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Those Old Streetscapes

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When Kurt was a kid growing up in Ohio, New York had seemed impossibly far away, almost like it was another world entirely. Once he was old enough to drive, he realized that New York wasn’t beyond his grasp after all, and he’d begun plotting to escape from his little town with its little people and go to the big city where he wouldn’t be a freak anymore.

Now that he was standing on the crowded sidewalk waiting for Cat Deeley and the camera crew to appear and start doing pre-interviews, New York was starting to feel like a foreign country again.

His friends had offered to come with him into the city. His dad had offered to come, though Kurt was fairly sure that was more a case of his father worrying he was going to get himself killed than wanting to be there for his audition. Whatever his motivations, it had been tempting to say yes, just so Kurt wouldn’t have to face New York City on his own for the first time.

But in the end he knew this was something he needed to do alone, if only to prove to himself that he could leave Ohio and not fall flat on his face.

Then again, it was hard to feel alone in a crowd this size. The energy was contagious, and Kurt felt himself bouncing a little to the music blaring out of a portable stereo someone had brought along. There was a crew of street dancers showing off nearby, two guys and a girl all moving in sync. Kurt didn’t know much about break dancing, but he thought the Asian guy was doing that popping and locking thing they talked about on the show sometimes.

He was clearly the most gifted dancer of the three; it was easy to tell from the lines of his body that he’d done some classical training as well, and Kurt privately assumed that of the three of them, he’d be the one to make it onto the show. The girl wasn’t bad either, but she didn’t have the classical training the Asian guy did, and it was obvious she was used to relying on her sex appeal to sell her performance.

The second guy was the least polished of them all, but there was something about him that kept drawing Kurt’s eye. It might have been the ridiculous mohawk, or the way his baggy jeans seemed to be clinging to his hips out of sheer determination. It might have been his chiseled features, or even his delighted smile whenever one of his crew performed a particularly impressive trick. But there was something else about him too, a kind of charisma that drew the audience in and made them cheer for him even though he was obviously pretty raw.

He performed a complicated spin and then flipped himself back onto his feet, seemingly without ever touching the ground, and Kurt joined in with the rest of the crowd around them to give him a round of applause. The guy smiled, glancing up and locking eyes with Kurt for a second. It barely lasted the length of a heartbeat, but somehow that single look sent a thrill down Kurt’s spine he hadn’t felt in...well, ever. And he knew better than to think it meant anything, but it told him exactly what made this guy so compelling to watch in spite of the fact that he wasn’t trained at all.

He had it, that ubiquitous quality that Nigel and the other judges always talked about. That force that pulled people into his orbit, that made them want to watch him, no matter what he was doing. He commanded attention with his entire being, and Kurt had years of training under his belt, but that was the one thing he couldn’t learn.

When he realized he was staring Kurt flushed and looked away. It was sort of intimidating, being surrounded by so much talent, but he wasn’t about to let his confidence be shaken by some b-boy with too much testosterone and a little charisma. Kurt was a talented dancer and he knew it, and he had no doubt that he’d be sent straight through to Vegas as soon as the judges saw what he could do.

~

Once the auditions actually started they let the crowd into the auditorium to watch. Puck and his crew had already gotten a decent amount of time on-camera -- that was the whole point of putting on a show while they were waiting in line to get their numbers, after all -- and Cat Deeley herself had come out to talk to them. That was a good sign, Puck was pretty sure. It meant they’d probably end up on TV, even if they didn’t make the cut for the semi-finals, and that would make his little sister happy, anyway.

He was pretty sure Mike would get through. Mike was the best dancer Puck had ever seen, and he was the one who wanted it most, so Puck hoped he did make it. Puck wasn’t really expecting to go with him; he’d only been dancing for a couple years, mostly just messing around with Mike and the rest of their friends, and he knew he didn’t have the chops the rest of them did. They’d seen a bunch of really talented kids up on the stage already, and compared to them Puck was still an amateur.

The kid up on stage right now was pretty amazing. He was doing some kind of modern dance to a totally depressing song, the kind of routine that usually left at least one judge snotty and covered in mascara on the actual show. And the kid was good; he was throwing himself around like he was going to take flight any second, and even though he wasn’t that tall, he managed to make himself look bigger when he was on stage.

But he kept his eyes down the whole time, this kind of fierce, determined expression on his face, like he was so focused on the routine that he forgot he had an audience. All that intensity was kind of hot, but he wasn’t connecting with the judges, and Puck had seen enough of the show to know he was going to take a hit for that.

Sure enough, when he finished and walked up to the edge of the stage, cheeks flushed kind of pink and smoothing his hair back into place, Puck could tell just by the set of the judges’ backs that the kid wasn’t the shoe-in he probably thought he was.

“Kurt Hummel,” Nigel said, glancing down at the resume in front of him before he looked back up at the kid, “you’re from Ohio?”

“Lima,” Kurt said, and Puck had never heard of it, but it wasn’t like he knew anything about Ohio.

“Your technique is flawless,” Nigel said, and when Kurt’s mouth curved into a pleased little smile Puck winced in anticipation of the hit he was about to take. “Which is why I’m so disappointed at the lack of emotion in your performance.”

“I’m afraid I have to agree with Nigel,” the next judge said, some chick with blond hair Puck didn’t recognize. “You dance beautifully, so I wanted to feel the emotion you were conveying, but I just didn’t get that connection from you.”

The third judge, some guy with curly hair and a killer smile, said pretty much the same thing. He was still going on about dance being about the story you’re telling when Puck tuned him out, focusing instead on the way Kurt’s smile faltered a little more with every word. His cheeks kept getting redder and redder, but that was the only sign that he was taking the criticism hard, and Puck had to give him credit for holding his head up and nodding like he agreed with whatever they were saying.

“So is it a yes or a no?” Nigel finally said, cutting off the curly-haired judge in mid-sentence.

“I’d like to see more of what you can do. Yes to choreography,” the third judge said, smile still firmly in place, and Kurt managed to smile back in a more or less convincing way.

“I’m sorry, it’s a no for me,” the chick said, and Puck scowled at the back of her head while Kurt nodded and flashed a less convincing smile in her direction.

“It’s a tough call,” Nigel said, drawing it out for the cameras, and Puck rolled his eyes and shifted in his seat while he waited for them to put the kid out of his misery. “But on the strength of your technique, I’m going to say yes to choreography.”

“Thank you,” Kurt said, nodding and heading for the stairs, shoulders falling a little, like maybe he’d expected a ticket to Vegas. And Puck could see why he’d think that; he was probably used to people telling him how good he was, and hearing that flawless technique wasn’t enough had to be a pretty big blow.

A few seconds later he was gone, heading out of the theater to fake a smile for the post-audition interview and then hours of sitting around wherever they stuck the dancers who had to go through choreography. Puck was pretty sure he wasn’t even going to make it that far, though, so he figured that was the last he’d see of Kurt from Ohio.

~

Kurt wasn’t sure how long he’d been sitting in the holding area when someone threw themselves on the floor next to him. He looked up, blinking in surprise at the sight of familiar brown eyes and a smirk that could probably get someone arrested.

“Hey,” the b-boy with the mohawk said, and Kurt felt his skin heat up just at the sound of the guy’s voice. “Kurt, right? I saw your audition. You’re good.”

“Thanks,” Kurt said, frowning as he tried to figure out why someone like this would remember his audition, let alone his name, then seek him out to talk about it. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name?”

“Puck,” he said, holding out a hand, and when Kurt took it he felt a jolt of electricity run through him.

“Are your parents big Shakespeare fans or something?”

Puck laughed, his smile a little lopsided, and Kurt found himself smiling back. “My name’s Noah Puckerman, but nobody calls me Noah except my family.”

Privately Kurt thought that was sort of a shame, but he kept his opinion to himself. They didn’t know each other, after all, and chances were they wouldn’t both make it to the semi-finals anyway. The truth was he was a little surprised Puck had been put through to choreography, but he knew better than to say that out loud too.

“I missed your audition, but I saw you and your friends dancing outside. Are you the only one who made it this far?”

Puck laughed again, and Kurt didn’t really get the joke, but he didn’t get the impression Puck was making fun of him. “Mike got a ticket to Vegas. They’d be crazy not to put him straight through. Santana got cut.”

Kurt’s eyebrows went up at that, and Puck laughed for the third time. It was a nice laugh, and Kurt was pretty sure he could get used to it.

“I know what you’re thinking. How’d I get through to choreography, right? No, it’s cool,” he said when Kurt opened his mouth to stammer some kind of excuse. “I thought the same thing. Hell, so did she. Truth is I’m pretty sure they only put me through because they think I have an interesting story. Single dad, did some time, trying to straighten himself out through dancing, you know. They’ll probably play the clip of my interview like five times during the auditions, whether I make it or not.”

He was probably right, at least if past seasons were anything to go by. Kurt opened his mouth to say that Puck had just as much a chance of making it as anyone else, but what came out was, “You don’t look old enough to be someone’s dad.”

And there was that laugh again, doing strange things to his insides and Kurt willed himself not to blush.

“That’s what makes it a good story. I was in high school when she was born. Then I did something stupid to try to prove I could provide for her and her mom, and I landed myself in juvie for awhile. When I got out her mom decided she didn’t really want to be a mom after all, and when she bailed Beth moved in with me and my mom.”

While he talked he was reaching into the pocket of his jeans, pulling out his wallet and flipping it open. He leaned into Kurt and held out the wallet, and when Kurt saw a picture of a little girl with dirty blond hair and big brown eyes smiling up at him, he couldn’t help smiling back.

“She’s beautiful,” he said, telling himself he wasn’t disappointed that Puck wasn’t gay.

The odds had only been about fifty-fifty to begin with, and even if he was into guys, there was no reason for Kurt to think Puck would be into him. So it didn’t matter, but it was nice to have someone to talk to, if for no other reason than to take his mind off the stress of waiting hours for the choreography round to begin.

“Thanks,” Puck said, grinning and sliding his wallet back into his pocket. “Anyway, she’s the reason they sent me through, but I don’t know how to do any of that contemporary stuff or, like, the waltz or whatever. No way am I making it to Vegas.”

Kurt glanced around the room, but none of the other dancers were paying any attention to them. Most of them were listening to mp3 players or stretching, and a few were texting or talking in whispers into their cell phones. When he turned back to Puck Kurt found Puck watching him, dark eyes staring as though he could see right into Kurt, and it was a little unnerving, but mostly it was kind of hot. He suppressed a shudder and told himself not to blush, then he cleared his throat and leaned a little closer.

“I could show you a few things, if you want. I mean, obviously I can’t teach you how to execute a perfect waltz in a couple hours, but I could give you some pointers.”

“Really? You’d do that?”

Kurt shrugged, cheeks flushing in spite of his best efforts. “It’s not as though we have anything better to do, right?”

Just for a second Puck’s eyes got a little darker, and if Kurt hadn’t just finished telling Puck how beautiful his daughter was, he might think Puck was imagining some of the other things they could do to pass the time. But before he could let his imagination get the best of him Puck grinned and pushed himself off the floor, then he reached down to grab Kurt’s hand and pull him to his feet.

“That’s pretty cool of you, dude.”

“Well, I can’t guarantee it’ll make any difference, but it probably won’t hurt.”

He led Puck down the hall away from the rest of the contestants, around a corner to the spot where the hallway dead-ended at the entrance to the stairs. Once he was sure they were alone he turned to Puck, taking in his stance and the jeans that looked like they were going to fall off any second.

“Have you had any formal training at all?”

Puck shook his head, and Kurt had to work hard not to let out a heavy sigh. He wasn’t altogether sure that he wasn’t about to make Puck’s chances at getting through even worse, but at least he got to spend some time touching a really hot guy. And even if Puck was straight, it was still a lot better than spending the next few hours staring at the wall and trying to figure out where his own audition had gone so horribly wrong.

Chapter Text

Even after they staged a few post-audition shots with his group and hustled them all out of the theater, Puck couldn’t say for sure what had just happened. All he knew was that he was standing on the sidewalk with a voucher in his hand that was supposed to look like a plane ticket to Vegas, and somehow he’d made it through to the semi-finals.

The other thing he knew for sure was that there was no way he would have made it without Kurt’s help. Sob story or no, he couldn’t have pulled off most of that choreography without the crash course Kurt gave him. The judges had all been surprised that he knew enough to point his toes and extend his arms all the way when he was lifting his partner, but what they didn’t know was that until a couple hours ago, he’d never lifted anybody at all. Not like that, anyway, and the fact that Kurt had been willing to play the girl long enough to teach him how it was done...well, Puck was pretty sure he couldn’t repay a debt like that.

There was nothing he could teach Kurt about dancing, that much was for sure, but at least Puck could stick around and thank him. They weren’t in the same group for the choreography, but Puck had watched the group that went before him, so he knew Kurt was still in there. Still in there and probably sweating what the judges were going to say about his emotions or whatever, and he’d tried to act like he wasn’t worried while he was teaching Puck how to do a decent imitation of a contemporary routine, but Puck could tell he was nervous.

He could feel it in Kurt’s muscles every time Puck lifted him, and the dude was on the small side, but there was some solid muscle packed into that little frame. He was what Puck’s Nana would call ‘wiry’, and Puck grinned at the thought of her getting her hands on Kurt and trying to fatten him up with the judicious application of fresh latkes or bagels and schmear from the neighborhood deli.

Not that Puck thought he needed fattening up. He liked the way Kurt looked, especially when he was smiling kind of shy and looking up at Puck through those long eyelashes of his. Like he didn’t even know he was flirting, and Puck hadn’t had a lot of time to date since he started doing the full-time dad thing, but he’d consider making an exception for Kurt.

Except that Kurt was from Ohio, and that meant he might as well be from Mars. Puck couldn’t date somebody from Ohio, not with a three-year-old to keep in Teddy Grahams and Dora the Explorer Pull-Ups. There was the show, but even if they both made top twenty, they’d be so busy learning routines and trying to show enough personality to get votes that they wouldn’t have time to hook up, let alone the energy.

So it wasn’t meant to be or whatever; it was still a nice thought, and Puck appreciated the fact that Kurt had helped him out when he probably should have left Puck to sink or swim on his own.

He wasn’t sure how long he stood outside the theater waiting for Kurt to show up. He tried to sneak back inside and watch his performance, but they had the place locked up like it was fucking Fort Knox, probably so none of the crazier rejects would come back and try to knife Nigel or something. So Puck contented himself with leaning against the wall near the doors, dialing his house to let his mom know he’d made it to the next round and that he’d be home just as soon as he found out whether or not his friend had made it through.

Puck was still thinking about the word ‘friend’, rolling it over and over on his tongue, when the doors opened and a fresh group appeared, doing the running and fake ticket-throwing thing the producers forced them all into, and when Puck spotted Kurt he grinned and pushed off the wall. He waited until the cameras were done and the rest of the semi-finalists split for wherever they were headed, until it was just Kurt looking smaller than when he was on stage, and a little lost.

“Hey,” Puck said, and when Kurt flinched and looked over at him, Puck grinned. “So you made it?”

Kurt nodded, and it was already dark out so Puck couldn’t be sure, but he had a feeling Kurt was blushing. “And you?”

“I wouldn’t have, if it wasn’t for you,” Puck answered, closing the distance between them to stop in front of Kurt. They’d been this close a bunch of times already, but at the time Kurt was focused on whatever technique he was trying to teach Puck. Now it was just them, no dance moves to distract them and when Kurt shivered Puck was pretty sure it wasn’t from the cold. “Anyway, I just waited around to say thanks.”

“You might have made it anyway,” Kurt said, but he was smiling like he kind of dug the idea of helping Puck get through. “You said yourself that they liked your story.”

“Yeah, well, if they like it enough to put me all the way through to top twenty, I’m gonna need a lot more help, so you have to make it too.”

Kurt grinned at that, and Puck decided he looked even better when he wasn’t stressing out about his place on the show. “That would put me in the top twenty as well, which would make you my competition. What makes you think I would help you try to beat me?”

“Dude, you spent like two hours pretending to be a girl for me today. I figure that makes you my boy,” Puck answered, and when he saw the surprise flash in Kurt’s eyes, his grin got even brighter. “Besides, I can help you when you pull hip hop. Something tells me you’re not much of a breaker.”

His gaze wandered over Kurt while he spoke, and when he got back to Kurt’s face, yeah, he was blushing again. “I concede that I don’t have much experience with street dancing.”

“You’ve got the strength for it,” Puck said, and he knew he was right, because he’d had his arms wrapped around Kurt enough times already to feel exactly how strong he was. “Truth is the most important thing about breaking is attitude. You just have to sell it.”

Kurt’s smile faltered at that, and Puck wondered if the judges had given him shit about his connection to the audience again during the choreography round. But he didn’t ask; instead he glanced around at the empty sidewalk in front of the theater, then he looked back at Kurt.

“So where’s your fan club, Ohio? Don’t tell me you came all the way to the big city by yourself.”

Kurt looked away for a second, then he shrugged and turned back to Puck, sticking his chin out like he was expecting Puck to laugh at him or something. “My friends wanted to come. My dad too. But in the end I decided this was something I should do on my own.”

It was pretty brave, Puck had to give him that. Still, it had to be kind of scary, coming all the way to the city from Nowheresville, Ohio, and he couldn’t help being impressed that Kurt had the balls to do it alone.

“Yeah? So what happens now? You planning to do the whole tourist thing?”

For a second Kurt looked kind of surprised, but he recovered fast and shrugged again. “To be honest, I don’t really know. I expected to be done a lot earlier.”

He kind of looked away when he said the last part, and Puck got what he meant. He’d been expecting a ticket to Vegas right out of the gate, and he’d probably been planning to spend the rest of the day playing tourist instead of hanging around the theater teaching some b-boy how to do the waltz.

“Well I don’t know about you, but I’m starving. That spread they put out for lunch totally sucked. You want to grab some dinner?”

“You don’t have to get home to your daughter?”

Puck shrugged, because he probably should get home, but it was already almost Beth’s bedtime, and he figured his mom wouldn’t mind putting her down this one time. She was going to have to do it every night while he was in Vegas, after all, and if he made it onto the show he’d be away from her even longer. Besides, he hadn’t been on a date in forever, and even if it wasn’t a date date, he kind of liked hanging out with Kurt.

“My mom can handle one bedtime. Besides, my Nana would never forgive me if she found out I let you wander around Manhattan by yourself after dark.”

For a few seconds Kurt just looked at him, and Puck was starting to wonder if he was about to get shot down when he finally flashed a shy smile and nodded. “I have to admit, I am pretty hungry.”

Puck grinned and slid an arm around his shoulders, steering him in the direction of the subway. “Good. How do you feel about Vietnamese?”

~

An hour later Kurt found himself sitting across a booth from Puck in a dark corner of a little Vietnamese place in the village. At least he was pretty sure they were in the village; his knowledge of New York’s neighborhoods came mostly from the guidebooks he’d read in preparation for his trip and memorizing pretty much every Broadway show ever set in the city. So to say he was at Puck’s mercy wasn’t exactly an exaggeration, and Kurt knew what his father would say if he heard Kurt had gone off with some guy he barely knew on his first and only night in New York.

And he wouldn’t be wrong, but for some reason Kurt couldn’t explain, he trusted Puck. Maybe it was the fact that they were going to be on TV, so it would be pretty stupid to do anything less than savory when plenty of people had seen them together that day. Or maybe it was just Puck’s charm, that same natural charisma that had gotten him through to the semi-finals, regardless of Puck’s protests that it was all thanks to Kurt’s last-minute dance lessons.

“This is amazing,” he said as he picked up another lettuce-wrapped spring roll and dipped it in sweet sauce. “I’ve never had Vietnamese food before.”

“Yeah? So you don’t get a lot of variety where you’re from, huh?”

“I’m sorry to say that ethnic food in Lima generally involves sauerkraut,” Kurt said, and when Puck laughed he couldn’t help smiling. “If you’re really feeling adventurous, we have a few Italian restaurants, but considering the most popular of them is called Breadstix, I’m not sure how authentic they are.”

Puck laughed again, but the way he was smiling told Kurt Puck wasn’t laughing at him. And it really was kind of funny, when he stopped to think about it. A little tragic, too, but Lima was home, for better or worse, at least until Kurt figured out an escape plan.

“Man, I can’t even imagine what that’s like. I was born and raised in Queens; we’ve got every kind of food there is practically right in our neighborhood. I mean, you name it – we’ve got every kind of Asian food, great falafel stands, the best pizza. Brooklyn always tries to claim the best, but they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. And the delis -- don’t even get me started on the delis. It’s too bad you’re leaving tomorrow; the best bagels in the world are in Queens, right around the corner from my place.”

Kurt blushed at the implication that if he was staying longer, Puck might have agreed to play tour guide for more than just a post-audition dinner. Of course Puck was just saying that to be nice; flirting seemed to come naturally to him, and it didn’t seem to matter if he was flirting with a guy or a girl. Kurt knew this was all just some sweet but unnecessary attempt to thank him for teaching Puck a few of the basics before the choreography began, but it was the closest he’d ever come to an actual date, so he figured it wouldn’t hurt to pretend.

He blushed a little harder and looked down at his half-eaten dinner, clearing his throat and taking a sip of water before he looked up at Puck again. “It must have been exciting, growing up here.”

Puck shrugged and didn’t give any sign that he noticed the way Kurt’s cheeks were burning. “It’s pretty cool. I’ve never been any place else, though, so it’s not like I have anything to compare it to.”

“To be honest, neither have I. Aside from a few day trips to Chicago with my dad, this is my first time out of Ohio.”

“Really?” Puck said, eyes going wide as he looked at Kurt over the top of his Coke. “And you came by yourself? That’s kind of badass, dude.”

Kurt felt himself flush and resigned himself to the fact that it was just going to be a permanent condition whenever Puck was around. “I guess I wanted to prove to myself that I could. I mean, if I’m going to move to New York, I should be able to handle one night on my own, right?”

For a few seconds Puck just looked at him, and Kurt didn’t know him well enough to tell if the expression on his face meant Puck didn’t think Kurt could handle New York. Then he reached across the table, snagging the last spring roll and raising an eyebrow at Kurt.

“You can handle it,” he said, and something about the way his voice dropped a little sent a shiver down Kurt’s spine. “So you’re thinking about moving to New York, huh?”

“Well, I suppose I could stay in Ohio and spend the rest of my life teaching dance, but other than that there aren’t a lot of options there for a contemporary dancer. I’m not good enough at ballet to make a company, and if you’re not in a company there aren’t many options for dancers in Ohio, so New York it is.

“My dad’s not thrilled about the idea, which is kind of why I decided to try out for the show. I thought it might make the transition a little easier for him if he could see that I could really do something with dancing, you know? And this way he won’t freak out so much when I pack up and move to a city where I don’t know a soul.”

Kurt stopped talking when he realized Puck was staring, his smile a little nervous and he knew Puck hadn’t missed the way it wavered.

“Yeah, but you know me now,” Puck said, and he looked so sincere that Kurt’s heart actually skipped a beat. “So that means you know one person in New York.”

Kurt nodded, lips pressed together to keep himself from saying anything that he’d regret. Or worse, something that would make him sound like the naive small-town kid he was. The whole point of leaving Ohio was to stop being that kid, and he wasn’t about to embarrass himself in front of the only person he knew in New York City.

“What about your mom?” Puck asked after a minute or two. “You keep talking about your dad and what he thinks. Does your mom get a vote?”

“She died when I was little,” Kurt said, and when Puck flinched and opened his mouth to apologize, Kurt shook his head. “It’s fine. She’s been gone for a long time, but I know she’d want me to do whatever made me happy.”

“And you think New York’s going to make you happy.”

Kurt smiled again, cheeks flushing as he reached for his water. “I’m willing to give it a shot.”

~

“You haven’t mentioned your father at all,” Kurt said, and when Puck glanced at him he found Kurt looking in his direction. As soon as their eyes met Kurt looked away, like maybe he was afraid the question was going to piss Puck off. “Is he…?”

“He’s still alive, yeah.” Puck’s hands had been in his pockets since they left the restaurant, and he burrowed them a little deeper against the bite in the air. Kurt had tried to insist that he could get back fine on his own, but the truth was that Puck didn’t really want to say goodbye just yet.

And it wasn’t goodbye so much as ‘see you in Vegas’, but that was months from now, and a lot could happen between now and then. So he just shook his head and turned in the direction Kurt pointed, tugging his coat close against the night air and brushing his shoulder against Kurt’s every few steps.

