Author's Note & Disclaimer – This is only the second fic I have ever done for Glee. I hope the characters are at least somewhat in…well, in character! I own two seasons worth of DVDs, and nothing else!
She shivered as the brisk wind hit her once more. Clutching her scarlet coat a little tighter, she glanced around, lost. Now what was she supposed to do? She had not planned on being trapped at a Christmas tree lot a good two miles outside of town and with no ride.
I was honest. I told him the truth…something he didn't bother doing, and I understand he's upset, but to just leave me here? Who am I supposed to call?
It had become quite clear at sectionals that the club merely tolerated her. Of the whole group, only Noah had spoken in her defense. Everyone else had agreed with Santana by their silence. Well, maybe not Brittany; the blonde cheerleader had been so sad and so focused on Artie that there had probably not been any room left to worry about what Santana was saying. The rest of them though? Despite the win, tie really, and all of the apologies afterwards, no one had apologized for that silence. Everyone had acted like it was forgiven and forgotten without a single expression of regret. She had tried to put it behind her, trying to think of the club as a whole, but right now, she was cold, abandoned and stuck, and her heart just felt too heavy.
As she paced, trying to stay warm, she began muttering to herself. "Dad and Daddy are out of town again…so who do I…? Oh, of course, Noah! Maybe he can come get me!"
Hands shaking from the cold, she fumbled for her phone. She quickly hit the speed dial, grateful that she did not have to try and find him in her contact list. She listened as the phone rang.
"Please pick up Noah. Please pick up!" Rachel whispered under her breath, white clouds puffing from her lips as the temperature continued falling.
"Noah! Thank God!"
Even she could hear the desperate relief in her voice.
"What's wrong? What happened? You alright?"
She managed the hint of a smile at the rapid fire questions. Taking her first deep breath since this whole thing started, she answered, "Noah, can you please come pick me up? Dad and Daddy are out of town, and my ride left me. It is absolutely freezing out here, and I really, really do not want to have to walk home at this time of night in this weather. I mean, I will if you are busy or do not have a way to come and get me, but I would prefer to…"
"Okay, slow your roll, crazy girl," he interrupted. She could hear the sound of movement and the jingling of keys. "Where are you?"
"I am at the Christmas tree lot just outside of town."
Silence hung heavy in the air. She could hear his quiet breathing before he spoke once more.
"Who left you?"
Cringing at his cool question, she tried to avoid answering. "Noah, really, I am exceedingly cold right now, and the identity of the person is not truly all that important…"
Her name in that quiet tone stopped her faster than any shouting or cursing could have; Noah only got that quiet when he had moved beyond angry. It made her shiver at the implications that saturated the one word…Noah was not happy.
Heaving a sigh, she replied, "Finn and I..."
She stopped as she heard him bite off a curse. He spoke once more, still calm, still focused.
"I'll be there in ten minutes. Go stand by the owner's shack, and you don't move until I get there."
"Noah…" she started.
"Uh, uh," he interrupted forcefully, but not unkindly. "You noticed how late it is? You damn well stay where the owner can see you and wait for me."
"Very well, Noah," she agreed, rolling her eyes and moving back to the little shack.
Hanging up the phone Puck headed out the door.
The shout drew his attention back to his friends. Mike, Artie and Sam had come over to play some COD for a while, and now stared at his furious expression. They looked uniformly confused.
"Yo, man, what happened?" asked Artie.
"Rachel needs a ride home. Her douche of a boyfriend left her outside of town in the snow," he answered, turning back towards the door.
Three voices overlapped in angry astonishment as he hurried out the door. Just as he reached his ride, he heard running footsteps behind him. Turning he found Sam rushing up. He frowned.
Sam shrugged. "Figured I'd come with you. Keep you from doing anything…"
"I'm not going after the guy right now," Puck snorted as he climbed into the truck. "Rachel? Stuck in the snow? Little more important right now."
"Yeah," Sam agreed, hopping into the passenger seat. "We're more worried about after you pick her up."
"Bets are off."
"My point," said Sam with a nod. "The guys want in."
"Seriously?" asked Puck in a slightly mocking tone. "'Cause I don't remember a single one of you stepping up…what…ten days ago? You know, when Santana got her bitch-self on?"
"Yeah," acknowledge the blond, staring blindly out the window.
A strained silence stretched between the two teens for several minutes. Finally Sam huffed out a breath and turned towards Puck.
"Look," he said. "I hate that I didn't say anything. Rachel's almost always been nice to me."
Puck's lips twitched and a corner of Sam's mouth turned up.
