Author's Note: Written for puckbigbang 2012. I started writing this after the end of the third season, so it is AU is from 3.22 forward, although it takes certain S4 revelations about Puck's family as canon. Rated T for now, but goes to M later on.
Maybe some day we'll meet again
when our two roads hit the same dead end
and o-oh I'm counting the days
- "Your X-Rays," by Jets to Brazil
"I'm really going to miss you," Quinn says one night late in the summer, as she cups his cheek in her hand and kisses him with an odd mix of tenderness and longing. Tidy boxes are stacked in the corner, labeled with things like "dorm dishes" and "books," and it's a constant reminder of what is coming their way. Sooner or later, and it's sooner for them. Everything good has to come to an end sometime - which includes his friends' summer vacations. Not for him, though. He's going out to southern California in search of the proverbial eternal summer, where the temperature never gets below 80 during the day. And, as an added bonus, if that song from that shitty radio station his mother sometimes puts on in the car is accurate, it never rains there either. He could do without rain in his life. There's been enough tears shed in his lifetime; not that he shed many of them, at least that he would admit, but -
He wants to invite Quinn to come out to California with him. They could rent some crummy apartment and she could go to some school out there - if fucking Yale, of all places, accepted her, she could go to just about any school in the country - and yet, he knows that dude, crushing a girl's dreams isn't the best way to win her heart. Especially Quinn's, because she's worked harder than just about any of them to get the fuck away from the "Lima Loser" stereotype and actually make something out of herself. He may have missed out on whatever day at school they taught a lot of the fine intricacies of getting a girl to like you beyond a continuous series of mindless fucks, but he knows that much for sure.
Once he gets an idea in his head though, it's hard to dislodge it. He's stubborn like that, but he refuses to acknowledge the idea with vocalizing it. It's an insane thing to ask of anyone, and they've only been in this loose form of whatever-the-fuck-they-are since right after graduation. It's not quite dating, but it's not quite mindless fucking - could it even be mindless fucking with no sex involved? And while he's not one to grasp at sticking a label on anything, he's unsure on whether she'd say "fuck yeah!" or "fuck no!" - or whatever it is that she would say - and he's not willing to risk it. Yet.
He finds himself blindly nodding in acknowledgment of her words; he grasps her tightly, pulling her down against the bed. The mattress lets out an indignant squeak as he looks her in the eye and slips a lock of hair behind one ear. "I -" he pauses. It's not often that people get to see his softer side, but there's something about Quinn that has always brought it out. Maybe it's the mere fact that Beth exists, splitting their shared DNA into one crazy-awesome little girl. "I'll miss you too." He pulls her close to him and rocks her against his chest. "When do you leave?"
"Tuesday," she whispers, scraping her fingernails gently along the side of his jaw and frowning. "My mother's driving me up then. Orientation starts Friday."
She nods. "Just because we're going to be on different coasts doesn't mean we have to stop talking."
"And just because we're going to be on different coasts," he says, echoing her words back to her, "doesn't mean I'm going to cave in and get a Facebook or a Twitter or whatever the hell it is you and the rest of that club have these days. I don't need to know how often you shit or poke Berry."
"I don't shit Rachel." Her whole face smiles as she laughs, and it's in the moments like this that he wants to hold onto. Maybe if only because he's not used to hearing Quinn use the word "shit" so freely. "But I won't ask you to."
He holds her there for a moment longer, feeling the loose ends of her hair brushing at his face as she buries her face in the crook of his neck. She smells really good - she always has some flowery or fruity smell, probably from those fancy body washes he's seen her carry in her locker for after Cheerios practice - but he can't identify the smell right now, and it's bugging the shit out of him. And he's not going to admit it to anyone if they asked - and if they did, he'd punch them, because you don't play it like that with him - but he doesn't want to let go of her, because then it makes her impending move to Connecticut all too real and daunting.
