The Dalton Academy of the Arts looks more like an old, moneyed New England manor than a cutting-edge performance arts school for gifted teenagers.
It sits at the center of a sprawling campus of green hills, small cosps of tall, stately trees and meticulously landscaped gardens. The only access to the main building is via a winding cobbled road that stretches all the way from the looming iron gate and guardhouse off the highway, through a dome of even taller trees and dense thickets of wild bushes and viney plant growth.
Jesse travels the fifteen minutes out of Westerville to the guardhouse in relative silence. He almost reaches for the badge he knows he doesn’t have before fishing out his driver’s license for the sleepy-looking guard manning the gates.
Or maybe it’s this old place. Jesse flicks on the car radio as soon as the guard waves him through, grumbling to himself a little as he hugs the right side of the narrow lane disappearing into the woods. Though it’s not like there’s much traffic out here this time of... ever. Except at the begining and end of terms, vacations, school performances (Dalton puts on a lot of those.)
There isn’t any of those going on right now, thank god.
Jesse’s never liked Dalton.
And not just because the Dalton Warblers, the school’s elite vocal troup, had provided maybe the stiffest competition Jesse - a high school vocalist himself - had ever had the misfortune of performing against in show choir. (Okay. So maybe it was exclusively because of that. Jesse had been a little shit in high school, like most teenagers obsessed with the performing arts, he supposes. And almost violently competitive.)
Still. Dalton isn’t anything like Carmel High, which Jesse had attended - a massive, metal and glass structure smack dab in the middle of the city. At Dalton - Jesse had thought back then - the students probably take tea with lemon out of ancient tea cups and nap by the lake between practice sets. Vocal Adrenaline, Jesse’s vocal troup, had spent as much time in the campus coffee shops as in their own dorm rooms. (Yes, shops. Caffeine Consumption was practically on the curriculum at Carmel. There was no time and no patience for napping. During choir season, Vocal Adrenaline hardly slept. There were 5 Hour Energy kiosks at every entrance to the auditorium.)
Jesse knows better now.
In a lot of ways, he wishes he hadn’t. He still doesn’t like Dalton, but these days it’s for a much more personal - and valid - reason.
Jesse parks his car in the wide open student parking lot nearest the main building, rather than the small lot further back near the administrative offices and custodial quarters, where there are spaces for guests. That lot is much fuller at this time of the summer than any other, with new teachers who’ve chosen to live on the campus moving in, administrators pulling double duty to handle yearly registration preparations, and seasonal maintenance workers joining the school’s year-round custodians in getting all of the school buildings ready for the new year.
There’s only one car parked in the student parking lot right now besides Jesse’s, actually. It’s been over five years since Jesse’s seen it, but of course he recognizes it immediately. You get to know a car after you’ve investigated its driver for murder.
Jesse says a silent prayer that he isn’t waiting where Jesse’s almost certain he’s waiting - he was always the type to enjoy making people uncomfortable just to see how they’d handle it, and Jesse doubts prison has changed that. But sure enough, straight through the front doors, Jesse looks up, cranes his head slightly and sees Sebastian Smythe standing on the second floor landing of the massive spiral staircase that greets visitors beneath a grand, glass dome.
The only unexpected part of any of it is that Sebastian isn’t facing Jesse’s way when Jesse starts unhappily up the stairs to meet him, maybe with his arms crossed over his chest and his long legs crossed at the ankles - definitely with a smirk, one part self-deprecation and two parts outward contempt, uglying up his otherwise nearly too pretty face.
Sebastian’s staring out one of the windows that dot the landing, his shoulders - surprisingly broad on a such a long, lean body - slumped forward.
That window has a clear view of the Aviary, Jesse remembers. The building on the other side of the small courtyard behind the main building. The two are attached by their second floors with a rail-lined walkway met on either side by wide french doors. Someone long ago had decided it would be funny to expand the Aviary to include the senior Warbler’s dorm rooms.
Halfway to his destination, Jesse realizes - with a surprisingly sharp twist in his gut - that prison may have changed more than he’d thought.
Something had, anyhow.
Nothing’s changed Smythe’s voice, obviously - which is just as calm and cool as ever as it carries over Smythe’s shoulder to him, always slightly lilted like he’s making a joke at someone else’s expense and just hasn’t gotten to the punchline.
“Detective St. James. Long time no see,” Sebastian says.
The little hint of normalcy is welcome, and enough to give Jesse an excuse for swallowing back the undeniable sympathy he feels for the man standing in front of him.
Jesse’s never liked Sebastian Smythe either.
But sometimes he worries they have more in common, at this point, than they don’t.
“I’m not a detective anymore, Smythe. You know that,” Jesse says, letting himself sound and feel irritated, as the greeting was meant to. “I wouldn’t be here if I still was, would I?”
“Probably not,” Smythe admits, turning from the window at last with some semblance of his old, cocky, devil-may-care(-but-fuck-him) attitude back on display.
