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Political Junkies

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A month after Noah turns six, a month after kindergarten finally starts, his mom says that he can stay up and watch a television show with her. He doesn’t really understand any of what he’s watching or most of what they’re talking about, but his mom lets him stay up late to watch the show. As the weeks go by, Puck starts to appreciate the way the characters on the show talk, and he begins to understand a little of what the show is about. The President. His staff. His family. Their families. He memorizes the characters’ names: Josh and Toby first, because his mother proudly points out that they are Jewish, just like Noah; C.J. and Sam and Leo and President Bartlet and Mrs. Bartlet; Zoe and Charlie and Donna.

When the summer comes, Noah misses their show, and when it comes back, he and his mom are both happy. Their show is what they have in common, even when his mom gets pregnant and then has his little sister, even when Noah’s dad leaves, even when Noah starts asking people at school to call him Puck.

The summer before middle school, they call Puck’s mom and tell her they want to move him up a class for math. Puck doesn’t want to do it, because what kind of nerd takes smart classes? But his mom talks to him about polling data and statistics, about how if he learns the math, eventually he wouldn’t need a Joey Lucas to explain the statistics to him.

Puck goes into the advanced math class without a word. He sits in the back and does his work, and no one knows about it except Puck and his mom.

Puck is twelve and finishing sixth grade when the show ends, and his mom cries, and Puck cries, too, because what will he watch with his mom, now? He cries in his bedroom, not in front of anyone else, not even his mom or his sister. Sometimes that summer his mom turns on news programs about politics, and by the time the 2006 midterms come along, Puck’s kind of hooked on real politics, too. It’s not like he’s going to say anything to anyone, but when his Hanukkah present is the boxed set of all of the show, the first thing he does is call Finn.

The next thing they do is inhale the series over what’s left of winter break, Puck enthusiastically trying to explain the series to Finn without giving anything away. They finish it in January and Puck starts making Finn watch the political shows with him sometimes, going to the internet for more information about different names and races and issues.

Sometimes Puck even reads some books about politics, and he thinks it’s too bad that none of their classes at school are actually interesting and relevant. History should be, in theory, but they spend all of seventh grade on geography that Puck can look up even on his slow computer, and eighth grade ends up being entirely Ohio state history. Instead, he keeps watching things like CSPAN and MSNBC, reading things online, and always rewatching parts of West Wing.

By the time Puck and Finn start high school, Finn’s figured out about Puck’s math class, but he promises never to mention it, not to anyone, and that’s more or less that. Even during sophomore year, after Finn finds out about Quinn and the baby, he doesn’t say anything.

He doesn’t say anything when he arrives at Puck’s to watch their shows, either. Puck’s mom lets him in, and Finn sits at the opposite end of the couch from Puck. They lean away from each other most of the time that they’re watching, and the only times that either of them speak, it’s in a monotone, directly related to the issues being discussed on their shows. It still stays between Puck and Finn, and it gives Puck some hope, even if it’s only a slight hope.

Which is why Puck leaves the paperwork out a few times when Finn shows up over the summer, paperwork for the program in DC in the fall. It’s just over a week, plus the travel time, and Puck knows he can’t exactly tell people at McKinley where he’s going, not and have any of them believe him, but he wants Finn to at least guess at the truth, whatever story ends up being told.

The program is how Puck ends up keeping his head shaved, instead of the mohawk, for months, and it’s how Puck ends up with more suits than he ever thought he’d own. The program, Presidential Classroom, is more fun than Puck expects, even after years of following politics, and when he comes back, it takes all of Puck’s self-control not to laugh at the rumor he was in juvie for stealing an ATM. He makes up some stories about juvie, since that’s apparently what’s expected, and decides to try actually talking to Finn when he shows up the next time.

Because Finn is the only person who knows how much Puck loves all of the politics, who gets why Puck’s obsessed with the build-up to the midterms, and who can possibly understand just how awesome a full week in DC was. It all makes Puck glad they’ve kept at least some of their grades under wraps, and as part of his efforts to talk to Finn, Puck orders pizza five minutes before Finn arrives on Sunday. If it’s a total flop, at least he can fall back on eating pizza.

