Author's Note: This always happens to me. Chapters that I think are really meaty tend to run short. Oh well. Brevity is key, right? Please enjoy (and tell me why ... or even why not)!
Both Sam and Rachel tried again to divert the Latina, but Santana quickly squirmed out of their grasps to center herself between Puck and Quinn. "You were the guy. The back of the head I saw!"
"What's going on?" Kurt asked, joining the circle when he'd seen Rachel's distressed look from across the room. His brother had promised him to behave during the party, and had looked to even be making an effort with Sam earlier, but clearly something was not right.
"This is incredible!" Santana was practically giddy, which was just more evidence that she was more than drunk. "I've taken the fall for you twice now, buddy!"
"I don't understand," Finn stated dumbly, his hand falling from Quinn's back as he stepped to the side and forward to angle his body more toward his wife than the whole group. "Quinn?"
The blonde looked up at Finn pathetically, the tears already forming in her eyes. She reached out desperately for his hand when she felt him move away out of reflex, but her eyes drifted back to Santana. Her and Finn had been fighting so much recently about this party and his obvious lingering feelings for Rachel that Quinn had completely forgotten how much of a threat her former cheer-mate was in her and Finn's happily ever after. And, well, she'd never considered Puck an issue until about 15 minutes ago.
"Please, just remember this was a very long time ago and …"
"No," Kurt breathed, his mouth gaping open as Quinn's words registered in the far recesses of his mind, pulling forward things he hadn't thought about in years other than in passing for when people wondered why he hated Santana. Slowly his gaze moved from the blonde to Santana. "All this time … you … lied?" He could almost feel the connections being made inside his brain, like little jolts of electricity. "But … why?"
Santana's drunken stupor seemed to be fading slowly, the Latina slumping a little before Sam moved both him and Rachel just enough that Santana could rest on his shoulder. She smiled up at him sweetly, but his attention was more focused on the crowd of people outside of their circle. All watching Rachel, whose gaze hadn't left Puck's since Santana's sudden outburst of a revelation - which he still wasn't clear about, but could tell it was serious and likely the real reason for Puck's animosity toward Finn (something else he'd never been clear about).
"It made sense at the time." Santana shrugged lazily, lifting herself upright once more. Her eyes were wide and much less guarded than usual; it would have been refreshing if she weren't managing to ruin so many lives at once. "We never would have worked out, Frankenteen."
The group dynamic had already been uncomfortable, but it grew tenfold after the longing stare Santana set on Finn; Rachel had always worried her friend was still in love with the tall man, but considering their own history (both hers and Santana's and hers and Finn's), they'd never talked about it. Now she wished they had because it was clear Santana had been holding on to a lot over the past few years.
"Santana," she began softly, trying to remain as calm and professional as possible given they quite obviously had an audience now. "What exactly happened?"
"Q butt-dialed Kurt's phone while some dude was screwing her brains out, and I let Fairy Dust think it was me to protect Finn." Santana yawned, lazily pointing to Puck. "Some dude."
Rachel once again locked eyes with Noah, willing him to step in and defend himself. Wanting desperately for him to deny it all, to assure Santana that she was wrong about him and what she thought she knew. Instead, his eyes continued to hold hers (just as they had during the entire encounter, never once breaking despite everyone trying to gain his attention at least once) and in his eyes she saw the truth. She saw so much more - pity, anger, sorrow, regret and maybe even love - but the only thing she dared pay attention to was the truth … and how he hadn't told her it sooner (and/or how she hadn't recognized it before now).
"Rach, wait!" He called out as soon as she turned to leave the restaurant, passing reporters and supporters and anyone else in her way without so much as a fake smile. He followed her retreat in a similar fashion, ignoring Sam and even Quinn as they pleaded for him to come back and help piece everything together. He didn't care about Sam's hurt expression or Quinn's marriage spiraling out of control. The only thing that mattered was currently standing in the middle of a semi-dark sidewalk, trying desperately to not let her emotions get the best of her.
"This whole time?" She whispered, her back turned. She refused to cry if only because she didn't want to ruin her makeup, but she couldn't look at him; she couldn't let him see how heartbroken she was. She couldn't let anyone see it, which was almost worse. "You lied the whole time?"
"I didn't lie."
"Don't," she snapped, whipping around angrily. "Don't manager me, Noah." Her nostrils flared, her hands clenched in fists at her side. "You knew I knew him. You knew and you didn't tell me."
"What was I supposed to say? Hi, my name is Puck. Oh, and, hey, I fucked that dude's wife?"
Rachel turned back around, trying to hide her reaction from the people who'd started to gather on the patio of the restaurant; it was obvious why there was a sudden interest to look outside and it had nothing to do with the beautiful night or the clear sky. "Why do you have to be so crass?"
"You used to like that about me," Puck pointed out, stuffing his hands in his pockets as his mind went back nearly five years when he was living in New York. He'd told Rachel all about how he'd tried to make it as a musician and how he'd played a lot of local gigs, but even though he'd told her more than he'd ever told anyone else, he'd still left out a lot - including everything about the first time he'd been with Quinn.