Jesse shakes his head and scoffs. He can’t help that his lips curl, the smile not so much out of genuine humor as at the characteristic audacity of this little shit.
But the smile fades pretty quick.
Maybe this part of Sebastian didn’t change. Jesse just hadn't seen - back then, when it might have made him fight harder - how fucking deep it went.
“Jesus, Sebastian. You think it even matters now?”
Of course it’s the wrong thing to say. Of course it matters to Smythe.
He wouldn’t have spent the last half a decade in prison if it hadn’t mattered too much.
Smythe just smirks. The look only carries half the threat, and a fourth of the irreverent sex, it used to, but the smirk is there.
“You want to hear how it really happened or not?”
God help him, but Jesse has to. Almost knowing but not really knowing’s already eaten his first career. He’s gotta find a way to stop feeding it his dreams.
The answer must be evident on his face, because Sebastian nods and starts back down the staircase Jesse had just come up.
“Where are you-”
“If you’re gonna hear how it started, you might as well be where it started,” Sebastian tosses back with a look, like it’s really that simple.
Jesse’s pretty sure there isn’t a spot on this campus that didn’t play backdrop to some part of the unfolding drama that nearly destroyed this place all those years ago. But he lets Sebastian lead him to the student dining hall without question and lets Sebastian keep his reasons to himself.
It’s his secrets Jesse’s after, anyway.
The Dalton Academy of the Arts is not the only high school Sebastian attended.
It’s not even the only arts-based private school Sebastian’s stunning tenor and his father’s clout (not to mention a frankly disgusting amount of money) had managed to gain him entrance to.
No, Dalton wasn’t the first, just the last - would have been the last, one way or another. Dad had made that clear when Sebastian transferred over, junior year. One more screw-up, one more scandal, and Sebastian would be out. Out of second chances, out of money - out of his father’s good graces. He’d be attending a public school or, more likely (because Sebastian vowed never to debase himself in that way) living destitute and without a diploma, but happy, on the banks of the Seine. Provided he could sell off enough of his personal items to afford the airfare.
Dalton did, however, deserve one small though significant merit of distinction. It housed the one boy Sebastian had ever met who he hadn’t immediately wanted to bone and then be done with. Maybe even before the boning was, technically, completed. (Not that that had ever stopped Sebastian from helping his various partners reach ‘completion’; he was an asshole and a bastard, but he wasn’t a total philistine.)
Or, rather, Sebastian had wanted to bone Blaine Anderson immediately upon laying eyes on him. Maybe even before that. He’d wanted to fuck Blaine’s fine, friendly ass so successfully that Blaine sang out from the sweaty mess of Sebastian’s bed past his natural vocal range and into the territory of a goddamned countertenor.
But he’d wanted more than that too.
Immediately, he’d only realized later - and with no small sense of terror. He’d wanted everything, just as fast as he’d wanted anything.
Not that Sebastian could have announced that, the fall of their senior year, as his fellow Warblers and their Dalton brethren following other fields of study (theater, sculpture, painting, orchestra, dance) started pouring into the converted ballroom that, for most of the year, served as the common dining area for the combined freshman, sophomore, and junior students in all of Dalton’s disciplines.
A few, firey words from their Headmaster, every fall, preceded the first meal of the year. Sophomores, juniors and seniors who’d spent the day traveling to campus or already moving into their new dorms (the freshman had arrived and settled in the evening before, for orientation) joined the fresh-faced newbies waiting obediently at their assigned tables with shouts of greeting at one another and far more conversation than the faculty ever seemed to like. The sophomores and juniors took seats between the freshmen facing the faculty table and the back wall of the ballroom, which had been lined with small, open cubbies that acted as mailboxes for all of the students who dined there.
From his seat, in one of the many antique arm chairs arranged around the edges of the ballroom into separate inward-facing seating areas, Sebastian watched the confined chaos with a mixture of boredom and anticipation.
Even though this was only his second time experiencing the somewhat whirlwind beginning of year ceremonies at Dalton, Sebastian was unimpressed by them. Of course the freshman looked wide-eyed and weak-chinned at the rest of the student body as the juniors and sophomores seated themselves according to study and not class year (no matter how many times the administration had asked them not to.)
It was truly remarkable how easy it was to spot what particular art-fueled obsessive compulsion each student suffered from by sight, even with everyone wearing the requisite, crested Dalton blue blazers and skirts or slacks with patent leather shoes.
There were the painters with - of course - paint smeared on their hands or speckled on their white shirts beneath their blazers (which they somehow got away with, so long as they never lost so many brain cells to paint fumes that they let the blazers suffer as much as a drop.) There were the dancers looking like they’d already forgotten how to walk around in shoes with soles, gliding between the tables regardless, with gym bags slung over their shoulders. The theater kids already had scripts curled up and stuck in their back pockets or clutched reverently in their hands, pencils and pens stuck behind their ears, and a look of haughty pleasure on their faces. A sense of superiority seemed to precede their steps like stage music - tiny divas, every one of them, and proud of it.
