Dalton Academy is a beautiful school with a lovely campus, a rich history of producing some of the best minds of the country, and a stellar reputation as prestigious school for young men. In 2009, Dalton was ranked as third best private preparatory boarding school in the Midwest. Historically-speaking, Dalton has a tradition for sending many of its students to elite East Coast universities. Even today, it continues to send many of its graduates to some of the country’s best colleges and universities.
Unfortunately, Dalton today also has its own fair share of problems. Many of them are quite common to private schools across the nation such as lower enrollment and a worrisome decline in donations from family and alumnae, but namely, its major problem is asbestos.
Dalton has the worst possible case of asbestos reported in an educational institution in history. Courtesy of WikiLeaks.
As it turns out, to say that Dalton parents tend not to take news like the fact they’re paying $25,000 a year for their sons to be educated in an unsafe toxicant-filled environment (where they are quite liable to develop medical issues) very well would be an understatement.
They don’t take the news well at all.
And that is why Dalton Academy closed down after losing most of its formerly generous endowment with out-of-court settlement cases with the families of the students.
An overwhelming number of the local students transfer to McKinley High School out of convenience; a temporary situation until their parents can figure out a better alternative, but it’s not like Ohio has a lot of options on the education front. The fact that McKinley High is their best option speaks volumes.
Kurt is convinced that this is going to be an utter shitshow and he has front-row seats.
Standing at the far end of the McKinley High parking lot, Kurt watches as the early arrival students start filing into the school building. He clutches his drink from Lima Bean like it’s a lifeline.
It’s not even that cold; the weather being freakishly warm for winter (thank you global warming), but the warmth of his grande non-fat mocha is comforting since he’s not exactly thrilled about being back.
Not even the freedom of being able to wear his own clothes again is making him feel better. Although it is nice to be able to wear his favorite pair of Docs, black skinny jeans, a striped black and grey henley, and his favorite McQueen scarf again.
Kurt figures that he might as well keep it simple - maybe if he does, it would make the transition back easier, he won’t stick out as much. Maybe Karofsky won’t see him with all the new transfers –
“Hey,” a familiar voice from behind says warmly. Kurt doesn’t even have to turn around to know who just gently nudged him in the side with an elbow. “So, this is it.”
Blaine’s clutching his own coffee – medium drip, his usual – and is smiling so disarmingly that Kurt isn’t quite sure how tell Blaine that he has no idea what he just signed up for by transferring to McKinley.
Or how to tell Blaine that if he continues to dress like a model from the J.Crew catalog; he’s essentially making himself a walking a target for slushie facials. His outfit screams ‘Hello, I am the very model of a high school prep boy who is entirely out of his element.’
Blaine is wearing an honest-to-god polo shirt with khakis.
Maybe it’s a little mean of him, but Kurt is starting to understand why Blaine had been bullied at his old school; he suspects that Blaine will get slushied before he even makes it to homeroom.
Thankfully, Mercedes pulls up into the parking spot next to his Navigator.
She’s the one who brings it up. She eyes Blaine’s outfit and immediately shakes her head. “Oh, hell no.” She makes a general gesture, up and down, at Blaine’s body, and shakes her head again for extra emphasis.
Kurt has to muffle a giggle.
God, he has missed her.
“I don’t understand.” Blaine’s eyebrows are pulled together into a quizzical frown. “Is there something wrong with my clothes?” He cranes his neck backwards, as though checking to see if there’s a ‘Kick me’ sign taped to his back or the designer tag sticking out.
The sight is actually kind of endearing.
“Everything’s wrong with it.” Mercedes frowns at him. “Please tell me you brought a change of clothes – Kurt did tell you about our slushie tradition, right?”
“I have a t-shirt and a pair of jeans in my backpack,” Blaine replies slowly, still looking mildly bewildered. “I don’t think I understand. What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?”
Kurt decides to cut to the chase: “You need to re-evaluate your sartorial choices,” he informs him, gesturing at the collar of Blaine’s red polo. “You look like you should be golfing in a country club somewhere. Also, the popped collar kind of makes you look like a douche.” He adds that last part semi-apologetically.
All in all, Kurt supposes Blaine takes his advice rather well; he unpops the collar, zips up his generic-looking red hoodie. While he still appears to be incredibly confused, he doesn’t appear to be too offended by the douche comment.
