," Puck said, with a gentle punch to his arm. "That last year. You treated me like was dirt under your feet, like you did with everyone, but you treated me like I was dirt that the potential to make something amazing grow. And you were right. I did."
Staring at him in wonder, Kurt commented "You've grown very poetic."
Puck shrugged. "You never got down at me for the stuff that everyone else did. You listened when I talked about my life, how much I hated it. You helped me believe I could be something better than what everyone expected of me. That's why I fell in love with you."
Kurt gasped. Sure, he'd read the letter a thousand times. But he'd never heard Noah Puckerman speak those words aloud. And to hear them so casually in conversation, as though they were discussing the weather… it startled him.
"You really… were in love? With…?" Kurt fumbled for words, completely unused to someone being so open with him. In his world, you kept your cards close to your chest at all times.
With an expression of remarkable tenderness, Puck replied, "Yeah."
Taking a deep breath, Kurt tried to slow his racing heart rate.
"You weren't in love with me, Kurt. I know that. I'm not waiting for you to say anything in return. But I want to be honest with you. And I was nuts about you, dude."
"But you never said anything. Why did you never say anything?" Kurt looked at him searchingly, trying to divine the thoughts behind the handsome face.
"You never looked at me twice. Not like you used to look at Finn. Not even how you looked at Frodo when you first met him." The hurt in Puck's voice was clear.
"It never occurred to me," Kurt explained frankly. "You just… weren't on my radar. If you had… I don't know. Maybe things would have been different."
He sighed, continuing, "There's no point going over would-have-beens now, though, is there? You've got your little girl. I've got my magazine. We're two completely different social spheres."
"Kurt…?" Puck said, queryingly. There was a faint glimmer of hope in his eyes as he asked, "What… what are you saying, exactly?"
"I don't know, Puck. It's just… I've never been as comfortable around any of my boyfriends as I was around you, back during senior year when you hung out at our house all the time. Maybe we…" he trailed off, turning to lean on the barrier and face back towards the mainland. "Never mind. It's stupid to wonder about maybes."
"Yes?" he replied, staring out through the morning fog.
"Look at me."
Slowly, Kurt did so.
"I still want you just as much as I did in high school, Kurt. Every day I thought about you. I would tell myself I had the rose coloured glasses thing, you know? I'd talk you up to Beth and then I'd realise that I was making you out to be this perfect guy on a pedestal.
"But then you came out here, to meet up with a guy who ran out on you and everyone you knew… you coulda just said, 'Screw him, he took Miss C's baby and ran off', but you didn't."
"Puck, she was yours just as much as hers." Kurt countered. After a brief pause and a hasty smile, he added, "Maybe not legally, and you shouldn't have taken her like that, but I understand why you did it. And I wouldn't leave you standing out on this freezing bridge, not after all you wrote to me."
Smiling with wonderment, Puck looked back at him and said, "Yeah, you're everything I remembered you being."
Kurt nudged his arm experimentally with a cheeky grin on his face. "Anyway, my curiosity was killing me. And I wanted to see you again, Puck."
Puck grinned in response. "Kurt, d'you think… d'you think we could see each other more often?"
"Than once every ten years? I would hope we could."
"No, I mean, like, isee/i each other."
"Oh…" Kurt's hand flew to his mouth as he realised what Puck was suggesting. "Puck… I..."
"Don't like me that way." Puck shrugged. "I get it. It's fine." He forced an unconcerned smile.
"That's not- Puck, you live in Kentucky. I live in New York. I know you've got friends here in San Francisco, and I come out here all the time for work, but… it's just too far. It couldn't work."
"We could move to NYC."
"Puck! Think about what you're saying. You'd uproot your home, your daughter, your job, everything, just to spend more time with me. It's a preposterous idea!"
Puck shrugged again. "Was thinking of moving anyway. Beth hates being in such a little town. She's like you. Wants to be near the big city."
