Pairings: Puck/Kurt, Quinn/Mercedes [slight Finn/Rachel]
Word Count: 7650
Genre: Gen/het/slash/femslash - everything, basically.
Copyright: Title taken from Combat Baby by Metric.
Summary: In which Jesse might not want to be the bad guy anymore, Kurt’s learning to compromise, Puck is pretty angry about everything and Quinn’s still adjusting; it’s going to be a long summer. Or not.
Author’s Notes: Ok, so, spoilers for Regionals and basically all of season one. And even though I’m meant to be taking a writing break because my brain is tired and also I need to read Paradise Lost, I still did this. And no, I have no idea why Jesse decided to make his presence known either. I’ve now been awake for 23 hours, so if everyone’s emotionally detached and not acting like proper Glee kids, well, oops. Apart from Jesse. I’m literally writing him like he’s an actual robot. I’m not entirely convinced he’s not. Also, why do I randomly decide to like him now? I was fairly indifferent all season...
We used to leave the blue lights on
And there was a beat
Ever since you have been gone
It’s all caffeine-free faux-punk fatigues
Said it all before
They try to kick it, their feet fall asleep.
“She’s really small,” Kurt says quietly in the hospital corridor. They have to go back soon, everyone’s trooped obediently past the window partly from solidarity and partly from curiosity, wanting to see this baby who has performed every single number alongside them, been there every step of the way. Kurt pretended not to see Finn wiping tears away with the heels of his hands, smearing them flat, because it’s not the kind of thing Finn would want mentioned and anyway, none of them are really above tears right now.
“Babies are,” Mercedes says beside him.
They’re all supposed to be going back to regionals; Quinn’s in her hospital room with her mom and Puck drifted out to the parking lot with everyone else, but Kurt is still here.
Kurt spreads a palm flat against the glass and looks in at Drizzle, Beth, whatever she’s going to be called. The baby girl shifts in her sleep, eyelids fluttering.
“I pictured baby clothes, you know,” he admits quietly, because Mercedes will understand. “I thought about pretty romper suits and co-ordinating hats and...”
“I know,” Mercedes says, because she’s his girl and she does. “But none of us are gonna be a part of this baby’s life.”
“I knew that,” Kurt murmurs, “I knew that, but I didn’t know it until now.”
Mercedes breathes in and it’s shaky. The ribbon in her hair is wonky and her mascara is blotchy and she looks tired in a way Kurt hasn’t seen before. He catches the tear that wends its way down her cheek with his fingertip, smudging it away.
“Are you ok?” he asks.
She nods. “It was scary, you know? Not like the Lamaze classes.” Mercedes smiles slightly. “That’s mostly just a load of pregnant women cracking each other up and bitching about when they can start drinking cosmos again.”
Kurt slides an arm around her waist and takes one last look at the baby, the girl who will never know what they did, what they felt for her and her parents, and then pulls both himself and Mercedes away.
It stays with him for longer than he thought it would.
“The trophy’s shiny,” Rachel says, and Jesse turns around so fast he nearly gets whiplash.
“You really should stop sneaking in here,” he remarks, with just the right amount of disapproving disdain in his voice. He knows, because he’s practiced in the past.
“It’s not really sneaking,” Rachel says, walking out of the wings to join him on the stage. Jesse thinks about kissing her here, months ago. It seems like another life and, in a way, it was. “I just walked in. I think some of the staff are starting to think I actually go here.”
“Maybe you should start,” Jesse shrugs. “Vocal Adrenaline don’t need you, but you’d be a valuable asset.”
Rachel twirls a lock of hair around her finger, frowning as she thinks. He started to think of her as his girlfriend for a while, somewhere accidental along the line, and it’s weird to be back to nothing all over again. She’s not even his rival anymore; not for a few more months, anyway.
“I couldn’t be here,” she shrugs, “I feel things.”
Jesse likes being a caricature, feeling nothing unless he chooses to. Rachel feels everything and she shouldn’t.
“If you’ve come to steal the trophy,” he warns her, “the case is alarmed.”
Rachel smiles a little. “I came to see you,” she replies.
He doesn’t want to think about why. “If you’ve come to tell me that I broke your heart, I saw the way you and Finn were singing together,” he says. “I think you’re fine.”
“You saw me?” Rachel asks, curiosity streaking across her features.
“I always see you,” he replies, “even when I don’t want to.” That’s too close, too much of a lie, too much of the truth. “Like now.”
Rachel smiles, soft, and ducks her head. “Will I see you at ballet?” she asks.
Jesse frowns. “Maybe?” He’s confused and it must show.
“You should think about it,” Rachel advises, smoothing her palms over her skirt. She walks towards the wings, turns back. “When I eventually decide to forgive you, if I do, we should try being friends. I think we could be incredibly bad for each other.”
Jesse waits until she’s gone before smiling, just slightly.
“The colour scheme really doesn’t go with your skin,” Kurt says, sort of apologetically.
“It’s really ok,” Finn shrugs. “Like I said, my old room had cowboys on the walls.”