Puck waits until they’ve been sitting down for a couple of minutes before he says anything. “I wasn’t in juvie,” he says, angling his body towards the middle of the room, instead of the arm of the sofa. “I wasn’t even in Ohio.”

“I didn’t think you were really in juvie,” Finn replies.

“No? You figure I’d at least knock over a bank, not an ATM, or what?”

Finn shrugs. “I thought maybe it was a Jewish thing. I know you don’t want anybody to see you wearing the little hat.”

Puck snorts back a laugh. “Yeah, I don’t, but no. I was in DC.” He can’t help but grin as he says it.

“Yeah?” Finn asks.

“I got in. The Presidential Classroom thing,” Puck explains. “It was awesome.”

“Like in Isaac and Ishmael?” Finn asks, bouncing in his seat. “Did you meet the President? Did you meet Rahm Emanuel?

Puck’s grin gets bigger. “No, I didn’t get to meet either of them, but yeah, like Isaac and Ishmael. I did get to meet Senator Brown. And we got to listen to a talk from Hillary’s deputy.”

“That is so awesome, dude! Why didn’t you tell me?”

Puck shrugs. “I wasn’t sure they’d take me. And, I mean…” he trails off a little, shrugging again. “Things were how they were.”

“Yeah,” Finn says. He stops the excited bouncing and nods slowly. “Yeah, that makes sense. Still, that’s really cool, Puck.”

“I now own way more suits than I ever thought I would, though,” Puck says wryly. “You wanna see some pictures? We went to the Smithsonian one morning, too.”

“Yeah! You should tell me all about every single minute!”

“Cool.” Puck grins again and goes to get his phone, pulling up the album of pictures from DC. “First of all, the airport in DC? Is huge.”

It doesn’t fix things, going over pictures and everything Puck did in DC, but it’s a start, and the two of them spend the night of Election Day at Puck’s, fists clenching and gritting their teeth, and between that and the football championship two months later, Puck feels like he and Finn are headed back to relatively solid ground. The new year’s pretty quiet—there’s not a lot of races that will be decided in 2011, or at least it doesn’t look like there will be, so Finn and Puck spend the spring and summer watching the Republican primary contenders for 2012.

In the fall, when they start senior year, their US Representative resigns, and Puck winces at the thought of Congresswoman Sylvester. A week later, Kurt announces he’s running for class president, and Puck spends a few days mulling over whether he and Finn, or even just Puck, should offer some of what they know, because they know a lot more than anyone would even begin to suspect. Brittany volunteers first, though, and even after she quits, Puck considers that he has to be willing to work with both a candidate and a candidate’s significant other. That, Puck figures, is probably not something he’s willing to do, so he doesn’t say anything.

Just a couple of weeks later, though, Puck’s sitting around, ignoring his English homework, when his phone rings, Finn’s name flashing on the screen, and Puck picks it up to answer.

“‘Sup?”

“Oh my god, you are never gonna guess what,” Finn says, talking super fast and sounding borderline-ecstatic.

Puck sits up, looking around his room for his shoes, because whatever it is, it sounds like something that requires leaving his room. “What is it?”

“Guess who’s running for the congressional seat?” Finn says. “Just guess.”

“Besides Sylvester, you mean?” Puck frowns. “No one from the city council. The dude from the school board? Not Bryan Ryan, the other one with the rhyming names?”

“No! It’s Burt! Like, Kurt’s dad Burt!”

“Holy shit.” Puck almost drops his shoe. “He hasn’t hired anyone yet, has he? And fuck, how’s he gonna pull off running as a Democrat in Allen County?”

“No, he only just told us,” Finn says. “Oh, wait, maybe he did hire somebody. Let me ask.” Puck can hear Finn putting his hand over the phone, but even muffled, Finn’s voice carries. “Burt, you didn’t hire a campaign manager yet, right?” After a mumbled reply from Burt, Finn speaks into the phone again, “He says no.”

“You think the state party’ll try to send someone? Or, hell, the DCCC? I mean, what if we get a Will Bailey out here? Competent, sure, but if they send him someone from a surefire blue state, they’re not gonna get it.” Puck finishes pulling on his shoes and stands up as he talks. “Want me to come over?”

