It didn't take long for Puck to determine, after coming to New York City, that this would be where he would stay.
He had enjoyed the city well enough, when he had traveled there for the week with Glee club in eleventh grade to compete in Nationals. But even as he had made it his business to live it up in the city the best he could, given the minimal supervision their chaperones had provided them with, Puck had known that his time there was something of a fluke, limited and likely not to be repeated. He was no Rachel Berry or Kurt Hummel, or even a Santana Lopez. His dream had nothing to do with fortune and fame, with world wide admiration and acknowledgement of the talent Puck himself barely believed some days existed within him. Puck was a simple guy with a simple goal in life, and New York City was not the place to get it done.
Sure, he had had his Hollywood phase, where he had really thought it possible he could get some hot actress tail and write a screenplay that would throw him head first into that lifestyle, straight out of school. He had hoped more than he had really believed, trying to believe that his desire and his efforts would end with success. But Puck should have known better. When had his wants and his trying ever ended up with anything less than a disaster, let alone put whatever it was he was seeking directly in his hands? He was a Puckerman man, not infrequently known by at least Santana as a Fuckerman, and fucking up was what he had always done best. New York City his home? He'd end up homeless if he tried.
But New York City was Santana's home, and one thing Puck had come to learn for himself was that if he had no place to call his home, he did have a person, and that was Santana herself.
He had never gone back to Lima, after coming to their loft's door. He had packed enough of his personal items that he didn't feel a need to, and his mother and his sister were not exactly going to beg him to return to his childhood bedroom, once he told them the new plan. There was nothing he was leaving behind that really mattered, and the items he had forgotten could be bought just as easily in New York City as Lima, Ohio. His new direction was definitely different than any Puck had ever before envisioned or expected, but maybe it was the best thing he could have possibly chosen to do with his life- or a disastrous leap of faith. It remained to be seen, either way, and all Puck knew was there was nothing else that had ever felt so natural and right.
For the first couple of weeks, there was considerable awkwardness between everyone in the New York City loft, as they tried to determine where it was in the future that everyone would be residing. Puck had to stay with them during that course of time; he could have afforded no other apartment or even hotel room for very long, in such short notice, and he would have wanted to be nowhere else. The loft was Santana's home, and it was Santana he had come to stay with, Santana he had come to see. If he had had to, Puck would have slept curled up into a cramped ball in the bathtub, if it would have made Santana feel even slightly more at ease.
They hadn't had to resort to that. Although Santana's bedroom area was nothing more than a very small curtained off section of the apartment, her bed was a double, just big enough to fit them both. Puck had few belongings even had he taken everything he owned out of his mother's home, and there was little he had left that he cared enough about at this point to bother to do so.
It wasn't the sleeping arrangements that were an issue, at least, not if it was expected for everyone to simply rest at night, without any other nocturnal activities, innocent or otherwise, occurring. It was the space during the day, the lack of boundaries that would inevitably occur with two young men and two young women all sharing a very cramped living space at one time. It was the lack of privacy, the lack of personal space, that became an obstacle.
There was always someone in the shower, on the toilet, or using the sink in their bathroom, sometimes two or three people occupying its very small space at once as the four of them fought for time and means to do so every morning. With Rachel, Kurt, and Santana often sharing the same shift at the diner, and Puck's job as a grocery stocker at the grocery store around the block often being in similar scheduling, and Rachel and Kurt having school as well, they all often had to be somewhere at the same time on the same day and figure out a way to work around each other. Any efforts at privacy or modesty had disappeared quickly enough with these very real difficulties in scheduling, so they became skilled at averting eyes, loudly humming over the sound of someone's urinating, or blocking out someone else's actions by sheer will.
Except for in the case of Santana. It was made very clear to Puck that very fast, first by Kurt and Rachel's immediate informing him, and then by observing her himself, that she could not tolerate someone else being in the bathroom with her at the same time to do anything except for the both of them brushing their teeth. She could not handle someone being in a state of undress near her in a closed in space, and she certainly couldn't handle being undressed herself with them so close.
Puck would have known this for himself, had he thought about it. Though he tried not to remember or think about their days in the basement, he knew all too well how Santana had reacted, each time she was forced to be even partly undressed in front of even him alone, let alone the computer cameras and their captors. She had been frightened, ashamed, grieved, and that wasn't something that easily left a person, even if the danger of harm was no longer present.
He knew, but he didn't make the connection, or perhaps simply didn't realize how deep this went for her until he himself became a part of their morning preparation routine. The first day he had awakened for work and padded sleepily towards the closed bathroom door, rubbing his eyes with one fist, and reached out, yawning, for the doorknob, Kurt had flown over to him with a near panicked look stretched over his features, shoving his hand aside.
