She doesn't die (they tell him, on the fourth day, his knuckles turning white and his fingernails making red half-moon marks into his palm, his eyebrows furrowed into points, a perpetual worry wrinkle on his brow).
She does live. She's still Quinn, somewhere inside there, a mess of broken bones and bruises and open wounds. Somewhere in that body is Quinn Fabray. He can't find her, but he knows she's there.
They shaved part of her head where they had to stop the blood flow, and one leg is whisked high into the air at an uncomfortable angle. Her eyes are closed, but the monitor is reassuring him she's still okay, just sleeping, her cracked lips formed into a loose pout and her hair in a disarray on her pillow. He said he was family, and they knew he wasn't, but they let him go anyway, let him watch her.
She wakes up, eventually, and she says his name, and she mumbles, "What're you doing?" through the obstruction in her throat caused by the pain medication they've doped her up on.
"Making sure you're alive." The words feel funny on his tongue and for some reason he feels like crying.
"I'm fine," she says, too fast and too breathless, and the monitor shows the tiny blip of her heartbeat, and he wants to cry so much that he thinks he will, and he does.
And she says, "Oh my God," and gives him a look like he's insane and he is and she starts crying too and that's how they start talking again.
She wants her homework delivered to her pronto, all the time. "I can't let a few broken bones —"
"Twelve broken bones, including your ribcage, a fracture in your —"
"— get in the way of Yale."
He huffs. He wants to graduate too, so he gets it, kind of, but he feels like he'll be the one graduating with the minimum grade-point average, just enough to ensure him a spot in the military. She'll be graduating with her four-point-fucking-oh and whisking off far away to New Haven, far away from Lima. That's the point. Maybe it always has been.
Watching Quinn work is terrifying, in the best way; watching her sloppy handwriting due to the brace on her wrist is heartbreaking, specifically the way she struggles to write in her neat calligraphy and simply can't. He hasn't yelled at her about the whole "texting-while-driving" thing, and he keeps trying to find the right time.
She ends up on the news (of course). The world never stops loving Quinn Fabray, and he gets it, because he has a hard time not doing so, too. She secretly likes the attention. She hates that she's an after-school special for freshmen about to get their licenses, a cautionary tale, but she likes that the flowers haven't stopped coming and people haven't forgotten about her yet.
Puck visits her every day, because he has no choice not to, and also because his life is a miserable existence and she's been ruling it since day one.
He ends up never really yelling at her about texting while driving, and she never really acts like it was her fault, always grumbling about the truck that hit her like she wasn't in the wrong, and he rolls his eyes fondly and somewhere in the back of his mind, "some things never change."
She spends a full month in the hospital after she wakes up, including another couple weeks because she can't quite let go of the pain medication. She rolls out on a wheelchair — they tell her she won't be able to walk for another couple months, and she complains about not being able to graduate on her own two feet, when Artie's not around to hear her — and makes him carry all her wilting flowers and over-sized teddies and makes him drive her home, too.
Puck kind of feels like he owes her all this, owes her the attention she wants from him, owes her the devotion and the slavery too. He fucked up big-time with Shelby, fucked up big with Quinn, made everything worse when all he wanted was to make things better.
She was broken on the inside just a few months ago, the kind of sick you can't see. Now she's hurt on the outside. Her bandages need changing, her bruises need tender care, her leg needs resting. She'll be bed-ridden for another few weeks.
Quinn Fabray is a busybody. She hates sitting still. Even when she was pregnant, waddling around with a stomach the size of three bowling balls, she always had something to do. Something to take care of.
Now she can't. Puck does all that stuff for her. Brings her the homework, gossips about glee, complains about Blaine, complains about Schue.
She has a look like sadness in her eyes because all she wanted to do was graduate with everyone else, and now she's worried she'll be lagging behind in a wheelchair, or bed-ridden, even, and Yale might not even want someone so broken on the outside; inside, too.
Puck doesn't hold her, doesn't even touch her, in fear of dislodging a bandage or pressing on a bruise, but he smiles at her and tells her not to worry, it'll all turn out fine, and she probably doesn't believe him but she smiles like she does, right back.
"Tell me why I loved you."
She is super doped up on that pain medication; her speech is slurred and her eyes are flickering, but the question comes out pretty genuine and curious, so he answers:
"I dunno." Because he can't imagine why.
She hums, tucks her blanket up under her chin. "I think I loved you most," she says, and she sounds honest, and Puck hates the way his heart falters, wishes he wasn't so close to her on the side of the bed. "Out of all of them. Definitely you."
He doesn't ask why, kind of scared of the answer. "That's, ah — good to hear. Thanks."
Quinn's not even this chatty when she's tipsy; the thought kind of explodes in his head. She's definitely in a mood, a weird one, and maybe it's the pills or maybe it's the fact that he hasn't gone a day without visiting her at least once since she got released from the hospital. Maybe she's eternally grateful for his surprising loyalty and she feels she owes him honesty.
For some reason, that sort of sits bitter in his throat. She goes on, "I think Finn really loves Rachel, and Sam —" She stops, as if she forgot what she was going to say, then continues: "And you liked me most."
"You're like, the coolest fuckin' girl I've ever met." He used to think that about her freshmen year, the year she sort of burst into his life in a red uniform and a scraped-high ponytail. The unattainable. Now she's simply Quinn Fabray. Smart and loyal and kind and careful. And broken, more ways than one.
