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29 Years

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On the first day of school, the only stories Moxxie tells Puck all involve her brand-new best friend, Pips. Moxxie isn’t sure what Pips’s last name is, but while they eat tacos on their balcony, she has plenty of other tidbits of information to share. As the meal goes on, she becomes more and more sure that it must be ‘Human’, which seems a little odd to Puck, but he shrugs and listens to Moxxie.

“My friend Pips is really tall. I think she must be four or five inches taller than me.”

“Dad, did I tell you Pips moved here from Chicago? All the way from Chicago! That’s, like, so far.”

“Pips is so pretty, Dad. She looks like a magazine. I didn’t think real people looked like that, only the plastic people around here, but she’s from Chicago and I don’t think she even got her nose did there.”

“Guess what, Dad? Pips doesn’t have a mom that lives with her, either! It’s just her and her dad. He teaches at my school now. He doesn’t teach Core 2. He teaches Core 1. He used to teach at Pips’s old school in Chicago and now he teaches at SMASH.”

“Dad, Pips is so pretty, but her hair is awful! I think Mr. Human cuts it himself or else they go to the five dollar place. I told Pips she should get you to do her hair, and she’s gonna tell Mr. Human to bring her to the salon. You can do her hair with pink in it or purple. Those are her favorite colors.”

Puck laughs and hands Moxxie another napkin. “Is Miss Pips quiet like you or more talkative?”

“Hmm. She listens better than me.”

“Does that mean Mr., er, Human? Is being told a lot of things about you and me right now?” Puck asks.

Moxxie nods her head vigorously. “Oh yeah. Pips said she was gonna tell him all about me so that maybe we could have a sleepover on the weekend. Maybe this weekend?” she finishes, clasping her hands in front of her and giving him her best begging eyes.

“If Pips wants to spend the night with you, it’d have to be Saturday night,” Puck says. “You know that.”

“You’re the best dad ever, Dad!” Moxxie says, leaning most of her body over the table to hug him.

“I love you too,” Puck says, returning the hug, “but you still have to do your after-dinner chores.”

“Daaaaaaaad!”

“I know, you’re very oppressed by my authoritarian ways,” Puck says. “I should have known SMASH would backfire on me somehow.”

“It’s child labor!” Moxxie says. “That’s against the law!”

“Only if I pay you,” Puck says with a grin. “And if you finish fast, we have time to go down to the beach for a bit.”

When Puck and Moxxie sit down for dinner on the second day of school, he braces himself before saying anything. “How was school today?” he finally asks.

“Pips can already speak Spanish, like, so good, Dad,” Moxxie says. “Like she doesn’t even have to take the class, but they don’t even speak it at home, she just speaks it ’cause she likes it.”

“That’s cool,” Puck says, since it seems like Moxxie wants some sort of response.

“She does Core 3 math.”

“Also cool?”

“Did you know she read the whole Hunger Games series in one weekend? One weekend, Dad. Not just the first book. The whole series.”

Puck nods, trying to look impressed. “That’s a lot of reading.”

“Yeah. So much,” Moxxie agrees. “And Pips knows all the words to the whole album of Hamilton, Dad. Remember how we did the song from Hamilton at SMASH Showcase? Yeah. The whole album. It has forty-six songs. You know how I know?”

“How?”

“Pips told me.”

“Of course,” Puck says. “Do I need to plan on hosting Miss Pips this weekend?”

Moxxie sighs loudly. “Mr. Human said he has to meet you before Pips can sleep over, so we can’t do it this weekend.”

“That’s probably reasonable, Moxx. I know it’s disappointing, though,” Puck says.

“It’s not like you’re some weird kidnapper dude,” Moxxie says. “You have a salon. He can look it up on Yelp. You have five stars.”

Puck laughs. “I’m still not someone he knows. I’m sure I’ll meet him at your Back to School Night if not before that, okay?”

“Back to School Night? Dad! That’s over two weeks away!” Moxxie shrieks indignantly.

“Mr. Human’s welcome to drop by the salon before that,” Puck offers.

“I think he already got his hair cut at the five dollar place.”

“Not everyone appreciates the value of a higher-end cut, I guess,” Puck says with a shrug. “He can drop by to meet me, though, even without getting a haircut.”

“I’ll tell her,” Moxxie says. “Maybe he’ll say yes.”

“I’m sure he’s not an ogre who wants to prevent two nine year old girls from having a sleepover.”

“He might be an ogre. He’s really tall, like Pips.”

“But is his skin green?” Puck asks. “Or bubbly?”

“No. It’s normal-looking,” Moxxie says. “Kind of pale, but that’s probably because they’re from Chicago. He could be a half-ogre, though.”

“I’m sure he could be,” Puck says. “Do you have time for the beach with your dad tonight?”

“I always have time for the beach with my dad!”

Puck grins and shakes his head as they clear the table. If Pips turns out to be even half as good as her press, he’s pretty sure Moxxie would pick the beach with Pips with them over just him, but for the time being, the two of them will head down.

As Finn and Pips walk down the Promenade to the Steak ’n Shake to celebrate Pips’s first day (and Finn’s second week) at SMASH, Finn thanks his lucky stars that Pips has always adjusted well to change. The move from Chicago hadn’t just been a matter of distance. Santa Monica had been more of a culture shock to Finn than he expected. Pips always took everything in stride, though, and sure enough, she already has a new best friend after just one day at their new school.

“What did you say her name was, again?” Finn asks, sure that he misheard it the first time.

“Moxxie. M-o-x-x-i-e,” Pips says. “Moxxie Gibson.”

“That’s an unusual name,” Finn says.

“Her old mom named her, before she went to Canada.”

“Her old mom? Is her father remarried?”

Pips shakes her head. “Her mom is not in the picture, Finn.”

“Ah,” is all Finn says, because if there’s one thing he and Pips know all about, it’s a mom not being in the picture.

“But guess what her dad does!” Pips says.

“What does he do?”

“No, you have to guess!”

Finn gives Pips a look he suspects is probably pained. “Do I really?” Pips nods excitedly. “A paleontologist?”

Pips laughs. “No! He owns a hair place!”

“Ah,” Finn says. “I wouldn’t have guessed that.”

“Moxxie says it’s at the Promenade. We could go find it!” Pips says. “After we eat, I mean.”

“Maybe another night, Pips. It’s already a little later than I planned on us eating.”

“It’s even named after Moxxie.”

“You promised Grandma you would Facetime with her tonight before bed,” Finn reminds her.

Pips pouts. “I know. But isn’t that cool, Finn? It’s named Moxxie!”

Naturally, Finn thinks, but all he says is, “Ah.” He ends up saying ‘Ah’ a lot to Pips, which is probably a normal byproduct of having a kid that’s significantly smarter than her parent.

“Moxxie lives on the beach,” Pips says. “Across the street from it, and she says that once, a shark almost ate her.”

“Oh,” Finn says. “Really?”

“She can swim really far out, and she says her dad tells her not to go where it’s so deep. I think it’s probably unlikely that it was a big shark, but maybe a small fish tried to nibble her toes, or a small shark swam past her,” Pips says.

“Does your new friend Moxxie make things up?” Finn asks.

“She’s my new best friend,” Pips says. “I didn’t consider the possibility of making a best friend on the first day, but I did! I don’t think she makes things up. I think she embellishes. It’s fun!”

“As long as you don’t start embellishing, too.”

“I don’t think she was embellishing when she said she wanted to be in the roller derby, though,” Pips says.

“Your new best friend sounds very interesting and exciting,” Finn says.

“Moxxie has red streaks in her hair right now, so probably that’ll look good for roller derby,” Pips says matter-of-factly.

The next day, Finn keeps an eye out for a girl with red streaks in her hair. He finally sees her in the cafeteria talking to Pips over lunch. Moxxie does, in fact, have bright red streaks in her long, extremely curly hair. He only sees her from the back, but he can tell she’s shorter than Pips and uses her hands a lot when she talks. Whatever she’s saying must be fascinating, because Pips keeps nodding her head, wearing her rapt attention face.

That afternoon, the Moxxie talk begins as soon as they get in the car.

“Guess what?” Pips says. “Moxxie’s one of those California religions you talked about with Grandma.”

“Is she?” Finn asks. “What religion?”

“She’s a Kabbalist. She says it’s like being Jewish but with more angels.”

“Moxxie’s life sounds very interesting,” Finn says.

“She and her dad eat dinner on their balcony every night, Finn. Every night! And guess what else?” Pips says.

“What?” Finn says.

“No, guess!”

“They have a pet dragon,” Finn guesses.

“No!”

“I meant a komodo dragon, obviously.”

Pips shakes her head. “They don’t have one of those, either, but Moxxie’s dad said I could sleepover on Saturday night, if it’s okay with you!”

“Ah,” Finn says. “I don’t know about that. I haven’t met Mr. Gibson yet.”

“Who?”

“Moxxie’s father, Mr. Gibson,” Finn says. “Is her last name not the same as his?”

Pips is cagey-looking. “I don’t know what his name is, but it’s not Mr. Gibson,” she says after a few more seconds.

“Ohhhkay. Why do you look like you’re hiding something?” Finn asks.

“Moxxie said they used to live in Sawtelle, before she was old enough for SMASH,” Pips says.

Finn frowns. “Do we not like people from Sawtelle? Is that a thing here?”

“Some people don’t, Moxxie says, because it’s not in Santa Monica and it’s different schools.”

“It’s okay for people to go to different schools, Pips,” Finn says. “SMASH is your third school. Fourth, if you count your old preschool in New York.”

“I don’t,” Pips says, shaking her head.

“I know you don’t,” Finn says. “I’m just saying you could count it.”

“Moxxie’s only ever been to one school. Two if you count her old preschool. It’s not in Santa Monica, either.”

“Ah,” Finn says.

“She went to Jewish preschool, and Moxxie says that whenever there’s a Jewish holiday, everyone likes her and the other Jewish kids in our Core to sing songs.”

“That could be nice,” Finn says. “You know some Jewish holiday songs.”

“I know the dreidel song, but that’s in English,” Pips says.

“It’s a Hanukkah song. I’m sure it counts.”

“I’ll ask Moxxie to teach me one of the ones she knows, too,” Pips says. “Did I tell you what color Moxxie’s bedroom is?”

“No,” Finn sighs. “What color is it?”

“It’s teal. Can I paint my bedroom purple?”

“We can talk about painting it purple,” Finn says.

“Finnnnn,” Pips says as she pouts. “It would look so pretty!”

“I didn’t say no. I said we could talk about it.”

“That usually means no!”

“Well, surprise surprise, this time it means maybe, but only if you stop the whining and the pouting,” Finn says. “You know how I feel about that stuff.”

Pips sighs. “I know. I do think it would be pretty.”

“I’m sure it would, Pips, but I can’t just paint your bedroom on a whim. We have to put a little planning into it, okay?”

“I’m sure Moxxie would help,” Pips says.

“Oh, I’m sure she would,” Finn says.

“Maybe her—her dad would let her spend two nights to help.”

“Maybe after I’ve actually met him, we can discuss that.”

Pips nods, looking mollified. “Moxxie had purple hair last year.”

“Ah,” says Finn.

By the third day of school, Finn has to place a limit on the amount of times Pips can bring up Moxxie during dinner. He sets the limit at ten. Pips hits the limit about six minutes into dinner. She frowns at him, and after a few minutes, she looks like she wants to ask him something.

“What’s up, Pips?” Finn asks.

“Nothing,” Pips says, but after another thirty seconds or so, she looks at Finn again. “You’ll come to my room on Back to School Night part of the time, right?”

“Of course. I want to meet your teachers as a parent, not just a fellow teacher,” Finn says.

“You’re such a dork, Finn,” Pips says, but she looks relieved.

“Takes one to know one, Pips.”



April 15, 2016

Puck finishes up work for the week around two in the afternoon, stops on the way home to get a late lunch and a dozen eggs, and sits down at home to eat his lunch and decide what to do that evening. Twenty minutes later, as he’s throwing away his trash, there’s a knock at the door.

Puck stares at the familiar-looking woman and the little girl with curly hair who doesn’t look familiar for a good thirty seconds before he can place her. “Kandace?”

Kandace nods. “This is Moxxie, and she’s your daughter.”

Puck doesn’t remember the details of the ensuing conversation, just that Kandace steps into the apartment, nudging Moxxie in front of her. He doesn’t understand why Kandace waited until Moxxie was two and a half to tell him about her, either, considering he’s living in the exact same apartment he was three years earlier, but by the time Kandace leaves with a promise to be back at bedtime, Puck is staring at a pile of paperwork that he needs to look at.

Moxxie looks just as shell-shocked as Puck feels, and he drops down into a crouch. “Hi, Moxxie,” he says softly.

“Hi,” Moxxie whispers, holding up her hand and wiggling her fingers.

“I know you don’t know me, but I’m your dad,” Puck says, and as he studies Moxxie’s face, he realizes he definitely doesn’t need any kind of paternity test, not with the way she reminds him so strongly of Jake. “Do you like popsicles?”

Moxxie nods her head slowly, still giving Puck a slightly suspicious side-eye. “Yeth,” she says, still in a whisper.

“I have some orange popsicles, and some fudge ones, too,” Puck says. “Do you want one of those?”

“Two,” Moxxie says, holding up two fingers.

“One for each year you’ve been alive, huh? How about one now and one after dinner?”

Moxxie blinks her large, dark eyes. “Two, pleath.”

“One now, one later,” Puck promises. “Do you want orange or chocolate now?”

“Yeth.”

“Let’s try something different,” Puck says to himself, going over to the freezer and pulling out one of each. He opens both, figuring he’ll eat the other one, and holds them out. “Which one?”

Moxxie screws up her face like she’s thinking it over very carefully, the points to the orange one. “That.”

“Good choice,” Puck says, handing her the orange popsicle carefully before starting to lick his. He sits down on the floor near her. “Is orange your favorite color?”

Moxxie studies Puck for a moment, then sits down next to him on the floor. “Yeth.”

Puck nods, fairly certain that it’s probably not her favorite color. “This is probably pretty weird for you. I’m sorry.”

“Thorry,” Moxxie agrees. “D’you have Netflikth?”

“Netflix? Yeah,” Puck says, then mentally starts to panic, because he’s pretty sure young kids aren’t supposed to watch TV, according to pediatricians. “But it’s sunny! Do you like the park?”

Moxxie looks suspicious again. “Yeth. I like dinothaurth.”

“Hey, me too,” Puck says, smiling at her. “After we eat our popsicles, let’s find a park.”

“A dinothaur park?”

“There’s gotta be one, right?” Puck says as he nods. Surely there’s a park with a dinosaur slide or something. “Maybe swings, too.”

“Dinothaurth,” Moxxie says, more firmly.

“I promise I’ll do my best,” Puck says. “You’ll have to stay with me at the park, okay?”

“Okay.”

Moxxie does, in fact, mostly stay with him at the park, which thankfully has a ride-on T-rex. After the park, Puck goes to the grocery store for the second time that day, picking up one of those probably-awful kid frozen dinners and promising himself he’ll come back for a third time after Moxxie’s gone back to sleep at Kandace’s. That’s what Kandace had suggested—that Puck and Moxxie spend Friday, Saturday, and Sunday together, with Moxxie still sleeping at Kandace’s, and then on Monday morning—Puck can’t quite believe it. On Monday, the stack of paperwork means that Puck will have custody, and Moxxie will be living with him full time, because Kandace flies to Vancouver by noon on Monday, to find work there, and she’s not planning on returning.

Puck does his best not to react to her reiteration of the plan when she arrives at 7:45 to take Moxxie back to her place for the night, because a selfish part of him doesn’t want her to change her mind. If she’s willing to just leave Moxxie behind, permanently, Moxxie’s better off with him, but he hates how much the short-term future will probably suck for Moxxie.

Fifteen minutes after Moxxie and Kandace leave, Puck panics a little as he looks around the apartment, and he drives to Target. He doesn’t know where to start, so he turns his cart to the right and decides to go up and down every aisle, skipping the pet supplies. When the loudspeaker announces everyone needs to check out, he’s not even halfway through the store, but his cart is almost full. He probably needs Moxxie to pick out her own sheets and towels, anyway. Even though the announcement’s already been made, Puck still swings past the toys, and the last thing he throws into the cart is a stuffed dinosaur. He’ll give it to her Monday night before bed, and hopefully make it a little easier on her.

After that, he visits the grocery store for the third time, waving ruefully at the surprised-looking cashier, and tries to figure out what kind of food to keep in the house, now that he’s got to both feed a toddler and model moderately-healthy eating for her. He puts everything away as soon as he gets home and then sits down with the paperwork to glance at it. Moxxie’s full name is Moxxie Gibson Puckerman, which is at least an appropriate middle name for a guitar player’s kid, Puck thinks. He skims over the custody paperwork after that and then goes straight to bed, a lot earlier than he had planned and a lot more exhausted than he would have expected, too.

Moxxie’s behavior isn’t appreciably different on Saturday or Sunday, or even during the day on Monday, which Puck takes off from work. She seems to regard him as tolerable but not yet trustworthy, which seems fair to Puck. After dinner on Monday, though, instead of gathering up her stuff like he has the last three nights, Puck gives Moxxie what he hopes is a calm, we’ve-totally-got-this smile.

“Ready to brush your teeth?” Puck asks.

Moxxie looks confused. “Time to go home with Mama.”

Puck winces and then tries to smile again as he shakes his head. “Mama went to work, Moxx, so you’re going to live with me. Remember how we picked out sheets on Saturday?”

“Yeth,” Moxxie says. “I want Mama, pleath.”

“I know,” Puck says, crouching down. “I know you do. Let’s just call tonight a sleepover.”

“I want Mama.”

“After you brush your teeth, I have a surprise for you,” Puck offers.

“Mama?” Moxxie asks.

Puck shakes his head. “It’s a toy.”

“I want Mama,” Moxxie repeats. “Pleath?”

“That’s not something I can do, Moxxie. All the ‘please’ in the world won’t help,” Puck says sadly, standing up and slowly guiding Moxxie into the bathroom. “Time to brush teeth.”

“No.” Moxxie crosses her arms and glares up at Puck.

“Well, I recognize that glare,” Puck says ruefully. “Do you want to brush your own teeth or have me do it?”

“No!”

“Toy after teeth,” Puck says as calmly as he can, getting out the toothbrush and toothpaste that had been part of his frantic Friday night Target run. He puts some toothpaste on the brush and holds it out slightly. “C’mon, open up. We’ll make it quick.”

“No!” Moxxie screams. “No! No teeth brutheth! No, no, no!”

“It makes your teeth so pretty,” Puck tries. “Clean and pretty.”

“No! Mama! I want Mama!” Moxxie starts flailing and stomping wildly.

“I know you do. I know.” Puck puts the toothbrush on the sink and squats beside Moxxie, barely encircling her with his arms. “I know. This is awful.”

“No! No hugth!”

“I’m not hugging, I’m making sure you don’t hurt yourself,” Puck says, though he doubts the distinction will make any difference to Moxxie. “I’m so sorry.”

Moxxie melts down completely at this point, throwing herself forward to try to get free from Puck’s arms, kicking and hitting him while she screams. After a minute or so passes, Puck decides it’s probably not worth fighting her on the teeth brushing score, so he carefully avoids her flailing limbs and picks her up, carrying her out of the bathroom and setting her carefully on the bed that had been Saturday night’s frantic shopping.

The screaming and flailing doesn’t stop, but luckily Puck’s neighbors aren’t particularly nosy, so he sits beside her bed and makes sure she doesn’t hurt herself. When she finally calms down, her eyes are closed, and Puck realizes she’s probably asleep. He waits another ten or fifteen minutes before putting the blanket over her and setting the stuffed dinosaur next to her on the bed.

“Sorry, Moxxie,” he whispers quietly as he straightens. He still has to clean up dinner and the bathroom, and then he’d probably better go to bed himself, if the next day is anywhere near as tiring as the last few have been.

Puck wakes up well before his alarm, and when he opens his eyes, Moxxie is standing beside his bed staring at him, the stuffed dinosaur tucked under one arm. “Hi,” Puck says.

“Hi,” Moxxie says. “I’m hungry.”

“We can have breakfast,” Puck says as he yawns and sits up. “Do you like the dinosaur?”

“Her name ith Mike.”

“Her name is Mike? Okay,” Puck says with a shrug. He stands and goes to the kitchen, then opens the refrigerator. “Egg or cream cheese on your bagel?”

“Egg,” Moxxie says. When Puck turns around, he almost bumps into her, because she’s standing less than a foot away from him.

“Oops. Yeah, I like egg, too,” Puck says. He makes breakfast with a small Moxxie-sized shadow, which makes him think he might be able to take her with him to work, at least some of the time. “Do you want to go with me to work tomorrow?” he asks her once their eggs are on their bagels.

“Dinothaur park again,” Moxxie says, setting Mike on the table next to her plate.

“We can go there too, yeah, but we can’t just hang out at the park all day, and I have to go back to work sometime,” Puck says.

“Why?”

“So we can buy more eggs, and clothes for both of us, and maybe some pizza sometimes,” Puck says. “Doesn’t that sound good?”

“I like peetha,” Moxxie says.

“Me too. Do you like pepperoni? Sausage?”

Moxxie nods. “Mike liketh pepperoni.”

“Do you know what kind of dinosaur he—she—is?” Puck asks.

“Thiterathauruth.”

Puck shakes his head solemnly. “Nope. Mike is a Puckasaurus.”

“Puckathauruth?’ Moxxie asks, looking at Mike suspiciously. “Really really?”

“Really really,” Puck says. “Puckasaurus.”

“Okay.”

Puck smiles at her, finishing his bagel and waiting for her to finish his. “Ready to put on clean clothes so we can go places?”

Moxxie nods. “Yeth. Mike can come?”

“Sure, Mike can come,” Puck agrees. If they can make it all the way through until bedtime without another tantrum, he’ll count that as a victory of sorts.

They do, but the bedtime tantrums continue for two weeks, until one night Puck says “Time to brush teeth” with his falsely calm smile and waits for her response.

“Okay,” Moxxie says, holding her hand out for the toothbrush.

Puck almost waits a beat too long in his shock, but he hands her the toothbrush with toothpaste. “Go for it.”

Moxxie starts brushing her teeth, focusing entirely on the front four. She tries to put the brush down, and Puck laughs gently. “All of them,” he says, stopping her hand.

“I did!” Moxxie says, baring her teeth to show Puck.

“You have more than four teeth,” Puck says. “You have a lot of teeth, and when you go to the dentist the next time, they’ll want you to have brushed all of them.”

Moxxie looks at him blankly. Puck laughs again and guides her hand back to her mouth, moving the brush over the rest of her teeth on both sides before handing her a cup of water.

“Now you can rinse,” he says. Moxxie takes the cup of water and drinks it. Puck winces. “Okay, next time just swish and spit it out. Maybe I’ll get you some non-fluoridated toothpaste for awhile. Ready for pajamas?”

“Yeth.”

“Do you want Wonder Woman or Minnie Mouse?” Puck asks.

“Wonder Woman.”

“Good choice.” Puck helps Moxxie change into the Wonder Woman pajamas, then walks with her over to her bed, where Mike is already sitting. “Do you want a song or a book before bed?”

“Thong,” Moxxie says, and Puck has to fight back a laugh.

“Good choice,” he finally manages. “Do you have one you like or should I choose?”

“You.”

Puck smiles. “Okay. This is called ‘Yellow Submarine’,” he tells her, before singing it through twice. When he finishes the second time, Moxxie’s eyes look a little heavy. “Good night, Moxxie.”

“Good night, Dad,” Moxxie says in a sleepy voice, pulling Mike up and tucking her under her chin.

Puck feels like he’s a little bit frozen in place, and he stays sitting beside Moxxie’s bed until he’s sure that she’s asleep. “We might just manage this, Moxx,” he says softly as he stands up. “We just might.”



May 2, 2013

When Rachel calls Finn to tell him that she’s twelve weeks pregnant, he finds that he isn’t really that surprised. He packs up his things and moves to New York, where they have a quick, but still formal, wedding. They move into a tiny apartment in Queens, where Finn enrolls in classes at CUNY and Rachel goes to a lot of pregnancy yoga classes so she can get her body back after the baby is born.

Things aren’t bad between them, exactly, but the cramped space and Rachel’s pregnancy put a lot of strain on a relationship that they hadn’t really had an opportunity to rebuild before jumping with both feet into marriage. Rachel hits forty weeks without any signs of labor, then she hits forty-one weeks, and finally, miserably, she reaches forty-two weeks, at which point she announces she will not be pregnant a single minute longer. A few hours later, they’re at the hospital, and three hours after the induction begins, Finn is holding his brand new daughter.

They name the baby Patricia, which Finn hates, so he calls her Pips. After convalescing for six weeks, Rachel informs Finn that she is returning to auditioning. Since it isn’t presented as optional, Finn just gets a comfortable baby carrier and brings Pips with him to his classes. Rachel lands a role in the ensemble of Les Miserables, then a featured role in the revival of Cats. Finn settles on teaching and begins his education classes, still toting Pips along with him.

By the time Finn is halfway through his education degree, he starts realizing Pips is actually a really smart kid. Gifted, actually. She starts reading before she turns three, picks up Spanish faster than Finn does during his two semesters in Spanish, and can carry on mature conversations about lecture topics by four. She refers to both Finn and Rachel by their first names, and no amount of convincing will get her to call them anything else, so Finn stops trying. Pips spends most of her time with Finn, since Rachel is so busy with her performance schedule, and Finn really enjoys being a dad, even more than he thought he would.

They move into a nice apartment in Brooklyn, still small, but much bigger than the shoebox they’d been living in. Pips starts attending preschool at a private school for Gifted and Talented children, the bill mostly footed by Rachel’s dads. Finn starts his first semester of part-time student teaching. Everything seems to be going well enough until Blaine and Kurt approach Rachel with a proposition: Rachel becoming a surrogate for them to have a baby.

After consulting her performance schedule, Rachel agrees without really consulting with Finn. Everything changes then. Rachel is much more engaged with this pregnancy than she was with Pips’s. She spends most of her free time with Blaine or Kurt and their friends. Finn doesn’t argue, because he knows how important this is for Kurt and Blaine, and also because he’s learned there’s never a good time to try to have an argument with a pregnant woman. He finishes his student teaching and focuses on Pips.

