“I can’t believe I let you talk me into watching Contagion,” Kurt says, shuddering, as he, Blaine, Finn, and Puck make their way back to the Nav slightly before midnight. “First, it was absolutely awful, really, I mean, what was even going on with Matt Damon’s hair? And second, now I’m going to have to find a way to make surgical masks look chic, because now I’m afraid of contracting the plague.”
“Aww, you’re so adorable!” Blaine bumps Kurt’s hip with his own. “Look at you, all freaked out over a little movie.”
“I’m not freaked out,” Kurt insists. “It just fed into my perfectly rational concern over other people’s poor hygiene leading to killer death plagues.”
“Dude, whatever,” Puck says, laughing. “You were squealing like a girl for most of the movie.”
“I don’t squeal.”
“You kinda do, dude,” Finn says. “Sorry.”
“Just because I express myself more vocally than—”
“Squealing,” Puck interrupts. “Just own it.”
“Poor baby,” Blaine says with a little laugh as he slips his arm through Kurt’s. “They’re all picking on you, those big mean boys.” Kurt jerks his arm away and glares at Blaine. Finn and Puck exchange glaces, Finn’s a nervous smile and Puck’s more of a smirk.
“I do not appreciate condescension, Blaine Anderson!” Kurt snaps. Puck snorts a laugh and Kurt turns on him in fury, wagging his finger in Puck’s face. “And you! I’m not a girl and whether or not I squeal—and I am not saying I do—I do not sound like a girl when I do it.” With that, Kurt turns his back on all of them and stamps across the rest of the movie theatre parking lot, Blaine chasing after him.
“He’s high strung tonight,” Puck remarks to Finn, intentionally keeping his voice too low for Kurt to hear him. “What bug crawled up his sparkly ass?”
Finn rolls his eyes. “He’s taking this West Side Story thing pretty rough, I guess. The whole thing about not being butch enough, or whatever. He’s been stomping around the house over everything, even tore into my mom when she asked if he’s help her pick out a nail polish color for some wedding she’s going to.”
“Harsh,” Puck says, shaking his head. “Gotta be a jackass to say shit to Mrs. H. Your mom is the bomb, dude.”
Puck and Finn reach the Nav, which Kurt has finally managed to unlock. They climb into the back silently, doing their best to ignore Blaine’s pleading apologies. Sort-of apologies.
“I’m sorry that your feelings are hurt, Kurt, but you have to learn to handled good-natured teasing a little better,” Blaine says.
“Don’t tell me what I have to do.” Kurt starts the car, cranking the key forward too hard so the Nav makes an awful grinding sound before starting.
“But Kurt, it’s really not something to get—”
“Just stop it, Blaine. Spare me the Big Gay Mentor routine tonight.”
Puck and Finn exchange another glance and Puck puts his hand across his mouth to cover the smile, just in case Kurt happens to glance in his rearview mirror. Blaine seems to decide to keep his mouth shut for the time-being, at least, because he doesn’t argue with Kurt any further. Kurt whips the Nav out of the parking lot, driving faster than he normally would, as careful as he usually is with his ‘baby.’
“Uh, Kurt?” Finn asks, carefully. “Are we still going to get something to eat? We talked about Waffle House.”
“Yeah, dude,” Puck says. “I’ll even see if they’ve got some of those Clorox wipe things to make sure the booth is plague-free.”
That gets a little snort of laughter from Kurt. “Fine,” he huffs, “but you and Finn are paying for my meal. If I’m too traumatized to eat, I don’t want to waste my own money.”
“I think we can swing a whole three bucks for a coffee and some hash browns,” Puck responds. “But none of that pie with the butter melted on it. You pay for that shit yourself. I’m not made out of money.”
This time, Kurt laughs for real, and even Blaine relaxes a little in the front passenger seat. They pull into the Waffle House parking lot, which is surprisingly empty for a Friday night. There’s only two other cars and one rough-looking bicycle parked in the lot, and as the boys walk into the Waffle House, they realize the reason for the relative emptiness might be the only other patron, a filthy, grizzled man seated at the counter.
Kurt’s nose wrinkles as they skirt the counter and take the furthest possible booth. Puck smells it, too; a distinct odor of stale urine, body odor, and unwashed clothes. As they slide into the booth, Kurt whispers, “And you all acted like I was so crazy about the plague thing.”
Finn snickers, Blaine looks mildly embarrassed, but Puck lets out a loud guffaw that causes the stinky guy at the counter and the harried-looking Waffle House waitress and cook to look in their direction. The waitress hurries over.
“What can I get you boys?” she asks, speaking to them, but never quite taking her eyes off the man at the counter. The boys rattle off their order, and the waitress (“Darlene,” her name tag reads) writes it all down without missing a beat before hollering it off to the cook. Puck can’t help but notice that even her holler is more sedate than a typical night at Waffle House, so he nudges Finn.
“What’s up with that dude?” he asks, in an undertone, but Finn just shrugs.
“I dunno. Homeless drunk dude with a thing for waffles?” Finn offers.
“Plague vector? Zombie?” Kurt counter, and Blaine rolls his eyes and snorts. Kurt scowls at Blaine, their earlier tiff clearly not forgotten. Blaine looks away and starts stacking creamers into little towers. Uncomfortable silence settles over the table.