Half of the orchestra students had failed to leave their instruments in their rooms as requested, and one back corner of the ballroom looked like the storage shed of a band hall.
The sculpture students struck Sebastian as eerily quiet. They usually had chalk on their hands (or whatever it was they chiseled away at in their corner of the campus), and in their hair, and powdery water stains on the sides of their shoes.
The Warblers, of course - the choir students - were the most recognizable of all. Which might have made calling the theater students the diehard divas on campus a little hypocritical, but it wasn’t so much their attitudes that gave the Warblers their air of general entitlement and sometimes abrasive confidence - the Warblers were the only students allowed to alter their Dalton uniforms. (They’d ought to be - they’d won enough trophies, grants and ribbons over the years to cover the walls of the senior Warblers’ private dining hall.) Under- and middle- classman Warblers wore pins on their lapels, engraved with the silhouette of the Warbler’s mascot, and the seniors got brand-new blazers, the somber blue embellished with satiny red piping.
Sebastian was wearing one of his new blazers then, trying to scan the entire ballroom with his eyes without looking like he was looking for one person with too much intent.
Not that he looked for long. His person had apparently seen him first.
“Am I seeing things.... Or has Sebastian Smythe arrived on time instead of fashionably late?”
Sebastian’s heart thumped, stupidly, and he thought mocking things about it while he pasted on his smoothest smile and turned to greet Blaine for the first time in too much time.
Blaine was grinning, wide and without guile, and Sebastian felt his own smile stretch into something actually honest.
He hoped no one else was looking at him. He had a reputation to maintain around here, even now.
“Killer,” he greeted Blaine with the nickname that never failed to paint the other boy’s face a fucking precious shade of pink. “Have a nice summer? Do anything breathtakingly exciting on your vacation?” Sebastian expertly morphed his smile into a playful leer. “Or anyone?”
It was a risk. Everything between them felt a little risky now, after the debacle of last Christmas - the painful cold spell that followed - the tentative truce they had forged after Blaine witnessed Sebastian’s emotional breakdown last March (and stubbornly refused to let Sebastian play off how badly broken he had been or to be pushed away.)
But Blaine just shook his head in fond exasperation and laughed, taking the seat right next to Sebastian, luckily before Sebastian could do something pathetic like stand just to be courteous. “I’m still with Kurt, Sebastian,” he said simply. And if he felt the need to remind Sebastian about how unwelcome any comments about that fact would be, or what would happen if Sebastian forgot, he kept it to himself.
“So that’s a no, then,” Sebastian said, and winked so Blaine would know that he was (mostly) joking.
He took Blaine’s quiet chuckle as the good sign it was and changed the subject before he could push his luck.
One by one the rest of their abbreviated class of Warblers gathered at the chairs Sebastian had chosen for them - near the back of the ballroom, closest to the baby grand and furthest from the faculty table. Per tradition, this year Sebastian and the rest of the Warblers from his class who’d survived the cuts at the end of junior year (twenty-two in all - a big group, by Dalton standards) would take their meals in one of the drawing rooms off the ball room that had been converted into smaller dining halls.
So they gathered here to listen to the Headmaster’s greeting and the introduction of the faculty (most of whom had been here since before the headmaster and hardly needed introduction).
Trent was the next to arrive - of course - but while he stopped by a group of juniors he’d gotten really chummy with last year, Sugar outpaced him, squealing and spinning like an overexcited child as soon as she saw the both of them. Sebastian endured her hugs and kisses (and, less reluctantly, Blaine’s bashful enjoyment of them) as well as Jeff’s and Nick’s backslaps and more restrained four-way embrace before they piled into the armchairs he and Blaine had just been forceably snuggled out of.
Sugar didn’t miss a beat. She swept the bags she’d dumped onto the settee in order to free her arms for assaulting them off onto the floor, pushed Blaine and Sebastian onto it, and struck a very delicate perch on the ottoman nearby. Then she launched into an enthusiastic account of every single thing she and her family (of both the organized crime and the traditional nature) had done this summer.
That’s how quickly things could go from ‘acceptable’ to ‘okay, this may cause a complication’ (or from ‘good’ to ‘bad’ or vice versa, depending upon whether you asked Sebastian’s dick or his heart) when Sebastian was around these people.
The scent of Blaine in Sebastian’s nose, subtle cologne and clean skin and raspberry hair gel, wasn’t acceptable if Sebastian was going to stay true to his personal vow not to flirt with Blaine too heavily for at least the first twenty-four hours of their renewed friendship. Blaine’s strong, warm thigh pressed so firmly against Sebastian’s was sure to create a complication of the ‘think about your second stepmother in that disgusting green bikini if you want to stand up’ variety eventually.
But being that close to Blaine, after so long of not even seeing him... or only seeing him in passing, across a room, at Blaine’s reluctance-
Yeah, that was good. The way Blaine kept almost looking at him, bashfully half-smiling like he wasn’t sure whether he should acknowledge how closely they were sitting together - but he absolutely couldn’t ignore it - that. That was very good. Especially if Sebastian didn’t think too hard about it.