They'd met at some dive bar she'd gone to with some friends from her school. They'd apparently dared her to hit on him after too many girly drinks, and Puck didn't have the decency or maturity back then to turn down a drunk girl, especially not a hot one. Their relationship had stayed the course for more than a year, her finding him at random bars and them spending an undetermined amount of time hooking up before she had to go back to Connecticut. Puck was living the rock-star dream, a legit groupie hanging on his every written word.
Eventually, though, the dream turned into a nightmare, Quinn pestering him about when he was going to grow up and do something with his life - "You never think about the future!" Quinn yelled before Puck said, "You used to like that about me." She got wet over the guitar, but she couldn't get off without any money attached to it, apparently. The summer before her senior year at Yale, she fucked him one last time before saying she couldn't end up with a loser, and he never saw her again until a little more than a year later when she'd shown up in California.
"I risked everything for you," Rachel admitted sadly, holding back the sob that was keeping down the bile that also wanted out. She'd known his past was far from celibate, but she couldn't bear the thought of sharing another man with Quinn. It was hard enough competing with the blonde in high school; she couldn't do it anymore. Pathetically, she repeated, "You should have told me."
Puck quickly stepped to the side, grasping her hips desperately when she turned and tried to walk back toward the restaurant. "I tried." His voice hitched uncharacteristically, his touch pleading.
"You should have tried harder!" She shouted, pushing his hands away and stepping forward just to shove at his chest. "Do you know how ridiculous I feel right now?"
She huffed in resentment, trying so hard to block out the sound of her own voice from echoing around them. Kurt had put her album on repeat and to hear the words now when she'd just been thinking about her next album and the songs of passion and love in relation to her relationship with Noah that she'd write was too much. She'd been so blind. And deaf, as she'd been warned by more than one person to be careful.
"I stood up for you, yelled at my manager and best friend for you. I was falling in love with you." She hiccuped, breathing back yet another onslaught of powerful emotions she couldn't show. "And you didn't even care enough about me to tell me the truth?"
"I wanted to tell you," he admitted gravely. "I just … I didn't know what to say."
He sighed heavily, thinking back to when Quinn had showed up in California. They'd bumped into each other at one of his modeling gigs, and he'd wanted to hate her, but she just kept telling him how proud she was that he'd seemed to have gotten his life together and it didn't take much more than that before they started sleeping together again. She was staying with a friend (Santana, evidently) while seeing if she could make it as an actress or model, and with them finally having a common interest, he'd actually thought they might be something.
Unfortunately, six months into it, Quinn wasn't getting anywhere and she took her frustration out on Puck. That had been around the time Sam had been discovered and left modeling to start his music career and wanted Puck to be his manager. Puck had thought Quinn would be excited for him, to finally make it in the career that had attracted her to him in the first place, but he'd been wrong. When he'd told her about his first act as manager, trying to sign Finn Hudson as Sam's new drummer, Quinn completely flipped out; she'd told him the only reason she was pretending to like him again was because she'd hoped he'd help her get some exposure in the modeling world. Since that wasn't happening, she was going back to New York. Back to her fiance, Finn, who she hadn't mentioned to Puck before that night.
"She used me."
He'd never said the words before, never even really thought them. Puck had always tried to convince himself that everything that happened between them had just been another thing between him and some broad, but Quinn had been different. She was everything Puck had thought he would never be able to get (to deserve) and when he'd been proven right, it had crushed him. Now, however, with Rachel, he'd finally let himself believe that not only had he been wrong about what he'd been looking for, but that he might honestly deserve her - mostly because she seemed to believe it all first.
"I didn't know she was engaged."
Rachel shook her head, her gaze down partially to escape the prying eyes of those still blatantly watching and partially to hide from him. "Their little boy …" Rachel couldn't even say it. If Hunter didn't look exactly like Finn, she'd have to worry about whether Puck was the father, given the boy's age and how quickly Quinn had gotten pregnant once she'd returned from LA, and just the thought made her sick.
"Ray Ray!" Kurt announced merrily, playing up his enthusiasm to mask the melancholy that no doubt everyone had caught on to by now. "Time to cut the cake. It's shaped and colored like a platinum record, though I'm sure your CD will go triple platinum."
Rachel nodded minutely, looking back at Noah for a single second. "I have to go."
She didn't turn around, and maybe that was what kept him from pushing more. Her party had already been ruined, and he certainly didn't want to make it worse. After a full minute, he started to follow the path back inside but stopped short when he saw Kurt hadn't yet moved from his spot in front of the door. "The fuck?"
"I think you should go." Kurt's voice quivered, and in the back of his mind Puck likened the tone to how the nerds in high school had sounded whenever they'd tried to stand up for themselves (right before Puck tossed them in the trash can).
"What are you doing?"
Kurt lifted his chin defiantly. "Protecting her," he said pointedly before turning the doorknob and returning to the party. He knew Puck hadn't followed him in, as he watched Rachel's gaze follow his exit outside until he was completely out of sight. Kurt moved into her line of vision and smiled softly, accepting her tiny nod in gratitude before he leaned forward and kissed her cheek, whispering, "The show must go on."
Rachel plastered on a happy face and watched as Kurt lit the candles on the cake. Everyone started singing the lyrics to her "Girl on Fire" single, and Rachel laughed and danced a little in celebration as if she weren't dying inside. But when it came time for her to blow out the flames and make a wish, she couldn't help but think back on the night and the past two months.
"I wish this never had to end."