(Author's note: now that Gold Mine has concluded, I have been missing this pairing. So after falling in love with Penthea's Puck/Dave in "Set Right What Once Went Wrong" (on archiveofourown dot org), I begged her to write a Puck/Dave with me. Lucky for me, she agreed, because her Dave is absolutely spot on. Thanks to Penthea for knowing about math and cycling, and letting me take care of the karate and cats. Lots more to come. Enjoy! -amy)
"Dude, watch the coffee." Dave gave Pascal an annoyed look. "I have enough to worry about without you going around knocking stuff over with your big furry paws."
Pascal tilted his head at him.
"Yeah, okay, you're all lithe and gorgeous and shit. Sorry. Jeez, you're worse than Kurt." Pascal jumped down to join him on the couch. Dave took that as an apology.
"So, like I was telling you, this guy Roger, right? He asked me to go for a ride with him, and I was pretty sure he meant like, as a date. Yeah, yeah, I know."
Pascal wound around his leg and stropped his knee with his soft face. Dave scratched him idly on the chin, frowning.
"And I knew he was pretty hardcore about his philosophy, right, but you know I can't deal with that hipster shit. It's like all of a sudden I'm a traitor for having a freewheel on one of my bikes. Just because he used to be a messenger for, like, three months in freaking Columbus. But, I thought, okay, sure, I can get out the fixie and pretend to be cool and watch him do stupid tricks for a while. He was cute."
Pascal pulled away.
"Not cuter than you, though, don't worry." He scratched him some more to reinforce the message.
"And you'd never judge me for not being vegan, would you? No, I didn't think so. I don't even think they make vegan cat food. So it's probably good it didn't work out with Roger, don't you think?"
Pascal jumped up and laid down in Dave's lap. "Yeah, I knew you'd see it that way." He leaned carefully forward to avoid squashing his best friend while picking up his coffee.
The Times crossword was already half done. Dave had no trouble with Wednesdays anymore. When he'd started he could barely complete a Tuesday in one sitting, but now he knew the tricks. He could even do a Friday with some assistance from his fellow doctoral students. If he sat around in the grad student lounge for a while, he usually managed to run into someone who could help him fill in the blanks. At home, though, he just had Pascal. And he wasn't much help.
"Eleven letter word for being left behind?" he said, raising an eyebrow. Pascal chirped at him and rolled his head upside down to regard him from one blue eye.
"Thanks." Dave carefully wrote in the word ABANDONMENT. He didn't even use pencil anymore. It was a reasonable risk to fill in each box with pen. Nobody knew how many guesses he had to make, or complained when he wrote over a box twice.
Dave left his advisor's office feeling better. It was nice to have someone telling him exactly what he needed to do differently. It was even a sort of security that came from being told his work was unacceptable and needed to be done again from scratch, because at least then he knew that he could trust that person to tell the truth. It made the compliments mean something, later.
He was actually good at this. Good enough to get to stay, good enough to be worth encouraging. He had barely been able to believe it when one of the professors approached him about teaching a real class, all on his own. But he had to, because they'd asked first. If they didn't actually think he could handle it, they wouldn't have. Would they?
The teaching he'd done before had been fun, and he'd discovered that he liked the challenge of explaining things in a way that somebody else could understand. He'd thought that teaching must be frustrating, and sure, it could be, but it was a huge rush of accomplishment when a concept finally clicked for a student. When his mind wandered in class these days, it was often to imagine how he would do something differently, if he was in charge of the course.
And now he was. He had his very own class. It said so right there on the coursepack: Introduction to Higher Mathematics, D. Karofsky.
Dave walked down the hallway to his classroom, unlocked the door and headed to the front of the empty room. He placed his copy on the textbook on the table, and sat down to look over the notes for his lecture one more time. He was pretty sure he had everything, but it wouldn't hurt to check. He pulled his phone out of his pocket to turn off the sound. It was already off. He put his papers back in order. There were still a few minutes left before any students should start showing up.
He was excited about teaching this course. It would be mostly math majors, real geeks who loved math for itself and didn't argue about whether it was actually useful. Almost all nerdier than him, and probably smarter. He didn't know if he should feel insecure about that, or proud of defying the stereotype. Either way, it was a change from teaching basic algebra to people who didn't get it, probably never would, and were totally okay with that as long as they got their passing grade.