Kurt’s about to say something – he doesn’t quite know what, but something reassuring and mentor-like (turn-around fair play, Blaine’s on Kurt’s territory now) like “don’t worry” or “just follow my lead” when besides him, Mercedes sucks in a breath and actually groans.
“Good Lord, Kurt.”
When he turns, Mercedes jerks her thumb in the direction of a handful of cars that had just pulled into the nearby parking spaces. Dalton students and Warblers alike are emerging from their vehicles and Kurt swears that his heart stopped for a moment, but not in a good ‘Gorgeous boy is singing a song about eloping and skintight jeans at me in the senior commons' way.
“Actually, you’re fine,” Kurt tells Blaine, choking a little on his words. “You are totally, totally fine. You don’t even need the sweatshirt.”
Jeff’s blond hair makes him easy to spot in any crowd, but the Warbler is also wearing a truly atrocious blue argyle sweater and faded denims and Kurt thinks that with the sunlight reflecting off Jeff’s bright hair and all, he might be going blind.
Thad steps out from the passenger seat and he’s wearing a black sunglasses, black leather jacket a size too small, acid-washed jeans with a basket-ball sized hole at one of the knees, and the fugliest pair of brown western boots that Kurt has even seen.
Some of the other guys are dressed just as badly; a number of them appeared to have just shrugged on their Dalton uniform this morning. Not the blazers or grey trousers, thankfully, but the red sweater-vests.
Oh dear god, the sweater-vests.
Kurt is simultaneously impressed and horrified to see that Wes somehow managed to acquire a blazer that looks like a replica of their usual school uniform jacket. The only thing that appears to be missing is the Dalton insignia.
For a moment, Kurt entertains the mental image of Wes painstakingly removing the Dalton coat of arms from the blazer by hand by candlelight. With needle and thread or a stapler remover or something.
Kurt takes it all in; the sight of all the horrifically dressed Dalton boys (well, horrifically dressed Dalton boys plus David and present company excluded) and their nice cars in the parking lot as they all head toward the school in droves.
A few of them wave at him, a gesture he returns, almost without thinking.
“Well, this is going to be an interesting day,” Kurt decides, already feeling like the rest of the day will be as ominous as this exact moment. He offers Mercedes his untouched coffee (who accepts gratefully) and gestures for Blaine to follow him to the main office – “Come on, I can show you where your locker is.”
During third period Trigonometry, their math teacher doesn't even bother to ask the Dalton transfers to identify themselves. Their slushie-stained clothing and traumatized expressions made it quite obvious.
(It also helped that all of them decided to sit in the front row.)
"Welcome to McKinley High gentlemen," Mr. Grabowski greets them, not unkindly. He looks genuinely puzzled."I'm not sure if you were aware, but we actually do not have much of a dress code here."
Kurt is trying really hard not to laugh because he's not a completely terrible person. But it's still very, very difficult.
Especially since it seems like all the guys had subconsciously chosen to wear Dalton colors.
He tries to think of sad things: dead puppies, world poverty, the collective wardrobe of everyone on Jersey Shore. Beside him, Blaine mutters, "Wow, remind me to never wear a sweater-vest. That's like a walking bulls-eye."
"Out of curiosity, do you have anything in your wardrobe that's not white, navy blue, or red?" Blaine hesitates for a moment, but that's all the confirmation Kurt needs. "After glee rehearsal today, I'm taking you clothes shopping. You won't stand a chance if you keep wearing your school colors."
"I don't think that's really necessary - "
"Trust me," Kurt interrupts, shaking his head. "Bring your credit card." Then he nudges Blaine and tells him to pay attention to the white board.
From beside him, Mercedes stills and even Blaine halts, although he looks adorably confused as to what's going on.
Kurt wishes he had the foresight to warn Blaine about Sue Sylvester. Unfortunately, neither Coach Sylvester or his stint on the Cheerios had been easy topics to bring up in conversation back at Dalton.
He has to will himself to not appear completely terrified when he turns around. "Yes, Coach?"
She looks him up and down, then after a moment, nods approvingly. "Excellent. You're back on the Cheerios. If Karofsky gives you any trouble, let me know. I've been trained by the KGB and I've been blackmailing Figgins to let me use my training on students for months." She takes one look at Blaine, jerks her thumb at Blaine's person, and informs Kurt, "Keep your eye on this one, Porcelain. His hair is so wild that I would not be surprised if it was filled with secrets. Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if he's the one who caused the asbestos problem at your school from the ungodly amount of American Crew products he uses."