Finn graduates in May of 2019 and starts sending out applications to alternative schools around the country. Pips needs a quality education, one where she can be creative and also take classes as advanced as she is, and the best way Finn can ensure she gets that is to teach at the kind of school Pips needs to attend. Rachel is due in July, so he’ll have to have a discussion about possible relocation at some point, but he puts it off until he hears back from the Mulberry School in Normal, Illinois.

Rachel gives birth early in July, a little boy that Blaine and Kurt name Anderson, since Blaine had changed his last name to Hummel when they got married. Anderson—called Andy—goes home with Kurt and Blaine, and Finn tells Rachel he’s been offered the position at the Mulberry School.

“You want to move to a small town in the middle of Illinois, to take a teaching position?” Rachel asks, like she’s clarifying what she heard.

“Bloomington-Normal is the biggest metropolitan area in Illinois outside of Chicago,” Finn says. “It’s a really great opportunity for me, plus it would be the perfect school for Pips.”

Rachel purses her lips thoughtfully for a few moments, then nods. “You didn’t want to insist on something farcical like a long-distance marriage, did you?”

Finn shrugs. “I figured you’d either offer to come with me or offer to divorce me, honestly.”

“I’m not offering to come with you,” Rachel says, looking a little wistful. “What about Patti?”

“I guess we can ask her what she wants to do,” Finn says.

“She’ll probably—well, do you want to go ahead and ask her?”

“She’s standing in the hall, anyway, so we might as well,” Finn says. “Pips? You can come in instead of listening from the hall.”

Pips walks in looking unrepentant. “I couldn’t understand where the Mulberry School is.”

“Illinois,” Finn says. “Normal, Illinois. It’s part of the Bloomington-Normal municipality.”

“We’d be closer to Grandma?” Pips asks. “Or is my map not to scale?”

“We’ll be closer,” Finn says.

Pips nods. “Okay. I want to go to Illinois.”

Rachel looks completely unsurprised. “I think I’ll keep this apartment, though,” she says.

“That’s fine,” Finn says. “No reason for you to move.”

“Patti could come visit for two weeks, every summer, so I don’t disrupt her school year,” Rachel adds.

“I’m sure that’s fine, too. Right Pips?”

Pips nods. “I can fly to New York.”

“I’ll start looking for a place in Normal, then,” Finn says. “Since there doesn’t seem to be anything to fight about, the paperwork shouldn’t be that complicated.”

“I’ll start making a packing list,” Pips informs them, then leaves the room, and Rachel laughs.

“She’s such an odd child.”

Finn smiles. “Yeah, but I like it. Somebody has to be the brains of this operation.”

By Saturday afternoon at the salon, Puck has to start brainstorming errands for Moxxie to run, because she keeps looking up at the door hopefully every time it opens. Puck tries to tell her that it’s not likely that Pips and her dad are going to show up, especially since Moxxie told him Pips said it probably wouldn’t happen, but she keeps looking up anyway.

“Why don’t you run down to Tender Greens?” Puck asks her around four. “I have time to eat around the time you’d get back. Early dinner. More time for swimming later.”

Moxxie twirls one of her curls around her index finger. “Yeah, okay,” she says glumly. “I thought for sure that Pips would get Mr. Human to come.”

“Maybe they hadn’t been to the beach yet, or all the things you’ve been doing since you were little,” Puck says. “I have to drop by SMASH one day next week. Maybe you can at least introduce me to Pips then.”

Moxxie brightens. “And thennnnn you can maybe go by Mr. Human’s room and meet him!”

“We’ll see. That depends on whether or not he’s in the middle of teaching,” Puck says, knowing it’s highly likely he would be.

“But you’ll try?”

“Yeah, I’ll try,” Puck says. “You want to get our dinner now?”

“Do you want chicken or steak on your salad?” Moxxie asks.

Puck laughs. “Do I ever say anything but steak?”

It ends up being Wednesday before Puck makes it out to SMASH, but after he’s dropped off the surplus office supplies he’d offered to donate, he goes outside where Core 2 is having recess.

“Hey, Moxx!” he calls.

“Dad!” Moxxie shouts. “Hey! This is Pips!” She enthusiastically points with both hands at the tall girl next to her.

“Well, c’mere,” Puck says, looking at Pips with a vague sense of deja vu. Moxxie wasn’t wrong about Pips needing a better haircut, either, or about her being very pretty.

Moxxie grabs Pips’s hand and pulls her towards Puck, not that Pips seems to be protesting. “Pips, this is my dad. Dad, this is Pips,” Moxxie says.

“Hi, Pips,” Puck says, offering his hand. Up close, the disconcerting feeling that he’s seen Pips before is even stronger. Pips has a firm handshake for a nine year old, but she giggles a little before speaking.

“Hi, Moxxie’s dad,” Pips says. “Noah, right?”

“That’s right,” Puck says. “I have to get back to the salon, but it was nice to meet you. Good to see you too, Moxxie.”

“Go see if he’s teaching,” Moxxie says through her teeth, like she’s trying to keep Pips from hearing her.

“I’ll see,” Puck says. “No promises.” He waves at the two of them and steps back into the building. He’s been in and out of SMASH enough over the years that Moxxie’s been there to know that if Core 2 is at recess, the odds are very high that Core 1 is in the classroom. He doesn’t really have time to stop and chat, either, so he goes back to the salon, still trying to figure out why Pips seems so familiar.

He waits until after dinner is mostly over, and after most of Moxxie’s disappointment over Puck and Mr. Human not meeting seems to have dissipated, to ask Moxxie a couple of follow-up questions.

“Where did you say Pips and her dad lived before Chicago?”

“Normal, Illinois. Isn’t that funny?” Moxxie asks. “Humans from Normal.”

Puck does laugh. “So they’re from Illinois originally?” That could explain the deja vu, since most people in the Midwestern states look vaguely similar.

“I think they lived in New York for a while. Yeah, definitely New York.”

“It’s funny, Pips almost looks familiar, but I’ve only been in New York and Chicago once each,” Puck says. “She must have a doppelganger.”

“Weird,” Moxxie says.

“You were right, by the way.”

“Huh?”

“About Pips’s hair,” Puck says. “She does need a different haircut.”

“She really does. Her hair is nice, but they did, like, everything wrong with it!” Moxxie says.

“Maybe her dad felt overwhelmed, and now he keeps getting her the same cut,” Puck says.

“Not often enough. Her bangs cover almost her whole face if she doesn’t tuck ’em behind her ears, Dad!”

Puck laughs. “Wait until you’ve successfully had a few sleepovers before you lecture Mr. Human about that, okay?”

“Maybe you could just fix her hair at a sleepover. I bet Mr. Human wouldn’t mind,” Moxxie says. “Then you can put pink or purple in it.”

“I can’t cut her hair or put permanent color in it without parental permission, Moxx.”

“What if we get him to sign a note?”

“I’m really regretting SMASH right now,” Puck says ruefully as he shakes his head. “Fine. If he signs a note.”

“Yes!” Moxxie pumps her fists in celebration.

After school, Finn braces himself for the daily Moxxie onslaught. Pips does talk about a few other kids, at least, but Moxxie is definitely firmly embedded as Pips’s best friend forever. Finn hasn’t given in to Pips’s request to find Moxxie’s dad’s salon yet, but with the Back to School Night coming up, he’s sure they’ll get a chance to meet then.

“Guess what happened today at recess?” Pips says once they’re in the car.

“What?” Finn says.

“No, you have to guess!”

“Somebody caught on fire?”

“Finn, you would have heard about that,” Pips points out.

“You told me to guess,” Finn says. “I guessed.”

“Since you probably wouldn’t guess it, I met Moxxie’s dad.”

“Oh really? What’s he like?”

“He has a good handshake and a nice smile,” Pips says thoughtfully. “He had to get back to the salon, so he couldn’t stay long.”

“Does he have red in his hair like Moxxie?” Finn asks.

Pips laughs and shakes her head. “His head is mostly shaved. It’s not shaved as short on one side, and it’s a lightning-bolt pattern where the two sides meet.”

“Ah,” Finn says, because what else is he supposed to say to that?

“You should probably meet Moxxie, now that I’ve met her dad,” Pips adds.

“Probably. Should I come meet her at lunch tomorrow?”

“Sure!”

“Okay. I’ll stop by your table and say hi,” Finn says. “Now the Moxxie Limit’s in effect until after dinner, got it?”

Pips sighs. “Got it.”

The next day during lunch, Finn looks for Pips and Moxxie. Pips spots him looking and waves him over to their table. Finn sits in the space next to Pips.

“Hi! Are you Pips’s dad? Hi, Pips’s dad!” Moxxie says excitedly.

“I call him Finn, but you probably have to call him Mr. Hudson here,” Pips says.

“Hi, Mr. Hudson,” Moxxie says, holding out her hand for Finn to shake, which he does.

“It’s very nice to meet you, Moxxie,” Finn says. “Pips has told me a lot about you.”

“Moxxie’s told her dad a lot about us, too,” Pips says. “So you practically already know him, right?”

“Still doesn’t count for the purpose of a sleepover, Pips.”

“I could even ask Moxxie’s dad for a haircut!”

“Is it time for another haircut already?” Finn asks.

“My bangs are kind of long, Finn,” Pips says.

“Well, we can talk about that,” Finn says. “After Labor Day weekend. We’re doing our cheesy tourist thing, remember?”

“I remember,” Pips says. “Moxxie says we should go to Venice Beach, too.”

“Sure. We can add that to the list of our tourist destinations,” Finn says.

“You have to eat at 26 Beach,” Moxxie says. “They have the best burgers, like, anywhere ever. We don’t eat there a lot because Dad says it’s stupid to pay that much for a burger when he can grill ’em at home, but you should get the Brunch Burger, because it’s my favorite.”

“I’ll take that under advisement,” Finn says. “Okay, I’ll let you girls finish your lunch. Nice to meet you, Moxxie.”

“Nice to meet you, too, Mr. Huddle!” Moxxie says. Finn just shakes his head a little to himself as he walks away.



August 29, 2016

Puck likes to think of pool-cleaning as his first career, which had made his gigs as a studio musician his second career, and that means that the idea of signing up for classes for a third career didn’t sound all frightening. It turns out that he’s pretty damn good at doing Moxxie’s hair, and in the end, working in a salon or owning one will be a lot more flexible than even his studio gigs.

Moxxie starts a full-day preschool program at Maohr Hatorah the same day he starts cosmetology classes at Santa Monica College, which means he’s not paying extra for a babysitter, and in the evenings, he picks up enough relaxed studio sessions to keep the rent paid. When Moxxie’s birthday comes along, he pays for one of the Chuck E. Cheese’s birthday parties with her preschool friends, and mid-April, he buys a cake at Ralphs for the two of them without mentioning exactly why to Moxxie. She asks sometimes if he remembers her old mom, and usually Puck nods before they both let it drop.

The cosmetology program only takes a year to finish, and he finds an opening at a salon just inside Santa Monica. Santa Monica’s schools are probably better, from everything Puck can find out, and they have an alternative school that Puck’d really like to get Moxxie in, so he starts making a long-term plan to move into Santa Monica in time for Moxxie to apply to it.

In the second half of December in 2018, he and Moxxie move into their new ocean-view apartment in Santa Monica the same week that Puck opens up his own salon, which means he has a lot of bills, but it also means his long-term plan has worked pretty quickly. He names the salon Moxxie, but he doesn’t tell Moxxie until the first time she visits.

“Are you ready to see it and find out what it’s named?” Puck asks her as they walk up Wilshire towards Third Street.

“Yeah!” Moxxie says.

“We can walk unless it’s just too windy or too rainy,” Puck says, “but you have to be a little older before you can walk back and forth by yourself. Okay?”

“Okay. Let’s go, let’s go!” Moxxie says, clapping her hands in excitement. “Dad! Let’s go faster!”

Puck laughs. “Okay, okay. Are you sure you’re ready?” Puck asks when he stops on the corner of Third Street. “It’s the second shop on the right after we turn.”

“I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m— Dad! That’s my name!”

“What do you think?” Puck asks, picking her up so she can see better. “Pretty cool?”

“That’s my name! You named your shop my name!” Moxxie says, pointing at the sign.

“I did. Your name in green,” Puck says.

“I love it! I love it so much! Can we go in?”

“Sure.” Puck puts Moxxie down to unlock the door, then pushes it open. “After you, Moxx.”

Moxxie walks into the salon, looking around at everything. “It looks so good. It’s so pretty in here!”

“Keep going towards the back and go in the green door,” Puck says.

Moxxie pushes the door open and does an excited dance in place pointing at the small table covered in art supplies. “Is this for me?”

“Whenever we’re here and you’re not at preschool or, next year, school, it sure is,” Puck says. “We can get a couple of quiet toys for here, too.”

“Can I get cars?”

“Hot Wheels? Those would work, if you didn’t make the vroom noise.”

“But the vroom noise is how they go, Dad!”

“Then no cars at the salon,” Puck says. “What’s another quiet toy?”

Moxxie screws up her face in thought. “Dinosaurs?”

“Would the dinosaurs talk loudly?”

“No?” Moxxie says.

“Maybe we could get some dinosaurs that live here on a trial basis,” Puck says. “What about a puzzle or two?”

“Can I get a Moana puzzle?”

“Yeah, a Moana puzzle sounds cool. Ready to go check out all the places we can eat near here?”

“Yeah!” Moxxie says. “I love your salon, Dad. It’s my new favorite place.”

“Even better than your new bedroom?”

“I might like my new bedroom better if we can paint it,” Moxxie says.

“Yeah? What color do you want to paint it?” Puck asks.

“What’s that color that’s kind of blue and kind of green? Like the ocean.”

“Teal?”

“Yes. Can we do it teal?” Moxxie asks.

“I don’t see why not,” Puck says. “You have enough light coming in that it won’t be too dark. We’ll walk up to Cox this weekend and pick up some paint, okay?”

“Thanks, Dad!”

Puck holds his hand out for a high-five, then stops the two of them. “Our first two contenders for dinner are French at Monsieur Marcel’s or Greek at the Stop’n Cafe. How do you vote?”

“Greek! I like baklava,” Moxxie says. “Can I have two?”

“Just this time, because we’re celebrating,” Puck says.



May 12, 2022

After three years at Mulberry, Pips aged out of the program, and Finn knew they needed to find a new school for both of them. His first choice, Santa Monica Alternative School House, picked somebody else for their open slot, so once this school year ends, Finn and Pips will move to Chicago and the Windy City Gifted and Talented Academy. He’ll keep an eye on SMASH for future positions. Until then…

“So, should we start looking for a ticket to New York?” Finn asks Pips.

Pips looks up from her tablet and slowly shakes her head. “Central Park will probably flood.”

“You think?” Finn asks. “I was counting on a plague of some kind. Locusts, maybe. You think July’s a good month for locusts?”

“I don’t think the locusts would have enough to eat in New York, even in July.”

“Hmm. She could lose an eye stage-fighting. That would be a legit excuse.”

Pips laughs. “It’s okay, Finn. It’s probably good she’s not in the picture.”

“You’re not wrong about that one, Pips,” Finn says. “No reason to waste our time looking for a good ticket deal then. We can spend it doing something useful.”

“We could go visit Grandma. She probably would like us to visit,” Pips says.

“Would you like me to see if Kurt would bring Andy to Grandma’s house so you could see him, too?”

“If you think it’d make Grandma or Andy happy,” Pips says with a little shrug.

“I don’t think Grandma likes sharing her visits with you, but shhh, I didn’t tell you that,” Finn says. “Nobody wants to hurt anybody’s feelings.”

Pips laughs. “You mean Grandma doesn’t want to hurt any feelings.”

“That’s true. Grandma doesn’t want to hurt any feelings. She also doesn’t like to play favorites out loud.”

“But people know when there are favorites, anyway,” Pips says. “I think it’s better to get it out in the open.”

“Maybe so, Pips,” Finn says. “Now I can say I tried, at least. An effort was made.”

“You tried to talk me into it for hours,” Pips agrees.

“We’ll pick a nice birthday present out for Andy, okay? Nicer than last year.”

“I think he needs some nice books to balance out all of the Broadway recordings. Rachel told me once that Andy has all of the recordings ever produced.”

“Books, then. Maybe one in Spanish,” Finn suggests.

Pips nods. “About Cuba.”

“I was thinking maybe colors and numbers, but Cuba’s good, too.”

“Let’s get him a Hot Wheels with the books.”

“Sure. Those were some of my favorites when I was a kid,” Finn says.

“It’s too bad you didn’t have a brother to play cars with,” Pips says, looking up from her tablet again. Her tone sounds a little too innocent.

“Yeah. Only child. It’s terrible, huh?” Finn says, even though he doesn’t think she’s talking about herself needing a brother around to play with.

“Mmmhmm,” Pips says, looking skeptical now. Then she smiles too widely. “Maybe Rachel will have another baby for Kurt and Blaine.”

“Maybe. She seems to like Andy a lot.”

“She likes Kurt and Blaine a lot, at least,” Pips says. “Can I buy a new book?”

“Sure. I’ll always let you get a new book,” Finn says. “Which one do you want?”

“It’s called Barry and Raul, but it’s about President Obama and his Cuba policies.”

“Sounds good. Maybe get one on touristy places in Chicago for us, too.”

“Okay. I want to see a Cubs game for sure,” Pips says.

“That’s my girl. Eat some hot dogs?” Finn asks. “I think I remember there being some kind of ferris wheel thing.”

“You’ve been to Chicago before?”

Finn startles slightly. “Oh. Yeah, I guess I never told you about it. It was with my singing group, the one I was in with Rachel and Kurt and Blaine.”

“Ah,” Pips says in a perfect imitation of Finn, then grins at him, clearly holding back a laugh.

“Are you mocking me?” Finn asks, shaking his head. “Harsh, Pips. Harsh.”



Puck and Moxxie spend Labor Day weekend the way they usually do, at Disneyland, and the distraction of the rides and fireworks means entire hour-long blocks pass without Moxxie mentioning that on Thursday night at Back to School Night, Puck can finally meet Pips’s dad, who now may not be named Mr. Human.

“What did you say Pips’s dad’s name was?” Puck asks Moxxie on Tuesday night.

“Huddle?” Moxxie says. “I think. Or Huggins. Phil Huggins, maybe.”

“I don’t think Pips looks enough like Phil Collins for that to be close to right,” Puck says, fighting a laugh.

“Oh. Yeah, I guess it wasn’t Phil. It was something with an F, though.”

“But he’s Mr. Hud-something and not Mr. Human?” Puck asks.

“Yeah, I think so,” Moxxie says. “Maybe it is Huddle. Huddle sounds right.”

“Okay. Mr. Huddle,” Puck says, then winces when he puts the pieces today. “Pips Huddle?”

“What? Her name is awesome!”

“Huddle’s just a somewhat unfortunate last name, is all. Do I need to plan on dressing any differently than usual?” Puck asks wryly.

“Hmm.” Moxxie looks Puck up and down appraisingly. “Wear your cool jeans.”

“The black ones?”

“Yeah, and that shirt with the red pattern on it.”

“My black jeans and the shirt with the red pattern. Okay,” Puck says. “Any other requests?”

“Boots,” Moxxie says firmly.

“Boots. Check. Anything I need to know?”

“Just don’t say anything too embarrassing about me,” Moxxie says. “And it’s okay if you talk about my old mom. Pips’s old mom is out of the picture, too. You guys can, like, bond.”

“Bond, huh? Are Mr. Huddle and I supposed to have dad-playdates while you girls play?” Puck asks.

“Maaaaaybe.”

“I see how it is,” Puck says. “Got it.”

“And don’t show my baby pictures with the gappy teeth, Dad!” Moxxie says. “Just don’t.”

“What about your fourth birthday?”

“Dad!”

“I like those pictures,” Puck says, laughing at Moxxie’s expression. “Fine, I’ll save those for my third dad-playdate. Deal?”

“Just behave!” Moxxie says. “Jeez.”

“I’ll do my best,” Puck says.

When Thursday rolls around, Puck closes the salon up early, since all the schools in the district have Back to School Night at the same time, and heads home with Moxxie to change. “Are you changing clothes, too?” Puck asks her on the elevator ride up.

“Why? Pips and her dad already know I’m cool,” Moxxie says.

“Now my coolness is in question?” Puck says, pretending to be offended.

“They don’t know how cool you are.”

“Better.” Puck changes into the outfit that Moxxie had specified, turning in a circle in the living room for her inspection. “Am I cool enough, Moxx?”

“Yeah, you look great!” Moxxie says.

“I promise we won’t leave until I’ve met Mr. Huddle, okay? So let me listen to all the Back to School Night stuff,” Puck says.

“Awesome,” Moxxie says. “Only… maybe don’t call him Mr. Huddle, because maybe I’m not one-hundred-percent sure that’s his name.”

“I definitely don’t know his first name, remember? Should I just call him Pips’s dad?”

“Just introduce yourself. He’ll be the guy with Pips who looks like a dad.”

Puck nods. The odds seem pretty good to him that Pips’s dad will be in his own classroom for at least part of the evening, which is why he promised Moxxie that they’d find him before they leave. Sure enough, when they get to Moxxie’s classroom and he attempts to sit on the not-quite-adult-sized chair, Pips is sitting by herself, looking unconcerned.

Moxxie’s teacher goes over the usual stuff, most of which Puck knows from the previous four years at SMASH and previous year in Core 2, then just before she starts in on calendar-specific items, Puck hears the door open and, out of the corner of his eye, spots Pips straighten and look behind her. Puck reminds himself that he doesn’t have to be as excitable as Moxxie currently is, so he waits a good sixty seconds before turning slightly in his seat to look behind their row at Pips’s dad.

He whips his head back around so fast that he’s surprised Moxxie’s teacher keeps talking, and he can feel his stomach churning. “Moxx,” he whispers. “Could Pips’s dad’s name be Finn Hudson?”

“Oh. Yeah. That sounds like it could be right,” Moxxie says.

Puck closes his eyes briefly and then tries to glance behind him again. Finn’s hair looks like it’s starting to grey a little, and his nose isn’t quite as straight anymore, but other than that, he doesn’t look any different. Puck turns back around to look at Moxxie again. “I don’t know if any sleepovers are in the immediate future, Moxxie,” he says quietly.

“What?” Moxxie says, a little too loudly. “Why not?”

“Shh,” Puck says. “Because Finn and I grew up together.”

“What?” Moxxie says, very loudly. Everyone else in the room gets quiet and turns to look at her. In the background, Puck can hear a voice, Finn’s voice, whisper, “Oh shit.” Puck hears a chair scraping followed by someone leaving the room in a hurry, which at least makes everyone stop staring at Moxxie.

“You were saying?” Puck says to the teacher after a few more seconds, and thankfully, she takes Puck’s cue and wraps up the presentation. As soon as she finishes, though, Puck realizes that now he has to decide if he and Moxxie are going to sneak out as quickly as possible or some other option that Puck hasn’t identified yet.

Puck would be lying if he said he hadn’t thought about Finn sometimes, wondered how he was, and occasionally even wondered if there was anything left to say. Puck had never considered the idea that they could bump into each other again, at Back to School Night in Santa Monica of all places. Puck can hear people getting up, but he keeps sitting, staring in front of him.

“Dad?” Moxxie says, elbowing him. “Dad! What’s wrong? What’s your problem?”

Puck shakes his head a little to clear it. “I guess that explains why Pips looked familiar, huh?” he says faintly.

“Dad? Are you going to be sick? Dad? Please don’t be sick in my class,” Moxxie whispers.

“I’ll be fine,” Puck reassures her. “I’m just going to sit here for a few more minutes.”

“How do you know Pips’s dad?”

Puck swallows a few times. “Until the year before you were born, he was my best friend.”

Finn finishes his talk to the Core 1 parents, then takes a few minutes to talk to some of them and say hello to his students before heading to the Core 2 classroom for the rest of Pips’s teacher’s talk. He slips into the classroom quietly. Even Pips doesn’t notice him at first. He waves at her and stands against the back wall.

He spots Moxxie’s red streaks in the group of people, but he only has a few seconds to process that before he feels like the air has been knocked out of him. Seated next to Moxxie, his face just turning towards the back of the room and Finn, is a face Finn hasn’t seen for a decade.

“Oh shit,” he whispers, then immediately has to bolt from the classroom, one hand over his mouth. He makes it to the bathroom before he gets sick, at least, locking himself in a stall to retch over the toilet. It’s Puck. How is Puck here? How is he here?

“Finn?” Pips’s voice says after at least a few minutes have passed. “What happened?”

Finn sits back on his heels, wiping his face with the back of his hand. His eyes are watering. He’s not crying; he’s not. “I’m okay, Pips. Go back to your classroom.”

“The talk’s over,” Pips says. “Was it Moxxie’s dad?”

“We don’t have to talk about it, Pips. It’s okay. I’ll be out in a few minutes.”

“Oookaayy,” Pips sing-songs. “I’m going to go wait for you in my classroom.”

“Yeah, okay,” Finn says. He waits for Pips’s footsteps to retreat before he slumps back against the stall door, hand over his eyes, taking deep breaths to calm himself down. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”

If he waits long enough, maybe Puck will be gone. Finn tells himself he will count to a hundred and then he’ll leave. He counts to a hundred and fifty before he can actually make himself stand up and exit the stall, stumbling to the sink to splash cold water on his face and rinse his mouth out. Puck’s gone by now. He has to be gone. He saw Finn and he left. It’s fine.

Finn mops his face with a handful of paper towels. He takes another deep breath, then walks out of the bathroom. The hall is still fairly full of people, but he doesn’t see Puck, which he decides is a positive sign. He walks back into the Core 2 classroom. Puck is still in the room, his back to the door and Finn. Pipps and Moxxie are both standing together near the back. Finn catches Pips’s eye.

Pips visibly sighs and walks over to him. Finn waits until she’s next to him before he says, “You knew Moxxie’s last name, huh?”

“It’s not a very common last name,” Pips says cagily.

“You should have told me, Pips.”

“You would have skipped my Back to School Night.”

“Jesus, Pips,” Finn says, running his hand over his face again. “I can’t do this. You don’t understand.”

Pips frowns at him. “No one does, because you never told anyone anything. But you have met him.”

Finn grits his teeth together and takes a deep breath in through his nose before he answers, “Yeah, Pips, and he’s not in the picture.”

Pips looks sadly at Moxxie and then back at Finn. “Oh shit.”

“Yeah,” Finn says. “I know.”