“Totally a zombie,” Puck says, suddenly, keeping his face straight and his voice completely deadpan. “I think I just saw him twitch like those dudes in 28 Days Later.” Kurt stares at Puck, his head slightly cocked, like he can’t quite puzzle out if Puck is being serious. Puck starts to twitch and make the clicking noise of a recently-infected 28 Days Later extra, and Kurt yelps and jumps in his seat, his hands flying up to his mouth. Puck nearly busts a gut laughing.
“You ass,” Kurt hisses, though with less malice than he could have shown. Puck may be an idiot, but he’s a charming idiot; that’s a trait Puck banks on, in fact, and he turns his best charming idiot smile on Kurt, who can’t resist it. He rolls his eyes and shakes his head, but ultimately returns Puck’s smile. The waitress, Darlene, still looking askance at the zombie-homeless-stinky man at the counter, brings their plates.
“You boys having a nice night?” she asks.
“Sure are,” Puck answers, raising his eyebrows at her suggestively enough to get a little smile in return, but not enough that she dumps the plates in his lap. “Nice night for waitressing?”
“Was, until that guy showed up,” Darlene the waitress sighs. “Won’t order anything but coffee and he keeps muttering to himself, and just between you boys and me, he’s a little ripe.”
“So we smelled,” Kurt quips.
“I just wish we weren’t so short-staffed tonight. I hate having those customers when it’s just me and Don in here.” She jerks her head back in the direction of the cook, who appears to have been drawn into some kind of discussion with the probably-not-a-zombie, but-who-really-knows guy. Don makes a face in Darlene’s direction. “I better go help him.” Puck looks back over his shoulder as the man at the counter looks in their direction for a brief moment, then tries to reengage Don in conversation.
The boys dig into their meal, Kurt grimacing at the amount of syrup Finn and Puck both pour onto their waffles, silently accepting the pickles Blaine offers from his own plate. They’ve almost finished when they hear the commotion from the counter, shouting and scuffling.
“I’m sorry sir, but we’re really going to have to ask you to leave,” Darlene says. “If you don’t go, we’re going to have to call the police.” Don already has the phone in his hands. The guy at the counter is on his feet, swaying a little, shouting obscenities. Finn and Puck leap to their feet at nearly the same time, Finn almost knocking Puck down in his haste to get out of the booth. The man continues yelling, something largely incoherent, but Puck can pick out “God” and a string of swear words as the man reaches into his filthy coat.
After that, it happens fast. Puck hears the noise before he processes that what he’s looking at is a gun. Darlene shrieks as a plate behind her explodes, and Don grabs her by the waist, pulling them both to the floor. Puck has the briefest moment to think that he hopes Don managed to dial 911 and then the gun is pointed in their direction.
“Oh god,” Kurt breathes. “Oh god, Finn, Puck.” His voice is so shaky that Puck almost turns around to look at him before he remembers the gun pointed at him.
“Dude,” Puck says, trying to keep his voice as calm as possible. “No reason to act all crazy, let’s just put that down, ok? We’ll let the nice lady back there get you a cup of coffee and we can—”
“Shut up!” the man screams, waving the gun at them. “Don’t talk! I don’t want to hear your poison. I know what all of you are!”
“We’re teenagers,” Finn says, his eyes wide and terrified. “We’re just, we’re high school students at McKinley.” Finn has his hands up in a defensive posture and Puck wonders if, in Finn’s mind, he’s bracing himself to block a bullet with his bare hands, like Superman. The mental image isn’t at all funny when the crazy guy swings the gun in Finn’s direction.
“Finn, sit down,” Kurt whispers. “Please, sit down.”
“Kurt,” Blaine murmurs, “be quiet. Just be quiet, ok.”
“Finn,” Kurt hisses, louder this time. “Finn, sit back down.”
“Don’t move!” the crazy guys shrieks at Finn, then he swivels his eyes towards Kurt. “You. You move. You stand up.”
Kurt is frozen in place, his face so pale that Puck swears he can see Kurt’s bones under his skin. Blaine reaches out to grip Kurt’s hand, but Kurt stops him with an almost imperceptible shake of his head.
“Stand up!” the gunman yells at Kurt. “Up, or I start shooting! Starting with this one!” He gestures at Finn with the gun and Kurt starts rising to his feet, keeping his movement small and slow.
“I’m up,” he says, his voice creeping into his upper register. “I’m up. Please, just put down the gun.”
“You think I didn’t see you?”
“I don’t know,” Kurt whispers. “I don’t think anything, I swear. I just want you to put the gun down.”
“I did see you!” the man screams. “God showed me where you were. I see you, you filthy little sodomite!” The man’s eyes are shiny, though Puck isn’t sure if it’s from drugs or just mental instability.
“Please,” Kurt says. “Please, let us go. We didn’t do anything wrong.” Puck winces, because he thinks maybe this insane, filthy guy might think differently.
“How can you say that? How can you say that?” the man with the gun yells. “You are mired in sin and you are dragging all of these boys with you.”
Even with a gun pointed at him, that sparks something in Kurt’s face. Puck sees the set of Kurt’s jaw change. “I’m not dragging them with me anywhere. They don’t have anything to do with it.”