"You always knock, Puck, always!"
Puck had stared at him, yawning against his fist for the second time as he squinted at him, genuinely puzzled by his declaration.
"Hell you talking about, Hummel…you and Rach barge in on each other all the time and no one's died of naked
"Yes, but Santana's in there now," Kurt informed him in a loud stage whisper, as though this explained everything.
Still groggy, slow to make connections, this explained very little to Puck. As he continued to blink at him, nonplussed, Rachel, who had been intently observing from the kitchen area, came closer, nodding quickly as she too joined Kurt in the overly loud efforts at keeping her voice soft.
"Yes, yes, Santana is in there and that means that you never, ever go in without knocking. And even with knocking use extreme caution. Actually you should most likely announce your presence from a distance away before approaching the door, and even then…no, actually, if the door is closed and you know that Kurt and I are not behind it, then you should likely simply wait until she chooses to emerge before you will approach."
At this, Puck's eyebrows lifted, and he made a scoffing noise in his throat, shaking his head at her.
"Maybe you two can't handle her morning growling, but I ain't got a problem ignoring it or giving back what she gives out. What do you think she's gonna do, attack you for knocking on a door?"
"Yes," the two of them said simultaneously and without a moment's pause, and Kurt elaborated meaningfully, his eyes wide.
"She'll throw stuff, scream, and on one occasion attempted to move all objects she possibly could to barricade your entrance. And if you forgot to lock the door and just come in when she wasn't prepared, god save you from her nails."
"Well, to be fair, Kurt, sometimes she would just…well, she would just curl in on herself and cry," Rachel bit her lip, seeming bothered by the thought and memory of this as she shook her head. "Just, I wouldn't do it, Puck, you know how I value punctuality and still I would much rather be late by a few minutes than so startle Santana while she is in the restroom."
Puck had not disbelieved them, exactly, but neither had he taken them very seriously. He knew that Santana was easily startled and frightened, now, he knew that her anger sometimes spilled over for what seemed to the person on its receiving end something very minor for her to be having such a strong response to. He knew she wasn't comfortable with people, even people they knew very well and who were clearly no threat to her, like Rachel and Kurt, seeing her undressed or in a vulnerable position. But he also knew that Rachel and Kurt weren't always the best with figuring out how to smooth over an awkward situation, that neither was great at knowing what to do or say or how to handle Santana when she was upset, let alone how to comfort her, like he generally could, so their words of warning were not ones he considered with much worry.
Two days later, Puck too learned the hard way. Still half asleep, he shuffled towards the closed bathroom door, trying to turn the doorknob to let himself in. The shrill screams that pierced his eardrums quickly informed him of that mistake- and he hadn't even jarred open the door's weak and easily jimmied lock with his efforts.
"Hey, Santana, it's okay!" he yelled back over her screaming, completely jolted out of his previous sleepiness. "It's just me, it's Puck! I'm not coming in, I promise. Do you hear me, it's just Puck and I'm not coming in!"
Santana's screaming cut off, but Puck was still bothered by the intensity of her response. She hadn't yelled anything back to him, hadn't started cursing from embarrassment or anger or started to blame him for startling or scaring her or even "trying to be a perve", or any other variation of covering her own reaction he could have thought of. Standing back by the door, aware of Kurt's and Rachel's sympathetic yet meaningful expressions behind him, he tried to figure out what he should do, whether he should try to talk to her again, or wait until she came out of the bathroom on her own. He didn't want to invade her privacy or scare her again, but the silence in the bathroom now seemed to him ominous, wrong in some way he couldn't identify, but nevertheless felt.
He lingered near the bathroom door, unsure of how to proceed with his feeling, but nevertheless not wanting to walk away if something were wrong. After a minute or two he knocked on the bathroom door, gently, only two short knocks, and called out to her.
"Santana? It's Puck again. I'm just making sure you're okay."
There was no response from Santana. He could hear the shower running, but Santana didn't call back to him. She was completely silent, and that was what bothered him the most.
Nothing. Continued silence. Puck could feel the back of his neck began to prickle uncomfortably with growing unease, and he knocked on the door again, calling out a little louder.
"San, just let me know you're okay and I'm gonna leave you alone."
He heard Rachel coming up behind him, asking with some anxiety of her own, "Puck, what's wrong? Do you think something's-" but he waved his hand at her, shushing her. Rachel was still at his elbow, also looking towards the
bathroom door as Puck knocked one more time.
"Santana, I'm about to come in, okay? I'm just checking to see you're all right 'cause you're not answering. It's just me, it's Puck, but I'm gonna come in, so if you need to put on some clothes or something…"
He waited, but there was still no response from Santana. Exhaling slowly, dread now pressing hard against his lungs, Puck jimmied open the door and stepped inside the small space of the bathroom.
