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He doesn't know why it happens, really he doesn't. He just seems drawn to her place when things go wrong. Things've gone wrong more than she knows, but he doesn't tell her that; some nights she's home, others she's not. She's most frequently home when her and boy-blunder aren't trying their trainwreck relationship again. She was home when the babygate bomb dropped, and Puck just showed up and fucking hugged her because she had the balls to do what he just couldn't. She was home the night he came over after the shit with Vocal Adrenaline's tires, when he stood on her porch, soaked to the bone and sporting a split lip from his mother's flavour of the week. She wasn't home the night they started junior year, when Quinn totally ignored everything that happened last year and started parading around in her Cheerio's uniform again. He got drunk and started a fight that night. She wasn't home a few weeks after that, when he'd stopped off at the hospital to take his mother her forgotten purse and caught sight of this happy little family walking out the building, their new born daughter cradled in her mother's arms. That was the night he drove his mother's car into the side of a building and wound up in juvie.
It was possibly the turning point, sure. He didn't like where his life was going, didn't like who he was turning into but he wasn't sure how to turn it around. Artie possibly helped, Mr Schue took a bit more interest, but his ma stopped dating total asswipes and cut down her hours to actually be around more. He actually talked to Miss P. when she asked him to set up a few sessions. His parole officer said he needed the counselling anyway.
He actually felt pretty decent about getting through the rest of junior year, and yeah, he had a bit of a smear on his record from the juvie thing, but they said it'd be sealed once he turned eighteen and finished his community service. They'd help him not let that hold him back. So it worked out okay.
Senior year, not so much. So, he's not hanging out with Rachel as much, because Finn's a jealous, insecure idiot and apparently he can't see that Rachel is totally stupid about him and genuinely loves the douche. Puck's trying not to screw up her life like he did in junior year, trying not to crap on her relationship because he might think it's dumb, but she doesn't. So he's not sure what's going on with her and Finn, he's thrown with the whole Shelby coming back, but there's Beth and he's completely floored by just how perfect she is. It's probably what causes it all. Rachel being so absent from his life, Shelby having some of her qualities, Beth being around. Quinn's crazy might be contagious, because he's not sure what makes him kiss her, but he does. It's weird at first, she gets a little weird but then her fingers tug through his mohawk and Puck's pulled in by another cougar. But this isn't some bored housewife, this is Shelby Corcoran; Rachel's biological mother, Beth's adoptive mother, there's more to her than a desperate older woman. He figures it might mean something.
There are enough parallels between Rachel and Shelby that Puck realises he convinces himself he's in love with her. He's been half in love with Rachel since she washed slushie out of his hair and held him while he cried about losing his daughter, so twisting that towards Shelby is oddly easy. There's nothing to it really, not at first. He still goes to spend time with Beth, occasionally he stays later and he and Shelby wind up kissing. They only have sex once, and it's enough for him to know that he's fucked it all up again. Beth's asleep in the nursery, Puck sticks around to help Shelby clean up the kitchen from a baking extravaganza for Beth's day-care place and somehow, he ends up with her pressed into the kitchen table, legs around his hips while she scratches at his shoulders. It all comes crashing down about five minutes after they've done the deed and both of them figure out they'd just made a mistake. Puck freaks out inside, Shelby lashes out.
And it brings him here, that same night, and he half wonders why he'd want to see her when the older, watered down version of her just tore him apart and kicked him out. He's shaking when she answers the door, shaking and trembling and almost crying again, because this time he's really screwed up. She just took one look at him before pulling him into the house, dragging him to the living room and sitting with him while he tried to put everything into words. Her hand petted along his mohawk, something she'd started doing when he came back from juvie, while he calmed down. He wasn't stupid enough to think this wouldn't hurt her too, that she wouldn't have a few choice words for him, but she was always honest, so he knew that he should be too. Especially with her.
"I really fucked it up this time," he just shook his head, trying to figure out the best way to explain it, "I didn't even know I was doing it at the time, or maybe I just didn't care, but it felt like it was real. At the time, I really thought-" He'd thought he loved her, maybe he just loved what she stood for, the way he'd loved Quinn while she was pregnant, the way he'd loved her after Beth, "Now it's just, God, Rach, she could take her away, I could really lose her this time."