“Oh, I know the little song and dance,” the gunman says. “Oh, you didn’t choose this lifestyle, you were born this way.” It’s disconcerting how his voice becomes almost sing-songy as he points the gun at Kurt. “That lies. It’s all lies. You’re an abomination and you taking them to hell with you.” The man’s face seems to light up from within. “But God sent me the answers.”
“Shit,” Puck mutters, because when God talks to people, that is never good. He and Finn make eye contact and Puck tries to psychically communicate a plan to jump this guy and wrestle the gun out of his hands, but Finn is either too scared-shitless or not psychic enough to pick up on it.
“You’re happy to spread your filth all over these boys,” the man continues talking. “You want to send them all to hell?”
“No,” Kurt says, shaking his head back and forth. “No, no, they’re my friends. He’s my brother—”
The man keeps talking over Kurt like Kurt didn’t make a sound. “You people claim what you are isn’t a choice, but you seem happy to make that choice for everybody else, forcing them to be around you, forcing them to have to share in your sin with you.”
“Hey, it’s not like that, man—” Finn begins, but Puck casts him a warning look, and Finn stops. Puck silently prays that Kurt won’t argue, that he’ll just be still and quiet until the cops come, because they have to be coming. He looks back at Kurt, pale and shaking, and sees Blaine, that absolute idiot, reach out and take Kurt’s hand.
“So, which one?” the man demands, and when Kurt just shakes his head, the man continues. “Which one of them deserves the hell you’re sending them to? That one that keeps touching you? This brother? This one?” He points the gun at Blaine, Finn, and Puck in turn. “Which one?”
“None of them!” Kurt says. “None of them. I don’t want anything to happen to any of them.” His blue eyes well with tears, but he keeps his voice steady, and Puck is strangely proud of Kurt in that moment. “I don’t want any of them to be hurt. Please, if you’re going to hurt someone, hurt me.”
“That’s not how it works!” the gunman screams. “You’re so flippant about how it’s not a choice, how you were made like this, but you are the one doing this to them. THAT is your choice. Now, which one dies?” He points the gun at Blaine.
“Me!” Kurt screams back. “Me, please, me! Don’t hurt them, shoot me, please!” Tears run down his face, but he tries to angle his body to block Blaine in the booth.
“Choose!” the man shrieks again. “You will own this choice! Now choose one!”
“Me, please,” Kurt sobs. “I can’t, I can’t choose one of them, they didn’t do anything wrong, please—”
With that, the man fires the gun at Finn, clipping him across the upper arms. Finn falls, blood spurting from his arm, Kurt screams, but the gunman doesn’t move. “I will kill them all and make you watch if you don’t do what I say. Now choose one!”
Puck hears a roar and then feels a burst of burning pain in his leg. He staggers and grabs onto the wall, trying to make sense of what happened. He realizes he’s just been shot in the leg, sees the blood spreading across his jeans, and has the absurd thought that it’s not at all like it is in the movies, and also, that maybe he and Finn are going to die together, and how weird is that, after all the other shit they’ve gone through together.
Kurt is crying, begging, but the reality of what’s happening seems to be sinking in. Kurt looks at Blaine, back at the gunman. “No, please,” he whispers, but there’s almost no power in the words.
The gunman—the fucking insane shooter—fires again, bullet just missing Blaine’s shoulder, chips of the tile behind him spraying to cut the side of his face, and the gun is so loud that Puck can barely hear Kurt’s sobs any more. Kurt seems to freeze, or maybe time freezes, and Puck suddenly know what’s going to happen. He looks at Kurt and sees so many things flash through Kurt’s eyes—terror, sorrow, anger, and, finally, apology—and Puck knows what the out is here.
Puck feels the blood running down his leg, knows it’s a lot, too much. He notices the tears caught on Kurt’s eyelashes. Puck catches Kurt’s eye and mouths, “me.” Kurt eyes widen, but he doesn’t argue. Puck gives Kurt a sad little smile. A goodbye smile. Kurt tips his head, ever so slightly, in Puck’s direction.
“Him,” Kurt breathes, pointing at Puck. “Oh, God, I’m so sorry, Puck, I’m so sorry, but him. Him.”
As the bullet hits Puck’s chest, he has a strange moment of disappointment that his life doesn’t flash before his eyes, and then there isn’t anything at all.
Puck can’t move.
There’s something in his mouth.
He’s supposed to be dead. He’s dead, right?
There’s something in Puck’s mouth, and he can’t move, and he’s cold, and he’s supposed to be dead, and everything is weird.
Puck wants to turn towards the voice, but he can’t. He tries to muster up a picture of the person that matches the voice, but he can’t even manage that. He tries to move anything, any part of him, fuck, an eyelid, even, but he doesn’t think he even got that right.
“Puck.” The voice comes again, an insistent low whisper. “Can you hear me? I saw your eyelids move.”
Oh, the eyelid thing worked. Puck tries it again, focuses everything on his eyelids, just blink, blink, blink and then his eyes pop open, and he’s even more confused than he was before, because there’s Kurt Hummel sitting next to him, looking like absolute shit, and Puck’s still sure he’s supposed to be dead, but he doesn’t remember why.
“Puck!” Kurt exclaims. “Oh my, thank goodness, I’m so...just stay there, ok, stay there.”