It took a while, but Kurt finally managed to mend enough bridges between his dad and Finn to get everyone under the same roof. He sometimes looks back at himself and wonders what he was thinking, crazy and desperate and miserably alone, but even if that feeling’s not entirely gone, it is at least softer now, soft enough to feel guilt for the things he can’t admit to but which everyone knows anyway.
They’ve been living together for two weeks and it’s been weird but not bad weird, maybe because school’s out so Kurt is spending most of his time with Mercedes and a thoughtful but cautiously cheerful Quinn, and Finn is out doing... man things, maybe, and working at Sheets N’ Things.
“I suppose you don’t know the first thing about interior design,” Kurt remarks, perched on his couch with the latest Vogue. The pages are clean and glossy and they smell good, like his future will when he finally gets there. “I will have to say that if you want Rachel to come in here, I will have to pre-approve her outfit over the phone first so she doesn’t clash with anything.”
Finn gives him that look he tends to adopt when he isn’t sure if Kurt is joking or not. Kurt generally isn’t joking, but that’s fine, everyone’s learning to compromise.
“I’m not sure I can do that,” he says carefully.
Kurt thought he was being unreasonable, but he thought he’d try it anyway, just in case. He decides it’s probably not the time to say also, even if I am out, it is not ok to have sex with Rachel in here in case you get heterosexuality all over everything because that sounds narrow-minded and they’ve already been there this year.
So he just smiles and, after a moment, Finn returns it, wide and relieved.
Kurt started this school year anonymously lusting after Finn Hudson from afar. Now he’s practically his brother. It’s funny how these things have a way of working themselves out.
Do you believe in fate? he texts Mercedes.
My new nail polish is called ‘fate’, she responds, it’s purple-red. Totally gorgeous. You can borrow it if you like.
Kurt laughs because his girl always knows what to say even when she doesn’t know why, and looks up just in time to go and rescue Finn from a tube of eyelash glue.
Quinn moved back in with her mom and that’s good, Mercedes thinks, though the house seems quieter than it used to. It’s weird there being no baby, after far too much time attending pre-natal classes and watching Quinn worrying over her growing stomach, nights watching movies while Quinn would occasionally shift and then clamp Mercedes’ hand to her bump, where she could feel the baby kicking beneath her palm.
They don’t talk about it, not at all, though Mercedes wishes that they would because it’s always there, strung between them. Her hands on Quinn’s shoulders while she screamed and Puck looked like he might be sick and the world wavered but didn’t break because they’re all too strong for that. Instead, she and Kurt and sometimes Tina and Rachel distract Quinn with movies and manicures and shopping and singing and being as bright and cheerful as they know how to be.
It’s not enough, it’s really not enough, but Mercedes doesn’t know what to say to make it be enough and she wishes she was more of a bitch but she’s not and even she’s not going to break Quinn open just to make something shift.
Her mom is at work the afternoon Quinn shows up on her doorstep, drenched from a summer storm and shaking.
“Girl, did you walk here?” Mercedes demands, curiosity and worry warring in her voice.
Shakily, Quinn nods. “Can I come in?”
Something’s shattering in Quinn’s face, Mercedes can see, so she pulls her inside and closes the door and takes her up the stairs. Quinn is shivering all over but she lets Mercedes drag her by the wrist into her room, the walls papered from floor to ceiling in clothes and shoes and models and skylines and singers and butterflies and other beautiful things that Kurt said she deserved even when no one else would look at her.
They sit down on the bed and Mercedes is trying to think of something sensible to say – what would Mr Schue do? Or maybe not – when Quinn folds, tumbling into Mercedes on a chain of sobs, and Mercedes wraps her arms around her friend and hums into her wet hair.
“I miss her,” Quinn whispers after a while, so soft Mercedes almost doesn’t hear it, “I didn’t think I would and I don’t regret anything but I miss her.”
Mercedes says nothing because there’s nothing to say, but holds Quinn while the rain pours down outside.
Finn forgot his wallet at home and Carole looks all imploringly at Kurt until he casually agrees that he could maybe drive by Sheets N’ Things and drop it off. He’d probably agree anyway; he has a weird amount of family now, and family do things for each other, he knows.
Kurt hasn’t actually ever been to Sheets N’ Things, but he knows that Mr Schuester’s Potentially Crazy Ex-Wife Who Drugged Them All Up That Time works there, as does Puck, so really it’s already half a store full of people he kind of wants to avoid. He’s pretty sure that Puck has already forgotten about that time when Quinn and Beth were still in the hospital and they’d just lost at regionals and Kurt found Puck in the men’s bathroom punching the wall until the tiles were cracked and his knuckles were split and tears were streaking down his face as hard and sharp and furious as Puck has ever been. It was one of those moments when he felt disconnected, unreal, talking Puck down from whatever metaphorical ledge he was on, bathing his bruised hand in the sink, acting like this kind of thing was normal when it so blatantly wasn’t.
It’s been bothering him; standing in the hospital with Mercedes, standing in the bathroom with Puck. Beth is gone and adopted and she left a hole in the world even though they all hoped that she wouldn’t.