They don't move. Her soft breathing - she's fallen asleep on top of him, he realizes, and he's not in a position to move without waking her up, and he's seen what she's like when she wakes up suddenly. Not a pleasant sight in the least. So he allows himself to think about falling asleep there with her using him as a form of a human pillow, her hair fanned out over his chest and draped over his shirt just so.
She smells like some sort of really pretty, really fragrant flower. It's probably one of those flowers that looks all innocent and sweet and then has like kickass fangs or something inside it - like a daisy concealing a Venus flytrap. Whatever it is, it's also probably going to be the smell he most easily associates with her, he thinks with a smile as he finally closes his eyes and succumbs to sleep.
Rules of being acquainted with Quinn Fabray: you did not, under any conditions whatsoever, spend the night in the Fabray house if you are an unrelated member of the opposite gender, unless you were Frannie's husband Paul. And even then, there is to be no touching.
Rules he breaks that night: that one.
Fucks he gives: none.
Her mother chases him out of the house that morning, warm frying pan in hand, yelling frantic obscenities at him. He's not sure if the reason is more because he broke that sacred rule, or because it was him - the guy that fucked their entire family dynamic to hell and back. Would it have been different if it was Finn? Or - hell, even Sam, the "good Christian boy?" - who wasn't quite as innocent as he seemed, if the locker room rumors were to be believed about what went on behind closed doors at the Hudson-Hummel house. Convincing Mrs. Fabray of that though would be a task he would not want to undertake.
He sees her staring out her window forlornly, and she presses her palm to the pane of glass, and he has to turn away because the last thing he wants to do right now is drive away, but her mother is coming toward his car with an evil glare in her eye. And so he speeds away from the Fabray house as Quinn watches, his tires screeching on the pavement.
It feels like that thing they had to read once for that class freshman year. With the chick and the dude and they talked really strange and their families fucking hated each other and yet the two of them couldn't keep their hands off each other...
Didn't they die at the end of that though?
The difference between that thing he was thinking of and his life though is that his mother actually likes Quinn. Considers her some sort of fake-daughter-figure, which has to piss his sister Sarah off, even though: actual daughter, fake daughter - totally not the same thing at all. He thinks his mother just likes Quinn because she's got a future locked up, and it's not one that involves getting dirty on a daily basis cleaning up after richer people than her. And, okay, the mothering-her-first-grandchild thing definitely helps, now that they're past the drama that surrounded the conception and the birth. Even if Shelby never really gives them updates. Not that he can blame her.
"How's Quinn?" his mother asks, looking up from a stack of bank statements and her highlighter, as he walks in the door and throws his messenger bag over the side of the kitchen chair.
"She's cool. Pumped about Yale. Her mother's a psycho though."
"Noah -" she says with a sigh and a shake of the head, pinching her forehead between her fingers and setting the highlighter down on the table. "You didn't, did you?"
"No!" he exclaims. "Fuck, Mom, we just cuddled. That's it. I fell asleep. She overracted."
"You can see why she did though."
He can. And does, really. But he's not ready to start giving Beth any more siblings - or a free coupon to see the friendly neighborhood therapist at the tender age of two. "I know," he says simply, grabbing a strawberry Pop-Tart from the box on the counter and angling to walk out of the room. "Try telling her that."
In contrast to Quinn's tidy orderliness, his move is a hodge-podge of everything that he owns, shoved into a series of duffel bags and scattered across the floor of his bedroom. He kicks angrily at the one closest to his door as he walks in - it could be clothes, it could be something else entirely, and that's going to be half the fun of unpacking it when he finds his flea trap new home out there.
It'll be like his birthday came early this year, in August instead of November, and if he was getting boring things he already owned instead of awesome new things. And whoever did the wrapping sucked and just threw things in bags he already owned.
He flops down on his bed and covers his eyes with his hand. Fuck this day. Fuck Lima. Fuck Yale. Fuck Mrs. Fabray - okay, maybe he wouldn't go that far, regardless of his admitted fondness for Team MILF.