Puck tries to consider where he might go other than right there and then he notices the thing in his mouth and it’s not just in his mouth, it’s shoved down his fucking throat, and he starts to freak out just as a nurse comes in and starts talking to him.
“Noah,” she says, gently, but firmly. “You’re on a ventilator. It’s helping you breathe. I need you to not fight it, or we’re going to have to put you back under.” None of that means anything to Puck and he tries to jerk his head away from the thing in his mouth. The nurse makes some movement with her hands, but Puck can’t make sense of it. He feels calmer, though, so maybe whatever it was she was doing involved drugs. Ok, then. He closes his eyes.
“Puck.” That voice again. Damn, so pushy. Puck forces his eyes open again. Kurt Hummel’s pale face, wet red eyes, a big stupid smile. None of it makes any sense to Puck, but he feels Kurt’s fingers slip through his, and it’s so nice that he stops worrying about it, and just lets himself drift.
Puck opens his eyes and there’s nothing in his mouth. His throat hurts and there’s something blowing air up his nose, but it’s not in his throat any more, so that’s better. So much better.
This time, Puck tries to turn his head, and his head actually turns. Relief floods through Puck that he’s able to turn his head, and he can’t even feel dumb about being excited about something that simple. He blinks his eyes. Kurt Hummel, still there, looking even more like shit, and Puck swears he’s only just seen that sweater. Kurt was just wearing that sweater when—
Puck thinks he can see it in Kurt’s face, the moment Kurt realizes Puck remembers. Something breaks in that hopeful smile, a tremor runs through that whip-thin body, but Kurt, to his credit, doesn’t look away.
“I’m so sorry,” Kurt whispers, and Puck realizes that Kurt is holding his hand again. He wonders if Kurt has been holding it this whole time.
Puck tries to answer, but his throat is so sore, and his mouth is so dry, so he raises and lowers one shoulder against the bed in a mini-shrug, silently rejoicing that he still has shoulder and that they still work. Also, shit, that hurt.
Kurt flinches at Puck’s grimace of pain, but keeps stoically holding on to Puck’s hand. He even strokes the back of Puck’s hand with his finger tips. It tickles, but it’s sort of nice to be touched like that, even here, so Puck closes his eyes again, just for a minute.
When Puck opens his eyes again, it’s darker in the room and Kurt is asleep in a chair pushed almost flush against the bed, his head tipped to the side, his hair a mess. Puck studies Kurt, something he never takes the time to do, because Puck makes a habit to not stare at his best friend’s very-taken brother, as a general rule.
Kurt asleep isn’t like Kurt awake. He’s not talking, for starters, and that’s kind of nice. He’s not apologizing, which Puck is pretty sure Kurt will start doing again as soon as he wakes up. Puck doesn’t need apologies; he understands what Kurt had to do and doesn’t blame him. Hell, Puck would have chosen Puck instead of Finn or Blaine, and Puck doesn’t even like Blaine. If there were one person at that table that the world could do without, Puck knows it’s him. Kurt made the right choice.
The air thing is still in his nose. Puck carefully lifts his arm and looks at the IV. He touches his chest gingerly and pulls his hand back immediately, because it’s all bandaged and it hurts. Puck has a sudden moment of panic and tries to wiggle his toes; they wiggle. He breathes a heavy sigh of relief, because Artie’s cool and all, but two dudes in wheelchairs in glee would just be overkill.
Puck squeezes Kurt’s hand a little, because it’s nice that he’s there, even if it’s just a guilt thing. Kurt stirs in his sleep and mumbles something that Puck can’t make out, which leaves him wondering whether Kurt always talks in his sleep, or just on special occasions, and since Puck’s been shot, he figures he’s allowed to think about weird stuff like what Kurt does when he sleeps.
A nurse, a different one from before, comes in and presses some buttons. “Hello, Noah,” she says, when she notices his eyes are open. “How are you feeling?”
Puck tries to talk, but his mouth is so dry and his tongue feels like it’s sticking to something in there. The nurse must be some kind of mind reader, because suddenly there’s a tiny paper cup of cold water being pressed against his lips, and damn if it isn’t the best thing Puck has ever tasted. He drinks the whole tiny cup and looks hopefully at the nurse for more, but she tosses the cup into a trash can.
“That’s enough for now. You need to take it easy, with everything,” she says.
“What?” he asks, gesturing at his chest, because anything more seems like too much effort.
“Do you remember being shot?” Puck nods. “They had to operate to stop the bleeding. You had some serious damage in there. The bullet punctured your lung. You were very lucky the EMTs were already on the way; you might not have made it otherwise. That, and your friend there.”
“Kurt?” Puck croaks. He tries to turn his head to look at Kurt, but he’s just so tired and his head feels so heavy. The nurse nods.
“He was holding pressure on your wounds when they got there. Probably did a lot to reduce blood loss. You owe him one.”
‘Blood’ makes him think of the firing gun and then Puck chokes out, “Finn?”
“He’s fine,” she assures him.
Puck is relieved and wants to answer, but then he’s asleep, so he doesn’t.
“Noah? Honey?” Puck stirs, but doesn’t open his eyes. He makes a little grumbling noise instead.