"Well, except when her competitiveness rears up anyway," he amended. "Still, I should've…"
"'Should've' don't mean shit," Puck interrupted, sliding a glare towards his passenger. "Okay, Rachel's competitive, over-the-top, and downright frickin' insane…never claimed she wasn't. Still, nobody stood up for her, and after Sectionals, nobody apologized. She got left out and she didn't deserve that shit."
"No," said Sam, looking down. "She didn't."
Puck gave a sharp nod before focusing once more on the road.
Damn. Now he looks like I kicked his puppy. Rachel's going to get pissy and give me hell about 'making a fuss' when she was trying to ignore it. Shit. Can't believe I'm reacting to her and she's not even here yet.
Puck rolled his eyes and sighed. "Okay, look…"
"No, man, you were right," Sam interrupted. "Some of the club treated her like crap, and the rest of us didn't call them on it. That's on us entirely. And yeah, she's got a hard, sharp edge on occasion, but if I had to put up with the stuff she does, I'd probably be worse. She seems to be a really good person underneath."
Puck shrugged, "Yeah, she's cool – the only one of them to get in touch with me at Juvie."
"Really?" Sam asked. "That sounds...well, that sounds bad, I guess."
With a snort, Puck took the last turn towards the tree lot. "Mom and my sister called every day, the one phone call I was allowed, so Rachel sent letters. Rest of 'em? They figured it had only been a matter of time anyway."
As the tree lot grew closer, both boys focused on the bright red coat they could see from the road. Puck scowled and Sam frowned. As they pulled up, the relief that crawled across the girl's face was almost painful to watch.
"Hey, Puck," Sam said.
"When you said 'nobody stood up for her'? That wasn't accurate."
Puck cocked an eyebrow in question and the blond gave him a quick grin.
Sam pondered the club's failure as Puck hopped out of the truck and strode to Rachel's side. He had not really paid attention before, but if he thought about it Puck and Rachel had a quiet friendship that people just ignored.
Or maybe they don't see it. People only see the skirt-chaser, they don't' see the other side of him. Rachel does. She listens too…when he's not being a jerk.
As he remembered some of the past moments he had seen between the two of them, he watched as Puck stripped off his jacket and threw it over Rachel's shoulders, anchoring it with an arm. His head dipped down to look her in the eye as he said something. When she tried to look away, he brought his free hand up to lift her chin. She gave a half shrug and said something.
Puck's scowl grew stronger, but he carefully pulled the smaller girl further into his side and rested his chin on the top of her head. His eyes closed, and Sam could almost see him reining in his temper. As the pair started moving towards the truck, the blond watched as Puck ran his hand up and down her arm trying to get some circulation going. When they came up to the door and Rachel caught sight of him, he saw her eyes widen and turn up to Puck's.
Puck opened the driver's door. "Don't sweat it, Rachel. Evans is staying cool."
Sam nodded as the other boy shot him a warning glare. "Hey, Rachel."
"Sam…um…good evening." The slight hesitation, the tiniest stutter in her words, caused him to wince. Then he took a good look at her tear-stained face.
Finn's a jerk. I don't care what happened. He shouldn't have left her.
"Get in the truck, Rachel," Puck said as she faltered.
With a bit of boost, Rachel clambered into the truck and slid over to sit in the middle between the two boys. Sam had planned to leave her as much room as possible at first, but examining her again, he realized that her body was still shivering and blue tinged both her lips and skin. Shrugging out of his own jacket, he tucked it in around her legs, rolling his eyes at Puck's raised brow.
"She's blue, man. Chill."
Puck snorted, but turned the heat up and began the drive back to town. He put one arm around Rachel and pulled her into his side, letting her share some of his body heat. Sam reached over and took her hands. Removing the gloves, he began chafing them between his own, trying to help warm her with the friction.
The soft whisper might have gone unnoticed if the two boys had not been so focused on her. Puck just tightened his arm while Sam gave a crooked smile. They made the ride into town in near silence, but not an uncomfortable one. As the heat of the truck and her companions seeped into her, Rachel's head slipped down to rest on Puck's shoulder and she drowsed through the last half of the drive. Now that she was safely in the truck, Puck took the drive at a slower pace.
She shook herself awake as the truck came to a stop. She handed Sam his jacket back as she sat up. Looking out the front windshield, she frowned.
"Noah? Why are we at your house?" she asked. Sam just grinned and got out of the truck.
Like he was going to take her anywhere else tonight?
He stood at the front of the truck watching as Puck reached in and lifted her out. As she continued pestering him with questions, Puck rolled his eyes in the blond's direction. Sam smothered a laugh and turned to head inside. He came to a stop as he spotted a familiar car parked just down the street. A small frown of confusion settled on his face.