Puck knew, Puck had always known, that the women he'd slept with, not a great idea. Between them being charged with statutory rape, him being pulled in for under-age prostitution and then the shit storm that would probably be the fall out with all the chick's kids? Yeah, total disaster waiting to happen his whole sophomore year. He hadn't slept with a cougar since Beth was born though, so naturally, when he fell back into it, it would be the worst he could go. Yes, he was eighteen now, but Shelby was a teacher, and that was still illegal. She'd lose her job, possibly Beth, and he'd be responsible for it. Which was probably why she'd lashed out the way she had.
"Noah, it's probably not as bad as you think it is." God bless her little heart, she really didn't get just how fucked up he was, did she?
"I slept with Shelby." He didn't mean to come out with it so bluntly. "I had sex with Shelby and it- God, it was such a fucking mistake. And now she's saying that she'll take Beth away, and fuck, Rach. I thought that-" He'd thought that maybe she was different, that maybe she wasn't like the rest. But then, it wasn't to do with them, was it? There were patterns that he couldn't ignore now, not really. He wasn't good enough for Quinn, she went as far as to lie about their baby, he wasn't good enough for Rachel, even though the boy she wanted didn't want her, he wasn't good enough for Santana, and that was all kinds of fucked up because she wanted Brittany, he wasn't good enough for Lauren, which was possibly saying something but he couldn't figure out what, and now there was Shelby, who he knew could follow through with her threat and he'd never get to see his daughter again and that would be it, Beth would grow up thinking that he parents didn't want her and that her dad was some loser and Shelby could tell her what a fuck up he was, but it was okay, because Shelby was her mom now and it didn't matter about how Beth was born.
He realises he's on the brink of an actual hyperventilation fit when Rachel starts rubbing his back and shushing him softly, rocking with him on the sofa to try and comfort him. He has no idea how long she stays there with him, just rubbing his back and half cuddling him on the sofa before he calms down enough to take a normal breath.
"Do you love her?" Rachel's voice is quiet, hushed and careful, like she knows anything could set him off again and she doesn't want to.
"I thought I did," confusion, that's what it had been, right? He'd mixed up the things he liked about Rachel with the strong qualities of Shelby and his love for his daughter. He knew that he was fairly mixed up when it came to his feelings, he'd never really had to deal with them before; his dad leaving when he was young meant he didn't have the luxury of feeling, he just had to get on with things, his ma needed him to help, she needed him to be able to be the man of the house at the age of eight and that meant sucking it up. The only emotion he really knew how to handle was anger. "It was, it's like that thing you said, the idea of her? I guess I just-" he just got far too involved with the thought of a nuclear family, all he'd really wanted for however long was a stable, loving family. "It doesn't really matter, does it." Because at this rate, he'd never be allowed near Beth again.
"Let me get you some water, okay?" He just nodded, letting her trail off to the kitchen. He wondered if Shelby would panic, if she'd just leave without telling him, if she'd ignore him like all the others or if she'd make sure he knew she was serious. He wondered if he could convince her that he wouldn't say a thing, that he'd completely forget about it all, if she'd just let him keep seeing Beth, they could just ignore it all and pretend it never happened. People were good at pretending they'd never hooked up with him.
"Hey, hey, Noah, you need to calm down, Noah-" he's aware of Rachel's voice, her presence at his side, but that's about it, his vision starts to blur and his heads hurting again and eventually all he really knows is the soft humming of 'Beth' against his temple and Rachel's arms around him. Somehow, exhaustion outweighs his panic and worry and he slips to sleep, lying out on the sofa with Rachel's arms around his shoulders.
He's tired and groggy and has a thumping headache when he wakes up, slightly cold and alone on the sofa. His first thought is that Rachel decided to let him sleep there while she went to her bed, but that's pushed out when he can hear her hissing voice somewhere behind the sofa.
"Will you keep your voice down?" He's heard that tone from Rachel before, it's been directed at him once; he'd inadvertently insulted Bette Midler and faced Rachel's very serious wrath until he apologised and wound up watching Beaches with her. He doesn't imagine Rachel ever using that tone with her dads though, so he's not sure who she's talking to.
"Why? So that I don't wake up your fucking house guest?" Ah, Finn. Puck half thinks about getting up, about leaving so that he doesn't cause yet more problems for Rachel, but he's just too fucking tired. Maybe he could just lie there and pretend some more; that he's still sleeping, that he's not screwed himself over, that he's not freaking out, that he doesn't maybe have to finally accept that he's fallen for Finn fucking Hudson's girlfriend again.