“Noah?” The voice is more insistent, and it’s familiar. Not Kurt, but not one of the nurses either. Puck raises one eyelid ever so slightly, taking in a friendly face he knows well. His groggy head still takes a moment to place that it’s Mrs. Hudson, or Mrs. Hummel or whoever she is now, sitting there smiling at him.
“Don’t try to talk, sweetie,” she says, taking his hand, and what’s with everyone holding his hand today? “I just wanted to come down and see you. Kurt told us what happened. He’s so sorry, you just can’t even imagine how sorry he is, but I think you know this wasn’t what he wanted.”
Puck gives Mrs. H a faint nod. No, this wasn’t what Kurt wanted, but this is the better option by far than anyone else being in this bed instead of Puck. He also gives her the best thumbs up he can muster, and she laughs a little before the laugh breaks into a sob.
“Oh, Noah,” Mrs H whispers. “Blaine saw what you said to Kurt. He saw you volunteer. Kurt wouldn’t tell me that. Honey, thank you. Thank you for keeping my boys safe.”
Puck doesn’t have anything to say about that, so he raises his shoulder in a shrug and rasps out, “S’ok.” His eyes scan the room. “Kurt?”
“I sent him home to get a shower and some sleep. He hasn’t left the hospital since you got here,” Mrs H answers. “I had to threaten to have him taken off the visitor entirely to make him go.” She laughs softly. “I think you’ve got a loyal sheepdog for life, Noah.”
It’s hard to smirk with an air tube thing stuck up his nose, but Puck does his best. Then his face falls again and he squeezes Mrs H’s hand. “Finn?” he asks.
“Oh, honey, he’s fine,” she assures him. “Just fine. It barely grazed him. They cleaned it up and patched it up and he’s just fine.” Puck’s body slumps with relief. Everybody’s fine. “Your mom’s here to see you,” Mrs H continues. “I’m going to go out now and let her come in. You’ve been sleeping the other times she’s been here.”
Puck nods, even though he’s feeling tired again and sleeping sounds like just the ticket. Mrs H plants a soft kiss on his forehead. “You’re a good boy, Noah,” she whispers.
“Yeah, yeah,” he murmurs, as she leaves the room and his mother comes in.
Kurt is here. That’s the first thing Puck notices the next time he wakes up. Kurt is here, and Puck knows this without even having to look for him, so he just uncurls his hand. Kurt immediately takes it in his, and Puck slowly rolls his head in Kurt’s direction.
“Puck,” Kurt says, his eyes already starting to well with tears.
“No sorry,” Puck whispers, squeezing Kurt’s hand. Kurt looks down at their clasped fingers before squeezing back.
“But what I did—”
“No sorry,” Puck repeats, more insistently, and the effort makes him cough a little. Before Puck can ask, the upper half of bed raises slightly and a tiny cup of water presses against his lips. Puck drinks it down in two gulps. “Thanks. Better.”
“Don’t talk too much,” Kurt says, setting down the cup and then fussing with Puck’s blankets with his free hand. “You should rest. What happened to you, that was a serious injury, Puck. You need to rest.” He rearranges Puck’s blankets a little more until Puck squeezes his hand again.
“Really, Puck. You need rest. You lost a lot of blood. You had surgery. You were shot—”
“Tough,” Puck says. “More’n a bullet to stop me.”
“Fine” Kurt huffs. “You’re the love child of Captain America and He-Man. Now, will you please stop talking?” Puck starts to shake and a breathy noise comes out of his mouth. Kurt’s eyes widen. “What’s that sound? Puck, are you ok? Puck? Oh God, are you—wait, are you laughing at me?”
“Funny,” Puck murmurs, still chuckling.
“You ass,” Kurt says, but it’s not particularly convincing, as he pats Puck’s hand as he says it. “Will you please rest now?”
“You staying?” Puck asks, turning his head away to study the opposite wall, like he couldn’t care either way about Kurt’s answer. Still, his grip tightens on Kurt’s hand.
“Yes, Puck, I’m staying,” Kurt says, his voice gentle. “I’m right here.”
“Wait, I’ve been here how long?”
Kurt’s eyes dart around. He grips Puck’s hand a little more tightly, and sighs, “I didn’t realize you didn’t know, Puck. I’m so sorry.”
“Eight days? That’s not a hospital stay, dude, that’s Hanukkah.” Puck struggles to sit up a little in bed, but the gentle press of Kurt’s other hand against Puck’s shoulder is enough to keep him back against the mattress. Not that anyone’s going to ask, but if they do, it’s only because Puck doesn’t want to upset Kurt, not because Puck’s weak or anything.
“How long did you think it had been?” Kurt asks, his voice soft.
“I dunno. Two days, maybe?” Puck scowls at Kurt, but Kurt seems largely unaffected by the scowl. He strokes the back of Puck’s hand affectionately, and since it seems kind of normal and not at all weird, maybe Kurt’s right about the eight days thing. Probably takes more than two days to get used to something like that.
“You were asleep for most of the first five days,” Kurt explains. “They gave you something to keep you sleeping, because you kept fighting the ventilator.”
“‘Cause I’m tough, that’s why. Nobody shoves shit down my throat without my ok,” Puck grumbles, and that came out sounding a little weird, but whatever. Damn Kurt Hummel and his eight days.