The front door opened. He turned and locked gazes with his girl. The confused frown flipped into a confused smile as Quinn came outside pulling her coat closed. She stepped up beside him with a quick kiss before turning to face the other two.
"Puck! Argue with her inside. It's too cold out here for this."
The two teens stared at her, jaws dropping slightly. Quinn just gave them both a tiny grin and pulled Sam along as she headed back inside.
"Quinn?" Sam asked.
She shrugged as they walked through the door. "You left your phone here and Mike answered. It's a good thing I called. Like Mike and Artie weren't going to tell someone?"
Quinn gave him a playful push towards the living room as she headed towards the kitchen.
I always did like surprising people. Too bad I didn't bring a camera.
She had managed to startle all three of them, and their expressions had been worth the trip back into the biting wind. She had not planned on getting out in this weather, but when she had gotten that call from Mike…
Turning, she watched as Rachel came into the kitchen, hesitation in every line. Quinn gave her a small smile and reached into the microwave. She pulled out a cup of hot chamomile tea and handed it to the brunette. Rachel accepted the drink, confused, and sipped it. Her eyes remained glued to Quinn however.
The blonde huffed. "Look, its no big news that we don't get along. You're bossy, demanding, and usually another part of some soap opera triangle or pentagon."
Rachel's chin tilted up, but before she could say anything, Quinn held up a hand.
"Let me finish. We've got our problems, and I'm pretty sure you don't like me any more than I do you. But…what Finn did, just leaving you there? That was...I don't even know what he was thinking!"
Now the brunette shrugged, "He was upset…"
Quinn rolled her eyes. "I don't care how upset he was. Unless you just pulled a gun on him or something, he had no business leaving you stranded that far from town at that time of night. That wasn't just rude, it was dangerous!"
"I kissed Noah."
Silence settled on the kitchen as the two girls stood across from one another. Quinn opened and closed her mouth a couple of times before leaning back on the countertop with a tiny sigh.
Rachel bit her lip, looking down at the cup she held in her hands. She sniffed and a couple of tears slid down her cheeks. Putting the cup in the sink, she turned to leave. A hand grabbed her elbow. It pulled her back to face the other girl. Understanding lurked behind the blonde's eyes. She wiped away Rachel's tears and lifted one shoulder.
"I slept with him."
A deep flush started climbing Rachel's cheeks and Quinn winced.
"You thought about it," she stated, not really questioning.
Rachel just nodded. The full knowledge of what she had done really began to hit her, and words failed her for once. The other girl took her arm and led her out of the kitchen. As they stepped into the living room, four pairs of male eyes looked over to them. Puck began to rise, but Quinn pinned him in place with a look.
"I'm taking Rachel upstairs to clean up. I brought some sweats she can change into. We'll be back down when she's ready. Until then, you will allstay down here. Shoot stuff, blow it up…I don't care. Just give her some breathing space. Rachel, go on up. I'll be just a minute."
After Rachel had disappeared up the stairs, Quinn turned around and looked at Puck.
"I'm guessing she told Finn."
The other three looked confused, but Puck nodded, lips twisting to the side.
"Yeah, full confession apparently."
Rubbing her forehead, the blonde nodded. "Okay, I'll deal with part of that. Both, huh?"
His fists clenched. "Didn't go that far."
"I got that. Still, it crossed her mind. Who stopped it?" she asked.
"Not much difference to him then," she replied.
"He still…" Puck started with a frown.
Quinn interrupted him. "No, he still shouldn't have left her there with no way home but walking. She could have been hurt. He went too far, and he'll need that pointed out."
She started for the stairs. Turning abruptly, she pointed at the four males. "Do not make any plans that don't include me."
With that final comment, she headed upstairs. Behind her she heard Mike talking and smiled as his words carried to her.
"Damn. No wonder the underclassmen are scared of her." He stared up the stairs after the vanished blonde Cheerio. "She's got some fierceness working for her."
Puck snorted. "Q's got issues, but if you manage to set off her protective vibes? Better have your will in order. Do not push Quinn Fabray that far."
Dark eyes going serious, Mike leaned forward. "So, what happened?"
Puck rubbed his hands over his face before leaning on his knees.
"Rachel was pissed at Finn. She…uh, well… anyway, let's just say history almost repeated itself."
"Damn, man, are you serious?" asked the dancer. He gave Puck a look that just shouted 'are you an idiot?'. Glancing at Artie, he spotted the exact same expression behind his glasses. Sam stayed quiet; probably realizing this was too far back for him.