Anyway, because Mercedes might not believe in fate but that doesn’t mean that fate doesn’t want to kick Kurt’s ass, Puck is the first guy Kurt runs into. He’s stacking towels and looking like he’s trying to work out if there’s a quick and easy way to commit suicide with them, boredom etched across his face.
“Hey, Hummel,” he says.
“My God,” Kurt replies, “that’s quite a fashion travesty you’re wearing. It’s possibly the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen, and that includes those dresses the Vocal Adrenaline girls wore at regionals. I think I’m developing a migraine just looking at you.”
Puck rolls his eyes. “Nice to see the summer break hasn’t made you any less of a bitch,” he says, but it’s soft, not cruel.
“I’m pretty sure you can sue for being forced to wear that uniform,” Kurt says earnestly.
“Can I sue someone for being forced to look at some of those fugly sparkly things you turned up in last semester?” Puck asks.
Kurt glances around the store, and oh, look, over there is Mr Schuester’s Potentially Crazy Ex-Wife Who He’s Shared Way Too Much About With Them. Fabulous.
“Don’t you have to be nice to me?” he asks. “Since I’m the customer and everything.”
Puck scoffs. “You don’t buy your sheets here, you get them from someplace where things don’t come in puke pastel colours and the thread counts are, like, obnoxiously high.”
Kurt raises a sceptical eyebrow. “You know about thread counts?”
Puck gestures around them. “I work here,” he points out, “and I’m not a complete moron whatever anyone else says. I can learn stuff.”
Kurt is not going to get into this. He is not. “Is Finn around?” Puck points, and Kurt looks to see... “Is that Mr Ryerson?”
“Yep,” Puck says entirely without inflection.
Kurt becomes aware that he’s watching in the morbid hope that he will somehow see Mr Ryerson molesting Finn, and that’s not ok on so many levels that it’s actually kind of unsettling, so he turns back to Puck. “I have his wallet,” he explains.
Puck holds out a hand. “I’ll get it to him.”
Kurt hands it over, and, as he does so, really looks at Puck, beyond the scowl and the boredom and the slightly clench of nervousness that the memory of one-too-many dumpster tosses has instilled in him. And he can see just how tired Puck looks, worn and crumpled and different, somehow.
“You’re not ok, are you?” he half-whispers.
Puck’s eyes narrow. “What are you going to do about it?” He doesn’t sound nearly as confrontational as he probably means to.
“Nothing,” Kurt responds, because Puck would never let him and he’s not nearly emotionally invested in him.
Puck’s mouth lurches into an almost smile. “Then no, I’m not ok, Hummel. Ok?”
“Ok,” Kurt says, and tries to smile back. “That’s still a horrendous uniform.”
“Leave before I try to throttle you with a towel,” Puck says, but there’s laughter in his voice.
Puck holds out for almost a month before he cracks and turns up at Shelby Corcoran’s door with a bunch of flowers and a pink teddybear. It would ruin his badass image, he knows, but everything’s kind of tattered at the moment and who the fuck even cares anymore.
“I don’t know what I’m doing here,” he admits when Shelby opens the door.
She smiles, way less angry and confused than Puck expected her to be, and says: “I do. Come on in.”
Jesse is sitting at the kitchen table, which is... weird, but Puck’s not about to ask because he doesn’t want to get kicked out and also he just doesn’t want to know, he’s got enough random inappropriate shit in his own life at the moment, but he nods awkwardly and the corner of Jesse’s mouth lifts, just slightly.
Shelby takes the flowers and Puck stands uncomfortably in the doorway while she puts them in water. Jesse looks away from him to the kitchen table, which is scattered with sheet music, and it’s kind of weird seeing him without that smug expression that Puck so often wants to punch off his face.
“Come on,” Shelby says, and Puck follows her upstairs. Her house is nice, he thinks, the sort of place you can raise a kid in. Lots of sunlight. “She’s sleeping.”
Puck puts the teddybear blindly aside and looks into the cot where his daughter lies asleep.
“She’s so big already,” he mumbles, and there’s dark hair appearing in wisps over her little head. Something inside him aches.
“Yeah,” Shelby agrees softly, coming to stand beside him.
Puck reaches toward Beth and then pulls his hand back. She might be growing, but she’s still so small.
“It’s ok,” Shelby whispers, and he reaches down, brushes one of her tiny hands with his fingertip. Beth makes a soft sound in her sleep and then makes a fist around his finger. His breath catches in his chest.
“I shouldn’t be here,” he says, “I’m sorry, I know, I just...”
“It’s all right.” Shelby lays a hand against his shoulder. “I think about you guys sometimes. She looks like Quinn but she’s got your eyes.” She squeezes and lets go. “How are you guys?”
“I don’t know,” Puck admits. “Quinn won’t talk to me. I don’t really blame her, but...” He sighs, shakes his head slightly. “She talks to Mercedes and Kurt, and Kurt talks to me sometimes, and he says he thinks she’s ok. You know. Getting there.”
