AN: A sequel to "Beyond the Scars" and "A For Effort."
There was a frighteningly loud silence in the choir room. We were now missing four people, and those of us left behind were shell-shocked. For several long minutes we all just stared at each other or at the door, and then finally the quiet was shattered by Mercedes' choked sob.
As we all turned to look at her, she slumped into a chair, burying her face in her hands. Instantly the spell broke and everyone leapt into action. Kurt flew to her side, Mr. Schue and Miss P close on his tail. Everyone else broke off into little clusters, talking about what we'd just witnessed.
I was having a hard time focusing on the conversation between Tina, Brittany, and Mike. My gaze kept drifting to the doors that four of our members had just disappeared through. I knew it wasn't my place to get involved in this mess, but when I heard Mike's stunned, "His best friend, man, that's just low," and the girls' agreement, something told me that if I didn't do something, no one would.
It was surprisingly easy to get out of the choir room, even for someone as entirely non-stealthy as me. Everyone was so engrossed in their conversations that they didn't even notice me leaving. I rolled down the hall and then stopped, looking around.
I'm not sure what I was expecting to see. Flashing neon signs with arrows leading the way, maybe? If I was honest with myself, I was actually anticipating shouting and screaming to follow, but the hall was empty and silent. For a moment I tapped my hands against the rims of my wheels, debating about where to look first. Who was to say he'd even still be at the school, right? If I'd just gotten pounded into the dirt, I'd have gone home.
I pushed myself in the direction of the parking lot, intending to check for his truck, but only two hallways down I heard footsteps and stopped. Quinn walked across the intersecting hallway in front of me, her chin raised defiantly. She didn't seem to notice me, or if she did she did a really good job of pretending not to, and I watched silently as she continued down the hall. The moment she was out of sight, I turned and headed back in the direction she'd just come from.
He was sitting in an alcove halfway down the hall, slumped against the wall and staring up at the ceiling with closed eyes. His hands in his lap were clenched into white-knuckled fists. Suddenly nervous, I hesitated a few feet away. What if he wanted to be alone? It wasn't like we were best friends or anything, and judging by today there's no guarantee that he puts any stock behind the words 'best friends' anyway. The last thing I wanted was to wind up on the receiving end of a venting punch.
At the same time that I placed my hands on my wheels again to turn away, a muscle twitched in his jaw and it made me freeze. The look that had taken over his face was one I'd never seen before, one I wasn't even sure he was capable of expressing. He looked – crushed. Honest to God, bitterly and brokenly hurt.
"That's going to be quite the shiner for Sectionals," I said before I could lose my nerve again, pushing myself forward the last couple feet until I was just out of his immediate arm reach. Puck's eyes snapped open as he turned in my direction. When he saw me he scowled and shrugged.
"What do you want, Wheels?"
"A strawberry parfait sounds pretty good right now," I said idly. Puck rolled his eyes but I saw the faintest smile on his face. "You okay?"
"Why would you care? I'm the bad guy, no one cares about the bad guy," he said bitterly, folding his arms over his chest defensively. "Doesn't matter if he tries to do the right thing, to everyone else he's still a bad guy and nothing's gonna change that."
I regarded him silently for a minute and then shook my head. "Yeah, well I'm not everyone else."
"They all hate me, don't they?" he asked, not meeting my eyes. In a normal situation, I might have dared to poke fun at the fact that badass Noah Puckerman cared about the opinions of a couple nerds but I decided it was safer to avoid the comments for now. After all, it was far from a normal situation.
"To be fair, we all knew it was yours so there wasn't much shock value," I admitted. He grumbled something under his breath that I'm pretty sure contained the word "Mercedes" and a couple cuss words I wouldn't repeat. "Sure, everyone thinks it's a sleazy, terrible thing you did, because it was. But honestly, I think everyone's just mad at Rachel for not being able to keep her mouth shut 'til at least after Sectionals."
"It's not her fault," Puck said wearily, running a hand back over his mohawk. I breathed a sigh of relief that he didn't react to my criticism, and made a mental note to really work on that whole word vomit issue. "It wasn't supposed to be this way. I wanted to tell him as soon as I found out, but Quinn wouldn't let me. I've been trying to take responsibility and all that from the beginning but she keeps blowing me off. I mean, I know I'm not like, the best person in the world, but I'd do everything to take care of that kid."
"She's not letting you help?" I asked, already knowing the answer.