Puck fell against the cushions. "Look, I get it…I nearly screwed up again. I didn't; I called a halt to it. Do not bring it up to her."
"No way, man! Did you see Quinn's look? She'd make sure I never got any again."
The four boys sat in silence for a few minutes before Puck continued.
"Anyway, it looks like Rachel 'fessed up to Finn while they were at the lot. He got pissed about the whole thing and the sucker just left her there."
"At this time of night!" Mike exclaimed.
"Shit, in this weather?" came Artie's question.
"Look," Sam broke in. "I don't know half of what happened. Pretty sure I don't want to. Word is Puck and Quinn messed up last year. Enough for me. Still, I'm with Quinn. I don't care what Rachel did…you don't dump a girl in a place like that with no way home. He could have sucked it up for five minutes to at least get her home."
"Word," Artie agreed.
Mike nodded at both of them and watched as Puck straightened. Lookslikeahugeweightjustgotlifted.Probablybecausewe'reagreeingwithhim.
One thing Mike had notice in both football and Glee: Puck fully expected people to side with Finn…every time, no matter the issue. The rebel and the golden boy…it was an unusual friendship, especially since Puck always seemed to lose in comparisons between the two. People expected great things of Finn, but Puck….Peopleexpecthimtobeadeadbeat.Figurejail'stheonlyplacehe'sheaded…thatorabar.
Mike looked over as Sam sat up and took a deep breath.
"Uh, guys? You know, we never apologized to Rachel for hurting her at Sectionals."
Mike tilted his head, exchanging a confused look with Artie. Puck just folded his arms and sat back. Sam nodded at him.
"On the way to get Rachel, I told Puck we wanted in on teaching Finn a lesson. He pointed out that not one of us stepped up to help Rachel when Santana cut into her before Sectionals."
Now a creeping sense of unease made its way up Mike's back. Glancing around the room, he met Sam's contrite eyes before shifting to a dawning concern in Artie's. Finally, he stared into Puck's impassive gaze. His friend just sat there, eyes steady. The very lack of emotion on his face gave Mike more concern than Puck's usual flares of anger. At least those died fairly quickly…cold anger burned a long time.
"Shit," Mike said, resting his arms on his thighs and hanging his head. "We dropped it, didn't we?"
Artie focused his eyes on the silent Mohawked teen next to him. "How bad did we hurt her?"
Puck leveled a steady glare at him. "She wants to ignore it, pretend it doesn't matter. How'd you damn well feel though? The one place you feel at home, maybe even accepted, and they itolerate/i you because you're talented?"
Silence settled on the group for several long minutes. Mike watched as Artie did his own style of pacing, rolling from the wall to the foot of the stairs and back again. Puck's question had hit them all: the group did tend to treat Rachel as a necessary, but not necessarily desired, member.
Artie sighed and glanced around at Puck. "We screwed up."
Sam took a deep breath. "We're going to have to apologize; somehow show her we're sorry."
"And what about Finn?"
Artie's question drew them back to the Rachel's current situation. Regardless of why he was upset, Finn should not have left her alone.
"Well," said Artie. "What matters most to Finn?"
"Popularity?" Sam answered.
"Yeah, definitely a strong contender," Mike nodded.
Puck's eyes narrowed. "So, maybe a little public humiliation?"
A quick grin flashed across all of their faces, and they started to brainstorm ways to dish out some vengeance for Rachel. They became so focused on their planning that they did not notice the blonde girl walking downstairs until she settled herself on the arm of the chair next to Sam.
Puck glanced back at the staircase before looking at Quinn. "Where…?"
"She'll be down in a minute. I wanted to get down here first to give you a head's up. She's been crying."
As one, the boys winced. Quinn rolled her eyes. "Don't make a big deal of it. She's trying to stall so it's not so obvious. So, what have you all been doing?"
"Plotting some old-fashioned public humiliation," answered Sam. He smiled as his girlfriend smirked and leaned down to place a small kiss on his cheek.
Artie nodded and spoke in his most serious tone. "It is always best to stick to the classics."
While the others laughed, Puck stared at Quinn. She lifted a brow in question. He shrugged. "Why the hell do you care?"
With a light sniff of disdain, she crossed her arms over her chest and leaned forward. "Rachel and I have never been friends. No newsflash there. I treated her like crap. Despite that, when I got into trouble last year? She was one of the first to step up and offer to help. I blew her off, but I didn't forget it. When Mike answered Sam's phone and let me know what was going on, I figured it wouldn't hurt to have a girl here. And I know I might not have been anyone's first choice for her, but I'm probably the best choice…at least for a 'been there, done worse' type viewpoint. Besides, Finn had no right to leave her stranded."