“Yes, even in the midst of semi-consciousness and massive hemorrhage, they couldn’t stop you from trying to stop them from helping you breathe,” Kurt says, rolling his eyes. “Which, of course, is something of which you should be wildly proud.”
“Yeah it is,” Puck says, smugly. “Nothing can take down the Puckinator. Not even bullets.”
“No, not even bullets,” Kurt responds, his voice soft and sad. “Thank god.”
Puck tries and fails to stifle a yawn. “I thought you didn’t believe in God.” His eyelids feel heavy.
“Oh, Puck, you’re so literal,” Kurt sighs.
“Yeah, you love it,” Puck mutters, lettings his eyes close. As he drifts off to sleep, he swears he hears Kurt murmur, “Yes, I do.”
Puck wakes and Kurt’s not there. Instead, some stocky lady in scrubs is messing around with his IV bag. The bag clinks around on the rack thing, and the sound make Puck’s head hurt.
“What’re you messing with that for?” he grumbles, but the nurse just smiles at him.
“We’re weaning you off your pain meds starting today,” she explains. “It’s time to get you up and moving a little bit.” Puck frowns. “Oh, you don’t like the sound of that?”
“Where’d Kurt go?”
“Your pretty friend with the hair?” the nurse asks, making a little gesture to indicate a puffed up hair-do. “He was here earlier, but somebody came in to get him a little while ago. Short kid in a bow tie ring a bell?”
The nurse laughs. “That’s the guy. Your friend did not look happy about it.”
“No?” Puck asks, sounding pleased, though not sure exactly why he’s so pleased.
“Yeah, short kid came in just fussing away and you should have seen the look on—Kurt’s his name, right?” Puck nods. “The look on Kurt’s face could have curdled milk, it was so sour,” the nurse finishes.
“Classic Kurt Hummel bitch-face,” Puck says. “Sorry I missed it.”
“Well, I’m sure Kurt will be back later. He’s here pretty much all of the time.”
“If he comes back with the short dude, can you crank my pain meds back up?” Puck asks.
“I’ll think about it,” the nurse says, laughing. “I’ll be back in a little while with some breakfast. Here’s a remote if you want some TV.”
Puck really doesn’t want some TV, but he turns it on anyway, because he’s bored. He’d rather have someone to talk to. No, he’d rather have Kurt to talk to, but Kurt’s busy with Blaine. Puck flips through stations, finding nothing particularly interesting, and finally settles on some sports recap show on ESPN.
About twenty minutes pass before Kurt comes stomping back into Puck’s room, face flushed and features composed into that same expression Puck had just described to the nurse: Kurt Hummel bitch-face. He flings himself down into the chair without a word and huffs a loud, exasperated sigh.
“Blaine piss in your bitch flakes?” Puck asks mildly.
“What? Oh. No, it’s nothing,” Kurt says, waving his hand in little dismissive gesture. Puck just stares at Kurt without blinking. Kurt stares back and finally shakes his head a little, “Ok, fine. You win the staring contest.”
“Yeah, I do,” Puck says. “Now spill.”
“Blaine doesn’t think, well, that is to say, he isn’t entirely comfortable with the idea of—”
“The idea of what?” Puck asks.
“He thinks that I have a misplaced sense of obligation relating to my personal feelings over the shooting incident and I’m standing watch over you as an unhealthy act of contrition.”
“Dude, I got shot. Small words, in order, please.”
Kurt sighs and shifts uncomfortably in his seat. “He thinks I’m spending too much time up here with you because I feel guilty.”
“Feeling guilty?” Kurt sighs again. “Of course I am, Puck. I appreciate your effort to rationalize what happened, I really do. It means a lot that you don’t blame me, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t blame me. I let you take a bullet. That was my choice.”
Puck snorts. “Bullshit.”
“Bullshit that it was your choice,” Puck says. “You wanna blame somebody? Blame me. I told you to pick me. Or better, how about you blame the crazy guy with the gun who actually shot me.”
Kurt buries his face in his hands and takes a deep, shuddering breath. “I was relieved when you told me to pick you,” he whispers. “I’m a horrible person.” His shoulder start to shake and a gasping sob comes out of him.
“Hey, no, Kurt,” Puck says, but he’s trapped in his bed with all kinds of wires and things, and he can’t even get up and go over to Kurt. “It’s not like that. You’re not horrible ‘cause you didn’t want your brother or boyfriend shot.”
“It should have been me,” Kurt sobs into his hands. “I walked away without a scratch.”
“So’d Blaine, and hell, I don’t even like the guy, but I’d rather take forty bullets than had any of the rest of you get shot,” Puck says, firmly. “Especially you,” he adds, in an undertone, but it’s loud enough for Kurt to hear, and he looks up at Puck.
“Why me?” Kurt asks, sniffling. His face is a pink, puffy mess and his hair’s sticking up all crazy, but the look on his face is so sweet and sad that it hurts Puck’s heart.
“‘Cause you’re better than all of us, is why,” Puck mutters, turning away from Kurt. “You’re too good to end like that. Anyway,” he adds, forcing humor back into his voice, “I’d already gotten shot once, so it was like consolidating the damage. Made a lot more sense than spreading it out.”
Kurt gives him a watery smile. “I’d have taken my share to spare you.”