And with that, Coach Sylvester marches off to interrogate a non-Cheerio for drinking a protein shake that looks suspiciously like the one from her top secret recipe book.
"You're back on the Cheerios?" Mercedes doesn't even bother to hide her disbelief.
"I guess I am." Kurt swallows; trying to remember how to breathe normally."I suppose this means I can stop attending my bi-weekly Bikram yoga class. I'll be getting a full body work out every day."
"Did she just compare my hair to Gretchen Weiners'?" Blaine asks; his voice going high and maybe vaguely hysterical/incredulous at the name of the Mean Girls character. "And did she just imply that my hair is solely responsible for the asbestos problem at Dalton?"
"You'll get used to it," Mercedes tells him reassuringly. "And you have to admit, the asbestos thing is straight out of something from Buffy. I actually don't blame Ms. Sylvester for being a little suspicious."
Blaine does not look reassured. At all. He actually looks like he's stuck between informing them that their high school is crazy and protesting that Coach Sylvester had said made no sense whatsoever.
Kurt takes that as a cue to gently tug him to the general direction of the cafeteria. "Lunch. If you close your eyes and pretend that you're in a post-apocalyptic setting where food is scarce, the food is almost edible. The salad options are okay."
"It's Chicken Tenders Day," Mercedes adds, beaming. Kurt glares at her - knowing she's only saying that to get a rise out of him, but Blaine immediately brightens at the news.
"Awesome, I love chicken tenders," Blaine says cheerfully, completely oblivious to the way he's making Kurt die a little inside. "Hey, maybe if I eat enough of them I can actually justify buying brand new wardrobe after school. And Kurt, why didn't you tell me you were a cheerleader?"
Ah, Kurt had hoped Blaine had missed that, but then Blaine continues admiringly, "That's impressive."
Mercedes shoots him a look behind Blaine's back that manages to express, quite clearly, 'Seriously, what on earth is keeping you two boys from dating? You two are so perfect for each other; it's creeping me out.'
Kurt rolls his eyes and returns her look, 'Sweetheart, you're preaching to the choir.'
They hook arms, double-checked to make sure the coast is clear (Artie's text:dude puckheads bsy stringing jacob up the flagpole), and head towards the lunch-room.
It takes them a better part of their forty minute lunch period, but Kurt and Mercedes (with interjections and anecdotes from Tina, Mike, Rachel, Finn, Artie, Brittany - and okay almost all of New Directions that they managed to squeeze into a too-small lunch table) manage to fill Blaine in on Coach Sylvester.
"She's insane," Blaine says, looking appropriately horrified after Quinn finishes her story. It's something about how Coach Sylvester wanting to shoot Brittany out of a cannon ("Yes Blaine, we're well aware of that," Kurt replies dryly)."She's absolutely insane and a terrible teacher. Kurt," Blaine turns to him, "Why does she like you so much?"
"Because I gave her a make-over."
"Yes, she was Madonna and looked fantastic. Oh, and I helped her win Nationals last year. Now with her top Cheerios gone," Kurt studiously avoids making eye contact with Quinn or Brittany. He might be a bitch sometimes, but he's not stupid - he's not about wish himself a death sentence. From prior experience, ex-Cheerios have been known to be very sensitive about getting kicked off the squad so he's not taking any risks. "I suspect she's plotting something. I have no idea what since the Cheerios are out of running for Nationals this year."
"Maybe she wants to keep a closer eye on you," Tina suggests. "She took it personally that the school board over-turned Karofsky's expulsion. She even ranted about it on Sue's Corner a few times."
From a table in front of them, Kurt spots Thad sadly poking at the mystery meat with a plastic spork. "Would it be terribly uncool for me to start brown bagging my lunch?"
David looks sympathetic; but shakes his head no over his limp salad. "I don't think that you would even make it to home-room before getting No.7 red dye all over your clothes."
Thad stares at his tray, looking almost offended. "I am most certain that my mashed potatoes just winked at me."
"That's rough, buddy," David says, stabbing a piece of yellowing lettuce with his plastic utensils.
Kurt knew that glee would be interesting when he walks into rehearsal and the first thing he sees Santana is cornering Dan, Andrew, and Jeff with a predatory expression.
From the looks of things; it seems like she's propositioning one (or all of them).
Per usual, everyone's off doing their own thing before Mr. Schue arrives. Unsurprisingly, most of the Warblers are terribly unsettled by the organized chaos. And the presence of girls.