The leather clad man stood up straight, taking both of Kurt's hands in his own. "Kurt, I can't face the idea of not seeing you again for another ten years. Not now I've seen you again. I'm not saying we'd be a perfect couple. I'm not saying for sure we'd be together forever. But isn't it worth a shot?"
Relaxing his hands into Puck's firm grip, Kurt replied, "I… I can't ask you to move just to see more of me. Your whole life is in Kentucky now."
"No, it's not, Kurt. It's where I live, and it's where I work. But wherever Beth is: that's where's home for me. That's where my life is."
"But you wanted to stay away from New York."
"I wanted to stay away from big cities, places where people would recognise us, where they care about national news and stuff like that. And I didn't want you watching out for me on every street corner."
Kurt sighed. "I'd love to see you more, Puck. I'd love to meet Beth. I would love for you to be in New York. But it's such a huge change for you to make… and then there's Shelby."
"Yes. She never gave up looking for her, Puck. I can't leave her not knowing, especially if I'm seeing you more."
For the first time, Puck looked afraid, clutching to Kurt's hand even tighter. "She won't try and take her from me, will she?"
"I… I don't think so. But legally, Puck, you haven't got a leg to stand on."
"But I raised her! She's my daughter!"
"Whom you kidnapped. I know she's yours!" Kurt reassured Puck as he threw his hands in the air in frustration. "But the law says she's Shelby's. That said, I don't believe she would try to separate you now. She just needs to know that Beth's alive and well and happy."
"But she tried… with Rachel… she wanted to try and be her mom again. Won't she try to do the same with Beth?"
"I think she's learned from that, Puck. I can't be sure. But I can't see more of you and not tell Shelby."
Reluctantly, Puck nodded his head.
Kurt reached out and took hold of Puck's right hand in his left. "What do you want to happen? What do you want the rest of your life to be?"
Puck sighed. "I don't know. I don't get a chance to think about it. When I'm not with Beth, I'm working. The hotel's great and all, but I don't want to do it for the rest of my life. And I don't want Beth to grow up and leave home and leave me behind all by myself.
"But what about you, Kurt? Are you happy doing the magazine?"
"Yes," Kurt answered, honestly. "I love it. It's my dream job, and I'm good at it. But I hate coming home to an empty apartment every day. I wish I could find a boyfriend who I actually wanted to spend the rest of my life with."
"And… do you think that might be me?"
Kurt rested his head on Puck's shoulder. "It could be. I wish life were that easy. But there's just so much else. We can't even think about anything more until we've talked to Shelby."
"I guess so," Puck replied. "Um… we?"
With a hint of laughter, Kurt answered, "Well, perhaps I'd better call her on my own first. It might give her a heart attack to hear you on the end of the line.
"But first," he said, taking a step away, though still retaining Puck's hand in his own, "I need to meet your daughter. We can't start talking about the future like this when she might not even like me."
"Sounds great," Puck said. "Let's go."
"I said I was gonna pick her up at ten, and it's nearly nine now. I want her to meet the guy who's been stopping her having crazy pets since she was three years old and wanted a poisonous tree frog."
Kurt shoved him gently. "I doubt she'll like me very much at all then."
"Don't worry, Kurt. She'll love you." Puck pulled the slender man towards him and pressed his lips to the side of his forehead in an affectionate kiss.
"Well. I am truly fabulous, there's no denying it," Kurt said with a grin.
Hands still clasped together, the pair started the long walk back to the city, chatting idly about their lives over the past ten years.
Puck learned the destinations of the New Directions after high school, and wasn't surprised to hear that Santana had eventually grown sick of all the men hitting on the girl she loved, and come out to the world by grabbing the blonde in the middle of a shopping mall and nearly kissing the life out of her. The two were now married, and judging by their Facebook updates, Santana was currently trying to persuade Brittany that their having a child would be a really bad idea for all concerned.
Other than the two cheerleaders, the only couple from New Directions who were still together were Mike and Tina, who had married several years before.
In exchange, Puck told Kurt all about their life in Kentucky – the vast acres of woodland, the weekly live music nights at the hotel where Puck played his guitar. Beth apparently had a lovely voice, and had started to accompany him whenever he played the song that was her namesake.