July 28, 2017

For the first time since Moxxie came to live with him, Puck accepts when one of the girls from his cosmetology classes asks if he wants to get coffee sometime. Most of him only accepts because he can’t be celibate forever. The rest of him reasons that he already has daytime childcare set up for the summer, and since she wants to get together on a Friday morning, it fits together pretty nicely.

After that date, which goes well enough as dates go but not so well that Puck wants to go on another one, he decides that he should probably set a goal of going out once or twice a year. He could afford a babysitter to go out more often, but for the most part, that’s not where he wants to spend his money, and he doesn’t want Moxxie to feel like he’s more interested in dating than in spending time with her. He has a feeling that Kandace went out at least once a week, leaving Moxxie with babysitters that, he can admit to himself, probably weren’t well-vetted. He and Moxxie have enough time and bonding to make up for, at least for the time being.

The next spring, Puck decides to take a chance and send Beth a birthday card, along with a short letter to Shelby. He doesn’t expect to be involved in her life, not anymore, but one day Moxxie might want to meet her half-sister, so Puck decides that he’ll make an effort to maintain some contact. In April, he buys a cake like he did to celebrate the first anniversary of Moxxie coming to live with him, but this year, Moxxie doesn’t seem to realize it’s marking anything in particular.

A month later, he gets a pair of tattoos on his upper left arm, two red hearts, one with a ‘B’ and ‘2010’ in it, and the other with ‘M’ and ‘2013’ in it. Three days after that, he goes on his first date of 2018, and it’s a moderate disaster, which at least means neither of them is wondering if there should be a second date.

A month before they’re about to move, Puck manages to accept a date without realizing it’s meant to be a date. It hits him two days later, a day before he’s supposed to meet the guy at the movie theater, and he knows that’s why he didn’t realize, because it’s a guy. He starts to pick up his phone and immediately cancel, because the idea of going on a date with a guy brings up way too much stuff in his head. On the other hand, this guy’s known Puck for a couple of years and knows he rarely goes on second dates, so Puck could theoretically go on the date and then never have to explain why he’s reluctant to go on a second date.

That’s the option that Puck goes with, figuring it also allows him to not think at all about what going on a date with a guy means. The problem with that approach, Puck decides afterwards, is that aside from his allergy-like aversion to second dates, there was nothing wrong with the date. It didn’t feel particularly odd to be on a date with a guy.

Puck hasn’t let himself dwell on Finn or what happened or any of the things they said, even though it’s been six years. Right before moving and opening up the salon doesn’t seem like a great time to dwell on it and think about it, either, so Puck tells himself he can think about it for exactly one hour before putting it out of his mind.

The conclusions he comes to in that hour aren’t the greatest: he’s still mad at Finn on a lot of levels, he can only assume the same is true for how Finn feels about him, they both said a lot of relatively horrible things that neither of them probably meant, and the thing that is probably the worst in Puck’s mind is that, all things considered, he at least probably is really bi.

“This has been my regularly-scheduled once in a blue moon self-introspection,” Puck mutters to himself when the alarm on his phone tells him that an hour’s gone by. Most of it doesn’t change anything, and for the most part, that’s probably good. The next time a guy asks him out on a date, though, Puck’ll probably both realize it and not freak out, so he gained something at least from the hour.

When the third anniversary of Moxxie coming to live with him approaches, Puck decides not to mention it to her or buy a cake, because the commemoration is more for him. Instead, he goes to the tattoo place next to the salon, Jacked Up Tats, and gets a pair of scissors inked on his upper right arm, with a date written on each blade: the day Moxxie came to live with him, and the day the salon opened. He does show Moxxie the tattoo afterwards.

“What do you think, Moxxie?”

“Ouch,” Moxxie says.

Puck laughs. “Yeah, okay, I won’t take you for one anytime soon. Does it look good?”

“Put your band-aid back on, Dad.”

“Keeping me humble, huh?” Puck says, shaking his head. “I’ll keep that in mind too.”



August 22, 2019

Finn gets Pips set up on the tablet to talk to Grandma, not that she really needs much help, and then goes into the other room to go through all his papers from the first full day of class. He can hear Pips laughing about something as she tells Grandma about her day, but mostly he tunes out the noise as he sorts the papers into the various folders he’s set up for his students.

A few minutes into the conversation, however, Finn hears a word he doesn’t expect to hear. Specifically, he hears a name he hadn’t expected to hear, one he’s spent the past almost seven years avoiding completely.

“Puck? Who is Puck again?” Pips asks.

Finn can’t hear Grandma’s answer, so he uses that time to make a decision as to whether he’s going to stand in the hall to listen more closely or if he’s going to leave the apartment, calmly walk to the complex’s pool, and quietly drown himself. He concedes the latter would probably be slightly inconvenient for Pips, though she might actually do better managing the money than he does at this point.

Finn creeps into the hallway, creep being the operative word, since he feels kind of like a creeper eavesdropping on his kid’s Facetime conversation. “Thirteen years?” Pips says. “And no reason?”

“Well, they were nineteen at the time, and nineteen-year-old boys view the world very differently from five-year-old girls and forty-nine-year-old grandmas,” Grandma says. “He wouldn’t say what happened and I wasn’t going to pry when it was obviously a sore subject.”

“What did Puck say happened?” Pips asks.

“Oh, sweetie. Nobody’s seen him since. We all assumed he moved back out to Los Angeles, but he didn’t keep in contact, not even with his mother,” Grandma says.

“Probably one of them should have just called the other one and used their words,” Pips says matter-of-factly. Finn feels a little queasy at the thought.

“Your Finn forbid us from even mentioning him. Whatever happened, it must have been very traumatic,” Grandma says. “And speaking of that, you know you shouldn’t mention him to your Finn, right?”

“I know, Grandma, I’m almost six!” Pips says.

“I know you are. I forget how big you are, since I only get to see you every few months. I just don’t want to make things harder for Finn. He’s done so well, considering everything.”

“I know, but I think he’s happier now that Rachel is not in the picture,” Pips says.

“Are you happier?” Grandma asks.

“I mostly ignored her anyway. I like Mulberry better than my preschool in New York.”

“Wonderful! That’s what’s most important, anyway.”

Finn decides he has heard enough. He never explicitly forbid anyone from mentioning Puck to Pips, but it hadn’t occurred to him that they would have any reason to, since he’d banned that topic of conversation around himself. At least this probably means Pips won’t accidentally bring up the topic again, which is for the best.

Puck has no recollection of anything between sitting in the Core 2 classroom and falling into bed after tucking Moxxie in. He’s confident that he did everything correctly and safely, but it was clearly easier for his brain to check out completely. On the exactly three occasions he’d really allowed himself to think about Finn, he’d only once had the thought that there could possibly come a point in time where he and Finn would have some kind of contact again. Even then, he hadn’t imagined that he could bump into Finn in the LA area, much less in Santa Monica or at his kid’s school.

It’s a lot more difficult to ignore the fact of Finn’s existence and everything surrounding Thanksgiving of 2012 when Puck’s kid is best friends with Finn’s kid, and as Puck goes to sleep, he has no idea how he’s going to handle it. He has no better idea when he wakes up the next morning, so he engages in a little bit of parental deception, clutching his mug of coffee the way he does when he has a headache or is hungover, and puts dry toast on his plate. He hates dry toast when he doesn’t have a headache, but it’s a relatively small price to pay to avoid questions on a Friday morning.

“Are you sick?” Moxxie asks him, using her quiet headache-or-hangover voice.

“Just my head,” Puck fibs. His head is surprisingly clear, actually, given the extent of the prior evening’s revelations.

“So I shouldn’t ask you about why you got so upset and weird about Pips’s dad?”

“Not this morning, Moxx,” Puck says.

“Me and Pips texted. Her dad barfed.”

Puck takes a sip of his coffee at that news, mentally thinking that it perversely makes him happy, knowing that at least they’re equally upset by this turn of events. “Well,” he says finally, “you can tell Pips I did not barf.”

“I already told her that,” Moxxie says. “You’re just not a barfer.”

“That’s true,” Puck says with a shrug. “Even the last time you had a stomach virus, I didn’t.”

“Are you gonna be okay without me today? ’Cause I can stay home if you need me to. We can play Mario Rocket and eat cereal for lunch,” Moxxie offers.

“You can’t skip school. Anyway, I have appointments most of the day,” Puck says. He doesn’t, really, until after twelve-thirty, but he should go take care of some accounting. Or he could indulge in his current plan of wallowing until he absolutely has to go to the salon. “I’ll be fine, Moxxie.”

“Well, you can just text me if you need me and I’ll leave and come help you.”

“You’re nine years old. Go to school. Your twenty-nine-year-old dad will be fine. Got it?” Puck says firmly.

“Fine,” Moxxie says, rolling her eyes. “Be that way. Next time you have a headache, I’m gonna yell, ’cause you obviously don’t need my help.”

Puck shakes his head slowly. “Yeah, yeah, Moxxie. You want a ride this morning?”

“Sure! My bus has a weird smell this year.”

“Maybe one of the new Core 1 kids is secretly made of rotten fruit,” Puck offers, finishing his coffee and standing. “Go get your stuff.”

“Okay. Try not to die of despair while I’m getting my backpack,” Moxxie says.

Puck stifles a laugh, but as soon as she leaves the room, he sits down the floor, closes his eyes, and poses with the back of his hand against his forehead. When Moxxie comes back in, she starts laughing loudly.

“Dad, you’re a mess.”

Puck opens his eyes and grins. “Thought you’d like that.” He stands and heads down with Moxxie, and once they’re in the car, deliberately changes the subject. “You still want to see that movie again this weekend?”

“Sure, if we can still get the big popcorn,” Moxxie says.

After Puck drops Moxxie off, he drives back home, which he would do even if he were going to walk to the salon immediately, but as he heads back up the elevator to the apartment, he sets an alarm on his phone that will give him enough time to make it to the salon for the first appointment he has on the books. Until that point, he’s going to wallow a little in how much the current situation sucks.

He’s enough of an adult—and he’s pretty sure Finn is too—that they aren’t exactly going to interfere with the girls’ friendship, which means he’s still going to hear Pips’s name daily, a small reminder that Finn is out there in the world. It also means he’s going to be confronted regularly with the fact of Finn’s existence, so close to Puck. It means he’ll have a reminder of how he’s still mad at Finn, and of how despite that, he also misses Finn. Puck thinks all of that sucks enough to warrant a morning of wallowing.

He strips back down out of his clothes and lies back down on his bed, phone on the bedside table. “There’s not even another word for this,” Puck announces to his bedroom. “It just sucks. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but there is no scenario where there is not at least moderate suckage for at least some period of time.” Even the very best case scenarios that Puck can concoct in his head—which he knows are extremely unlikely, especially given his own still-present anger—involve gross nasty feelings for a bit.

“Great,” Puck says out loud. “Gross and nasty. Nah, Moxxie doesn’t influence my wording.”

The sheer and utter sucking of the situation confirmed, Puck rolls off his back onto his stomach, and pulls his sheet over his head. His phone will let him know when it’s time to go to work, and no one’s around to judge however he needs to deal with this. Even Puck himself isn’t really sure what he needs to help.

After the usual busy Saturday, some time on the beach both days of the weekend, and a movie on Sunday, Puck manages to feel even-keeled enough to bring up Pips to Moxxie on Monday at dinner. All he has to do, he tells himself, is get through a relatively normal conversation.

“Hey, Moxxie?”

“Yeah, Dad?”

“I can’t speak for anyone else, but as far as I’m concerned, you’re allowed to go to Pips’s house if you’re invited.”

Moxxie looks down at her plate and pokes at her burrito. “It’s okay, Dad. We don’t have to talk about Pips if you don’t want to.”

“I’m not going to make you feel like you have to hide something from me, Moxx,” Puck says.

“But it makes you sad.”

“But I’m the grown-up and you’re not, so there,” Puck says. “If you want to ask me any questions, it’s okay. I reserve the right not to answer some things, but you can ask.”

“Okay,” Moxxie says. She goes back to poking at her burrito for a while, occasionally glancing up at Puck. “Did… nevermind.”

“You can ask,” Puck repeats calmly.

“Did you know Mr.—Pips’s dad before my old mom?”

“Yeah, I did,” Puck says. “He and I actually grew up in Ohio.”

“Did he know my old mom?”

Puck shakes his head. “No. I suspect I know Pips’s old mom, though. Do you know what her name is?”

Moxxie shakes her head. “She’s out of the picture, is what Pips says.”

“That wouldn’t be totally surprising, if I’m right. Is there anyone else you want to ask me about?”

Moxxie looks like she’s thinking about something, but she shakes her head. “I’m sorry that it makes you sad, Dad. Thanks for being so cool about Pips.”

“Hey, it’s not your fault or hers, okay?” Puck says. “Don’t worry about that. That’s on me and him, not you girls.”

“Still,” Moxxie says, shrugging. She picks up her burrito finally.

“If you have any more questions, we can talk about it again on Wednesday night. Sound good?”

“Okay.”

The fact that Puck tells Moxxie that she has to wait for Wednesday night means that Puck can fake himself out a little, but once most of their soup and sandwiches are gone on Wednesday night, Puck takes a long sip of water and mentally steels himself. “So, it’s Wednesday night,” he says to Moxxie.

“Yeah,” Moxxie says. “It is.”

“Anything you want to ask me?”

Moxxie looks down at her foot sticking out from under the table. “I don’t want things to be weird.”

“That ship probably sailed a long time ago, Moxx,” Puck points out.

“What happened?” she asks quietly. “With you and Pips’s dad.”

Puck lets out a deep breath and winces. “I’m going to reserve the right not to answer that one completely. Something happened that scared both of us and made both of us mad, too. And then we both said a lot of things that we probably didn’t mean. Or, well, I know I didn’t mean what I said,” Puck says. “And I was already living in LA. Remember our old apartment?” Moxxie nods. “I already lived there. So I came back home and never went back to Ohio.”

“Pips said her Grandma told her you and… and Pips’s dad were best friends from when you were really little.”

“That’s true,” Puck says.

“Pips’s dad won’t talk about you,” Moxxie says. “She says her Grandma said he told everybody they weren’t allowed to talk about you.”

Puck takes another sip of his water to hide his flinch because, yeah, that isn’t the most fun thing to hear. “I didn’t talk to any of them ever again,” Puck finally says, “so that’s probably about the same.”

“Pips thinks…” Moxxie looks down at her foot again, wiggling her toes.

“What does Miss Pips think?” Puck asks.

“She, uh.”

“Yes?”

“Were you married?”

“Married?” Puck repeats blankly. “Moxxie, that wasn’t even legal in Ohio in 2012.”

“Well, then like married,” Moxxie says.

Puck shakes his head, trying to figure out why Pips would think that, though he guesses that his and Finn’s behavior probably would look a lot like angry spouses to a very smart nine year old, especially depending on what Finn’s said or not said. “No, we weren’t,” he finally says. “That’s an interesting thing for Pips to think.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Moxxie says.

“Any other questions for tonight?” Puck asks. Moxxie shakes her head. “Okay. Let’s hold any more until next Monday, unless you need to make weekend plans. Deal?”

“Can Pips sleepover?”

“On Saturday night, if it’s okay with her dad, yes.”

“How do we get her? If it’s Friday, she can just come home with me,” Moxxie says.

Puck frowns. “Her dad could drop her off at the salon. You know how Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings are at work.”

“Maybe I can meet her on the corner,” Moxxie says. “Then you don’t have to, like, see each other.”

“You’re sweet, but I’m sure we can be grown-ups for five or ten minutes if we need to be. Okay?”

“Okay. I’ll tell Pips. Thanks, Dad!”

“You’re welcome, Moxxie.”

Finn hasn’t dated anyone since Rachel. Since technically he and Rachel didn’t even date the second time, just got married right away, he really hasn’t dated since high school. If Rachel hadn’t been pregnant, he’s not totally sure he would have dated again. He thinks something in him broke after Puck, or maybe because of Puck, and there wasn’t anything left in him for anyone else.

Being with Rachel was easy because he already knew how to do it. When Pips was born, the relationship mostly became about her, anyway. Parenting was something Finn could do pretty well, at least, even if he couldn’t really fully let himself invest in any other kind of relationship. He hasn’t had sex in at least five years, and most of the time he would honestly say he doesn’t even miss it. Things are less complicated and painful without it, if he’s really being honest.

After the Back to School Night, Pips is uncharacteristically quiet. When he told her Puck wasn’t in the picture, she seemed to take it as a cue to not broach the topic any further. Finn feels relieved more than anything else, because he’s spent most of the last decade trying to forget Puck ever existed, and having to relive any of the time before that through explanation is more than he’s up to presently. Pips puts herself to bed when they get home, and Finn follows suit not long after.

Finn gets through Friday mostly by functioning on autopilot. He feels numb. When he thinks about seeing Puck again, he feels queasy, too, but that he can at least tamp down. He can’t completely avoid thinking about Puck, though. Even if he never allows Moxxie to come to their place, something he wouldn’t ever do to Pips, he’d still see her at SMASH. Now that he knows she’s Puck’s daughter, he realizes how obvious it should have been. True, she looks a little more like Jake than she does like Puck, which makes Finn wonder who her mother was, but she definitely looks like a Puckerman.

He’ll have her over, because she and Pips are already joined at the hip and he isn’t going to be the one to part them. He’ll have to grit his teeth and make it through the hand-off of the girls. He can do that much for Pips. Over time, he’ll be able to look at Moxxie without it hurting too much, probably. Maybe he can get some really dark sunglasses to get him through what brief time he has to spend with Puck. It would be easier if he didn’t have to look at him, if he didn’t still look so much like he used to. After ten years, Finn would have expected him to look different, but other than the hair and the darker tan, he doesn’t look that different at all.

Finn hasn’t punched another person in a decade, and he hasn’t ever been the kind that punches holes in walls, but he wishes he could punch something or someone, just to stop feeling so sick. Pips tiptoes around him. Finn hears her talking to Moxxie on the tablet over the weekend, and he’s sure they’re texting fairly constantly, too. Maybe Moxxie can answer the questions Pips has, the ones that she’s afraid to ask Finn because apparently his kid is not only smarter than him, but more mature than him, too.

“Finn?” Pips asks quietly in the car on Tuesday after school.

“Yeah, Pips?”

“Moxxie said today that she has permission to come over to my house if she’s invited.”

Finn exhales slowly. “Okay. Tell Moxxie you are also allowed to go over to her house if you’re invited.”

“Thanks,” Pips says. “We’re sorry.”

“It’s not your fault or hers, Pips. She seems like a nice kid. I know you’re a nice kid.”

“Still, we didn’t mean to make anyone upset.”

“I know. It’s just old stuff, way before you were even born,” Finn says. “I can be a grown-up about it. Don’t worry.”

“Because you’re old?” Pips asks innocently.

“Yeah, smartie-pants, because I’m old,” Finn says.

Pips doesn’t bring Moxxie up again until Thursday. Finn suspects the two of them wanted some time to confer on the subject of their dads before they asked any more questions, or possibly they’re taking turns interrogating.

“Finn? Can I spend the night at Moxxie’s on Saturday night?”

Finn holds back a sigh and puts on what he hopes is a sincere-looking smile. “Sure, Pips.”

“Moxxie said you can drop me off near Moxxie the salon and she’ll meet me at the corner,” Pips says.

“I can walk you to the salon. I’m a full-sized dad, you know.”

“We just thought it’d be easier,” Pips explains. “Since if it were Friday, I’d just ride her bus home.”

“I’ll walk you to the salon,” Finn says firmly.

“Ookay,” Pips sing-songs. “Can I ask you a question?”

Finn doesn’t hold back the sigh this time, but he manages to keep the sincere-looking smile. “Yes, Pips. You can ask me a question.”

“Moxxie’s dad told Moxxie that he never talked to anyone in Ohio again,” Pips says skeptically. “Is that true?”

“I don’t know for sure, Pips. I never asked. As far as I know, though, it’s true.”

“Hmmm,” Pips says.

“It’s the truth, Pips. I don’t lie to you,” Finn says. “Not even about this.”

“I’m only thinking.”

“Thinking about what?”

“The things you each did. That’s a lot of hurt,” Pips says, her voice still quiet.



November 23, 2012

There are three or four boxes that Puck had left at his mom’s house when he moved to LA, and after everything that’s happened in the last twenty-four hours, that’s all he can make himself focus on. If he thinks about the boxes, he doesn’t have to think about the way his face and body ache. He doesn’t have to think about the things Finn said. He doesn’t have to think about the things he said, either, though he’s already having trouble recalling the exact details of those. If he thinks about the boxes and leaving Lima behind, this time permanently, Puck doesn’t have to think about everything that came before the punching and shoving and yelling, either.

He’s not ready to think about that, and he doesn’t think he probably ever will be.

Puck’s mom and sister are both still sound asleep when he goes inside and gets his boxes. That’s good, too, because he didn’t want to explain the bruises on his face or the blood caked underneath his nose. If he gets far enough away from Lima before anyone sees him, maybe no one will ask him why he looks like he’s been in a fistfight.

The answer to that question will be “Because I was,” if someone’s stupid enough to ask.

The rental car isn’t supposed to be returned for another thirty-six hours, and Puck’s flight is scheduled after that, but Puck drives towards Columbus anyway. He’ll find a FedEx store so he can ship his boxes to himself, and then he’ll see if he can change his flight to an earlier one. As long as he’s thinking about the logistics, then overthinking them, he’s not thinking about anything else. He’s not thinking about Finn, and how mad he is, and how much he wants to turn the car around and drive back to Lima and find Finn. He doesn’t know what he would do if he found Finn. Probably he would throw more punches and yell more, and possibly there would be crying or broken bones or both, but maybe it would feel more finished at the end, to go with the anger and the hurt.

The rental car guy says something about the unfulfilled hours, and Puck just glares at him, hoping the bruises and what has to be a black eye, judging by how it feels, are effective. The guy at least stops trying to make bad jokes.

Twenty-four hours after everything started, Puck is on a plane that’s lifting off from Columbus, heading back to LA. All of his possessions are either in LA or on a FedEx plane getting ready to be sent to LA. While Puck had waited for his flight, he had methodically deleted every person from Lima from all of his social media, followed by deleting them from his contacts. The only person whose contact information he hadn’t deleted was Jake’s, and he’d sent Jake a very brief email telling him not to let on to anyone that he still had any contact with Puck.

None of the others had really given a fuck about Puck anyway. If Puck’s honest with himself—and 37,000 feet above the Midwest with a black eye and his body aching is as good of a place to be honest as anywhere—he’d only gone back to Lima for Finn anyway. Now all he has is aches and pains and anger and probably some heartache under all of that, all things he doesn’t need. He’s leaving Lima behind. The next time someone asks where he’s from, he’s going to lie.

The lie comes easier than he expects, three weeks later, as the last of the black eye is fading and the rest of his body has returned to normal. The woman sitting next to him asks him where he’s from, and Puck smiles as he answers her.

“LA.”



November 23, 2012

The first thing Finn does when it’s all over, when Puck is gone, is to cry. He cries harder than he can remember ever crying. He cries until he makes himself sick, and then he alternates puking and crying until he runs out of stuff in his stomach, then he dry heaves and cries. His already-puffy eyes sting and when he tries to wipe them, he jerks his hands away. After that, his eyes throb more than they sting. He still hasn’t looked at himself in a mirror yet. He doesn’t know how he will be able to stand the sight of himself, let alone how he’ll handle seeing the damage—the visible damage, which isn’t even the worst of it—that Puck did to him.

When he finally can’t cry anymore, he feels empty. He’s a Finn-shaped shell with nothing inside it. In a way, Puck was the last thing he had left in his life that was really his. His mom has Burt. Rachel has New York. All their other friends have their schools and relationships scattered all over. Puck, though. Puck was his. Girlfriends, brothers, none of that ever got in the way. Even Beth didn’t get in the way for long. In the end, the only thing that could really tear them down was themselves.

“Suck it up,” Finn tells himself.

He stands up, splashes water on his face for a long time, icy-cold. He’s careful of the tender places, but not too careful. He dries his face with a towel, gently but not too gently. He lifts his head and stares at his reflection. He looks like a stranger. The shape of his nose isn’t quite right. His mouth looks strange. His teeth still have red on them from where they cut into his lip. His eyes are swollen and red, swiftly transitioning to purple. They look as empty as Finn feels.

“Oh my god, Finn! What happened?” His mom practically pounces on him when he walks in, her hands flapping in worry.

“It’s nothing.” It is nothing, now.

“Finn, you need to go to the doctor,” his mom insists. “You need to get that nose looked at. Were you in a fight? Did someone punch you?”

“It’s nothing, Mom,” Finn says. “It’s nothing.”

“It’s not nothing, Finn! I think your nose is broken! Who did this to you?”

“I did it to myself,” Finn says. It’s not a lie. He can still just hold onto the memory of what he said before Puck’s fist connected with his nose. The nose, at least, Finn did to himself.

“Did you and Puck get into a bar fight?”

Finn turns towards her slowly. He thought he might be angry when he heard Puck’s name, but he just feels cold and empty. “Don’t,” he says. “Don’t say that name to me. Don’t say it around me.”

“Finn,” his mom says. “Finn, did Puck do this to you?”

“Don’t, Mom. Just don’t. I don’t want to hear it again.”

“Finn,” she says softly.

“If you say it again, I’ll leave. I’ll leave, and I won’t come back. Don’t talk about him. Not today and not ever,” he says. He closes his eyes and waits. He hears her sigh.

“Okay. I won’t,” his mom says.

Finn says, “Thank you,” and then he walks upstairs to his room and shuts the door, locking it. He lies down on his bed, still fully dressed, shoes still on, and crosses his hands over his stomach. He can still hear the things Puck said to him. About him. They swirl around inside the hollow Finn-shell until they’re they only things filling him up. He wishes in that moment, only in that moment, that he could just die. No, that he could already be dead. Nothing could hurt as much as this. Already being dead would be so quiet and nice.

Months pass. He walks around and looks like Finn. He lives a life that Finn would live. He goes to Schue’s non-wedding like Finn would. He goes to bed with Rachel like Finn would, and he forces Puck’s voice out of his head briefly, so he doesn’t have to remember what Puck said about him. When Rachel calls in May, Finn does a very Finn-like thing and goes to New York to be with her. The Finn-shell marries her. The Finn-shell enrolls in classes. The Finn-shell works a part-time job. It smiles at the right times, laughs at the right times, and it makes it clear, very clear from the first day, that there’s one name nobody gets to say.