Eventually Blaine’s more-than-best-but-still-platonic friend Sam Evans added his voice to the conversational choir, with a boom of song from across the ballroom as he came through the doors wearing jeans with his blazer, shirt and tie.
“They didn’t let just anybody in that club... took every ounce of heart and sweat and blood to get to wear those game-day jerseys down the hall...” Sam sang, turning 360 and pointing at his own lapels to show off his red pipes, while some of their group (which had continued to grow unnoticed by Sebastian) whooped and applauded.
Sebastian rolled his eyes, but his laughter really only was half because of Blaine’s excitement right beside him.
Of course Evans would pick a country song as his first impromptu songburst of the year. (The Warblers were always, invariably bursting out into song. They sang to one another to communicate sometimes more than they talked. Sebastian could never decide whether he finds this endearing or humiliating. Either way, it’s not like he didn’t indulge himself. When in Rome, after all...)
And of course Blaine would be thrilled to join Sam in a song, whatever the musical genre of choice.
“I got your number, I got your back when your back’s against the wall...” he jumped up and sang back before getting caught up in Sam’s full-body hug with a laugh.
“Sam Evans,” Unique’s bubbly voice cut through the noise. “Not all of us are boys.” Marley Rose and Sugar chimed in with some playful ‘boo’s.
“Come on, girls, you know I don’t mean it like that,” Sam clarified after he’d accepted and returned ‘hey, man’s and ‘how are you’s with most of their group - even though he knew Unique and the others had only been teasing. “I meant, like, figurative boys. Like, the way ‘mankind’ means girls too.”
Sebastian’s not sure how that was supposed to help a poppy country tune about football better fit their co-ed choir, but when Sam winked at Unique and corrected one line with, “Young boys dream about the boys of fall...” he knew it didn’t really matter.
Unique let her faux pout drop and laughed out loud.
“Damn right they do,” Sebastian couldn’t help but say. That got Blaine to roll his eyes at Sebastian, but the eye-roll came with another wide grin, so Sebastian counted it as another good sign.
In other words, everybody was in pretty high spirits on the first day of their final year at Dalton as students.
Even after Kitty Wilde arrived, filling Sebastian’s void among the fashionably late.
“Hey, bitches... Ready to make my senior year the very best year yet?” Kitty shouted loud enough to be heard over everyone else’s concurring conversations. (Loud enough to be heard by Professor Schuester, at the faculty table, who glanced sharply in their direction with a frown.)
And the high only heightened after the headmaster finally dismissed the seniors to their separate makeshift dining halls, and the Warblers dispersed - to the stately drawing room just west of the ballroom, where their late lunch (and the particulars in their mailboxes) awaited.
After they ate, they’d be getting their class schedules out of their mailboxes. They’d find out whether they’d be sitting in on Schuester’s Applied Practices for Songwriting before or after their block of core subjects (math, science, literature and composition), and what order they’d be attending their afternoon classes in - Improving Vocal Range with Blaine’s boyfriend’s stepbrother Finn, a recent Dalton graduate; Mixing Musical Genres and Set Planning, both also with Mr. Schue; and Introduction to Dance with Dalton’s most insane instructor, Professor Sylvester.
(They’d been told last year that this year they’d be performing sets from the Broadway musical Newsies throughout the year and at competition - and they knew their classes with “Coach” Sylvester would be anything but introductory. “Anybody can dance,” she’d said to them when someone - who, unsurprisingly, had been cut from the program shortly thereafter - had complained that high school choirs never performed the sets from Newsies. The choreography involved gave most university-level dance students anxiety attacks. “All you’ve got to do is work hard, dance when you’d rather be eating or sleeping... but not bathing. I won’t have any of you nancies slipping in the shower and busting a hip on my watch, and I’m not sitting in an auditorium with you filthy animals unbathed. Also, you’ve got to get over this namby-pamby fear so many of you lazy little babies have of breaking something or pulling something executing a perfectly arched barrel turn on the heels of a spectacular split leap without any prior acrobatic or gymnastic training whatsoever.” When someone had suggested they ask the dance students do the choreography for them while the Warblers sang, Coach Sylvester shattered a metronome and bent two music stands completely in half.
They were hoping to take her class last.)
They’d also be getting their list of weekly practice times and the details of the special performances the senior Warblers helped the theater and dance students put on for the rest of the school every Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Spring.
Once classes kicked off, and they began putting together their first set list, lunches would become less predictable and more sedate. Most of them would eat side by side as if they were sitting on opposite sides of the room rather than while in the proximity to rub elbows, separated by ear buds spouting out prospective set pieces and binders full of sheet music. Sam would spend every other lunch in his favorite armchair in one corner, strumming at the acoustic guitar he took almost everywhere, and balancing his food on every available surface in arm’s reach. Kitty liked holding court in this one winged back on the opposite side of the room. She’d make whoever she could cow into eating while sitting on footstools or on the floor near her seat give her their ideas for which songs should be put on the new set list so she could pick their suggestions apart and mock any outlandish choices. Sometimes she even coerced some poor underclassmen to sneak back into the senior Warblers’ dining hall and give her mani pedis. To Sebastian’s knowledge, she’d never once paid to have her nails done, not in four years of Sadie Hawkins’ Day balls and almost as many Spring Cotillions.