“That’s good,” Shelby murmurs. “Do you need a minute?”
Puck feels like he’s tearing, but looking around at this nursery full of light and things and love it just reminds him that they could never have done this, not ever, and he would never have been able to handle it, not in the long run. This is a good thing; it hurts, but it’s a good thing.
“No,” he replies, and gently pulls his hand from Beth’s grip. “No, I’m ok.”
Shelby smiles sadly at him but he’s seen how he looks at his – no, at her daughter, and there’s love there, real genuine love. It’s good.
“You can come back,” she says. “I know it’s unorthodox, but, really, you can come back.”
Puck wants to be strong enough to tell her that he won’t need to. But he can’t. He just can’t.
Jesse was honestly planning on just staying in the kitchen and continuing to go through the various musical selections they’re sorting for their next competition, getting a headstart on the next semester, but he looks at Shelby and Puck when they come back downstairs and if the baby monitor was on and he heard everything they both said, well, that’s hardly his fault.
He doesn’t do empathy, he barely does his own emotions, but he shouldn’t stay here today. Shelby nods and smiles when he gets up, her eyes shiny in a way they’ve only been when talking about Rachel in the past, and bids a hasty retreat.
It turns out they’re both walking the same direction – Jesse thinks about asking why Puck didn’t drive but they hardly know each other well enough for small talk, after all – and it’s ludicrous and crazy awkward how they just walk side by side in silence for far too long. In the end, Jesse can’t stand it; uncomfortable silences are not his thing.
“Your daughter’s beautiful,” he manages at last.
The look on Puck’s face makes him wonder if he’s going to get a broken nose, which would be awful and it would ruin his devilish good looks which would be beyond tragic and into some whole other realm, but after a moment Puck just looks away and scuffs his sneakers against the sidewalk.
“Are you screwing Miss Corcoran?” he asks eventually.
Jesse reasons, from what he knows about Puck, that this is what passes for inoffensive small talk. “No,” he says.
“It’s ok if you are,” Puck shrugs, “I’ve banged women older than her.”
Jesse blinks three times. “Ok,” he says, “I thought I could do conversing about stuff other than showtunes, but I can’t.”
Puck looks at him. “You screwed us over, I fucked up your tires, you smashed eggs on Rachel, I only didn’t smash your face in because Mr Schuester talked us out of it.”
“I’m grateful,” Jesse says. “My rakish prettiness is the fundamental core of my being. Without it I’ll have a considerably lesser chance of succeeding on Broadway, and then I’ll have no reason to exist. Anonymity is a curse.”
“Man,” Puck observes, “you really are like Rachel.” He frowns. “You think you’re pretty.”
Jesse scoffs. “Of course I’m pretty. Everyone thinks so.” When Puck continues to look sceptical, he adds: “you said Kurt still talks to you, ask him.”
“I’m not gonna do that,” Puck assures him. This is a pity; Jesse’s pretty sure he saw Kurt checking him out a couple of times when he wasn’t making sad moon eyes at Finn or, occasionally, pretending not to notice the – admittedly impressive – size of Puck’s arms. It’s always nice to be noticed, and Jesse will never say no to more fans. “Why are you even talking to me?”
“I was one of you for a while,” Jesse shrugs. “It was weird, you know, being around unprofessional people who actually like stuff and whine during rehearsals and care about their actual lives more than their showchoir, but it was ok, you know?”
“Fuck you, St. James,” Puck says, but there’s a flicker of a smile.
“You gonna go back to the Cheerios next year?” Mercedes asks.
It’s a scorching afternoon and they’re lying out in her backyard, diva sunglasses and pretty summer dresses. Kurt is coming over later with his Zac Efron movie collection – because the boy might be orange but damn – and also pot cupcakes that he has probably gotten from Puck, but Mercedes isn’t going to bitch because her parents are out of town this weekend and so the glee club girls are descending on her place to watch Zac and his plasticky good-looks and get high.
Quinn sighs, her golden hair spread out around her head. “There’s no way Coach Sylvester will have me back.”
“That’s not the Quinn Fabray I know,” Mercedes observes, “shouldn’t you have a dozen blackmail plans to fight your way back in?”
“I’m tired,” Quinn replies. “I’m tired of fighting for things. Maybe I just want to lay back and take what I’m given for once.”
Mercedes frowns and rolls onto her side. The grass is warm beneath her bare arm, crushing against her skin. “That’s not the Quinn I know either.”
Quinn rolls her head to look at her, though her eyes are hidden behind her shades. Her mouth is twisted, lips dark red from Mercedes’ fierce new lipgloss. “Maybe I’m tired of being a bitch.”
Mercedes can’t help a smile at that. “When you’re tired of being a bitch, you’re tired of living.”
She’s relieved when a spark of laughter leaps across Quinn’s mouth. “I don’t want to go back to that life,” she explains at last. “I thought I had everything and now I see that I had nothing. I didn’t even like myself, not really.”
Mercedes thinks of that week of feeling trapped in her own skin, of feeling misunderstood and angry and lost. She thinks about feeling like that all the time, but with everyone’s eyes on you, both envious and willing you to crack. “Do you like yourself now?” she asks, because that’s an important question, the important question.