He was so lost in thought he didn't hear the door open, or the sound of footsteps, until he sensed someone standing right in front of him, and heard a guy clearing his throat. Dave looked up.
And holy shit, it was Noah Puckerman, with a cup of coffee in one hand and a notebook in the other, wearing a polo shirt with "Okinawan Shorin-Ryu Karate" logo on the breast and a wicked grin. Apart from the absence of the mohawk, it was as though no time had passed, between that party at Santana's at the end of junior year, when they'd both gotten shitfaced and done karaoke until 2 am, and this day in Dave's Introduction to Higher Mathematics class, six years later. Dave blinked.
"You're still a regular black coffee guy," said Puck, handing him the cup. He wasn't asking. It was still warm.
"Uh," said Dave.
"Nice to see you, teach," he whispered, and gave him a little wave before making his way to an empty desk.
Puck's smile stuck with him long after the lecture had already begun and Puck was in his seat, three rows back and on the aisle. He wasn't a slouch-in-your-seat kind of student anymore, and even though he looked like he could be wearing exactly the same clothes he'd worn in junior year of high school, there was definitely something more mature about him. It might have been the additional lines at the corners of his eyes, or the way he thoughtfully scribbled notes starting at the beginning of the hour. Or maybe he was just doodling, it was hard to tell from where Dave stood.
Dave liked to get some real work done on the first day of class, rather than just giving the syllabus and schedule. Something to catch their interest and get them to think, the actual topic didn't matter so much. This year, he was thinking he would start with some Fibonacci numbers. There was this neat thing you could do by writing them out in a triangle, that made it a lot easier to see where the identities came from. He went to do that on the board, feeling suddenly very self-conscious about turning his back on them.
Well, not them, really. Him. The way they were heating up his neck, Puck's eyes might be emitting some sort of radiation. Something ionizing. Dave kept writing rows of numbers on the board, trying to shake off the distraction.
"Hey, Prof?" The voice wasn't in his head, though it certainly could have been, considering how often he'd imagined it over the past six years. He whipped his head around, still trying to write and pay attention to his class at the same time. Puck was raising his hand. When Dave nodded at him, he lowered it and gestured at the board. "I thought I understood how that triangle thing worked, but maybe I was wrong. Can you explain why there's an eight and a thirteen there, and a thirty-four there?"
Dave stared at the board. Puck didn't look like he was trying to be a pain in the ass. He was genuinely confused. No wonder, because Dave had made a simple, stupid mistake. Unless, in the world in which Noah Puckerman liked math and brought Dave Karofsky coffee in the morning, 8+13 actually did equal 34.
"Uh, I was just checking to see if you were paying attention?" Dave gave a little laugh, acknowledging that that excuse was older than all of them combined. Pythagoras had probably used that one when he drew a wrong line in the sand with his stick. And saying it as a joke was just as pathetic, actually, so better to just move on.
"Thank you, uh..." Could he call him Puck in class? Noah? Should he even admit to knowing his name? God, this was awkward, and now he'd paused too long to call him anything at all. He settled for wiping out the wrong number with the back of his hand.
"Right, so can anybody tell me why it should be 21 in that spot, and perhaps if you recognize these numbers from somewhere?"
Puck was the first to raise his hand. Dave deliberately waited five seconds and called on someone else instead.
The class went decently after that. He finished everything he'd planned with five minutes left of their time. He didn't see the point of dragging it out, so he wrapped it up and invited anyone with further questions to stay.
Puck hung around after everyone else had gone, taking his time packing up his belongings. He already had his textbook, and his coursepack was tabbed and Dave thought he even saw some highlighting in there.
"So what are the odds, huh?" Puck said, grinning. "I didn't even know you were in Columbus. You're not a professor yet, are you? I don't have to call you Dr. Dave or anything?"
"Ah, no, I'm just a grad student. If all goes well, I'll be Dr. Dave eventually, but for now I'm fine with just Dave."
"Congratulations, man," Puck said, and he actually looked kind of admiring.
And that made no sense at all, did it? Since when was Puck the kind of guy to be impressed by a doctorate? He'd thought he cared more about things like nice abs or guitar solos, neither of which were really Dave's area. But then he hadn't expected Puck to want to learn higher mathematics, either, and yet here he was.
"Thanks," said Dave. "It's not exactly what I imagined myself doing, but... I like it. And you? I didn't even know you went here. I definitely didn't expect you to be a math major." He smiled, perhaps to soften the blow. He didn't like it when people assumed he was stupid just because he could open the door to the auditorium without straining, and now he was doing the same thing to Puck. Even if there were a few other things affecting his judgement, too.