As they walked, the made a plan. Once Kurt had met Beth, whom Puck was going to bring to Kurt's hotel, he would call Shelby and tell her about everything that had happened. There was no way that they could predict what her reaction would be, but it everything went well, Puck would be able to stop hiding his daughter away, and they would plan a move to New York.
They didn't plan on living together, certainly not to start with. As Kurt succinctly put it, that would be a recipe for disaster.
Instead, Puck and Beth would find somewhere near the city. With his experience in a hotel kitchen, he should be able to get a job relatively easily.
The two reached the parking lot, and went their separate ways. Both happier and calmer, feeling lighter and less worried than they had in a long time. A decade old friendship had been renewed, and perhaps that spark of something else would linger and blossom as well.
Beth, unsurprisingly, was bouncing off the walls with excitement when she found out that she would finally get to meet the Kurt of whom her father so often spoke. This was only increased when Puck pulled up the car in front of the Palace Hotel.
"Dad, you never told me Kurt was irich/i," Beth exclaimed as she clambered out of the vehicle, looking up at the grand building, awestruck.
"I hadn't seen him a long time, peanut. I guess I never really thought about it."
"Well, you should have. I would have made you let me meet him ages ago if I'd known."
"I'm sorry you had to wait so long. You know why that was."
She pulled a face as they entered the spacious marble lobby, "I know, I know. Stupid legal adoption papers."
Her head, which was covered in dark curls, swivelled left and right as she surveyed her surroundings, then she jumped in surprise, grabbing her father's hands and turning him around to face her, his back to the lobby hall.
"What is it, peanut?" he asked her, concerned. "You okay?"
She peered out around him to make sure she wasn't seeing things.
"Dad, Kurt Hummel is standing right over there!"
Ah, Puck thought. This could be interesting.
"That's really him, Dad. Oh my God, he's coming towards us!"
"Dad, he's the guy I was telling you about! He does those amazing fashion magazines that have normal sized people wearing the clothes!"
"Beth, Kurt is…"
Her hissed words had grown quieter and quieter as Kurt had approached them, his trench coat having been deposited in his room to reveal a close-fitting grey pinstriped suit with a very ruffly royal blue shirt underneath.
Stunned now into silence by the closeness of one of her idols, she watched him come to stop next to her father, who turned to greet him.
"Hey, Kurt," Puck said cheerfully.
"Hello again, Puck. And this must be Beth," Kurt replied, smiling down at the dumbstruck girl.
"Beth, this is Kurt. We were good friends in high school," Puck said in an attempt to draw her into speech.
Still gazing in awe at the immaculately dressed Kurt, Beth tugged at her father's sleeve. He bent over to listen to her whispering furiously in his ear, her eyes still fixed on Kurt. "Our Kurt is the Kurt Hummel and you didn't tell me?"
Kurt bit his lip to suppress his laughter as Puck looked awkwardly from the one to the other.
"It's a pleasure to meet you at last, Beth," Kurt stepped in neatly to save him from having to answer. "I haven't seen you since you were three hours old." He proffered his hand for her to shake.
Shyly, the twelve-year-old took it, still standing half behind her father.
"Hi," she said quietly. "I… I didn't know that you were our Kurt."
"It was very remiss of Puck not to tell you," Kurt chastised his old classmate.
"Puck?" Beth asked, curiously, looking from Kurt to her father. "Like the fairy in Shakespeare?"
Answering Kurt's questioning glance, Puck said, "I had to change our name when we left. I'm Noah Cohen now. Most people call me Noah."
"Noah…" Kurt tried the name out, considering it. "Hm… you only ever let Rachel get away with calling you that."
"Yeah… I don't mind though, if you want to call me Puck."
"Puck was the old you. Noah suits you more now."
Beth watched this exchange, astounded. It was just amazing to her that her father, her own daddy, could be so familiar with someone he hadn't seen for ten years. Moreover, someone who was so famous.