“Yeah, obviously,” Finn says. “See you in ten, dude. We’ll talk about it when you get here.”

Puck grabs his backpack and his keys, yelling to his mom that he’s going to Finn’s and not waiting for a response before he leaves. While he drives, he wonders if Burt wouldn’t do better running as an independent, depending on what support the state and national parties are willing to offer, considering how right-leaning Allen County and the rest of the congressional district tend to lean. Puck parks on the street and walks up to the door and straight in without knocking.

“So how are you going to position your message given the overall conservative bent to the district?” Puck asks when he walks into their living room, where Finn, Kurt, Carole, and Burt are all sitting.

“Well, hello to you, too, Noah,” Carole says.

“He’s gonna have to make it single issue!” Finn says. “Right? I mean, he can’t take the district if it comes down to the values voters.”

Carole looks between Finn and Puck with a confused expression, then she puts the back of her hand on Finn’s forehead. “Finn, honey, are you feeling okay?”

“Yeah, too much emphasis on fiscal issues and the Tea Party types’ll get too riled up, and on the other side, they’d kill him on choice or marriage equality,” Puck agrees, sitting down next to him and pulling a notebook out of his backpack. “Hey, Mrs. H.” He turns to Burt with an eyebrow raised while he rifles for a pen with one hand. “Did you have one particular issue? Or two or three, you could maybe get out a quick and dirty poll in the next few days and go from there.”

Burt looks even more confused than Carole, his gaze going from Puck to Finn and back to Puck. “I was thinking about funding for the arts in school when I agreed to run,” Burt says. “If you think marriage equality is out as an issue, I suppose we can backburner it.” He gives Kurt an apologetic look, then turns back to Puck. “How can I avoid the financial aspect if—wait, why am I talking to a seventeen year old and an eighteen year old like they’re campaign staff?”

Puck hides a grin and nudges Finn with his elbow while he starts writing. “I think we’ve been found out, dude,” he whispers.

“Oh well,” Finn says, shrugging. “It was gonna happen sooner or later.”

“Finn Hudson!” Carole suddenly exclaims. “Have you been sneaking around doing politics?”

“Hey! At least I didn’t skip school for a week to go to D.C.!” Finn retorts.

“It was an excused absence!” Puck says, shaking his head. “It’s not my fault someone made up a story about juvie.”

Kurt squawks indignantly. Puck glances at him briefly, then looks back at Burt, who looks just as confused as he did before, and Puck shakes his head again.

“We’ve been following politics pretty closely since sixth grade,” Puck explains. “Last year I went to Presidential Classroom in the fall. And…” he trails off, looking at Finn. “Should I even tell ‘em the college stuff?” he whispers.

Finn nods. “Yeah, if you tell, maybe they’ll let us help for real.”

“Yeah, we’re not going to get into Georgetown or anything,” Puck says, “but we’ve looked at George Washington and American. American’s probably our best shot, and they have this two-week campaign management institute, too. Finn’s more a CJ, though, he can really charm the press.”

“What’s a CJ?” Carole asks. “Finn, I’m so confused about all of this. If you’re so into this political stuff, why is your history grade always so low?”

“History classes are boring,” Finn explains. “We like the real thing.”

“Yeah, when I talked to people at Presidential Classroom, most of the better schools don’t do history like they do at McKinley,” Puck says. “McKinley’s social science program is way outdated. And the foreign language instruction is awful. It’s not worth our effort.”

“Let me get this straight,” Burt says, scratching his head briefly. “You boys know enough about politics that you want to, what? Help with my campaign?”

Puck exchanges a glance with Finn. “Not exactly help,” he says slowly. Finn raises his eyebrows and nods faintly at Puck. “We want to run it.” Then Puck sits back a little and waits for the other three to react.

Burt just gapes at Puck and Finn, turning to stare at Carole. “What?” Carole asks. “I didn’t know about any of this!”

“Dad, you can’t really consider letting them run your campaign,” Kurt says.