“He’s in the pen,” Puck said, glancing at Kurt again to gauge his reaction. “He got sent up for manslaughter when my sister was still a baby. Bar fight; it was just a dumb accident. But he killed somebody else while he was in, so now he’s doing time for murder.”

Kurt’s slow blink was the only indication he gave that Puck’s story was freaking him out a little. And he had to give the guy credit; he was wandering around a strange city after dark with a guy he barely knew, and he didn’t take off screaming when he found out Puck’s old man was doing time for killing two people.

“It must have been hard to grow up with a father in prison,” was all Kurt said, and yeah, it was, but it wasn’t like there was anything anybody could do to change it.

“To tell you the truth, I’m not sure he would have stuck around even if he hadn’t gotten himself sent up,” Puck said. “Anyway, when Beth was born and I tried to jack an ATM to prove I could take care of her, I got arrested and sent to juvie. I knew I didn’t want to turn out like my old man, so when I got out I cleaned up my act and started dancing with Mike and his crew. So maybe my dad did me a favor by turning out to be a loser, you know?”

He hadn’t told a lot of people that story. He hadn’t even told the show the part about his father, so he wasn’t sure why he was telling Kurt. Maybe it was just because Kurt was so easy to talk to, or maybe it was because he wasn’t part of the rest of Puck’s life. Or maybe it was just that if Kurt did move to New York and they stayed friends, he’d find out eventually anyway. Either way, if it was going to be a deal breaker for Kurt, Puck wanted to know now.

For a minute Kurt didn’t say anything at all, and when he stopped walking Puck looked up and realized they were outside his hotel. It looked more or less safe, and Puck felt okay about leaving Kurt and heading back to Queens. He was about to say so when Kurt cleared his throat, glancing down the sidewalk in the direction they’d come before he looked back at Puck again.

“It’s admirable, the way you’re taking responsibility for your daughter when your own father didn’t set the same example for you.”

Puck shrugged, because he’d never really thought of it as something to be proud of so much as the right thing to do. “She’s my kid. Anyway, she’s pretty cool to have around, most days.”

Kurt smiled, shy around the edges and it took every ounce of will power Puck had not to lean in and kiss him. He wasn’t even sure why he was stopping himself, other than the fact that tomorrow Kurt was going to get back on a train and go home to Ohio, and the next time Puck saw him they’d be in direct competition with each other.

“Thank you for dinner, Puck. I’m sorry to have kept you away from your family so long.”

“I’m not,” Puck said. He swayed a little closer, and when he heard Kurt’s sharp intake of breath he grinned and reached out to tug at the end of Kurt’s scarf. “See you in three months, Ohio.”

He was still picturing Kurt’s blush when he got on the subway, grinning to himself all the way back to Queens. He barely remembered switching trains in Times Square, and by the time he reached his stop he was already wondering why he hadn’t gotten Kurt’s number before he left him standing in front of his hotel.

It was tempting to go back, to sweet-talk the night clerk into giving him Kurt’s room number so he could knock on the door and give in to the urge to kiss Kurt, then maybe invite himself in and exchange more than just phone numbers. But his mom was probably already pissed, and anyway he had a feeling Kurt wasn’t the casual type. He had a feeling Kurt was probably kind of a lot of work, but Puck had spent most of the afternoon dancing with him, so he already knew Kurt would be worth it.

His mother was waiting up for him when he let himself into their walk-up, closing the door as quietly as he could and turning the lock before he headed into the kitchen to find her sitting at the table.

“Hey, Ma,” he said, keeping his voice down so he wouldn’t wake Sarah or Beth. “Sorry I’m so late; I met this guy.”

“You have responsibilities now, Noah,” she said, arms crossed over her chest and yeah, she was pissed. “You can’t forget you have a daughter just because you meet someone.”

“I didn’t forget about Beth,” Puck answered, but there was no fight behind his words. “And it wasn’t like that. He was one of the dancers; he’s from Ohio and he was here all alone. I didn’t feel right just letting him wander around the city by himself.”

“Oh. Well, that’s different,” she said, but she sounded like maybe she didn’t believe his motives were a hundred percent altruistic. And she wouldn’t be wrong, so he didn’t answer. Instead he reached into the cupboard for a glass, then poured himself some milk and sat down across the table from her. “You could have brought your friend for dinner, you know. I made a brisket.”

It wasn’t like he hadn’t considered it. But it was a long train ride from Manhattan to Queens, and then he’d have to get Kurt back to Manhattan and his hotel. Besides, Kurt came to New York to see the city, and no matter how authentic his mother’s brisket was, Puck was pretty sure an authentic Jewish family dinner wasn’t what Kurt had in mind for his first solo trip out of Ohio.

“He’s staying all the way down by Penn Station,” Puck said, shrugging and draining his glass before he stood up again. “Maybe next time.”

He set his glass in the sink, then he turned back to his mother and leaned over to plant a kiss on her cheek. “I’m beat. ‘Night, Ma.”

He kept his footsteps soft as he made his way down the hall so he wouldn’t wake his sister or his kid, pushing his bedroom door open without turning on the light. He left the door open wide enough to let the light from the hall fall across the crib on one side of the room, then he leaned against the door frame and just looked for a second.

Beth was sound asleep, her face turned toward him and her tiny eyelashes fluttering with each breath. It was hard to believe when he saw her like this that she could be hell on wheels when she was awake, but he knew from experience what a handful she was. He knew he needed to get some sleep if he wanted to keep up with her, too, so he pulled off his clothes in the dark and slid on a pair of sweatpants before he crossed to the bathroom to brush his teeth and splash some water on his face.

When he was finished he glanced at his reflection, running a hand over his mohawk and letting out a heavy sigh. He closed his eyes and pictured Kurt standing in front of him, positioning his arms and using his foot to nudge Puck’s legs into the proper stance. He remembered the way Kurt’s hands had felt in his, and the way Kurt sort of fit against him like they were made to dance together.

As soon as he realized what he was doing he opened his eyes, shaking his head and laughing at his reflection. Because Kurt was cool, sure, and he was pretty cute, but there was no reason to get all stupid over some guy he barely knew. If they both made it through to the top twenty, that was one thing, but until that happened he was just going to focus on dancing and try not to think about Kurt.

Chapter Text

All things considered, Las Vegas was even scarier than New York City. The airport was a lot smaller, and most of the people on his flight seemed to be either other dancers or tourists, so the atmosphere was a lot less intense than when he'd arrived at Penn Station. But the fact remained that when Kurt went to his audition, he’d known exactly what he was going to dance and he’d known – or at least he’d thought he knew at the time – more or less what the judges’ reactions were going to be.

Vegas Week, on the other hand, was a whole different ballgame. There were routines to learn in several different styles, not to mention the group routine they were going to have to choreograph themselves, at least if this year’s show stuck to the usual formula. It was four days of relentless competition, with cuts every single day, and considering they’d already gone from thousands of hopefuls to less than two hundred amazing dancers, he knew the odds of making the top twenty weren’t great.

Kurt had spent the past three months studying old episodes of the show, learning the styles of the different choreographers and trying to prepare himself for what was coming. When he wasn’t working he was rehearsing, making sure his own routines were perfect and trying to imitate the styles of the choreographers who seemed to turn up most often from season to season.

The upside to obsessing about the choreography was that he hadn’t had a lot of time to obsess about Puck. He’d thought about Puck all the way home on the train, remembered the way Puck’s arms felt around him and the way he smiled when he got a tricky dance step down. He played the moment when Puck leaned in and tugged on the end of his scarf over and over in his mind, trying to decide if Puck was teasing him on purpose or if he just didn’t know how charming he was.

Kurt allowed himself the indulgence of thinking about Puck all the way back to Ohio, telling himself that their brief flirtation – if that was what it was – was just part of his grand New York adventure. But as soon as the train pulled into the station he pushed all those thoughts to the back of his mind, and whenever a stray memory of his only night in New York snuck up on him he told himself not to be naϊve and pushed the thought away again.

Chances were good that Puck had forgotten about him the moment he got back on the subway; Puck had the whole of New York City stretched out in front of him every day, after all, and Kurt was just some wide-eyed kid from Ohio who had never been anywhere or seen anything. There was no reason to think Puck would remember him if they ran into each other in Vegas, and even if he did remember, there certainly wasn’t any reason to think he’d care.

He made it all the way to the hotel on the airport shuttle, found his room and put his bags away. When he got there his roommate was already unpacking, and Kurt told himself that he wasn’t disappointed to find that he wasn’t sharing with Puck. Considering the number of male dancers who’d made it to callbacks, the chances of him being randomly assigned to share a hotel room with Puck were next to nothing.

Besides, it wouldn’t do him any good to develop a distracting crush on a straight guy he’d probably never see again after Vegas week was over. The chances of both of them making it to the top twenty were even smaller than the chances of them being assigned to the same room, after all, and he wasn’t about to let his imagination run away with him and distract him from the competition.

That was what he told himself when he followed his roommate down to the auditorium, joining the crowd of other dancers filing toward the stage. He scanned the crowd around him as they moved closer to the double doors, and he wasn’t looking for a mohawk, but when he heard a familiar voice calling his name, Kurt’s heart skipped a beat. A second later Puck appeared, shoving his way past a couple girls to catch up with Kurt.

“Hey,” he said, a little breathless, as though maybe he’d had to work to find Kurt in the crowd. The thought made Kurt’s stomach flutter, but he clamped down hard on the sensation and reminded himself that Puck wasn’t interested in him. He was just...nice, and if he’d been looking for Kurt it was probably just to make sure he’d actually managed to get back to Ohio without getting himself killed or anything.

“Puck,” Kurt said, surprised, and his cheeks flushed at the sound of his own voice. “How’ve you been?”

Puck shrugged and grinned, like maybe he was laughing at Kurt a little, but before Kurt could figure out why, he was talking. “Mostly I’ve been working on all that stuff you taught me.”

They both knew three months wasn’t even enough time to master one new dance style, let alone several, especially when Puck didn’t have a teacher there to correct his form. But the fact that he’d spent the past three months working on new styles instead of just focusing on his comfort zone was impressive, and Kurt was sure the judges would take note.

He wished he’d done the same, especially since he knew there would be a hip hop routine to learn at some point over the next few days. Only Kurt didn’t know any hip hop dancers in Ohio, and even if he did, he wasn’t confident he’d be able to pick it up. Which was a problem, because if he wanted to advance in the competition, he was going to have to learn it and fast.

Before he had time to panic himself over hip hop again Kurt heard someone say Puck’s name, and they both turned to see Puck’s friend Mike waving at him from halfway down the center aisle. Puck grinned and waved back, and Kurt braced himself for the moment when Puck turned and wished him luck, maybe, then went to sit with his friend. And it wasn’t as though Kurt was expecting to spend the next four days hanging around Puck just because they’d had one dinner together, but the fact remained that he was the only person Kurt knew in Vegas.

Puck turned to look at him and Kurt pasted what he hoped was a convincing smile on his face, but instead of waving and ditching him, Puck inclined his head toward the row of seats where Mike was waiting. “You coming?”

Kurt blinked, then he swallowed his surprise and nodded, grateful that it was dark in the theater so Puck wouldn’t see him blush. “Sure.”

Puck grinned again and led him down the aisle, throwing himself down in the seat next to Mike. “Dude, this is Kurt. Kurt, Mike.”

“From Ohio, right?” Mike said, holding out a hand for Kurt to shake. His gaze slid toward Puck as he said it, and Kurt blushed even harder when he realized Puck had told Mike about him.

It didn’t necessarily mean anything. Mike and Puck were friends, after all, and he’d probably asked Puck about the choreography round of his audition. So it made sense that Puck would tell Mike about Kurt helping him; it didn’t mean that Puck had been thinking about Kurt over the past three months, and it certainly didn’t mean that Puck was interested in him.

“Right,” was all Kurt managed before one of the producers started calling for attention. Kurt turned toward the stage with the rest of the dancers, trying to ignore the burning in his cheeks and the solid warmth of Puck’s shoulder next to his long enough to find out what they were in for over the next few days.

~

Puck’s plan when he went looking for Kurt had mostly been just to see him again, but once they got into the theater he figured maybe sitting together would give them a better chance of being in some of the same groups for the performances. Not that he wanted to compete directly against Kurt any sooner than he had to, but Puck wanted to hang out with him, and he had a feeling they weren’t going to get a lot of chances just to chill over the next few days.

Sure enough, as soon as the judges showed up they started dividing people into groups, but when they started reading names off a list instead of grouping people according to where they were sitting, Puck knew his plan wasn’t going to work after all. They got split up pretty much right away when Kurt’s name was called for the first round of choreography, and when he stood up to head for the stage Puck reached out and grabbed his wrist before he could talk himself out of it.

“Break a leg,” he said, watching Kurt blush before he nodded and said, “You too.”

Puck grinned and let go of Kurt’s arm, and a few seconds later Puck’s name was called and he had his own group to worry about.

The first routine of the day was a jazz number, choreographed by the curly-haired guy from their auditions, and the steps were so fast that Puck didn’t have time to think about Kurt or anything besides not tripping over his own feet. Somehow he managed to keep up with the rest of the dancers in his group, but it was exhausting, and by the end of the first routine he wasn’t sure how he was going to make it through the rest of the day, let alone the rest of the week.

And they’d all seen the show before, so they knew how it worked, but that didn’t make it any less scary when the cuts started pretty much right away. A guy from Puck’s group got cut halfway through their routine, and when Nigel ordered the rest of them off the stage Puck held his breath until he was safely back in his seat. A few minutes later Kurt’s group was on the stage, and he found himself holding his breath again while he watched Kurt dance.

His technique was just as amazing as Puck remembered, but he still wasn’t doing such a great job of connecting with the judges, and part of Puck expected them to say Kurt’s name and then tell him he was out. But he made it through along with the rest of his group, and when he slid into the seat next to Puck and grinned, Puck had a hard time remembering that he wasn’t supposed to lean over and kiss him.

“You looked pretty good up there,” he said instead, handing over his bottle of water as he spoke.

“Thanks,” Kurt answered, though if it was for the compliment or the water, Puck wasn’t sure. Maybe both, but either way Puck didn’t really care, as long as Kurt kept smiling at him like that. “You really held your own as well. I’m impressed; you’ve been working hard.”

“I had a good teacher,” Puck said, just to watch Kurt blush, and he couldn’t reach out and touch to see if Kurt’s skin was as hot as it looked, either, but that didn’t mean he didn’t want to.

Before Kurt could deny it Mike’s group took the stage, and they both turned to watch as the music cued up. And Puck knew how good Mike was, but that didn’t mean he ever got tired of watching him. He practically flew across the stage, grinning at all the right places and making the judges laugh and Puck knew before Nigel even raised his hand to stop the music that Mike was safe.

“He could win this whole thing,” Kurt said, and Puck tore his gaze away from the stage to glance at Kurt’s profile. He was staring at Mike, watching him pat the guy next to him on the shoulder while the judges decided if they were going to cut anybody.

“So could you,” Puck said, and when Kurt glanced sharply at him he just shrugged. “You’ve got the moves. You just need to figure out the attitude and you could give Mike a run for his money.”

Before Kurt had a chance to answer Mike’s whole group was being sent off the stage to safety, and a second later he was throwing himself into the seat on Kurt’s other side.

“That wasn’t so bad, for a first round,” Mike said, and Puck didn’t bother suggesting he go tell that to the people who’d been cut, because the three of them had made it through, and they deserved to enjoy it, at least until the next round started.

“Any clue what’s next?” Puck asked instead, glancing over Kurt’s head at Mike.

“I haven’t heard anything, but I think I might have spotted Travis backstage.”

“Wait,” Kurt said, eyes going kind of wide before he turned his back on Puck to stare at Mike. “Travis is here? Travis Wall.”

“Like I said, I think so,” Mike answered, shrugging and glancing at Puck. “I mean, we knew we were dancing contemporary at some point, right?”

“Yeah, what’s the big deal?” Puck asked, and he wasn’t jealous, but he knew who Travis was, and he didn’t see why Kurt was panting at the thought of him showing up. Sure, he was kind of hot, in a weird, intense way, but he was kind of scary too, and Puck would rather deal with Mandy Moore or maybe Tabitha and Napoleon than some contemporary choreographer who took himself way too seriously. But he was pretty sure Kurt didn’t agree, at least if the way he was practically vibrating in his seat was anything to go by.

“The big deal,” Kurt said, and Puck didn’t have to look to know Kurt was rolling his eyes, “is that Travis Wall is the most talented contemporary choreographer to come out of this show. He’s amazing. Just to be allowed to dance one of his pieces would be an honor.”

“Well, it’s a pretty safe bet you’re going to get the chance. The dude shows up every season; it’s like he doesn’t have anything better to do.”

Kurt’s cheeks flushed an angry shade of red and he opened his mouth, probably to school Puck on just what Travis Wall did in his spare time. It sort of made Puck wonder just how much time Kurt spent stalking the dude on the Internet, but before he could ask Nigel was talking again. Puck was pretty sure it was going to be the only time he was grateful to hear Nigel announcing that the next routine was coming up, and the cuts were going to be even more brutal this time.

~

It turned out they didn’t see Travis on the first day. After lunch they got back in their groups to learn a ballroom routine, and Puck spent pretty much the entire afternoon expecting to get cut. But he landed a partner who danced ballroom, and she helped him get pretty comfortable with the routine, so by the time their turn came up, he figured he did at least as well as any of the other b-boys in the competition.

When Nigel called his name Puck tensed, but all he said was, “Good work. You got lucky on partner assignments. Be grateful.”

Puck nodded, because it wasn’t like Nigel was wrong, then he hustled off the stage before they changed their minds and sent him home anyway. Mike was already done by the time Puck got through, and Puck found him in the audience and took a seat next to him.

“Congratulations,” Mike said, grinning up at Puck.

“Yeah, I got really lucky with my partner.”

“Sure, but you’ve been working really hard, too. I don’t know how that Kurt guy taught you as much as he did in just a couple hours. He must be a hell of a teacher.”

“He’s something, all right,” Puck answered, grinning when Mike laughed.

As soon as he said it Kurt’s group stepped onto the stage, and Puck watched him step into position and flash a tight smile at his partner, an Asian chick that Puck was pretty sure usually did ballet. The music started and Puck kept his eyes on Kurt, watching him perform the steps pretty much perfectly. But the thing was, he looked pretty uptight, and he wasn’t really connecting with his girl at all.

“Kurt, please step forward,” Nigel said when the music stopped, and Puck cringed and watched Kurt press his lips together and step out of the line. “You’re not connecting with your partner. We’ve said this to you before; a great performance is about more than technique, and it’s the performers who do well on this show, not the technicians. You’re through, but just barely.”

Kurt nodded and headed off the stage without so much as a glance back at his partner, and when he headed out of the auditorium without even looking to see if Puck was around, he figured Kurt was headed somewhere to have a meltdown away from the cameras. Puck was standing up before he even knew he was thinking about it, and when he felt a hand on his arm he looked down to find Mike frowning at him.

“Where are you going?”

Puck shrugged and looked up the aisle in time to watch the auditorium door swing shut. “I just want to make sure he’s okay.”

“He’s fine. He made it through, didn’t he?” Mike said, raising an eyebrow when Puck scowled. For a second Mike just looked at him, then he shook his head and let out a laugh that made Puck want to hit him. “You’ve got it bad.”

“I do not,” Puck said, ignoring the look Mike gave him. “I just feel bad for the guy. He’s wound so tight he’s going to have a heart attack before we even make it to the top twenty.”

“So you’re going to unwind him?”

Puck snorted a laugh that could have been a denial, but the truth was he didn’t hate the idea. Still, no matter how much he liked Kurt, they were still competing for a spot in the competition, and if they didn’t both make it, the chances of him seeing Kurt again after Vegas were next to none.

“I figure he needs somebody to watch his back is all,” he said, and when Mike just smirked and shook his head Puck told himself it didn’t matter if he didn’t believe it.

~

Kurt didn’t see Puck again until dinner. Not that he felt much like eating, but he knew how many calories they were burning, and if he didn’t want to further humiliate himself by passing out on stage he had to keep his strength up. So he went through the line with everyone else, and when he picked up his tray and turned to look for an empty seat he found himself face to face with Puck.

“You’re still here,” Kurt said, his whole face flushing as soon as he realized he’d said it out loud.

“You sound surprised,” Puck answered, the corner of his mouth turning up just a fraction, and Kurt blushed even harder. “Anyway, it’s not like I’m going to bail without saying goodbye.”

“Oh. I mean, of course,” Kurt said, and he was pretty sure he was never going to stop blushing around Puck. “You’d really wait to say goodbye?”

“Yeah, sure. You’re my boy.” Puck shrugged and looked away, and Kurt wondered again what exactly that meant. Before he worked up the courage to ask Puck was nodding toward a table on the other side of the room, and Kurt followed his gaze to find Mike watching them with a weird smirk on his face. “So are you eating or what?”

“Sure...I mean, yes,” Kurt answered, gripping the edges of his tray a little harder as he followed Puck across the room.

Kurt was fairly sure that his eyes weren’t puffy anymore; it had been a couple hours since he fell apart in the last stall of the men’s room, and he didn’t think he still looked as though he’d been crying. As soon as he set his tray down he reached up to wipe at his eyes anyway, but if Puck or Mike noticed they didn’t point it out.

He nodded when Mike smiled at him, then he glanced at Puck in time to watch him dig into a huge plate of spaghetti and meatballs. And he wasn’t such a cliche that he enjoyed watching some guy he hardly knew bolting his food as though it was his last meal, but there was a part of Kurt that liked looking at Puck.

Okay, so most of him liked looking at Puck. Whether he was dancing or grilling Kurt about Ohio over Vietnamese food or just grinning like Kurt was the most interesting thing he’d ever seen, Kurt liked looking at him. It was impossible not to enjoy being the center of Puck’s attention, but Kurt couldn’t let himself enjoy it too much or he’d start reading things into it that Puck didn’t mean.

He cleared his throat and looked down at his own plate, pushing a piece of dry chicken around and wondering just how awful it would be to get sent home for passing out in the middle of a routine. At least if he was going to go out that way he’d hopefully pass out during hip hop, and then he wouldn’t have to worry about trying to make it through that round.

“What’s the problem?”

Kurt blinked at the sound of Puck’s voice, looking up to find Puck watching him over his half-eaten dinner. “Nothing. I was just wondering what we’re in for tomorrow.”

“We haven’t done hip hop yet,” Mike pointed out, grinning as though he was looking forward to it, and Kurt could hardly blame him. “And we never saw Travis today, so he’ll probably show up tomorrow too.”

He glanced at Puck when he said it, and Kurt couldn’t be sure why, but he had a sneaking suspicion it had something to do with their earlier discussion of Travis’ choreography skills.

Well. Kurt had talked about Travis’ talent; Puck had mostly implied that Travis had nothing better to do than hang around the set. Which wasn’t even true, because Travis worked more than a lot of young choreographers in the business. The show had helped give him a leg up, certainly, but that was the whole point. There was no reason to be here if it wasn’t to further their careers as dancers, and that was the thing he couldn’t figure out, because Puck mostly seemed like he was just along for the ride.

It should have annoyed Kurt, knowing that Puck didn’t share the same passion for dance the rest of them did. But it was impossible to hold it against him when he smiled and told Kurt he had as good a chance of winning as Mike. He was wrong, but it was a sweet sentiment nonetheless, so Kurt hadn’t pointed out the flaws in his logic.

“I just hope it’s not one of the scary hip hop choreographers,” Kurt said, blushing all over again when they both looked at him.

“Which ones are scary?” Mike asked, and Kurt thought about it for a few seconds before he said, “All of them.”

They all laughed at that, and Kurt was still sort of terrified of hip hop, but it felt good to laugh about something after the tension of the afternoon. He knew he was going to wash out at hip hop, and he hoped it wouldn’t be the thing that sent him home, but at least that would be better than being sent home on his own style because the judges didn’t think he was feeling it enough.

His smile faded at the thought, and when he looked up again he found Puck watching him, eyes dark and searching and Kurt swallowed hard against the fluttering in his stomach. “Don’t sweat the hip hop, dude. I told you, it’s all attitude.”

“That’s true,” Mike said, waving his fork vaguely in Puck’s direction. “Besides, if you can teach him to partner in like three hours, there’s no way you’re going home on hip hop.”

“That’s easy for both of you to say,” Kurt shot back, and he knew he sounded a little angry, but he was the one who’d barely scraped by today. “You’re not the ones being called out by the judges for lack of emotional commitment after every performance. I don’t even know what that means. I’m passionate about dance. I have been since I was three years old and choreographed my first routine. How they can not see that is beyond me.”