"Noah it is, then." He chuckled. "It sounds so weird hearing you say 'Noah'."
"No-ah. I like it." Kurt smiled sweetly at him, then turned to his daughter, "Now, Beth, I would be very honoured if you and your father would join me for brunch. The omelettes here are just to die for."
Beth nodded, and the trio made their way through to the garden court. It was like sitting in a giant greenhouse, with a glass ceiling letting in the daylight.
The maître D showed them to a table, greeting Kurt personally – ever since he had been able to afford it, Kurt had always stayed at the Palace whenever he came to San Francisco. And it was surprising how often his work had brought him there. As such a regular guest, it was easy for him to get two places added to his usual table for one.
It took several attempts by both Kurt and Noah to get Beth to forget her shyness, but she and Kurt were soon happily chatting away, discussing everything under the sun that could possibly relate to fashion. She particularly liked the fact that his magazine covered fashion for people of all shapes and sizes, not just clothes that looked good on the skinny girls that most fashion designers used to model their designs.
For the most part, Noah just sat there, grinning from ear to ear. He had so hoped that Kurt and Beth would get on, but this was even better than he could have imagined. He was getting dangerously close to becoming a third wheel.
Brunch was served in an all-you-can-eat style, and Noah was amazed by just how much food his slender daughter and the stick-thin Kurt managed to put away. Omelettes, followed by crepes, followed by bagels and pasta and sushi – Beth had never even tried sushi before, but Kurt happily showed her the ropes, explaining each and every different item on her plate. (He had discreetly asked the waiter to ensure that no shellfish was included on the young girl's dish).
For his part, Noah was happy to stick to the grill, munching his way through steak after steak until even his hungry stomach was assuaged.
Just as Kurt and Beth were starting to tuck in to their strawberries (dipped in the highest quality chocolate), the tuneful introduction of I Dreamed A Dream started to play from Kurt's bag. The colour seemed to drain out of his face as he reached into his bag to extract it.
With a significant, and slightly frightened, look at Noah, he excused himself to answer it, hurrying to the lobby. Beth watched him go with a puzzled expression on her face, and then happily helped herself to his strawberries.
In the lobby, Kurt bucked himself up, and pressed the green button to answer his phone.
"Shelby. How are you?"
"Have you met him?" came the abrupt reply.
"I'm sorry?" Kurt asked, wrong-footed.
"Kurt, I'm not stupid. I know today was the day Puck asked you to meet him. Have you?"
"And is she safe?"
"Yes. Absolutely. She's a wonderful little girl. He did a good job with her."
Kurt could almost feel the immense sigh of relief coming down the line.
"You're not… angry… that I didn't call you straightaway?"
He heard another deep breath coming down the line. "No. He left you the note. It was only right that you met him first."
"I was going to call you, Shelby. I promise. As soon as they left. I just had to be sure for myself that she was doing okay first."
"You've met her?"
"What… what does she look like?"
"Just like a miniature Puck. The same nose, the same cheekbones. She's delightful. She has beautiful dark curls, and she's so bright."
Kurt could hear a sniffling noise at the other end of the line.
"Shelby? Are you okay?"
She was clearly trying to stop tears as she responded, "Yes, Kurt. I'm okay. I just… I'm so glad she's happy."
"You seem… oddly not angry."
"I've had ten years without her, Kurt. Much as I love her… I know he loves her too. And she would only hate me for trying to take her away from him now. I'm nothing to her, not now."
Kurt wished he could reach through the phone line and hug her tight. He couldn't think of anything to say to comfort her.
"Kurt, where are you now?"
"At my hotel in San Francisco. We're having brunch."
"The three of you?"
"Yes." Kurt paused, plucked up his courage, and asked, "Shelby, how would you feel if I kept seeing them? They want to move to New York, and… Noah wants… he wants us to maybe be together. Me and him."
"Oh… he… he really meant what he wrote to you?"
"It certainly seems so," Kurt replied.