Puck gave a slow nod and leaned back in his seat. "So…got any ideas?"
A wicked smile blossomed on her face. Simultaneously, all four boys leaned back. She giggled. "I was thinking about something slow, public and very, very obvious."
"Like what?" Sam asked.
"Have you ever heard of 'shunning'? We talked about it in English last week when the term showed up in one of the stories we discussed. It's a way some groups used to discipline their members. We'd have to revamp it, but it might work," Quinn replied.
"Uh, Quinn? What is it?" asked Mike.
Artie spoke up. "Pretty much what it sounds like. The person being shunned is treated like they don't exist. People don't talk to them; they don't look at them; they don't hear them. For all intents and purposes, they're invisible."
"Exactly!" she said. "Since we'd have to work with him in Glee and you guys would in football, then we'd have to make some adjustments."
A sharp grin settled on Puck's lips. "It's a good start. Before and after school, as well as in the hallways, we see nothing, we hear nothing. He's not even there."
"And we deal with him as little as possible in Glee and football," added Sam, leaning back and wrapping one arm around Quinn's hips.
"What about over Christmas? And how do we get the others on board?" Artie asked.
"On board with what?"
Everyone turned at the question. Rachel walked down the stairs clad in a white pair of sweatpants with a McKinley High sweatshirt on top. With no makeup and her hair pulled back, her red-rimmed eyes stood out. Puck rose and walked over to her. Quinn and Sam exchanged a look behind his back.
"Hey, are you alright?" Puck asked, tilting her head up with one hand.
"I'll be fine," she stated, trying to sound normal.
Puck just shook his head, but led her into the living room. As he reclaimed his seat on the couch, he pulled her down next to him. She shifted slightly, but did not protest the arrangement. She looked around at the others.
"What are you talking about?"
"We were trying to figure out what movie to put in," Mike answered, holding up two DVD cases he had snatched from the table. Puck gave him a thumbs-up behind Rachel's back.
Rachel glanced at the two titles, X-Men and Gladiator. "Well, if you would like my opinion, I personally prefer Gladiator. Russell Crowe is one of my favorite non-musical actors."
"Finally!" exclaimed Quinn. "Another girl I can watch this with. Santana and Mercedes can't stand him, and Brittany doesn't like how it ends. Do you know how annoying that is?"
Rachel gave her a tentative smile. The blonde girl winked back and then slipped off the arm of the chair and cuddled in next to Sam. "Go on, Mike, pop it in."
The next morning, Rachel groaned as sunlight hit her eyes. A chuckle rumbled in her ear and she finally registered the warm body pressed against hers. She went still, but he just chuckled again.
"Yeah, Rach," Puck murmured in her ear. "'Cause I'm totally going to believe you're sleeping."
Taking a deep breath, she turned over and looked into his soft hazel eyes. "I fell asleep during the movie?"
"Hmm, mmm," he nodded. "Just before the first fight in Rome."
"Why didn't someone wake me up?" she asked.
"Almost everybody else decided sleep would be good. Wheels had to go home, but he's should be back soon. Damn, it's late." He smiled as he looked over her head. "Anyway, Big Mouth and Q are still sleeping on the other couch, and the dancing ninja's curled up in the chair."
She giggled. "In the chair?"
"Yeah," he answered with a smirk. "Not sure how he fit himself in there, but the dude's curled up like some big ass cat."
Rachel went to turn over to take a look, but Puck held her still. As she gave him a curious look, his eyes grew serious. "How are you doing?"
She closed her eyes and took a couple of breaths. As her lashes lifted, she gave a slight shrug. "I am not as upset as I think I should be, if that makes any sense. Quinn and I talked some last night."
He growled, but she shook her head with a smile. "No, it's okay. We needed to have it. I needed to face some brutally honest truths, and Quinn is probably the only person that could make me face them. She was the other girl." Closing her eyes, she leaned her forehead against his shoulder and sighed as he rubbed her back. "I needed that conversation."
"Rachel, can I ask you about a couple of things?"
Rachel nodded, biting her lip.
"Alright," Quinn sighed. "I want the first answers that come into your head, okay? Not what you think the answers should be; not what you think I want to hear. Don't over-think this. Promise?"
"I promise," Rachel agreed.
The blonde girl stared at her for a long moment before nodding. "In ten years, where will you be?"
"In New York, on Broadway."
Quinn smiled. "You've just finished your first starring role on Broadway. You're bowing and accepting the applause. Can you see that? Close your eyes and really see that?"