“I’m getting there,” Quinn replies.
After a moment, Mercedes lies back down again beside her, staring up into the cloudless sky. “I like you,” she says.
Quinn laughs, soft. “You have to say that, you’re my friend.”
“I do not,” Mercedes responds, “didn’t you hear Kurt tell me he hated me last week?”
“That’s because you stole his new mascara,” Quinn replies, amusement threaded through her voice now, “and anyway, he didn’t mean it. He loves you, you know that.”
She tenses suddenly, and after a moment Mercedes realises why. “I put a rock through the window of his car,” she says after a minute. “My mom made me get therapy and everything.”
“I know,” Quinn replies, “and I laughed a lot when I found that out. Like, a lot.” She elbows Mercedes in the side. “It’s kind of your own fault for not noticing that Kurt is the gayest gay who ever gayed.”
“I should take my horrible revenge,” Mercedes sighs, “even if you were being a brainwashed Cheerio bitch at the time.”
“Yeah,” Quinn agrees mildly, “or, you know, you could not.”
They look at each other for a minute and burst out laughing for no reason at all, under the brilliant sky, fingers clenched in the grass side by side and close enough to touch.
“I know I said that you could come over and talk to me any time you liked,” Kurt says, “but I meant that in a hypothetical way on what I assumed was the mutual understanding that you never would.”
Puck blinks a few times and Kurt is immediately grateful that his dad and Carole are off doing some kind of hideous-sounding romantic break thing and Finn is probably out having uncoordinated sex in Rachel’s badly-decorated bedroom or, whatever, something that entails him not being here.
“Yeah,” Puck says, “that had a lot of words in it and I’m kind of wasted, but look, I brought you pizza.”
“I won’t eat it,” Kurt says, “I have a skincare regime.”
Puck shrugs. “Yeah, whatever, let me in.”
“You need to find new people to harass,” Kurt mumbles, but he steps back and allows Puck inside.
“You offered, man,” Puck reminds him.
“Hypothetically,” Kurt half-shrieks before recalling that that will only damage his voice and then he will never get the solo he so fucking deserves.
Puck leads the way to his basement room – he comes down here all the time with Finn, so Kurt can’t even tell him he’s not allowed in there – and Kurt trails after him, wishing he wasn’t so compassionate. He should’ve just let Puck keep on having his breakdown alone, but somehow he’s started accidentally driving over to Sheets N’ Things to have lunch with him once a week, where they mostly insult each other and skirt around the whole Quinn/Beth issue.
“So,” Puck says, when he’s draped across Kurt’s sofa and has cracked open the pizza box, “do you think Jesse’s hot?”
“Um”, Kurt says. “Did you get drunk and come over here to ask me that?”
“No,” Puck rolls his eyes. “I got drunk because I’m fucking unhappy and I came over here because you were the only one dumb enough to say they’d actually talk to me when I’m like this, and Jesse said I should ask you.”
“If you’re trying to set me up with Jesse I will have my father beat you to death with a tire iron,” Kurt says. “Also, why are you even talking to him?”
“I’m really not,” Puck responds. “And I’m talking to him because he’s trying to learn how to interact with people like a person, IDK, he’s more fucked up than me, something like that. Answer the question.”
Kurt sighs, decides there’s no way out of this situation, and flops down on the other end of the couch, reaching for pizza because he might as well.
“Jesse was dating Rachel for the whole time I knew him and for most of it I was nursing that debilitating crush on Finn as everyone in the universe knows...” Puck’s eyes are narrowing so Kurt cuts straight to the point and says: “ok, I may have had several conversations with Mercedes on dirty things we would do to him should the opportunity present itself. And I may have lusted after him in that leather jacket in the Run Joey Run video.”
Puck scowls. “I wore a leather jacket in that freaking video.”
“Yes,” Kurt agrees, taking a bite of pizza. Oh God, it’s good, he really should allow himself calories once in a while. “But you’re you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Puck demands.
Kurt doesn’t even know. That’s the tragic part. He’s in his room with pizza and drunken self-pitying Noah Puckerman and he doesn’t care nearly as much as he should do about any of this.
It’s then that he realises he might kind of have a bit of a problem.
“I’m going to break into my dad’s liquor cabinet,” he announces, “because I no longer want to be sober for this situation.”
Puck slumps a little more on the couch and smirks. “Awesome.”
Jesse isn’t sure why Rachel feels the need to rehabilitate him and Finn, it’s completely ok for them not to like each other. Sadly, though he’s tried to explain this to Rachel on more than one occasion, she doesn’t listen to him. Jesse doesn’t listen to other people either, but that’s a whole other thing, all his thoughts are clearly more superior to all other thoughts anyone else could ever have.
Case in point: Finn is glaring suspiciously at him and Jesse would be more worried about this but he delivered Rachel safely into Shelby’s hands and he experimented with his acting skills and emotional range and he still got the shiny trophy at the end of it, so really, he won all of this. Not that this is anything new; he always wins, because anything else is unacceptable.