Time helps. Pips helps a lot. Still, Finn isn’t everything he used to be. Some parts of him are gone, and he thinks they probably won’t ever come back. He isn’t sure he would want them to if they could. He’s a new Finn now, and maybe there’s less of him than there used to be, but it’s the Finn that can keep living, being a person, being a dad. It’s the only Finn that’s left.

Finn doesn’t answer at first, mulling over a few possible answers in his head. Most of them wouldn’t make sense without context, though, and he isn’t in a place to give Pips context, even if she were old enough to hear it, so he just says, “Yeah. It’s a lot.”

Pips nods, looking almost pleased with Finn’s answer. “Okay.”

“Can that be the last question today?” Finn asks.

Pips nods again. “Sure.”

“Thanks, Pips.”

Ten minutes before four on Saturday afternoon, Puck suddenly is struck with the thought that Moxxie’s very existence probably is confirmation for Finn of what he said over a decade ago about Puck. It’s the worst possible timing to have that kind of realization, since Finn is supposed to drop Pips off at exactly four. Luckily, Puck is already done with his three o’clock and only has one more appointment, at four-thirty, so he doesn’t have to actually decide if he’s breathing too fast or if his hands are truly shaking.

The downside is that he doesn’t have anything to busy himself doing at four when Finn and Pips arrive, so Puck picks up one of the brooms and starts sweeping again. It’s a little more often than he’d usually sweep around the front and shampoo areas, but it isn’t excessive.

That’s what he thinks until Dove comments on the sweeping, anyway.

“Did your three o’clock have invisible hair?” Dove asks.

“What?” Puck asks, stopping with the broom still in his hands.

“There’s no hair there,” Dove says, pointing at the floor. “See?”

“I’m double-checking?”

“It’s clean, honey, trust me,” Dove says, shaking his head.

“Dammit,” Puck mutters to himself, putting the broom back and looking at the clock. Five ’til is close enough to four. “Moxx!”

Moxxie comes bounding out of the back room. “Want me to go up to the corner and see if Pips is on her way?”

“No, but I want you out here now,” Puck says.

“I can go up and meet them. It’s okay.”

“We’re grown-ups, despite the fact that you tried to dress me today.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Dad,” Moxxie says. “Honestly.”

“‘Honestly’, like you thought I wouldn’t see through your casual act? I have—” Puck stops, willing himself not to snap his head towards the front solely because he saw Finn and Pips out of the corner of his eye.

“Pips!” Moxxie says. “Can I go open the door?”

“Go for it,” Puck says.

“Pips!” Moxxie shrieks, barreling towards the door. She pushes it open before Finn can reach for the handle. The girls grab each other into a hug, jumping up and down. Finn seems a little startled by it.

Puck looks over at Dove and barely shakes his head. “I know. Don’t say it.”

Dove holds up his hands. “What? I didn’t say a word!”

“You were thinking very loudly,” Puck says, then takes a few steps forward. “Moxx, show Pips where to put her bag for now.”

“Honey, I never think hard enough for that,” Dove mutters to himself.

“Pips, you can put your bag in the back room! I have a table and stuff!” Moxxie says, dragging Pips towards the back. Finn stands just inside the door, looking awkward and not making eye contact.

“I’ll drop her off at your house tomorrow at two,” Puck says after the silence has reached an uncomfortable level of awkward. “Pips gave Moxxie the address.”

“Okay,” Finn says. “Thanks. Uh. Have a good night.”

“Yeah, you too,” Puck says, and he briefly thinks about the world where Pips’s dad was someone he’d never met, and instead of tiptoeing around their fathers, the girls could expect everyone to eat dinner together or at least occupy the same area for a few minutes without difficulty.

“Well,” Finn says softly. “Yeah. Thanks.” He turns towards the door again, lingering on the handle for a moment before pulling it open and walking through it.

“You’re welcome,” Puck says long after the door swings shut. The other world would be simpler, but part of him knows he wouldn’t change things, for all of the awkwardness and old pain. There’s the same anger and hurt, plus a couple of other feelings that are newer, and one of those is wistfulness, which is new in general for Puck.

Puck sighs and looks at Dove. “Was that extremely awkward or just moderately?”

“I’ve seen awkward,” Dove says. “That’s awkward like a volcano’s a bonfire.”

“That bad?” Puck asks with a wince.

“Astronauts could see the awkward from space,” Dove says.

“At least the girls get their sleepover, anyway.” After Puck’s four-thirty appointment is finished, he walks with the girls down the Promenade. “Did you two decide on sushi or cooked seafood?”

“Did you know that Pips has never had sushi?” Moxxie asks.

“No, I didn’t,” Puck says. “So sushi it is?”

“Yes!” Moxxie says.

“And after sushi? Any requests?”

“Moxxie said you go down to the beach most nights?” Pips asks, and Puck nods. “I’d like to do that.”

“Sure,” Puck says. “After we’re in for the night, you two can rent a movie. One, Moxxie.”

“Two,” Moxxie counters.

“We own a lot of movies, Moxxie. One rental.”

“Please, Dad?” Moxxie says, putting on the begging face. “Pleeeeeease?”

“One. Uno. Echad.”

Moxxie rolls her eyes. “Then I guess we’ll have lots of free time to talk about our families, huh, Pips?”

“I am not letting two nine year olds blackmail me.”

“I’m not blackmailing you. I’m just telling you we can come up with other plans, Dad, and it’s okay you won’t let us rent a perfectly reasonable second movie.”

“I could set a reasonable bedtime for you, too.”

“It’s already reasonable,” Moxxie says. “You’re a very reasonable person, Dad.”

Puck snorts and opens the door as they reach the sushi place. As they order and eat, Puck studies Pips as covertly as he can. He doesn’t know for sure that her mom is Rachel, but he’d find it hard to believe otherwise from looking at her. He knows from listening to Moxxie and being around Pips for a short amount of time that she’s the gifted kind of smart, which makes her the smartest person at their dinner table and the smartest person out of her relatives, too.

He does wonder how much Pips has puzzled out, between Moxxie’s interrogations, observations, and whatever Pips has asked Finn. Part of him wants to ask Pips what Finn’s answers have been, without knowing the exact questions, but he also knows that’s not a good idea. The girls are already far too much in the middle of something that happened before they were even born.

Moxxie and Pips entertain each other so well that there isn’t really much to keep Puck’s mind occupied. After they eat, they go back to the salon and get Pips’s bag, then walk to the apartment to drop it off and put on swimsuits. Puck changes, too, even though he has no intention of going that far out in the water while he’s keeping an eye on them. He picks up the beach chair and eyes the beer near it. He doesn’t drink very often, but this is one night he does wish he could get drunk.

The beach gives Puck more opportunity to be introspective, which wasn’t really something he was looking for but nonetheless now has. Moxxie and Pips, now that he knows the truth, remind him a little too strongly of himself and Finn at the same age. Puck looks around to make sure the beach is still relatively empty before talking out loud to himself.

“I couldn’t even tell them what to avoid, to make sure it doesn’t happen to them, to make sure it doesn’t all fall apart,” Puck says. “That’s the kicker.” Pips lets out a louder squeal, and Puck tenses before he realizes the girls caught one of the bigger waves. Moxxie notices him looking and waves, and Puck returns the gesture.

“I don’t know what I think is going to happen or even for sure what I want to happen, but I don’t want years of awkward two-minute meetings, either,” Puck tells the arm of the beach chair. “My initial assessment was right: this sucks.”

The truth is, though, that it’s been sucking. Having Finn in Santa Monica means Puck can’t ignore it. Puck had put up a good front from very soon after he’d returned to LA permanently, his face still swollen. He’d kept putting up the same front for years, until Moxxie came to live with him, and then, Puck admits to himself, he’d thrown himself into raising her, into making up for the time they’d lost, and into making up whatever deficits Kandace had had as a mother. It was good he’d done that, and Puck has no regrets, but he also knows it let him keep ignoring everything: the anger, the hurt, the way he missed Finn, even a decade later.

“It’s good a therapist never sat me down before now,” Puck says. “I would have either been the least talkative client or the one who didn’t stop blubbering.”

When the last of the light from the sunset is gone and Puck herds the girls back towards the apartment, neither one of them says anything about the look on his face. When they cross Ocean Boulevard, under the streetlights, Puck notices Pips studying him again, and he makes himself not return the eye contact. If she notices he looks sad or even the faint tracks of a few tears, that’s fine.

The girls enjoy their sleepover and the next morning enough that Puck can make himself forget until around noon that he’s going to have to see Finn again when he drives Pips home. Seeing Finn is confusing, Puck thinks as he makes grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. Part of him wants to shake Finn, part of him still wants to punch Finn, and another part of him wants to do something entirely different and not at all motivated by anger or hurt. Because Finn had been wrong, years ago. Puck hadn’t known how to handle it, and neither had Finn, but Finn was special. Maybe that had been the root of the issue in that moment: their exquisite inability to deal with the amount that it did matter, to both of them.

Either way, the current moment is awkwardness and trying not to make the girls uncomfortable, and Puck definitely doesn’t plan on initiating any deeper conversation in front of them. When it gets close to two, he herds the girls down the elevator, then drives towards Pips’s and Finn’s little bungalow. He could get away with pulling up in front of it, unlocking the doors, and having Pips walk herself to the door, and he’s sure Pips is perfectly capable of that, but he parks the car at the curb anyway.

After all, if Finn had to come onto Puck’s turf briefly, at least it’ll be fair this way. Moxxie gets out, too, and she and Pips continue whatever conversation they were having in the backseat as they walk up to the door. They aren’t quite to the door yet when it starts to open, and Puck stops his forward motion at that point, hanging back slightly.

“Hey Pips,” Finn says, directing a big, genuine smile at her. He stiffens and the smile looks strained when he notices Puck, nodding his head once in acknowledgment.

“Her swimsuit’s still a little wet, but I gave her a plastic bag,” Puck says as he returns the nod.

“Thanks,” Finn says, voice a little rough. “Thanks for dropping her off, too.”

“No problem. Ready, Moxx?”

“Can we stay a little while?” Moxxie asks. “Pips wants to show me her room. Her dad might let her paint it purple.”

“Not today,” Puck says, raising his eyebrows at Moxxie.

“Please?” Out comes the begging face. “Just five minutes.”

“I know how that works with you, you forget,” Puck says.

“It’s fine, if you don’t mind,” Finn says, sounding like somebody else physically forced the words out of him.

Puck sighs. Maybe the girls will take it as a victory and leave it alone for at least a day or two. “Five minutes, Moxxie.”

“Yay! Thank you, Dad! Thank you, Mr. Hudson!” Moxxie squeals, and then she and Pips dart down the hallway.

Finn looks at Puck for a few beats too long to be comfortable for either of them before he says, “You want a cup of coffee?”

Puck blinks a little, and the entire absurdity of the situation is probably why he blurts out, “You hate coffee.”

“I hated coffee when I was nineteen,” Finn says, in the rough voice.

“Sure, coffee’s fine,” Puck says, deciding to pretend like his previous response, and Finn’s, hadn’t happened.

Finn walks into the kitchen and offers Puck a basket of coffee pods. “Pick whatever you want.”

Puck pokes through the pods for a few seconds until he finds one that says it’s half-caf. “Afternoon and all,” he says when he notices Finn looking at it.

“Ah,” Finn says. He pulls two mugs from the cabinet, handing one to Puck. It says ‘Mulberry School’ on it. The other mug, the one still in Finn’s hand, says ‘Windy City GAT Academy’. Finn gestures at the Keurig on the counter. “Go ahead.”

Puck tries to think of something to say that’s not inflammatory while he stands at the Keurig. Instead, he looks at what he can see of the bungalow out of the corner of his eye. It’s tiny, but probably comparable in square footage to his and Moxxie’s apartment. The walls are all off-white without any art or pictures on them, but the furniture all matches and doesn’t look like it came from Ikea. The overall impression is ‘comfortable’.

Before Puck has a chance to say anything, though, Finn says, “Moxxie’s pretty. She looks a lot like Jake.”

“Yeah,” Puck says, nodding a little as he picks the mug up from the Keurig. “That was one of the first things I noticed.”

“She seems like a really good kid.”

“We’ve managed to make things work out okay, I guess,” Puck says, turning around and shrugging a little. “All things considered.”

“She’s really great,” Finn says. “Pips talks about her all the time.”

“Yeah, Pips is the number one topic of conversation at home,” Puck says. “‘Pips is so pretty, Dad’ and ‘Pips is so smart’.”

“She’s definitely smart. Too smart, sometimes. Too smart for me to keep up,” Finn says, pressing the button on the Keurig to brew his own coffee.

“She seems really down-to-earth, though,” Puck says. “She’s a nice kid.”

“She is. She’s strangely practical about stuff. Sometimes I forget she won’t even be ten until November.”

“Yeah? What day?” Puck asks.

Finn looks extra-uncomfortable suddenly. “Twenty-second,” he says in the rough voice.

Puck almost spits out his coffee. “No way.”

“Sorry. I didn’t— I shouldn’t have brought it up,” Finn says. He looks pale, and the last decade is more obvious in his face now.

“No, I mean, yeah, but— that’s Moxxie’s birthday, too.”

This time, Finn almost spits out his coffee, it looks like. “No,” he says. “No way.”

“Yeah, that’s a wild coincidence,” Puck says, taking a sip of his coffee before one of them can reveal something else weird. Luckily, the thundering of little girl feet moves in their direction, and both girls appear in the kitchen.

“See?” Moxxie says. “Five minutes!”

“Yeah, good job,” Puck says suspiciously. “Thanks for the coffee,” he says to Finn.

“Thanks for having me over,” Pips says politely.

“You can come over any time,” Moxxie says. “It was so fun!”

Puck guides Moxxie towards the door, pausing and feeling like he ought to say something else to Finn, but everything he can think of is either way too shallow, even for in front of the girls, or way too deep and complicated.

“Have a nice day,” Finn says stiffly.

“You too,” Puck says, and just as the door is closing, he blurts out “Nice house,” which makes him shake his head at himself. Out of everything, that’s what his mouth goes with? Finn looks a little startled, but then the door finishes closing before he can say anything, if he even planned to.

“See?” Moxxie says. “That went well.”

“Moxx, I think you and I have very different definitions of ‘well’.”

When the door closes, Finn sits down on the floor. He hadn’t planned to sit down on the floor, or anywhere else, but his legs decided standing wasn’t in the forecast. He still has his coffee cup in hand. When his arms start to feel as untrustworthy as his legs, he puts the cup down on the floor next to him.

“Finn?” Pips says, sitting down on the other side of the coffee cup. “It wasn’t that bad?”

“Yeah. Yeah it was, Pips,” Finn says, taking slow, deep breaths.

“No one yelled. Everyone was polite,” Pips says.

“Did you know you and Moxxie have the same birthday?” Finn asks.

“Why does your voice sound so weird? And really? That’s so cool!”

“Uh-huh,” Finn says, then the world sort of tips over, or, he guesses, he does, because he’s suddenly on his side on the floor, half-curled into a ball.

Pips sighs a little. “Maybe Moxxie and I could have a joint birthday party.”

“Uh-huh. Okay.”

“I don’t think anyone would believe we’re twins, though,” Pips says, apparently having decided to ignore the fact that Finn is lying in the floor. “Moxxie has darker skin like her mom. And her dad gets pretty tan.”

Finn nods. Puck always did tan, but he came back from LA that Thanksgiving so dark. Finn would have sworn he could actually smell the beach on Puck that night. He could smell the West Coast sun.

“Moxxie showed me a picture of her and her dad when she was two, at the beach. Finn? Did you know that Moxxie only knew her old mom until she was two?”

Finn shakes his head. “I didn’t know her old mom.”

“I think it’s sad that Moxxie didn’t know her dad until then,” Pips says.

“Hmm?” Finn manages, since he doesn’t really understand what Pips means.

“I would have been sad if I didn’t meet you until I was two and a half!” Pips says.

“Uh-huh. Me, too.”

“So it’s probably good that Moxxie’s mom is not in the picture, if she’s that kind of person,” Pips says.

“Yeah,” Finn says.

“If I go Facetime Grandma, will you get up eventually?” Pips asks.

“Mmhmm.” Finn curls up a little more tightly on around himself.

“Okay,” Pips says, standing up and walking to her bedroom.

Finn can hear Pips beginning her conversation with Grandma. He feels the laminate floor under his cheek, cool and smooth. He can smell his cup of coffee, down near his feet. He feels apart from all those things, though. He feels—and it’s not a word he’d ever really use in conversation, it’s an odd word for him—unmoored. Still, he told Pips he’d get up eventually, so he makes himself concentrate on that. He’s made it through ten years. He can get up off the floor.

By the time Pips ends her chat with Grandma, Finn is on his feet again, in the kitchen, making a second cup of coffee. He still feels empty, but that’s a sensation he knows well, and it’s one he can live with. Pips is real and solid, and she needs him to not be on the ground. He’ll just have to build up his Puck tolerance over time so this doesn’t keep happening. He can’t keep living like Puck never happened.

He hears Pips coming into the kitchen, and turns to smile at her. “Hey, Pips. Good talk with Grandma?”

“Yeah! I told her that I went on a sleepover,” Pips says.

“Did you tell her all about Moxxie?”

“I told her we have the same birthday,” Pips says. “And about the beach, and sushi.”

“Sounds like a good talk,” Finn says.

“That’s what we had for dinner last night,” Pips explains. “Sushi.”

“Neat.”

“We rented a super-old movie and watched it, too.”

“Ah.”

“Maybe I should take a nap since I stayed up so late. You could take a nap, too!” Pips says.

“Oh. Yeah, that sounds like a pretty good idea,” Finn says. “Thanks, Pips.”

Pips smiles at him and nods towards the bedrooms. “C’mon.”

Finn laughs faintly and follows her as she walks into the hall. “You know I’m supposed to be the dad and you’re supposed to be the kid, right?”

“But right now we both need a nap.”

“I didn’t say you were wrong.”

Pips laughs and goes into her room. “Sleep well!”

“You too, Pips,” Finn says. He walks into his own room and falls onto the bed face first, burying his face in the pillow. He wishes he knew how long until this gets easier. Obviously not days, but he isn’t sure if he’s looking at weeks of feeling like this, or months, or maybe years. Will a time come when he can even think about Puck without it hurting like it just happened?

He hadn’t expected that. While he didn’t regularly allow himself to think about Puck, and he never expected to run into Puck in Santa Monica, if someone had asked him how he would feel when he saw Puck again, he would have said ‘not much’. He’s spent the last decade trying to feel nothing, and he would have expected it to at least feel somewhat removed. Instead, it’s just as fresh as it had been the day after. It’s not reduced pain or buffered pain, just delayed.

Pips is probably right about the nap, though. Finn curls up on his side, face still pressed to the pillow, and lets his mind shut off for a while. He dozes lightly, in and out of sleep, for an hour and a half. When he hears Pips walking around, he sits up and rubs his face, finding himself surprised it doesn’t hurt.

He walks into the kitchen, where Pips is assembling a peanut butter and banana sandwich. “Hey, Pips.”

“Hey, Finn! Want a sandwich?”

“Nah. I’m good. Did you have a nice nap?”

Pips nods. “Did you?”

“Yeah,” Finn says. “It was a good idea.”

“What did you have for dinner last night?” Pips asks.

“I heated up that pot pie.”

“What will I eat for breakfast tomorrow now?” Pips says in a mock-disappointed voice.

“Eggs of some kind,” Finn says.

“So, like every morning?”

“Ah, but these eggs will be scrambled.”

“Sooo… like every morning!” Pips says.

“Exactly.”

“I have bad news for you, Finn. You’re a dork.”

“I have worse news for you, Pips. You’re a dork’s kid. Second-generation dork.”

“Yes, but I knew that,” Pips says. “Can I ask you something?”

Finn sighs. “You’re going to ask me whether I say yes or no, so I guess you may as well.”

“Thanks,” Pips says with a little smile. “So Moxxie asked her dad what happened, and he said that both of you said a lot of things you didn’t mean. Is that all?”

“I don’t know if her dad meant what he said or not,” Finn says. “I don’t know if I can explain any of it in a way that’ll make sense. You’re smart, but you’re also still nine.”

“Probably he doesn’t lie to Moxxie. Moxxie also said he said that you both got scared.”

Finn takes a deep breath, closing his eyes before he slowly exhales. “Yeah. We did. I did.”

“Okay,” Pips says thoughtfully. “Why did he say ‘nice house’ when they were leaving?”

“I guess because he thinks our house is nice,” Finn says.

“Really?” Pips says skeptically.

“Pips, I haven’t seen him in ten years. More than ten years. I don’t know why he said it. Maybe it means something to him that I don’t understand. Ten years is a long time, okay?”

“Not that long,” Pips says. “You’re both really nice.”

“Pips, that’s longer than your whole life,” Finn says.

“And I’m not that old!”

“We aren’t going to keep you and Moxxie from seeing each other,” Finn says. “Maybe that’s enough.”

Pips looks like she wants to argue, but she takes a bit of her now-finished sandwich instead. After she chews and swallows, she looks at Finn. “For now.”



November 22, 2013

Puck tells the scheduling assistant that he needs to be finished with all sessions by three-thirty or four on the Friday before Thanksgiving, and he actually leaves at three. He can tell that a few of the other studio musicians think that he’s doing some kind of family thing, which suits him fine. He goes home and gets cleaned up and heads to an early-crowd bar in one of the more touristy areas of LA.

He smiles at a few of women in the bar until he notices the one at the end of the bar. She’s pretty, her boobs are huge—and that’s being polite—and she’s dressed like she’s looking for the same kind of evening’s entertainment that Puck is. Maybe she has things she wants to forget, too.

Puck moves down the bar to sit beside her, buying them each a Long Island iced tea. She starts to introduce herself with a wide smile, her teeth even and bright, but Puck waves his hand dismissively. “Do our names really matter?”

“No, I suppose not,” she says, and Puck can place her accent to the Caribbean, though not any more specifically. Their drinks arrive, and she takes a longer drink than Puck.

“Something you want to forget, too?” Puck asks in spite of himself.

“I think we can have a fun evening,” she says.

They make small talk and finish their drinks, but Puck doesn’t make a pretense of ordering a second drink. She asks if he has a condom, he confirms that he does, and then she leads them just a few blocks to her hotel room. Puck vaguely wonders if he accidentally found a professional, but it’s clear when they get to her hotel room that no, she’s genuinely visiting the city, and judging from the way her body responds, genuinely lonely.

It’s probably good, Puck thinks two hours later, that he actually had more than one condom.

Still, the fun is essentially over, it’s dark outside, and Puck wants to find a place to get drunk, now. He’s gentle enough when she asks for his name or number, just while she’s in town the rest of the week, but he still turns her down. He slips out of the hotel and arranges for an Uber to meet him back at the bar where he met her.

Thirty minutes later, Puck’s at a different bar, ordering whiskey with no pretense that he’s doing anything other than trying to get drunk. He tells the bartender to keep the drinks coming without bothering to ask Puck each time. Puck loses track of how many he’s downed after five. If he’s being completely honest, he wants to pass out. If he drinks so much that someone has to fish out his ID to figure out his address, that’s fine. It’d be the first time all night someone actually checked for ID, which is the upside of knowing the city. His apartment building is safe enough if he ends up slumped against his door for an hour or two.

He doesn’t want to think about Finn, but somewhere around drink five, Puck realizes that he’s both thinking about Finn and planning his entire weekend around the thought of Finn and everything that happened a year earlier. He’s thinking about Finn and how everything went bad so fast. Puck knows he was right to cut them all off. No one even asked Jake if he’d heard from Puck. No one sent him a message or a text asking why he’d cut them all off on social media. No, all of them, especially Finn, had probably been glad to see him go. Puck grips the drink in his hand too tightly. Finn. No. He’s not thinking about a year ago. He’s not thinking about everything Finn said. He’s not thinking about Finn. He has a good job and his own apartment and a life of sorts in LA. He doesn’t need to think about Finn.

Puck finishes that whiskey and reaches for the one that the bartender has waiting for him. “I need to not think,” he says slowly to the bartender. The bartender nods and removes his empty glass. “Good man.”

The whiskey burns, just like his face had stung, and Puck scowls at the glass. He doesn’t want to think about it. He doesn’t want to think about Finn. That’s all he knows for sure, for this particular date: he doesn’t want to think.



November 22, 2013

Finn spends most of Rachel’s labor holding her hand and wiping her forehead with a cool rag. He thought she might scream a lot like women do on television, especially since he read in one of the books Rachel gave him that induced labors are usually more painful, but mostly she’s very focused, closing her eyes in between contractions. She’s clearly working hard, but she doesn’t ask for any pain medicine, and Finn helps hold her up as she pushes the baby out.

Immediately after baby Patricia is born, the room goes into a flurry of activity, with the doctor and Rachel’s nurses fussing over Rachel, and Patricia’s nurses putting her on the scale and then moving her to the warmer tray for her exam, squeezing a little pink hat onto her head. Finn stands out of the way, the sun sinking below the skyline outside the window behind him. A nurse shows Rachel the right way to hold Patricia to breastfeed her. Another nurse shows Finn where the diapers and baby wipes are. Abruptly, the doctor and all the nurses exit the room, leaving Finn and Rachel alone with their daughter.

“She’s bigger than I expected,” Finn says.

“Well, she did stay in there two weeks longer than she needed to,” Rachel says, shifting the pillow under Patricia. Patricia doesn’t seem to like it, because she unlatches and squawks, waving one tiny fist around. “Get those mittens for me,” Rachel asks, nodding her head towards the warming tray. Finn doesn’t see anything that looks like mittens, but he does find a pair of white things that look like a combination sock and boxing glove, so he hands those to Rachel, who somehow manages to get Patricia’s waving fists into them.

“You need anything?” Finn asks.

“Sleep,” Rachel says. “I don’t think I’ve had a good night’s sleep since I hit twenty-eight weeks.”

“When she’s done eating, I’ll take her, and you can get some rest,” Finn says. Rachel smiles at him, looking tired but kind of radiant, which he’d heard happens after women have babies. That part is nice, seeing Rachel like that.

Patricia nurses on and off for another thirty minutes or so, but then she falls asleep. Finn scoops her up, feeling awkward and too big. He keeps waiting for Rachel to tell him he’s holding the baby wrong, but she doesn’t say anything like that. She smiles and closes her eyes, falling asleep quickly. Finn carries baby Patricia to the padded window seat.