Puck snorts, “Please. If a bullet even got near you, you’d be shrieking about how it’s messing up your hair and putting holes in your Vivienne Westwood terrorist shirt or whatever.”
“Puck!” Kurt gasps.
“Yeah, I know, I know, you don’t shriek.”
“No,” Kurt says, “how on earth do you know who Vivienne Westwood is?”
“What? I listen to stuff!”
Kurt shakes his head. “You’re an enigma wrapped inside a mystery, Puck, I swear.”
“Yeah, you love it.”
This time, Puck knows he hears it when Kurt says, “Yes, I do.”
“You know,” Puck says, as he and Kurt enjoy a ‘delicious’ hospital lunch, “this is really nice.”
Kurt looks at him like he has two heads and one of the heads is breathing fire.
“Not the food, or the being shot or hospital part,” Puck explains. “Just, this. You and me. Hanging out and talking. I know it sounds kinda stupid, but I like it. No Finn, no boyfriend, just you and me.”
Kurt smiles, though the two-heads-breathing-fire look doesn’t totally disappear from his face. “I like it too. I hate the circumstances, but I can’t deny I’m enjoying the company.”
“Nah,” Puck scoffs. “You’re totally just here because you feel guilty.”
“I said I felt guilty. I never said that was the reason I was here.”
“Well, why are you, then?”
Kurt flushes pink and turns his attention to poking a square container of Jell-O with his fork. “Oh, I’m just a worrier, is all.”
“Mmhmm. You’re missing school and pissing off your boyfriend to be up here with me, and it’s ‘cause you’re just a worrier?” Puck snorts. “Look, I know I’m not the smartest guy, but now you’re just being insulting.”
“What? It’s true!” Kurt replies, flustered. “I do worry. I couldn’t stand thinking you being up here, waking up alone, and your mother couldn’t seem to be bothered to wait up here all day, and you looked so pale and awful, and...”
“And what?” Puck demands.
“And I just needed to be here, ok?” Kurt snaps. “I needed to be here and hold your stupid hand, because I was afraid that if I didn’t, you’d die, and I wouldn’t even get a chance to tell you how sorry I am, and how awful it was that this all happened, and how much I like you and didn’t want you to die.”
Silence. Long, uncomfortable silence.
“You like me?” Puck asks, raising one eyebrow.
Kurt sniffs and crosses his arms. “If that feeds your poor, injured ego, then yes. I find your company pleasant.”
“You like me,” Puck grins.
“Shut up, Puck.”
“You liiiiiike me, you want to hold my haaaaand,” Puck sings.
“Is that necessary?”
“Yeah, it is. Say you like me,” Puck says.
“Really, I don’t think—”
“Just say it, dude,” Puck insists.
“Fine!” Kurt snaps. “I like you, you insufferable preschooler.”
“Awesome,” Puck says, slumping back against the bedding. “Shit, you wear me out, dude. See if you can get that nurse back in here to crank up my pain meds.”
Kurt rolls his eyes and finishes his Jell-O.
“I don’t wanna use it!” Puck snarls, scowling at Kurt, as Kurt opens the Nav’s passenger door to let Puck out. “It’s lame.”
“You’re lame,” Kurt says, “and you’re using the damn cane. Your doctor said you have to use it, and no carrying anything heavy, either, so honestly, don’t waste your energy on a tantrum. I’m carrying your bag, and you, Noah Puckerman, are using the cane.”
“Like you can make me,” Puck says, but he’s aware he’s pretty much sulking fruitlessly, because Kurt will make him use the cane, a point illustrated by the dramatic arch of one of Kurt’s eyebrows.
“I can’t?” Kurt asks, staring Puck in the eyes as he lifts Puck’s bag over his shoulder.
“Fuck,” Puck mutters, making a big show of picking up the cane and leaning on it heavily as he steps out of the Nav, a show that becomes unnecessary after the first few steps, when he has to acknowledge how much he actually needs the damn cane.
“Hurt?” Kurt asks. “Did you bring your pills?”
“I don’t need the pills,” Puck grumbles.
“I didn’t ask if you needed them. I asked if you brought them.” Puck makes a face and points to the outer pocket of his bag. Kurt smiles. “Good. If you do decide you need them, it’s good that they’re here, right?”
“That’s such a good boy,” Kurt coos, before bursting into a laugh.
“Stuff it, dude. I’m bad and you love it.”
“I really do.”
“Really do what?” Blaine says, popping up out of nowhere like some kind of bowtie-wearing groundhog, and giving Kurt a quick peck on the cheek. Puck turns his face away.
“Really need to get Puck to class!” Kurt says, his voice crisp.
“Kurt,” Blaine murmurs, “it’s not your job to be his babysitter. You have to stop blaming yourself.”
“I’m not being his babysitter, Blaine,” Kurt answers, also in an undertone. “And if I’m blaming myself, well, I have cause for that. It wouldn’t hurt you to show him a little gratitude, all things considered.”
“Kurt, what happened wasn’t my fault, and I don’t think I should be penalized for not wallowing in guilt the way you seem to be doing,” Blaine protests.
Puck continues slowly heading for the front doors, missing the words of Kurt’s response to Blaine, though not their sharp tone. Puck tries to balance the cane and fumble the doors open, but Kurt comes jogging up next to him.