This whole situation just blows, he thinks, throwing a t-shirt aimlessly at one of the bags. It ricochets off the bag and lands on the carpet below. Even his aim is off today, and that's usually one of the things that isn't affected by things like chicks or Finn's weird-ass problems that somehow always end up affecting him. With Finn already off to Georgia though, that should no longer be a problem. The Army will just have to deal with how fucked they all are if Rachel decides to break up with him to experiment with Brittany or something. Still, so not his problem anymore.
Quinn: puck i need to see you before i leave. :(
Puck: babe ur momd kill me
Quinn: come to the park by my house early tomorrow morning?
Puck: how early
Puck: ok cya then
Quinn: see you :)
Things Puck hates doing: waking up early. Especially when it's not a school day, because fuck if anyone should know what seven in the morning looks like without first partying all night to get there.
Things Puck is doing: driving to the damn park by Quinn's house at seven in the morning. Which involved waking up early in the first place. Even if he hit the snooze button a million times in the process.
Things Puck would tell someone he knows if he were to see them waving on the side of the road right now: that he's doing it because Quinn wants it and he's not one to say no to her.
Things Puck would tell no one. Okay, maybe Quinn if she were to ask and do that little fluttery thing with her eyelashes that no one else quite knew how to do the way she did: that he's doing it because he genuinely wants to say goodbye. Because he doesn't think he can leave Lima without doing it.
It's just as much for him as it is for her, and he's not sure if she realizes that, but she's sitting on one of the swings as he walks up to her, gliding back and forth with the skilled ease of someone who spent a lot of time on them at an earlier point in their lives. She scuffs the heel of her sandals against the sand as she halts her glide, and she looks up at Puck. "Hey," she says, and he sits on the swing next to hers. As he does so, he begins twisting the chains up and down in a mindless pattern that he had perfected as a child. The release would be the highlight of the exercise, the exhilarating rush of the spin-out. She smiles and scoots her swing back and forth, a sitting version of a hip shake, and the rattling of the chains sounds across the sky.
"Hey," he echoes. The early morning sun is framing her face, and for a brief moment, he can almost forget why they're even there in the first place. He can almost forget that this isn't the two of them meeting up for an early morning fling - if they even left each other the night before - he can almost forget that this is the last time he'll see her until whenever it is again that they cross each other's paths.
Until she opens her mouth again, and the illusion that this is anything other than a rare, weird morning encounter with her is shattered. "I wish we had known each other when we were kids," she says softly. "Then we could have some story about how we met when you pushed me into a mud puddle when I was wearing my best frilly pink dress, or that you threw insects in my hair or some ridiculously childish thing like that."
"I would have done it too. Any of it. Except I always liked paint as a weapon better. Mud is too easy."
"Wasn't it at the first football game freshman year?"
"When we met. The first football game, freshman year. I stumbled on the pyramid, you laughed from your place warming the bench, and I called you an insensitive ass for it after the game."
"I'm still surprised Coach Sylvester never reamed you out for that."
"It helped that Cassandra accidentally flashed Section B that night. Took the heat off me on Monday, somewhat."
"Good." He doesn't like thinking about the times when he was nasty to Quinn. In all fairness, it was before he knew her as well as he does now, but he still can't help but feel a twinge of remorse for it. He drops his hand to the side of the swing and takes her hand in his. "I'm sorry for laughing that night."
"Don't be sorry," she says, her voice airy and light as she takes the apology from him and processes it, "I'm not." They fall into a comfortable silence, swaying back and forth, not letting go of each other's hands the entire time. "Do you regret it? Any of it?"
"For the laughing that night?"
"Any of it."
"Ignoring you for all of junior year sucked. Especially since you were stuck sucking face with Guppy instead."
"And you were with Lauren," she says, without skipping a beat. Lauren and Sam would always be the ones that stood in their way. Not that he didn't like Lauren at the time. She was pretty fun and tended to kick his ass at Halo multi-player. Only girl he ever met who could. But there was a difference between Lauren and Quinn that made all the difference: Quinn believed in him, even when he didn't really deserve it. Lauren - well, didn't, as much.