The first lunch of the year, though, was as boisterous as any meal between all of them was going to be that year - save for after show choir competitions or one of the performances many of them helped the theater kids put on twice a year. That day, everyone focused on each other. They shared summer experiences, senior year resolutions, college plans, and idle gossip.
Sebastian had taken his seat by Sugar and across from Artie, taking it in stride when Blaine dropped into the empty seat to his other side, like it was no big deal. He saw Sam take the seat to the other side of Blaine and nod in Sebastian’s direction.
“I mean, but why though?” Marley said, when talk - inevitably - turned, across the whole table, to the upcoming year. “Coach Sylvester doesn’t even like musicals.”
“Somebody probably just told her we couldn’t,” Sebastian heard Ryder say. He’d been pretending to listen to Trent ramble about the Cincinnati zoo and his Nana’s beloved labradoodle. (While listening in for whatever had fleetingly put a quiet, pensive look on Blaine’s face. When Sebastian tuned in, Sam was talking about his ex, Mercede’s, exploits in NYC.)
“Yeah, because we can’t,” Jake said. “The choreography’s a fucking nightmare. I say so, and I’ve taken some dance classes.”
Beneath the disparate conversations petering out around the table, Sebastian could just hear Unique lightly chiding Jake with a flick of her napkin in his direction. “Language, big boy.”
“Oh, please. That shuffling around and twirling Professor July had us do last year?” Kitty was quick to add in. “Those were hardly classes. If any of you had had the foresight to join me in taking Coach Sue’s elective dance lab, you wouldn’t be peeing your granny panties right now because we’re going to do something truly competition-worthy this year.”
Kitty had been Coach Sylvester’s staunchest defender since taking that lab last February. Her only one among the Warblers. Sylvester had taught dance exclusively up until last year, when the school had brought in Cassandra July to take over a couple of her mixed classes.
Sebastian was sure the headmaster had genuinely done it to help lighten Coach Sylvester’s workload. And probably so that he could brag to parents that Dalton’s programs are so good, Broadway legends like July were lining up to assist their professors like it was an honor.
The Warblers hadn’t cared much for the drama that ensued in the dance department, but it was impossible to miss the highlights of Coach Sylvester’s epic protest (/emotional breakdown.) Body canons were involved. And attack dogs.
Maybe Kitty had had foresight in getting into Sylvester’s good graces, because after that the consequently defrocked Sylvester became the Warblers’ drama. Afraid to fire her, the headmaster had given Sylvester the choreography classes for the Warblers, and had given their former choreography instructor to July as her assistant.
“I just wish she could have chosen something with a more diverse cast list," Artie said, pushing his empty plate away. “Half our costuming budget is going to go to dressing all the girls up in drag."
“Hey, honey,” Unique pitched in. “Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it.” And there was a lot of giggling at that, although Sebastian caught Kitty sticking out her tongue like she’d swallowed a bug. Unique had gotten pretty good at ignoring Kitty.
Blaine shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
“At least you’re a shoe-in for a solo,” Unique said, more seriously. “The rest of us poor fools have to scrap for our share of the spotlight.”
“Uh, yeah, because of typecasting,” Artie huffed, gesturing around himself at his chair. “I passed her in the headmaster’s office this morning, and she called me Crutchy.” In a quieter voice, he turned to Tina and asked, “You don’t think she thinks that’s my actual name, do you?”
“I’m pretty sure she thinks it is now.”
“Anyway, you won’t have to “scrap”, Wade,” Kitty said, calling attention back to herself. (Again.) “After all of those ridiculously over-the-top serenades you and Ryder subjected us to last spring, Schue was practically creaming his pants about getting you two to sing together this year.”
Sebastian secretly agreed that the serenades had been too much. (Blaine had loved them.) But he was way past Kitty’s fucking bigotry. If he was disgusted by the love sap Unique and Ryder had felt compelled to spray all over their goddamned school last year, it was because the whole thing - and Ryder’s en media res am-I-gay freakout - had struck Sebastian as unbearably hokey. Not because he gave a shit about Lynn’s sexuality or Unique’s gender.
Plus, Sebastian was pretty sure that getting in touch with his softer side - or, more accurately, the less-dickish side of himself, which was probably as close to soft as any part of Sebastian ever got (pun intended) - had been part of the bargain he’d made last spring. At least, he was sure that’s how Blaine had interpreted his own freakout.
“I heard you two finally figured things out,” Sebastian said, loudly enough for Ryder and Unique to hear him at that end of the table (and Blaine, going still at Sebastian’s side, unless Sebastian was imagining things). “About time.”