Puck smirks, putting the cap back on his pen and turning his notebook towards Kurt. “I’m guessing you think you know of someone who has a better timeline for him for the next three days? Polling data’ll help shape the days after that, as well as initial response and donors.” He turns towards Burt. “We’re a lot less expensive than whoever the state party or the DCCC wants to send, and we know the district. Also probably better than whoever gets sent here.”

“You set up the press conference for 5:30, right?” Finn asks Burt. “Local news, so that’s free media, and free is good.”

“That’s what I wrote down,” Puck says. “I was thinking you could introduce him. Or, hmm.” He grabs his pen again, turning his notebook around, and he looks between Kurt and Finn. “Maybe both of you should introduce him. Heartwarming family moment, then you can go stand with Carole and smile.”

“I’m not sure it’s a good idea for me to be on camera, at least not at the beginning,” Kurt says quietly.

Puck frowns at Kurt and shakes his head. “Just don’t wear something like that sweater with the woman’s face on it you had years ago,” he says. “If you aren’t on camera, there’s gonna be questions about why you aren’t.”

Kurt frowns and shakes his head. “If neither of us are on camera, there won’t be.”

“I’m not going to bench two of Burt’s biggest potential assets,” Puck insists. “Why would he care about arts funding in the schools without showing how his own family has benefitted?” Puck grins suddenly. “Do you want some image advice ahead of time?”

Kurt huffs and makes his prissy face. “From you? I think I’ll pass.”

I want to be on camera,” Finn insists. “I’ll take image advice!”

“‘Course you do, you’re a CJ,” Puck says, still grinning, but he turns to look at Finn. “Congressional special election, we might as well combine communications director and spokesperson, right?”

“What’s this ‘CJ’ thing you two keep talking about, anyway?” Kurt asks irritably, crossing his arms.

West Wing.” Puck looks at Finn. “What do you think, you think he’s a Sam? Or maybe a Toby.”

“He’s grumpy like a Toby,” Finn points out.

“I’m not grumpy!” Kurt says.

“You’re grumpy,” Finn insists.

“I’m not!”

“Well, sometimes you’re a little grumpy,” Carole says, looking like she’s trying to conceal a laugh. “But Puck, I had no idea you and Finn had seen West Wing!”

“I’ve seen it all twice,” Finn says.

“Three times for me,” Puck says, “and we’ve seen some episodes four or five times.”

“Or six!” Finn says.

“We were really hoping for a floor vote at the convention in ‘08, like on the show, but it didn’t happen,” Puck says with a little bit of a sigh.

“If you’re so good at all of this, why didn’t you offer to help me with my student body president campaign?” Kurt demands.

Puck shrugs. “Not gonna speak for Finn, but for me, I decided a couple of years ago I wasn’t gonna work on a campaign unless I could work with the candidate’s family and significant other, too.”

“Well, clearly you have no problem working with my family!” Kurt says. Finn snorts in that covering-up-a-laugh way.

“Then I guess it must be your significant other,” Puck says blandly.

Excuse me?” Kurt says in a rising shriek.

“Yeah,” Finn agrees.

Burt starts laughing, concealing it pretty poorly. “I, uh, I think he’s objecting to Blaine,” he says to Kurt. “That’s a smart policy in general, though, kid,” he tells Puck, who nods once.

“I’m a lot of things, Kurt, but I’m not a masochist, and as far as I know, Finn isn’t either,” Puck tries to explain. “Blaine would argue with everything we said, trying to explain why he knows how to do it better, whether he does or not. That’s too much stress for a high school election.”

Puck watches with some amusement as Kurt’s face slowly gets red. Kurt huffs again, before protesting, “That is completely uncalled for! I’ve always supported you in all your—”

Finn interrupts Kurt with, “Notice he didn’t say you were wrong.”

“Yeah, I did notice that,” Puck agrees, as Burt stands up and offers his hand to Carole.

“We’ll let you boys finish with this, and Carole and I will discuss my campaign for half an hour or so,” Burt says.

