Title: The Polyglot's Struggle
Rating: PG-13 for language and mentions of sex
Character(s)/Pairing(s): Ensemble focused on Puck, some Kurt/Blaine, Kurt/Puck ending
Warning: Just language really, jumps around in time a bit
Spoilers: Canon compliant through early S3
Disclaimer: Glee is not mine, at all.
Author Notes: This is a fill for a glee-angst-meme prompt. Unbetaed.
Summary: Puck's not stupid. He just has too many languages in his head.
Word Count: 2500
The first time Kurt heard Noah Puckerman swearing in French under his breath was during study hall, just before final exams for their junior year. The mohawked boy had been spending more and more time studying with Artie over the course of the year, and that led into him sitting with Kurt, Tina, and Mercedes during study hall.
Figuring Puck had just learned how to swear in French so he wouldn't get in as much trouble at school, Kurt brushed off the observation. A few minutes later, when Puck gave another annoyed huff, Kurt asked him quietly, "Everything okay?"
Puck looked up, sort of startled, before pushing his notebook in Kurt's direction and saying, "Would you read this? Mr. Willis won't let us use a spell checker on the final and I'm going to fucking fail."
Startled when Puck dropped his head down onto his arm with a loud thump, Kurt took the notebook and started reading over Puck's essay. Good lord, there were a lot of mistakes! The ideas behind the essay weren't too terrible, but the spelling and grammar were atrocious! Homophones were mixed up, some sentences were incomplete, and more than once he'd put a verb and its subject in an order that didn't make any sense. It was no wonder Puck thought he was going to fail.
Pulling a green pen out of his bag, Kurt made as many corrections as he could before the bell rang and he had to give the essay back. Seeing the number of corrections Kurt made, Puck's face fell and he mumbled quietly, "Thanks, dude," as he walked away toward his next class. Kurt wondered how Puck had made it to junior year with writing skills that bad until it dawned on him that any newer word processor would fix the majority of those mistakes automatically. Puck probably got through by doing well on his homework and just barely good enough on his tests. Of course, that was assuming Puck had ever done homework in the first place, which Kurt highly doubted.
Will always wondered how Noah Puckerman, who had such an ear for music, did so badly in his Spanish classes. Musical training, especially vocally, usually meant a student was able to hear pitch and inflection differences and more easily emulate the sounds of a foreign language. So why wasn't Puck doing well? Sure, obviously part of the problem was the fact that he seemed bored, mispronounced words Will knew he knew almost on purpose, and rarely completed his homework, but Will suspected it was something else.
Once, during a group exercise, Will had been walking through the classroom, observing his students speak with each other about their weekend activities, when he looked over Puck's shoulder at something that had been scribbled in the margin of his notebook. The writing was messy and the spelling atrocious, but at least it was in Spanish. Then Will realized that it was a dirty poem. A very dirty poem.
Blushing, Will walked away, wondering where Puck had found the poem and how he understood the double entendre behind it, when even a fluent speaker like himself overlooked it at first. And if Puck had found the poem online and copied it down after laughing over the translation, why would he make so many spelling mistakes?
Rachel had been attending Hebrew school every Sunday and Wednesday for as long as she could remember, which meant she was excellent at reading Hebrew and remembered most chants by heart. When a boy named Noah joined her classes during sixth grade (in preparation for his bar mitzvah), it was clear that he had a good speaking knowledge of the language, but that his education in reading the Aleph-Bet was woefully neglected. Rachel helped him as much as she could, not only because of her giving and helpful nature, but also because her daddy always said that the best way to learn something was to teach it.
After his bar mitzvah, which was attended by lots of kids from public school who knew nothing about Judaism and were just there for the cake, Noah stopped coming to Hebrew school and Rachel wished she could feel surprised.
When Finn first met Noah Puckerman at the beginning of sixth grade, he asked, "How come you talk funny, man?"
"Just moved to Lima," Noah replied with a scowl on his face, his voice sounding thick to Finn's ears. "You're the one who talk funny."
"Whatever," Finn shrugged, wondering if this was like how his cousins from Mississippi talked differently, that Noah had an accent like theirs. Well, not exactly like theirs. Noah's was more ... foreign than Finn had ever heard before. Maybe he was from Canada? Feeling bad for how angry the kid looked and thinking he must have said something really wrong, Finn offered Noah and olive branch, asking, "You like Halo?"