"Finn, I have already said this to you, Noah and I are friends." Which was true, they were. He'd admit it now. They'd been friends long before he'd tossed a slushie in her face, worked their way around his incapability at accepting his own emotions and somehow become friends again, and now she was possibly his best friend. Miles ahead of Finn, that was for sure. "He's had a rough night and I really just think you should go. We can talk in the morning."
"You expect me to just leave you here with him? Alone." It's the implications behind Finn's words that make Puck frown. Sure, he doesn't have a reason to trust Puck, not really, not after Quinn. Even if he said he was over it, Puck knew better. Finn was just holding on to it, waiting to throw it in Puck's face, or Quinn's face, when something happened. But not trusting Rachel? She'd been upfront with him about a kiss, a kiss that happened in retaliation of Finn lying for a year about sleeping with Santana. Did Finn even realise just how fucking in love with him Rachel was? Did he even know that Rachel wasn't like that?
"Finn, get out." Rachel clearly knew what he was saying as well, her voice going cold and hard.
"No. No, I'm not leaving you here with him. It's me or him, Rachel. I'm not letting him steal another of my girlfriends. You're my girlfriend, Puck shouldn't be sleeping on your sofa."
"Is that what I am to you? Yours?" Rachel asked, less cold but still fairly distant. Puck wished he could see them, but he was actually scared to move. Finn was laying down an ultimatum that made Puck's chest clench. He was making Rachel choose, making her pick between them, one or the other. Puck knew how this usually worked out for him, how things usually went when the Golden Boy threw a hissy fit. Sure, maybe he'd let up later, after he'd made sure that Puck knew that Rachel had picked him, maybe Puck would be allowed to be Rachel's friend, but Finn would always make sure Puck knew that he came second. As usual.
"Jesus," Puck just sighed, rubbing his hand over his face and pushing himself to sit up. "You make more noise than a herd of elephants." He'd make the choice for her, that'd make it easier on him for sure. He wasn't sure if he'd actually be able to stomach another rejection tonight, wasn't sure if he'd ever be able to stomach Rachel rejecting him. "You two just-" Fuck he didn't even know, shoving his feet into his boots, Rachel must've taken them off him, Puck stood up, running a hand over his mohawk, "Just quit the fucking fighting, I'm going."
"No you are not," Rachel grabbed at his arm, pulling him from the door and pushing her hand up against his chest. "I don't want you driving tonight, just go sit down." Her hand rubs against his arm where she's holding, and fuck she looks so serious, Puck's close to giving up. He knows she worries about his impulses, knows that she understands that sometimes his temper gets the better of him, right now, he doesn't think he should be driving either.
"What? No, let him go." Finn doesn't give a fuck though. "Rachel, I'm serious."
"So am I." It's crazy, seeing this side of her. Mostly it's a little hot, and Puck doesn't need to be thinking that right then. "I am not yours to order around, Finn. Noah is my friend, one of the only people to constantly defend me while you sit around and let Santana or Quinn ridicule me, even when you're meant to be my boyfriend." And that always pissed Puck off. The first time he did it was at sectionals, when Santana was having her rage-period or whatever, and Puck genuinely thought Finn would say something. But he didn't, so Puck spoke up. He'll never really forget Rachel grabbing his hand later, looking at him with big, sad, watery eyes and asking him if he meant it, because of course he fucking meant it. "You cannot and will not dictate who I can spend my time with, and if you push this matter, be warned, you will not like my answer."
Did that mean- Was she- Puck could only stare at Rachel, the same way that Finn was, oddly enough. It definitely sounded like she was answering Finn without answering, like she was giving him a chance to take it back or-
"Rachel," Finn grabs for the hand that's holding Puck's arm, pulling it away from him like he's stopping Rachel from burning herself or something. "I don't care who you're friends with, but not him. He doesn't do friends with girls." Puck frowns at that, because he's pretty sure he's friends with Tina, and Mercedes. He's pretty sure he's friends with Becky and Brittany. "You can't be friends with him while you're with me."