With a deep breath, Rachel closed her eyes and focused on the image. She gave her first real smile of the night as she could almost see the lights, hear the applause.
While Rachel's eyes were still closed, Quinn leaned forward. "Look down…who's in the front row?"
In her mind, Rachel pulled her eyes away from the lights and the crowded auditorium and glanced down. A tall, muscular figure stood applauding, proud eyes gleaming and a very familiar smirk pasted on his face. Rachel gasped, her eyes flying open to lock with Quinn's.
The blonde girl nodded with an understanding smile on her face. "It wasn't Finn, was it?"
"No," whispered the brunette singer.
"Then why are you wasting your time? We both know he's not the right guy for you."
Puck frowned. "So who was it?"
"Not now, Noah," Rachel said, a fond smile gracing her lips. She gave a tiny giggle as he pouted at her. "Anyway, we talked a little more, and I realized that while both of Finn and I had truly made some monumental errors, I only shouldered part of the blame. At least I was honest with him. I made a mistake and I owned up to it. He still refuses to accept responsibility for his."
"Yeah?" Puck prompted when she stopped.
"Yes," she replied. "The secrecy about Santana; his hot and cold behavior to both me and Quinn; and abandoning me last night."
She gave a weak smile. "Well, my phone never rang. He left me and then did not even bother to find out if I had managed to make it home safely."
"True," Puck scowled.
Her eyes narrowed. "Puck?"
Hearing her suspicious tone, he turned a wide-eyed innocent look on her. He suppressed a smirk as her face grew even more apprehensive. As she opened her mouth to question him further, the doorbell rang. Puck managed to roll, tuck her into the corner of the couch and get to his feet in one smooth move.
Saved by the bell!
He opened the door to find Artie on his doorstep, breakfast in hand and two escorts along for the ride. Puck lifted a brow in question as he eyed the two girls.
Artie gave him a smile. "They've been filled in and want to help."
Puck stepped back, holding the door open for all three. As they entered, Rachel rose from her place on the couch. Before anyone could speak, Brittany bounced over and threw her arms around the smaller brunette.
"I'm sorry!" exclaimed the blonde Cheerio. "I didn't know Santana had been that mean!"
"Okay," murmured Rachel, patting the distressed girl's back. "It's okay. Calm down."
As Rachel comforted the girl, she could hear the others waking up and moving around. Puck gently pulled Brittany off of her. She gave him a quick smile before glancing around. Finding herself the focus of everyone's attention, she stepped back. "I think I'm going to go wash my face and try to wake up."
"I'll come with you," agreed Quinn. As she took Rachel's arm, she could see surprised looks flicker over everyone's faces. She rolled her eyes. "Oh, please. Rachel and I made a truce last night. We're debuting today at school. Get over it."
Silence reigned as the two girls left the room. Puck started chuckling. When the others looked at him, he shrugged. "Unholy alliance."
"Oh, God," Sam groaned, falling back against the cushions. Puck just laughed before liberating the bags from Artie's hands. Tina, Brittany, and Artie followed him to the table while Mike and Sam stumbled off to find the extra bathrooms.
Fifteen minutes later, almost everyone gathered at the table, waiting on Quinn and Rachel. The Cheerio captain came in first, a Cheshire grin on her face.
"Hey, Puck," Quinn said.
"Yeah?" he drawled out distrustfully.
"Rachel could wear my jeans, but the shirts didn't work out. I dug out one of yours for her to borrow." Her smirk grew as his eyes snapped to the doorway. Another minute or so passed and Rachel walked in. Puck's jaw dropped.
Quinn stood taller than the brunette, but Rachel's long legs made up for that. The blonde liked her jeans tight, so they molded themselves to Rachel's compact frame. Low riding and hip hugging, they gave temptation a whole new depth of meaning. Her bare feet certainly did not help. They made her appear ready for an afternoon of lounging on the couch. However, the jeans did not hold half the attention they deserved.
Puck's attention riveted itself to her top. She wore one of his few button-up dress shirts. In order to make it fit, they had rolled up the sleeves and knotted it on one side. The knot caused it to draw over to her hip, emphasizing her trim waist while helping exhibit the fit of the jeans. Even more intriguing, she did not have it buttoned all the way up. The top few buttons were undone, allowing the barest hint of cleavage to peek out. Rachel shifted uneasily under his steady regard.
"So!" Quinn chirped, breaking the silent staring. "Breakfast?"
Puck scowled at her, getting an unrepentant smile in return. Rachel stared at both of them in confusion. Sam snickered, but kept his head down while Tina, Artie, and Mike focused on their breakfasts, smiles hovering at the corners of their mouths. Brittany just shrugged.