"Not a math major." Puck couldn't disguise his smirk. "Just digging the math. And talk about a surprise. I saw your name on the syllabus and thought for sure it was some other Karofsky. But you were always good at math, so." He tapped Dave's desk. "You got time to drink that coffee with one of your students? We could, you know. Catch up." He looked far too hopeful for Dave to say no.
"Sure. I don't have any meetings or anything right now, so why not?"
He could think of a lot of reasons why not. It was just that none of them were the kind of reasons he could talk about. They walked together into the hall.
"So how is it that you ended up in this class, then? I was pretty sure it was only open to majors."
"Yeah, well." Puck ran a sheepish hand over his neck. "I don't know, but... I took a bunch of classes over the past few years, night classes mostly - trying to finish those gen eds. I needed the math for my business. But - it was pretty crazy - I read this book with my sister a couple years ago. The Number Devil. You read it? It's about this kid who hates math, and he has dreams about this little demonic figure who teaches him all kinds of shit about number patterns. Sarah thought it was okay, but I completely ate it up." He held open the door for Dave as they exited the building, navigating around two bicyclists and a jogger with a dog. Puck pointed across the street to the coffee shop on the corner, and Dave nodded acquiescence.
"I discovered I really like math. Like, just because." He shrugged, his eyes twinkling. His eyes were exactly that crazy brown-green-gold color he'd remembered from middle school. Funny how things stick with you. "I can't explain it. I don't actually need to take any more for my degree. But I figured this class would be a chance to talk about it with people who get that math is more than just, like, adding numbers together."
A little bit of Dave had been wondering if Puck had shown up in his class just to - well, he didn't know why, but for some Puck-like reason to do with Dave rather than the material of the course. But hearing him talk about math like that was convincing. Although - had that been a reference to his mistake earlier? He felt himself starting to flush, and changed the subject.
"Wait, you have a business?"
"Yeah - the dojo. It's down on South McDonel in Lima. That's me. Sensei Puckerman." He turned to show Dave the larger logo on the back of his shirt. Dave did not notice the way Puck's shoulder muscles moved under the cotton fabric. "I've got a staff of three and we barely make our rent payments each month, but it's a living. Not to mention pretty awesome to show up to work in shorts and a t-shirt." Puck held up a hand, measuring from the floor. "And my youngest student is about this tall and calls me Thenthai. Now that's awesome."
He ordered a double decaf espresso, which seemed like a pretty pointless thing to Dave, but he wasn't going to harass Puck about it. They'd never been friends, not even back in seventh grade at Finn's birthday party, but somehow this felt like the kind of thing friends might do. Come to think of it, it'd been a while since Dave had done something friend-like with anyone.
"So when you're not teaching math class, Dr. Dave, what are you up to?" Puck pulled a chair out and sat backwards on it, setting his cup of useless coffee on the table.
Dave kind of hated that question, because it highlighted everything that was wrong with his life, and everything that was wrong with him for that matter. Because the truth was, whenever he wasn't reading about math, or writing about math, or thinking about it... there wasn't a lot of time left, actually. But there was more than he liked to admit. And he mostly spent it with his cat.
"I, uh, read? And ride my bike." Both were kind of sad, but he figured at least less so than hanging out with a Burmese named after the same 17th century dude as the topic of today's lecture.
"Sounds like a freewheeling life of excitement." Puck added another creamer to his espresso and stirred. "You seeing anybody?"
The question was casual enough, but Puck wasn't looking at him. Dave was pretty sure there was no way Puck would have known it had been him at the bar, but he still felt exposed in that moment, as though Puck could take one glance and realize all the secret, hidden things about his life these past six years. It was disconcerting.
"Not currently," Dave said, as evenly as he could. "You?"
"Oh, you know. Here and there. Nothing serious, since Shelby." He shrugged. "We still hang out, though, with Beth. She'll be eight in the spring."
Dave had heard about that, Puck's not-so-covert relationship with Ms. Corcoran. It was a relief to him that Dave's own sexual exploits - if he ever actually managed to have any, again - could never conclude in an accidental pregnancy. If Dave ever wanted to have kids, he'd have to work for it. He wasn't exactly sure whether he did or not.
"Wow, eight already?" He sipped his rapidly cooling coffee.