"Well then," Rachel pulls her hand away, crossing her arms over her chest and glaring at Finn, "I guess we're breaking up." She was serious, she was. She was picking him over Finn. Puck could only stare, he didn't see Finn's face colouring in anger, didn't see him clench his fists, didn't see the look of hatred that he fired towards Puck. Puck was far too busy staring in wonder at this pint-sized little diva that was picking him over the apparent love of her life. He doesn't snap out of it until the door slams behind Finn, the windows rattling slightly and Rachel's shoulders slumping.
"You- That- I-" He's not sure he gets it, really. He knows that he's mostly macho and bluster, he walks around like he doesn't care what people think of him and most of the time he doesn't. He cares what his ma thinks, what his sister thinks, he cares about Beth not hearing that her father was a loser, he cares about Rachel's belief in him, about Schue and Beiste and the support they show.
"I am so sick of him. I'm selfish? He thinks I'm selfish? I admit I may be a little self-involved but that-that-that moron is the most selfish, hypocritical butt there ever was. He thinks he can tell me who to be friends with? That I'll just stop being friends with someone he doesn't like?" She lets out this long puff of air with a frustrated sigh, arms by her side and stamping her little foot with a shake of her head, Puck almost laughs, it's adorable really. "I'm sorry that he woke you up, you really looked like you needed the rest, and I know that you most definitely don't need Finn having a little temper tantrum on top of everything else," she just does a total one-eighty in her mood and Puck just shrugs a shoulder.
"I would've just gone, Rach. Saved you the drama."
"Noah Puckerman, don't you even start with me. You know that Finn would take that as a win, he'd assume that I was agreeing to stop speaking to you and, well, you're my best friend. I won't let Finn's jealousy and paranoia change that." Finn was paranoid, Finn was paranoid that Puck was after his girl, that Puck would put the moves on Rachel and make her cheat on Finn like he did with Quinn. Finn was completely insecure about Rachel wanting him, but Puck knew it wasn't totally unfounded. Because Finn might be paranoid about Puck, but he might have good reason to be.
"Rach," Puck took a hold of her hand, pulling her gently around to the sofa, "my timing sucks, I know that, but," he still can't believe that she picked him, it might be what spurns him on. "Finn's not totally wrong. I'm not like, this isn't just to get with you or anything, it's not. I like you, we're friends and I'm okay with that, but the thing, God, the thing with Shelby," she tenses a little and he worries that this might be the last straw, honestly he does. "It's not her I'm into. It was my mistake. She's like, she's like bits of you mixed with someone else, you know? She's like Rachel Lite, passable compared to the original but not just as good." He really cannot look at her right then, he just doesn't think he could handle it if she took back what she'd said. "The things I like about Shelby are the things I like about you, and it was a mistake because I'm doing that- what's it called? Transference thing? I'm thinking that she could be as close to you as I get and then I realise that it's just not right."
"Noah," he needs to look over, the way she says his name. There's no anger or regret, just this softness in her voice and he's grateful all over again that she constantly exceeds expectations.
"I'm not saying you gotta be with me, okay, I get that you- God, you've been in love with Finn since sophomore year. I get that, I do. But, full disclosure, right? Finn's not wrong when he says I have a thing for you, because I do." He has a Rachel Berry sized hole in his defences, she's one of the only people that he'll constantly push forward for. She's got this belief that he's more than people say, she's the reason he feels like maybe he can be better than what others expect.
"You do?" He just nods, because it's that same look she gave him when he contradicted Santana last year. "I um, I appreciate you telling me," he just smirks, because really, it's just so her, "and I have just gotten out of a relationship-"
"Rach, I'm not asking for anything here, not right now. I don't want you to rush into something not ready, I don't wanna push you towards something when you're confused or mixed up or getting over Finn." He doesn't want this to be another five days before she breaks up with him because she isn't over Finn. He can't do that again, not when he knows how he fucking feels now. "You just need to know that he's not wrong."
It's the weirdest thing, really. The fact that he's willing to wait for this chick. And not even just in the wait for sex kind of way, in the wait for her kind of way. Yes, Rachel Berry was insane, possibly in the literal sense. But she was loyal and driven and hot and intense and fucking awesome in so many ways that Puck seriously didn't know why it took him sleeping with Shelby to fucking realise what an idiot he was.
But he's down with it, and she just nods shyly before she urges him to take his boots off again and then she curls them up on the sofa. He ends up with an arm under her, and yeah, that's going to be dead in the morning, but the way she keeps playing with his fingers? The way she strokes his wrist and threads her fingers into his before pulling his arm tighter around her? He's so not complaining.