"And Beth was -" As soon as he says it, he knows he shouldn't have. Beth will forever be the one who got away from them both, living a life as a Corcoran instead of a Fabray. Or a Puckerman. He can give Quinn the world on a shoestring budget, and he can give her a million children if she wanted them with him, but the one thing she wants the most is the one thing she can never have again. Barring a kidnapping attempt or something out of one of those soap operas he used to watch with his mother on days he was home sick from school. People were always having babies swapped or people getting custody of kids they didn't before or some crazy shit like that.
"She was with Shelby." For a moment, he sees a peek of the old Quinn, the one who stumbled off cheerleading pyramids and ruled the school with an iron fist. He can hear the verbal venom dripping off her voice as she says the name of the one person who has what she so desperately desires. And then she snaps right back into form, almost like it's easier to forget than it is to remember. "Everything was messed up back then. But then you came back."
"Babe, I never left. Except to go to juvie, but no one here seems to remember that."
"I do," she says, squeezing his hand gently. "School wasn't the same without you. Even if we weren't talking, it still wasn't the same. Not without you." The tears are beginning to form in her eyes, and the morning has reached its climatic moment. "I don't want to go. Not yet." It comes out almost as a whine instead of a mere statement.
"When do you have to go?" He stands up and takes her with him, tugging her to her feet. Wrapping his arms around her, he feels her heart beating fast - so fast - underneath his touch; he can't help but relish in the fact that her heart probably never beat this fast when Finn or Evans held her like this, and if it did, he didn't ever want to hear about it. He is never second best to anyone, but it would hurt even more if one of those two was the one that outshined him with regard to Quinn's feelings.
"Soon." Wet tears plaster her face; they create a shimmering effect that reflects the light from the sun onto her face, and she's almost glowing with how bright it all is. "Too soon." He takes the pad of his thumb and swipes it gently across her cheekbone, streaking the teardrops into finely smudged lines. "Don't make me go." Her voice has cracked, and she's pleading with him to do - well, he isn't sure what she's exactly asking for, but it's something out of his control, that much he knows.
"Go to Connecticut," he whispers. "Go there, show them what being Quinn Fabray is all about. Kick their rich, snobby asses."
"And what if I don't?"
"You will. I know you will." He tilts her chin up with the crook of his index finger to create the eye contact that was missing between them, and he kisses her; his lips graze against hers. It's not much. Considering what they've done in the past, it feels downright tame by their standards. But this isn't some heated exchange in the privacy of one of their homes - or a secret meeting in that damn choir room where they spent way too much of their time over the past three years. They may be the only ones around, but only for a brief, tantalizing moment, before some snot-nosed little kid would have the chance of getting a very basic sex ed course from the two of them. She leans into the kiss, almost silently begging for him to continue; instead, he nips at her lower lip before breaking away and frowning slightly at the watery expression in her eyes. "What's wrong?"
"I hate saying goodbye," she says, sniffling as she looked up at him. "I already said goodbye to everyone else yesterday."
"So, you saved the best for last, naturally."
"Naturally." She laughs and runs the palm of her hand over his t-shirt, and he shudders at the tenderness of her touch. It's something that he doesn't feel too often. It's special. It's - well, it's Quinn. And Quinn is always going to be one of those people that's impossible to forget. Her phone vibrates from inside her cardigan pocket, and she groans. "It's my mom," she says. "I think she's probably wondering where I am."
"And she'd flip her shit if she knew you were with me."
"Sorry," he says in a husky whisper. But he isn't sorry. Not at all. And he pulls her closer to him, so close that he can feel every inch of her skin pressed up against his own, only separated by two or three thin layers of cloth. Ducking his head slightly, he kisses a spot behind her left ear, before tracing a path with his lips and tongue working in tandem toward her own lips. This time, it's not chaste, it's not simple, it's pouring all of their pent-up emotions into one final action.