"She's in second grade. Loves princesses and singing." He grinned. "And hockey."
Dave was surprised into a laugh. "Awesome."
Puck pushed out his chair and stood, pitching his cup into the garbage can across the room. "I'd better get going. It's a long drive home. See you on Monday, teach."
"See you," echoed Dave. He let Puck walk out the door without following him with his eyes. He didn't want to think about the last time he'd seen Puck's back, or the way he'd reacted - but for better or worse, Noah Puckerman was back in his life, three days a week, for the next four months.
He had been sitting at his computer, trying to work, but finding himself drawn to the kind of places he'd never admit to going, the kind of thing he'd never bookmark or even visit outside of stealth mode.
Because there was no way he would do that. He wasn't that kind of gay guy. He didn't do the whole glitter and oil and physical perfection thing, or random hookups on the internet. Of course not. But he might take a look. See what was out there. Just to imagine what it would be like. If he were somebody else, with a different life and a different history. Someone who did that.
There were so many boys, and most of them just made him feel kind of sad for them. He kept looking over his shoulder, too, despite being completely alone in his dark apartment. Pascal was sitting on the top of a bookshelf, staring at him reproachfully. Well, actually probably just wondering if he could make the jump to his desk.
He clicked on a picture.
This guy was different. Most people used shots of their abs, taken in the mirror, the other hand holding up their shirt and their face either out of the frame, or hidden by a baseball cap, or washed out by the reflection of a flash. But this was black and white, in a way that seemed genuine, not like it was done with some stupid app, there would have to have been a photographer involved. He was draping his arms over the edge of some sort of bench, shadow and light playing on his muscular arms and shoulders, the contours of his back. His shaved head was bent - in submission to something invisible, in defeat, in rest, there was no way of knowing - but it made Dave want to know. A small scar on the back of his head, another on his side. He'd like to hear that story.
And then the way he wrote - cocky, in contrast to the vulnerability of the pictures. Not great writing, by any means. There were spelling errors. But the guy coming through - Dave thought he might like to know him.
Of course, the fact that someone had a profile on this site was probably a sign that there were issues. But, how would he ever get anywhere if he was going to be picky? He'd tried the low-key mature thing. It hadn't really worked. Desperate? Yes. He was pathetic and desperate, and he might as well own it. Obviously what he really wanted wasn't going to happen, so why deny himself a shot at a little bit of happiness? He started to write a message.
They'd agreed to meet in a bar later that same night, a slightly seedy kind of place but not so bad that he couldn't be seen in there. It had to be fast, or he'd start thinking and it would never happen.
And then he'd walked in, nodding at the bouncers and taking in the place, wondering who might be his guy. He'd seen a shaved head at the bar, the posture over his drink similar enough to the pictures that there was no doubt it was the same guy. But when Dave's heart jumped in his chest, it wasn't with excitement over taking a hot guy home. He recognized that head. He couldn't believe he hadn't before. That scar. He knew exactly where it came from, he'd been there when it happened, holding a bloody sweatshirt and wondering why everything was so quiet while waiting for the ambulance.
He'd touched that head before, in a memory he sometimes wondered if might have been a dream.
Noah. And then Puck.
Dave turned around and left, went straight home to bed, sick with shame.
Puck had no memories of the actual incident, just newspaper articles and police reports and insurance settlements. And Dave's words, precious few of those.
He remembered up until about two hours before, riding in the back of Scott Cooper's Ford Bronco with Dave Karofsky down to Columbus for the junior hockey playoffs, wailing along to Gnarls Barkley on the radio, entirely sure he was invincible, just like every other eighth grade boy.
He remembered about ten hours after, groggily waking up in the hospital to his mother's insistent voice, telling him Noah, you've been in a car accident. He'd been sure he could make it to the playoffs if he could just get out of this fucking bed and down the stairs. Those must have been some meds they had him on, because he didn't remember any kind of pain those first two nights in the hospital, just a vague sense of outrage that the doctors were cutting into his trip to Columbus for which he'd waited all year.
He remembered the first time they gave him a mirror and let him examine his scar for the first time, and he'd seen his swollen, lumpy, bruised face and thought that's not a shape any head should ever be. He looked something like that elephant man kid from the movie Mask.
The hair had been easy to say goodbye to, that Jewfro he'd never been proud of, and when he grew it back he decided to keep the sides short and try a modified mohawk. It had a badass quality he'd tried to identify with back then in eighth grade. And the scar, well, there still wasn't anything cooler than that. Forty-seven stitches from a rolled-over Bronco was something to be proud of.