For a second they both just looked at him, and Kurt was starting to think he’d just alienated the only people in the competition he knew when Puck grinned. “See, I knew you had some attitude in there somewhere.”

When Mike laughed Kurt felt his cheeks flush again, and he cursed his pale skin and tried not to smile. It was sort of a losing battle, though, and finally he gave up and ducked his head to hide his grin.

“Look, if you’re that worried about it we’ll show you some moves after dinner. Once you get the basics down it’s mostly about making sure you hit the moves hard.”

“You don’t have to do that,” Kurt said, gripping his fork a little tighter at the prospect of making a complete fool of himself in front of both of them.

Puck shrugged and glanced at Mike, but all he did was shrug right back at Puck. “What else do we have to do tonight?”

“Sleep, for one thing. Tomorrow’s going to be even longer than today, and we’re probably going to have to choreograph group routines, which means we won’t be getting much sleep tomorrow night.”

“It’s not going to take all night to show you a few moves,” Puck said, and Kurt couldn’t prove it or anything, but he was almost sure Puck was laughing at him. “We’ll get you back to your room in plenty of time to get your beauty sleep. Besides, I owe you.”

Kurt opened his mouth to say that Puck didn’t owe him, that dinner had been more than enough thanks for the impromptu dance lessons. But he didn’t know if Mike knew about their...well, not ‘date’, exactly, but it had certainly felt like a date a few times that evening. He knew he couldn’t bring it up without blushing even harder, though, so instead he cleared his throat and said, “If you’re sure you don’t mind.”

“Good.” Puck grinned at him for another second, then he reached across the table and tapped Kurt’s barely touched plate. “So hurry up and eat already. You’re gonna need your strength.”

~

Puck wasn’t kidding about Kurt needing his strength to keep up with them. He hadn’t exactly meant it to sound like a come-on, but if Kurt thought Puck was flirting, well, it wasn’t going to hurt anybody. It was probably good for him; it put some color in those cheeks of his, anyway, and when he smiled like he was trying not to, he almost relaxed for a few seconds.

The more time they spent together the more Puck wanted to be the one to unravel Kurt, to strip away all that tight control Nigel was always complaining about and get to what was underneath it. He figured whoever did finally get Kurt to let go was in for a hell of a ride, and the thought of somebody else beating him to it made Puck’s jaw twitch.

He watched Kurt trying to follow the moves Mike was showing him, his whole body rigid as he focused on getting it exactly right. And that was the whole problem, because as long as he held himself like he was afraid he was going to fly apart, he’d never get the hang of it.

“Hold up a second,” Puck said, glancing at Mike and nodding. Mike got the message right away and stepped back, making room for Puck in the space they’d made between the beds in their hotel room. Once Mike was sitting on his bed Puck stepped close to Kurt, raising one eyebrow at the defeated look on Kurt’s face.

“I told you I couldn’t do this.”

“Dude, you can do it,” Puck said, shaking his head and reaching out to put his hands on Kurt’s hips. As soon as Puck touched him Kurt’s body went even more rigid, and Puck was starting to wonder if he could hurt himself from being so uptight. “Look, you just have to relax. That’s what the judges keep bitching about. You’re way too intense.”

“I thought the whole point of hip hop was sharp moves. Hitting it hard or whatever.”

Puck grinned, and he wasn’t laughing at Kurt or anything, but it was pretty funny to hear some kid from the middle of nowhere talking about hitting it hard like he even knew what that meant. Which he didn’t, if his dancing in the past hour was anything to go by.

“I told you, hip hop’s about attitude. You want to hit the moves hard enough to show the audience you mean it, yeah, but you want to make it look easy too. Which is why you have to relax and just go with it.”

He moved Kurt’s hips while he talked, moving his own in time with the music and yeah, he was kind of grinding on Kurt a little, but he was trying to prove a point here. He was trying to get Kurt to connect, but Kurt’s gaze was focused square in the center of Puck’s chest and Puck could see the blush moving up his neck and into his face.

And maybe it was a bad idea, but it wasn’t like Mike was going to do it – not if he wanted to keep his hands attached to his arms, anyway – so Puck rolled his eyes and let go of Kurt’s hip to slide a hand under his chin. He tilted Kurt’s face up until they were eye to eye, and yeah, Kurt was embarrassed and probably uncomfortable, but he looked kind of pissed, too.

“You look like you want to hit me,” Puck murmured, voice low and he felt the shudder that rolled through Kurt.

“The thought did cross my mind.”

Puck grinned and let his hand trail down Kurt’s neck, feeling the heat of his skin against Puck’s fingers before he let go again. “Good. What you’re feeling right now, use it. Don’t be afraid to let people see.”

“I’m not afraid,” Kurt said, but Puck’s hand was still resting on his hip, and he could feel Kurt trembling under his touch.

“Yeah? Then prove it. Let’s go through it again.” He let go of Kurt and turned away from him long enough to start the music over again, then he stepped back into the center of the room and raised an eyebrow at Kurt. ”Ready?”

Kurt’s only answer was a sharp nod, but as soon as Puck started moving Kurt followed. He kept up pretty well, and maybe pissing him off was the way to go, because he hit the moves harder than ever, and he managed not to come off like he was about to break in half. By the time the song ended Puck was almost convinced Kurt could actually pull off hip hop tomorrow, even if he didn’t know any of the advanced tricks yet.

That part Puck was sure he could handle, because he’d seen Kurt dance and Puck knew exactly how strong he was. So he could pick up the moves no problem, and as long as he figured out a way to bring the attitude without Puck annoying it out of him, he’d be okay.

“Not bad,” Puck said, grinning when Kurt blushed. “I think you might actually make it through the hip hop routine.”

“As long as it’s not Lil’ C,” Mike said from his spot on the bed. “If it’s krumping he’s probably screwed.”

“Dude,” Puck said, scowling at Mike, but all he got was a shrug. And yeah, okay, so he had a point, but that didn’t mean he had to say it out loud. Puck turned back to Kurt, reaching out to grip his shoulder and squeeze. “Relax, it’s not going to be Lil’ C. He never choreographs for the auditions; they always get somebody like Tabitha and Napoleon. Lyrical hip hop’s pretty close to what you do already, so you’ll be fine.”

Kurt didn’t look like he really believed it, but he didn’t argue. Instead he smiled up at Puck, the anger gone along with the tension, and Puck had to remind himself not to lean in and kiss him. He’d never live it down if he planted one on Kurt right in front of Mike anyway, and Puck wasn’t positive, but he was pretty sure Kurt wouldn’t appreciate the audience any more than Mike would appreciate the show.

“Do either of you krump?” Kurt asked, glancing from Puck to Mike.

“I haven’t done much, but Mike does everything,” Puck answered. “Why, you want a demonstration?”

Kurt shrugged, arms folded over his chest and looking kind of shy all of a sudden. “It couldn’t hurt, right? Just in case.”

“It’s not going to be Lil’ C,” Puck said again, but he threw himself down on his own bed and patted the mattress next to him. “But you don’t have to work all that hard to get Mike to show off.”

Mike threw a pillow at Puck, and Puck caught it and tucked it behind his head. His point was made for him a second later when Mike stood up, shooing Kurt onto Puck’s bed to perch cross-legged at the end, as far away from Puck as he could get. It wasn’t ideal, but at least he wasn’t thinking up some excuse and going back to his own room yet.

Music filled the room and Mike started moving, his freakishly long limbs taking up more space than it seemed like they should. There wasn’t really enough room for him to really hit the moves as hard as usual, and he couldn’t do any of the leaps that always made him look like he should be dancing for the New York City Ballet. Still, what he could do was pretty impressive, and the longer Kurt watched the more he forgot where he was sitting and relaxed.

Puck spent most of the dance watching Kurt’s face, taking in the little smile whenever Mike did an especially intricate trick and the way his eyes went a little wide when Mike proved that he was double-jointed. And yeah, Puck had seen it often enough to know it was pretty hot, but he couldn’t help wishing Kurt would look at him like that instead of Mike.

Maybe if he could move like Mike, but Puck knew better than to think he’d ever be that good. For him dancing was fun, something to do to blow off steam that didn’t involve hitting anybody or getting drunk and committing any misdemeanors. It kept him out of trouble, and it was a break from the pressure of knowing Beth depended on him to get his act together and make a life for both of them.

But he knew he was never going to be as versatile as Mike, and he wasn’t going to get rich or famous break dancing. As soon as he thought it the music stopped, and Puck looked up to find Mike grinning at him.

“So are you going to show him what you can do?”

“Me? No way,” Puck said, laughing and glancing over at Kurt. “I’m not following that.”

“Come on, don’t be a wuss,” Mike said, and Puck raised an eyebrow at the challenge in his voice.

“Honestly, I’d like to see you dance,” Kurt said, and yeah, he was completely screwed, because as soon as Kurt asked Puck was rolling his eyes and sliding off the mattress.

“Fine, but don’t blame me if I break a lamp or something.” He crossed to Mike’s iPod speakers and shuffled through his music until he found what he was looking for, then turned his back to both of them and started to move. He knew this routine so well he could do it in his sleep, but something about the fact that Kurt was watching made it feel different.

Like it mattered all of a sudden whether or not he was any good; like Kurt was going to compare him to Mike, and Puck knew already that there was no comparison, but it had never bothered him until right now. He grinned in all the right places anyway, because the whole routine was about attitude, just like he’d been telling Kurt since they met, and he wasn’t about to blow it by showing how much it bothered him that Kurt was watching.

And Kurt was watching. He’d moved up to the head of the bed at some point, stretched out on his side with his arm tucked under his head and Puck thought vaguely that he could get used to the sight of Kurt in his bed. The thought was distracting enough that he nearly lost his place in the choreography, but he pulled it back together in time to catch himself before he wiped out and landed on his ass.

He kept his eyes off Kurt after that, and when the music finally ended and he straightened up and glanced over at the bed he expected to find Kurt smiling. Except that Kurt wasn’t smiling; his eyes were closed, long eyelashes curling against pale cheeks and his lips were parted just a little. Fast asleep, and Puck wasn’t sure whether to be insulted or grateful that Kurt had passed out on his bed and not Mike’s.

Mike snorted a laugh from behind him, and Puck rolled his eyes and turned to look at him. “First time a guy’s passed out on you?”

“Yeah,” Puck said, glancing back at Kurt in time to watch him sigh in his sleep. “So much for my riveting stage presence.”

“We did kind of wear him out,” Mike said, standing up and clapping Puck on the shoulder. “Try not to take it personally.”

“I’m not,” Puck answered. And he wasn’t, mostly. After all, it wasn’t like he’d been trying to put the moves on Kurt when he passed out, and it would be a lot more insulting if Kurt couldn’t stay awake while Puck was kissing him than while he was watching Puck dance.

“So should we wake him up and send him back to his own room?”

“Nah, let him sleep,” Puck said, still watching the steady rise and fall of Kurt’s chest, and maybe it was a little creepy, but it wasn’t like he was planning to do anything. “The bed’s big enough to share.”

For a second Mike looked like he wanted to argue, and maybe he’d even be right, but Puck didn’t really want to hear it. Then Mike shrugged and crossed back to his own side of the room to dig through his suitcase for his toothbrush. “Suit yourself. Dibs on the bathroom.”

Puck nodded and let him go, waiting until the bathroom door closed before he let out a deep breath and ran a hand over his face. He knew Mike was right; he should wake Kurt up and send him back to his own room, but it was hard to remember why when Kurt looked so peaceful.

It wouldn’t really hurt to let Kurt crash in their room. It wasn’t like anything was going to happen, and waking him up now would just throw him off and probably leave him even more tired tomorrow. So really he was doing Kurt a favor, and if it meant Puck got to spend the night with him that was just a bonus.

~

When Kurt woke up it was still dark in the room. For a second he thought he was back home in his own bed in Ohio, but when he stretched out an arm and felt something warm and solid on the other side of the bed, the night before came flooding back.

He didn’t remember falling asleep, and he definitely didn’t remember Puck crawling into bed with him. If he had been aware that he was, for all rights and purposes, sleeping with Puck, Kurt would have gotten out of there before he could embarrass himself. He’d never shared a bed with anyone before, so he had no idea if he’d ended up cuddling Puck in his sleep or stealing the blankets or even fidgeting all night and keeping Puck awake.

Though judging by the way Puck was drooling into his pillow, Kurt didn’t have to worry about that last one. He appeared to be a fairly sound sleeper, and Kurt thanked his luck as he slid out of the bed without waking Puck.

Mike was snoring softly from the other bed, and Kurt blushed a little harder as he navigated his way to the door in the dark. He managed to reach it without running into anything or waking either of the room’s occupants, turning the knob as quietly as he could manage and slipping into the hallway to blink at the sudden change in light.

As soon as the door closed behind him Kurt realized he’d left his shoes in the room, but it wasn’t like he had a key, and he wasn’t about to knock and wake Puck and Mike just to get his shoes back. Instead he straightened his clothes and ran a hand through his messy hair, wrinkling his nose at the taste in his mouth from falling asleep without brushing his teeth.

His room was one floor down, so Kurt slipped into the stairwell where he’d be less likely to run into any other early risers. He made it to his room without running into anyone, holding his breath as he slid his key card in the door and opening the door as quietly as possible in case his own roommate was still sleeping.

The lump in the center of the bed nearest the window told Kurt that his roommate was still fast asleep, and he closed the door behind him and crossed to his suitcase to dig out his toiletry kit and a change of clothes before he let himself into the bathroom and closed the door behind him.

He set his things down and dug out his toothbrush, then he squeezed some toothpaste onto the bristles and ran it under the water. Once his mouth tasted fresh and minty Kurt set his toothbrush aside and ventured a glance in the mirror, his cheeks flushing at the sight of his own reflection.

He didn’t look any different. He knew no one would be able to look at him and tell he’d spent the night in the same bed as Puck. Even if they did it wouldn’t matter, because nothing had happened between them. Still, he couldn’t help remembering Puck’s hands on his hips, the way he’d moved with Kurt when he was trying to get him to relax a little. The way Puck had leaned in and whispered, You look like you want to hit me, and Kurt hadn’t denied it, though hitting Puck was the furthest thing from his mind.

The truth was that Kurt wanted to kiss him, and sometimes he got the feeling that Puck wouldn’t mind if he did. Other times he got the feeling that Puck just liked the attention, and that made him feel more than a little pathetic. Like he was some kind of groupie, and that was the last thing Kurt wanted to be.

What he wanted…what he wanted was to keep his head in the game and land a spot in the top twenty, and nothing else mattered. Nothing else could matter, because he’d been working toward this his entire life, and Kurt wasn’t about to let some embarrassing crush derail him when he was so close to his goal.

He managed to shower and moisturize before his roommate woke up, and when he got down to breakfast he was one of the first dancers to arrive. Kurt filled a tray and found a seat by himself in a corner of the room, and he was hard at work convincing himself to focus on his dancing and not the feel of Puck’s hands on his hips when someone pulled out the chair across from him.

Kurt looked up in time to watch Puck set his own tray on the table, then he dropped into the seat across from Kurt and nodded at him. “’Sup.”

“Good morning,” Kurt answered, lips pursed as he watched Puck dig into a plate overflowing with scrambled eggs and bacon. “Aren’t you Jewish?”

For a second Puck just blinked at him, then he looked down at his plate and laughed. “Right. I figure what Ma doesn’t know won’t hurt her.”

Neither of them said anything else for a few minutes; Puck turned back to his breakfast, and Kurt mostly sat and watched him eat. After a few minutes Puck glanced up at him, eyebrows raised as he reached for the glass of milk Kurt was pretty sure wasn’t any more kosher than the bacon.

“So you left in kind of a hurry.”

It was a statement rather than a question, and if Kurt didn’t know better he’d say that Puck sounded almost...hurt. But that was impossible, because Puck wasn’t interested in Kurt. If he was, last night would have been the perfect opportunity to do something about it, but all they’d done was sleep.

“All my things were back in my room. I didn’t want to wake you just so I could tell you I was going to brush my teeth.” As soon as he said it Puck’s expression softened a little, and Kurt felt the butterflies that had moved into his stomach the day he met Puck start to stir. “I’m sorry about passing out on you, by the way. You should have just woken me up and sent me back to my own bed.”

“It’s no big thing. Not like I’m not used to close quarters.”

Puck looked down at his plate again, reaching for a piece of toast and spreading butter on it, and Kurt was grateful that Puck wasn’t looking to see his reaction to that news. And it wasn’t as though Kurt had any reason to assume that Puck was single; he flirted, sure, but Kurt was starting to get the impression that was just part of his personality. So he wasn’t surprised to hear that Puck didn’t sleep alone, but that didn’t mean he wanted to hear about it.

“It must be hard to be away from her,” he said, and as soon as the words escaped his lips he wanted to kick himself.

Puck shrugged and swallowed a mouthful of toast, then he reached for his milk to wash it down.

“It’s kind of weird, I guess. I mean, it’s only been a day, right? Still, I’m used to her chucking every toy in her crib at me and saying ‘Daddy’ over and over until I give in and haul my ass out of bed. Waking up to the sound of Mike taking a leak isn’t exactly the same, you know?”

For a second Kurt was too stunned to answer. It wasn’t that he’d forgotten that Puck had a daughter; he was aware of what Puck had left back home, but in the confusion of the last twelve hours he’d put Puck’s story out of his mind. The fact that Puck slept with his daughter’s crib in his bedroom…well, that meant he probably did spend his nights alone, and Kurt knew he shouldn’t be happy about it, but he couldn’t help himself.

When he finally pulled himself together he smiled, and when Puck grinned back at him Kurt’s heart skipped a beat. “There are worse ways to wake up, I suppose.”

“Yeah, I mean, she always does this kind of stage whisper, you know, like she’s trying to be quiet, even though we both know she’s trying to wake me up.” He paused and let out a little laugh, his eyes going soft for a second before he looked at Kurt again. “It’s still kind of weird, having a kid, but it has its moments.”

Kurt could tell by the look on Puck’s face that he loved it, no matter how weird he claimed it was. And he couldn’t even imagine having a daughter at their age, so he believed Puck when he said it was kind of weird. But it was kind of cool, too, knowing that Puck was raising his daughter the way Kurt’s dad had raised him after his mom died.

“How are you going to handle being away from her during the show?”

Puck blinked at him a time or two, then shook his head and looked down at his breakfast again. “Have to make it through Vegas first. I’ll worry about it if I make top twenty.”

“You’re going to make it,” Kurt said, and he couldn’t even say why he sounded so sure, but he was.

~

The second day of Vegas Week flew by in a blur of choreography and tears, mostly. A lot of people got cut, and every time one of their groups stood on stage to be judged Puck held his breath until he was sure he, Mike and Kurt were all safe.

Not that he worried much about Mike; the judges practically pissed themselves telling him how amazing he was every time they saw him, and Debbie Allen herself told him she’d be disappointed if he didn’t make top three. Mike rode that compliment for the rest of the day, and Puck didn’t even give him any shit for it, because it was Debbie fucking Allen, and he had a right to be pumped.

Kurt made it through hip hop without embarrassing himself, and he even managed to connect with the audience a little, so Puck wasn’t surprised when the judges put him through without even commenting. They could have tossed him a bone and told him he’d done a good job, sure, but no comment was sure as hell better than telling him he kind of sucked again.

By the time they got to the contemporary round everybody was exhausted, and Puck was glad he didn’t have to worry about Kurt or Mike this time, because he had enough to worry about with himself. Sure enough, Travis was the choreographer, and Puck didn’t have anything against him, but the dude was intense and his routines were complicated as hell.

Travis expected them to convey a ton of emotion, and Puck was good with that in theory, but he wasn’t sure how to sell the kind of heartbreak Travis was looking for. Nobody had ever ripped his heart out and stomped all over it, unless Puck counted Beth’s mom trying to keep him out of her life in the beginning, or maybe his dad being a total loser.

He was pretty sure he’d done okay anyway, but that didn’t make him any less nervous when his group finished and formed a line on the stage, and when Nigel called out him and two other dancers Puck’s heart pounded so hard in his chest he was pretty sure he wouldn’t even be able to hear what Nigel said.

“Puck,” Nigel said, and his face was as unreadable as ever. “You’re a b-boy.”

“Yeah…uh, yes, sir.”

“And what other styles have you studied?”

“None,” Puck answered, glancing past Nigel into the crowd, but it was too dark to make out any faces in the audience. “I pick up what I can here and there, but I’ve never taken any classes.”

Nigel nodded and looked down at the paper in front of him for another second, and now Puck knew Nigel was just fucking with him because he could. “Your progress has been remarkable. Keep up the good work.”

“Thanks,” Puck said, then he headed offstage and toward the seats where he usually found Kurt and Mike. When he got there Kurt was waiting for him, a smug expression on his face, and Puck tried and failed not to grin. “What?”

“I told you you’d make it.”

“I haven’t made it yet, Ohio. We still have another day to get through.”

They still had to choreograph their own group routines, and everybody knew that was the worst part of Vegas Week. If they got stuck in a bad group or ended up with a lousy style it could be all over, and there was only so much they could do about it. But Kurt was grinning at him like he knew something Puck didn’t – like he was proud of Puck or something – and it was hard to be nervous about the group routines when Kurt was looking at him like that.

~

Kurt’s group number was a jazz routine, a stroke of luck that was almost enough to convince him of the existence of God. One of the girls in his group, a contemporary dancer named Brittany, had studied jazz for years, so between the two of them they came up with a number that got every single member of their group through.

Puck landed in a group that was forced to choreograph a contemporary routine, and Kurt watched the entire performance through his fingers, but they managed to pull it off in the end. Puck even held his own, a fact which surprised Kurt almost as much as it surprised Puck, and somehow by the end of the group numbers they were both through to the final round.

He still wasn’t sure how they’d pulled it off, and they still had their individual performances to get through, but Kurt wasn’t worried. Technically he knew he could hold his own, and he’d seen enough of Puck’s dancing to know that he could engage any audience. So all either of them had to do was perform to their strengths and they’d both be getting an invitation to L.A. to get the final results in just a month.

Making them wait around a whole month to hear who was in the top twenty seemed sort of cruel, but Kurt knew they did it to minimize any chance of the results leaking before the show started airing.

The judges didn’t critique them on their last performance, so none of them had any idea where they stood when they were called into the auditorium and lined up on stage. It was weird to look around and see less than fifty dancers left when they’d started the week with nearly two hundred, and it was even weirder to think that he and Puck were both still standing.

Puck was standing right next to him, as a matter of fact, shoulder pressed against Kurt’s and somehow the steady warmth made it easier to stand there and wait to hear the judges make their final cuts. It was tempting to reach for Puck’s hand, but Kurt had no idea how Puck would react if he did, so instead he leaned a little harder against Puck’s shoulder and tried to remember to breathe.

Nigel called out a few names, and Kurt held his breath while Nigel told them they were all cut from the competition. One by one more dancers got cut until there were only thirty-five of them on stage, and surely they couldn’t cut any more, at least not without practically giving away the top twenty. So it was no surprise when Nigel looked up and congratulated the rest of them on making it to the final round, but Kurt still blinked a few times to make sure he wasn’t hallucinating.

Strong arms grabbed him and Kurt caught a flash of Puck’s grinning face before he was wrapped in a tight hug, and he slid his arms around Puck’s shoulders and hugged him back. He pressed his face against Puck’s neck, breathing in the warm scents of soap and Puck. If Puck noticed that Kurt was…well, sort of perving on him, he didn’t complain. Instead he just hugged Kurt a little tighter, then he let go and Kurt managed not to grab him and drag him close again.

A second later Puck was hugging Mike, then Kurt was being pulled into a hug by Brittany, and all around them people were shouting and crying and clinging to each other. And Kurt had always told himself he wouldn’t get swept away by the emotion of the experience and start crying like everyone on TV always did, but it had been a long week and he was exhausted, so he wasn’t surprised to feel his throat tighten.

Nigel was shouting for their attention, and when the dancers finally settled down to listen to him Puck wasn’t standing next to Kurt anymore. He was halfway across the stage, and Kurt told himself it was fine. It was, because they’d made it through and they’d both be back next month to hear the final results, and the chances of them both making top twenty at this point were better than Kurt ever imagined they’d be.

He tried to pay attention while Nigel gave them all their final instructions, but it was hard to listen when his mind was racing and his blood was pounding against his eardrums. Nigel said something about callbacks for the final round of cuts, then he said something about exit interviews, and Kurt knew they were going to make them film those dumb little dance sequences they always showed at the end of Vegas week.