It was a pretty good save - if Sebastian did say so himself. The tense pause that had dropped over the table at Kitty’s crass misnomer lifted, and there were a few twitters - a couple of sighs - from across the table.
Ryder smiled and nodded in thanks in Sebastian’s direction, and even Unique looked somewhat soothed. “Thank you, Sebastian,” she said sweetly.
Blaine was beaming, Sebastian could see him out the corner of his eye, even though Blaine’s face was turned - the last bites of his caesar salad apparently having become suddenly fascinating. That was all the thanks Sebastian needed.
It hadn’t actually been a good idea. Not on a personal level. But when had that ever stopped him from doing something, when it came to Blaine?
“Oh, yeah, and speak of things that are unnatural,” Kitty pounced like the animal of the same name. “When did this happen?” she asked, waving her hand.
Of course she was looking directly at him and Blaine.
“Kitty...” he could hear Jake trying to derail that train, but Kitty ignored him.
“I see the Cold War is over. Does Princess Gayface know, Anderson? Or are you and Bas keeping it on the downlow from your bae?”
Of course Kitty couldn’t tiptoe around the elephant in the room, like every else had so far.
In the chaos of the ballroom, Sebastian understands - it was crazy in there, and everyone had been excited to see one another again. But here in their own space, when Blaine could have chosen any of half a dozen other chairs that had been empty at the moment, he had chosen the one right by Sebastian.
But noone had said anything. If anyone had cast them curious looks, Sebastian had carefully made a point of not looking for them.
“I think it’s so sweet!” Sugar announced, curling one hand around Sebastian’s tricep, bubblegum pink-tipped nails bright against the blue of Sebastian’s blazer sleeve. She smiled around him at Blaine with equally pink lips stretched wide. “Both my boys are good friends again! Now our senior year is really going to be fun!”
“Oh, I’m sure Sebastian is looking for fun,” Kitty said with a dirty little grin.
Blaine was slowly turning pink again - a sight not at all satisfying when Sebastian could tell the blush was of true discomfort. (And not because of Sebastian.)
“We’re just friends, Kitty,” Blaine said quietly.
He was always quiet in the face of Kitty’s obnoxiousness - far past the point he would have been quiet and polite with anyone else. Sebastian didn’t know if it was some kind of fucked up form of solidarity (Kitty and Blaine were two of the few senior Warblers who’d been at Dalton all four of their high school years. Most of them had transferred in sophomore year, when Dalton started offering scholarships to the arts programs at the public schools in Westerville and its neighboring towns.) If so, Kitty certainly didn’t share the sentiment.
“Riiight,” Kitty said, with exaggerated disbelief. And then she turned her talons on Sebastian. “Well, if I were you, Blaine - if you sleep with Sebastian, as in sleep with him - I would sleep with one eye open. Hmm. Or... not. That might just give Sebastian ideas.”
It was low, and unnecessary, and exactly the kind of thing Kitty was always saying when she didn’t have something more important to channel her energy into besides her sharp tongue.
“Kitty, you’re a real bitch sometimes, you know that?” Jake said.
Sebastian appreciated the assist.
But he didn’t need it.
“Nah,” he said, like he was honestly amused Kitty had deigned to grace him and Blaine and their mixed history with her wit. “It was a bargain basement burn at most. But then, basic is what you’re best at, isn’t it Kitty? Which is why you have such a jealous hard on for Blaine.”
It wasn’t Sebastian’s best burn, either, but it wasn’t bad for something he’d had to think of on the fly.
And he was supposed to be playing nice these days. He even earned a small smile from Blaine with his.
Marley said something to distract Kitty, and conversations across the table crept back to several different subjects, but Sebastian’s focus stayed on Blaine.
“Oh, yeah, dude,” Sam leaned in closer to Blaine and said quietly enough not to carry back to Kitty. “I stopped by my room, and fucking Rory was in there, bro.
“No offense, Rory,” Sam leaned back and said loud enough to carry in the opposite direction.
“None taken, mate,” Rory’s thick brogue answered back without question.
Then Sam leaned back in and dropped his voice again. “They didn’t room us together this year. Senior year! And they didn’t put Blam in the same room! What the hell, right?”
Blam - as in Blaine and Sam. They’d roomed together for the last two years, and apparently the friendship that had been born as a result had spawned a portmanteau. If Sam hadn’t been inexplicably (tragically - with lips like those) straight, Sebastian would have had a jealous hard on himself.
Sebastian watched Blaine put two and two together - Kitty’s talk about sleeping, with Sam’s comment, with who he may or may not have seen settling into the dorms that morning.
“Sebastian, what room are you in?”
“I haven’t brought my things in yet, but... second floor. Last room on the right?” Sebastian said, as if he didn’t know perfectly well. He’d left his boxes in the commisary. The rest of his suitcases in his car. He’d spent the summer musing over and dreading the fall by turns, wondering if Blaine would keep the promise he’d made last spring. If he’d have decided (Kurt had decided) it was a promise he ultimately couldn’t keep. Sebastian had planned what he would do if that was the case - had decided that he wouldn’t beg, like some pathetic puppy. Blaine was hot and all, and they’d even become real friends at some point - before things had gone to shit. But it wasn’t like Sebastian needed the guy’s favor for anything.