But the actual acquisition of the scar - he had to believe Dave's description of what had happened, because aside from Scott and his dad, who'd both hit their heads on the windshield and been knocked out for the count, he'd been the only one there. Puck had always had the sneaking suspicion that it was lucky that Dave had been there, and that he'd been a good Boy Scout and had known his CPR, or else Puck might not have made it out of the Bronco alive. But that was a little melodramatic even for him, so he just kept that thought to himself, and had to relegate his fantasies about Hero Dave giving him mouth-to-mouth to his dreams.
You were stuck hanging upside down in your seat belt, Dave had said, so I pushed the button and let you down. You were bleeding like a fucking stuck pig. Why people always compared bleeding things to pigs, Puck would never know. He'd only seen pigs at the state fair and had never made one bleed. But he'd seen his clothes days afterwards, saturated and stiff with rusty-brown liquid, and he'd been completely incredulous that that much blood could have come out of his stupid head.
I took off my sweatshirt and held it to your head until the ambulance got there, Dave had said. You were moaning and being a total wuss. Which Puck believed, knowing how he'd been when he had been hurt or ill in the past.
He wondered sometimes what Dave had said or done when he'd helped him out of his seat belt. Had he held him in his lap? Had he touched his cheek and whispered inane comforting words into his ear? And how fucking sick was it that Puck sometimes fantasized about those things when he stroked himself to hardness in the early morning hours or in the shower?
Because Puck wasn't desperate, not by any means. He could have any woman, man or farm animal he fucking wanted. Even now, six years after the easy meat market of high school had come to a conclusion, he could have his pick, and usually did.
And if, more than half the time, the guys in his bed bore a striking resemblance to a certain former football right guard, well, that was just a fucking coincidence, wasn't it.
Sarah's idea of grocery shopping was far more involved than Puck could handle. He just wanted to pick up some milk and juice and bread and peanut butter and be done with it, but Sarah insisted on making lists and organizing them by which store had the best prices. Most of the time Puck just let her handle it.
His Ma was never allowed to do the shopping, because working second shift meant that she mostly ate at the hospital and came home and crashed, so by the time she was off work, she could barely deal with driving home, much less doing price comparisons or using coupons. And Sarah only gave her a limited allowance, anyway, or else she would spend it on cheap vodka and they'd have to eat ramen for the next week.
It was just easier to keep an eye on things with his Ma when he lived at home. Not to mention it made it a hell of a lot easier to keep up with car payments and business expenses. But it played havoc with his sex life, even if Sarah was cool with him bringing home the occasional guy. I mean, who really was okay with a guy who said I still live in my mom's basement at twenty-three?
"I'm gonna make lasagna tomorrow," she told him at dinner that Thursday, after classes had started with Dave. He shook his head, bemused. Dr. Dave. Fuck me.
"I'll be in Columbus for class," he said, ladling sauce over his chicken. "You'll have to save me some."
"Yeah, what's up with that, anyway?" She wrinkled her nose. "Why go all the way to Columbus for math?"
"It's the only place they're teaching this class." It wasn't exactly true. He could have waited to take it in the spring at the Lima campus - but he wouldn't have had the same teacher.
He didn't look the same, anymore. He was more comfortable in himself. Quieter. But Puck could see the same Dave, inside. There was plenty of Dave to remember, even though they hadn't hardly seen each other since the end of junior year. There was Angry Dave, the guy he'd been freshman and sophomore year, when he and Puck had barely talked at all, and most of the words they'd exchanged had involved yelling. There was Helpful Dave, who'd formed the Bullywhips with Santana and made changes in the way McKinley dealt with student abuse. Then he'd been gone, suddenly absent during senior year, and Puck had only heard from Kurt months after school had started that he'd switched to Lima Senior High Progressive Academy.
And, back before any of that, there was Middle School Dave, who'd played hockey with Noah. Puck's memories of him were pretty specific, and startlingly vivid, but they only really came up in dreams. There wasn't anything he could do to stop them, and they weren't bad memories, not exactly.
Sarah looked at him reproachfully. "You're going to miss some fucking awesome lasagna. I hope it's worth the drive."
I hope so too, he thought.