It's the perfect goodbye.
"See you in December," she says, as she turns to face him as she walks away, toward her house, toward her mother, toward Connecticut. "Have fun in California."
"See ya," he replies, walking in the direction from which he came a short time before; it so happens to be the opposite direction from Quinn's destination. "Kick ass."
It's only when he gets in the car and begins to drive that he realizes that, all told, it only took about ten minutes or so for them to wrap up almost four years of knowing each other into something suitable to hold them off until December. Or whenever it is that both of them get back to Lima at the same time. He makes a mental note to double-check when the first night of Hanukkah is, as he drives back to his house to throw the last of his bags into the trunk and say his own goodbyes to his mother and Sarah. If Fabray has hit the road running toward her new life in Connecticut, then he's going to make tracks toward California.
Nothing more is holding him here. Not anymore.
"Remember to call," his mother says, hugging him tightly and pecking at his cheek, "and don't run out of gas in the middle of Colorado."
"If I do, I'll just stick my thumb out and hitchhike," he replies.
"You will do no such thing," she says, laughing even as she glares daggers at him. "That's how you end up as the lead story on the eleven o'clock news: Ohio native found mutilated in rural Colorado canyon, he should have listened to his mother and he'd still be alive."
"Relax," he says, patting her arm and kissing the top of her head. "I won't. It was a joke. Promise." Pausing to let the tension in her face ease a bit, he continues, "I'll only get in the car if the driver is smokin' hot. And female."
"Noah -" The daggers are coming back, and he ducks his head to avoid the worst of her glare. If looks could kill, he'd be on the eleven o'clock news tonight instead of in a week or so. "You better still be joking."
"What do you think I'm doing?"
"Scaring your poor, doting mother into having a heart attack and putting her in an early grave?"
"Something like that." He beams at her, and she lightly swats at the top of his arm. Sarah comes up to him and wraps her arms around his waist, and he moves to hug her. "Are you going to bring home boys to scare Mom?"
"I'm twelve!" she protests, removing one arm from his waist to plant her hand firmly on her hip. "Boys are gross, anyway."
"And they better stay that way until you're an AARP member," he says, elbowing her in the side, causing her to start giggling profusely. "I don't want to hear about you bringing home some douche kid with a fucking puka shell necklace just because he's the first person to notice you're not just some paste-eating kid in pigtails anymore."
"I never ate paste!" She puts her hands on her hips as she yells.
"Says you." He looks up at the kitchen clock; the second hand motors around the familiar chicken and her eggs that have never hatched, despite the fact that he has seen this clock every day since he was a kid, and he frowns as the minute hand ticks by. "Need to go though. Crazy-Eyed-Hitchhiker-Picker-Upper is waiting." The thought of driving for three solid days did not excite him, but at least it'd give him a lot of time to think about his life and shit. He hugs his mother and sister tightly one last time, squeezing them. Once he walks out that door, he knows nothing is ever going to be the same between the three of them. Sarah's going to have to learn to fend for herself, and his mother is no longer going to have her baby boy to rely on.
"Bye," his sister says, retreating to the corner of the kitchen. "If an axe murderer kills you, can I have your room?"
"Sure, whatever," he replies, extricating himself from his mother's tearful embrace. "If a psycho kidnaps you, can I have your - wait, you don't have anything I want. Nevermind."
His sister sticks out her tongue at him, and his mother dabs at the corners of her eyes and her cheeks with the edge of her sleeve, and he's really going to miss them in an odd way. For so long, it was just the three of them, and now it's going to be just the two of them alone together. Sarah's going to have be the one to remember the extra fortune cookies on the High Holidays now. "See you at Hanukkah," he says, and with a final tilt of his head and an appropriately subdued smile, he walks out the front door and throws himself into the car.
California, here comes Puckzilla.
-to be continued-