Even that he could endure, though, because he’d made it all the way to the end of the semifinals without getting cut, and that meant he was so close to realizing his dream that he could almost reach out and touch it. Kurt followed the others off the stage and down the aisle that led out of the auditorium, past the lobby into a conference room where they’d set up a backdrop for interviews during the week.

He’d stood in front of that stupid blue sheet and tried to act like he wasn’t terrified of getting cut at least a dozen times so far, and now that he really wasn’t getting cut he didn’t even mind doing a ballet jump for the camera. They made him repeat it a few times, and by the time they let him go he was red-faced and laughing, stumbling back into the hall to find Puck waiting for him.

As soon as Kurt appeared Puck pushed off the wall he’d been leaning against, his eyes going sort of dark for a second and Kurt couldn’t say why his heart stuttered in his chest at the sight. His breath caught in his throat, but as soon as he realized he was staring he shook his head and let out a nervous laugh.

“Am I allowed to say I told you so now?”

“No,” Puck said, grinning and taking another step toward Kurt. “Not unless I make top twenty.”

“Fine, but you’re going to,” Kurt assured him. “So I’ll just say it next month when I see you again.”

“Yeah, well, I’ve got something for you.” Puck reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper, holding it up between them. “In case you think of anything you want to say before then.”

It took Kurt a second to work up the nerve to pull the slip of paper out of his hand, but when he unfolded it and saw an e-mail address and a phone number his heart skipped another beat. He told himself it didn’t mean anything. Puck kept saying Kurt was his boy, and he still hadn’t figured out what that meant, but apparently it meant that he at least wanted to stay in touch.

“I don’t have a pen,” he said, glancing up at Puck again, and when Puck smirked at him he felt himself blush.

“You can text me your e-mail address. It’ll give you something to do during your layover.”

“Oh. Of course.” Kurt nodded and looked down at the piece of paper in his hand again, as though maybe it was going to disappear if he didn’t keep an eye on it. “So I’ll see you in a month?”

When Puck swayed forward Kurt’s heart stopped, and when he stopped just close enough to whisper in Kurt’s ear, his heart started over again in double time. “Count on it.”

Chapter Text

where r u?

Kurt smiled down at the text message, then he rolled his eyes at himself and pressed ‘reply’.

Airport courtesy van. I’ll be at the hotel soon.

He pressed ‘send’ and closed his phone, then he glanced out the window at the notorious L.A. traffic and wondered just how soon they’d really make it to the hotel. Not that he was anxious to get there; Puck and Mike’s flight had gotten in an hour ago, but Kurt wasn’t exactly in a hurry to see him.

They’d been texting back and forth for the past month, mainly random messages from Puck whenever Kurt crossed his mind, things like, just had the best reuben ever u hav to try it when you move to ny or just saw an ohio plate near the park who drives here frm ohio?

It was a valid question, Kurt supposed, but one he didn’t have an answer to. Then again, if he did convince his father that moving to the city was the best thing for his career, Kurt would be driving to New York. He knew he couldn’t afford to keep his car there, but there were a few things he couldn’t live without, and they wouldn’t all fit in a suitcase.

So their conversations over the past month had consisted mostly of random texts and a couple e-mails, and no matter how many times Kurt scrolled through Puck’s texts he couldn’t figure out what they were doing. It would be one thing if he thought Puck was gay, but his daughter was a pretty good indication that he wasn’t. Which meant they were...friends, and it wasn’t even close to what Kurt wanted, but it was better than nothing.

Still, the closer he got to seeing Puck again, the harder it was to ignore the way Puck’s hands felt on him, and the way Puck had held him when they found out they were going through to the Hollywood callbacks. And okay, everybody was hugging everybody at the time, but Puck had reached for him first.

Then there was the fact that they’d shared a bed; nothing had happened, of course, but Puck had seemed sort of bothered by the fact that Kurt left before he woke up. The whole week had culminated in the most confusing moment of all, and Kurt had played the moment when Puck leaned in and whispered count on it over and over in his head so many times he heard it in his sleep.

A month of texts later he still had no idea what any of it meant. All he knew for sure was that he was about to find out if he’d made the show, and if he hadn’t...well, he was going to have a much harder time convincing his dad to let him go if he couldn’t prove himself as a dancer first. And he was trying to focus on the show – he was – but it wasn’t his fault Puck was distracting.

Long before he was ready the shuttle pulled up outside the hotel, and Kurt followed the rest of the dancers on his flight off the van and into the lobby. When he got inside he pulled out his phone again, fingers hesitating over the buttons for a few seconds before he opened a new message and started typing.

I’m here.

Kurt pressed ‘send’ and shoved his phone back in his pocket, then he headed for the front desk to get his room assignment and his key card. And it seemed a little silly to fly them all to Hollywood and put them up in a hotel just to send the rejects home the next day, but he’d learned all sorts of things about the way television worked since he tried out for the show.

His phone beeped when he was on his way to his room, and once he was on the elevator Kurt pulled it out and opened the text.

wut rm?

His stomach fluttered at the thought of seeing Puck again, but Kurt clamped down hard on the sensation and started typing.

224. On my way now.

Puck wasn’t waiting for him when Kurt reached his room, and he told himself he wasn’t disappointed. He wasn’t, because they were just friends, and there was no reason for Puck to be waiting for him.

Kurt sighed and slid his key card into the lock, pushing the door open and letting himself in. His roommate hadn’t arrived yet, from the looks of the room, so Kurt lifted his suitcase onto the bed closest to the window and unzipped it. He was shaking the wrinkles out of his favorite pair of pants when someone knocked on the door, and Kurt’s stomach fluttered as he crossed the room to pull it open.

Puck was leaning against the door frame, one hand resting on the back of his neck and looking impossibly hot. Kurt swallowed hard at the sight of him, cheeks flushing right on cue. His gaze drifted up to Puck’s scalp, but where there had been a mohawk just a month ago, now his head was completely shaved.

“You changed your hair.”

“Oh, yeah.” Puck grinned and ran his hand over his scalp, like he was just remembering that he’d shaved his head. “I figured it was time for a change, you know?”

“I like it,” Kurt said, blushing as soon as he said it, because it wasn’t as though Puck cared what Kurt thought of his hair.

“Thanks,” Puck said anyway, and the butterflies in Kurt’s stomach started a revolt. “So how was Ohio?”

“Nothing much ever changes in Ohio,” Kurt answered, and it was true, but that didn’t make it sound like any less of a cliche.

Puck smiled at him anyway, pushing himself off the door and glancing over his shoulder before he turned back to Kurt. “Listen, you should come hang out with me and Mike. They won’t let us out of the hotel in case anyone spots us and posts it all over the Internet, I guess, which is a total waste of a night in L.A. with nothing to do, but at least there’s cable.”

“But don’t we...”

“Nah,” Puck interrupted, “we don’t have to be anywhere until tomorrow. Anyway, you have to come by my room. You left your shoes last time.”

It took a few seconds for Kurt to realize what he was talking about, but when he did he blushed even harder. “You kept my shoes?”

Puck shrugged, then he grinned, and Kurt felt it all the way to his toes. “They’re nice shoes. I thought about hanging on to them until you moved to New York, but I figured you might want them for the show.”

It was...thoughtful. Kind of strange, but sweet all the same, and Kurt smiled back at Puck. “Thank you, Puck.”

Another shrug, and when Puck smiled this time it was almost shy. “Don’t mention it. So are you coming or what?”

Kurt nodded, and when Puck smirked and nodded in the direction of his own room Kurt knew he was in trouble.

~

‘Come hang out with me and Mike’ ended up being more like ‘let’s throw a party for half the dancers in our hotel room’. Which was fine with Puck, because he’d always been a ‘more the merrier’ kind of guy, but he had a feeling Kurt wasn’t used to such big crowds. As soon as other people started showing up to hang out and the dancing started to spill into the hallway just to give them enough room, Kurt busted out his turtle impression, kind of pulling back into himself and going all uptight and tense.

Puck could tell he was uncomfortable, but he had no clue why. It couldn’t be because Kurt was intimidated by the talent; he was just as good as anybody there and they both knew it, just like they both knew that if either of them was going to make top twenty, it would be Kurt. So it had to be the people who were making him all weird and tense, and Puck figured that meant the party was exactly what he needed.

Kurt was going to be around a lot of these people for the next couple months, if everything went according to plan, and if he didn’t get comfortable around them he wasn’t going to have a very good time. It was possible Puck would be there to watch his back, but he couldn’t guarantee it. There were at least three other b-boys still in the running, and they were all great. Most of them could handle the other styles okay, too, so Puck’s chances against them weren’t terrific. He knew that and he was okay with it, but still, he kind of hoped he’d get through. Partly so he could hang out with Kurt some more, sure, but Mike would have Kurt’s back if Puck couldn’t be there to do it. So he wanted to get through for himself, too, just to prove to himself that he could.

He wanted his mom and his Nana and even Beth to see that he could follow through with something, that he was done screwing around and he was ready to stand up and make a life for his kid. And yeah, making it this far was a pretty big deal already, but if he made it into the top twenty they’d get to see him dance and they’d know that he wasn’t totally useless.

When Kurt insisted on going back to his room to crash before everybody else left Puck thought about arguing with him. He thought about asking Kurt to spend the night again, and maybe this time they wouldn’t just sleep. Mike would go crash in Kurt’s room if Puck asked him to, and sure, Puck would owe him forever, but it would be worth it just to be the one to take Kurt apart.

It would be a distraction from waiting to find out who’d made the cut, for one thing. It would probably be good for Kurt, too, because he couldn’t win the whole thing if he didn’t learn how to let go once in awhile. But it would mean starting something Puck wasn’t sure they’d get a chance to finish, too, and Puck wanted Kurt, yeah, but he didn’t want just one night.

He promised himself when Quinn ditched Beth and left him to take care of her on his own that he wasn’t going to be that guy anymore. He wasn’t going to hook up with whoever and worry about the consequences later; he couldn’t, because he had a kid depending on him and she deserved at least one parent who wasn’t going to bail on her. She deserved a dad who was around to wrestle her into her crib at night, and who was there for her to chuck stuffed animals at every morning.

She deserved somebody who was going to stick around, and Puck figured maybe he deserved that too. He knew Kurt did, and he kind of hoped that if Kurt did move to New York maybe they could be that for each other. But he wasn’t going to know if he fucked up his shot by coming on to Kurt before they even announced the top twenty, so Puck didn’t ask him to stay.

Instead he nodded when Kurt said he was going, then he slid an arm around his shoulders and dragged him close to whisper, “It’s good to see you” over the noise in the hallway. When Kurt flushed Puck grinned and reached up to trace his blush with a knuckle, then he pushed Kurt down the hall toward his own room before he did something stupid like kiss him in front of a dozen other dancers.

Not that he thought the other dancers would care, but Kurt probably would, and Puck wasn’t going to risk making him any more uptight than he already was.

~

Breakfast was a decidedly tense affair. Everyone was nervous, which translated to people either being unusually quiet or even more talkative than usual. The only person who didn’t seem all that nervous was Puck, and Kurt knew it was because he’d already decided he wasn’t going to make it.

He was sure Puck was wrong, but he knew better than to try to convince Puck of that, especially when tensions were running high already. Then there was the fact that every time he looked at Puck, Kurt remembered the way his arm felt around Kurt’s shoulders and the warmth of his breath on Kurt’s cheek when he’d leaned in to whisper in Kurt’s ear the night before.

Kurt knew it was only because Puck was trying to make himself heard over the noise in the hallway, but it still felt…intimate, and Kurt laid awake for a long time after he got back to his room and tried not to imagine what it would be like if Puck was there with him, whispering much different words against his skin.

That was the last thing he needed to distract himself with on the day the top twenty was announced, so Kurt did his best to push the memory out of his mind and forced down his breakfast. He was working so hard not to notice Puck sprawled in the chair across from him that he didn’t hear the producer call them to the holding room, and when Puck leaned forward and tapped the edge of his tray Kurt started and looked up.

“We’re on,” Puck said, frowning at Kurt, and for one wild second Kurt was sure Puck could read his mind. “You okay?”

“Fine,” Kurt answered, though the truth was he was anything but. “Just a little nervous, that’s all.”

“Dude, chill, you’ve totally got this.” Puck grinned and pushed his chair back, standing up and waiting for Kurt to stand too before he slid an arm around Kurt’s shoulders and steered him toward the auditorium with the other dancers. “Besides, the decision’s already made, so it’s not like giving yourself a stroke is going to change anything.”

“Easy for you to say,” Kurt murmured, but it was hard to be annoyed with Puck when he was too busy focusing on the weight of Puck’s arm around his shoulders and the warmth of his side where he was pressed up against Kurt.

When they reached the holding room Puck let go, and Kurt told himself it was for the best, because Puck was already distracting enough without putting his hands on Kurt too. They sat down in the uncomfortable folding chairs and stared at the black curtains covering the entrance to the hallway, the room even quieter now as they waited for Cat to appear and start calling them in to face the judges.

“Who do you think they’ll make wait until last?” Puck said, leaning forward on his elbows and glancing around the room at the rest of the dancers. And Kurt hadn’t even thought about that inevitability, but now that Puck had brought it up Kurt was sure it was going to be him.

His only comfort was the fact that it wouldn’t be him and Puck, because the final two always danced the same style. Which meant Kurt would be up against one of the other contemporary dancers, probably Sam or that Blaine kid with the fantastic hair. The thought of standing in front of the judges and being compared to some other dancer he barely knew was enough to make Kurt want to get up and walk out, or possibly just puke on the shoes Puck had brought to L.A. for him.

Or maybe he’d ruin his shoes and then walk out. Either way he knew it would end up on TV, and he’d spend the rest of his life utterly humiliated and stuck in Ohio. That was the only thought that held him together as the curtain opened and Cat walked in, taking in the tense faces in the room and smiling sympathetically.

“All right, time to put you out of your misery,” she announced, and she was so sweet that it was impossible to hold it against her that she more or less held all their futures in her hands. “Mercedes, you’re first, sweetie.”

A female hip hop dancer with attitude for days stood up, and Kurt expected her to be confident, but he could see her hands shaking from across the room. They all watched Cat lead Mercedes through the curtain and out of sight, and as soon as she was gone the talk started. Everyone was making predictions on whether or not she was through, if her size was going to hold her back even though she was an amazing break dancer.

“Yeah, but if she makes it through, which one of us gets stuck lifting her?” Blaine said, and it was a valid point that even the judges had brought up, but that didn’t stop the rest of the dancers from shouting him down immediately.

“Just because you’re a midget,” Sam said, and the rest of the room laughed when Blaine scowled. And it wasn’t as though Kurt would be able to lift Mercedes any better than Blaine, but he was pretty sure Sam had the strength to partner her. Puck too, for that matter, but the chances of the judges pairing two hip hop dancers was pretty slim.

“Who do you think they’ll pair you with if you get through?” Puck asked, leaning close enough to press their shoulders together, and Kurt looked over to find Puck watching him.

“I have no idea. Not another contemporary dancer. Tina, maybe? She’s ballet.”

“Yeah, but that’s not that far off from contemporary,” Puck said. “What about that Rachel chick? What’s her style again?”

“Jazz,” Kurt answered, frowning at the back of her head as he wondered why Puck was interested in her all of a sudden. “Which might as well be contemporary, frankly. I think she has designs on making it big on Broadway.”

Puck nodded but didn’t elaborate, and it wasn’t as though Kurt was going to ask if he was interested in Rachel, so he kept his mouth shut and went back to staring at the curtain. It felt like forever before Mercedes finally reappeared, her expression telling them all she’d made it before she ever got the words out.

The whole room burst into cheers and applause, the tension broken momentarily over the joy of one of them actually making it into the top twenty. Even Blaine looked thrilled for her, and Kurt was still laughing at Mercedes’ victory dance when Cat said his name.

“Next up is Kurt.”

“Oh, God,” Kurt murmured, his stomach rolling and now he was sure he was going to throw up. His only hope was that he’d at least make it to the hallway before he lost it, mostly so he wouldn’t have thirty-five witnesses to his humiliation.

A hand landed on his shoulder before he stood up, and the warm weight of Puck’s fingers helped settle the butterflies in his stomach a little. Kurt glanced over at him and tried for a smile, but he was fairly sure he just ended up looking as sick as he felt.

“Dude, breathe,” Puck said, and when he smiled Kurt found himself nodding. He took a deep breath and stood up, his legs on autopilot as he crossed the room to stop in front of Cat. Distantly he heard the encouragement from the other dancers, and Kurt managed something a little closer to a smile as Cat slid an arm around his shoulders and led him through the curtain.

He wasn’t sure how long they made him sit in the room behind the theater, his stomach rolling as he played every possible scenario over in his head. The most likely of them, he was fairly sure, was that the judges would tell him that while his technique was flawless, it wasn’t enough. He’d seen every episode of the first seven seasons, after all, and he knew what happened to the dancers the judges didn’t view as strong performers.

By the time they called him out to the stage Kurt had convinced himself that he hadn’t made it. There was no reason to think he would; there were plenty of dancers in the running who were just as good as him, and most of them were adept at getting their personalities across to the judges. The fact that Kurt had made it this far was sort of a miracle, and he told himself he could go home today with his head held high.

He took another deep breath and stepped onto the stage, his heart pounding at the sight of Nigel, Mary, Mia and Tyce.

“Hi,” Mia said, smiling in that way she had that could either mean she loved him or she hated him. He hoped she didn’t hate him, but he’d seen enough of her on the show to know she didn’t really need a reason to hate someone.

“Hi,” he said, hands clasped together behind him to keep them from shaking.

“How are you feeling?”

“Good,” Kurt lied. “Excited. Nervous.”

Mia smiled again, but it looked sort of painful. “Kurt, you know that to be successful on the show you really have to perform. You can’t just dance well; you have to be able to tell the story.”

He nodded, eyes stinging, but he wasn’t going to start crying. He’d heard all this before and he hadn’t cried in front of the judges yet, and he wasn’t about to start now.

“We know you have it in you,” Nigel said. “There were glimpses of that passion in Vegas. But there’s a question as to whether or not you gave enough to get you through.”

Kurt nodded, lips pressed together and he was sure he was going to get cut, but he crossed his fingers behind his back anyway.

“This was not a unanimous decision,” Nigel continued, and Kurt felt himself nod again. “So you’re going to have to prove to those of us who voted for you that we were right, because you’re through.”

It took a few seconds for Nigel’s words to sink in, and when they did Kurt was positive he’d hallucinated them. “I’m in?”

“You’re in the top twenty!” Mary shouted, and Kurt’s whole face heated up when all the judges laughed.

“Oh my…thank you so much,” Kurt said, hands pressed to his lips and now he was crying, but he didn’t care anymore. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Now off the stage before we change our minds,” Nigel said, and Kurt certainly didn’t have to be told twice.

He hurried off the stage, vision blurred by tears and when he got back to the curtain blocking the holding area he paused to take a deep breath and wipe at his eyes with the back of his hand. Once he was sure he could talk without dissolving into tears again he pushed the curtain open, stopping next to Cat and scanning the room to find Puck. Puck who was watching him like the next words out of Kurt’s mouth were the most important thing that would ever happen to him, and Kurt’s stomach fluttered all over again when he smiled and Puck smiled back.

“I’m in. I made top twenty.”

It took less than a heartbeat for the sound in the room to go from nonexistent to ear-shattering decibels, and before Kurt knew what was happening there were hands on him and people were grabbing him and hugging him. He was passed from Mercedes to Brittany, then Sam, and when he looked up and spotted Puck reaching for him, Kurt slid his arms around Puck’s waist without thinking.

As soon as he did it he wondered if he should have, but when Puck’s arms slid around his back to pull him close Kurt decided it didn’t matter. His eyes were stinging again and he fought back another round of tears, hands clenching around the fabric of Puck’s shirt and holding on tight until the urge to cry passed. Puck held on just as tight, and even though Kurt felt hands clapping his shoulders and heard the voices of the other dancers, all he could focus on was Puck’s arms around him and Puck’s cheek pressed against the side of his head.

“Told you so,” Puck said, and when Kurt laughed Puck let go of him.

Kurt let him pull away, hands on the front of his shirt to smooth it down as he tried to pull himself back together. It seemed unbelievable that he was in the top twenty, but Puck was grinning at him like he’d just won the lottery, and if it was a dream Kurt was pretty sure he never wanted to wake up.

~

After Kurt got through they didn’t get any good news for awhile. One by one dancers got cut, dreams shattered and still promising to come back for more torture next year. Puck was pretty sure he wasn’t going to get through, and if he didn’t he wasn’t all that sure he’d audition again. The only reason he’d showed up at the auditions in the first place was because Mike talked him into it, and once Mike got his pass into the top twenty there wouldn’t be a reason for Puck to try out next year.

Once they cut another guy – some tap dancer Puck hadn’t spoken to much – Cat called Brittany’s name. There was no way they were going to send her home; she was the best girl in the competition, and Puck figured they’d probably pair her with Mike once the actual show started.

They looked good together, anyway, and they were both so good that they’d probably make it to the final three. That only left one place left in the finale, and Puck figured if Kurt could unclench a little more, he’d be a shoo-in to claim it.

Sure enough, twenty minutes later Brittany was through, then Sam and Blaine, and the closer they got to the end the more Puck got the feeling that it was going to be him and another b-boy left for last. Which meant it was either going to be him and Wes or him and Mike, and there was no way they’d choose him over Mike. Puck wouldn’t want them to, no matter how interesting the producers thought his story was, but he didn’t really want to stand up there at the end while they chose between him and his best friend, either.

The closer they got to the end the less sure Kurt looked about him getting through, too, and the weird thing was that Puck felt worse about letting him down than he did about not making the top twenty. He could tell Kurt was kind of freaking out, because he’d been sitting next to Puck since he got through, and the longer it took for Cat to get to Puck, the quieter Kurt got.

“You know I’m going last, right?” Puck said, and Kurt nodded and ventured a glance at him. “I just hope they don’t send me out there with Mike, but they probably will. It makes for good TV.”

Kurt’s lips pressed together hard, and Puck felt kind of bad for making him feel even worse. But it wasn’t like it was Kurt’s fault they were making Puck sweat it out, just like it wouldn’t be Kurt’s fault when Puck didn’t get through.

“Puck,” Kurt said, his voice kind of shaking, but before he got any further than that Cat was back. They both looked up when she walked in, but instead of heading for Puck she tapped Mike on the shoulder.

Once Mike was gone Puck let out a heavy sigh, running a hand over his face and glancing across the room at Wes. So he was going to lose out to some guy he didn’t know; at least it was better than having to stand next to Mike when they told him he was cut. He felt a hand land on his shoulder and glanced over at Kurt, taking in wide blue eyes and pale skin, and Puck smiled even though he sort of felt like throwing up.

“What were you going to say before?”

“What? Oh. It was nothing,” Kurt said, but his cheeks flushed a little, and Puck was pretty sure that meant he was lying. “I just wanted to say that you were really amazing in Vegas. Whatever happens...just don’t forget that.”

Puck nodded and reached up, hand closing over the one still resting on his shoulder. He wasn’t sure how long they sat there like that with his hand covering Kurt’s, but he knew he didn’t want to let go.

He didn’t have a choice when it came down to the last four dancers, because the producers kicked everybody else out of the room. Then it was just him and Wes and the last two girls, and Puck just wished they’d hurry up and get it over with already. He got why they were dragging out the drama and all, but that didn’t mean he had to like it. So he was glad when Cat said the guys were up first, and he was glad they got to bypass the extra wait in the isolation room before they headed for the auditorium.

They stopped at the front of the stage, and Puck reached over to grip Wes’ shoulder for a second before he turned to face the judges. And they’d stood in front of all these people plenty of times since this whole thing started, but it didn’t make it feel any less weird to be here with Wes now.

“Once again it comes down to two b-boys,” Nigel said, glancing at the other judges before he turned back to Puck and Wes. “You’ve left us with a difficult choice this year, I must say.”

“Puck,” he said, and Puck squared his shoulders and did his best to look like he wasn’t expecting to be cut. “You’ve got oodles of raw talent, but some of the judges are worried about your ability to cope with styles other than hip hop.”

It was a fair point; he’d seen Wes dance a couple times, and Puck was pretty sure he’d been trained in styles other than hip hop. And it wasn’t like he was going to argue whether he agreed with Nigel or not, so Puck just nodded and waited for him to get on with it.

“Wes, your technique is superb, but we’re a bit worried that we’ve already seen everything you have to offer. Which is why you’re going to have to show us a lot more, because you’re through to the top twenty. Puck, I’m sorry, we won’t be asking you to join us this year.”