“Hi,” he says to her, even though she’s still sound asleep. “You made it in time for Thanksgiving.”

Even as he’s saying it, he feels like the air is being sucked out of the room. He hadn’t really made a connection to what day it was, not when they went in for Rachel’s induction. Thanksgiving isn’t until the twenty-eighth this year, but that doesn’t change the fact that Thanksgiving a year ago was when everything happened with Puck. It’s not an anniversary he wanted to think about, had been consciously putting out of his mind as the date approached, but now he’ll have to think about it every year, because it’s his daughter’s birthday. He reminds himself that the worst part didn’t happen on the twenty-second, that the worst was in the early hours of the next morning. It doesn’t help.

“We’ll make a lot of new memories on this day every year,” Finn says to the baby. Even though Rachel had been using the name Patricia since the 20-week ultrasound, he still can’t really connect that to the baby in his hand. She doesn’t look like a Patricia or even a Patti.

The baby yawns and opens one eye slightly, looking suspicious. Finn smiles at her. “Hi,” he whispers. The baby makes a little peeping noise, like a baby bird. “I think I’m not going to call you Patricia. I think I’m going to call you Pips. You like that, Pips?”

Pips opens her other eye, staring up at Finn. She yawns again, then closes both eyes, letting out a tiny, trembling sigh as she falls back to sleep. Finn holds her closer to his chest, so her head is against his heart, and he sits there focusing on his own heartbeat and Pips’s warm weight. The city noises seem dampened somehow, like they’re higher up and farther away than they really are. Finn feels removed from time and space, in a place that’s just him and Pips, with no past dragging him down and no future to worry about.

Rachel keeps sleeping, even when a nurse comes in to check Rachel’s vitals and then Pips’s, and then Finn has Pips in his arms again. He glances up at the clock on the wall, certain not that much time has passed, only to see that it’s now past midnight. It’s November twenty-third now. A year ago, he was still asleep. He hadn’t woken up yet to Puck’s frantic, insistent voice. He didn’t have the little scar on his upper lip, or the cut that would become the scar. Finn doesn’t remember a lot of the details of that early morning, but he doesn’t think he even dreamed. He’d just slept, temporarily safe and content, unaware of what was coming, unaware of the horrible things they would both say and do.

Finn wonders briefly where Puck is now, if Puck is awake somewhere thinking of what day it is. Maybe Puck doesn’t think about it at all. Maybe he really did leave it all behind him, just as done with Finn as he’d said he was in the moment. Finn can’t remember all he said to Puck, though he knows he gave as good as he got, but he can remember every single thing Puck said to him, and he replays it in his head now. Each word brings a sharp little pain, like being pricked by the point of a knife. It was all so perfectly mean and perfectly true. It was all the secrets Puck knew about him, and the fears Finn had about all the things wrong with himself.

Pips starts to fuss in Finn’s arms. He shushes her softly, jostling her a little, but she doesn’t seem any happier. Finn stands and carries Pips to the bedside. “Rachel?” he whispers. “Rachel? I think Pips is hungry.”

“Who?” Rachel says, blinking sleepily. “Oh, Patricia? What did you call her?”

“Pips,” Finn says, handing Pips to Rachel.

“Hmm. That’s cute. I think I’ll stick with Patricia for now, though,” Rachel says. She and Pips take a few minutes to get the nursing thing figured out without the help of the nurse, but finally Pips is latched on and seems content. Finn watches her eyes open and close, her long eyelashes brushing her cheek.

“She’s a great baby,” Finn says. “She’s smart, too. I can tell.”

“She has more hair than other newborns I’ve seen,” Rachel says.

“You can put those little clip-on bows on her. That would be funny.”

“Maybe,” Rachel says. “I have a few from the shower.”

Pips only wants to eat for about twenty minutes this time, and Rachel hands her back to Finn, then drinks a little ginger-ale from her giant insulated cup with the bendy straw. “Want to sleep a little more?” Finn says, hoping that she does, because sitting and holding Pips makes him feel less hollow than he’s felt in a year now.

“If you don’t mind,” Rachel says. She’s asleep again before Finn can even reassure her that he doesn’t mind at all.

Finn sits back in the window seat, Pips sleeping in his arms, and watches the traffic go by below. He doesn’t want this day or the one before it to mean anything to him that isn’t about Pips. Maybe next year will be easier. If not next year, maybe the one after. Maybe a few years. Maybe someday.

Maybe not at all, and Puck is a phantom limb that will make Finn itch and hurt for the rest of his life. Maybe no matter how long Puck is gone or how much Finn’s brain wants to erase all memory of him, Finn’s body won’t forget the part that’s supposed to be there. Maybe that’s what adulthood is, missing something, pretending you’re still whole, and hating yourself for it.

The Friday after Pips spent the night at their apartment, Moxxie spends the night at Pips’s, which means that Puck walks home from the salon alone to an empty apartment, which is decidedly odd. Puck sits on the balcony and eats a sandwich, studying the sunset as he chews. He’ll see Finn again the next day, when he brings Moxxie to the shop. Even thinking that feels weird. He’s not used to this idea of Finn being a presence in his life again, not yet.

Puck also isn’t used to Moxxie being gone, which means he has basically nothing to distract him. He goes inside and puts on The Force Awakens for at least the thirtieth time. It distracts him a little, but the little swirl in the pit of his stomach tells him it’s not doing the job that well.

“No,” Puck says to the empty apartment. “No, I am not contemplating what I should wear or other aspects of my appearance tomorrow, and if I were, it would be because I own a business. Not because of any particular person.”

The Millennium Falcon takes off on screen, and Puck sighs, realizing too late that watching a movie with the main character named Finn is not going to help him keep from thinking about the next day. There’s something about Finn being at the salon that feels different than just seeing him otherwise. Maybe because it reminds Puck, at least subconsciously, that eleven and a half years after he first mentioned it, they’re both in LA.

Puck stays up too late watching the entirety of the last three Star Wars movies, which means he has to keeping chugging the coffee as he walks to work. By the time Finn brings Moxxie by in the afternoon, he should feel close to normal, or as close to normal as he can when most of his brain is focused in some way on the prospect of seeing Finn again.

Despite his pep talk to himself the night before, Puck had thought about what he was wearing, even though most of his clothes are variations on a theme: jeans, sleeveless shirt, boots or sneakers, sunglasses. It is, he mentally concedes, important to him that he look decent, for whatever reason that he doesn’t want to name right then.

Even though Puck’s expecting them, he still has to work, which means he’s in the back getting out more shampoo when they get there.

“Dad!” Moxxie calls out. “Your best, most favorite child is home!”

“Best and most favorite?” Puck says he heads back into the main part of the salon. “And this is home now?”

“Home away from home,” Moxxie says. “Can Pips stay tonight?”

“You know Pips and her dad might have plans,” Puck says, glancing towards the front where Finn is standing. Puck looks away to set the shampoo down, feeling a little gratified that it looks possible that Finn also thought a little too long about what he was wearing for kid hand-off. It’s nothing fancy, just jeans and a brown v-neck that looks good with his eyes, but Puck can admit in his own head at least that Finn looks nice.

“They don’t!” Moxxie insists.

“Oh, you already asked?” Puck says with a snort.

“Pips said they don’t have anything,” Moxxie says. “Honest.”

“We could all eat dinner together!” Pips announces. “Moxxie said you’re usually finished on Saturdays in time for dinner.”

Finn looks surprised, so this clearly wasn’t a pre-discussed plan. “Pips, I’m sure Moxxie and her dad already—”

“Moxxie, I don’t think that’s—” Puck says at the same time, stopping when he realizes that neither of the girls looks particularly concerned, or like they’re even listening.

“There’s a place on the Promenade that sells waffle sandwiches, Finn,” Pips says. “Waffle sandwiches.”

“You haven’t even lived until you’ve eaten a waffle sandwich, Finn. It’s, like, life changing,” Moxxie says. “Come on, Dad. Pleeeease?”

“Moxx…” Puck says, giving her a look.

“It’s just dinner, Dad,” Moxxie says, suddenly sounding very grown up. She lowers her voice enough that ostensibly Finn and Pips can’t hear her. “You can handle this.”

“I think you two need your texts monitored,” Puck says with a sigh. “Fine. If Pips’s dad says it’s fine.”

“Finn?” Moxxie says loudly. “It’s okay if we have dinner, right?”

Finn looks pained, but he says, “I guess that’ll be fine.”

Puck pivots, mostly so he can wince, but nominally so he can talk to Dove. “I’ll be back in time to lock up,” he tells him.

“Don’t hurry on my account, honey,” Dove says.

“Oh, thanks,” Puck says wryly, then turns back to Moxxie. “Okay. Bruxie, then, I take it?”

“Pips, you are going to just love it,” Moxxie says to Pips, mostly ignoring Puck.

“Watch it, your status as ‘most favorite’ is in danger,” Puck says.

“The waffle isn’t too sweet?” Pips asks.

“Please. I’m the only one even in the running,” Moxxie says. “No, it’s not too sweet, Pips. It’s perfect. You’ll see.”

Puck decides to get in front of the girls as quickly as he can and still make it look casual, because otherwise it would be even awkwarder to avoid walking beside Finn. For his part, Finn looks wildly uncomfortable, his hands shoved into his pockets. The girls didn’t seem to get that memo, though, because they dart ahead, holding hands and shrieking at each other about waffles and some movie they watched the previous night.

“Don’t get too far ahead!” Puck calls after Moxxie, then decides maybe Finn has the right idea, putting his hands in his pockets. The flow of everyone walking means that he ends up walking directly next to Finn after all.

“Your shop,” Finn says. “It’s nice.” His voice still has that rough quality to it, which Puck figures means either that’s how his voice sounds now, or he has some kind of chronic allergy to something in southern California.

“Oh. Thanks,” Puck says. “Moxxie wasn’t far off about home away from home. Managed to open it up right after she turned five.”

“That’s great. That’s really great,” Finn says. “It’s good, you know, that it’s so stable for her.”

“Stable?” Puck shakes his head a little. “I guess so. I hope so. I didn’t even know she existed until she was two and a half.”

“Oh, shit. I didn’t know. I just meant—just, compared to me and Pips, was all. She’s lived in four places already, and she’s only nine,” Finn says.

“Figured Moxxie’d told Pips. Anyway… everybody does their best, I figure,” Puck says.

“Yeah. Pips said Moxxie’s mom wasn’t in the picture.”

Puck knows he’s probably making a strange face. “Yeah. Moxxie and I had three days to get to know each other before her mom left for Vancouver and the opportunity to die on-screen on some show or another.”

“God. I’m sorry,” Finn says. “That had to be so hard on both of you.”

“It was pretty bad for her for a few weeks, yeah,” Puck says, frowning a little as they get close to Bruxie. He’d never really thought of it as that hard for him, at least emotionally. A lot of panicked set-up and research, but that had ultimately been logistics. “It wasn’t that bad for me, except for watching her distress. You know.”

“Yeah,” Finn says, nodding. “She’s a good kid. You did a really good job.”

“You too,” Puck says as they catch up to the girls, and then he sees the look on Moxxie’s face. “Uh-oh.”

“Uh-oh?” Finn asks, raising his eyebrows in concern.

“That’s one hundred percent her mischevious look,” Puck says. “What’s up, Moxxie?”

“Nothing, Dad,” Moxxie says. “I’m just really excited about waffle sandwiches, and Pips having them.”

“I told them how many already, and it’s under Pips,” Pips says.

Puck is pretty sure he’s still missing something, but he can’t prove that they’re sitting in a booth instead of at a table for any particular reason. He does know it’s the girls’ fault that they slid into one side together before any discussion could take place, leaving the hostess looking at Puck and Finn expectantly.

Puck grits his teeth and smiles and decides to take one for the team, even though he’s not sure what team he’s on, sliding into the booth first and keeping on going until his arm is pressed against the wall. Finn leaves as much space between them as physically possible, his leg practically hanging into the walkway.

“Look at this one,” Moxxie says to Pips, pointing at the menu. “It’s so good that you’ll die.”

“Really?” Pips says. “Finn! There’s one called Green Eggs and Ham, you should get it.”

“Sure, Pips,” Finn says, his voice sounding even rougher and more strained.

“Don’t try to talk me into anything different,” Puck says to Moxxie. “You know it never works.”

“Did I say anything? I didn’t say anything at all, Dad,” Moxxie says.

“Yet. You didn’t say anything at all yet,” Puck corrects her.

Moxxie rolls her eyes. “I wasn’t even going to. I have Pips to convince to try stuff.”

“Lies,” Puck says, mostly to himself. Finn is staring at his menu, unnaturally still.

Pfft. If I’m a liar, you’re another,” Moxxie says, dismissively. “Pips, you should try this one.”

“We’ll have to come back so I can try more than one,” Pips says.

“Oh, we definitely will,” Moxxie says.

Puck shakes his head a little as the server approaches, and as soon as they’ve ordered, the girls bolt, announcing that they have to pee and leaving Puck and Finn alone at the table. “Clever,” Puck says.

Finn presses the back of his hand against his mouth, which makes Puck briefly worry that Finn might, as Moxxie would say, barf. He’s trembling, too, which doesn’t particularly reassure Puck on the barf-or-not score. Of course, the idea that he might make Finn throw up isn’t exactly a complimentary one, so Puck decides not to ask that question. He tries to figure out what to ask, but nothing comes to mind, so he keeps watching Finn out of the corner of his eye.

After a couple of minutes, Finn whispers, so quietly Puck can barely hear him, “Jesus. You still smell the same.”

Puck doesn’t think there’s really anything he can say to that, even though Finn doesn’t sound horrified or even particularly upset about it. He probably does smell the same. The bigger piece is that Finn remembers what he smelled like. Puck remembers, too, remembers what Finn smelled like, and after he concentrates for a few seconds, he decides that Finn smells almost exactly the same, too.

“I need to—” Finn mutters. “Sorry, I just—” He stands abruptly and walks towards the bathrooms.

“I guess I was wrong on the barfing thing,” Puck tells the empty table. “Great.” He takes a drink of his pop and vaguely hopes none of his clients are eating at Bruxie’s and thereby serving as witness to how quickly Puck can clear a table. Luckily, the girls come back after another minute or so.

“Where’s Finn?” Pips asks.

“Grown-ups have to pee too, you know,” Puck says as casually as he can.

Moxxie narrows her eyes at him. “Is everything okay?”

“It’s great,” Puck says. “My test of the pheromone spray to make people have to pee worked on all three of you. I’m a shoo-in for next DC villain.”

“Dad,” Moxxie says.

“Okay, DC might be a bit of a stretch,” Puck says. “Indie comic?”

Moxxie makes an exasperated noise and rolls her eyes. “Daaaaaad.”

The food arrives before Finn gets back to the table. He looks glassy-eyed, his face a little red, but he doesn’t look particularly like he barfed, which is admittedly a little bit of a relief, and Puck wonders how either of them feels deep down about the fact that Puck can still read Finn’s face that easily. Puck wants to ask Finn if he’s okay, but he guesses that he really doesn’t have that right.

Pips and Moxxie talk in between bites and what sounds like during bites, too, but the conversation is clearly just between the two of them. Puck resolves to remind Moxxie of this the next time and offer to just pay for the two of them to go to dinner. He glances at Finn from time to time, never turning his head too obviously, but after Puck’s chicken and waffle sandwich is more than half-gone, he catches Finn’s eye when he looks.

He should look away, quickly, but he doesn’t, and Finn doesn’t either. Puck feels like he can’t stop looking at Finn, and he’s not completely sure if he’s trying to communicate with Finn, indulge his own desire to look at Finn, or a combination of both. He feels almost exposed, for all that it’s only eye contact in the middle of a crowded restaurant with their daughters across the table, but Puck feels like his brain isn’t fully registering any of the other people around them.

Puck really isn’t sure how long he and Finn stare at each other before the server comes to refill their drinks, which means they both look away at the same time. Finn looks down at his plate and only his plate after that, for the rest of the meal, and if he glances to the side again, Puck doesn’t look at the same time. Puck can sense and feel Finn still vibrating a little, though, his energy high and distressed.

When the meal is over, Puck has to tell the server twice how to split the check, but it finally gets sorted.

“This was super fun!” Moxxie says. “We should do this, like, every week!”

“We’ll, uh, see about that, Moxx,” Puck says.

“Pips and me’ll plan it. Don’t worry,” Moxxie says.

Now I am. Tell Pips bye and all of that.”

“Bye, Pips!” Moxxie says, giving Pips an aggressive hug. “I’ll see you on Monday.”

Finn doesn’t say anything, just giving Puck a nod that Puck returns before he and Pips walk away. Puck sighs heavily.

“Moxxie…”

“What?” Moxxie says. “It was fun.”

“I’m glad you and Pips had fun, then. I am,” Puck says. “‘Fun’ isn’t the word I would have used personally, though.”

“You didn’t like having dinner with Finn,” Moxxie says. Statement, not question.

“I don’t think he enjoyed the experience.”

“He was fine!” Moxxie insists. “He was giving you a look.”

“Oh, I think I know a little bit better than you if he enjoyed it or not,” Puck says. “Are you ready to head home?”

Moxxie sighs dramatically. “I guess. I don’t think you know as better as you think you know, though. I have, like, insight, Dad.”

“I think you didn’t get enough sleep at your sleepover.”

“Me and Pips talk, Dad. I know stuff. Like, things, Dad. Important things.”

“I’m sure you do,” Puck says. “You can expand on your important knowledge while we walk home.” This night, Puck decides, might be the appropriate one for a beer or three.

“Okay,” Moxxie says cheerfully, as she begins walking back in the direction of the salon. “Pips told me that Finn doesn’t ever go on dates ever. He’s like the loneliest dad in the world.”

“I’ve been dethroned?” Puck asks jokingly. “And it’s ‘Finn’ now?”

Moxxie shrugs. “Pips calls him Finn.”

“So I should just prepare for Pips to call me, what exactly?”

Moxxie shrugs again. “I just call you Dad, but she knows your name is Puck. She talks to her Grandma about you.”

“Oh, shit, don’t you two get any ideas,” Puck says, thinking of some of the things he and Finn did at nine and ten.

“Ideas about what, Dad?” Moxxie asks, a little too innocently.

“I promise, I don’t know what happened to Carole’s pants, either.”

Moxxie laughs, but then she gets serious and sort of sad-looking. “You used to be such good friends, like me and Pips. I wish it was still like that, so you were both happy and not be lonely.”

“Maybe not exactly like, Moxx.”

“Well, yeah,” Moxxie says. “Bigger. I know it was bigger, and, like, important, and now it’s just sad and you both look at each other sad. It’s stupid.”

“Thanks for that assessment,” Puck says. “Maybe you need to consider psychoanalysis as a career.”

“Maybe I will,” Moxxie counters.

Moxxie seems to catch on that Puck’s done with the talking portion of the early evening as they collect her bag and then walk the two blocks home. She nods her head toward the beach questioningly, and Puck nods. This night, he picks up a beer when he grabs the beach chair. He knows that he and Finn can’t erase any of the last nearly-eleven years. He knows it’d be completely stupid to try, too, but when they were talking as they walked down the Promenade, there had been a few moments that had been so close to something like what they’d once had that it’d made the meal worse somehow. Part of Puck may still be angry, but he doesn’t want to upset Finn. He’d like to think he’s past that kind of tit-for-tat shit.

As the end of the bottle approaches, Puck feels a little like kicking himself. Telling Finn about how he didn’t even meet Moxxie until she was two and a half probably confirmed every negative thing Finn thinks about him. It would have come out sooner or later, Puck guesses, and better not to act ashamed of it, but maybe he should have acted a little differently. More contrite, or something.

After his beer is empty, Puck folds up the beach chair and waves Moxxie in. He opens a second beer while Moxxie is changing and getting ready for bed, and once she’s tucked in, he sits in the living room and opens a third one. The proper response to the situation, Puck decides, really is letting himself get shit-faced at least once. Finn’s right there, after all this time, and still Finn, and three beers in, Puck can admit to himself he still wants Finn just as much as he did when they were nineteen, before they fucked themselves over. Finn’s here, and Puck feels like he can’t do a damn thing about it.

The short drive from the Promenade home is quiet. Pips has always been good at reading Finn’s moods, and she must pick up on the fact that he’s not currently doing so hot. Bad enough he’d made an ass of himself in front of Puck without having to explain to the kids how he about lost it in the middle of dinner. It was true, though. Nearly eleven years and thousands of miles and what feels like two complete lifetimes, and Puck still smells exactly the same as he had that night in November.

Back at the house, Pips does her vanishing act into her bedroom, probably to Facetime with Grandma and discuss his behavior or to text or Facetime with Moxxie to compare and contrast the relative screwed-up-ness of their dads. Finn suspects Pips might win that conversation, no matter what Moxxie might tell Pips about Puck.

Finn hasn’t regretted not making any close friends over the last few years up to this point. He’s always had professional colleagues, whom he does some socializing with, and he has Pips, who can carry on a deeper conversation than most adults he’s met. Just like dating and even hooking up would be letting someone too close than he’s comfortable with, making a real friend has felt like too much risk without enough reward. He’d had a really close friend and look how that ended up. Currently, though, he wishes he had someone he could talk to, someone who already knew the whole back story, so he didn’t have to tell it again. Sadly, even the people who had been within the innermost circle of his life, relatively speaking—Rachel, Kurt and Blaine, his mom—didn’t know any of the details about what happened between him and Puck, just that Puck was not a subject for discussion.

He really wishes he had somebody to discuss Puck with who isn’t nine, his child, and best friends with Puck’s child. Isolation as self-preservation is really coming around to bite him in the ass presently.

Finn putters around the kitchen, putting away dishes and assessing whether or not he needs to hit the supermarket in the morning. By the time he’s done and heads back to check on Pips, she’s quiet and her lights are out, because of course his child puts herself to bed at a reasonable time. Finn brushes his teeth and gets into bed himself.

Unlike Pips, however, Finn doesn’t fall asleep easily. He stares at his ceiling, willing himself not to think about Puck for a good thirty minutes, before he decides ‘fuck it’ and stares at his ceiling while intentionally thinking about Puck. He doesn’t think back to the fight or what immediately preceded it, because that’s too tender to poke, but he thinks about what led up to it. They’d all been hanging out together, Finn, Puck, and a couple of the other Glee kids. Puck had suggested he and Finn go back to Puck’s motel so they hang out just the two of them and catch up. They weren’t in the motel room long before the back-and-forth exchange of ‘I missed you’ turned into a kiss – which is the point at which Finn mentally cuts himself off from thinking any further.

The kiss was good, though. He can think about the kiss. Even when thinking about everything after made him feel sick or shaky or angry, the kiss was something Finn caught himself thinking about. He thinks about it on purpose now, replaying it in his head, slowed down so he can recall all the details. Puck smelled familiar, like something that had always been in Finn’s life. His lips felt a little rough, probably wind-chapped from riding his bike in the cold, but softer than Finn expected. He’d put his hands on Finn’s shoulders like he was trying to hold Finn in place, but Finn hadn’t needed that, because he wasn’t going anywhere.

Along with not dating and not hooking up, Finn really didn’t even jerk off anymore. Completely cutting himself off from that part of his life made everything easier to bear. If asked—not that he discussed it with anyone, ever—he would have said he didn’t really miss it, that he didn’t even really get particularly turned on anymore. Thinking about the kiss, though, remembering how Puck had smelled at dinner, just like he had back in Ohio, Finn is suddenly painfully hard. He doesn’t let himself think about anything beyond that kiss, but he shoves his hand into his boxers and jerks off remembering the feel and taste of Puck’s mouth. The few seconds immediately after he comes are some of the most peaceful he’s had in a decade, before the memory of the full situation with Puck comes crashing down on Finn.

He sighs then, getting up and cleaning himself up, and changing into fresh boxers. If they could go back to that moment, the kiss and nothing else, maybe something salvageable would still exist between them. Now, though, Finn doesn’t know how a rift that big could even begin to be bridged, let alone healed. Maybe Pips and Moxxie are the only way that happens, a generation past Finn and Puck. For now, Finn is too tired and worn too thin to think about it, so he pulls the cover up to his chin, closes his eyes, and does his best to find dreamless sleep.

Finn’s usually an early riser, even on weekends, but Sunday morning comes and he’s still asleep. He wakes up to the smell of coffee and the sound of Pips repeating his name. He opens one eye to look at her. She has a mug in her hands.

“I thought you maybe needed some help waking up today,” Pips says.

“Thanks, Pips,” Finn says, sitting up and taking the coffee.

Pips sits down at the foot of the bed. “Moxxie’s dad is still asleep too, but Moxxie said she knew last night he would be.”

“Ah,” Finn says, drinking his coffee to avoid having to say anything else on the subject.

“Because he was drinking,” Pips continues, apparently disregarding whether or not Finn wants to discuss the subject. “I told Moxxie you don’t drink like that, and she said her dad doesn’t usually, but when he does, he gets hungover.”

“Moxxie’s dad got drunk last night?” Finn asks, with a twinge of guilt over his presence apparently driving someone to drink.

Pips nods. “We think it probably was going to happen sometime.”

“You discussed whether or not Moxxie’s dad was going to get drunk?” Finn asks. “Pips, that’s a little concerning.”

“Why?” Pips asks.

“That’s just not something two nine-year-olds need to be thinking about.” Pips doesn’t say anything, just giving him a look with her eyebrows raised a little. “Don’t give me the eyebrows, Pips. You know exactly what I mean,” Finn says.

“It’s not exactly a normal situation, Finn.”

“You don’t know what kind of situation it is, Pips, because you’re nine, and so is Moxxie,” Finn says.

“See? Not normal,” Pips says.

“Pips. Dad,” Finn says, pointing to himself. “Kid,” he says, pointing to Pips. “Grown-up stuff that even extremely smart nine-year-olds have no context for.”

“That makes even more of a reason why we’d just have to discuss things like drinking,” Pips says, clearly unconcerned. “Moxxie says it’ll probably be months before he does again.”

“Okay. Why do we need to discuss Moxxie’s dad’s drinking?” Finn says.

You probably don’t. Moxxie and I did, and I’m just telling you about it.”

Finn sighs. “There’s probably nothing I can say to you to keep you two from talking about us, is there?”

Pips gives him another look. “Neither of us was found under a cabbage leaf fully independent.”

“You don’t know that for a fact. We don’t know the details about Moxxie as a baby.”

“Finn!”

“Moxxie could’ve been a cabbage baby,” Finn says. “I’m just saying.”