Mike and Tina are laughing in the corner, heads bent over Tina's phone. Quinn and Mercedes appear to be in deep conversation over The Vampire Diaries (when she spots him, Mercedes waves and points to the empty seat next to her that she specially reserved just for him; Kurt feels his heart swell a little at that). They keep eyeing all the Warblers with amused, mildly tolerant expressions.
Finn and Rachel are all wrapped up in each other in the front row, being adorable, and Kurt can honestly say that he's relieved that they've gotten back together. It makes the two of them so much more bearable when they're not complaining to him about each other. Bizarrely enough, Blaine's willingly sitting next to Rachel and he shows no sign of wanting to projectile vomit from the overload of PDA.
While most of the Warblers are standing around looking awkward (there aren't enough chairs for everyone and some of them act they expected there to be assigned seats or something), Kurt spots Wes sitting a couple seats over from Rachel. He keeps alternating between shooting curious looks at Santana's back and checking the clock on the wall with a puzzled sort of grimace.
Right. Kurt has almost forgotten how Mr. Schue and New Direction rehearsals often run late.
Kurt heaves a sigh, clutches the strap of his Marc Jacobs satchel, and makes his way over to the back. Mercedes flashes him a smile and puts a comforting arm around his shoulder when he sits down. "Managed to ditch the Secret Service?"
"Please don't remind me." When they found out that he's transferring back; Puck, Sam, and Artie became dead set on being his bodyguards so Kurt wouldn't have any unexpected run-ins with Karofsky. They immediately implemented a buddy system: someone from New Directions had to be with Kurt at all times.
And while Kurt's quietly touched and awed that they had his back, to say it made trips to the men's room awkward would be an understatement. "I made a run for it when Sam, Puck, and Artie got into an argument about video games outside the chemistry lab."
"They mean well," Quinn supplies helpfully, brushing a piece of wavy hair behind her ear.
Kurt's about to interrogate her on her preferred brand of hairspray but Mr. Schue arrives, holding a stack of sheet music. He has Puck, Artie, and Sam in tow. The guys have extra metal folding chairs.
"Hey guys," Mr. Schue beams, smiling at all of them. The noise level in the room drops slightly as people scramble for seats. "We have a lot of new faces here today joining New Directions. Since we already know you guys can sing, I think that having auditions would be a bit redundant. Instead, I think today we're going to focus on narrowing down our selections for Regionals. I just found an amazing Journey song that I'm sure - uh, yes, you are...?"
Wes drops his hand. "Wes, sir. Wesley Lee."
Santana raises an eyebrow. "I'm sorry, your parents actually named you Wesley Lee?"
"Yes, and I can assure you that I have heard every variation of any joke you might make," Wes replies coolly, sounding slightly bitter ("Wow, touchy," Santana mutters from her seat, although that doesn't stop her from looking him up and down). "I'm sorry Mr. Schuester, but did I hear you correctly? Did you say narrowing down selections for Regionals? Does this mean New Directions doesn't have a set list?" He manages look both concerned and unimpressed by the news.
"Well, yes," Mr. Schue says, nodding. "We haven't really decided on anything just yet. Nothing's been set in stone."
"But Regionals is in a month!" Thad protests, outraged. "There's honestly no set list? None, whatsoever?"
"Just because we operate things differently," Rachel begins, voice sharp and very defensive over the low murmurings from the Warblers.
"This is absolute lunacy, how can we be adequately prepared when we don't know what we're sing - "
"Hey," Finn breaks in, frowning. "We managed to tie with you guys and we only finalized our song selections and half the choreography the Wednesday before!"
"What?" exclaimed at least half a dozen male voices.
"That's impossible. You must be joking - "
"We were finalizing the choreography up until the green room," Mike offers helpfully. "The backflip-throw was actually a last minute addition. Brittany and I only had the chance to practice it once before going on stage."
As he watches the chaos that unfolds in front of him, Kurt is certain that the emotion that he's feeling can be categorized as 'verklempt'. He leans back into his uncomfortable chair.
"You look so pleased right now," Mercedes comments dryly. "Care to share with the class, Kurt?"
"Nothing," Kurt snickers. At Quinn and Mercedes' doubtful look, he shakes his head. "Honest. Just - this - " he waves his arm to gesture at the scene before him, Rachel and Wes, head to head, yelling about the other's complete lack of professionalism, experience, and leadership skills as David and Finn trying to run interference between the two while Mr. Schue supervises. "This has been what I've been dealing with when I was at Dalton," he finishes, hoping they would understand.