The first thing he noticed was the steam filling the room, completely fogging up the bathroom mirror and thickly spreading through the air to the point that Puck coughed, sweat gathering at his neck and brow. The shower was still running, Santana obviously inside it, but when he took an awkward step forward, again calling out to her, he heard for the first time a hitched gulping breath, as though Santana were struggling to breathe. Calling out to her one more time and receiving no response, Puck steeled himself, then drew the shower curtain aside.
Santana was huddled on the shower floor, as far away from the shower head as she could get, huddled with her knees drawn to her chest, her arms tightly wrapped around them in an embrace. She was shaking, her hair sodden down her back and partly covering her eyes, and although she wasn't' directly under the stream of water, she was still receiving enough of it that Puck could see how reddened her skin was. It looked as though she had scrubbed it raw, at least what he could see of her, and automatically he came forward, his hand shooting out to turn off the water. Santana's head did not come up from her knees as Puck called out to her again, trying to get her to hear him, to respond to something other than her own overwhelming fear. Squatting in front of her, the tub wall separating them, he called her name again, slowly reaching out one hand to touch her wrist.
"Santana. Santana, it's okay, I promise it's okay. Santana, you gotta breathe, babe, do you hear me? You gotta breathe right, come on, you gotta breathe."
This was something he recognized; he had seen it before, back in the basement, and he had seen it since, the night he had come to her from Lima, and a few times in between then and now. Kurt and Rachel referred to the behavior he was seeing as panic attacks, but if they had a name for it, they didn't seem to have a way of dealing with it to keep them from happening or to ease their length and intensity. It seemed that their own stress, in the face of Santana's, kept them from being very effective with their efforts at help, or perhaps Santana simply didn't trust and respond to them on the same level that she did Puck. Whatever the case, more often than not it fell to Puck to try to calm her when they occurred, and it was a task he would have wanted no other to have.
Slowly, still talking to her, trying to get her to look up at him and meet his eyes, he stroked the part of her arm he could reach, still talking with her. Gradually he stroked his fingers up her shoulder as well, then fingered his hands through her hair. It looked to Puck like she had been washing herself too roughly again, roughening her skin in her efforts to get and feel clean. She had described her reasoning behind it to him once, and although he understood what she was trying to do- hell, he had wanted to do the same himself, more than once, when he began to feel particularly infected by what he had done to her, what he had been made to do- it was nevertheless disconcerting to see her efforts to clean harming herself.
When Santana's head finally lifted, and she crept her hand forward, grasping for Puck's, he took it gladly, squeezing, and raised it to his lips to kiss its knuckles. A few more minutes of sitting with her, and she let him help her to her feet, wrap a bathrobe around her shoulders, and walk her to sit on her bed, curtain drawn around her area of the loft, until she could join the others again.
All of this Kurt and Rachel had at least been aware of as occurring, if not directly observing, and it wasn't a big surprise to Puck when the two of them decided to talk to him the next day, at a time when Santana was again showering in the bathroom.
"So we have been thinking, Noah," Rachel had started off, visibly nervous. She frequently looked back at Kurt for support when she spoke played with the chain of her necklace, clearing her throat several times before continuing. "Kurt and I have been talking, and we do believe, it seems as though it would be beneficial for all concerned, were we to consider revised living arrangements."
Puck had frowned at this proposal, unsure of what it was she was referring to.
"What do you mean, revised living arrangements? This place is about as big as a refrigerator box, we can't really move everything around much more than it already is. I mean, I sleep on the couch when San wants me to and I sleep with her in her bed when she's cool with it, I don't know how else we'd rearrange. I mean I guess you and her could share but you know how she kicks when she has those dreams, and no offense but I ain't sharing covers with you, Hummel. I mean, it might be less space to get bunk beds or something, maybe, but unless one of you wants to be right above us when she has those dreams and maybe get kicked in the ass from beneath-"
"No, no, that's not what she means," Kurt interrupted him hurriedly, shaking his head. "And no offense taken, by the way, I'm not exactly trying to move mountains to share a bed with you either."
"No, you have been most accommodating, Noah, and we appreciate your flexibility," Rachel assured him, but even Puck noticed that she was biting her lip, twisting her hands together with continued nerves as she spoke. "It's just that…I'm sure that you've noticed we're a little cramped for space here, and the privacy is basically nonexistent. We only have one bathroom and it's quite a challenge to have any uninterrupted time in it, and it's, well, difficult for anyone to have a good night's sleep when every noise anyone makes can clearly be heard through our rather sheer curtains…even at times if the person trying to get this sleep is wearing ear plugs and a face mask. I am sure you've noticed that mornings are a bit difficult as well, and well, with Santana's difficulties…"
"It's not that we don't understand, because we do," Kurt had hurried to take over the narration for her, when he noticed Puck's eyes began to narrow at the mention of Santana, his jaw tensing automatically at when he assumed to be forthcoming criticism or judgment. "We do understand, Puck, that she- that both of you- went through something terrible, and-"
"You don't understand," Puck said shortly, but with intent, curt emphasis on his words. "You don't understand, Hummel, and you're never gonna. You don't."