It’s interesting how Rachel seems to understand this, seeing as how she’s never actually won anything. Even her acquisition of Finn seems to have largely been an accident. Jesse doesn’t point this out to her because he’s trying this thing where he doesn’t say the insulting things that crop up in his head, and sees what happens.
“But he threw eggs at you,” Finn is saying.
Jesse is willing to admit the boy is pretty and it’s fairly easy to order him about, both of which are plus points in any relationship, but his singing voice has a depressingly specific range, his dance moves make Jesse want to stick sharp objects into his eyes, his fashion sense is dismal and he is also kind of really stupid. Jesse sits with his arms folded and tunes out Finn’s whining and Rachel’s placating tone and tries to work out exactly what makes Finn more awesome than him.
“Is it because I’m self-centred, insensitive and largely incapable of true emotional connections?” he asks.
Finn looks confused, but Rachel seems to immediately understand, furthering Jesse’s belief that he should probably keep her in his life.
“Mostly, yes,” she agrees. “Also, while the Romeo and Juliet aspect of our relationship was both exciting and enjoyable, Finn and I have been having a slow-burning opposite-sides-of-the-social-spectrum romance that is the backbone of all teen television dramas.”
“That’s valid,” Jesse agrees. “Although he is going to need to broaden his knowledge of Broadway actors and actresses past and present.”
“Well, of course,” Rachel says.
Finn’s eyes are widening with terror.
“Fine,” Jesse says, “I yield gracefully to Finn, despite his many failings as a performer. I hope you are both very happy.”
Rachel beams at him but Finn continues to look disturbed and kind of angry. Jesse still can’t afford to have his nose broken, so he tries to think of something helpful he can say.
“Hey,” he says to Rachel, on the edge of a charming smile, “at least we didn’t sleep together.”
Finn turns to look at Rachel. “You didn’t? Why did you tell me you did?”
Well, if he’s going to cause inadvertent conflict, Jesse can totally deal with that as well. He sits back and puts on his best Interested Yet Slightly Condescending Audience Face that Shelby drilled them all in before they went to other glee clubs’ invitationals and reflects that if this is what having friends results in he might have to look into this in more detail.
“You hold your drink pretty well,” Puck grudgingly admits later on in the evening, when there’s no more pizza and a lot less scotch than there was earlier as well. They’re sprawled side by side on Kurt’s couch, channel hopping because they have nothing in common and so cannot agree on a show.
“I’m not actually a girl,” Kurt points out, though he is pretty drunk. He’s stopped remembering why this is a bad idea, though, so it’s all ok.
“No, but, you are, like, tiny,” Puck explains, staring at an infomercial for a cooking product that neither of them actually need.
“I’m not tiny,” Kurt protests. “I just don’t feel the need to spend hours in a gym overcompensating.”
Puck’s face clouds over. “I am not overcompensating.”
This could so easily descend into bickering but Kurt is drunk and so is Puck and Puck is hurting and Kurt is weirdly attached to him despite the years and years of bullying thing, so this cannot end well.
“Oh my God,” he sighs, leaning his head against the back of the couch and closing his eyes, “ok.”
Puck keeps channel surfing and when Kurt finally opens his eyes he finds that Puck has landed on a trailer for Eclipse.
“Do not want,” he mutters, about to let his eyes slip closed again, but then there’s a distracting shot of Werewolf guy with no shirt on, and if Kurt totally perks up a little at this, it’s only Lima’s fault for not getting him laid sooner.
“Seriously?” Puck says, sounding incredulously. “You loser, Hummel. They’re just these shitty movies about sparkly dudes and it’s all some big metaphor for celibacy, which is totally oppressive, by the way.”
Kurt considers pointing out how celibacy has worked out really well for Puck and then remembers him crying after Beth was born and thinks it might be too soon for that, so he just sighs and says nothing.
“That was a pause for you to take a cheap shot, by the way,” Puck tells him.
“I decided against it,” Kurt responds, shifting a little to look at Puck.
Puck just looks confused and there’s something else creeping across his face, something Kurt’s never seen before, or at least, not aimed at him. “You’re weirdly nice to me,” he says, slowly, like he’s trying to figure something out.
Kurt shrugs because, well, he can’t help it if he can’t get the nastiness to coordinate with his bitchiness. He’ll work on it.
His mental plan to work on it is interrupted when Puck, presumably fuelled by neediness and far, far too much alcohol, leans sideways and presses his mouth to Kurt’s.
It’s wet and soft and confusing, but Puck doesn’t taste like root beer or dip or burgers or Brittany’s armpits, he tastes like alcohol and something else, something Kurt can’t place, and it feels good. Kurt knows he’s drunk and should put a stop to this but hey, Puck’s drunk too and Kurt’s love-life is going literally nowhere, he deserves to get to make out with a hot guy once while he’s in his teens.
Neither of them hear the door open or the mutter of what the fuck, so the first either of them find out Finn has returned home is when Finn bodily drags Puck off Kurt and punches him.