Her dads find them like that the next morning, but they don't freak out. He's just reminded gently that it's a school day and he should probably get home to get ready. Rach walks him out and he says he'll see her at school. He manages not to think about shit until he gets there. But then he spots Shelby and fuck he never did manage to figure out what the fuck her was going to do about that.
"Do you want to talk to her?" Rachel just appears there by his side, like she's got some kind of psychic power to know when he's about to lose his shit in the middle of a crowded hall at school.
"What the hell would I even say?" Rachel's hand slips into his, giving it a squeeze and drawing his attention to her face.
"Why don't you let me talk?" And she's good at talking, right? So he just gives a nod, not really thinking about the fact that Shelby warned him not to tell anyone, and he told Rachel. "Come on then." She starts to pull him down the hall, and that's exactly what it is, she needs to tug him along behind her.
"Now? You wanna do this right now? When we have all of school to get through and glee?" She's legit nuts, she really wants to have this confrontation with Shelby, at school, at the start of the day?
"No time like the present," and he can't even argue, because she's knocking on Shelby's class door and pulling him in behind her as she shuts it over. He's not focusing on anything that Rachel starts saying, or Shelby trying to shoo them out, he's just freaking the fuck out in his head.
"Rachel, this is not the time." Puck agrees, never is the time, the time is never.
"On the contrary, it's the perfect time. While I understand that this is not really any of my business," probably not, but she is Shelby's daughter and his best friend, so realistically, it's a little of her business, "and I do understand all the possible consequences of what's happening, I'm afraid I can't just dismiss it." She's better at words than him, so much better. But he knew this already. He's not sure if he'd actually be able to get the right words out when he spoke to Shelby, so he's mostly just grateful for her wildly over-abundant vocabulary right then. "You both made a mistake, and yes it was rather reckless and foolish, but Ms. Corcoran, punishing Noah just because you both had a lapse in judgement is hardly the way to go." Puck doesn't miss the way Rachel says Shelby's name, the way she keeps things formal and detached, like it'll help, or maybe because she's making a point here.
Shelby looks at him with this startled half glare and Puck nearly bolts, but Rachel just squeezes his hand.
"What did you expect? You told him you'd take away his daughter, his daughter, the one he's trying so hard to be a good father for, the one he wants to look back and know that he loved her enough to let her go. Of course he panicked." Shelby looks around, a little frazzled and off-kilter and Puck saw it last night, when she's trying to get herself back under control. She takes a breath and sits on the piano stool, looking over at them both.
"I'm sorry, I just-" Just panicked, like Puck. It was understandable, she was the one with her job on the line.
"I know, and I'm not gonna say anything," except what he'd told Rachel, "we both screwed up, it shouldn't have happened, but it did and-"
"Let's just move past it then," Shelby stands, smoothing down her skirt. "I'm sorry for what I said, I was angry and scared and I realise that threatening to remove Beth from your life was irrational and foolish," Puck just nods, because he knows she does really understand. "Why don't we make a standing night where you come over and, maybe, every few weeks you can watch her while I go out or, you can take her out to the park or something once a month." It's more structured, better organised. Puck nods because as much as he'd be a glorified babysitter, that's okay, so long as he can see her. "Rachel, you're more than welcome to come too."
The warning bell rings for class, giving them the chance to escape from the somewhat awkward moment that they'd wound up in and Puck walks Rachel to her locker to get her books. "Thanks," he's not sure what the outcome could've been in this whole messed up matter, but he's fairly certain that he would've done something utterly stupid if she hadn't been home. "Just, for everything, thanks."
"Noah," she smiles at him, it's the smile that used to be Finn's and Finn's alone, because she thought Finn was the only one to cared, the only one who tolerated her. She's a touch more open with it now, that genuine smile. "You mean more to me than even I knew," her hand rests over his heart, fingers splayed on his chest lightly, "but maybe I'm starting to figure that part out." It's not a promise of anything, Puck knows that, but it's a step towards maybe, and he kind of like that. But they've both got some issues to clear up, her with Finn and him just getting his damn head on straight, no Shelby drama and no Quinn crazy, just figuring this crap out for himself.
But maybe is better than nothing, and with this girl, maybe is a whole lot more than he'd thought he'd get.