“Why didn’t you wait?” he pants, pulling open the door. “I’m sorry you had to hear that.”
“No big,” Puck shrugs. “He’s right. He doesn’t owe me anything.”
“Whether you feel he owes you anything, he could show a little compassion, at the very least,” Kurt sniffs. “I mean, he wouldn’t even visit you while you were in the hospital.”
“Didn’t need him to visit. Didn’t want him to visit.”
“Still, he should have at least expressed a desire to check in on you,” Kurt argues.
“Maybe he figured you were doing that enough for the both of you.”
“Was there something wrong with me being at the hospital with you?” Kurt asks.
“Didn’t say that,” Puck sighs. “I just don’t know that Blaine appreciated it.”
“Well, he can shove it,” Kurt says, angrily readjusting his bag and Puck’s on his shoulder as they start to slip. “Where’s your class?”
“English, with Fitzsimmons,” Puck says, pointing down a side hall. “I can take it from here, so you can gimme my bag now.”
“I’m sorry?” Kurt says, putting his hand up to his ear. “I couldn’t hear you over the sound of you being an idiot.”
“Fine, fine,” Puck grumbles. “Carry the damn bag. Defend my honor to your damn boyfriend. I’ll just sit in my goddamn tower and wait for my prince to come.”
“I just don’t picture you as the damsel in distress type, Puck,” Kurt says, as they arrive at Puck’s classroom. He looks Puck up and down. “For starters, you could not pull off the Rapunzel look. Blond, with your skin tone?” He shudders. “Horrid.”
As Puck approaches the Nav, he sees Kurt and Blaine involved in conversation. No, not conversation, fighting. Kurt’s face is red and his arms are flying around in angry gestures, while Blaine does that rapid minute head shake he gets when he’s lecturing Kurt about something. It doesn’t look good and Puck considers gimping his way back into the building and waiting it out. He turns to go.
“Puck?” Kurt calls. “Come on, we’re going.”
Blaine glares at Puck like Puck owes him money or punched his kitten. “So that’s your decision, then?” he asks Kurt.
“I think that, at least, should be obvious,” Kurt snaps, coming around to help Puck get the passenger door open, a trick he still hasn’t mastered while holding the cane. Blaine continues to stare at them, even as Kurt slams the door behind Puck, stomps around to the driver’s side, and cranks the Nav. Puck spares a glance in the rearview mirror as they drive away and Blaine becomes a smaller and smaller object.
“What was that about?” Puck asks.
“Nothing for you to worry about.”
“Dude,” Puck says. “Seriously. Come on.”
Kurt sighs. “Blaine laid down an ultimatum and I wasn’t willing to play along.”
“What kind of ultimatum.”
“Well, it was long and drawn out and more passively-aggressively phrased than should be humanly possible, but it essentially boiled down to him or you,” Kurt explains.
“And, what?” Kurt asks, cutting Puck a sideways glance. “You’re in the car, aren’t you?”
“I guess I am.”
The drive for a few minute in silence, before Puck asks, “Is it like he says? A guilt thing?”
Kurt gives a half-shrug in response. “Maybe at the very first, right after the...shooting.”
“But not now?”
“So, what now?”
“I don’t know, Puck,” Kurt answers. “I just broke up with my boyfriend, on top of everything else, so I don’t really know what happens past helping you up into your apartment.”
“I’ve got some ideas,” Puck suggests.
“Oh, I just bet you do,” Kurt says, wryly.
“Yeah, you love it.”
“I do, actually.”
“So, I’ve come to a decision,” Kurt says, when he picks Puck up the following morning.
“Oh, yeah? What about?” Puck asks.
“I’ve decided I need to find out for sure if this is really some misguided way of handling my guilt,” Kurt explains.
“If it is?”
“Well, if it is, I suppose I need to find a healthy way to address it,” Kurt says. “Therapy? I don’t know.”
“If it’s not?”
Kurt blushes. Puck looks at him hard, and Kurt blushes even brighter. Puck raises one eyebrow, and Kurt blushes a deep, furious red.
“Oh,” Puck breathes.
“Really?” Puck asks.
“Possibly,” Kurt says.
“So, how do you figure out the guilt thing, then?”
“I have no clue,” Kurt says. “I was considering process of elimination.”
“How’s that work?”
“I thought I might start by seeing if it’s not guilt and working from there,” Kurt says, all in a high-voiced rush. “If you’re amenable.”
Puck furrows his brow and stares at Kurt. “That mean what I think it means?”
Instead of answering, Kurt reaches out and slides his hand behind Puck’s head, pulling him close. His lips press against Pucks, soft and sweet, and Puck’s mouth opens instinctively under the pressure of Kurt’s kiss. Kurt’s tongue grazes Puck’s, and it tastes like cinnamon-sugar. Puck kisses him back, hard and hungrily, until Kurt finally breaks away from Puck, breathing hard.
“So? What’s the verdict?”
“I don’t think it’s guilt,” Kurt breathes.
“What is it, then?” Puck asks.
“I don’t know,” Kurt says. “I really don’t know, but it’s...it’s something.”
“Yeah, and you love it?” Puck suggests, tentatively.
“I do,” Kurt says, smiling. “I really, really do.”