“I don’t think so,” Pips says.

“Pictures or it happened, is what I think. No way to prove she wasn’t a cabbage baby, otherwise.”

“You are ridiculous,” Pips says. “Did you get a manual when you became a dad?”

“Nope. They just handed me a baby at the hospital and said ‘hey, try not to kill it, okay?’ and let me take it home,” Finn says.

Pips shakes her head. “No way. I can’t decide which is more ridiculous: cabbage babies or pheromone spray to make people pee.”

“Pheromone what?” Finn asks. “Where’d you come up with that one?”

“That wasn’t me. That was Moxxie’s dad. He said that’s why we all went to the bathroom at dinner.”

“Ah,” Finn says.

Pips doesn’t say anything for about half a minute, then gets a determined look on her face. “Do you love him?”

Finn tries not to slosh his coffee. He takes a deep breath and huffs it out slowly, not looking straight at Pips. When he realizes he’s probably taking too long to answer, he manages a weak-sounding, “I don’t— I don’t really know him anymore.”

“Mmmhmm,” Pips says. “One more thing.”

“You’re relentless, you know that?”

“It’s one of my strengths. It’s important to encourage it,” Pips says. “Moxxie’s dad is in the picture.”

“That’s not a question, Pips.”

“But it is true.”

“I don’t know what you think’s going to happen, but I don’t want you to be disappointed when it doesn’t,” Finn says.

“I have no expectations. I’m very Zen,” Pips says. “I’m merely pointing it out.”

“Uh-huh,” Finn says skeptically. “You want me to get up and fix some breakfast?”

“I had some applesauce. My stomach hurts a little.”

“It’s probably from staying up late and plotting against me,” Finn says.

“Finn, I would never plot against you. We’re on the same team!”

“Sure you are, Brutus.”

“I would never stab you!” Pips says, looking offended.

“That’s exactly what Brutus said,” Finn says. “Otherwise, Caesar wouldn’t have been so betrayed.”

“Same. Team.”

Et tu, Brute?” Finn whispers.

“Can we watch that later? The Michael B. Jordan one?”

“Sure, Pips.”

Their Sunday proceeds quietly after that, with no additional interrogation from the Spanish Pipsquisition. Pips doesn’t even bring up Moxxie outside the context of what happened at school until Wednesday, when she asks about a sleepover as they’re driving home.

“It’s okay if I spend the night with Moxxie on Saturday night, right?”

“I don’t know, Pips,” Finn says. “You been complaining about your stomach hurting all week. Maybe we should wait and see how you feel on Friday before we make any plans.”

“It feels fine now,” Pips says. “Maybe it was like growing pains.”

“Growing pains in your stomach?” Finn asks, raising his eyebrows at her.

“Organs have to get bigger too,” Pips says. “Otherwise, my stomach would still be the size of a walnut.”

“It’s definitely bigger than a walnut, based on how many french fries you can eat.”

“See? Can we have french fries tonight?”

“Sure. I’ll be watching closely to make sure your stomach ache is really gone,” Finn says. “I’ll do a fry count after.”

Pips rolls her eyes. “Just don’t post it online.”

“Would I do something like that?”

“Yes.”

“Fine. I probably would, so no promises,” Finn says.

That night, Pips does eat all her fries, very slowly and deliberately. Finn assumes it’s to make a point. He agrees to the sleepover and has to reinstate the Moxxie Limit at dinner on Thursday and Friday, because all Pips wants to talk about is the things she and Moxxie will be doing on Saturday. She carefully packs her bag, laying each thing out to check it, which Finn has always thought was one of her funnier habits.

Saturday morning rolls around, no matter how much Finn has been dreading it, since it means he has to drive Pips to Moxxie’s apartment, instead of the salon. The salon felt like slightly more neutral ground than actually entering Puck’s home. Puck’s been to Finn and Pips’s house, though, so Finn supposes it’s fair that he has to suck it up and do the same.

“Are you ready?” Finn asks Pips.

“Yes! Let’s go.”

Finn frowns a little. Pips looks paler than usual and her cheeks look flushed. “Are you sure you’re feeling okay?” he asks, putting the back of his hand against her forehead. She feels a little warm, but not alarmingly so, and she tends to run a little hot when she’s excited about something. “We can reschedule if you aren’t feeling good.”

“I feel fine, Finn. Really!”

“Okay. Call me if you don’t feel good and need to be picked up,” Finn says. They go to the car and start driving towards the address Pips gave him. Pips must feel fine, because she keeps up a steady stream of conversation the entire drive, none of it about Moxxie or Puck, which means Pips may be intentionally distracting Finn from thinking too hard about where they’re headed.

When they get to the apartment building, Pips runs ahead to press the button on the elevator. They ride up to the 5th floor. “Come on!” Pips says, leading Finn down the hall to the correct door and knocking.

“Pips!” Finn can hear Moxxie yell before she even opens the door, then repeating it once the door is open. “Pips!”

“You have to move out from in front of the door!” Puck’s voice calls.

“Oops,” Moxxie says, laughing and pulling Pips inside.

Finn steps just into the apartment enough for the door to close, and he stands there awkwardly, watching the girls disappear off to what he assumes is Moxxie’s bedroom. The apartment’s layout is open and airy, with a glass door to the balcony and glass tables. The walls are a pale blue-grey, with one large modern art–looking painting hanging over the sofa. It looks like a place Puck would live, which Finn finds surprising for some reason, possibly because it feels strange that he could still imagine any space as being inherently Puck-like. They don’t really know each other anymore, after all.

Puck is standing in the kitchen, which has glass countertops, and it looks like he just finished drying dishes. He looks almost the same as the last time they saw each other, a week earlier, but with a different sleeveless shirt and dark blue jeans instead of black ones. He isn’t wearing any shoes, unlike at the salon. Puck finishes hanging the dishtowel on the oven and turns towards Finn, which quickly turns into the two of them staring at each other, the sound of the girls chattering in the background.

“Pips had a little bit of a stomach ache this week,” Finn says, trying to break up the awkwardness. “She says she’s fine now, but if you notice anything, just— call. You can call.”

“Okay,” Puck says, nodding a little. “I’m sure she’ll be fine. Do you want me to keep her from swimming when we head down to the beach?”

Finn shakes his head. “As long as she seems fine, I’m sure it’s fine. It’s all fine.” Because everything is fine, of course. That’s definitely the right word for the entire situation: fine.

“You want a cup of coffee, or a pop?” Puck offers.

“Either’s fine,” Finn says, holding back a grimace at himself. Fine. Good job, Finn.

Puck nods and opens the refrigerator, ducking his head into it and reemerging with a pop in each hand, one of which he offers to Finn. “What time should I bring Pips back tomorrow?”

“If you could have her home by four, that would be fine,” Finn says. He’d like to kick himself. He may kick himself once he’s back down to the car.

“Cool.” Puck shifts in place a little. “Well, uh. We have a view if you want to see it.”

“Sure?” Finn says, still halfway kicking himself mentally for making it sound like a questions. “I mean, yeah. I’d like that.”

Puck nods and walks over towards the balcony, sliding the door open and stepping through. “We eat out here, mostly.”

“Yeah. I would, too, if we had this,” Finn says, because the view from the balcony is beautiful, and a light, ocean-scented breeze blows past them. “It’s a really nice place.”

“A lot of things I can’t do for her, you know? But a decent school, view of the ocean, those I could do,” Puck says.

“That’s a lot. She seems really happy. You’ve done a lot for her,” Finn says.

Puck shrugs and drinks some of his pop. “I tried to think about— well,” Puck says, cutting himself off. “You know.”

Finn nods, even though he doesn’t actually know. “It’s good. You made a good home.”

“Thanks.”

After another minute or two of staring out at the ocean, Finn says, “I should probably go. Let the girls have their sleepover without me around.”

“Yeah, I’ll probably come back out here so they feel like they have their privacy,” Puck says wryly, sliding the door open again.

“Yeah,” Finn says. Puck quietly walks Finn to the front door, and there’s an awkward moment when Finn is on one side of the door and Puck is on the other where Finn searches for the right thing to say. Whatever the ‘right’ thing is, however, it eludes him, so he just nods his head, says “See ya,” and heads for the elevator.

“Yeah,” Puck says softly, then the door shuts equally softly.



October 22, 2016

Puck wakes up with a start. For a moment, he thinks something outside must have made some noise, or the alarm, but then he remembers that it’s Saturday, so the alarm doesn’t go off. Then he checks the time and realizes it’s a good thirty minutes later than he’s slept in months, which makes him sit up and look over at Moxxie, feeling a little alarmed.

Moxxie is sound asleep, her arm curled around Mike, and Puck exhales quietly. It’s late enough that light’s streaming in, and he drops his phone onto the bed between his legs so he can rubs his hands over his face and then stare at Moxxie.

Her hair is a little wild, half-covering her cheek, and since she’s asleep, Puck can’t see her eyes, but she looks at him enough daily that he can see them anyway. He’s already committed to a morning at the park, followed by a picnic lunch, nap, and then a trip to the library for storytime.

“Busy social schedule,” he tells himself quietly with a snort. He has no idea what he was doing on the same day a year earlier. Probably sleeping until noon or so, spending a couple of hours nominally cleaning and running errands, followed by going out and staying out late. Past midnight, and definitely past nine o’clock, which is probably the time he’ll end up going to bed this particular Saturday. He doesn’t regret how he spent his time before, but he doesn’t miss it, either.

Moxxie doesn’t ask about her mama often, not anymore, and at first, Puck had hoped Kandace would at least call or send the occasional card or letter. Now, though, Moxxie seems to have adjusted to her absence, and Puck isn’t sure how she’d react to sporadic contact. As he sits there watching Moxxie sleep, it occurs to him that despite all of the paperwork being legally filed, Kandace could move back to LA and ask for joint or even full custody.

That thought is truly alarming. Maybe he’s supposed to like that idea, to get ‘back’ to how things were before Moxxie, but he realizes he doesn’t want that. He doesn’t know if he’s doing a good job at parenting, and he definitely doesn’t know if the future will turn out even halfway close to the goals he’s plotted out, but he doesn’t want any of it taken away.

“I’d fight her,” Puck says, more loudly than he intends to, and he can see Moxxie’s eyes flutter. “Shh, you can go back to sleep,” he tells her, his voice low. They close again, and Puck thinks he’s managed to be still and quiet enough for her to drift back to sleep. A minute later, though, they open again, looking straight over at him, and Puck laughs ruefully. “Morning, Moxxie.”

“Morning, Dad,” Moxxie says. “Park time?”

“Breakfast first. Bagel or toast?”

“Toatht.”

“Sounds good,” Puck says as he gets out of bed. “What do you want on your toast today?”

“Butter and abbacadoth,” Moxxie says, sitting up and hugging Mike to her chest. “Thteakth for Mike.”

“Avocado sounds good to me, too,” Puck says, pulling out an avocado before putting bread in the toaster. “Does Mike want prehistoric steak or cow steaks?”

“Mammoth,” Moxxie says.

“Good choice, Mike.” Puck gets out three plates, handing one of them to Moxxie as the toast pops up. “Here’s Mike’s mammoth.”

“Mike thayth mmmm,” Moxxie says, pressing Mike’s face into the empty plate. “It’th good.”

Puck laughs and puts butter on Moxxie’s toast before placing the sliced avocado on top of all the slices of toast, two for each of them. He carries the plates over to their little table, pours some orange juice for Moxxie and makes some coffee for himself, then sits down.

“Do you want to go to dinosaur park or the climbing park today?”

“Yeth!”

“You have to pick one. One park today,” Puck says.

“Climbing,” Moxxie says. “I like to go up and up and up.”

Puck laughs again and holds out his hand for a high-five. “Yeah, I know you do. Climbing park it is.”

Moxxie gives him the high-five, then holds up Mike. “Mike’th fiveth, too!”

“Mike, too,” Puck agrees, giving Mike a high-five. His Saturday might not look how he would have expected a year earlier, but it’s off to a pretty good start.



December 11, 2015

Pips isn’t a risk-taker, even at two. She’s the child that’s happy to be in the sandbox or sitting on one of the gently-rocking playground animals while the other toddlers are demanding swings and slides or giving their parents heart attacks on the monkeybars. She has an understanding of her own limitations that goes beyond anything else Finn has seen in a child that young, and she isn’t usually a boundary pusher, at least with anything physical. She also doesn’t raise a fuss over things that frustrate or inconvenience her. She just studies and assesses until she puzzles them out.

That’s why when Finn hears a thud and a sharp crack in Pips’s bedroom, followed by a wailed “Fiiiiiiiinn!” he knows something is badly wrong.

When he rushes in, Pips is on the floor, surrounded by books. Pips’s arm is bent at a strange angle, and she’s sobbing. The books around her are from the top of the floor-to-ceiling book shelf, the ‘big kid books’ she’s not old enough for yet, and the top shelf is now mostly empty. Pips never climbs, so Finn and Rachel never second-guessed the safety of having a tall bookshelf in her room.

“Pips,” Finn says, gathering her up into his lap, being careful of her arm. “Did you fall from the top of the bookshelf.”

Pips nods, still crying hard. She’s clearly in a lot of pain and her arm is obviously not okay. Finn stands up with her, shifting her onto his shoulder so her hurt left arm isn’t pressed against him and she can hang onto his neck with her right arm. He calls Pips’s pediatrician as he slips his feet into a pair of non-lacing shoes, already heading out the door.

“Patricia Hudson, birthdate November twenty-second, twenty-thirteen,” Finn tells the nurse. “I think her arm is broken. She fell off the top of her bookshelf.”

The nurse directs Finn to the nearest pediatric emergency room, saying she’ll call ahead for them, and Finn calls Rachel as he rides the elevator down to street level to hail a cab. He leaves two voicemails before the cab comes, then tells the cabbie where to go, holding Pips in his lap. She’s stopped crying, just sniffling occasionally, and her skin looks pale and feels cold and clammy. Shock, most likely.

Even with the call ahead, the wait for triage seems to take forever. Once they’re in triage, the nurse gives her strong pain medication, and the on-call orders X-rays, so they ride up for those. Pips stays quiet, her large brown eyes wide and glassy in her pale face. Once they’re down in an exam room, Finn calls Rachel again, getting her this time.

“Finn!” Rachel says. “I saw that you called, but I haven’t had a chance to check my voicemail yet. We were mid-rehearsal.”

“We’re at New York-Presbyterian. Pips fell off her bookshelf. They think her arm is broken,” Finn says.

“Fell off her bookshelf?” Rachel repeats. “Patti never climbs.”

“I know. She must have really wanted whatever book it was. She was in too much pain for me to try to figure it out,” Finn says. “Once she’s home, we’ll have to do something about the bookshelf, I guess.”

“You don’t need me to come to the hospital, do you? I’ll come if you need me, but I’m already going into costuming.”

“We’re okay. I’m fine here with her. We’ll see you tonight,” Finn says.

“Give her a kiss for me,” Rachel says.

“I will,” Finn says. He ends the call, not surprised that Rachel would just as soon stay and perform than come to the hospital.

It’s not that she doesn’t love Pips or show her affection, so much as that she doesn’t really seem to think about the fact she has a daughter unless Pips is right in front of her. When Rachel leaves for the theater for the day, Pips and Finn more or less cease to exist. Finn knows that’s probably what makes Rachel a great performer, but it also makes her a less-than-ideal parent. Finn doesn’t resent being the primary caretaker, and hasn’t since Rachel went right back to work six weeks after Pips was born, but sometimes he thinks it would be easier if it were just him and Pips.

“Finn?” Pips says, rolling her head in Finn’s direction. She still looks a little like she’s in shock, but she also looks completely stoned. She grins at Finn, blinking sleepily.

“It’s okay, Pips. You can sleep if you need to. The doctors have to look at the pictures of your arm, and then they’ll come make it all better.”

Pips rolls her head back to the center of the pillow, closing her eyes. Finn reaches for her good arm, wrapping his hand around it. After a few minutes of having her eyes closed, though, Pips opens them again.

“What’s up, Pips? Do you need something? Some water?”

“Where’s my book?”

“Your books are all at home, kiddo,” Finn says. “Is that how you fell? You were getting your book?”

Pips nods. “Can I have it?”

“Which book is it? Those are all the big kid books, up on the top,” Finn asks.

“Yes. The Mouse and the Motorcycle,” Pips says.

“That was one of my favorites. Did Rachel tell you that book was up there?”

“No.” Pips shakes her head back and forth several times. “I read it.”

“You read it? You recognized the words?”

“No! I read the name!” Pips insists.

“Pips, those are big words,” Finn says, surprised. “You can read big words?”

“Yes!”

Finn frowns a little as he looks around the room. He spots a laminated copy of the pain scale with both the drawings of the faces and the descriptive text. “Can you read some of the words on this, Pips?”

Pips frowns a little at the pain scale. “It’s wiggly,” she says.

“It’s okay if you can’t read it right now,” Finn says. “They had to give you medicine so your arm wouldn’t hurt.”

“I can! Pain meas-urr-em-int scale!”

“Pips! You read a really big word!” Finn says.

“I’m that one,” Pips says as she points to one of the faces. “‘Hurts Worst’.”

Finn puts down the laminated sheet and holds Pips’s hand with both his hands, giving her a kiss on the forehead. “I know, sweetie. The doctor’ll fix it soon. Close your eyes and have a little rest now, okay?”

“Can I have my book?”

“Yes, you can.” Finn kisses her head again. “When we get home, I’ll put all the big kid books down for you, so you don’t have to climb for them again.”

“Okay.”

Puck keeps as close of an eye on Pips all evening as he can without her catching on, but he doesn’t see any sign of a stomachache or anything else. He goes to bed around eleven, and the girls are still awake and giggling in Moxxie’s room. When he wakes up to Moxxie’s insistent “Dad. Dad!”, the clock in his room says it’s just after two in the morning.

“Moxx?” Puck says, sitting up. “What’s going on?”

“Pips is sick. Dad, I think she’s really sick,” Moxxie says.

“Shit. Okay,” Puck says, pulling on his jeans from the day before and rubbing his hands over his face. “Where is she, and get me a shirt?”

“Bathroom,” Moxxie says, heading straight for Puck’s dresser to pull out a t-shirt for him.

Puck nods and heads down the hall to the bathroom. Pips is bent over the toilet, throwing up and holding her stomach. Puck picks up one of Moxxie’s ponytail holders almost absently, pulling Pips’s hair out of the way as he talks to her.

“Oh, that’s no fun,” he says sympathetically. “Where does it hurt?” He puts his hand on the back of her neck. Her skin is warm to the touch, but she’s not burning up. Definitely under one hundred, if Puck had to guess.

“Here,” Pips says, pointing to the right of her belly button. “It could be gastroenteritis, but I think it’s my appendix.” She throws up again at the end of the sentence.

“Shit. Okay,” Puck says, trying to formulate a plan in under a minute. “Moxx!”

“Shirt!” Moxxie says, thrusting the shirt in his direction.

“Go put shoes on,” Puck tells her as he pulls the shirt on. “Pips needs to go to the hospital.”

“Okay!” Moxxie says, already running for her shoes.

Puck leaves the bathroom long enough to get his wallet and phone, plus his own shoes. “I’m going to carry you down to the car, okay?” he tells Pips, who nods.

“Moxxie, grab a plastic bag and lock the door,” Puck tells her as he carries Pips towards the door.

“Got it,” Moxxie says. She pulls the door shut behind them as Puck carries Pips to the elevator.

Puck gets Pips into the car with the plastic bag beside her relatively easily, and as he pulls out onto Ocean Ave, heading towards the 10, he tosses his phone to Moxxie. “Call Finn. Shit. Tell him to meet us at Mattel. He can take the 10 towards the 405.”

Moxxie already has the phone up to her ear. “Hello? Finn? This is Moxxie. Pips is really sick. Uh-huh. Dad says meet us at Mattel. Yeah. He says take the 10 towards the 405. Dad, are there signs?”

“Yeah, he’ll go north, take the Wilshire exit, and follow the signs to—shit, I think it’s officially something like Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA,” Puck says. “Pips? Hanging in there?”

“Finn? Dad says go north and take the Wilshire exit. He says there’s signs and he thinks it’s called Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA,” Moxxie says into the phone. “Dad? Is Pips okay? Pips, do you want to talk to Finn?”

Pips doesn’t say anything, probably shaking her head, and then lets out what Puck thinks is a particularly pitiful moan. He’s not sure what part of him is the most upset and concerned. There’s the aspect of being the one responsible for someone else’s kid, however temporarily, and then that this kid in particular is Moxxie’s best friend, which is also upsetting for both of them, but beyond that, Pips is Finn’s kid, and in any scenario, Puck knows that makes her more important.

“We’ll be there soon, Pips,” Puck promises. “Advantageous two am traffic.”

“Finn says he’s on his way and he’ll meet us there,” Moxxie says, handing Puck’s phone back to him. “He says he’s texting her insurance stuff in case we get right in.”

“Okay. Good idea,” Puck says, because his only plan as far as insurance had been to glare or possibly yell. When they get to Mattel, he pulls up to the emergency entrance and hands his keys off to one of the valet guys before reaching in so he can carry Pips in. Now she’s boiling hot, at least one hundred and two to Puck’s way of thinking.

The receptionist indicates for them to sign in, and then asks for a brief summary of Pips’s presenting complaints.

“Abdominal pain, vomiting, low fever that spiked to a high fever in less than thirty minutes,” Puck says quickly. “She thinks it’s her appendix.” He looks over his shoulder, wondering if Finn’s close behind them, but he doesn’t see him. Luck must be with them, because the emergency department seems to be having a slow night, meaning they get waved back to triage immediately. “Her father’s on his way,” Puck tells the receptionist, “if you can send him back.”

The triage nurse gets a temperature and nothing else before Puck hears Finn’s footsteps, and a few hours earlier it would have been wince-worthy, at a minimum, that he still recognizes Finn’s footsteps, but now it’s oddly comforting.

“Pips?” Finn calls out, obviously frantic but trying to sound calm and quiet.

“She’s in here,” Puck says, pulling the curtain back enough to look for Finn.

“Oh my god, Pips!” Finn says. He rushes past Puck to lean over Pips’s bed, feeling her forehead. “Hey, Pips. I’m here. I’m here now.”

“It’s probably just my appendix,” Pips says, her voice quiet.

“That’s not a ‘just’, sweetheart,” Finn says, brushing some of Pips’s overly-long bangs away from her face. “I know they’re going to take good care of you. I’m so sorry you were sick and I wasn’t there.”

“It’s okay. Puck pulled my hair back and carried me out,” Pips says.

“Yeah, he’s good at that stuff, huh?” Finn says softly, still stroking Pips’s hair.

Pips nods and then grimaces, putting one hand on her stomach again. “I’ll have to have surgery.”

“It’ll be okay. We’ll get you all fixed up, and you’ll be fine.” Finn looks like he’s on the verge of bursting into tears. “Puck got you here so fast, they’ll be able to get you taken care of really soon. It’s all going to be okay.” He looks up from Pips, turning his head in Puck’s direction. “They already had me sign the forms. They’re going to do some tests, they said, like ultrasound or something, but they had me sign all the forms for surgery.” Finn, Puck realizes, is wearing shoes that don’t match, along with jeans and a pretty ratty t-shirt, all signs that he’d gotten dressed as quickly as possible.

“Will they give me anything for the pain?” Pips asks.

“Somebody will come in soon and do that, and then they’ll take you for some tests,” Finn says.

Puck gestures for Moxxie to come closer. “We’ll go to the waiting room, okay?” he whispers to her. A nurse comes into the curtained off area to start an IV, probably so Pips can get fluids and some pain meds, and Puck steps back slowly, pulling Moxxie with him.

The signs on the wall point towards a surgical waiting room, which is where Puck steers Moxxie. There’s a soft-looking loveseat, and Puck asks a passing nurse for a blanket to put over Moxxie after she curls up on it. Puck sits in a chair near it and tries to focus on the TV for about ten minutes before he gives up and decides to doze. His brain apparently recognizes Finn’s presence, so he’ll probably wake up at around the right time.

Puck isn’t sure how much time has passed when his brain does just that, alerting him to Finn’s footsteps just before he comes into the waiting room. Finn looks even worse than before, his hair sticking up and his face almost haggard, especially with the closer-to-ten-o’clock shadow. He stops in the middle of the waiting room, looking like he can’t quite process anything.

“That one over there is a recliner, if you wanted to try to sleep,” Puck says, nodding towards a red chair. Finn shakes his head. “There’s coffee over there, too.” Finn shakes his head again, weaving a little on his feet. Puck stands up, nodding towards the chairs. “Sit down, I’ll get you some.”

Finn sits where Puck directed him, his eyes following Puck as Puck heads to the old Keurig on the back counter. He closes his eyes as the coffee brews, trying to remember if Finn had added anything to it, that afternoon at his house. He thinks he remembers Finn adding some milk, so he dumps in one of the powdered creamer packets, then stirs it all around.

“Here,” Puck says. “Drink it.”

“Thanks,” Finn says, taking the cup. He drinks a little, looking down at the cup instead of up at Puck. “Thank you. For Pips.”

“You’re welcome,” Puck says. He sits down in the chair next to Finn. “She diagnosed herself. Told me it could be gastroenteritis but she thought it was her appendix.”

“She’s so smart. She’s just so damn smart,” Finn says, shaking his head slowly. Puck can hear the tears falling from Finn’s eyes onto his hand and into the coffee.

“She’ll be fine. They’ll take good care of her,” Puck says. “They have some of the best pediatric staff in the world here.”

“She’s the only thing I’ve got. She’s everything, and she’s so smart, I don’t know how a kid like that even came from me,” Finn says, tears still falling. “She’s just— she’s better than me, smarter than me, and she’s all I’ve got.”

“I understand,” Puck says. “She’s probably going to tell you all the statistical reasons you shouldn’t have been worried. You know?”

Finn nods, laughing softly. “Yeah. Yeah, she probably is.” He wipes his face with the back of one hand. “The doctor said if she hadn’t gotten here when she did, it probably would’ve ruptured, and then it really would’ve been bad. But you got her here. You got her here in time, Puck.”

Puck doesn’t answer immediately, collecting his thoughts. “She’s your kid,” he says after ten or fifteen seconds pass.

“Thanks for not holding that against her,” Finn says, wiping at his face again.