Dave was sitting in his office sort of trying to read but not really getting anywhere, when there was a knock on the door. It was during his posted office hours, so he assumed it must be a student. Before he could tell them to come in, though, the door opened. He almost groaned out loud. Of course it was Puck. Everything he knew about the man, from 5th grade until today, told him that he was nothing if not persistent. Cheerfully, maddeningly so, until he got what he wanted, or decided he didn't care about it after all. If only Dave knew what it was he was after this time.
"Hey, Puck. What can I help you with?" Dave didn't expect whatever it was to be directly related to the class, but he could always hope. Either way, the professional thing would be to pretend.
"I had a question," Puck said, sliding into the chair in front of Dave's desk. "And it's not part of our homework, so I figured I shouldn't annoy the crap out of everybody else in class by asking about it there."
Puck showing up for office hours wasn't a surprise. The surprise was that he showed up with four pages of proofs for last week's homework problem, especially since Dave definitely hadn't asked for a proof in the assignment. He was wearing a tank top, not exactly standard math department attire, and it was hard not to notice the muscles in his arms and shoulders moving as he dug around in his duffel bag for the papers.
When they finally emerged, they were a little crumpled, but quite a lot of work had obviously gone into whatever it was. The equations were readable, even if they sometimes overflowed into the margins or onto the next line. Overall, it was much neater than any of Dave's own notes when he was working on a problem. This looked like a second draft at the very least.
"So let's see what you've got here. Looks like you put some work into this." Dave took the papers and began to read. It started out as more or less the problem that he had set for the class. The difference was, instead of finding the appropriate theorem in the textbook and applying it, it looked like Puck had actually derived the whole thing from scratch. But not in the way that the textbook did it. In the appendix, if he remembered correctly.
"I kind of get started on these things and can't put them down," Puck said, tapping his knee with his pen. "Drives my sister nuts. She just wants me to tell her the freaking answer and I'm way the fuck off over here, asking more questions."
Dave smiled. "When you get to this point, math isn't really about the numbers anymore. Or at least not about getting a particular number to come out as the answer. Sounds like you're just thinking like a mathematician." He pointed at the page.
"See what you did right here? That's called a proof by induction. You're missing a step, technically, but that's really just a formality. Here." Dave leaned over with a pencil and filled in a line between two of Puck's, then smiled. "This is really good, but you're probably right, you should come to office hours if you want to discuss it. It's a little beyond most of your classmates' level of interest."
Puck shook his head in apparent irritation. "I guess I figured by now, people were taking these kind of classes because they like what they're doing. But it's not quite like that, is it?"
"Well. I'd say most of them do like the work, but maybe not quite enough to go looking for more. The ones who do tend to end up in the Ph.D program. So, anyway, you wanted to know how there can be more of these when they're both infinite, right?"
Dave pointed at the last of Puck's pages. He was impressed. Puck's intuition was correct, but more importantly, he'd questioned it.
"It's a pretty basic concept, so you don't actually need to prove it every time. I mean, it's not that it's obvious, digging down to the fundamentals can be a lot harder than just using them. But it's on the list of things you can assume." Dave had a feeling Puck had very little idea about what he could assume, working as he seemed to be on raw talent and not a whole lot of reading.
"We'll get to this later in the course, when we talk about infinite sets, but there's a really cool proof called Cantor's diagonal argument. Want me to show it to you now?" Puck looked interested, so he reached for a piece of paper and started writing down rows of numbers.
"So, let's say this is your list of all the numbers between zero and one. It's a really long list, so we'll just write down a little bit of it. And you get to have infinite decimals for each one, too, because if you don't need them they're just all zeroes from here until forever, right?"
Puck gave Dave a frankly admiring smile. It was a little embarrassing to be on the receiving end of a smile like that, especially from Puck. "You're really good at this," he said. "This teaching stuff. And the math, that too."
Dave turned his head to the paper, mostly to hide his face. There was a model-gorgeous guy in his chair, gazing at Dave like he'd invented set theory just for him. And not just any guy. No, it had to be Noah Puckerman, headlining star of his most insistently repressed teenage fantasies. He really didn't know what to do with this.
Dave carried his road bike down the stairs, the cleated shoes obnoxiously loud on the stone. He still felt like a bit of an idiot and a fraud dressed like this, but it was a nice day and he wanted to get some miles in. Doing that on a fixie, in baggy shorts, wasn't worth the pain. He rolled the bike onto the pavement and got on, making a flashy little jump down from the curb, since nobody was watching.