“I understand,” Puck says, nodding at Burt again as he and Carole leave the room. “Kurt, we’re not saying anything about your candidacy. Just that unless you were willing to shut Blaine out of giving you any advice whatsoever, we didn’t really want to go there.” He looks at Finn again. “Sorry, I’m just assuming that was your reasoning. We didn’t really talk about it.”

Finn shrugs. “I just figured he wouldn’t want my help.”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t exactly figure he’d say yes, at least not right away, even if I did offer,” Puck admits. “But that’s why I didn’t offer.” He looks back at Kurt, who looks even redder than before.

“Hello,” Kurt says. “I’m right here in front of you.”

“Hi,” Puck says brightly, smirking. “Did you want to comment about Blaine? Or the desirability of our help?”

Kurt lets out a high-pitched growl, then says, “Your support would have been appreciated.”

“Well, I was planning on voting for you,” Finn says. “Don’t tell Rachel.”

Puck makes a whipping motion with his hand as he makes a cracking noise, smirking at Kurt and Finn. Finn glares back at Puck.

“Shut up,” Finn mumbles.

“Was there anything else you two political ingenues needed me for?” Kurt asks.

“Yeah, I prefer the term ‘wunderkind’,” Puck says easily, still smirking.

Finn raises his hand. “‘Golden child’. Or ‘boy genius’.”

“Offer’s open, if you agree to the terms about Blaine,” Puck adds with a little shrug. “I mean, if people actually voted on the merits of the candidates, you’d win in a landslide, but they don’t, especially not in high school elections.”

“I’ll consider it,” Kurt says, pressing his lips together into a tight frown after he speaks.

“We should make him watch West Wing,” Puck says to Finn. “He might think he’s a Bartlet, though.”

“Yeah, definitely not a Bartlet,” Finn says, nodding. “But maybe a Sam.”

“A Sam?” Kurt asks.

“Yeah, West Wing first,” Finn says. “Puck’s a Josh.”

“I’m the Josh,” Puck insists. “Only difference is I’m not going to have a receding hairline at an early age.”

“It’s already receded as much as it’ll go on the sides,” Finn says.

“Shut up,” Puck grumbles. “Bad enough the mohawk’s got a time limit on it.”

“Fine, I’ll watch West Wing, or at least a few episodes,” Kurt concedes. “Is that your only other stipulation?”

“Can you think of anything else?” Puck asks Finn. “Good thing we lightened our schedules this year so we weren’t wasting time on McKinley’s version of classes, I guess.”

Finn twists up his mouth as he thinks about it, then nods once. “Yeah. You can’t act like you’re smarter than us. I mean, we know you’re smarter than us, but not about this stuff.”

“Bet he doesn’t know any Arabic, either,” Puck says with a grin.

Kurt’s mouth drops open. “You two know Arabic?”

“I can’t write it,” Finn says, sounding almost apologetic. “I can read it a little, but mostly it’s the spoken stuff.”

“It was Arabic or Chinese,” Puck explains. “I already at least knew Hebrew, which isn’t the same, but it was a little bit of an advantage.” He shrugs. “We had to save for a bit to afford the program.”

“Yeah, that Rosetta Stone stuff is like super expensive,” Finn says.

“You two bought Rosetta Stone to learn Arabic?” Kurt says, looking askance at Finn. “But... why?”

“Spanish is boring, and McKinley doesn’t have an Arabic teacher,” Finn says.

“We knew what we wanted to do years before you ever even heard of that NYADA place. We just don’t go talking about it to everyone.” Puck shrugs. “West Wing’s on Netflix, I think. If it’s not, I’ve got the box set at home.”

“It is,” Finn says. “I’ve watched Transition like seven or nine times.”

“That’s just ‘cause you like the end, where they get on the—” Puck looks at Kurt guiltily. “Sorry, don’t want to spoil anything.”

“Yeah,” Finn concedes, smiling sheepishly.

“Real question, I guess, is who’s my Donna?” Puck muses.

“I’ll look for it,” Kurt says. “I’ll get back to you after.”

“Another successful convert,” Puck says, holding his fist up for Finn to bump as Burt comes back into the living room.

“I have just a couple of questions, boys,” Burt says, looking mainly at Finn. “Is this going to affect your grades or other activities, Finn?”