His two crazy worlds are finally colliding and the trainwreck is glorious.
Kurt's just finished with his nightly moisturizing routine when he hears several loud raps on the door. "Come in!" he calls over his shoulder, while putting away his various lotions.
Finn is standing awkwardly at the door. "Hey," he says, smiling a little. "Just wanted to see if you're doing okay - with the transfer and all. It was kind of sudden."
"Today was fine," Kurt reassures him. "Puck and Sam made sure Karofsky and none of the puckheads or football players got anywhere near me."
Finn nods. "Good, I mean. That's great. Karofsky has been - no, he's still a jerk, but he's been pretty quiet since the championship game. I don't think he'll be giving you a lot of trouble, but let me know if he does."
"Okay." Kurt waits a few moments, but when Finn shows no sign of leaving, he sighs. He motions Finn to shut the door and take a seat at his desk. "So. What's on your mind?"
"It's - " Finn seems to be struggling to find the right words. "It's good to have you back. It sucks that your school got asientos - "
"Asbestos, Finn. Asbestos."
"Right, that. It sucks that it happened - even though it meant that we got all the tuition money back and our parents can go on a great honeymoon. But I think that although today's practice didn't go too well, that doesn't mean that everything won't turn out all right at Regionals. If you're worried about that."
"Trust me," Kurt snorts. "I can reassure you that I'm not at all worried about our chances at Regionals. With the Warbler's great vocal harmonies and New Direction's continually inventive choreography, Aural Intensity won't know what hit them. Even if Coach Sylvester's trying to sabotage us. I'm also sure that Blaine can keep everyone in check - he managed to keep Wes and Rachel from killing each other today which was a miracle by itself." He looks at Finn critically and frowns at Finn's thoughtful expression. "This... isn't about Regionals either, is it?"
"No," Finn takes a deep breath. "It's actually about Blaine. You like him a lot, huh?" He's looking at Kurt, really looking at him without any judgment, but with concern.
"Finn," Kurt sighs, taking a seat on his bed. He smiles wryly and plays with a loose thread of his red comforter. Then he confesses, with a touch of sarcasm:"My feelings for Blaine are so strong that I would unironically sing a Bruno Mars song to him."
When he looks up, he sees that Finn's wearing an expression that's half-sympathetic, half-confused, and maybe even a little hurt. "Relax, I thought that the song at the wedding was a very kind gesture. I appreciated the sentiment, even if the lyrics were oddly inappropriate for the situation."
"It's a great song!"
"You didn't change the pronouns," Kurt points out, wrinkling his nose and then face-planting into his pillow. "Ugh. Blaine never changes the pronouns or gender when he sings either. He says it ruins the integrity of the song or something. It's stupid. A little endearing - but stupid."
"Right," Finn says slowly. Kurt has a feeling Finn's probably giving him his best 'we're brothers now, so we can talk about stuff like this because I'm not actually an asshole' look. He doesn't bother to check. "Well, I'm sorry you're having guy problems? Uh, is there anything I can do? Would a glass of warm milk help?"
Without lifting his head, Kurt waves a hand. "It's fine. Thanks for caring, I don't mean to be melodramatic or anything - it's just, hard. You know, my two worlds colliding and exploding in a fiery mess. Warblers and New Directions teaming up. Karofsky. All the gay jokes from Santana. Finding out that your love interest cannot dress himself. And not only that, he has acquired himself a fag hag in the form of one Rachel Berry even though they once had a drunken make-out session that led to him questioning his own sexuality that resulted in our first actual fight."
"Plus he crashed in your bed that one time when he was really wasted," Finn agrees. "Burt wasn't too happy about that."
Kurt stifles a groan at the memory. "Finn, I appreciate your attempt to 'bond' with me and all, but please get out of my room so I can sulk in peace. Blaine's my best friend. He's also unsure about his feelings towards me.I'm dealing with it as best as I can right now."
When the door shuts quietly, Kurt hears low buzzing and he gropes for his schoolbag at the side of his bed.
He's not surprised to see a new text from Blaine when he fishes out his phone.
Blaine (9:58): After I told them about my new clothes, some of the other guys wanted to know if you were willing to be their fashion guru as well. This weekend, the mall? What do you say?
Kurt doesn't even think before replying that he's game (only with the condition that Blaine's also chaperoning the excursion). But the guys need to bring their credit cards and are responsible for providing their very own transportation.
The things he does for this boy. Honestly.