And then he’d changed his mind.
And then he’d gotten to the Aviary and decided to wait and see.
“Oh! You’re- You’re rooming with me,” Blaine said. And Sebastian spent two precious seconds wondering if that was pleasant surprise he saw in Blaine’s smile.
That’s what Sebastian had been brought to. Wavering back and forth like a total fucking basketcase. Then pathetically overanalyzing what Blaine had to say about the outcome.
Why had Sebastian agreed to his side of the bargain, after all?
“Huh.” Bargain or not, Sebastian was still Sebastian. He hadn’t totally lost his personality. “Sounds like fate just seriously wants to get you in my bedroom, Blaine Anderson.”
Blaine rolled his eyes at Sebastian for the second time in one day - in one hour.
But then he smiled at Sam and said, “I’m sure Blam will survive.”
Maybe he’d even have said it if Sebastian hadn’t been quite so nice.
Sebastian stands in front of the small, open cubbies carved out of oak and set into the far wall of the west drawing room reserved for Warbler senior meals now, inspecting each nameplate nailed to it, as if he’s likely to recognize even one of them after all this time.
Or maybe he’s looking for names he knows are never gonna be nailed their again. Some names no one will see anywhere, except as a reference to a memory.
“That conversation didn’t help your case, you know,” Jesse says, more to get Sebastian talking again than anything.
He’s gone quiet, eyes moving around the room like he’s seeing things that aren’t there to see. The chairs have been removed, sent away maybe to be reupholstered or just polished, but Jesse doubts the blank spaces Sebastian’s staring at now are chairs in his head.
If Jesse didn’t know better, he’d think Sebastian was enjoying being back in this place. The place that had sent him to prison - an adult prison, no less - before he was old enough to legally buy the fancy cognac he used to sneak down here to slip in his coffees.
“Gee, well, I guess I should have thought of that then, huh,” Smythe says, but distracted. “‘How will this sound when played back to me during a murder investigation’,” he parrots.
“My job would have been a lot easier if you kids would have thought that way.”
Smythe breaks out of his fugue to give Jesse a look - a look he’d seen once or twice back during that investigation.
Yeah, he knows he isn’t much older than the “kids” he’s talking about. Especially these days. He just feels that way.
“You bribed the guard at the gate. You kept the shirt. Was all of it on purpose?” Jesse asks. That’s his biggest question. And he knows he shouldn’t skip to it right away. Not with a guy like Smythe. He learned his lesson back then, when he thought sharing his suspicions would get Sebastian to open up, knowing Jesse was on his side.
But he for one isn’t enjoying being back at Dalton.
“We’ve been over all of that.”
“So tell me something we haven’t,” Jesse suggests. “You said you fought over the phone. After the guard changed his story, I couldn’t tell if that was true. Did he even see you that night?”
“Well, now, that would be skipping ahead.” And - for fuck’s sake - he’s smirking again.
Jesse sighs and prays for patience. Smythe had said he’d tell him the true story.
He hadn’t said he’d do it quickly.
“We need to go somewhere else,” Sebastian says. Because of course they do.
Jesse almost doesn’t want to know where.
“The Aviary. Come on,” Sebastian says and starts out of the room without waiting for Jesse to respond.
Not that he needs a response. What was Jesse going to do except follow? He’s followed Sebastian this far.
But he isn’t happy about it. They’re going to the Aviary... Great. That means they’ll have to take that goddamned staircase again.
Every year the Warblers had a set of four songs (a setlist) to choose, learn, practice and perfect over a time frame of roughly six weeks before competition. Every level of competition had to have a new setlist, and every new setlist had to be exponentially stronger and more complex than the one that came before.
Dalton actually sent out two teams to compete every year, a mixed troupe of freshmen, sophomores and juniors and the senior choir.
Since their Regionals set list had already been chosen, and would include only songs from one specific Broadway musical, the Warblers decided to make Broadway the theme of all of their others set, as well.
Because apparently singing anything stressed and strained by Coach Sylvester’s grueling choreographical training, and Finn’s surprisingly demanding vocal lessons, just wasn’t challenging enough.
“I’m just saying, it’s a classic.”
“It’s been doooone, Tina,” Artie moaned, in the tone of someone who’d been countering this argument for a lot longer than Sebastian aware it had begun. “Done, done, to death.”
“She just wants to see Rory in a wig and one of Coach Sue’s tracksuits,” Kitty said, casually braiding Marley’s hair.
It looked like she was actually doing something nice for someone else for once, if you didn’t count how many times Marley winced in a minute as she did it.
“Which she would kill him for, by the way,” she added, popping her gum.
“And the rest of us,” Ryder agreed.