“No way,” Finn says. Puck swallows a laugh, because they already spend a lot of time planning fake campaigns and media strategies, not to mention they’ve had to up their time prepping for college applications.

“Another thing, Puckerman. I’m not crazy about the idea of introducing my campaign staff as ‘Puck’.”

“I knew it would happen sooner or later,” Puck says to Finn, then looks back at Burt. “Yeah, you can introduce me as Noah.” Puck looks around to make sure Kurt left, hopefully to find West Wing on Netflix, then sighs. “I don’t really want to, but I can shave the mohawk, too.”

“It’s gonna have to go eventually anyway,” Finn points out. “We can send it off in style.”

“Yeah, but I thought I’d manage another fifteen months or so,” Puck says.

“Let’s get through your initial three days and then we’ll decide about your… mohawk,” Burt says, looking like he can’t quite understand how he ended up running for Congress, much less discussing the mohawk on one of his campaign managers.

Puck grins. “I like the sound of the first part of that sentence,” he says, nudging Finn. “Did you already pick a venue for the announcement press conference? Maybe the auditorium at McKinley, to tie into the arts funding issue.”

“See, I was thinking on front of the tire shop,” Finn counters. “Make him look, you know. Folksy and blue collar.”

“He can’t literally be wearing a blue collar though,” Puck points out. “It needs to be an off the rack suit, too. Tailored, sure, but something from Elder-Beerman at the mall at the nicest.” Puck grabs his notebook and starts writing again. “If it was the tire shop, you or Kurt could have coveralls on, maybe.”

“Yeah, I could wear them, but you know Kurt won’t want to,” Finn says. “Mine have my name on them, though!”

“Yeah, Kurt wearing ‘em is a long-shot,” Puck agrees, but he makes a note to mention it to Kurt anyway, mainly to see the look on Kurt’s face. “What’s the most fuel-efficient vehicle you own?” he asks Burt.

“Huh?” Burt asks.

“You’re not going to get many outside donations if you’re standing in front of a gas guzzler. Hybrid’d be best, but a regular old sedan will work.” Puck frowns and looks at Finn. “Or do you think we should borrow a hybrid or electric car? Locals mostly won’t notice, but if it brought in some outside environmental money, it might be worth it.”

“Rachel’s Flintstones car,” Finn suggests.

“Oh, yeah, that’s right, she’s got that Volt or whatever.” Puck nods and makes a note. “Yeah, that’s good. In front of Rachel’s car, just a microphone, I think. Can you memorize your announcement speech, Burt?”

“If it’s not too long, I guess,” Burt says slowly.

“They’ll ask you questions. The important thing to remember is, if you don’t accept the premise of the question—”

“Don’t answer it,” Finn finishes.

“You’ll have to be ready to jump in if anything gets too out of hand,” Puck says, nodding at Finn. “That probably won’t happen until later in the campaign, though.”

“What have I gotten myself into?” Burt asks.

Puck grins, making another note on his page and tilting it towards Finn. It says ‘more like what colleges are we going to be able to get into now’, and Finn snickers.

“We’ll meet at the tire shop at 4:30 tomorrow,” Puck says. “That’ll give us all time to review the game plan. Have a draft of your announcement speech so we can look at the language.”

Burt nods, still looking somewhat stunned, and he stands, offering his hand. “Well, boys, I think this’ll be an adventure.”

Puck shakes his hand, still grinning, and after Burt’s shaken Finn’s hand and left the room, Puck turns to Finn. “Okay, what do we need to do right now?” He runs his hand over his head. “And what do you think about the ‘hawk?”

“Well, I’ll be in coveralls, you have those suits, if they still fit you, so all of that’s taken care of,” Finn says, tilting his head to one side as he looks at Puck. “And the mohawk. Ehhh.”

“Ehhh?” Puck raises one eyebrow.

“I don’t want to say you should shave it.”

“But?” Puck prompts.

“But you should shave it,” Finn says, with a little sigh at the end.

“Yeah, I was afraid of that,” Puck concedes. “You’d better make sure you have at least one suit that still fits, though, ‘cause the coveralls are only going to work the first day.”