She falls asleep to the sound of his breath, and he stays with her for another hour, waiting for her to respond to the non-confession, but she stays asleep, and maybe it was the drugs talking the entire time.
Graduation is only a few weeks away and her legs are still wobbly.
She swears a couple times under her breath and holds onto his shoulder for support, her nails digging into his skin. He winces with pain but hides it, balancing on one leg, hand clenched over hers. She's determined to be able to walk up to the podium to get her diploma. Quinn Fabray generally always gets what she works for.
"I won't be able to do it," she complains, her voice taking on that high-pitched whiny tone it does when she gives up on something. She used to do it a lot when she lived with him, telling him she was so tired of listening to Mozart, and it's not really gonna help the baby anyway.
He says, "Of course you will," and he believes it, but she rolls her eyes at him like you're just saying that.
Puck shrugs, rubs the bruised indents on his shoulder. "Try again tomorrow." She's already looking sleepy, the drugged-up kind of sleepy, and he probably should take the Xanax away from her before she starts getting crazy-addicted like his uncle did.
"Thanks, Puck," she says, softly, and she means it. There's a look in her eyes like genuine gratitude and something else he can't figure out, and won't be able to. She smiles at him, slow and off the mark, and he leaves without really saying goodbye, jacking the bottle of Xanax on his way out.
On the third day without her medication, she is totally up-and-at-'em, her nails making those scratches on his shoulder every day for two full weeks until she doesn't even need him there anymore. She can totally walk now, at least far enough to get her diploma, to get her ticket out of this bumfuck town, and that's something, at least.
Puck doesn't talk about the way it feels to know that in a couple weeks, she'll be waving goodbye to Lima and goodbye to Puck and everyone who's staying behind, and maybe in a few months she won't even remember why she loved him.
Puck doesn't remember why he loved her, either. It sort of happened. She came into his life in the weirdest way, her skirt hitched high up on her thighs, her eyes green, green, green above his, her hair in curls in his fingers. She was clever, and witty, and cruel in all the right ways. She made him wish he was better.
Now — he knows she's better. That she's clever enough to leave, to leave him and everyone else. He loved her because he knew that she was better than him, and he always yearned for the stars.
On the day before graduation, she makes like she's gonna kiss him, but she doesn't. Her lips touch the shell of his ear and she says, "Thank you so much," and the feeling of bile in his throat is like goodbye.
He's still fidgeting in his too-hot red-and-white gown, feeling like a total fucking idiot, and itching in the blazing sun, when they call her name up there. She wobbles a little unsteadily up the first few steps, and the crowd is hush-silent waiting for her to pick up the diploma, and when she grabs it outstretched in both hands, a quiet applause starts and then roars. She beams at them, at everyone, defying them with her smile, with her bruised cheeks and wrist-brace.
Puck has a funny feeling in his chest, like tightening and contracting, and he knows that he's probably gonna be sick, so he stumbles out of the group of people, while the crowd is still enamored with Quinn Fabray's retreating shape down the steps. He shoves past the other kids in their gowns and slips behind the bleachers.
After he vomits a couple times, he waits until they call his name —
Silence. An uneasy chatter in the crowd. Did he even get a diploma? Are you sure there hasn't been some mistake?
Puck rips off his gown and salutes goodbye to high school by stomping on it, grinding his heels into the ground like he's five years old. Fuck off, he made it. He graduated. He doesn't need a fucking slip of paper to prove it. He'll get it in the mail in a couple weeks, after Quinn leaves. After.
She does say goodbye, because she's Quinn, and she's predictable.
Mom's been out of town for the past week or so, and Sarah's sort of grown up now, so he doesn't really need to babysit her all that much, but he's still here. Maybe he'll never leave. He'll stay in Lima, marry a girl he doesn't really love (neither here nor there), have kids and raise them. Maybe it's all he's really worth; Quinn is so far above him that it's frightening.
"My plane leaves tomorrow," she explains, and she's smiling sort of sad and bittersweet because it's what she wants. And it's what he wants, too, for her. The bruises have started to fade into her pale complexion, and the clunky brace on her wrist has been replaced by a simple padding to hold it in place. She's healing. He never really had the chance to break.
"You'll do good things, Puck." She means it. He knows she does.
"I know." He doesn't believe her, but the sentiment is nice. He deserves good things, and she deserves better, and that's why they would never really work. He loved her because she was out of his league. She still is, and he still loves her, but the truth is just as disappointing.
She doesn't kiss him. For some reason, their final goodbye isn't as climatic as Puck thought it would be, or maybe she made him watch too many goddamn chick-flicks. There's no kiss in the rain, or crying, or pleas to stay. It's a simple agreement between two people who have grown up. It's a goodbye. It's promises to call and promises to visit that will be broken in time, and they both know it.
Puck says, "Good luck," and she nods and tells him the same, and when the door closes behind her, Puck doesn't cry at all.
He never leaves. Lima, that is. He marries a girl, a brunette he meets at community college, enlists in the military and goes away every couple years. When he comes back the second time, he has twin daughters waiting for him at home, and eventually, eventually, he forgets he loved Quinn Fabray. He forgets why he did. He forgets she was ever the one that got away.
He doesn't know how she did at Yale, if all her dreams came true, if she graduated at the top of her class. He doesn't know if she married and had children, if she became rich and successful.
When he's old and dying, he doesn't think of her once.