That day had to be one of the oddest on record for William McKinley High. Rachel Berry had been carefully guarded all day. If Karofsky and his cronies got too close, Puck, Mike and Sam materialized out of nowhere to warn them off. Let a Cheerio give her any grief and said cheerleader found herself on the wrong end of Quinn's sarcastic wit. Jacob ben Israel showed up at one point with his creepy comments only to be scared off by Artie and Tina double-teaming him. Even Santana had been shut down before saying anything when Brittany had popped up and started talking to Rachel about getting together for a movie night. The word had hit the hallways by third period: Rachel Berry was off-limits.
At lunchtime, another rumor began making the rounds. Apparently Finn Hudson, golden child of Glee, had done something to piss off his Gleek friends. All morning, students had observed him being ignored by most of the others. Whispers began circulating. One student told how he had seen Puck, Chang and Evans talking at the water fountain. When Hudson walked up and said something, the three others strode away without even looking at him. One of the younger Cheerios told her friends that she had seen Quinn Fabray exchanging books in her locker while Finn tried talking to her. She never looked at him, never answered. She just finished getting the correct books, closed her locker and walked away. Others reported similar incidents involving Artie Abrams, Tina Cohen-Chang, and Brittany Pierce. No one knew what was going on, but this had to be the most exciting day at McKinley High since Coach Beiste proved the football team could actually win games with some decent training.
Finally, it came time for Glee. Rachel had been shielded from Finn all day, but this was going to be the moment of truth. Her seven friends had discussed the issue and decided to see what Finn would do. As Puck had said: "Ifhemansupandapologizes,wemighthavetodialitdown.Ifnot,shit,he'sgoingtogetwhathedeserves."
Rachel took her usual seat in the front row with Puck on her right side and Brittany on her left. With a quick smile for Puck, she started asking Brittany if she seriously wanted to have a movie night, and what kind of movies she liked. As the girls chatted, Puck watched the rest of the club come in. He nodded at Mercedes and gave Artie a fist bump. The two of them got involved in a technical discussion on the differences between guitar types and the various techniques used for each.
Mr. Schuster came in smiling at his students. "I see we're missing Finn and Santana? Has anybody seen them?"
"Mr. Schue?" Brittany raised her hand. "Santana got stuck in Coach Sylvester's office. She's going to be late."
"Thank you, Brittany. What about Finn?"
Everyone shrugged or shook their heads. Mr. Schuster frowned. "Well, we'll give them both a few minutes. I need to get this sheet music separated anyway."
He stepped over to the table in the corner and began organizing his papers. The students went back to their conversations, though Artie had pulled out his guitar and looked ready to just do some jamming.
The choir room door flew open with a slam. Everyone's head snapped up as Finn barreled into the room and strode directly up to Rachel. "What the hell is going on?"
"What are you talking about?" she asked, confusion etched on her face.
"Right, you don't know." Sarcasm dripped from his voice as he rolled his eyes. "All day long, these guys have been acting like your personal bodyguard and ignoring me. Even Quinn's standing up for you and she hates you."
"Finn, that's enough." Mr. Schuster walked over to his students as sorrow etched across Rachel's face and Quinn's eyes narrowed.
Finn snorted and stalked over to sit next to Mike and Tina. They stood up and moved away. He threw out his hand. "See? This is what I'm talking about! This shit has been going on all day!"
Mercedes nodded. "I don't know what's going on either, but they've been acting weird all day."
"Rachel?" Schuster asked. "Do you know anything about this?"
Rachel shook her head. "This is the first time I have seen Finn all day. I have no idea what is going on." She turned questioning eyes to Puck.
Schuster faced him as well. "Puck? Anything to contribute?"
Puck exchanged looks with his seven co-conspirators. They nodded at him. He turned back to their teacher and shrugged. "Have you ever heard of 'shunning'?"
"What?" he replied.
Rachel tilted her head. "You mean the old fashioned punishment of 'shunning'? The punishment where one ignores the wrongdoer for a specified length of time?"
"Exactly." Puck grinned down at her before glancing back at Schuster. "Except during football or Glee practice, Finn is being 'shunned'."
"Why am I being shunned?" demanded Finn.
No one answered him. Rachel, Mercedes, and Schuster glanced at him. As the silence stretched on, it became clear that none of the others were going to speak up. Schuster pinched the bridge of his nose, but before he could speak the door opened once more. Santana walked in.
She froze as the tension in the room hit her. Dark eyes scanned the room. "What's going on?"