"Then no. No, I don't mind. But you must promise me to tell me all about her. Just let me know how she's doing."
"You won't call the police or anything?" Kurt had to check, he had to be sure.
"No… no. She… she's his now. More than she ever was mine."
"Don't say that, Shelby. She was yours, completely. For a while."
"But not any longer. Kurt, just… make sure she's happy. That's all I ask."
"I will do. I promise."
"Would you… would you send me a picture? Of her?"
"Of course. I'll send them whenever I can."
There didn't seem to be any more to say, so they made their goodbyes, and Kurt headed back to the table, where Beth was happily chattering away to Noah about how jealous all her friends at school would be that she had had brunch with Kurt Hummel.
Noah caught sight of Kurt as he was approaching the table, and sent an enquiring look his way. He knew there was only one person right now whose call would have caused that reaction in Kurt.
Kurt gave him a thumbs up as he crossed the room towards them, wending his way between the seated diners.
Noah caught his hand as he reached the table. "What did she say?"
"Everything's fine. We just have to keep her updated and send her pictures every now and then."
"She's okay with it?"
Kurt nodded excitedly, unable to stop the grin from spreading across his face.
"Who's okay with what?" Beth asked, puzzled.
Noah turned to her. "Well, peanut, how would you feel about moving to New York over the summer?"
Her jaw dropped. "You really mean it? New York?"
"And we'd be in the city? We could go to the shows, and Time Square, and see Kurt all the time?"
Kurt smiled at her words. He certainly seemed to have made a good first impression on the young girl.
"We'd probably be living a way outside the city, but yes, basically."
Gaping with joy, she turned from Noah to Kurt and back again, then leapt out of her seat to wrap her arms around her father.
"Oh, thank you, daddy! Thank you, thank you, thank you!"
He held her little body tightly his in lap as she buried her face in his leather jacket. "You're welcome, peanut."
She pulled back, sitting up in his lap, turning to look up at Kurt. "But who was it on the phone? Was it the adoption lady? What did she say that changed things? 'Cos Dad always said that we couldn't move there unless she said she wasn't going to try and take me away."
Kurt looked to Noah, unsure how to explain it, or how much Beth already knew.
Noah stepped in to explain to his daughter, "You know how I took you away from the lady who had adopted you, because I couldn't bear to be without you?"
Beth nodded. "But you didn't get the right papers, or something?"
"Yes. Well, she's been looking for you for a long time, because I couldn't tell her where I took you. Kurt just talked to her on the phone, and now that she knows where you are, and that you're safe with me, she's going to stop looking, and we can stop hiding."
Kurt resumed his seat as Beth, worried, turned to her father. "She's not going to try and take me away from you?"
"No, peanut. I'll never let anyone do that."
Reassured, she snuggled back down into his arms. "So are you and Kurt going to get married now?"
Kurt started choking rather inelegantly on a half eaten muffin as Puck laughed.
"Not just yet, peanut. Not yet."
Beth shrugged. "You should, though." She turned to Kurt. "Daddy's been in love with you since forever."
Blushing, Kurt answered, "So I've been told. We'll just have to see how things go." He looked from her to the grinning man beside her.
"And wipe that smirk off your face, Puckerman!" he exclaimed, trying hard not to laugh himself.
"What can I say, babe? She knows me too well."
Kurt looked at the two people sitting in front of him, with identical cheeky grins. It's not how he had imagined his future being, and it was by no means a definite plan, but somehow his life felt a little more complete with those two in it.
There would be hundreds of obstacles along the way, and any one hurdle could break the three of them apart. But Kurt had a sneaking suspicion that this might just have been what he was waiting for all along.
So they made their plans, and life continued, and each time an obstacle arose, they overcame it together.
And when, eighteen months later, three weeks shy of his thirtieth birthday, Kurt was standing by the altar under a brightly patterned canopy, facing that same cheeky grin on the faces of both his husband and their beautiful flower girl, he wouldn't have had it any other way.
As always, feedback, whether complimentary, constructive or both, is very much appreciated!