He rode south for about an hour an a half before turning back towards Columbus. The roads were mostly empty on a Sunday morning, so he let his mind wander while his legs carried him over the slight rolling hills. There was a bit of a headwind, but not enough to make it really hard, and before he knew it he was back in the city.
The dojo had been there for as long as he'd been riding this route, but he'd never really paid attention before. There were usually people doing some sort of karate or something, and he'd glanced through the windows, because they were too big to ignore, but martial arts weren't especially his thing.
Now, though, he found himself wondering if this was the kind of place Puck had, up in Lima. He rolled slowly up to the windows, looking in. He felt a little self-conscious, but he figured they wouldn't have had those big panes of glass if they didn't want people to watch.
It looked like a class was in session, with two guys demonstrating to a group. And - was that really Puck? It sure looked like him. The man turned around. Yes, it was. Dave didn't particularly want to think about how he hadn't needed to see his face to recognize him. He stepped completely off his bike and leaned on the frame, watching.
They were doing some kind of one-on-one fighting, only very, very slowly. Dave could see Puck's mouth moving, explaining, as he flowed through the motions, almost like choreography. He paused to illustrate a point. His audience, assorted height children from elevenish to nearly grown, watched avidly. Then the brawny guy he was fighting - no, not fighting, dancing? acting? something - with took their positions and - the whirlwind of movement took Dave by surprise, and he caught his breath as Puck was suddenly on the floor.
But then Puck was getting up, smiling, and still talking, and everything seemed to be okay. Maybe that was supposed to happen? Apparently, because they did it again, with exactly the same results. Dave winced as Puck's back hit the mat, hard. He didn't seem to care, though. His partner reached down and helped him up with one casual arm. Dave didn't much like the way the guy was looking at him, though. It was far too familiar.
Then Puck glanced toward the window, and Dave froze as Puck caught his eye. The pleased smile that broke across Puck's face was even more of a surprise than finding Puck here at all. For a moment Dave wondered wildly if he could make it back onto his bike and down the street before - but no. That was a stupid idea. He'd see Puck tomorrow in class, anyway. There was no point in trying to avoid him here. Puck gave him a little wave, and Dave, feeling like an idiot, waved back.
And then he pretty much had to go inside. He couldn't leave his bike alone, so he carried it through the door and into the room, not wanting to leave road dirt on the mats covering the floor from wall to wall. It was warm, not steamy hot, but hazy with the miasma of sweat and guy-smell that permeated most exercise rooms. He watched as Puck and the bigger instructor split the class up into groups and had them reenacting, with varying levels of accuracy, the routine they'd just demonstrated. Once everybody was in action, Puck came over to Dave.
"Why did I get the idea that you lived in Lima?" Dave said.
"I do," Puck said, grinning. "It's just easier for me to drive down on Sundays than it is for me to get up in the morning on Monday and get here on time for class. Not a morning person, yo."
"You have a place to stay?" Dave asked, and then wished he hadn't. It was none of his business, and sounded way too much like he was making an offer. Which he wasn't. Of course Puck wouldn't want that.
But Puck was nodding. "Yeah - I stay at Connor's." He jerked a thumb at the bigger instructor, who was watching them with a curious smile. "He's our lead singer."
"Your - you have a band?"
"Me and Finn and Connor, and this girl, Nicole. She plays bass. It's nothing major." He leaned in, almost conspiratorially, and Dave found himself leaning in to listen. "It was, like, three years after high school was over, and I just woke up one day and realized I hadn't picked up my guitar in over eight months. And that really sucked. So I started a band."
It was just the sort of thing Puck would do, too. He wanted a band? He started one. Wanted to learn about math? He just did it. He pretty much went for whatever it was he wanted.
Suddenly Dave was hit with a intense, full-sensory memory of a time - ten years ago, to be exact - when Puck had done precisely that, had gone for something he'd wanted. And Dave had been kind of shocked to discover just how much he'd wanted it, too.
Some of the memory must have shown on Dave's face before he managed to cover it up, because Puck's expression changed from an ordinary friendly one to something far more confusing and intimate, and Dave was not going there in the middle of this public space. Or at all. Dave turned away to watch the kids throwing punches and kicks and knocking each other on the floor with fierce concentration.
"This isn't your dojo," Dave said, just to say something, to get the memory out of his head and back into his subconscious where it belonged.