"Ou-yeah!" Noah said, sort of sliding into the enthusiastic reply. "I was made to leave mine behind when we moved, but I had got awesome at all the levels."
"All the levels?" Finn asked with a laugh. "And, dude, that sucks that your mom wouldn't let you keep your game! If my mom did that to me, I'd die!"
"Not Mama's fault my papa is a fils de salope," Noah muttered and Finn wanted to ask what he meant by that, but people were always saying Finn asked too many stupid questions, so he let it go and invited Noah over after school.
Quinn thought the atmosphere at Puck's house was weird. Puck's mother and his nana always spoke together in Hebrew, like they were trying to keep her from listening in on their conversations. Well, that was fine. She didn't need to know what names they were calling her, since it was Puck's fault she was like this in the first place. Okay, so maybe a few times she wrote down phrases for Puck to translate, but she never got the ones proving that the two women were making fun of her.
Then one day, when Puck's mom was bothering him about something or other, Quinn heard them slip into a different language altogether. In fact, Quinn got up and stuck her head out Puck's bedroom door (which was hers for the time being, with Noah sleeping on the couch), to hear a little better. It sounded ... it sounded almost like French. No, it was. And of the two of them, Puck's accent sounded much less stilted than his mother's. Since when was Noah Puckerman anything but a Lima loser? Now he knew French as well as a fair amount of Hebrew?
When Quinn mentioned this to Santana, the cheerleader snapped her gum and said, "I know. Puck's dad is French or something. The whole family lived in France until the summer before sixth grade."
"What?" Quinn asked, since she could have sworn Puck had been born and raised here in Lima, like everyone else. Raising one eyebrow at Puck's former girlfriend, Quinn asked, "Then how come Puck doesn't have an accent?"
"Duh," Santana scoffed with a roll of her eyes, "because his mom's from Lima. That's why they came back here after the divorce. She's been talking to him in Ohio-English since he was born. He never really learned to read English until he moved here, though. Wish I had that excuse for my grades."
"Huh," Quinn said, holding her books a little closer to her chest and walking away, wondering if that was where Puck had got his insane opinions about sex and relationships. France. Quinn spent the rest of the day dreaming of a life in which her and Puck's baby learned French and English and Hebrew and grew up to be a famous international businessperson, unlike its father, who Quinn knew didn't even try in school.
Teaching Puck geometry was actually pretty easy, Artie thought. He knew he was right and Puck wasn't as dumb as he made himself out to be. However, the one time Artie asked him, "What's with the dumb jock act, Puck? You're better than this," Puck got all huffy.
"That's what I am," he insisted, breaking his pencil lead on the worksheet in front of him. "Just a dumb jock who hates reading and hates school."
Not knowing what else he could say without getting punched, Artie murmured, "Thank God for glee club, right?"
"Right," Puck sighed, going back to his math homework while Artie turned to his own books, wondering if there was some way he could help. Maybe Puck had something like Sam's dyslexia. Then his frustration would be understandable. Artie couldn't be the only one who saw more than the juvenile delinquent, could he?
Blaine had a lot of adjusting to do when he transferred to McKinley. Glee club was no longer the coolest extracurricular offered. The cafeteria served what Blaine was pretty sure could be considered toxic waste. And then there was the biggest change of all - no uniforms.
It was also interesting watching Kurt interact with his McKinley friends. He gossiped with Mercedes and Tina, studied with Mike and Artie, got into hilarious and somehow fond bitch-fights with Santana and Quinn, was patient with Brittany, spoke musicals with Rachel, was a brother to Finn, and made fun of everyone else with Puck - in French.
Blaine wasn't nearly as fluent as Kurt, or apparently Puck, but he understood enough of the language to know that their conversation at the back of the choir room had a lot to do with Mr. Schuester's vests and all the uses they could have in addition to being worn. When Blaine asked Kurt about it, he shrugged it off, saying, "Oh, I just like working on my conversational skills and Puck likes practicing, because he can't help but mix up all the languages he knows. I keep telling him that you never forget your native tongue, but I don't think he believes me."
"Puck is French?" Blaine asked, wondering what other languages Kurt was talking about and not quite sure he believed it. He'd always thought of Puck one step above the mindless jocks who used to harass him before Dalton. It was weird enough to think of him speaking another language besides English, but to learn he knew even more? Blaine wondered if maybe Kurt had fallen for an exaggeration on Puck's part.