Puck nodded, hand gripping Wes’ shoulder and when Wes turned toward him Puck let Wes pull him into a brief hug. “It’s all good, dude,” he said, patting Wes on the back. “You deserve it.”

If the judges said anything else after that Puck didn’t hear it. He wasn’t that sad about it, because he’d known this was coming awhile ago. Mostly he was just disappointed that he wouldn’t get to hang out with Kurt for the next few weeks, and he was a little mad that somebody else would get to hug Kurt every time he lost it and started crying during the show.

Puck followed Wes back to the holding area, letting him go first and announce his victory to the mostly empty room. And it kind of sucked that they cleared everybody out for the final four, because it meant it was pretty much just Cat there to congratulate Wes. Puck patted him on the shoulder again, then he let Cat kiss his cheek and tell him how good he did before he headed into the hallway to find the rest of the dancers.

He spotted Mike first, and when Puck saw his hopeful expression he shook his head. “It’s Wes.”

“Man, that sucks,” Mike said, and Puck knew he meant it, but he didn’t want Mike or anybody to feel sorry for him.

“It’s all good,” he said again, and the thing was, he meant it. He gripped the hand that Mike held out, dragging him forward and wrapping his free arm around Mike’s shoulders before he could get away. “Just kick ass out there. And watch Kurt’s back for me, okay? He’s probably going to need it.”

When Mike nodded Puck let go of him, grinning one last time before he glanced past Mike to find Kurt watching him. His eyes were red and watery, like he’d been crying for awhile, and Puck’s heart clenched hard in his chest the way it had the first time he heard Beth say ‘Daddy’. Puck sighed and took a few steps forward, and when Kurt met him halfway Puck laughed and slid his arms around Kurt’s back.

“So you were wrong,” he said, whispering the words near Kurt’s ear. “It’s not worth crying about.”

Kurt laughed against his neck, warm and sending shivers down his spine. “I really thought you’d make it.”

“Yeah, I know.”

He did, and it was cool that Kurt believed in him even though he didn’t really have a reason. It didn’t change anything, but there weren’t a lot of people in his life who believed in him, so it was nice that Kurt did.

“Listen, you’re gonna kill this,” Puck said, whispering the words against Kurt’s neck, and Kurt’s grip on him tightened just a little more. “Just remember to let people see you, right?”

Kurt nodded against his neck, and Puck took a deep breath and let go. He eased out of Kurt’s grip and took a few steps backwards, watching Kurt sniffle and reach up to rub at red eyes. He wanted to grab Kurt and pull him close again, to make him promise to stay in touch and then promise to move to New York the first chance he got. But he couldn’t ask for promises Kurt couldn’t keep, so instead he waved and turned away before he lost it and showed Kurt exactly how he felt.

~

Kurt’s hands shook as he pressed his speed dial for home, heart in his throat while he waited for the line to connect. And he’d never been nervous about calling his dad before, but everything about his life had changed so fast, and it felt like maybe things at home should be different too.

Someone picked up on the second ring, and when he heard his dad’s voice saying hello, Kurt’s eyes started stinging again. “Dad, I made it.”

“You did? That’s great, son,” his dad said, and Kurt smiled in spite of the tightness in his chest. “Wow, that’s...wow. So I guess you’re gonna be famous now, huh?”

“I don’t know about famous,” he answered, sniffing and glancing down the hall even though he knew Puck wasn’t coming back.

“Kurt? What’s wrong? I thought making it was a good thing.”

“It is,” Kurt said, but as soon as he said it a choked sob escaped his throat. “It’s just my friend...the one I told you about? He got sent home today.”

“Oh.” For a few seconds his dad was quiet, and Kurt was grateful that he’d made it, he really was, but right now all he wanted was to be home where his dad could hug him and tell him it was going to be okay. “That’s too bad, son. But you made it through. That’s great.”

“It is,” Kurt answered. He cleared his throat and squared his shoulders, forcing back a fresh round of tears. “It’s going to be amazing.”

“I’m proud of you,” his dad said, and this time Kurt’s heart clenched for a completely different reason. “Break a leg out there, okay?”

“I will, Dad. Thanks.”

Kurt smiled and closed his phone, then he took a deep breath and ran a hand over his face. He was disappointed that Puck wasn’t going to be here to compete, but they could still talk on the phone or via e-mail, and Kurt knew he owed it to both of them to get as far as he could in the competition.

Chapter Text

The room assignments were random; Kurt knew that. He knew that they hadn’t stuck him in a room with Wes just to remind him of the fact that Puck could be here instead, that it could be him sprawled across the other bed listening to terrible rap music instead of Wes. It could be Puck annoying Kurt with ridiculous questions about Ohio, as though it was some exotic foreign country and not the most boring place a person could grow up.

Still, it felt like he was being punished, and Kurt was grateful that rehearsals for the group numbers started almost right away so he didn’t have time to hang around his room and think about what he was missing. He didn’t have time to think about the fact that Puck had texted him from the airport, then again when he got home, just to tell Kurt he’d made it okay.

He didn’t have time to think about the way Puck had held onto him, how he hadn’t complained when Kurt cried into his shoulder and held onto him like they were important to each other instead of just a couple guys who’d met by chance a few months ago. And the thing was, it felt like they meant something to each other. It felt as though he’d known Puck for years instead of just a few months, and now that Puck wasn’t here Kurt had no idea how he was going to get through the rest of the competition.

It was ridiculous. He’d started this whole thing on his own, and he didn’t need Puck or anyone else there to help him get through it. That didn’t change the fact that he’d gotten used to having Puck around, and now that he was gone Kurt couldn’t ignore the fact that he missed him.

He missed someone he barely knew, but who’d still somehow managed to make him feel more than anyone he’d ever met. He missed the way Puck believed in him, even when Kurt didn’t really believe in himself. He missed the way Puck touched him, as though that was a perfectly normal thing for two guys who barely knew each other to do.

“Kurt.”

Kurt’s head snapped up at the sound of his name, cheeks flushing when he saw the rest of the dancers looking at him. As far as he knew he hadn’t lost his place in the choreography, but he’d been letting his mind wander, so he couldn’t be positive. “Yes?”

“This is a celebration, not a funeral,” Sonya said. “I want more aggression from you.”

Kurt nodded and blushed a little harder, and when he felt a hand pat his shoulder he glanced up long enough to flash a tight-lipped smile at Mike. He had no idea how to deliver ‘aggression’, but if he was the weakest link in a group routine choreographed in his own style, there was no way the judges wouldn’t hold it against him. So Kurt was just going to have to figure it out, and he didn’t have much time to do it.

After a morning of frustrating group practice they all split off into pairs for their first routines of the season. Kurt had been paired with Tina, and he was grateful for the handful of ballroom classes he’d taken when she pulled the smooth waltz in the drawing. Tina didn’t have any experience with ballroom at all, but she was used to the lifts, thanks to her ballet training, and that made it a lot easier for them to get through their first practice. It didn’t leave them any less exhausted at the end of the day, though, and after dinner Kurt went back to his room intent on crashing immediately.

He checked his phone more out of habit than because he was expecting to hear from anyone, but when he saw a new text alert his heart skipped a beat. Kurt opened the message, smiling at the sight of Puck’s name on the screen.

hows ur 1st day

Kurt sighed and sank onto his bed, leaning back against the pillows and trying not to think about the look on Sonya’s face at the end of the group rehearsal.

Not great. Sonya says I’m not aggressive enough.

Puck’s text had been sent hours ago, so Kurt didn’t expect an answer right away. A minute later his phone beeped, though, and he picked it up to see a new message from Puck.

just think bout that tym i pissed u off

He laughed in spite of himself, cheeks flushing at the memory of Puck’s face when he thought Kurt wanted to hit him. It was true that his moves had gotten a lot stronger once Puck got him to loosen up a little, though, and Kurt wished all over again that Puck was still around to show him where he was going wrong without making him feel too stupid about it.

Thanks for the tip. How’s New York?

same as b4 i left, Puck’s next text said, followed almost immediately after by, whos ur partnr?

Tina. We’ve got the smooth waltz this week. It’s kind of a mess. Kurt paused, frowning down at the screen for a second before he started typing again. Wes is paired with Rachel. She would have been your partner, I suppose.

wut r they dancin?

Kurt chewed his lip for a minute, trying to recall what Rachel had pulled in the drawing. He grinned at the memory of the vague panic on her face right before she forced a show business smile. krump

figures, Puck texted back less than a minute later, and Kurt laughed as he pictured Puck’s wry grin. u shuld get some sleep brake a leg, k?

Thanks, Kurt typed, though the last thing he wanted to do was let Puck go. But he had a daughter and a whole life in New York, and Kurt couldn’t expect Puck to sit around texting him all night. He clamped down hard on the urge to type ‘I miss you’, settling for Goodnight, Puck instead. He hit send before he could change his mind, then he set his phone down and headed for the bathroom to get ready for bed.

~

It wasn’t so bad, being cut from the competition. By the time he got home the show had already started airing, which meant they’d shown his audition, so he was a hero with his sister. Beth was just glad to have him around again, and even his mom was fussing over him like maybe she felt kind of bad that he didn’t make it.

And yeah, there was a part of him that wished he was still in L.A., but he’d made it that far, and he knew what a big deal it was. So if he was sorry to be back in Queens it was only because Kurt was still in L.A., and Puck was kind of hoping they’d get to hang out a little longer before they had to say goodbye.

Not that he’d really said goodbye. He’d already texted Kurt a few of times since he’d been home, but Kurt kept answering, so he must not mind hearing from Puck. It was a break from obsessing about all the choreography, anyway, and if Puck could get Kurt to chill by distracting him once in awhile, at least he was doing something.

It wasn’t the same as being there to listen to Kurt bitch about the choreography in person, but it was better than not talking to Kurt at all, and Puck had never been too proud to take what he could get. So he texted Kurt in the middle of the first full day of rehearsals, just to see how he was doing, and if he checked his phone more often than usual that afternoon it was just because he was interested in hearing how it was going.

Not that there was anyone around to see him obsessing over his phone, unless he counted Beth, and the only reason she ever took an interest in his phone was so she could press buttons while he wasn’t looking and accidentally dial China or something. She didn’t care how it was going in Vegas any more than she knew who Kurt was. The thought left a weird, hollow feeling in the pit of Puck’s stomach, but before he could figure out what it was about his phone buzzed in his pocket.

It was way too early or Kurt to be calling; he’d be in the middle of rehearsal, if Puck had his schedule down. Puck dug his phone out anyway and glanced at the screen, frowning at the unfamiliar number before he pressed ‘okay’ and lifted it to his ear.

“Hello?”

“Noah Puckerman?”

“Yeah,” Puck said, glancing toward the living room where Beth was rocking out with the Doodlebops. “Who’s this?”

“It’s Jeff from So You Think You Can Dance,” the voice on the other end of the line told him. As soon as he said his name Puck recognized the accent of one of the show’s producers, and his pulse picked up speed.

“Hey, Jeff,” he said, doing his best to sound like he wasn’t freaking out a little. “What’s up? Is there a minibar tab or something? Because if there is, it was totally Mike.”

Jeff laughed on the other end of the line, and Puck grinned in spite of his confusion. He couldn’t think of a reason for one of the show’s producers to call after he’d been kicked off, and he didn’t want to get his hopes up in case it was nothing. Still, Jeff had called him, and Puck knew how busy he was, especially while the show was in production, so he had to have a reason.

“No, no outstanding bills. The truth is we here at the show need your help. There’s been a bit of an accident.”

As soon as the word ‘accident’ sank in Puck thought of Mike’s mom, of her sketchy English and the chances of anybody from the show calling Mike’s house and getting someone on the phone who would understand what they were talking about. He thought of Mike’s apartment just a few blocks away, where he still lived with his mom in spite of the fact that they’d both been out of school for over a year. Kind of like Puck, except Mike didn’t have the excuse of a kid to keep him at home. All he had was tradition, and the thought of having to go over there and tell Mike’s family that something had happened to him out in L.A. made Puck’s stomach turn.

“Is Mike okay?”

“Mike? He’s fine. The problem is Wes. I’m afraid he’s developed a stress fracture in his tibia. We were hoping it was just a strain and he’d be able to continue, but that’s not the case.”

“You mean he’s off the show?” Puck said, frowning at the thought, because he knew how bad Wes wanted to compete. As bad as the rest of them, and Puck knew if something as random as a stress fracture had knocked him out of the competition, he’d be seriously pissed. “Dude, that sucks.”

“I’m sure Wes would appreciate your sympathy,” Jeff said, and now Puck got the impression that he was kind of being laughed at. “But his injury opens up a spot on the show. I’m calling to invite you to come back to L.A. and compete.”

“What, like, you want me to take his place?”

Puck glanced toward the living room again; the credits were rolling on the show, and Beth was looking back toward him with an expression that made Puck’s heart clench. He kind of hated the thought of leaving again, mostly because he knew she didn’t understand where he kept disappearing to. But the chance to go back to L.A. and compete – the chance to prove that he wasn’t a total loser – was pretty tempting, even if it meant being away from his kid for awhile.

“You nearly had his place to begin with,” Jeff answered. “It seems only fitting. I’m afraid we need a decision right away, Noah. If you want to come back we’ll need to get you on the earliest flight out of New York possible. The first live show is coming up, and you’ve already missed two days of rehearsals.”

“Sure, I mean, yeah,” Puck said, the words tumbling out of his mouth before he even realized he’d made up his mind. “I have to tell my mother and find somebody to watch my kid, but I’ll be there.”

“That’s excellent news. I’ll have someone call you with travel details shortly. We’re looking forward to having you back with us, Noah.”

“Thanks,” Puck said, his heart pounding against his rib cage as he hung up his phone and then dialed his mother’s work number.

“Hey, Ma,” he said when she picked up, grinning into the receiver, “You’ll never guess who just called.”

~

Nobody was telling them anything.

Wes was taken away in an ambulance right in the middle of their second group rehearsal, and even after their afternoon rehearsals and then dinner, no one had heard anything about his condition. The dancers had been distracted all day, whispering every chance they got about Wes and what would happen if he couldn’t perform.

Every one of them lived in fear of an injury taking them out of the competition, and for it to happen before the show even started was the worst thing that could happen. Kurt didn’t wish that fate on Wes or anyone else, but he couldn’t help wondering if Wes’ bad fortune meant that Puck would get to come back.

Whenever the thought occurred to him Kurt pushed it down, telling himself not to get his hopes up. Still, it was hard not to wonder as the day dragged on with no sign of Wes, and when Kurt got back to his room to find all of Wes’ things gone, his stomach did a weird little tap dance.

It didn’t necessarily mean Puck was coming back. Kurt checked his phone anyway, but there were no texts or missed calls. Surely if the producers had called to ask Puck back, Puck would have texted to let him know, right? They were friends, after all – sort of, anyway – and if Puck was coming back he’d want to share the news with someone.

Kurt dropped his phone back on his bed and let himself out of his room, hurrying down the hall until he reached the room Mike was sharing with David. Kurt knocked, fingers drumming impatiently against his elbows while he waited for the door to open. When it did he found Mike frowning down at him, shirt hanging open and obviously in the middle of changing out of his dance clothes.

“Kurt? What’s up?”

“You haven’t heard from Puck, have you?” Kurt asked, his cheeks flushing a little when Mike raised an eyebrow at him.

“Not since he went home. Why?”

Kurt’s cheeks flushed even more when he realized Puck had been in touch with him more recently than his supposed best friend, but he didn’t mention it. Instead he glanced down the hall in the direction of his room as though he was expecting Puck to be walking toward him, then he looked back at Mike.

“It’s just that all of Wes’ things are gone from our room. If he’s not coming back…”

“Yeah, but they’d tell us if he was out, right?” Mike said, but Kurt could hear the hope creeping into his voice, and it made his own heart race. “They’d tell us if Puck was coming back.”

“Maybe they don’t know yet,” Kurt answered, but that didn’t change the fact that someone had cleared Wes’ things out of his room while they were rehearsing. “Maybe they’re still waiting for the doctor’s go-ahead.”

“Maybe.” Mike shrugged and glanced over his shoulder, but if David was listening to them he was being subtle about it, because Kurt hadn’t seen him once since Mike opened the door. “If I hear from Puck, I’ll let you know, okay?”

Kurt nodded and opened his mouth to say he’d do the same, but he changed his mind before he got the words out. He wasn’t sure he wanted Mike to know that Puck had been in touch with him several times since he headed back to New York, though he couldn’t say why, even to himself.

“Thanks,” he said instead. “If I hear anything about Wes…”

Mike nodded, then he smiled and Kurt couldn’t help smiling back. “They’ll let us know what’s going on soon, I bet.”

“You’re probably right. See you in the morning.”

Mike waved as Kurt turned to head back to his room, letting himself in and glancing around at the still-empty room. There was no evidence that anyone else had been there since he left to talk to Mike, and it wasn’t as though Kurt was expecting to walk in and find Puck sprawled on Wes’ bed, but he couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed anyway.

He checked his phone again before he went to bed, but there were no new messages. Kurt sighed and told himself it didn’t matter, that even if Wes was out that was no guarantee Puck was coming back. He checked to make sure his ringer was on anyway, then he shut off the light and went to bed.

He wasn’t sure how long he laid there in the dark before he finally fell asleep. All he knew was that one minute he was staring at the ceiling and wondering how he was going to get through rehearsal on zero sleep, and the next he was waking up to the sound of the door opening. Kurt opened his eyes, squinting into the light coming in from the hallway. He expected to see Wes limping in to get a few hours’ sleep before they had to get back to rehearsals in the morning, but the person slipping through the door wasn’t Wes.

Kurt could tell he was trying not to let in any more light than he had to, but there was enough light coming in to tell him that it was Puck. He sat up in bed, heart speeding up when he spotted the bag Puck was carrying. “Puck?”

“Kurt?” Puck said, squinting in the darkness as he let the door close behind him. “Sorry, dude, I was trying not to wake you up.”

He made his way across the room to Wes’ empty bed, though Kurt supposed that technically it was his bed now. Once he dropped his bag Kurt heard him sink down onto the mattress, then he let out a sigh and Kurt couldn’t be sure, but he thought Puck reached up to run his hands over his face.

“So we’re roommates, huh?”

“Apparently. I thought maybe you’d call or something if you knew you were coming back.”

Puck didn’t answer right away, and Kurt wondered if maybe he’d sounded too much like he was accusing Puck of something. Then Puck sighed again, and something about the sound in the darkness made Kurt’s heart skip a beat.

“Yeah, I was going to, but it felt kind of weird to leave a message, and by the time you were done with rehearsals I was in the air already.”

Kurt nodded even though he was fairly sure Puck couldn’t see him in the dark. “So Wes...? They haven’t told us anything,” he added, and now he was glad Puck couldn’t see him, because he was blushing again.

“Stress fracture. It’s not exactly how I planned to make top twenty,” Puck said, and Kurt knew what he was saying, because none of them would wish that kind of injury on any dancer.

He heard Puck stand up, then he unzipped his bag and Kurt thought he saw Puck take something out. “Listen, Kurt, it’s late. Go back to sleep. We’ll talk more in the morning, okay?”

“Of course. You must be exhausted from your flight,” he said. He watched Puck pull the covers back, then slide his clothes off and Kurt wasn’t picturing him sliding between the sheets in just his boxers, but he felt himself blush again anyway. For a few moments they both laid there in silence, but when he heard Puck shift on the other mattress Kurt turned his head to look in his direction.

“Puck?”

“Yeah?” Puck said, and he didn’t sound any closer to sleep than Kurt was.

“I’m glad you’re back.”

For a few seconds Puck didn’t answer, and Kurt was starting to think he wasn’t going to when he heard a soft huff of laughter. “Yeah, me too.”

~

It was weirder than he’d thought it would be, sharing a room with Kurt. Puck had no idea who he was rooming with until he opened the door and heard Kurt’s voice, sleepy and a little confused and all Puck had wanted to do was crawl into bed with him and finally give in to the feelings Kurt stirred up in him.

He wasn’t even sure Kurt would mind, at least not if the way he’d kind of accused Puck of blowing him off meant anything. He’d sounded a little pissed that Puck hadn’t called to say he was coming back, anyway, and Puck knew he shouldn’t get a kick out of the way Kurt had sort of latched onto him, but he did anyway.

But he got into his own bed instead, and when they woke up the next morning it was more awkward than Puck expected it to be. Considering the way Kurt had held onto him right before Puck got sent home he figured he might get the same kind of greeting when he turned up again, and maybe he would have if Kurt had seen him for the first time at breakfast that morning.

The rest of the dancers grabbed him and hugged him the minute they realized he was back, anyway, so maybe if Puck hadn’t shown up in the middle of the night when Kurt was already in bed he would have gotten that kind of response from Kurt too. When he woke up the next morning Kurt was already in the shower, and Puck was starting to wonder if he was ever coming out again when finally the bathroom door opened.

“Hey,” he said, watching Kurt move around their room from the edge of his bed.

Kurt sort of flinched at the sound of his voice, and Puck wasn’t sure why he was so nervous, but he tried not to take it personally.

“Good morning,” Kurt said, sort of looking over his shoulder without really meeting Puck’s eyes. “The shower’s free.”

And he could take a hint, so Puck shrugged and hit the shower. By the time he was dressed it was time to go down to breakfast, and once they ran into Mercedes and Tina in the hallway there was no chance of getting Kurt to spill whatever was on his mind.

So instead he sat across from Kurt at breakfast while Kurt mostly avoided looking at him, and when a producer came in to give them an update on Wes Kurt just kind of stared down at his plate like he wasn’t sure how to act. Puck wanted to ask what was bugging him, but he knew Kurt wouldn’t tell him in front of the rest of the contestants. Maybe he wouldn’t even tell Puck if they were alone, but Puck wasn’t going to get a chance to find out any time soon, because they had practice right after breakfast, and Puck was already way behind everybody else.

He’d lucked out on the partner dance, but contemporary wasn’t exactly his thing, even when Sonya was doing the choreography. Puck worked his ass off during rehearsal, but he could tell he was dragging the rest of them down. They’d already had two days to work out the kinks in the routine, and throwing in a new guy who didn’t really know the style had to be frustrating for all of them.

“Sorry,” he said for the tenth time that morning when he turned the wrong way and threw off the entire routine again.

“It’s okay,” Sonya said, but he could hear the frustration in her voice, and it wasn’t like he blamed her. “Let’s all take five.”

Puck nodded and headed for the benches along one wall, grabbing his water bottle and downing half of it before he dropped onto the bench.

“Don’t drink that too fast or you’ll throw up, and then Sonya will really be pissed.”

He looked up at the sound of Kurt’s voice, and when he found Kurt smirking at him Puck huffed a soft laugh. “Thanks for the tip.”

“Just repaying the favor,” Kurt answered, kind of leaning in and brushing their shoulders together before he blushed and straightened up again. “Anyway, you need to take your own advice. We’re not being judged on the group dance. Just relax and you’ll get it.”

“Easy for you to say,” Puck said, but he smiled at Kurt anyway. “You’ve got two days of rehearsal on me. I’ve got half the time as everybody else to learn two routines.”

“True.” Kurt shrugged and glanced across the room to where Sonya was talking to her assistant. “But you’ve always struck me as someone who enjoys a challenge.”

Kurt turned back to him then, raising an eyebrow as though he was expecting Puck to argue with him. When he just laughed Kurt smiled, then he stood up and crossed the room to the spot where he’d left his own bag. Puck shook his head and watched Kurt go, and when Sonya called for everyone to take their positions Puck got up and joined the rest of them.

After that he took Kurt’s advice and relaxed, and the rest of the practice went a lot smoother. He still wasn’t perfect – not even close – but he didn’t throw off anybody else, and somehow he made it to lunch without getting bitched out by Sonya.

The partner session went a lot better, and his partner was okay. Kind of bossy, but she didn’t know anything about krump, and once she figured out that Puck did she stopped trying to tell him what to do. By the time they got to the end of their session she was calling him ‘Noah’ and hanging on his arm like they’d known each other forever, and Puck figured that was a lot better than if she decided she hated him.

He didn’t get a chance to talk to Kurt again until dinner. Puck filled a plate and threw himself into the chair across from Kurt without waiting for an invitation, grunting a hello as he opened a carton of milk and downed it in one long gulp. When he looked up again he found Kurt watching him, though whether he was grossed out or kind of turned on Puck couldn’t tell.

“’Sup.”