"No, it's Connor's. We teach the same style of karate, Shorin-Ryu. I'm just bogarting his training space while I'm in town, mostly. These are his kids." The way Puck looked at them, though, with that proud, satisfied expression that Dave ascribed to teachers everywhere, told him he could just as easily have been leading this class.
"They look good," he said, and Puck turned that fucking brilliant smile on him, the one he'd seen just the other day in office hours. It made Dave want to squint and shield himself from its glare.
"Thanks." Puck shrugged out of his gi top and discarded it on the bench, rolling his shoulders. He had a embarrassingly dark hickey on his neck, peeking out from his shirt collar. Dave didn't want to ask dude, didn't that hurt? but he had a hard time imagining that it hadn't. He wasn't going to ask. He was going to stop thinking about it.
"Hey," Puck said, "you want to have dinner tonight? I mean, if you're not busy."
Before Dave could even formulate an answer to this absurd question, the instructor was there next to him, holding out a hand for Dave to shake. "Hey - I'm Connor. You must be Puck's math teacher." Dave fumbled to get the shoes and helmet he was still holding to fit in one hand, so he could take Connor's. At least the other man was just as sweaty as he was.
"Guilty as charged," he said, kind of surprised that Puck had mentioned him, and that he'd be identified as such in his cyclist garb. "Your kids look like they know what they're doing."
"Sometimes." Connor smiled, lighting up an otherwise ordinary face. "When they're not being entirely too focused on impressing their friends." He glanced at Puck, and his cheeks went red. "Uh, you should probably -" he said, touching his own neck where Puck's hickey was showing.
Puck touched his neck in response, then grinned at Connor. "Oh - my bad. Thanks." He reached for his gi top again and refastened it around his waist, tying the black belt on top of that. "So. Dinner?"
Dave's first instinct was to say no, but how? The question was already so fraught with dangerous implications. He felt caught by the expectation of answering it in front of this unfamiliar man. No matter how friendly his smile was, Dave had no idea who Connor was to Puck, or what he needed to be careful about implying. He hesitated.
"It's no big deal, if you're busy," Puck added, but Dave, former Boy Scout and unflinchingly honest most of the time, found himself shaking his head.
"No, no, I'm not busy." He sighed. "Sure. Dinner." He didn't look at Connor, or think about the appraising expression on his face. Was Dave stealing Puck's time away from this guy? Was he annoyed? Or worse, amused, wondering what his friend was doing with some math-teaching, ridiculous lycra diaper shorts-wearing freak? Yeah, not thinking about it. Puck had asked, he'd said yes. "I need to finish my ride, but I can meet you somewhere. Did you have a place in mind?"
They decided on an Indian restaurant around the corner, and Dave left Puck to finish his class.
It wasn't very far to go back to his place, but he hammered it, racing cars out from the stoplights if there happened to be one next to him. When he got home, sooner than he would have liked, he was breathing hard and feeling the burn a little in his legs. He probably ought to have cooled down, but who cared; it wasn't like he was training for the Tour de France or anything.
Dave took off his shoes and walked into the kitchen to get some water. He had to start getting ready for his dinner with Puck, but he never took very long to get ready for anything, and there was no point getting in the shower right away when he'd been riding so hard. He'd just end up hot and sweaty again, so he finished his glass of water and stretched his quads and hamstrings for a couple of minutes first.
Dinner with Puck. What would he wear? And, God, since when was he such a girl? He was pretty sure pants were non-negotiable, which probably meant jeans. He'd wear his good pair, the one that fit just loosely enough to make him feel a little better about himself without making him look like a slob. His favorite T-shirt - no, he'd worn that a couple of days ago, it was still in the hamper. He considered fishing it out and smelling it to see if it might still be wearable, but that was too pathetic even for him. The blue one, maybe, if he had a button-down over it? Dave sat down heavily on the edge of his bed and rubbed his face with both hands.
Pascal rubbed against his leg and meowed insistently.
"No, I know it's not a date." He gave himself a good figurative shake. "It's just two guys, having dinner."
In the spirit of two guys, both of whom who happened to like guys, hanging out for dinner, Dave picked out a regular old t-shirt, one he didn't even like all that much, but it was clean, and it might make his arms look pretty good, but whatever.
And because it was just two guys - who might have had some kind of nebulous moment together once, but the other guy probably didn't even remember it, and it was so long ago and they had been such kids, he could scarcely count it as a moment, even if it had been -
Maybe he needed another bike ride.