“He’s not trying to rape me, Finn, it’s ok,” Kurt says, and for some reason this whole situation is way more hysterically funny than it should be.
Puck’s mouth is bleeding, Puck’s mouth that Kurt was kissing, that’s weird, and Finn in Defensive Brother Mode is actually kind of awesome. And he really needs to go to bed and sleep until he can form proper mental sentences.
Finn lets Puck go, but continues glaring. Puck pushes himself to his feet. “Whatever,” he says, “I’m still sleeping on your couch.”
Mercedes knows Kurt well because if she didn’t then he wouldn’t be her boy, so she knows when he’s preoccupied. Even Quinn has picked up on it, shooting occasional frowns in Kurt’s direction as he stares vaguely at the wall or out of the window instead of the TV screen. In the end, Mercedes decides she can’t wait anymore because Kurt does not get to withhold information from her, that is not how they roll, so she switches the TV off and waits for him to notice.
“I was watching that,” he protests vaguely.
“No, you weren’t,” Mercedes replies. “Now, spill.”
Quinn has her chin propped on her hands and is looking amused. “Go on,” she adds.
Kurt gives her a faintly worried glance and then looks back at Mercedes. “So... Puck turned up drunk at my house and then we both got drunk and then maybe there was a horrible accident when we fell on each other’s mouths for an indeterminate amount of time?”
“Damn,” Mercedes says, because, well, there isn’t a whole lot else you can say to that.
“Have you been huffing hairspray?” Quinn asks, arching an eyebrow.
“I haven’t told you the good bit where Finn came home and beat Puck up,” Kurt adds. “Which was way more awesome than is appropriate and I’m really not sure why.”
“Ok, seriously,” Mercedes says, “your judgement cannot be trusted ever. You need to call me before you do things like make out with Puck, ok?”
She then remembers that she’s gotten blinded by gossip and the girl Puck got pregnant is in the room right now, the girl who has way more issues with Puck than she’s actually willing to admit, and turns immediately to Quinn.
Mercedes is relieved to see her girl is smiling. “Look,” Quinn says, “Puck and I... can’t deal with each other at the moment. We fucked up and there aren’t a whole lot of places we can go from here so we need to take a break from knowing each other for a while until all the blaming stops. But this shouldn’t stop you from making inadvisable life choices with him.”
“Do you want to make inadvisable life choices with him?” Mercedes asks.
Kurt shrugs. “We’re sort of vaguely friends, I think, and if there’s making out in the future then, you know, that’s ok too. And sex. I kind of think sex would be awesome.”
They both turn to look at Quinn, who shrugs. “Don’t look at me,” she says, “I was drunk and I felt fat. I don’t really even remember it.” She arches an eyebrow at Mercedes. “What about you?”
Mercedes is not telling, one way or another. She is not ever telling, not even Kurt, not even Quinn. She shrugs. “I guess sex would be awesome. The boy is fine.”
Kurt smirks. “Well, if the possibility comes up...”
Well, this was a random conversation Mercedes wasn’t expecting to have today. Or ever. She pulls herself together.
“Ok, you need to go and get us more smoothies,” she informs Kurt, “and then we can watch that re-run of Gossip Girl.”
Kurt has a noticeable bounce in his step as he heads out to her kitchen. When he’s gone Quinn sighs and leans a little more into her side, warm and soft.
“You sure you’re ok?” Mercedes asks.
“I’m fine,” Quinn replies quietly. “I really am.”
Mercedes rests her cheek against Quinn’s hair. She has other friends who are girls, she’s sat like this with Rachel and Tina a dozen times, and it’s never, ever felt like this when she did. She smiles slightly and says nothing about it because she’s not even sure she’s got enough to put into words yet.
“So, I made out with Kurt,” Puck tells Jesse.
Jesse raises an eyebrow. “...why are you telling me this?”
“Because I don’t have anyone to say this to who isn’t directly involved,” Puck explains. “And you don’t care either way and also you’re practically gay anyway.”
That makes Jesse’s haughty look dissolve into annoyance. “I am not practically gay.”
“You do ballet,” Puck responds, and sure, that might be narrow minded, but his little sister loves ballet and he’s seen what the male dancers wear and that is not the outfit of a straight man.
“I dated Rachel,” Jesse protests.
“You didn’t seal the deal,” Puck points out. When Jesse looks confused, he adds: “Finn still talks to me. When he’s not punching me for kissing his ‘almost brother’.” He sighs. “Fuck everything about my life.”
“Ok,” Jesse says, sighing, “since you apparently want to actually talk about this: why did you kiss Kurt?”
Puck thinks about this. He works best when he doesn’t actually think his actions through, but it’s been a long summer and Shelby keeps emailing him pictures of Beth and he doesn’t know what the fuck to think about anything anymore.
“He’s nice to me,” he says at last, hearing the surprise in his own voice. “And I mean, like, genuinely nice. He acts like a bitch on the outside but inside it’s like he actually cares about me.”
Jesse is nodding, looking thoughtful. “You’re like a kicked puppy,” he observes. “I’d empathise, if I were capable of it.”