“Haven’t all of the classics sort of been done to death, though?” Marley said kindly, aiming one of her soft smiles at Tina, who was outwardly pouting. “If we want to do Broadway, we’re going to do something that’s been done. Unless we do something contemporary-”
“Dear Evan Hansen,” someone said immediately, and then, “Ow! What was that for?”
“That was for not saying Hamilton first,” said someone else.
“Hamilton...” Blaine sighed dreamily, squeezing Sebastian’s arm like the cast of Hamilton had arrived in the flesh.
“Life doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints...,” he sang out loudly.
“It takes and it takes and it takes!” about half a dozen voices sang back at him.
“Can we even do Hamilton?” Ryder asked, as if this was perfectly normal behavior. Which, for the Warblers... was valid. “And Deer- And that other one?”
Kitty’s eyes narrowed like she was thinking about throwing Marley’s hairbrush at him.
“I bet Coach Sylvester could get the license,” Unique said, narrowing her eyes back as if to say, ‘Bitch, try me.’ “One way or the other.”
“I bet she’s already blown our entire licensing budget on Newsies,” Artie guessed.
No one could argue against the likelihood of that.
“Okay, how about this?” Blaine began. And Sebastian really tried not to be too obvious about how hot it made him.
Blaine had become cautious about putting himself out there over the years. Sebastian knew this, and he hadn’t even been around before Blaine had begun dating Kurt. It had been particularly painful to watch near the end of last year - how Blaine had nearly withdrawn into a Kurt-approved shell. After Sebastian had lost even his chance to tell Blaine what a fucked up thing that was for someone who claimed to love you to just watch happen.
Over the past month, Sebastian felt like he’d been watching the exact opposite - and it was never more obvious than when Blaine spoke up in class, took the lead during one of these semi-productive, unofficial Warbler gatherings - when he took charge during practice.
“How about we each choose one song from one classic Broadway play and one song from a contemporary Broadway play?” Blaine suggested. “Don’t think about licensing or any of that stuff... Just pick something with lyrics that speak to you.”
“How is that different from what Schue’s already making us do in his stupid Musical Genres and Set Planning classes?” Kitty asked.
“It’s different because Mr. Schue never assigns us anything that we actually end up using at competition,” Artie answered before Sebastian could say anything. “I mean, I love the guy. But I have no idea how singing our favorite pop song is supposed to help us ‘discover the themes you want to find in the showtunes you’d like to perform.’”
Blaine nodded at Artie in thanks. “When you’ve chosen your songs, choose which lines you think are the most important in each song and write them down,” he told the Warblers sitting or lying around the section of courtyard between Dalton Main and the Aviary that they’d more or less claimed as their own for outdoor lunches and these meetings. “It’ll probably be easier to narrow down all of our options if we look at specific lyrics instead of trying to compare everything to everything else all at once.”
Simple enough, right? But thinking small wasn’t something that naturally occurred to choir kids - even for the sake of something bigger.
“Okay, fine, but I’m still doing Mathilda,” Tina said.
“Tina,” Artie groaned.
“You tell ‘em, Killer,” Sebastian told Blaine when he wandered back to the bench where his and Sebastian’s books were piled to grab a composition book and a pen.
After a year of responding to Sebastian’s meaningless flirtation with reluctant charm, half a year of honor-driven protests and then half a year of complete radio silence... Sebastian had come to enjoy the new way Blaine had slowly started to respond this year.
He was Sebastian’s bashful schoolboy, as ever, but he’d begun to own the role. Blaine didn’t hide his flushed face or fluttering lashes from Sebastian these days. If he wasn’t lost in some pensive thought - which he did get, from time to time - he smiled right in Sebastian’s face. ‘I see exactly what you’re doing,’ his little laughs seemed to say.
Caged by his own vow to turn over a leaf - to not push people, especially Blaine, too far or too hard - this new delineation of Blaine’s limits was driving Sebastian crazy. It made him feel like he was the one being pushed, even though Blaine’s brand of flirting back was never as out there as Sebastian’s.
“Did you have any better ideas, Sebastian?” Blaine challenged him. He was fucking adorable when he stood like that.
Three days a week, seniors were required to schedule some athletic activity with the Dalton campus trainer, Coach Beiste, and the end of the lunch hour on Tuesdays meant half of the Warblers, including Sebastian, had workouts to get to.
So Sebastian was already packed up to leave, as several of the others were in the process of doing.
“Just one,” Sebastian told him with a wink. He’d torn the bottom two lines off of a sheet of lined paper and scribbled the lines before he could make himself overthink them.
Blaine had been the one to ask for them. And he was just as likely to take them as another tease as anything else.
Sebastian dropped the slip of paper on top of the open composition book in Blaine’s hands and walked away before he had the chance to overthink Blaine’s reaction to it as well.
He’d written some slightly bastardized lines from Hamilton: ‘Love doesn’t descriminate between the sinners and the saints... and if there’s a reason I’m by your side, I’m willing to wait for it’.