"She says she wants to do it alone, some shit about not wanting more stress," he said and then threw his hands up in exasperation. "I'm trying to make it so she's got less stress, don't she get that? I'm trying to help. She just won't let me. It pisses me off. I mean, what is she afraid of? That I might turn out to be a decent guy? That'd really put a hole in her victim act, wouldn't it?" He let out a heavy breath and slouched against the wall again. "Why do chicks gotta be so damn complicated?"
"I know what you mean," I said sympathetically. Puck snorted skeptically but didn't interrupt. "It's like they do everything possible to make it hard to get close to them. They complain that we don't know enough about them, but then they block us out. It's not like it's easy to figure them out in the first place, and then they have to go and make it worse by putting up all these barriers and hiding behind impregnable walls."
Puck stared at me for a second, his expression thoughtful, and then said, "Dude, her wall was totally preg-able. That's sorta my problem here, remember?"
I stared back, trying to figure out if he was being serious. At a loss, I decided to just run with it. "Right," I said, drawing out the word as I stalled for time. "I'm just saying, girls, they seem to like pushing us out. I think they must get some sort of sadistic thrill off watching us continually try and fail. Quinn'll come around though. She's tough, but I don't think even she can take on all of this alone."
We slipped into quiet and Puck nodded, his gaze distant. Finally he looked at me and asked, "Why did you really come here, Abrams?"
"Honestly? On top of everything you've already got to deal with, your best friend just kicked your ass and your baby mama is still giving you the cold shoulder. I figured maybe you could use a friend."
"Why don't you hate me like everyone else?" he asked, his expression torn between confusion and suspicion.
I weighed the answers in my head, sorting through them and trying to make the reasons make sense to me so I could get them out. Because if I was being truthful, when I rolled out of the choir room earlier I had absolutely no idea why I was doing it. "You're a good guy who made some dumb choices, that doesn't make you a bad person. Do I approve of what you did to Finn? No. But as far as all of this baby drama, the way I figure it, she's just as much to blame as you are. I guess maybe I just see that better than some people." I paused and then smirked. "Not that you really make it easy for people. You aren't exactly the most personable guy on campus."
Puck shrugged, not looking concerned. "Whatever, dude, The Puckasaurus is a stud, I don't gotta be all friendly too." I rolled my eyes but gave it up as a lost cause. "So Abrams, since we're being friends for now, this time I got some advice for you."
"Um, alright," I agreed, a little surprised by the offer - because who'd peg Puck as one for giving out advice - and by the fact that he just called us friends. Out loud. Sure, the hall was deserted, but still.
Puck stared at me very seriously for a minute and then said, "You're an idiot."
I gaped at him. "Uh, I know this is new territory for you, but I'm not quite sure that calling names technically counts as advice."
"That ain't the advice, it just needed to be said," he said. "Dude, why aren't you getting up with Stutterfly?"
I set my expression defensively, pushing away the barrage of confused emotions that dogged me every time someone brought up Tina. "I've told you before. She lied to me. I thought I knew her, but I didn't."
"She lied to everyone," Puck said pointedly. "She was pretending, puttin' up a front, sorta like you do." I raised an eyebrow skeptically. "Please, dude, no one is really that happy all the time. You're not fooling anyone."
I scowled but shrugged noncommittally. "It's not the same thing."
"Yeah, okay," he said, clearly just humoring me. "Well she lied to everyone, but you're the one she finally 'fessed up to. And then you got all pissy and threw a fit. If you ask me, it sounds like she's the one taking down walls and you're the one putting 'em up." He smirked and added, "Guess that makes you a hypocrite, huh Abrams?"
I was so stunned I said the first thing that came to my mind. "You know what the word 'hypocrite' means?"
Puck tried to look disdainful but he still smiled a little. "I'm a stud, Wheels, but I ain't stupid." He stood up, looking around the deserted hallway before turning back to me. He shifted awkwardly, tossing his weight from one side to the other. "Look, I know everyone probably hates me and I can take it, but thanks for, you know, not hating me. You're the biggest dork this side of Steve Urkel, but you're a pretty okay guy. So, uh, thanks."
I smiled and nodded, silently acknowledging his gratitude while being impressed once again that he even knew how to say thanks. Some people might not have seen it, but Puck had changed a lot since joining Glee. "Later," I said and he nodded, and without another word we went our separate ways.
As I made my way slowly back to the choir room, I marveled over the fact that Noah Puckerman actually talked to me so companionably. I couldn't even imagine him confiding in anyone, let alone someone like me. In the last few months we had gone from never speaking to opening up to each other about our problems. It was breaking so many social rules and barriers and clichés, but in some weird way we'd overcome that and become friends.
I guess even the thickest walls have cracks. Sure, they're cracks that we work to keep hidden from everyone else, but it's a start.