“How was your afternoon?” Kurt asked, looking back down at his plate and giving Puck a perfect view of the pink tips of his ears. “Did you and Rachel hit it off?”

Puck shrugged, because it wasn’t like he thought much of anything about her, one way or the other. “She’s all right, I guess. She kind of reminds me of my mom, to tell you the truth. Not much of a krumper, though.”

“Well, she’s got you now. You’re a very good teacher,” Kurt said, still looking at his plate, and Puck wasn’t positive or anything, but it seemed like something was bugging him.

“I guess. Everything cool with you?”

Kurt looked up at that, cheeks flushed and now Puck was sure he was missing something. “Of course it is. Why?”

“Just asking,” Puck said, because he wasn’t sure he had the right to call Kurt on the weird vibe he was giving off. Chances were it was just nerves, and bringing it up would probably just make Kurt even more uptight. “So listen, do you think you could go over the group number with me some more after dinner? It’s cool if you’re too wiped out. I just figure we work pretty well together, you know?”

For a second Kurt just kind of blinked at him, but before Puck had a chance to take it back he was nodding and blushing down at his plate again. “Sure. I…of course.”

“Cool. Thanks, man.”

Puck grinned and turned back to his own dinner, and he didn’t say so out loud, but suddenly his first night back was looking a whole lot better.

~

It wasn’t as though they hadn’t done this before. They’d danced together a few times now, and Kurt had helped Puck with his technique the first day they met. So it shouldn’t be weird now, just because they were alone in a hotel room – their hotel room – this time instead of in a deserted hallway or with Mike looking on.

There wasn’t enough space in their room to practice Sonya’s routine, so they’d stacked the mattresses and bed frames against the walls and shoved all the furniture that moved as close to the walls as they could. It left them with a decent amount of space, and even though they didn’t have the music Puck still went through the steps without too many stumbles.

“I don’t know what you’re worried about,” Kurt said after he watched Puck the first time. “You already know most of it.”

“Yeah, but most isn’t all, and we’ve only got one more practice before we have to do it live.”

Kurt was well aware that they had to perform the routine live in just two days. He still wasn’t finding the aggression Sonya wanted from him, and though she’d declared him ‘better’ at the end of today’s performance, he knew it wasn’t good enough.

“Okay,” he said, nodding and taking his place next to Puck. “So let’s run through it together.”

Puck followed Kurt’s moves easily, and by the time they reached the end of the routine Kurt was even more confused about why Puck thought he needed help. Still, he wasn’t complaining about getting some time alone with Puck, even if he was too exhausted from a long day of rehearsals to enjoy it as much as he wanted to.

“It’s really awesome of you to do this,” Puck said, voice a little breathy and Kurt was glad he wasn’t the only one who was getting tired. “I know you’re probably beat. I mean, I’m wiped out, so either I’m a total wuss or everybody else is too.”

Kurt laughed when Puck grinned at him. “Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but I know I’ve passed out pretty much right after dinner every day since we started.”

“Yeah, until I show up and tear up all the furniture so you can’t even crash if you want to,” Puck said. “Sorry, man. We can put the room back together.”

“It’s fine,” Kurt said. “To be honest I could use the practice myself. I’m still not aggressive enough for Sonya.”

Puck shook his head, then he took a few steps forward and Kurt held his breath when Puck stopped in front of him. “Dude, we’ve been over this. You just have to relax. Stop thinking so hard and just feel it, you know?”

As he said it Puck’s hands landed on Kurt’s hips, moving him in time to the sway of Puck’s own hips. And if he was trying to get Kurt to stop thinking about the dance steps it was working, because now all Kurt could think about was the feel of Puck’s hands on him and the heat pouring off his chest.

He was so caught up in the fact that Puck was touching him that he barely noticed that Puck was taking him through the routine again, and when Puck stumbled on one of the steps Kurt compensated for it and picked up the lead without even thinking. By the time they reached the end of the routine for the second time they were both panting, and Kurt knew his face was flushed only partly because of Puck’s hands on him.

“See? You can totally bring it,” Puck said, and maybe he didn’t even know he was doing it, but his gaze wandered down Kurt’s frame as he spoke. “You just need to stop thinking.”

He was still standing close, chest rising and falling heavily with each breath, and for one crazy second Kurt thought Puck might lean forward and kiss him. But he knew better, so he wasn’t surprised when Puck cleared his throat and took a step backwards.

“Thanks,” Kurt said, and he hoped Puck would chalk his blush up to the dancing.

“Don’t mention it.” Puck looked around at the shambles of their room, then he let out a heavy sigh. “I guess we should put this place back together.”

Kurt nodded and helped him maneuver Kurt’s mattress and bed frame away from the wall. They were heavier than they looked, and by the time they got Kurt’s bed put together again they were both back to breathing heavy.

“I guess we better find someplace else to practice next time,” Puck said, leaning against his mattress where it was still propped against the wall. “This is kind of a workout on its own.”

“Well, if you want we could share tonight,” Kurt said, the words escaping his lips before he could stop them. He didn’t even know he’d been thinking it until he heard himself say it out loud, but it wasn’t as though he could take it back. Kurt ventured a glance at Puck, but instead of looking uncomfortable he was watching Kurt with a sort of appraising look.

“You’d be cool with that?”

Kurt shrugged, because it wasn’t as though he could say no when it was his idea. “It’s not as though it would be the first time.”

It was true, and it wasn’t as though anything had happened the first time, so there was no reason to think anything would be different this time. Granted, the first time they shared a bed Kurt had been unconscious before Puck climbed in with him, and Mike had been in the next bed. Still, the fact that they were alone shouldn’t make a difference, because they were friends. Just friends, and it was just a matter of convenience.

“You want the bathroom first?” Puck asked, and Kurt blinked and flushed an even deeper shade of red.

“Oh, I...yes. Thank you,” Kurt said. He scanned the piles of furniture and luggage on the opposite side of the room until he found his suitcase, then he dragged a pair of pajamas out and disappeared into the bathroom.

He took his time brushing his teeth and moisturizing, mostly because he knew as soon as he went back into their room there would be nothing to do but get in bed and wait for Puck to join him. For the second time, and how pathetic was it that Kurt was sharing a bed with Puck for the second time, but he’d still never even kissed another boy?

“Pathetic,” he said to his reflection, then he scowled at himself and forced himself back out into their room.

When he got there Puck was down to just a pair of sweatpants, and Kurt did his best not to stare as he crossed the room and closed the bathroom door. Kurt knew it was his imagination, but the air in the room felt charged, like the air back home right before a thunderstorm. He climbed into bed and closed his eyes, back to the room and willing himself to fall asleep before Puck came back.

The problem was that Puck didn’t take nearly as long in the bathroom as Kurt, and long before Kurt was ready he heard the bathroom door open, then the mattress dipped and Puck slid under the sheet next to him. They weren’t touching or anything, but Kurt could feel him there anyway, and this was officially the worst idea he’d ever had, because there was no way he was getting to sleep tonight.

He wasn’t sure how long they laid there before Puck shifted, the sheet slipping a little lower on Kurt’s torso with the movement. “Hey, Kurt?”

“Hmm?” Kurt said, his heart racing and he was sure Puck was going to hear it.

“You don’t have a brother, do you?”

“A stepbrother,” Kurt said, frowning in the darkness. “Why?”

“I was just wondering if I should be thanking somebody for going all Tonya Harding on Wes,” Puck said, and even though Kurt couldn’t see him, he could hear Puck’s grin in his voice. Kurt rolled his eyes and turned onto his back, glancing toward the other side of the bed. He still couldn’t make out Puck’s features, but he could see that Puck was turned toward him, lying on his side with one arm under his pillow.

“Get some sleep, Puck. Trust me, you’ll need it,” Kurt said, closing his own eyes to fall asleep to the sound of Puck’s laughter.

~

Maybe it was a little weird, sharing a bed when they didn’t have to. But it was Kurt’s idea, and anyway it wasn’t like Puck had come on to him. Sure, he’d thought about it, but things between them were already weird enough without Puck making it worse, so he kept his hands to himself and let Kurt get some sleep.

The next morning should have been weird, but Kurt was already in the shower when Puck woke up, and that was starting to be a habit. He was still lying in bed staring at the ceiling and wondering if he’d ever actually get to wake up with Kurt when the bathroom door opened, and as soon as Kurt appeared Puck realized just how dangerous it was to be thinking about waking up with him.

“Hey,” he said, sitting up and bending his knees in front of him, and yeah, Puck noticed the way Kurt’s gaze slid down his chest before he blushed and looked away. “We should probably put the other bed back together this morning. If we wait ‘til after rehearsal we’ll probably be too wiped again.”

Kurt kind of shrugged without looking at him, face buried in his suitcase like he’d lost something important. “We don’t have time if you want a shower before breakfast. Besides, if you decide you want to practice after dinner we’ll need the space.”

It was a solid point, considering. They had to perform the whole thing in front of a studio full of people tomorrow, not to mention everybody watching at home, so chances were good they were going to want to practice as much as they could. And if Kurt didn’t mind sharing again, Puck wasn’t going to twist his arm about it.

Instead he got up and got in the shower, and by the time he was finished it was time to go down to breakfast. When they got there the vibe was a lot more tense than it had been the day before, and Puck figured it was just because everyone was thinking about the first live show coming up tomorrow.

In a way it felt a lot like they were back in Vegas, sweating out every round of choreography with the knowledge that they could get cut any time. People loosened up a little during the group rehearsal, but Sonya still spent a lot of time yelling at people to get over themselves and get their heads back in the game.

He expected Kurt to be the tensest of all of them, even after Puck spent last night trying to get him to loosen up. But some of what he’d said must have sunk in, because Puck watched Kurt kill it during rehearsal, and when Sonya actually called him out and told him he was killing it, Puck didn’t bother trying to hide his smirk.

Kurt spotted him in the mirror and rolled his eyes, but he was grinning too, and for a second Puck forgot they were in a room full of people. He remembered before he did anything stupid, but after that it was easier to shake off everybody else’s nerves and focus on getting his own act together.

By the end of the day they were all so exhausted from busting their asses all day that there was barely any conversation. The nervous energy was buzzing louder than ever, though, and by the time Puck finished his dinner he sort of felt like crawling out of his own skin.

The tension during Vegas week hadn’t gotten to him much; he’d never expected to get through to the top twenty, so he didn’t worry that much about whether or not he was going to make it through the next round. Now that he was actually here, though, it seemed more important to stay. Like maybe he had something to prove -- to his family, yeah, but to himself too.

It was almost a relief to get back to their room, away from the tension rolling off the rest of the dancers every time he turned around. Puck was tempted to crawl into bed and pass out as soon as they got there, but he knew if he didn’t practice some more that he’d regret it tomorrow when they were stuck in hair and makeup all morning and he didn’t have time to rehearse.

Besides, the space was already cleared, and Kurt was sitting in the middle of the bed like he was expecting a show. His legs were crossed, elbows on his knees and kind of leaning forward, showing off how flexible he was, and the sight made Puck want to crawl into bed even more. Instead he did a couple turns, kicking his leg out way too far on the last one and making Kurt laugh.

“So you did pretty good today,” Puck said, glancing at Kurt long enough to catch sight of his smile. “I told you you just needed to chill.”

“Mmm,” Kurt said, which could have meant anything, but Puck was pretty sure it mostly meant that Kurt knew he was right and he didn’t want to admit it. “Performing in the group routine is all well and good, but as I said yesterday, that’s not the performance that gets voted on.”

“Yeah, but you’re going to kill your waltz. You said yourself that you and Tina have it down.”

“I said we both understand the fundamentals. That doesn’t mean the judges won’t find plenty wrong with it. Besides, everybody knows the viewers vote less for ballroom than they do for the more exciting dances. You don’t have anything to worry about at all; nobody ever goes home the first week on hip hop.”

“Yeah, well, nobody’s ever seen Rachel try to krump before,” Puck said, grinning when Kurt laughed. “Maybe we’ll get the pity vote.”

“I think it’s more likely you’ll get the heartthrob vote.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Puck asked. He paused in the middle of running through his krump routine to look at Kurt; his head was tilted to one side, two bright spots of pink in his cheeks, but he wasn’t looking away or anything.

“Please, like you don’t know that the bulk of the voting block for this show is made up of preteen girls. It’s not as skewed as American Idol, certainly, but still. I’d say you could coast on looks alone for at least a few weeks. Though you’ll have to split the eye candy vote with Sam. Maybe Mike too, but he won’t really need the help.”

“And...what, you think I do?” Puck asked, and when Kurt blushed even harder he smirked. “Dude, relax. I know Mike’s a better dancer than me.”

Kurt kept looking at him, but he didn’t answer, so finally Puck shrugged and went back to practicing his routine. It was sort of a pain without Rachel there to do her part, and he thought about asking Kurt to stand in, but that meant teaching him the whole routine, and Puck didn’t want to throw off Kurt’s performance tomorrow by confusing him right before the first live show.

“Why are you here?”

As soon as the question registered Puck stopped, spinning to a halt to look at Kurt. “What?”

“Why’d you come back?” Kurt asked, and the weird thing was, he looked serious. “I mean, you keep saying how much better everyone is than you. You didn’t think you’d make top twenty, and you obviously don’t think you can win, so why are you here?”

“I didn’t make top twenty,” Puck reminded him, and yeah, maybe he was dodging the question, but it wasn’t like he thought Kurt would actually let him get away with it.

Sure enough, Kurt rolled his eyes, then he straightened up and let out an impatient sigh. “Fine, so out of thousands of dancers you came in at number eleven. That’s hardly a failure. Obviously the judges see some potential in you or they wouldn’t have put you through to Vegas Week, let alone the top twenty.”

Puck shrugged and sat down on the bed, back against the headboard and just looking back at Kurt for a second. He knew how easy it would be to derail this whole conversation; all he had to do was lean over and kiss Kurt, and either Kurt would freak out and take off, or they’d both forget what they’d been talking about in the first place.

But he didn’t really want to deal with the freaking out option, and if Kurt did kiss him back and then got distracted and blew it tomorrow, that would be it for any future relationship. So Puck kept his hands and everything else to himself and looked up at the ceiling so he wouldn’t have to watch Kurt’s face when he answered.

“I told you, I haven’t really been dancing that long. Mostly it’s just something I do for fun, and with Beth around I don’t have a lot of time for it anymore. But making it to Vegas Week and then all the way to the callbacks...it felt good, you know? Like maybe I was actually good at something for once.”

He paused and looked over at Kurt, and he wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting, but Kurt was just watching him like listening to Puck talk about what a loser he was was the most important thing Kurt could do with his time. Which was fucked up all on its own, but it was kind of cool too.

“Anyway, I figured if I came back and saw this thing through, maybe my mom would stop looking at me like she’s expecting me to bail on Beth any minute. It sounds stupid, but I guess I’m here to prove I can be a good dad.”

“It doesn’t sound stupid.” Kurt’s voice was sort of soft, his cheeks an even brighter shade of red and Puck wasn’t sure what that meant, but he really wanted to reach out and find out if they felt as warm as they looked. “Not that I’d know or anything, but it seems to me that you’re already a pretty good father.”

Puck shrugged, because it wasn’t like he’d know either. His own father was a total failure at pretty much everything, so he didn’t exactly have a stellar example to live up to. Still, it was kind of cool that Kurt thought he was a good dad; it was cool that somebody thought so, and he trusted Kurt’s opinion more than a lot of people’s.

“Do you want to run through the group routine again?” Kurt asked, flashing a shy smile at Puck, and it was hard not to laugh, because Puck knew he was only offering to make up for bringing up such a heavy subject in the first place.

“I should make you,” Puck said, grinning when Kurt frowned. “Seeing as you’re Sonya’s favorite now, I could probably learn a thing or two.”

“Considering you’re the one who showed me what she wanted in the first place, I hardly think so,” Kurt said, right back to blushing, and this time Puck had to stop himself from reaching out and touching the pink tip of Kurt’s ear.

And he liked dancing with Kurt, mostly because it was a perfect excuse to put his hands on Kurt without having to answer any questions about what he thought he was doing, exactly. But he could tell Kurt was beat, and he knew the feeling, so instead he slid a little further down the bed, stretching his legs out and laughing when Kurt protested Puck’s feet landing on his thigh.

“You want to put the other bed back together?” Puck asked, a yawn escaping him before he even got the question out. “Because if you do, we better get it over with before I pass out.”

His eyes were closed, but when Kurt didn’t answer right away Puck opened them to look up at him. When he caught Kurt watching him Kurt blushed and looked away, shaking his head and climbing off the bed. “I think we can survive one more night.”

“Good,” Puck said, stretching out a little further and folding his arms behind his head. “This bed’s more comfortable anyway.”

“They’re exactly the same,” Kurt answered from across the room, and Puck knew that meant he was getting ready to shut himself in the bathroom and spend like half an hour smearing whatever was in those bottles on the counter into his skin.

The door closed before he could point out that the beds might look the same, but they definitely weren’t. For starters, the other bed didn’t have Kurt in it, and as far as Puck was concerned, that made all the difference.

Chapter Text

“It’s on!” Finn called from the den, glancing over his shoulder in time to watch his mother hurry into the room balancing a bowl of popcorn in one arm and a stack of napkins and a glass of iced tea in the other. She was followed a few seconds later by Burt, and Finn moved over on the couch to make room for his mom as Burt took a seat in his recliner.

“This is so exciting,” his mom said, and Finn wasn’t going to argue, because it wasn’t every day that his stepbrother was on TV. Except that they’d all kind of known for a long time that Kurt was bound for bigger things than Ohio, and if anybody was going to end up...well, sort of famous, it was him.

Finn had never seen the show before; he’d seen Kurt watching it obsessively, sure, but dancing wasn’t exactly his thing, so he’d never stuck around long enough to figure out how it worked. So he didn’t know what to expect, and when the hot blonde with the legs started introducing the dancers one by one and Kurt appeared on the stage doing some kind of crazy leap that made him look like he was flying, his mom squealed so loud he almost dropped his pop.

“Geez, Mom.”

“Sorry, honey,” she said, shoving a napkin and a bowl of popcorn in his direction. “It’s just so exciting. Kurt’s on TV!”

Finn glanced over at Burt, expecting to find him rolling his eyes or something, but he was kind of grinning at the screen too. Then again, Kurt was his son, so Finn figured Burt was probably just as excited as his mom, even if he wasn’t showing it.

They had to watch a lot of dancing before Kurt showed upon the screen again, and Finn didn’t really get any of it. Jazz and contemporary looked pretty much the same to him, though the krumping or whatever was pretty cool. When they got to the end of that routine and the hot blonde dragged the dancers over to the judges, Finn caught the name of the guy dancer and looked at Burt again.

“Hey, isn’t that the guy Kurt hung out with in New York?”

“I thought they sent him home,” Burt said, but now he was frowning at the screen, and Finn figured that was a bad sign.

“No, Kurt texted me yesterday and said his roommate got hurt so they brought his friend back. Puck, right? I’m pretty sure that’s him.”

And now Burt was frowning so hard Finn thought he might burst something, which was definitely a bad sign. Still, Kurt said they were just friends, so he didn’t get what the big deal was. He hadn’t said this Puck kid was gay, and judging by the way he was flirting with the blonde and his partner at the same time, Finn figured Burt didn’t have anything to worry about.

“Did that Puck character say he had a kid?” Burt asked, and Finn didn’t remember hearing that, but before he could say so his mom was talking.

“Yes, don’t you remember? Here, I’ll rewind.”

She took the remote out of Finn’s hand and rewound the DVR to the beginning of the krump routine, and a second later Puck was grinning at the camera and talking really fast.

“My name’s Noah Puckerman, but people call me Puck, except my mom and my sister. And my kid, but she just calls me Dad. I’m a single dad and...”

The buzzer cut him off and he stumbled over something Finn didn’t catch, then started laughing and sort of dropped out of the shot. It was kind of weird; Finn didn’t really get why they only gave the contestants a few seconds to introduce themselves, especially when it was the first time most people were seeing them. Well, there were the audition episodes, and that whole semi-finals showdown in Vegas, but Finn barely caught a few glimpses of Kurt during all of that, so mostly it was a waste of time.

“How old is this guy that he’s got a kid?” Burt asked, but Finn’s mom was already fast forwarding back to where they’d left off.

After that there was another couple dancing something Finn didn’t really get, but even he could tell they were good. The guy – Mike, according to the leggy blonde – and his partner – another leggy blonde – did some kind of flowy, dramatic contemporary routine that was supposed to be about heartbreak or maybe cheating or something, according to the judges. Finn couldn’t say for sure, but they seemed to love it, so he figured they were probably safe.

After that Kurt finally showed up, doing the same fast talking thing they’d watched his friend Puck do a few minutes ago. When he admitted that he could do the entire Single Ladies dance Finn groaned and covered his face with one hand, and Finn’s mom laughed and reached over to drag his arm back down.

“I think it’s sweet,” she said, smiling at the image of Kurt blushing at the camera.

Finn knew he was doing some kind of waltz, but until he saw it Finn wasn’t exactly sure what that meant. Turned out it looked kind of like the way Burt and his mom had danced at their wedding reception, only a lot faster, and the dress Kurt’s partner was wearing was a lot sluttier than his mom’s wedding dress.

It was kind of weird, watching Kurt flying around the stage with some chick none of them had ever met. Finn had seen him dance with girls a few times, mostly when Burt and his mom were still dating and she dragged Finn to Kurt’s recitals to try and prove that they could be a family or whatever. And it must have worked, because Burt popped the question, and once they were married Kurt usually let him off the hook as far as dance recitals were concerned.

But this was different, because Kurt was on TV, and even though Finn didn’t understand the dancing, he knew what a big deal it was. So he watched Kurt swing some girl around the stage, then he watched while the judges...were kind of dicks to him, actually.

“Come on,” Burt said when the one foreign dude told Kurt that he didn’t connect with his partner. “I don’t know much about dancing, but he got all the lifts right and he didn’t drop her or anything. That means they were connected, doesn’t it?”

“I think so,” his mom said, but she didn’t sound all that convinced, and Finn figured she probably didn’t understand what the old foreign dude meant by ‘connected’ any more than Finn did.

The chick in the middle was apparently some kind of ballroom expert, like that was even a real job. All Finn knew was that her voice was kind of annoying, and she claimed that Kurt didn’t ‘commit’ or whatever. When she said he let his partner down Kurt’s eyes went kind of watery, and when he pressed his lips together and the leggy blonde wrapped an arm around him Finn knew he was about to cry on national TV.

“Son of a bitch,” Burt said, and Finn’s mom didn’t even yell at him for swearing, so she must have been pretty pissed too.

When they got to the last judge Finn expected more trash talk, but the guy – Will, the blonde called him – smiled this huge smile that did weird things to Finn’s stomach, then he told Kurt he was his biggest fan. And yeah, he said pretty much the same stuff as the other judges, but he was nice about it at least, and by the time he got to the part where he told Kurt he believed Kurt could do better, Finn didn’t feel so much like hitting something.

“That guy’s okay,” Finn said, glancing over at his mom. She looked like she was trying as hard not to cry as Kurt was, but she nodded and gave him a weird, watery smile that made him wish he’d just kept his mouth shut.

“It’ll be fine,” she said, then she nodded a little harder and reached for her phone. “We’ll all just vote for Kurt and he’ll be fine. I told everyone at work, so that’s most of the hospital staff voting too, and all Kurt’s friends from his dance classes.”

“Mom, I think you have to wait until the show ends to vote.”

“Oh. Right,” she said, frowning down at her phone for a second before she smiled and looked up again. “I’ll just make a few calls and make sure people caught the numbers.”

She wandered out of the living room to organize some kind of voting tree or something, and when Finn looked over at Burt he just shrugged and reached for his beer. “Look at the bright side. If he gets kicked off early we won’t have to watch the show anymore.”

And it wasn’t like Finn was going to argue, but still, he hoped Kurt wouldn’t get kicked off right away. He wouldn’t even complain about watching the show, as long as he got to see more of that cute judge with the great smile.

~

“Ma, hurry up, you’re missing it,” Sarah called from her spot in the center of the couch.

Her mother shushed her from the hallway, but a second later she was rushing into the room, wiping her hands on the towel hanging from her waist. “Hush, you’ll wake the baby.”

“She’s three, Ma, she’s not really a baby anymore,” Sarah said, but when she saw a familiar face on the TV she turned back to the screen. “There he is! Wow, look at him.”

All the dancers were dressed in black, their outfits sort of shredded on top and the guys were all carrying canes. Noah was near the front, and with all the black makeup under his eyes he looked even more dangerous than when he was in high school and he used to try to convince everyone what a badass he was.