Puck almost laughs, because of course they’re still not really communicating, but he bites back the impulse. He’s exhausted and the adrenaline that got Pips to the hospital and Moxxie to sleep on the loveseat is crashing, which one corner of his brain is already insisting will make valid excuses later for what he’s about to say.

“Reverse the meaning,” Puck says. “I didn’t get her here because I was the adult in charge or because she’s Moxxie’s best friend. She’s your kid.”

Finn looks up from his coffee, eyes wet, tears actually clinging to his eyelashes. He reaches out the hand not holding the coffee and puts it on top of one of Puck’s hands. “Thank you,” he says, mostly soundlessly. His hand wraps around Puck’s and squeezes.

“You’re welcome,” Puck says. He wiggles his hand just enough that he can curl the tips of his fingers around Finn’s hand. Finn’s hand is warm and heavy, and Puck would almost feel guilty for taking so much pleasure in it while Pips is having surgery, but he knows the girls would probably be ecstatic if they knew.

Finn exhales, a loud and shuddering breath, and he slumps a little in his seat, gripping Puck’s hand a little harder. He mutters something too quietly for Puck to hear it.

“What?” Puck asks, in case it was ‘wake me up in fifteen minutes’ or something similar.

Finn looks at him again, making sustained eye contact for what feels like the first time since they’d first seen each other at Back to School Night. “I’m glad you’re here,” he says, still quietly. “I’m just really, really glad you’re here.”

“Me too,” Puck says, smiling a little. “You did good, moving out here.”

Finn sniffles, then smiles back, just one corner of his mouth lifting. “Sorry I ran about eleven years late.”

“Traffic sucks out here,” Puck says lightly. “We both kept hitting some detours.”

Finn squeezes Puck’s hand again before looking away, back down at his coffee, like maybe holding eye contact is more than he can handle at the moment. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah.”

Puck keeps holding Finn’s hand, knowing they still have to have some conversations, but the surgical waiting room definitely isn’t the place for those conversations. Puck doesn’t know how long the surgery will take, but he’ll stay awake with Finn, and if Finn crashes and falls asleep, Puck’ll stay awake in that case, too.

Pips comes through her surgery like a champ, and the next two days pass in a blur for Finn. Puck and Moxxie come to visit during visiting hours on both Sunday and Monday. Puck offers to spell Finn for a while so he can get some rest, but Finn turns him down; he can’t take his eyes off Pips until they’re safe at home again. When Moxxie leaves, Pips talks to Grandma on Facetime on Finn’s phone. She sends Pips a balloon bunch tied to a bear with a band-aid on it. Finn doesn’t remember to call Rachel until Monday morning. She sounds appropriately sympathetic, but not really worried. She sends a large flower arrangement.

When Moxxie isn’t there and Pips isn’t Facetiming or recounting to Finn how she knew from her specific symptoms that it had to be her appendix, or how laproscopic surgery works, or the latest theories about what function the appendix might still serve, she’s sleeping. Finn doesn’t use that time to sleep—he’s way too wired—but he does use it for thinking. Pips does a lot of sleeping, so Finn does a lot of thinking.

After all those years, after the violence then and the awkwardness now, having Puck with him in the waiting room felt like the most natural thing. His hand on Puck’s felt familiar, like something he did every day. The sound of Puck’s voice in the background, and knowing it was Puck with Pips, Puck who was making sure she got to the emergency room safely, were the things that kept Finn anchored and let him get to the hospital without wrapping himself around a light post. As terrified as he was to get that call from Moxxie, knowing Pips was with Puck gave him a feeling like he finally had a safety net for the first time in years.

Only in this exhausted moment of retrospection does Finn realize how incredibly lonely he’s been, for years now, because while Pips is the best and smartest and most awesome kid ever, she’s still his kid. He didn’t think he missed having friends, and maybe he didn’t miss them as an abstract concept, but he missed Puck like hell, and not feeling like he was allowed to miss him only made it hurt worse. Finn doesn’t know where they’re are currently. They have a lot to talk through, and maybe, once Pips is out of the hospital, it’ll go back to that awkward distance. Maybe not, though. Maybe they found a way to bridge the gulf just a little.

He startles himself out of his own thoughts late Monday afternoon when he realizes he never called SMASH to tell them he’d be out for at least a few days, probably the week. He calls the SMASH front office, hoping Kaylee’s still there, and luckily, she answers.

“Santa Monica Alternative School House. This is Kaylee.”

“Hi Kaylee,” Finn says. “Finn Hudson. I should have called before now, but I—”

“We got your message from Moxxie’s dad!” Kaylee says. “How is Pips? Recovering quickly?”

Finn doesn’t even question the ‘message from Moxxie’s dad’ thing, because of course Puck did that for them. “She’s doing great. They’ll probably send us home first thing in the morning.”

“Awesome! Tell her SMASH is rooting for her!”

“I will. Thanks,” Finn says, ending the call.

“Who was that?” Pips asks from the bed.

“Hey, Pips. You’re awake,” Finn says, turning to smile at Pips and lean his elbows onto her bed. “That was Kaylee from SMASH. I was just checking in with them. They send their love.”

“Oh! You missed school,” Pips says. “How did I forget that?”

“Probably because you had surgery and lots and lots of medicine,” Finn says with a laugh.

“But we can go home tomorrow? For sure?”

“Yep. First thing in the morning.”

“Good. My bed’s more comfortable than this one. Can Moxxie still come visit? I’ll need my homework.”

“Of course she can visit, and she can probably bring your homework, if you really want it that bad,” Finn says. “You have to stay calm, though. We’ll need to make sure Moxxie knows that.”

“I already told her we had to postpone our wrestling tournament, Finn.”

“Good to know you’re feeling good enough to put on your smartie-pants, Pips.”

“If she’s calm, maybe she can stay for a few hours?”

“Possibly,” Finn says. “No promises. Her dad may not want to stay too long. They’ve been up here a lot already.”

“I’m sure Puck won’t mind,” Pips says.

“We’ll talk about it once we’re home, okay?”

“Okay. Can you paint my room purple this week?” Pips asks.

“I can probably do that,” Finn says. “Did you get appendicitis so you could talk me into painting your room purple?”

“Any means necessary,” Pips says with a smile.

Pips sleeps well Monday night, and after another quick check by the doctor on Tuesday morning, she’s released from the hospital. Finn runs through a mental check-list of all the things he needs to do when they get home, starting with the grocery store, but he’s not sure how he’ll manage that. Pips has Finn’s phone pressed to her ear, chattering to Moxxie the whole time.

“Isn’t she supposed to be in class right now?” Finn asks.

“I’m not the Core 2 teachers,” Pips says.

“Okay, no more questions,” Finn says. “Tell Moxxie hi, and that we’ll see her later.”

“I’m supposed to tell you we’ll see you later,” Pips says. “Don’t forget to bring everything!”

As Pips puts the phone down, Finn asks, “What’s ‘everything’? Just homework, right?”

“Classwork, too,” Pips says.

“But no structures or furniture or live animals, right?”

Pips pauses. “No, no, and no,” she says. “No doll furniture, either.”

“No dolls, period. They have creepy, lifeless eyes,” Finn says.

“Now I have to call her back to tell her not to bring the doll that looks like a serial killer,” Pips says.

“That’s it. We’re going back to the hospital. I think they replaced your appendix with an evil appendix.”

“Aren’t you lucky?”

“Lucky me, with my evil appendix daughter and her serial killer doll friend,” Finn says. “I always wanted to live in a horror movie.”

“Good.”

When Finn pulls up to their house, Puck’s car is parked out front, but Puck isn’t in it. Finn helps Pips out of the car, an indignity she suffers graciously, and carries everything up to the front door, which is unlocked.

“Hello?” Finn says as he pushes the door open.

“Hey. Brought a few things by,” Puck’s voice says before Puck appears. “Moxxie sent a couple of books, too.”

“I must’ve left the door unlocked Saturday night,” Finn says. “Good thing nobody robbed me while I was gone, since apparently I made it easy for them.”

“I found the extra key yesterday, so I locked it up,” Puck says. “It’s on the counter in the kitchen now.”

“Thanks. Okay, Pips, bed,” Finn says, setting down the bag of prescriptions and other items from the hospital, including the band-aid bear, but excluding the flowers and balloons, which Pips didn’t want to bring home with them.

“I know,” Pips says. “Naptime?”

“Got it in one,” Finn says. He leans down and gives her a kiss on the cheek. “I’ll come in to check on you in a minute. Put on some comfy PJs.”

“Okay.” Pips shuffles slowly to her room after giving Finn a smile.

“Do you want some coffee?” Finn asks Puck. “I don’t know what else I even have right now.”

“Sure,” Puck says. “You have some beer, though it’s a little early for that right now, some pop, a bunch of stuff Moxxie swears Pips loves, and way too much snack food.”

“You brought groceries?” Finn asks.

“Probably too much snack food to be properly classified as groceries, but yeah, it came from Ralphs.”

“Jesus, Puck,” Finn says. “This is too much. You and Moxxie were already at the hospital for the past two days, and now you’ve brought food?” He feels a little overwhelmed by emotion, so he puts his hand over his eyes for a second to steady himself. “Thank you, is what I mean. Thank you for all of it.”

“What’s the point of being able to do things unless you do ’em?” Puck says. “You’re welcome.”

Finn has to keep that hand on his face so he doesn’t embarrass himself, but he takes a step forward, reaching out with his other arm to catch Puck around the back of his neck and pull him into a one-armed hug. Puck’s shoulder presses against Finn’s chest, and for just a few heartbeats, Finn lets his head drop against the side of Puck’s head, breathing him in. Puck wraps his outside arm around Finn, returning the hug.

“Fuck,” Finn says softly. “Fuck, I missed you.”

“Shit, yeah. I missed you, too.”

They stay like that for a long time. Finn would be happy to stay like that all morning, all afternoon. They get about four minutes before Pips’s voice comes echoing from her room. “Finn? Do we have ginger-ale?”

Finn exhales deeply, letting his shoulders relax, and gives Puck one good, hard squeeze before letting go and stepping away. “Yeah, I think so,” he calls back. “I think I brought the rest of that bottle in the bag from the hospital.”

“You have ginger-ale in the kitchen,” Puck says.

“Puck brought ginger-ale!” Finn calls out, then more quietly, to Puck, “Thanks.”

Finn goes into the kitchen and pours Pips a ginger-ale with a little ice and a bendy straw, then carries it back to her room, handing it to her with a flourish. “Here you go, Princess Pips.”

“Thanks.” Pips takes it, then squints and looks at Finn. “Are you okay? You look funny.”

“Hmm? I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Finn says, feeling his face flush a little as he’s protesting.

“Oookay,” Pips says. She takes a few sips of the ginger-ale, still studying him. “I don’t believe you.”

“What could possibly be wrong with me right now?” Finn asks. “My Pips is home safe and sound, and we have fresh ginger-ale and everything.”

“I didn’t say wrong, I said funny,” Pips points out, clearly trying not to giggle. “Thanks for the ginger-ale. Tell Puck I said thanks, too.”

“I will,” Finn says. “Need anything else before you take a long, healthy nap?”

“I’m sleeping, I’m sleeping,” Pips says, and she hands the ginger-ale back to Finn.

“I’ll come check on you in a little while. Call me if you need me,” Finn says. He closes her door most of the way before walking back to the kitchen, where he finds that Puck has made them each a cup of coffee.

“Look around before I go,” Puck says as he hands one of the cups to Finn. “I have to work for about three and a half hours, but I can pick up something later, since I’m sure Moxx’ll have a list of things to bring, too.”

“How long can you stay?” Finn asks, then feels weird and awkward phrasing it that way, and says, “I mean, when did you need to go?”

Puck glances at the clock. “Probably about an hour. I rearranged most of my appointments.”

“You didn’t have to do that. You’ve already done so much for us,” Finn says.

“It’s nothing,” Puck scoffs.

“It’s not nothing. Not to me.”

“It’s the exact kind of thing that made me want to own my own place. So, maybe not nothing in some ways, but nothing in others,” Puck says. He looks towards the living room and then steps toward the sofa, a questioning look on his face. Finn nods and follows him, letting Puck take a seat before sitting down beside him. He tries not to feel irrationally pleased that Puck took the spot opposite from Finn’s usual seat, like he knew where Finn would sit and accommodated it without thinking.

“I think it’s so great you have your own place,” Finn says. “You’ve done really well for you and Moxxie.”

“When she came to live with me, I was doing studio sessions. Pretty good money, and at first she was quiet and in the corner. Then for awhile I put her on my back, and if I was on guitar, the strap went across her back. But I knew it wasn’t going to work long-term, you know?”

Finn nods. “Had to be a big adjustment, going from no kid to a toddler. Seems like you guys made it work really well, though. She’s a cool kid. Reminds me so much of you.”

“Yeah, she does,” Puck says. “I have to remind myself sometimes, she doesn’t have to fix the things I’d do different. I realized after several months that if her mom ever came back, I’d pretty much do anything up to and including running away with Moxx, to make sure she stayed with me.”

“I know Rachel wouldn’t try to take her back, but I know what you mean. I think I might even include murder in the list of stuff I’d do to keep Pips with me,” Finn says. “I feel like she’s the first thing I really got right, and she’s just so goddamn smart and funny and big-hearted. It’s like she’s the best parts of me and Rachel, plus all this other stuff that’s better than I could ever be.” He looks over at Puck. “I think Moxxie’s like that, too. She’s got all the best parts of you, but without all the bullshit baggage we had.”

Puck laughs a little. “Yeah, they’re like… distilled or something, aren’t they? And somehow we did better than our parents at not fucking them up.” He pauses and frowns a little. “See, I always figured running away with Moxxie was worse than murder. Murder I could cover up, but running away, she’d have to hide who she was.”

“Yeah. I think that would be hard for Moxxie,” Finn says. “Maybe you’re right. I mean, I think Pips is probably capable of planning the perfect murder, if it ever came to that, but I couldn’t imagine keeping her away from the gifted schools and the smart-kid stuff.”

“Pips would be a good spy,” Puck says. “Moxxie’d be pretty bad at being a spy.”

“I don’t think Pips would let us run without Moxxie, at this point, so we’d better hone our murder skills, I guess.”

“That’s a New Year’s Resolution, there. Murder in Santa Monica,” Puck says.

“I keep trying to wrap my head around how we both ended up here,” Finn says. “I don’t really believe in God or fate or anything, but there’s got to be something, both of us having kids with the same birthday, in the same town, same class. There has to be something to that, I keep thinking, but I don’t know what. I thought at first it was…” He shakes his head, not sure how to continue.

“Moxxie wasn’t even due yet, that’s the kicker. I read through the medical records. She left all of them, at least. Scheduled section at thirty-nine weeks. She or the doctor or someone made sure it’d be the twenty-second.”

“Rachel went two weeks late. She went in for an induction on the twenty-second, and Pips was born about three hours later,” Finn says. “And here we are, both of them both on that day, out of every day they could’ve been born, you know?” He shrugs and looks down at his hands. “I tried not to think about it too much, what day it was. I tried to make it just Pips’s day.”

“I got drunk the first year. Passed out. It didn’t really help with the not thinking,” Puck says.

“Yeah, having a newborn didn’t really help with that, either,” Finn says. “In a way, I think it made it harder, thinking about where I was and how I got there. I don’t regret Pips at all, but everything else?” He shakes his head.

“Yeah. Exactly. Moxxie’s amazing, and I got incredibly lucky there, but that’s what it was: a spot of good luck in the middle of a mess.”

“It feels like too much, or maybe too little, too late, but if I could fix the rest of it and keep Pips, I’d do it,” Finn says. “I’d undo it all. I’d go back and change it.”

“If they’d grown up together, we would be in serious trouble,” Puck points out, looking over at Finn and grinning. “I would, too, but we’d need to carry pocketknives or something.”

Finn feels himself returning the grin without consciously deciding to. “Yeah. That’s probably the truth.” He sets his empty coffee cup down on the table and reaches out for Puck, putting his hand on top of Puck’s. He stares down at their hands, feeling the weight of everything. “I’m sorry.”

“Me too. I’m so sorry,” Puck says. “I’m sorry it took me so long to stop being scared.”

“I was so scared and so stupid,” Finn says.

“You’re not stupid.” Puck squeezes Finn’s hand. “No one I’ve ever met is as smart as Pips, yeah, but you’re not stupid.”

“I wish I could go back and fix it,” Finn says, squeezing Puck’s hand in return.

“We can’t go back, but… we can probably repair it.”

Finn smiles wryly. “I didn’t get any better at it in the last eleven years.”

Puck stares at him for at least thirty seconds, confusion evident on his face until it slowly clears. “Shit. Shit, I didn’t mean that. You weren’t— You were—”

Finn shrugs. “I didn’t really know what I was doing. Still don’t. It’s been— I just didn’t, really. Rachel, a little, but it wasn’t—” He puts his hand over his eyes again. “Fuck. Now I really feel stupid. Sorry. Shouldn’t have brought it up.”

“No, you did,” Puck says. He squeezes Finn’s hand again and angles his body towards Finn’s. “You did, because you— because I could feel what you felt.”

“I lied, you know? I lied to you,” Finn says.

“Yeah?”

“I did feel special,” Finn says. “I felt— I felt fucking radiant with you that night.”

“Good. You should. You are,” Puck says. He sets his cup down and puts that hand on Finn’s cheek. “I’ve missed you so much.”

Puck’s hand feels hot, and Finn turns his head slightly, pressing his cheek into it. “The place you used to be never stopped hurting,” he says.

“I want to try,” Puck says.

“What does that look like?” Finn asks. “How do we do this after eleven years?”

“Did you see that John Green movie like, ten years ago? Like that. ‘Slowly, and then all at once’,” Puck says.

“Yeah. Yeah, okay. It can look like that,” Finn says. He moves his hand away from his eyes, even though they’re a little wet, and looks at Puck.

Puck smiles at him. “Today it looks like this: I’ll be back with Moxxie around 4:30.”

“Okay,” Finn says, laughing a little without meaning to.

“Someone’s bringing dinner,” Puck says. “So don’t worry about that.”

Finn nods. “Okay. I’ll maybe go sleep a little bit until then?”

“Lock the door behind me first.”

“Okay,” Finn says. “I can do that.”

Puck smiles again. “I know.”



November 22, 2012

Puck knows it hasn’t been that long, but he’s still surprised with the force of the feeling that hits him from the moment he sees Finn in the auditorium, realizing just how much he really had missed Finn. The feeling doesn’t really dissipate when he and Finn meet up with some of their friends, and it’s fun, but it’s not really what Puck wants.

“When everyone’s leaving, we could hang back, head over to the room I have,” Puck says to Finn.

“Yeah, that sounds good,” Finn says. “It’s been too long since it was just you and me.”

“Yeah, exactly,” Puck says, and that’s exactly what they do, heading over to the Quality Inn instead of Mike’s or wherever the others were going. Puck unlocks the door and tosses the key on the table, then does the chain lock as soon as the door’s closed. “Can’t be too careful. Learned that already.”

Finn laughs. “Yeah. Somebody might steal your helmet.”

“Somebody did steal my gloves one day.”

“Shit. That sucks,” Finn says.

“Better the gloves than something I really liked. Taught me a lesson,” Puck says, flopping down onto the bed.

“Still,” Finn says, shrugging. He sits on the edge of the bed next to Puck. “Assholes.”

“Yeah. What about you? Any life lessons via the criminal element?”

Finn shakes his head. “Nah. Unless you count the Glee club as criminal element, which I definitely don’t. My life’s boring.”

“I don’t know, you’ve got another Puckerman in it,” Puck says.

“Jake’s cool, but he’s not you,” Finn says.

Puck grins. “Yeah, I missed you, too.”

“Yeah, okay, I missed you,” Finn says, elbowing Puck. “It sucks in Lima without you. I didn’t realize how much it would suck, but it does.”

“LA doesn’t suck, but I really do miss you,” Puck admits. “It’s really big.”

“Sometimes I wish I’d gone with you like you asked,” Finn says.

“You might not think that if you saw my apartment and how small it is,” Puck says with a laugh.

“Dude. I still live with my mom.”

“With an entire full-size bed for yourself.”

“An empty full-size bed,” Finn says. “What’s the point?”

“I have a twin,” Puck admits.

“We used to fit on a twin. Remember?” Finn asks.

Puck grins. “Yeah, I remember. When we were eight or so, right?”

“We probably still could, if we had to.”

“Hmm, yeah. If I were lying on top of you, we could,” Puck says.

Finn laughs. “Yeah, I guess that would work. You know, if you wanted.”

“You think I should take a test-drive of that set-up?” Puck asks, raising one eyebrow.

Finn shrugs, his head tilted down, but his eyes looking over at Puck. “If you wanted,” he repeats. “I wouldn’t say no.”

Puck sits up a little straighter. “What if I like a more enthusiastic yes?”

Finn shrugs again. “Then… yes.” He looks over at Puck. “Yes, Puck.”

Puck has to fight back another grin, especially when he notices Finn biting at his lower lip. “Okay. Yes.” He turns so he’s facing Finn directly. “C’mere.”

Finn smiles shyly, biting his lip a little more, but then he moves towards Puck, pressing his mouth to Puck’s. Puck grabs for Finn, steadying both of them, and he can feel himself sighing into the kiss as their lips part. He can feel Finn’s hands on him, and he opens his mouth wider. Finn runs his hands up Puck’s chest and then puts one hand on Puck’s cheek. Puck leans into it, feeling like they’ve been kissing forever and at the same time, like they only started a second earlier.

Puck returns the favor, sliding his hands up and down Finn’s arms and then across the back of his shoulders. He can feel Finn moving, sliding on the slick motel bedspread and leaning in at the same time. Puck twists the sleeve of Finn’s t-shirt in one hand, and he moves the hand from Finn’s cheek to the back of Finn’s head to yank him into a deeper kiss. Finn is warm, and pliable, and Puck can tell Finn wants him, the same way that Puck wants Finn. He wants to keep kissing Finn without a break, but he also wants more—more skin, more contact, more.

It takes time and a lot of maneuvering, but after what feels like ten minutes or so, they’re still kissing, their t-shirts on the floor. Puck can’t stop moving his hands over Finn’s warm, bare skin, and Finn seems to have the same not-actually-a-problem, his hands spread wide and large on Puck’s back and neck.

When Puck has to move his lips, has to suck in oxygen from somewhere other than Finn’s mouth, he presses his cheek against Finn’s. “Still yes?”

“Still yes,” Finn says. He runs his hands up and down Puck’s back, touching him everywhere. “God, Puck. You’re just— fuck. You feel good.” He nudges his nose against Puck’s cheek until he can put his mouth on Puck’s again, kissing him deeply, sucking on Puck’s tongue. He pulls back briefly, panting, to look in Puck’s eyes. “I want you so much, Puck. So much, so much.”

Yes,” Puck says, moving his mouth like it has a mind of its own, looking for Finn’s, and Puck isn’t entirely convinced that’s not what’s happening. Finn kisses Puck’s mouth, and then his neck, and then he’s moving down Puck’s chest, his lips and tongue going back and forth, Finn’s big hands stroking down Puck’s sides. Finn gets Puck’s jeans off like they were never on to begin with, then Finn’s mouth is on him, sucking him in without any hesitation.

Puck wiggles a little, shifting his weight and changing the position of his hands. They end up in Finn’s hair, tugging interspersed with sharper pulls, even though Puck is telling himself to be more careful, to be more gentle. His body continually disagrees, pushing and pulling.

“Fuck, Finn, that’s so good.” Puck’s hips thrust forward a little, more evidence of the truth of his statement. Finn doesn’t try to hold him still, doesn’t pull away. If anything, he pulls Puck in deeper, taking him farther into his mouth. His tongue slides up and down, and his hands grip Puck’s hips but don’t try to move him or pin him down. “So damn good.”

Puck can hear himself whimpering and occasionally crying out, and he knows he needs to warn Finn somehow. All that happens is that he gives Finn a particularly sharp tug, but Finn doesn’t seem bothered by the tug or the lack of warning. Puck can feel more than hear himself moaning as he lets go completely, Finn swallowing around him again and again. Puck looks down at Finn, looks at the way Finn’s mouth is curved and the way Finn’s eyes are on Puck’s face. Puck can feel his muscles temporarily giving out in the aftermath of his orgasm, and he slumps to the side, still with their eyes almost locked.

“Finn,” Puck says almost reverently.

Finn slowly lifts his head, letting Puck slide from his mouth. “Yeah,” he says, like he’s answering a question.

“Yeah,” Puck agrees, pulling at Finn’s upper arms. Finn slides up Puck’s body, his open mouth on Puck’s mouth. Finn’s tongue is insistent and almost aggressive, pushing into Puck’s mouth with Puck’s come still on it. Puck can taste it at the same time he can taste Finn, and he whines a little, straight into Finn’s mouth.

Finn wraps both arms around Puck, sliding under him to hold him tight. He starts to roll, pulling Puck with him, on top of him, until Finn’s the one pinned to the bed and Puck is all over him. Puck laughs while they’re still kissing, the sound pushing out of him.

“My test-drive?” Puck asks with his lips hovering near Finn’s.

“Fuck yeah,” Finn says. “Yes. Yes, Puck.”

“That sounds so good,” Puck says, shoving one hand between them and into Finn’s jeans. He wraps his hand around Finn, tugging upwards as he moves his hand. Finn cries out, head thrown back and eyes closed, giving himself over completely to Puck. “That looks so good.”

Puck lifts up enough for his other hand to work at the button and zipper on Finn’s jeans, giving his hand more space to move in. He slides it up and down Finn, kissing Finn at the same time. Finn licks and bites at Puck’s mouth, making low, desperate sounds. His hands scrabble at Puck’s back, moving to the back of his head and down again to tug at Puck’s shoulders.

“Let me see how good it feels,” Puck says, his other hand on Finn’s head. Finn’s eyes open wide, golden-brown in the low light, staring up into Puck’s eyes. He lets out little gasping breaths and doesn’t look way. “Yeah, like that, Finn, just like this, show me.”

When Finn starts to come, he looks surprised, his eyes even wider. He never looks away from Puck’s eyes, even as his hips lift up off the bed, desperately seeking more contact with Puck’s hand. Puck can feel his smile start out small, getting wider and wider as he watches Finn. Finn’s entire body is an enthusiastic yes.