Puck scowls. “I am not a kicked puppy. I am Puckasaurus.”
“You’re whining about how you kissed Kurt because he’s the only person in your life who isn’t a dick to you,” Jesse tells him. “You don’t deserve that ridiculous nickname.” Before Puck can threaten him, he adds: “so what do you want to do now you’re sober?”
Puck shrugs. “I don’t know. I mean, I hang out with him anyway, and I liked kissing him. So...”
“So you kind of want to date him.” Jesse looks kind of disdainful, but that’s like his default expression, so Puck doesn’t let it bother him.
“Is that what dating is?” Puck asks, blank, because the only girls he’s ever really dated were Santana – who doesn’t count because that was literally just sex – and Mercedes – who was basically a publicity stunt and they both knew it – and none of that is a real basis for understanding relationships.
Jesse sighs, looking put-upon. “Oh my God, you are so emotionally retarded. And that’s me speaking.”
The fact that Jesse might have a point is not one Puck wants to think about. Instead, he sighs and says: “why are we even still talking to you?”
Jesse shrugs and smiles and says: “because I’m awesome.”
Puck realises something. “You miss us, don’t you? You fucked us over and won regionals even though you were all wearing clothing that was actively offensive to the eyes, but you actually fucking miss us.”
Jesse looks mildly amused. “Just how much have you been hanging out with Kurt?”
Kurt has spent many, many hours ranting about Vocal Adrenaline’s clothing choices, beyond what is reasonable. Then again, as far as Puck was concerned, their costumes were basically “kind of pink”, so he’s sort of impressed with how much effort Kurt has put into actively insulting them.
“You’re avoiding the question,” he points out.
Jesse laughs. “Of course I am.”
Quinn and her mom are going away for a week to visit her sister. This is important and Mercedes gets why this has to happen, but it’s weird to think of Quinn going away for even a week when, for the past couple of months, the most time apart they’ve spent has been about a day.
They hug each other goodbye for a long time, squeezing tightly, and Mercedes thinks of all the times she’s watched Quinn cry, all the times she’s managed to make her laugh, all the hours they’ve spent in comfortable silence, and wonders if she can make it through a week without her.
Quinn lets go of her and looks at her for a long, quiet moment. Finally she smiles slightly and lets her hands drop from Mercedes’ arms.
“I’ll call you,” she says.
“Travel safe,” Mercedes replies, and leaves.
Kurt calls her as she’s walking home, sounding kind of frantic. “Puck just asked me out, what the actual fuck. Also, he said it was all Jesse’s fault, why is he still talking to Jesse, Mercedes, help, what do I do, I so wasn’t expecting any of this, also, I think I might have broken a nail.”
Mercedes takes a deep breath and then another one and reminds herself that she asked Kurt to call her and also that he is a lovely boy, just kind of unsettling when he freaks out and gets all verbally flaily. And while she’s thinking about this she thinks about Quinn and about saying goodbye and something clicks that should’ve clicked earlier and didn’t.
She spins around and heads back towards Quinn’s.
“Ok,” she says, “you know what? I totally trust you to make the right inadvisable life choice with Puck that will make you both very happy, so go make it, and I’ll call you later, but I’ve got to do something.”
Kurt, being as fabulous as he is, doesn’t ask stupid questions, just says: “what?”
“I’ve got an inadvisable life choice to make of my own,” Mercedes replies, and hangs up.
Quinn pulls open her front door, takes one look at Mercedes, and breathes a sigh of relief.
“Oh, thank God,” she says, “I was starting to think you’d never catch on.”
Mercedes could apologise but she goes for sassy instead because she always does, cracking a smile. “Well,” she says, “I’m here now.”
“Yes,” Quinn agrees, “yes you are.”
Quinn tastes like sunlight and blue skies and long summer afternoons that never intend to end.
The second half of the summer goes better than the first. Well, kind of. Puck gets fired from Sheets N’ Things for making out with his boyfriend behind a display of ornamental towel rails (well, trying to make out, because Kurt was attempting to put as much space between himself and the official uniform as possible in case unflattering mismatched colours became contagious) but Shelby decides not to call in the rest of the debt and Kurt happily burns the apron outside his father’s garage.
Rachel and Jesse bully a local community theatre into giving them a two-man show and while the reviews admit that they’re both hopelessly arrogant and consequently somewhat irritating, they also grudgingly admit that they’re very, very good.
Mercedes and Quinn, Rachel and Finn, Puck and Kurt, Brittany and Santana, and Tina and Artie all attempt to go out to Breadsticks for the most obnoxiously huge combined date ever, though the mood is kind of spoilt when the unusually observant Brittany leans into Santana and whispers: “hey, isn’t that Mr Schue and that dream guy over there?”
When it’s finally been established that that is Mr Schue and Bryan Ryan and that they’ve apparently forgotten they’re in public, and Kurt has bemoaned the lack of other restaurants in Lima, they all decided this is an experiment best not repeated.
And other than that, they all live happily ever after. At least until the next semester.