“Good Lord, he looks like a delinquent.”

“I think he looks cool,” Sarah said as she watched her brother stomp around the stage with the rest of the dancers. And he did look cool; he looked like he belonged there, like he was just as good as the rest of them.

Her mother didn’t sit down, but she kind of leaned against the arm of the couch to watch the group dance. Sarah couldn’t tell what she thought, but she watched the whole thing, at least, and when it was over Sarah glanced over long enough to grin at her. “He’s good.”

“I don’t know from dancing,” her mother said, then she stood up and mumbled something about finishing the dishes during the commercial. Sarah rolled her eyes and turned the volume down a little so Beth wouldn’t wake up, wishing all over again that they could afford DVR so she could record the show.

She’d gotten her mother to sit still long enough to watch Noah’s number the night before, but she hadn’t said much, and Sarah couldn’t tell if she was just nervous for him or if she was expecting him to get sent home right away. But he’d been good the night before, too, and even if their mother didn’t understand his style, she couldn’t miss the reaction he’d gotten from the judges and the crowd.

When the commercials ended Cat called the first three pairs onto the stage. Noah’s wasn’t one of them, so Sarah didn’t run the risk of yelling for her mother again. Instead she watched while Cat focused on Mike and his partner, some girl from California named Brittany. She was pretty and they were the best dancers on the show, so it was obvious they were through. Cat didn’t even bother trying to mess with them before she told them, but they both still looked so relieved that Sarah couldn’t help rolling her eyes.

“Right, like you’re going anywhere before the final four,” she muttered at the TV. Not that she wasn’t happy for Mike; he was always nice to her, unlike some of her brother’s other lame friends, and his partner seemed just as nice as Mike.

After that Cat turned to a contemporary dancer named Blaine and his partner, a girl named Sunshine that Sarah thought either danced ballroom or ballet. She watched as Cat sent the two of them to safety for their tango, then turned to the last couple on the stage.

“Kurt and Tina,” Cat said, taking a second to smile at both of them, and when the cameras zoomed in on their faces Sarah could see how pale Kurt was.

She’d never met him or anything, but she’d had to live with her brother since tryouts all the way back in January, so she knew who Kurt was. And Noah could claim all he wanted that they were just friends, but Sarah wasn’t stupid, and she wasn’t a kid anymore, so she could tell when her brother liked somebody.

The way he talked about Kurt meant Noah liked him. The fact that he couldn’t shut up about Kurt, even when their mom started making faces and reminding him that Beth came before his social life, meant Noah liked liked him.

Not that Sarah minded. She didn’t get how it would work when Kurt lived in Ohio and Noah had barely been out of Queens before he landed himself on TV, but she thought the part where her brother was head over heels for some contemporary dancer who looked sort of scared of his own shadow was kind of cute. Pathetic, definitely, but it was still pretty cute.

“Who’s that?”

She hadn’t noticed her mom coming back into the room, but when Sarah heard her voice she glanced over to find her mother leaning against the arm of the couch again. “Noah’s friend Kurt. You remember.”

Her mother’s only answer was a vague humming noise, but she didn’t get up and leave when Cat held up the envelope with Kurt and Tina’s results. She teased them about it for a minute or two, which Sarah thought was kind of mean, considering Kurt sort of looked like he might pass out. Then Cat announced that they were safe too and Sarah really did think Kurt was going to pass out, but he made it off the stage and Sarah caught a glimpse of her brother’s arm reaching for Kurt as the crowd of dancers swallowed him up.

It was weird, watching her brother on TV. Watching her brother do stuff she knew he could do, but she’d never really seen before. Goofing around with Mike in their living room, yeah, but she’d never seen him dance for real until she saw his audition.

She’d never seen him with another boy before, either, and she still hadn’t really seen that, but she’d heard him talking about Kurt, so she figured it was only a matter of time.

The camera cut back to Cat in time for her to announce that Puck would be in the next group, so instead of disappearing back into the kitchen, their mother sank onto the edge of the couch cushion and waited with Sarah. It felt like the commercials took longer than usual, and Sarah knew she was imagining that they’d gotten louder, but she turned the TV down a little more anyway.

Finally the show came back on, and after Cat did her recap she dragged three more groups onto the stage. Noah was right in the middle, his partner clinging to his arm so hard Sarah was pretty sure she was cutting off his circulation. She was smiling in a way that looked really painful, too, like maybe she thought she was up for an award instead of waiting to hear whether or not she was in danger of getting sent home.

“Rachel and Puck,” Cat said, “you performed a Lil’ C krump routine. The judges thought it was fierce. But what did America think?”

Sarah’s hands were in her lap, fingers crossed so tight she though she might cut off her circulation too. She leaned forward, willing Puck and his partner to be safe. Then Cat looked down at the card and back up again, and Sarah held her breath along with Noah.

“They thought you were fierce too. You’re safe,” Cat announced, and Sarah practically bounced off the couch.

“Did you hear that?” she said, turning to look at her mother. “He totally owes me. I stayed up all night voting.”

Her mother frowned, but it was summer, so it wasn’t like Sarah had anything to get up for on Thursdays. And okay, she was supposed to be helping out with Beth while Noah was gone, but she just dragged herself out of bed long enough to take her to daycare before she went back to bed for a few hours. As far as Sarah was concerned it was worth it, and even if her mother wouldn’t admit it, Sarah knew she was hoping Noah did well on the show too.

“See you don’t make a habit of that,” her mother said, then she stood up and looked at the TV again. “That means he stays in California another week, right?”

Yeah, Ma, he’s safe,” Sarah said, rolling her eyes at her mother’s back, because seriously, it wasn’t that hard a show to follow.

“You better tell the sitter tomorrow when you drop Beth off.” Her mother let out a sigh and turned away from the TV to shake her head at Sarah. “And don’t stay up all night.”

“It’s not even 9:00,” Sarah called after her, but she was already on her way back to the kitchen.

Chapter Text

The thing was, being safe didn’t make Kurt feel all that much better. Puck was pretty sure nobody else noticed, and maybe if they weren’t sharing a room Puck wouldn’t have noticed either. But he’d spent enough time around Kurt to tell when he was brooding about something, and as soon as they got back to their room and Puck tried to bring it up, Kurt locked himself in the bathroom to do whatever the hell he did in there every night.

So okay, he needed a little time to feel sorry for himself or whatever. Puck didn’t push it when Kurt finally came out of the bathroom wearing a pair of sweatpants and a white t-shirt that sort of clung to him, because asking Kurt if he was okay meant drawing attention to himself, and the truth was Puck was kind of enjoying the show.

Kurt didn’t let his guard down all that often; usually he was pretty self-conscious, and he always noticed Puck looking at him and got even more uptight. But it turned out beating himself up about succeeding at something was pretty distracting, because Puck had been watching him move around the room for a good five minutes and Kurt hadn’t noticed yet.

He wasn’t sure what Kurt was doing. Organizing his suitcase, it looked like, and Puck didn’t really get why, but he had a feeling it had something to do with the fact that Kurt had been expecting to go home tonight. But the thing was, they’d all kind of been expecting to get cut, and Kurt was the only one who was acting sort of pissed that he wasn’t the one to go.

“Dude, you okay?”

At the sound of his voice Kurt’s shoulders went kind of stiff, like maybe he was just remembering he wasn’t alone.

“Fine,” he said without looking over at Puck.

And he wasn’t fine, that much was clear, but if he didn’t want to talk about it Puck wasn’t going to make him. “You want to put the other bed back together?”

Kurt shrugged without looking up, and Puck couldn’t tell if he wanted his bed back and didn’t want to say, or if he wanted Puck to stay put and didn’t want to admit it. All Puck knew for sure was that he liked sleeping with Kurt, even if all they did was sleep. So he shrugged and said, “Up to you, bro,” then he headed for the bathroom to brush his teeth.

When he finished Kurt was in bed, back to the room and Puck could tell he was supposed to think Kurt was asleep. He rolled his eyes and shut off the light, then he stripped down to his boxers and climbed into bed. He stretched out on his back and looked over at Kurt, tracing the tense line of his back under the sheet and wondering what Kurt would do if Puck offered to help take his mind off it.

It wasn’t like he didn’t know what was bothering Kurt. Puck had watched the show on the monitors backstage along with everyone else, and he’d heard the judges tear into Kurt about his lack of connection. He couldn’t even argue, because he’d seen Kurt dance, and it was obvious he wasn’t feeling the chemistry with Tina. Puck had tried to help him figure it out, but it was obvious he hadn’t done enough, because Kurt kept helping him get through dances he shouldn’t be able to do, and Puck hadn’t helped Kurt loosen up at all.

“So I’ve been thinking,” he said, watching Kurt go a little more rigid at the sound of his voice. “I think I know how to fix your problem.”

For awhile Kurt didn’t answer, and Puck was starting to think he was just going to pretend to be asleep when he finally said, “My problem?”

“Yeah,” Puck said, turning on his side and propping himself up on one elbow to stare at the back of Kurt’s head. “I think you need to hang out with Tina.”

“Hang out with…” Kurt shifted on the mattress until he was facing Puck, eyes darker than usual and it was hard to tell without the light on, but Puck thought he looked kind of pissed. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about the way Nigel keeps getting on your case about not connecting with your partner. You’ve been spending all your time hanging out with me, and it’s not helping you connect with her, you know?”

“I’ve been trying to help you,” Kurt said, voice going kind of high and tight, and now Puck knew he was pissed. “Unless you’ve forgotten that you came into this competition two days behind everyone else.”

“Dude, I know. You’ve been seriously awesome. But that’s my point; it’s kind of my fault you caught it from Nigel this week. You’ve been spending all your time helping me out, and you haven’t gotten the chance to click with Tina. So I’m saying you should probably hang out with her some, you know? Make that connection or whatever.”

It was too dark to tell what Kurt was thinking, but a second later he nodded and moved a little further toward the edge of the bed. “Of course. I’ll speak to Tina tomorrow.”

He turned his back to Puck as he spoke, settling on the pillow and tucking one arm under his head. This wasn’t how this conversation was supposed to go, because it wasn’t like Puck wanted Kurt to ditch him for Tina or anybody else. But he couldn’t keep being selfish with Kurt’s time, either, not if he wanted Kurt to stick around for as long as possible.

“Kurt…” This time Puck didn’t try to stop himself from reaching out, but as soon as his hand touched Kurt’s shoulder Kurt flinched away from him.

“Tomorrow we should put your bed back together. Housekeeping’s going to come in here eventually, and we’ll probably get in trouble if they see we’ve dismantled the furniture.”

And that definitely wasn’t how this was supposed to go, but if that was what Kurt wanted, there was nothing Puck could do about it. “Yeah,” he said, shifting onto his back to stare up at the ceiling. “Whatever you say.”

~

They didn’t get a lot of free time, but every so often there was a gap in the schedule long enough to let them leave the hotel and explore L.A. a little. Which meant taking advantage of L.A. shopping, and when Kurt overheard Mercedes and Brittany organizing a trip, he didn’t even hesitate before he invited himself and Tina along.

He appreciated the chance to do some shopping – Lima left a lot to be desired in that department, after all – but at the moment he was even more interested in spending as much time away from his roommate as possible. Maybe he didn’t have much experience with relationships, but he knew enough to realize when someone was trying to get rid of him, and it was obvious that Puck was tired of Kurt already.

Or worse, Puck had figured out that Kurt had a stupid, hopeless crush on him, and he was trying to let Kurt down gently. Giving him an out, as it were, and Kurt wasn’t too stupid not to take it.

He supposed he should be grateful to Puck for giving him the chance to save face. Still, that didn’t explain the fact that Puck seemed reluctant to go back to sleeping in his own bed, and it didn’t explain the way Puck had held onto him when Kurt found out he was safe from elimination. So maybe he was trying not to lead Kurt on; something else he should probably be grateful for, but mostly it just made him wish they’d never met back in New York.

The thought left a hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach, but he pushed it down as far as it would go and forced himself to focus on the two shirts Mercedes was holding up. “What do you think?”

Personally, Kurt thought they were both a bit too much. Hot pink zebra stripes might have their place in the world, but it wasn’t a place Kurt particularly wanted to visit. The other top was at least less neon, but it still featured a tacky animal print. Kurt caught himself before he wrinkled his nose, forcing a smile and a little shrug.

“If anyone can pull off that shade of pink, it’s definitely you.”

The way she beamed at him told him that she took it the way he’d hoped, and he managed a more sincere smile in return. A second later Mercedes was turning away, and Kurt glanced over his shoulder in search of Tina and Brittany. He spotted them near a display of hats, laughing about something as they took turns in the mirror trying them on.

Kurt wandered over in time to watch Brittany pull on a white fedora with black pinstripes, tugging on the brim and grinning at Tina before she turned to look in the mirror. She caught sight of Kurt just behind her own reflection, and when she did she smiled and turned to face him.

“Let’s see how it looks on Kurt,” she said, pulling the fedora off and holding it out to him.

He shook his head, but before he could come up with a reason not to Brittany was pulling it on and stepping back to grin at him. “It makes you look gangster.”

“It makes me look like a pimp,” Kurt said, cheeks flushing as he looked at himself in the mirror.

“Well, you are out shopping with a bunch of girls,” Tina said, smiling at him in the mirror. “So I guess that makes us your bitches.”

Kurt laughed and blushed even harder, but he didn’t argue when Brittany snatched the hat off his head and insisted that they were buying it. He did look good in hats, after all, and this one was no exception. It was a little flashier than he’d wear back in Lima, granted, mostly because a white fedora would have gotten him tossed in the dumpster back in high school. But he wasn’t in Lima anymore, and no one here was going to think any worse of him because of his clothes.

It was a strange thought after eighteen years of slushies and dumpster dives and locker checks, all for being who he was. It was hard to get used to the idea that he could just…be himself, and no one would hold it against him.

People might even like him for it. Kurt thought of Puck, of the way he’d said, I think you should hang out with Tina as though Kurt was too stupid or naïve to read between the lines. He pressed his lips together in a hard line, then he slipped his arm through Tina’s and pulled her toward the registers where Brittany and Mercedes were waiting in line.

“I’m glad we decided to come out,” Tina said, her free hand landing on Kurt’s arm where it was linked with hers.

“Me too,” Kurt said, and he mostly meant it. “I’ve missed hanging out with girls.”

Tina smiled in a way that made Kurt tense. “You have been spending a lot of time with Puck.”

Kurt shrugged and didn’t quite meet her gaze, watching Mercedes pay for her hideous neon shirt so he wouldn’t have to look at Tina. “He needed help getting up to speed. The truth is he’s not the strongest dancer. I’m fairly sure he got through mostly on charisma.”

“He does have plenty of that,” Tina said, ending on a little sigh, and Kurt just managed not to roll his eyes. “But he’s done pretty well so far.”

“Only because Rachel pulled his style last week,” Kurt said, but the words left a bitter taste in his mouth and he avoided her gaze as he added, “His luck can’t hold out forever.”

“Who can’t hold out forever?” Mercedes asked as she and Brittany joined them again.

“Puck,” Tina answered before Kurt could change the subject.

“Mike says he really likes you,” Brittany said, smiling when Kurt frowned at her.

“Mike likes me?”

“No, Puck likes you.” She paused and frowned, tilting her head to the side for a second before she smiled and pulled the fedora onto Kurt’s head again. “Though Mike probably likes you too. You’re cute, like a little kitten. Everybody loves kittens.”

After that she launched into a story about her cat’s Youtube channel, and Kurt tuned her out. He was fairly sure that in Brittany’s mind comparing him to a kitten was a compliment, but Kurt didn’t want people thinking of him as something cute and helpless. The idea of Puck thinking of him that way...Kurt felt his whole face heat up, and he was grateful that the girls were still discussing Lord Tubbington’s dietary restrictions so they wouldn’t catch him blushing.

“Hello, Earth to Kurt.”

Kurt blinked and reached up to grab the hand that was waving in front of his face, blushing even harder and looking over in time to watch Mercedes giggle. “What were you thinking so hard about?”

“Nothing. Just wondering what style we’re going to end up with this week,” Kurt lied.

“I hope we get contemporary,” Tina said, and Kurt certainly wasn’t going to argue with that, but it wasn’t like any of them believed the style assignments were really random.

“Boy, don’t change the subject. Do you really know the entire Single Ladies dance?”

Kurt nodded, returning Mercedes’ laugh with a genuine smile. “What can I say, there isn’t much to do in Ohio.”

“You should teach us,” Brittany said. “We could perform it on Lord Tubbington’s Youtube show if he was here.”

Kurt blinked and glanced at Tina, but she just shrugged sort of helplessly. “Sure,” he said, because he wasn’t interested in a video ending up online, but it really was nice to hang out with girls for awhile.

~

Puck managed to get his bed put back together before Kurt got back from wherever he disappeared to after breakfast. He nearly knocked himself out a couple times in the process, and he was pretty sure he’d pulled something in his arm that might cost him later, but it was worth it to see the shocked look on Kurt’s face when he walked back into their room to find Puck sprawled on his own bed.

Anyway, it wasn’t like he could ask Mike to help him -- not without admitting how truly pathetic he was when it came to Kurt -- and he sure as hell wasn’t waiting around for Kurt to do it. It was bad enough that he’d already demanded as much of Kurt’s time as he did; he wasn’t going to ask for Kurt’s help in kicking Puck out of his bed too.

“Hey,” Puck said when Kurt walked in, pausing just inside the door with a handful of bags and a stupid white hat perched on top of his head. “What’s with the pimp hat?”

As soon as he said it Kurt blushed, but he didn’t take the hat off. “It was Brittany’s idea.”

“So, what…you went shopping?”

“I was bonding with my partner,” Kurt said, tossing his bags on his bed without looking at Puck. “It was your idea, I thought you’d be happy.”

“Yeah…no...I mean, that’s good, dude. Bonding and stuff. At least it can’t hurt, right?”

Kurt made a noise that could have meant anything and straightened up, then he turned toward the door, and when Puck realized he was leaving again he sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. “Wait a second, where are you going?”

“The girls want me to meet them in Brittany and Mercedes’ room,” Kurt answered without looking back at him. His shoulders went kind of stiff for a second, but before Puck could remind him that he’d just gotten back, he was gone again.

Puck didn’t see him again until they had to show up for filming, and then it was just glimpses of Kurt across the room while they waited for their turn to show the camera what style they’d pulled for the week. Puck leaned against the wall next to Mike, Rachel on his other side talking a mile a minute about whatever choreographer she was hoping to land.

He didn’t know for sure what she was saying, because he was too busy watching Kurt whispering with Tina to listen to her. And yeah, okay, maybe he was bordering on stalker territory, but it kind of bugged him, how quickly Kurt went from hanging around Puck all the time to blowing him off for somebody he hardly knew.

It bugged him, but he wasn’t planning to do anything about it, because Kurt hanging out with Tina was Puck’s idea in the first place. He couldn’t exactly complain that Kurt was ignoring him, even if that wouldn’t make him sound like a total pussy, not when he was the one who told Kurt to bond with Tina. Besides, it would be worth it the next time they danced together and the judges couldn’t rag on Kurt for not connecting with his partner.

If it meant Puck had to find other ways to entertain himself for the rest of the week...well, pretty soon they’d all be so exhausted from rehearsals that he probably wouldn’t even notice that Kurt wasn’t around.

He told himself he believed that as he watched Kurt and Tina head in to find out what they were dancing this week. And it only took a few minutes to film these segments, but it felt like forever before Tina led Kurt back out of the room, holding up a card that said ‘Bollywood’. All Puck knew about it was what he’d seen on the show, but Kurt didn’t look that crazy about being stuck performing it. Still, Tina had her arm looped through his, and Puck figured it would be a lot easier to get through a tricky style if he knew he could rely on his partner.

Brittany and Mike went next, emerging a few minutes later with the quickstep. After that were Blaine and Sunshine, and when they came out of the room looking terrified of their hip hop card, Puck couldn’t really blame them. It was about as far away from their styles as it got, and Puck would probably be sporting the same expression if he and Rachel ended up with contemporary or something.

One by one pairs went in for their segments, some of them coming out looking relieved, but most of them kind of looking like they wanted to throw up. Finally a producer called for Puck and Rachel, and as soon as he pushed himself off the wall she grabbed his hand in a vice grip and dragged him across the room. He just managed to catch Kurt’s eye before Rachel shoved him through the door, and he had no idea what he looked like, but just for a second Kurt almost looked like he felt sorry for him.

Then Kurt was gone and it was just Puck and Rachel and an envelope in front of the camera, and she smiled up at him like she hadn’t had this much fun...well, ever before she opened it and pulled out their card.

“Contemporary,” she said, grinning at the camera like landing contemporary was better than her birthday and Hanukkah all rolled up in one. Maybe for her it was; it was pretty close to her style, anyway. At least it was sure as hell a lot closer than krump had been.

Puck took a deep breath and did his best to smile like he wasn’t about to have a panic attack or something. And it wasn’t like he’d never danced contemporary before, but only in a group with other people. When it was just the two of them up there on stage it was going to be obvious that he didn’t know what the hell he was doing, and he couldn’t ask Kurt for help.

He couldn’t ask Mike either, because ballroom was the one style Mike wasn’t that solid on, which meant he was going to have his own stuff to deal with this week. So it was just him and Rachel, and if he got sent home in week two, he hoped at least he wouldn’t drag her down with him.

~

Bollywood. Bollywood.

Of all the styles they could have gotten, he hadn’t even considered that one. It only turned up a couple times during the entire competition, after all, and it was so far out of his realm of experience that even if he’d wanted to try to learn the basics, there was nowhere in Lima to do it. So mostly he’d just hoped he could avoid it altogether, which was precisely why they’d ended up with it in the second week.

After two days of rehearsal he didn’t feel any closer to getting a handle on the routine. It was even faster than it looked, and the choreographer kept harping on them so much about their hand positions that Kurt was terrified he was going to start some kind of international incident if he gestured the wrong way.

He was too tired after rehearsal to be surprised when Puck dropped into the seat across from him at dinner. They hadn’t spoken much all week; Kurt had made himself scarce as often as possible, and when they went back to their rooms at night they mostly just crawled into their respective beds and passed out.

And it wasn’t as though Kurt missed sharing a bed; they’d stayed on their separate sides the entire time, and the only time Puck had touched him was on that last night, right after he finished telling Kurt that they shouldn’t spend so much time together.

Every time he thought about it he felt Puck’s hand on his shoulder again, fingers burning into his skin through his t-shirt. It barely lasted a second before Kurt moved away from the touch, but it was long enough for him to relive the feeling every time he got tired enough to let his mind wander.

“Hey,” Puck said, and Kurt felt his cheeks start to burn as he looked up. “How was rehearsal?”

“Brutal,” Kurt answered. “And you?”

“Same here. That Mia chick is scary.”

Puck grinned when Kurt let out a grudging huff of laughter, but his smile faded when he reached for his glass of milk and let out a little hiss of pain.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Puck answered, but the way he was wincing and rubbing at his shoulder didn’t look like nothing. “I think I pulled something putting the bed back together. It’s fine.”

Kurt frowned while he watched Puck reach for his glass more slowly this time. “It doesn’t look fine. How did you get through rehearsal like that?”

The only answer he got was a shrug, then Puck drained half his glass of milk and set it down again. “Sometimes you just have to suck it up, right?”

Kurt couldn’t really argue with that; they’d all danced with injuries at one time or another, and Kurt knew if he hurt himself during the competition he’d do his best to ignore the pain and keep performing. The only way any of them would voluntarily drop out was on doctor’s orders, so it wasn’t surprising that Puck hadn’t even mentioned his injury. Then again, Kurt hadn’t exactly spoken to him since before he injured himself, at least not long enough to say more than a few words.

“Come back to the room after dinner. I’ve got something that should help.”

Puck shook his head and picked up his fork. “I don’t use anymore. Besides, I need to get in some more practice so Mia doesn’t beat me to death with that cane she’s been carrying around.”

“I’m not talking about drugs,” Kurt said, frowning as he wondered what exactly Puck meant by ‘anymore’. “And if you don’t rest your shoulder you’ll do permanent damage, then you’ll have to drop out and you won’t have to worry about Mia.”

“Okay, okay, if it means that much to you. You know, if you missed hanging out with me that much you could have just said.”

Kurt blushed and opened his mouth to deny it, but before he even got the words out Puck smirked and turned back to his dinner. Which wasn’t even fair, because Kurt was just trying to help. Instead he shook his head and focused on his own dinner and not what exactly the help he was offering was going to entail.