Schuster sighed as Mercedes beckoned her over. Santana made her way over and took the seat next to her. Her Glee teammate filled her in on everything she missed. The Cheerio frowned. "So why is he being shunned?"
Quinn glanced over. "He abandoned Rachel in the tree lot outside of town last night."
"What?" cried Mercedes and Schuster. Their teacher went silent, disappointment written across his face, but his student had no problem venting her opinion. "Oh, no, you did not!"
Lauren frowned. "Cold man. That's just cold."
Finn stood up and took a step towards Rachel. "Did you tell them everything? Did you tell them why I left?"
"Yes, I did," Rachel answered quietly. "I told Puck and Quinn both about it. I'm sure the others know since they seem to be part of this."
Santana frowned. "Why is Quinn helping out with this? She doesn't even…"
"Enough!" Quinn interrupted with an air of exasperation. "Rachel and I called a truce last night. We're not suddenly best of friends or anything, but I'll be honest. Even as an enemy Rachel was a better friend than some of my so-called friends. Last year, she was the first to offer to help when I got pregnant. Hell, she apologized when she broke Babygate open. She's the one who bribed Jewfro to keep him quiet for as long as he was. Okay, so most of that wasn't for me, but she still did it. Even when Finn was with me, she still tried to help. So no, we're not 'friends', and we've got some issues, but there is respect there. So everyone just drop it."
Sam wrapped an arm around her shoulders as she glared at Santana. Tina stood up before anyone else could speak.
"I've wanted to say this for a week now, but I never actually got up the nerve." She looked at Rachel and smiled. "Rachel, at Sectionals, you got left out in the cold. Puck's the only one who spoke up for you, and you didn't deserve that. I'm sorry."
Rachel shook her head. "You don't have to…"
Sam interrupted her. "Yes, we do." He waited until she turned to face him. "We had no business leaving you out that way. I admit it, sometimes you scare me, but you've always been nice to me."
"I scare you?" Rachel giggled.
"Yeah," he answered, ducking his head. "You're…very enthusiastic about performing and competing. Sometimes it's a bit much."
Artie nodded as he pointed at the blond. "Truth. It's a good thing, pushing us to always be better, but we're not always ready for it."
Rachel nodded. "I'll try and work on that."
"Don't overdo it the other way though." Mike interjected. "It's a challenge, and sometimes that's what we need. Something or someone to give us a bar to reach for."
Brittany smiled and hugged her. "I like you, Rachel."
"I like you too, Brittany." Rachel laughed, returning the hug.
"Hey!" Finn yelled. "Can we get back to this 'shunning' thing?"
Lauren rolled her eyes. "You acted like a jackass and they're calling you on it."
"Language," Schuster reproved. She just shrugged and sat back to watch the show.
Santana sneered. "Why is everybody in a snit over this? So she did something and he left her. Sounds reasonable."
"Reasonable?" Tina exclaimed.
Sam frowned. "He left her outside of town in the snow with no way home."
Santana rolled her eyes. "She's got two dads. She couldn't call for one?"
"They're out of town." Finn said, obviously not thinking before he spoke.
"You knew?" Mercedes demanded. "You knew she had no way home and you just left her there? Oh, no, count me out. I'm with this crew; you don't exist." Waving a hand, Mercedes shifted her seat closer to Quinn.
"I think you're all over-reacting. Just how dramatic a show did she put on?" Santana scoffed at them.
"Shut it, Satan," snapped Puck. "She called me for a ride home since Daddies Berry are out of town. The boys just happened to be at my place and the shit rolled from there."
Sam nodded. "I went with him to pick her up. By the time we got there her lips were blue. She'd have frozen trying to walk home."
"Never mind how dangerous it is for a girl to walk around at that time of night by herself," muttered Quinn.
Santana scowled at all of them before flouncing over to sit next to Finn.
Schuster sighed. "Alright, it's obvious we're not going to get any work done today. I have an idea for making some money to help spread that Christmas spirit, and I'll need all of your help tomorrow. Please be on time and willing to work. You don't have to like each other, just work together."
Finn and Santana stalked out of the room. Schuster followed, shaking his head. Rachel stood up and looked at the eight people who had stood up for her, defended her, and chose her. Tears filled her eyes as she looked over each of them.
"Thank you," she said. "I don't…I can't…" She paused to take a breath and blink back some tears. "Thank you so much."
As one tear spilled down her cheek, Puck walked over and pulled her into a hug. Quinn followed him. One by one each of the others joined the group until Rachel had been surrounded in an unbroken circle of friends. She leaned into Puck's arms and smiled at Quinn. It amazed her how fast life could change in less than twenty-four hours.