"Yep," Kurt replied to his question, taking Blaine's arm in his as he popped the 'p'. "He doesn't like people to know, though, so if you could...?"
"Yeah, sure," Blaine nodded, squeezing Kurt's arm an thinking the other languages had to be a hoax. "Of course."
On Puck's eighteenth birthday, he got a call just as he was leaving his house to go to school. He didn't recognize the number, but sometimes Finn lost his phone and had to use Carole's or Burt's until he found his own. "Yeah?" Puck answered, throwing his backpack onto the floor of his truck.
"Bon anniversaire, Noé," the caller replied, before continuing in French. "My son is now a man!"
Scoffing, Puck hopped into his truck as he replied, "Your son has been a man for a few years now, Papa. Maybe you'd know that if you bothered to call more than once every five years."
"Yes, well," Puck's father huffed, sounding more than a little guilty over the phone. He should be, the bastard. "Anyway, what are you doing today, Noé Cloutier?"
"It's Puckerman now," Puck corrected. "And I'm going to school, see if I can't muddle through enough English to graduate."
"Noé, you speak English well, no? What's this talk of not graduating? Here in Marseille you were always near the top of your class!"
Eyes burning a little with shame and fist clenched around the steering wheel to ground him, Puck told his father, "I always copied my English homework off someone else. If I'd known you were gonna cheat on mama with that bitch, maybe I would have been able to actually read the damn language. Now I've got French, English, Spanish, and fucking Hebrew rattling around my brain. I'd like to see you get passing grades under the circumstances, Henri." Sighing, Puck said, "Look. I gotta go. Talk to you in another five years, Papa."
With that, Puck silenced his phone and drove to school, ignoring the three calls that vibrated in his pocket during the drive. Henri Cloutier could just fuck off and die.
It happened slowly, that was for sure. Kurt offered to tutor Puck for their end-of-semester exams, because it would look good on his college applications in lieu of student class president. Puck took him up on the offer because of the money his Nana promised him once he graduated. That money would help Puck relocate somewhere with a better music scene, where he'd be able to find a good band and make his dreams of being a rock star come true. Plus, although things with Shelby hadn't worked out, Puck wanted his daughter to know he wasn't some Lima loser who couldn't even graduate on time.
Tutoring turned into flirting and (when Blaine's parents moved to Vancouver because of some new job and Kurt's relationship with him broke under the strain of long-distance) flirting turned into making out.
"Are you sure this isn't just...?" Kurt asked, his last word unsaid, though "a fluke" was certainly implied. "You like girls."
"I'm French, babe," Puck replied in a sultry whisper, running one hand through Kurt's hair, fingertips heavy and promising along his scalp. "Labels mean nothing."
Kurt knew Puck had discovered his weakness for whispered nothings, especially in a foreign language, when he found himself naked in Puck's bed. He couldn't even feel self conscious for it either, taking the bigger boy's hand in his and stroking careful lines over Puck's palm, making him smile despite how asleep he seemed. "I'm making sure you graduate," he told Puck, knowing his voice sounded far too determined.
"Mm? Why's that?" Puck drawled in the soft lamplight, turning to nuzzle his face against Kurt's neck.
"Because," Kurt smiled, pressing a kiss to Puck's nose. "I'm moving to New York next year, and I don't do long distance well."
Puck laughed and said, "Maybe if I'd had you motivating me since sixth grade, I would have done a lot better in school."
"Please don't tell me you were having sex in sixth grade," Kurt demanded with a shudder.
"Non, mon chéri," Puck replied with a grin and a searching kiss on Kurt's lower neck. "Summer before ninth. But I was making out with chicks in sixth grade."
Heart flipping over at the term of endearment, Kurt nonetheless grimaced at the thought of making out with girls. Setting that thought aside (along with the thought that Kurt had still been playing with tea sets and power rangers action figures in sixth grade), Kurt found his underwear on the floor and slipped into them before rummaging for the rest of his clothes. "C'mon," he told Puck. "Two more hours of studying and I'll very much make it worth your while."
"What does that mean?" Puck asked, pulling on the shirt Kurt tossed at him.
Grinning as coyly as he could with his nipples showing, Kurt replied, "You'll see, loverboy," before chuckling at the dopey, excited look on Puck's face.
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