"Right…right, I'm sorry," Kurt's cheeks flushed, and his eyes shifted away for a few moments while he nodded, conceding this. "You're right, I don't. But what I'm…I guess what we're trying to say is, we do get that she's- some of the things she does now, it's because of what happened. Whatever did happen. So it's…well it's not okay, but we get why she's doing it-"
"It is okay," Puck cut him off again, his voice rising just slightly before he remembered Santana was awake and could turn the shower off and join them at any time, should she hear them talking about her. "It is okay, because she can't help it and it's what she has to do. If it makes her feel safe then it's fucking okay, period."
"Of course it is," Rachel took over for Kurt, giving him a look that was somehow both reproachful and meaningful at the same time. "Of course it is, Noah, we all want her to feel safe. But…what we are trying to say, is that although we of course recognize that Santana is, is coping, and we all want her to feel better, that it is…nevertheless at times difficult to live in such small quarters with her as she does so. We're not blaming her at all, it's the fact that we live in such a small space with so many people that makes it at times problematic."
"So you want us to move out," Puck summed up, crossing his arms over his chest and attempting to arrange his features into an expression that would reveal absolutely nothing of his thoughts. "That what you're saying, then?"
"No!" Kurt blurted, shaking his head quickly, but then, after another exchanged glance with Rachel, he took a breath in, rephrasing. "Well, not exactly, no. It's just that we thought maybe the two of you would be interested in looking into having your own place. If you wanted to."
"So, you want us to move out, but you don't officially want to say so," Puck summarized, his fingers beginning to dig into his inner arms as his hold of himself tightened. "That about it?"
"No," Rachel said, even more firmly than Kurt, shaking her head. "No, Noah, you know we love you and Santana. It's not that we don't want to live with either of you or don't want to have you stay here for as long as you want or need. It's just that…don't you think it would be easier, and that both you and Santana would probably be more comfortable?" She swallowed, glancing towards the door to the bathroom, where the sound of running water could still be heard, before going on in a slightly lower tone. "She trusts you so much more than either of us, anyone can see that. We're not asking you to leave, and if you don't want to we'll certainly keep working around the…difficulties…especially since you're both paying rent. But it's just…don't you think it's something to consider? Especially if the two of you are…together. You know. I would think when she feels a little safer you would want your privacy."
Puck had been considering what Rachel was saying, mentally weighing out possibilities, pros, and cons, as she spoke, acknowledging somewhat reluctantly to himself the truth of what she was describing. It was difficult to work around Santana's fears and the reality of four people in small quarters, all with busy schedules. It did feel strange sometimes to be sleeping on the couch, on one of Santana's bad nights, and hear other people tiptoing around him in the living room or kitchen, or worse, in her bed holding her while she shook and wept in the aftermath of a nightmare and know all the while that Kurt and Rachel were doing all they could to pretend they couldn't hear. It definitely wasn't an ideal situation.
But his considering shut down immediately when he heard Rachel refer to him and Santana as being "together." Any logical reasoning immediately left as he began to focus only on that one word and any implications or considerations of what she might have seen, what she might mean, and whether she was correct.
Sure, he slept in bed with Santana more nights than not- in the literal rather than sexual sense. Sure, he was the one she came to or reached out for when she was frightened or upset, and it seemed to be only him that she would calm down for when he spoke to her or pulled her into an embrace. It was true that she would touch him more often than she would Kurt or Rachel, and they kissed on a basis of once or twice a day, usually, with varying intensity and length. He knew that his thoughts always seemed to drift back to her, and it was only for Santana that he would have dropped everything to come to, moved into a crowded apartment in a city he had never overly cared for, just to be with her. He knew that he loved Santana, that he would die to protect her, and he knew even if she never said it that she loved him too.
So did all of this make them "together…" or would that not be official until they did, as Kurt and Rachel were suggesting, move out and into another setting on their own?
Puck would have thought, when he finally had the nerve to bring up the conversation to Santana nearly four days later, that she would be offended or amused, that she would either immediately refuse or else think it too fast, too much, too big of a step and too strong of a message to do so. But Santana had done none of this. She had simply tilted her head, considering, and shrugged, saying she'd think about it.
For the moment they left it at that, but it was an option and idea that was out there, neither seized nor dismissed, and Puck appreciated that fact.