Finn’s mouth gets soft, then his body becomes pliant and soft, until his whole self feels like a place that wants Puck inside it. Puck tugs Finn’s jeans fully off and starts kissing Finn’s ankle, his mouth traveling slowly up the inside of Finn’s leg, pushing Finn’s leg up and back as he goes, and when he gets to Finn’s ass, he can’t think of any good reason to stop, and a lot of good reasons to keep going. He presses his mouth against Finn, his tongue inside him, and Finn shudders. Puck can hear him gasping, his hands back on Puck’s shoulders, and Puck is getting him so wet.

Finn is panting and talking at the same time, saying things like, “Oh god, oh god, Puck, oh god,” and pulling at Puck’s hair, grabbing his shoulders, “Oh god, yes, fuck, yes, so good, so good.” His hands never stop moving, and he never really stops talking, dissolving into a rough, broken-sounding, “I didn’t— I didn’t—”

Puck keeps his mouth against Finn until he can’t any longer. He kneels between Finn’s legs, looking at Finn splayed out as Puck spits into his hand and swipes it over himself. Puck bends Finn’s legs back and pushes inside him, forcing himself to go slowly. As Puck enters him, a sound comes out of Finn, deep and raw, like a howl, like a triumphant shout torn out of him.

“Yeah, yeah, you feel so good,” Puck says. He thrusts into Finn, repeatedly, running his hands over Finn’s chest and almost feeling guilty. Finn’s going to be sore later, but that’s later and not now, and when Puck moves one of Finn’s legs just barely, Puck slides in deeper. Finn is moving with him, almost sobbing, and all Puck can think about is how warm Finn feels, how tight and wet and deep and warm.

“Puck,” Finn says, tugging at Puck’s shoulders, trying to pull him in deeper somehow, urging him to move faster and harder. “Puck, god, please, please.”

“Yeah. You’re so tight, so good,” Puck says. He can’t even conceive of a more enthusiastic yes, a more enthusiastic partner who wants him. He thrusts both faster and harder, eyes on Finn’s face. Finn’s gaze is so intense, his eyes darker now from his pupils widening, and he bites at Puck’s lower lip, making desperate-sounding, staccatoed whines.

“Puck,” Finn says, begs, “Puck, Jesus, please, come on. God, just do it, just come in me, Puck, please.”

“I will,” Puck promises, feeling like if he keeps moving Finn’s legs, he’s going to fold Finn in half. Puck pushes into Finn as deep as he can, and when his body collides with Finn’s, when he’s completely inside Finn, he comes, letting out a shudder as he does. Finn tightens around him, and he abruptly comes between them, splattering all over Puck’s chest with the force of it. Puck exhales, then breathes in deeply, taking in the way the two of them smell.

Puck sprawls across Finn as he collapses, and there’s a small squish that makes Puck grin, his face shoved into Finn’s neck. He puts his hands on Finn’s head and face, patting them softly. Finn wraps both arms around Puck, holding him close and keeping him inside, even as they’re clearly both starting to fade into sleep. He holds Puck close and doesn’t let go, hooks a leg over Puck’s so he can’t slide out.

“Yes,” Finn whispers one more time, nuzzling the top of Puck’s head and keeping it tucked under Finn’s chin. Puck’s grin is wide, pressed against Finn, and he closes his eyes, fully content to let himself drift off to sleep that way.



November 23, 2012

“You have to wake up. Finn. Get up.”

Finn lifts his head, disoriented, in response to Puck’s voice. He sounds shaky. “What?” Finn asks.

“Get up. You have to go,” Puck says insistently.

Finn sits up, rubbing his bleary eyes. His body aches, but in a good way, and his chest and stomach are still something of a mess. “What’s happening?” Finn asks, because maybe there’s a fire or something.

“You. Have. To. Go,” Puck says, sounding scared and angry at the same time.

Finn’s brain takes a few second to process everything, step by step. First, the night before, which, yeah, a little scary now that he’s thinking about it, a little bigger than he can really wrap himself around. Next, he processes Puck’s tone, the anger injected into it, and then Puck’s words, telling Finn he has to go. It sinks in then, swift and hard, and Finn’s stomach feel cold and tied in knots, sharp pain and a different kind of ache, a not-good kind.

“You want me to go,” Finn says, trying to look Puck in the eyes for confirmation of what Puck’s saying, that what it sounds like he’s saying isn’t really what he means. Puck won’t meet his eyes. “Puck? You want me to go.”

“You have to go,” Puck repeats. “You have to.”

“But— but why? What happened?” Finn asks. Why won’t Puck look at him? Yeah, this is scary, but they’ve dealt with scary before. This is big, but they’ve done big, too.

“If you don’t—” Puck breaks off and shakes his head. “You have to fucking go.”

Finn’s stomach isn’t just in knots now. He feels like Puck hit him. “Shit,” he mutters, to himself more than Puck. “Shit, was this a one-night stand?” He directs his voice at Puck again. “Was I a fucking hook-up?”

Puck doesn’t answer the question. “I can’t deal with this. You need to leave.”

“Yeah, I heard you. I heard you the first five fucking times,” Finn says. He realizes he’s naked, and he really doesn’t want to be naked right now, so he scans the floor for his jeans, finding them with his boxers still inside them. He reaches for them, jerking them on with his body turned away from Puck. He has streaks of dried come on his chest and he scratches at his skin to scrape it off, leaving long red marks.

“You didn’t seem to.”

“Well I did, and I’m going. Happy?”

“Do I sound happy?” Puck retorts.

“Yeah, you sound thrilled,” Finn says, looking around for his shirt. “I don’t get you, Puck. Why are you doing this?”

“I can’t do this, you idiot,” Puck says, sounding angrier.

“Do what? Wait for me to wake up so I can leave? I know how this works,” Finn says bitterly. He finds his shirt and pulls it on in one hard yank. He hears a couple of the stitches pop.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah,” Finn says. “I’ve seen it.”

“Oh yeah? You’re so smart now, but you weren’t five minutes ago?” Puck says.

“Smart enough,” Finn says. He can’t find his socks, so he starts putting on his shoes without the socks, shoving his feet into them.

“You aren’t going to beg me to stay?” Puck says mockingly.

Finn laughs, but there’s no humor in it. It’s short and harsh, like a cough. “Is that what you wanted me to do?”

“You seemed pretty good at it, is all,” Puck says. “Like it was something you’d thought about.”

“Yeah, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“The begging. Is that your thing? Your schtick? Did I get the Finn Hudson Special?”

“Oh, fuck you,” Finn says. “I didn’t beg.”

“‘Please’, ‘Jesus, please’,” Puck mocks.

Finn grits his teeth together, swallowing down the bile taste in the back of his throat. “Shut up!”

“Like some kind of slut.”

“That’s what you like, right?” Finn shoots back. “That’s what does it for you.”

“You wouldn’t know what does it for me,” Puck says.

“Yeah, I think I would,” Finn says. “I think I do. I know you, Puck. I know all about you.”

Puck laughs humorlessly. “Yeah, you know all about me, and you’re still here?”

“I’m leaving, trust me.”

“Not fast enough,” Puck says.

“Sorry. Didn’t realize turnover happened that fast for you,” Finn says. His stomach is really twisting up now, a wave of nausea passing through him even while he’s still talking, voice bitter. “Thought I’d at least get a second to get my fucking shoes on.”

“You’re so pathetic. Do you want a prize for getting dressed? For getting fucked?”

Finn blinks his eyes hard, taking a deep breath. “Yeah, I know I don’t get a prize for that, Puck. You probably ran out of those ages ago.”

“You want me to make you one special?” Puck asks, standing up. “For how good you spread your legs and begged me to come?”

“I don’t need anything special from you, believe me.”

“Yeah, you thought you did, didn’t you? You thought it was just for you,” Puck says.

“Did you think I thought I was special?” Finn asks, shaking his head. “I know you’ll fuck anything that holds still.”

“Fuck you,” Puck almost growls, and then he balls his hand into a fist and then smashes it into Finn’s face.

Finn staggers back, both his fists tightening up. “Yeah, that’s right. Fuck me. Fuck everybody else. That’s what you do.” He takes a swing at Puck, who ducks, the lashes out with the other fist, connecting with Puck’s cheek. “Who haven’t you fucked?”

“Yeah? You don’t have that problem. No wonder Rachel didn’t mind going to New York,” Puck says, punching at Finn again and dragging his nails across Finn’s cheek and neck.

“Why don’t you call her up and fuck her, too, then?” Finn says, throwing a punch that catches Puck in his left eye.

“I know she’d be impressed after suffering through you,” Puck says. “Maybe that’s why Santana fucks girls now.”

“Shut up!” Finn shouts. He shoves Puck with both hands, pushing back into the wall.

“You’re so clinging and needy, so easy, why would it be enough?” Puck shoves back against Finn’s chest, swinging at Finn’s face and almost slapping it.

“Oh, I’m sorry, did I do it wrong?” Finn says, his fist darting out and popping Puck in the lip this time. “Did I forget to leave the money on the dresser and thank you for cleaning my pool?”

“Oh, fuck you,” Puck says, ramming his fist into Finn’s eye and then, immediately after, his other fist slams into Finn’s nose. Finn’s eyes water so hard he can’t see, he can feel the blood pouring out of his nose, but he keeps swinging at Puck.

“Yeah, fuck me, fuck me, that’s my mistake,” Finn says. “That’s all you know how to do. Fuck me, now you’re fucking me up, that’s what you do.”

“Maybe that’s what you needed. Maybe you needed some dick, all this time,” Puck says, his fists pummeling at Finn’s chest.

“Says the guy who had his tongue in another dude’s ass,” Finn says, pounding Puck’s face wherever he can reach. They’re both beating each other bloody, blood in their eyes. Finn can taste blood in his mouth.

“Yeah, you especially liked that part, didn’t you? Didn’t have to touch you at all.”

“You do that a lot, huh? You stick your tongue in a lot of guy’s asses? That’s what you do out in LA?” Finn’s flagging now, his swings wilder and less forceful. He can’t see to direct his fists. Everything is red.

“You wouldn’t know, would you? You’re too scared to leave Ohio. Too scared to leave Lima, even,” Puck yells, still swinging at Finn, his punches landing more weakly, too.

“I’m glad I didn’t go with you,” Finn says, letting his arms drop to his sides now. He feels blood dripping from his knuckles. If Puck takes another shot at Finn’s face, he wouldn’t even be able to get his arms up to protect himself. He’s got nothing left. “I wish you hadn’t come back. Go back to fucking LA and don’t come back. I don’t need you. I don’t want you.”

Puck shoves Finn down, pushing him towards the motel bed. “Yeah, you couldn’t hack it out there,” he says with a sneer as he grabs his clothes and pulls them on. He picks up a backpack off the floor and glares at Finn through the bruises starting to form on his face. “Don’t cry too hard when you change your mind. Or when your next girlfriend breaks up with you ’cause you can’t get it up without another dick involved.”

“Have fun being a whore in LA. I hope it pays good like you deserve,” Finn says. “The service was excellent.”

“Like you’d know,” Puck yells, fumbling with the chain lock and then swinging the door open, his backpack over one shoulder and his shoes in his other hand. “Lima Loser.”

“Fuck off. Fuck off and don’t come back,” Finn says quietly. “We’re done.”

Puck storms out, the door swinging shut behind him, and a car door slams before an engine turns over. There’s no squealing tires, just the sound of a car getting farther and farther away until Finn can’t hear it anymore. Puck is gone. He’s gone.

Puck realizes when he gets back to the apartment building to park that he has a little bit longer than expected. Enough time that he heads upstairs, feeling vaguely guilty about what he’s planning to do in the middle of the day. He needs the moment, though, and a bit of clarity in his head. He hasn’t had that much time in his own head since Saturday night. Specifically, since Finn was standing on the balcony for a few minutes on Saturday night, giving Puck’s mind all kinds of ideas.

Ideas about Finn on the balcony after dark, illuminated just enough by the streetlights for Puck to make out shadows and shapes. Puck strips completely and climbs in bed, already hard. He wraps his hand around himself, thinking about how he could kiss Finn and press him against the glass between the balcony and the living room. He’d keep kissing Finn while he worked his jeans down and off, and stop long enough to strip Finn’s shirt off, leaving him naked and out in the world, but not exposed.

Puck’s hand moves as he pictures himself sliding down Finn, his mouth open and kissing, until he takes Finn completely into his mouth. He can see himself on the dim balcony, Finn up against the wall and making noise, and Puck slides his hand faster. He closes his eyes and lets himself come, calling out Finn’s name as he does. Maybe he’ll be a little less distracted at work, maybe a little more, but as he rolls over to check the time, he feels good. He has ten more minutes before he absolutely has to leave for the salon, so Puck closes his eyes again. He’ll bask in it for nine of those minutes.

Puck is still at the salon, but nearly done, when Moxxie gets off the bus and walks in. Puck finishes up with the final client and then goes to the back room. “Anything you need to pick up for Pips before we head over?”

“Can I get some of our movies?”

“Sure. You got all of Pips’s work for her, too?” Puck asks.

“Oh yeah. Classwork and homework,” Moxxie says. “I took some notes for her, too!”

“That’s very thoughtful of you,” Puck says, trying to imagine what kind of notes a nine year old might take. “Ready to go?”

“Yeah. And all I did was imagine what Pips would think was interesting about what we were talking about in class, and wrote down all the interesting parts.”

“That’s probably a pretty good approach.” The two of them leave the salon and start heading towards the apartment.

“Are you staying while I’m there?” Moxxie asks.

“Yeah, I’ll be there,” Puck says as noncommittally as he can.

“Good. I think Finn liked you being there at the hospital. I think it made it less scary for him.”

“Oh yeah?” Puck says, suppressing a smile. “How’s that?”

“When he first got there, he was really upset and scared, but when I woke up from sleeping in the waiting room, he looked better,” Moxxie says. “You were holding hands, and I think it made him less scared. He looked better with you.”

“Yeah, we were,” Puck acknowledges.

“I think he probably loves you,” Moxxie say, very matter-of-factly.

“Is this more of your ‘insight’, Moxx?”

Moxxie shrugs. “I know that people you don’t love can’t hurt you, and I think he was hurt a lot, before.”

“Yeah, there was a lot of hurt,” Puck says.

“Then I guess… maybe you love him, too.”

“I think, Moxx, that probably you’re not the person I need to be having this conversation with,” Puck says. “Don’t you?”

“Hey, I can’t help that I’m good at this stuff,” Moxxie says. “It just comes naturally. I’m a people person, and I’m good at understanding people. It’s, like, my gift.”

Puck laughs. “Yeah, remind me to tell Finn he was definitely right.”

“About what?”

“That you’re a lot like me, without some of the damaged parts.”

Moxxie rolls her eyes. “Well, yeah. Obviously. Also, with way better hair.”

Puck rolls his eyes back at her. “Obviously.”

After Moxxie spends several minutes picking out movies, they drive over to Finn’s, parking at the curb. “Grab your stuff, Moxx.”

“Already got it!”

“Eager beaver,” Puck says as they walk up to the door.

“That’s me,” Moxxie says, knocking softly.

The door swings open, Finn standing there smiling. “Hi there, Moxxie.” He looks up at Puck. “Hi there, Puck.”

“Hey,” Puck says, returning the smile. “Moxx, remember: calm.”

“I am calm, Dad! Jeez!”

“Uh-huh. I know you,” Puck says.

“You know I’d never do anything to hurt Pips, then,” Moxxie says.

“You can go on back to her room,” Finn says.

“Yay!” Moxxie squeals, then sprints down the short hallway to Pips’s room.

“She brought about eighteen hours’ worth of movies,” Puck says.

“Think it will actually keep them calm?” Finn asks, stepping away from the door so Puck can come in. He reaches for the bag in Puck’s hand. “Come in. Sit.”

“Maybe,” Puck says, letting Finn take the bag before he sits. Finn looks in the bag, then carries it into the kitchen, where Puck can hear him putting away the milk and other perishables. Once he’s done, he walks back into the living room and sits next to Puck.

“How was the salon?” Finn asks, then laughs. “Small talk is weird.”

“Right?” Puck says. “Pretty boring, which is good for a Tuesday.”

“Good.”

“Pips resting okay?”

“She’s bored, but Moxxie’ll help,” Finn says. “She’s feeling better.”

“Good. Maybe we should each have one of those beers?” Puck suggests.

“Good idea. Be right back,” Finn says, walking into the kitchen. Puck hears the metallic tink of two bottle caps hitting the counter, then Finn walks back in, handing one of the bottles to Puck.

“Thanks.” Puck takes a long gulp of the beer. “Actually, I don’t really remember most of the afternoon at the salon,” he admits.

“I think I slept for a while,” Finn says. “Not totally sure.”

“I kept thinking. Mostly about you.”

“Yeah?” Finn asks, his tone light, though Puck can see his hands fidgeting a little, running one thumb around the mouth of the bottle.

“I wanted to get back here,” Puck says, feeling raw and exposed, but more of him wants to say it to Finn than wants to hide from it. “I wanted to hold your hand again, and apologize again.”

Finn holds out his empty hand tentatively, palm up. “You don’t have to apologize again,” he says.

“Maybe,” Puck says, reaching out and taking Finn’s hand with a squeeze. “But I want to. We can’t erase it, but I can make sure you know I didn’t mean any of it.”

“I know that I didn’t mean any of it,” Finn says, “so, if you can believe me, then you know I already believe you.”

“I believe you. And probably I’m still a little scared, but not about the same things, not anymore.”

“I wish you could have told me. I was scared, too. It was the biggest, most terrifying thing that ever happened to me. It was also one of the best things.”

“Yeah. Yeah, that’s a good way to put it. Maybe we really weren’t old enough to handle how big and best it was,” Puck says. “The kind of scared I am now is different, though.”

“Yeah?” Finn asks. “What kind of scared are you now?”

“The kind where I know what’s it like without you, and I don’t really want to do that again. And having three entire people to care about and worry about is an exponential increase,” Puck says, smiling a little.

Finn smiles back. “Okay. That’s good, see?”

“Yeah? How do you figure?”

“Because it’s the exact same kind of scared as me,” Finn says. “So neither of us has to be scared alone this time.”

“I don’t really want to do anything alone,” Puck says, almost blurting it.

“Then don’t. You’ve got me, Puck. You’ve got me,” Finn says, squeezing Puck’s hand.

“We were never really very good at alone, were we?” Puck asks, squeezing back.

Finn shrugs. “Maybe we weren’t supposed to be. Maybe if we’d been able to talk better, if we didn’t get mean because we were scared…”

“We got caught between alone and completely together.” Puck takes another drink of his beer. “We should go on a date.”

“Can I tell you something really embarrassing?”

“Sure?” Puck says. “Unless that’s a ‘no’.”

Finn shakes his head. “It’s not. It’s more like a warning. Remember, I said earlier I didn’t get any better at it?”

“Yeah?”

“I really haven’t gone on a date since high school,” Finn says, “and I really haven’t done, you know, anything with anybody in… years. A lot of years.”

“Okay. I haven’t really gone on any second dates in a long time.” Puck smiles a little, trying to look reassuring. “And, okay, it’s not been years, but it’s been a while, and pretty sporadic.”

“I’m willing to bet a second date on you still being pretty damn good at it,” Finn says.

“So it’s not just my memory? It really was that good?” Puck asks.

“I think it really was that good,” Finn says. “I’ve tried not to think about it, but Jesus, Puck. Even the kiss. Maybe especially the kiss. That’s— it’s what I think about.”

“I wanted you so much, and I could tell you wanted me,” Puck says. “I still do.”

“I did. I do.”

Puck grins widely. “You want to make sure that kiss wasn’t a fluke?”

“Pretty sure a kiss like that can’t be a fluke, but I’m willing to test that theory,” Finn says. He sets his beer on the coffee table, then puts his hand on the back of Puck’s head, slowly pulling him in. Puck quickly sets his beer down, cupping his hands around Finn’s face as their lips touch. Underneath the beer, Finn tastes the same, and Puck can sense how much they’re each pouring into it, how intense it feels, and how much they both want it. It’s not nearly as frantic as the first time they kissed, but Puck thinks that it might be even better, and bigger, and this time, both of them know that the other one isn’t going anywhere.

Finn pulls away, just an inch or so between them. He puts his other hand on the side of Puck’s face, cradling it, tilts his head in to touch his forehead to Puck’s for a moment, then brings his lips back to Puck’s. Puck starts to consider that they could spend the evening like this, kissing and pausing to take a breath before diving back in, and he makes a quiet almost-squeak into Finn’s mouth while he’s thinking about that. Finn laughs a little, his warm breath huffing against Puck’s lips, then Puck realizes that it’s not just Finn who’s laughing. Moxxie’s distinct giggle comes from the hallway, just in front of Pips’s door.

Puck pulls back and rests his forehead against Finn’s. “The girls are happy.”

“Do you feel a little bit like the parents at the end of The Parent Trap?” Finn asks.

“Oh, yeah,” Puck says with a laugh. “Definitely. Has Pips seen it?”

“I’m not sure.”

“I’ll find a copy, and the four of us can watch it tomorrow night,” Puck says.

“That sounds nice,” Finn says. “Do you think we can kiss some more without the girls giggling themselves into a coma?”

“Honestly? No,” Puck admits. “But we probably have to learn to tune them out.”

“Want to practice tuning them out until dinner?”

“I need you to answer one question first,” Puck says.

“Okay,” Finn says. He looks a little like he’s both bracing himself and consciously trying not to brace himself.

“Have dinner with me Friday night? We can set the girls up in Moxxie’s room and eat on the balcony.”

Finn smiles, starting out with just one corner of his mouth lifting, until it expands into a wide grin. “Yes,” he says.

“Good,” Puck says, his own grin equally wide. “Now we can practice tuning them out.”

Time, Finn thinks, moves at an interesting pace. He and Puck did go on that first date, then a second date, then a third – and no sex until the third date. After that, though, they stopped pretending their timeline needed to look like other people’s, because even though they’d technically only been on three official dates, they had a lot of ‘family dates’, too, plus all the time Finn and Puck had together before all the shit eleven years ago. By the first week of November, Finn and Pips say goodbye to the little house—or the ‘bungalow’ as Puck keeps insisting—and move in with Puck and Moxxie in their ocean-view apartment.

The girls get bunk beds. Finn and Puck very decidedly do not get bunk beds, though they do move Finn’s larger bed into the bedroom in place of Puck’s smaller one. In the real world, which is apparently not the one the four of them inhabit, suddenly sharing space with twice as many people would seem crowded, or they’d have some territorial spats, or argue about brands of toilet paper and frozen french fries. In the better-than-real-world they apparently do live in, the transition is so smooth, it’s like they’ve been living together their entire lives. The only major change that needs to be made is that half the walls in Moxxie’s, now Pips’s and Moxxie’s, room get painted purple. Both girls agree it goes perfectly with the teal.

Balcony dinners overlooking the ocean are one of the best parts about living there, after being with Puck, Pips and Moxxie together, and—dorky, maybe, but whatever—walking Puck to the salon on Saturdays, when Finn doesn’t have to work, and hanging out in the back, watching Puck do his thing. It shouldn’t be so easy, but it is, anyway. Maybe they deserve a little easy.

Today, the girls turned ten. They had two cakes: yellow cake with chocolate frosting for Pips, mint chocolate chip ice cream cake for Moxxie. Between the four of them, they manage to devour about half of each cake, and the girls tumble off like long-legged, overly-excited puppies to watch the new movies they got, which included both the original and remake versions of The Parent Trap.

Finn and Puck sit out on the balcony together, watching the sun sinking below the ocean’s horizon. They each have a bottle of beer on the table, but neither of them is really drinking them. Their hands keep finding each other instead, Puck’s hand in Finn’s. Today would have been a complicated day, if it were any year before now, but instead it’s just perfect. They have their girls. They have their view. They can’t really make up for the eleven years they missed, but Finn thinks they don’t really have to. Just because something leaves a scar, it doesn’t mean it’s got to keep dragging you down. Those years they lost sucked. It was lonely. It’s also behind them now, and looking back only aches a little, quickly soothed by the fact that Puck is right there across the table from Finn, their beer bottles sweating rings onto the glass.

“We made it,” Puck says with a smile.

“Yeah, we did,” Finn agrees. “I think it’s better now than it would’ve been then.”

“Here and now is definitely better than there and then,” Puck says. He nods a little, glancing between Finn and the ocean. “Now is so good I feel like I need to pinch myself sometimes.”

“Not me. If this is a dream, I’m staying in it with you and our girls,” Finn says.

“If it’s a dream, we could quit work, though,” Puck points out.

“I don’t know. I like my work, and I think you like yours,” Finn says. “I like to watch you do your work.”

“And yet I still haven’t gotten you to sit down in my chair at work.”

“I think your styles are just a little too cool for me.”

“I’ll convince you eventually. At least I finally got ahold of Pips,” Puck says. “The look on your face when you saw the hot pink tips was pretty great, too.”

“She’s definitely your girl now, too,” Finn says. “She and Moxx may not look like twins, but I think they are on the inside now.”

“Yeah, you’ll have to be gentle with my arms after Friday, I forgot to mention,” Puck says.

“Oh?”

“Gotta have a ‘P’ heart, right?” Puck says, pointing to his upper arm. “And I haven’t figured out the other one yet.”

“The other one?” Finn asks.

“Something for you and me,” Puck explains.

“When you decide, tell me,” Finn says. He pulls his sleeve up a little. “I was thinking, maybe we should match a little. My arms are awfully boring compared to yours.”

Puck laughs. “Okay, that’d be good, but I wouldn’t call any part of you boring.”

“Would you like it, though? If I got one, too?”

“Yeah,” Puck says, squeezing Finn’s hand. “It’d be good.”

“You have to help me design it, then,” Finn says. “And hold my hand while it’s being done.”

“I’ll hold your hand, but it’s not too bad,” Puck says.

“I’d want you to hold my hand no matter what.”

“Maybe that’s what we should get. Two hands.”

“Mine and yours,” Finn says. “I like it.”

“It’s a pretty good way to go through life,” Puck says.

Finn nods. “It is. This is a good way to live.”

“I knew it,” Puck jokes. “You just love me for the ocean view.”

Finn laughs and squeezes Puck’s hand. “No. I love you for everything else. Ocean view’s just a bonus.”

“I love you, too.”

“I think this might be my new favorite day of the year,” Finn says.

Puck nods. “Yeah. I don’t think any other day is even in contention.”

“Good. We should do something really crazy like get married on it. Then it’ll just be about us and the girls and everything good.”

“You have any plans for November 22, 2024?”

Finn smiles at Puck, leaning across the table to kiss him softly. “I guess I do now.”