~

Puck was mostly kidding when he accused Kurt of missing him. It wasn’t like he’d gone anywhere, after all, so if Kurt wanted to see him all he had to do was hang around instead of taking off with Tina and Mercedes every chance he got. But Kurt hadn’t denied it when Puck said it, so maybe that meant he really had missed Puck a little.

He followed Puck back to their room after dinner, anyway, and as soon as they got there he disappeared into the bathroom and came back carrying a bottle of something that smelled sweet and sort of minty.

“Here, rub this into your muscle. It should help with the soreness.”

“Can’t,” Puck said, but he reached up to take the bottle anyway, sniffing at the open top. “It’s the back of my shoulder. I can’t reach it.”

Kurt let out a sigh like he seriously couldn’t believe this was his life, then he kind of pursed is lips and didn’t quite look at Puck. “I suppose I’ll have to do it, then. Sit down.”

“What?”

That got him another sigh, then Kurt’s hand was on the center of his chest and pushing him in the direction of Kurt’s bed. And Puck could get behind that plan, so he sat down on the edge of the bed and looked up at Kurt.

“You’ll have to take your shirt off.”

And yeah, sometimes he could be a little slow, but Puck got with the program eventually. He smirked and held out the bottle of whatever Kurt was planning to put on him, then he tugged his shirt over his head and let it hit the floor. Once he was…well, kind of undressed, anyway, Kurt climbed onto the mattress to kneel behind him, pouring some of whatever it was in one hand before he reached around Puck to hand him the bottle again.

“What is this stuff, anyway?” Puck asked, sniffing at the bottle again.

Kurt’s hands landed on his shoulder, warm and slick and when he hit the sore spot Puck let out a low groan.

“It’s an organic salve for sore or strained muscles. It’s not going to heal you overnight, but the peppermint and eucalyptus oils should help ease the pain, and the wintergreen reduces inflammation. Plus it makes your skin really soft.”

“Whatever,” Puck said, his head dropping forward as Kurt’s hands slid down his back. “It feels awesome.”

He felt Kurt’s hands sort of stutter to a halt on his skin, just for a second before Kurt caught himself and started moving them again. And yeah, Puck got that this wasn’t exactly normal, but he didn’t care, because it did feel awesome. It would feel even better if he was stretched out on his stomach, but he had a feeling Kurt wouldn’t go for that.

Way too soon Kurt was pulling his hands away, leaving Puck’s skin warm and slick and kind of tingly. “There. That should help a little.”

“Thanks,” Puck said, turning to take in the pink flush of Kurt’s cheeks and the way he wasn’t really looking at Puck. Like he was embarrassed, maybe, only Puck didn’t get why. “That was really cool of you.”

Kurt shrugged, looking down at his hands where they were pressed against his thighs. The air in the room felt kind of thick, and Puck knew he should probably get up and put his shirt back on. But he didn’t want to, not when Kurt was letting Puck back in his bed. And okay, so he was just sitting on it, but still, there was a chance if he just didn’t move, Kurt wouldn’t kick him out again.

“My hands are greasy,” Kurt said, staring down at them like he might be able to clean them with his brain. “I should go clean up.”

He started to climb off the bed, but it was tough when he was trying not to touch anything. That made it easy for Puck to read out and close a hand around Kurt’s wrist, pulling Kurt back down onto the mattress next to him. Kurt looked up when Puck touched him, eyes wide and his whole face red, and Puck had to admit it was a good look for him.

“Listen, Kurt, when I said you should hang out with Tina, I didn’t mean all the time.”

For a second Kurt just blinked at him, then he looked down at Puck’s hand where it was still wrapped around his wrist. “Then what did you mean, exactly?”

“I just figured if you got to know her, it would be easier for you to relax when you’re on stage together. But we could still hang out sometimes, you know? If you want.”

Kurt didn’t answer right away, and after a few seconds of silence it started to feel kind of weird. Puck was still holding onto his wrist, and he got the feeling he should probably let go. Either that or he should do something, like maybe pull Kurt forward and show him some of the things they could do if Kurt wanted to start hanging out with him again.

“Isn’t that what we’re doing right now?”

The question caught him off guard, and Puck cleared his throat and let go of Kurt’s wrist before he answered. “Yeah, I mean, I guess, but it doesn’t always have to be because you’re doing me a favor.”

Kurt shrugged, and he still wasn’t looking at Puck so he couldn’t be sure, but he had a feeling Kurt was blushing even harder.

“I don’t mind,” was all he said, and when he climbed off the bed this time Puck didn’t try to stop him.

A minute later he was gone, kicking the bathroom door closed behind him, and when Puck heard water running and then the sound of bottles being picked up and put back down again, he knew Kurt wouldn’t be back for awhile. He sighed and gave in to the urge to stretch out on Kurt’s bed, staying on top of the bedspread so Kurt wouldn’t bitch at him for getting his muscle rub stuff all over the sheets.

Chances were Kurt would send him back to his own bed as soon as he got out of the bathroom, but for now Puck figured it wouldn’t hurt to close his eyes, just until Kurt got back.

~

It was bad enough when Kurt only had to try not to remember the way Puck’s hand felt on his shoulder, or the way Puck had held onto him right before he was sent home. But now he had the memory of Puck’s skin under his hands, of the sounds he’d made when Kurt rubbed the salve into his sore muscle. He had the image of Puck stretched out on his bed, still shirtless and fast asleep, burned into his memory.

Kurt should have woken him up and kicked him out. He’d tried; he’d reached down and put his hand on Puck’s shoulder, intent on shaking him awake. But his skin was just as warm as Kurt remembered, and as soon as Kurt touched him he’d made a noise that sent heat flooding all the way to Kurt’s toes. He wasn’t sure how long he stood there with his hand on Puck’s shoulder, but when he realized he was still touching he’d yanked his hand back and changed into his pajamas, then he’d crawled into Puck’s bed instead of his own.

They didn’t talk about it in the morning, but Kurt didn’t abandon Puck for Tina and the rest of the girls at breakfast, and the smile he got when he sat down across from Puck made the whole strange night worth it. Or it would have, if he had any idea what Puck wanted from him.

He wasn’t any closer to figuring it out by the end of the fourth day of rehearsal, though he’d stopped actively avoiding Puck. He and Rachel had even sat down with Kurt and Tina for lunch, and Kurt had discovered that he and Rachel had a common fondness for musical theater. Granted, it was hard to get a word in edgewise with her, but at least lunch hadn’t been a painfully awkward affair.

Then again, it was a little like some kind of bizarre double date, and that was weird enough to throw Kurt off his game for the rest of the afternoon. Lucky for him there weren’t really any lifts involved in their Bollywood routine, or instead of laughing every time he got a step wrong, Tina probably would have been in an ambulance by the end of the day.

After dinner he dragged himself back to the room, and when Puck found him there a few minutes later Kurt was face-down on his bed, eyes closed and holding as still as possible so none of his muscles would complain.

“Dude, you okay?”

Kurt lifted his head at the sound of Puck’s voice, but when his back objected he groaned and closed his eyes again. “No, I’m not okay. I’m a complete fraud and in two days the entire country’s going to know. God, they probably air this show in Europe too. The entire world’s going to know I can’t dance.”

“I hate to break it to you, but the whole country’s already seen you dance. They know how good you are.”

“They haven’t seen me attempt Bollywood,” Kurt said, his voice muffled by the pillow. “It’s tragic.”

He heard Puck laugh above him, then the mattress dipped and Kurt opened one eye to watch Puck sit down next to him. “It can’t be that bad.”

“Worse. Every inch of me hurts, and I still can’t get the routine down. It doesn’t look that hard when you see it performed, but it’s so fast, and the hand movements are ridiculously complicated.”

Before he even finished talking Puck was standing up again, and Kurt frowned and pushed himself up far enough to watch him disappear into the bathroom. And okay, maybe he was whining a little, but he didn’t think he was being so pathetic as to force Puck out of the room in the middle of a conversation. A few seconds later Puck reappeared, though, the bottle of Kurt’s expensive salve clutched in one hand and if Kurt didn’t know any better he’d swear Puck looked sort of…nervous.

He sat down on Kurt’s bed again, setting the bottle on the nightstand between their beds and turning to look at Kurt. “Come on, lose the shirt.”

“What are you doing?” Kurt asked, but his stomach was already doing somersaults and he couldn’t decide whether to throw up right there or make a run for the bathroom so at least he wouldn’t humiliate himself right in front of Puck.

“Repaying a favor,” Puck answered, and now he was grinning, but it was still a little nervous around the edges. Like maybe he was worried that Kurt was going to refuse, and there was a part of Kurt that really, really wanted to, but as soon as he realized Puck expected him to, he took a deep breath and sat up far enough to pull his shirt off.

“You don’t have to do this,” he said, but he was already lying down again, and when he felt the first press of strong, warm hands on his back he had to bite back a gasp. “I mean, you don’t owe me anything.”

“Yeah, I know,” Puck said, and maybe it was the distracting press of calloused hands on his back, or maybe it was the fact that Kurt’s eyes wouldn’t seem to stay open, but Puck’s voice sounded a little lower all of a sudden. “But this stuff really does work. My shoulder felt a lot better today.”

Kurt knew it worked, mostly because he’d used it on plenty of muscle strains over the years. But the only person who’d ever rubbed the salve into parts of him he couldn’t reach was his stepmother, and considering she was a nurse, it wasn’t quite the same as his very hot, very male roommate sliding warm, slick hands down the length of his back.

When Puck’s hands reached the base of his spine Kurt’s breath caught in his throat, and he felt his whole body tense, but he couldn’t make himself relax when Puck was touching him. Not like this, hands gentle and rough at the same time, sending shivers of want straight to his groin with every brush of Puck’s fingers.

“Am I hurting you or something?”

It took a few seconds for the words to register, but when they did Kurt shook his head against the pillow. “I’m fine.”

“You sure? Last time I checked massages were supposed to relax you, not stress you out even more.”

And it just figured that Kurt couldn’t even get this right. All he had to do was lie here and let Puck touch him, and it wasn’t like he got a lot of offers from hot guys who wanted to put their hands on him. This was the first, as a matter of fact, so he shouldn’t be surprised that he was blowing it.

Relax, he told himself, chanting the word over and over in his head, but as soon as Puck’s hands swept down his sides Kurt felt his whole body tremble. Then Puck’s hands were gone, and he knew he’d completely blown it. They weren’t even doing anything and he’d managed to act like the clueless virgin he was, and now Puck was going to think of every excuse he could to stay far away from Kurt.

“Kurt.”

And he didn’t want to look, because if he did he was just going to see pity or maybe worse in Puck’s eyes, and that was the last thing he wanted. What Kurt wanted was to stay right where he was, eyes shut tight until Puck went away and left him alone to die of humiliation. Except Puck was stubborn -- maybe as stubborn as he was -- and Kurt knew better than to think he’d just let it go.

“Hey. What’s the problem?”

“I told you, I’m fine,” Kurt said, shifting away from Puck and rolling onto his side so that Puck wouldn’t see just how much he was affecting Kurt. He sat up, back to the room and reaching for his shirt where it was still resting on the mattress, but before his hand closed around it Puck’s was there, closing around Kurt’s fingers.

“I’m not stupid, dude. I mean, I know I look it...”

“You don’t,” Kurt said, risking a glance over his shoulder, but when his eyes met Puck’s there was no pity there. “I know you’re not stupid, Puck. Frankly this would be easier if you were.”

“What would?”

Puck let go of his hand and Kurt took a deep breath, fingers curling into a fist against his thigh. But a second later Puck’s hand was on his back, warm against slick skin and Kurt was never going to be able to smell mint again without remembering this moment.

“It’s just...I’m not used to people...touching me.”

“What, ever?” Puck asked, and Kurt felt the blush spread up his neck and down his chest, heating him up from the inside and when he reached for his shirt again Puck didn’t try to stop him.

He knew what Puck was asking, and it wasn’t as though he could deny it, so Kurt just shrugged and pulled his shirt over his head. He didn’t want to talk about this, not with Puck, especially when he’d just been touching Kurt like...well, like he meant it. And that was the worst part, because Kurt didn’t have anything to compare it to, so he didn’t even know if Puck meant it the way it felt.

There was dance, of course, but those touches were choreographed, so Kurt always knew what to expect. It was never personal, even when the dance was meant to be intimate. It was just a show, an act he put on with his partner for the benefit of the audience.

There was nothing choreographed about the way Puck touched him. He hadn’t planned for any of this; Kurt could tell by the surprise in his voice when he asked if anyone had ever touched Kurt, and he could tell by the way Puck didn’t try to stop him when he stood up this time.

“I should go,” Kurt said, but his voice sounded strange even to his ears. “Tina…I should go.”

“Wait,” Puck said, but before he got any further there was a knock on the door, then Rachel’s voice was calling from the hallway. Kurt heard Puck swear under his breath, but he didn’t look back before he darted across the room, pausing long enough to grab a pair of loose pants from his suitcase before he disappeared into the bathroom.

By the time he changed and let himself out again Rachel had gotten past Puck and into the room, and Kurt flashed a tight smile in her direction as he headed for the door.

“Where are you going?” Puck called, talking over Rachel, and Kurt’s face heated up again when she glanced between them.

“I told you, I need to speak to Tina,” Kurt lied.

He didn’t wait for an answer before he slipped out of the room and into the hallway, and by the time he reached Tina’s door he’d given up on the idea of Puck following him. When he knocked Tina pulled the door open, smiling and standing aside to let him in as though she’d been expecting him. When he saw that Brittany and Mercedes were already there he realized why, and Kurt let Mercedes pull him down onto the bed next to her to ask his opinion on some guy in the magazine they were flipping through.

Kurt glanced at the picture and forced a smile, murmuring an agreement, though he had no idea what he was agreeing with, exactly. All he knew was the guy wasn’t Puck, and as far as Kurt was concerned, that meant he didn’t matter.

~

Puck knew he’d fucked up. It wasn’t the first time -- not even close -- though it was the first time he’d fucked up like this. It was the first time he’d met somebody he liked enough to try to do right by them, and somehow still ended up chasing them away.

Kurt came back eventually, but it was a lot later than Puck expected, and he figured that meant Kurt was hoping he’d be asleep. So he’d pretended he was, just to give the guy a break. It was pretty clear he was freaked out by the thought of his roommate...friend...whatever...basically copping a feel under false pretenses, and if Kurt needed to sleep on it before he was ready to talk about it, that was probably the least Puck could do.

So he figured he’d wait until morning, give Kurt a chance to shower and get dressed before he brought it up. Except by the time he woke up Kurt was already gone, and when Puck went down to breakfast Kurt was sitting with Brittany and Mercedes. When he looked up and saw Puck he blushed so hard Puck figured it had to hurt, then he looked away and didn’t so much as glance in Puck’s direction until it was time to head to group rehearsal.

They barely got a chance to breathe during the group rehearsal, let alone talk, and the whole afternoon was spent rehearsing with their partners, which meant the first chance he really got to talk to Kurt was at dinner. Puck ditched Rachel as soon as Mia let them go, racing to dinner and checking to make sure Kurt hadn’t beaten him there.

When he was sure Kurt wasn’t already in the dining room Puck headed back into the hall, leaning against the wall next to the door and waiting. When he saw Kurt and Tina walking down the hall together Puck pushed off the wall, nodding when Tina and then Kurt spotted him.

“Hey,” he said, “can I talk to you for a second?”

Kurt pressed his lips together and glanced at Tina, giving her a weird little nod that made her eyes go kind of wide. “Oh. I told Brittany I’d meet her for dinner, so I should go,” she said in a voice that was way too loud, considering she was standing right next to them. A second later she was gone, leaving Kurt staring after her, and Puck staring at Kurt.

“So listen,” Puck said, still staring at Kurt’s profile as his cheeks turned more and more pink. “I just wanted to say…”

That was as far as he got before Sam and Mercedes appeared at the end of the hall, and Puck rolled his eyes as Kurt looked over his shoulder at them. Mercedes waved at Kurt, frowning between him and Puck for a second until Sam put a hand on her shoulder and steered her into the dining room. Once they were gone Puck reached out and wrapped a hand around Kurt’s bicep, then he dragged Kurt around the corner and out of sight of the dining room.

“This isn’t necessary,” Kurt said when Puck let go of him, but he was blushing even harder now.

“Yeah, it is. I’m trying to say I’m sorry here,” Puck said, dropping his voice so nobody would hear them and come sticking their noses in where they didn’t belong.

“There’s nothing to be sorry for,” Kurt said, eyes locked with Puck’s chest like his sweaty tank top was the most fascinating thing Kurt had ever seen. “So if that’s all you wanted, I’d like to get to dinner.”

And he got it; he got why Kurt didn’t want to talk about it, and Puck didn’t blame him. He didn’t think Kurt had anything to be embarrassed about, but he understood why Kurt thought that, and he knew he was probably making it worse. Still, he couldn’t just let it go, not if he ever wanted Kurt to look at him again.

“Kurt, come on. Look, it’s not like it matters, right?”

He knew it was the wrong thing to say when Kurt’s whole neck turned red, then he glanced over his shoulder to make sure they were still alone before he turned back to Puck.

“Do you think I like being completely clueless? I was the only out person in my entire high school. The only one. The other kids tortured me for it, so no one in their right mind would come out and subject themselves to being tossed in dumpsters and shoved into lockers when I was already providing a convenient target for the entire football team. I didn’t even have anyone to talk to until my dad met my stepmother and dragged my stepbrother into our lives, and even he doesn’t really understand.”

Kurt’s voice went a little higher with each word, until finally he stopped talking and bit down hard on his lip, and Puck got the feeling he was trying not to cry. And if it was anybody else he might already be offering to help them get a clue; he probably wouldn’t even feel that bad about it, because he’d be doing the guy a favor.

Except it wasn’t just anybody; it was Kurt, and Puck already knew if they hooked up it wouldn’t be just a casual thing.

There was a part of him that wanted to go for it anyway, but Kurt had as good as admitted that he’d never even dated anybody before, and that complicated things. Puck had a kid at home relying on him to stop screwing around and get his life together, and that meant being careful who he brought into her life.

He couldn’t ask Kurt to take on something that heavy when he hadn’t even started living yet. It wasn’t fair to Kurt, for one thing, and if Puck took a chance and Kurt left anyway, Puck wasn’t sure he could handle it.

Puck took a deep breath and looked down at the floor, reaching up with one hand to rub at the back of his neck. When he looked up again Kurt was still biting his lip, looking away from Puck like he was thinking about making a break for it.

“Listen, Kurt, there’s nothing wrong with not hooking up just to say you’ve done it. I mean, look at me. The one time I tried to be the guy I thought my mom wanted me to be, I ended up with a kid at sixteen.”

“Dear God,” Kurt murmured, then he closed his eyes and kind of pinched the bridge of his nose like he was trying not to snap. “Look, I appreciate your concern, but I already have a father, and believe me, he’s given me the speech already.”

“Yeah, sure,” Puck said, hand still resting on the back of his neck, and now his face was starting to feel a little warm. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Kurt said, and he was still embarrassed, but he was kind of smiling now too, so Puck figured at least Kurt wasn’t going to keep ignoring him. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry if I overreacted last night. You just...caught me by surprise.”

Puck shrugged and glanced down the hall toward the dining room, then he turned back to Kurt and smirked. “Yeah, well, I can be pretty surprising.”

He grinned when Kurt’s face flushed again, then he slid an arm around Kurt’s shoulders and tugged him back toward the dining room. “Come on, let’s go get some food before Mike cleans out the buffet.”

“He’d have to beat Sam to it first,” Kurt said, and when Puck laughed Kurt leaned a little harder against his side. He was warm and solid pressed up against Puck, and they’d already been through this, so Puck wasn’t planning to do anything about it, but it was hard to remember why when he looked over and spotted Kurt’s smile.

~

Their Bollywood routine went about as well as Kurt expected, which was to say, not that well at all. Still, he and Tina had a lot of fun, and in spite of the fact that the judges didn’t think they were that strong, they commended Kurt and Tina on finally making a connection. As soon as Nigel said it Kurt glanced toward the edge of the stage where he knew Puck was standing, and even though Kurt couldn’t see him, he could picture Puck’s smug grin.

He managed not to roll his eyes while he was still on camera, but as soon as he got backstage and found himself wrapped in strong arms he couldn’t help laughing.

“So maybe there was some merit to your plan,” Kurt said, voice soft so Tina wouldn’t overhear him, because sure, he’d only started spending time with the girls because he assumed Puck was trying to get rid of him, but he really did enjoy their company.

Puck laughed against his neck, sending shivers down Kurt’s spine, and he was almost sure Puck wasn’t trying to torture him on purpose, but he couldn’t be positive anymore. As soon as he thought it Puck let go, clearing his throat and glancing over Kurt’s shoulder toward the stage.

“Yeah, well, here’s hoping me and Rachel get the same reaction you did from the judges, or Mia probably will beat me to death as an encore.”

“Please, as though you have anything to worry about. No one ever goes home on a Mia Michaels routine,” Kurt said, and this time he didn’t bother trying not to roll his eyes. But he was sort of smiling too, and when Puck let out a little laugh and smiled back at him, Kurt’s heart skipped a beat.

Of course Kurt was right; after Puck and Rachel danced, the judges spent so much time talking about Mia’s amazing choreography that they barely even mentioned the actual dancing. Which was a shame, as far as Kurt was concerned, because he thought Puck did an amazing job, considering it was really only his third time dancing a contemporary routine.

He didn’t pay much attention to the rest of the show, mostly because Puck came looking for him as soon as he got backstage, and Kurt was too busy focusing on the feeling of Puck’s shoulder pressed against his to register what was happening on the stage. He’d promised himself he wasn’t going to let a silly, hopeless crush distract him from the competition, but they’d both already danced, so it couldn’t hurt to enjoy the feeling of Puck’s body heat warming his skin through their clothes, just until taping was over.

The energy after a performance was always tense; all the dancers – even the ones who’d gotten good reviews from the judges – knew they had as good a chance of landing in the bottom three as anyone else. There was no telling who the audience would vote for, and if you landed in the bottom three, all that stood between you and elimination was one thirty-second solo.

As soon as they finished dinner most of them headed off somewhere quiet to work on a solo performance, just in case. It was important to know what they were going to do, if they ended up in the bottom three. They all knew what happened to dancers who tried to improvise their way through a solo, and Kurt certainly wasn’t going home due to lack of preparedness.

After dinner he headed back to his room, Puck trailing behind him looking more worried than Kurt really thought he needed to, considering he’d just danced a Mia routine. And okay, it wasn’t a guarantee or anything, but Puck and Rachel had turned in a strong performance, and that combined with one of Mia’s tearjerker routines meant they probably weren’t going anywhere.

“I meant what I said, you know. You don’t have anything to worry about,” Kurt said when they reached their room.

Puck shrugged and closed the door, and it was still a little strange, being alone with Puck when Kurt could still feel those hands on him, but he shook off the thought and hoped at least his blush wasn’t too obvious.

“The judges didn’t have much to say about my dancing.”

“Only because they were too busy wetting themselves over Mia’s choreography,” Kurt said, and when Puck raised an eyebrow at him he laughed. “It’s true. That’s why no one ever goes home on a Mia routine; the judges have the whole viewing audience convinced she can do no wrong, so her routines always get votes. Even the ones that don’t make any sense.”

It wasn’t as though Kurt didn’t appreciate her choreography; he did, and he was looking forward to working with her, even if she was a little scary. But it was true that people voted for her routines, just like it was true that she was good at bringing out the potential in the dancers she got her hands on.

“You were really good tonight, Puck. Just because the judges didn’t acknowledge it doesn’t mean everyone else didn’t see it.”

Puck shrugged again, but he was smiling too, and Kurt could tell he appreciated the support. “Yeah, well, I’m not counting on anything. You want to move my bed out of the way and work on our solos in here?”

There wasn’t really enough room for Kurt to practice his solo in their room, but admitting it meant leaving Puck alone and going down to the rehearsal space where plenty of other dancers were probably running through their own routines. At least if he stayed he only had to share the space with Puck, and this way Kurt got to watch Puck dance in his own style.

Besides, the solo he was planning on was one he’d danced plenty of times before, so really all he had to do was cut it down to the strongest thirty seconds. He could do that in the limited space of their room, he was fairly sure, and if he needed more room to work there was always time tomorrow morning to use the rehearsal space before they were shuttled off to wardrobe and makeup.

“Sure, let’s stay here,” Kurt said, and when Puck grinned at him Kurt didn’t bother trying not to smile back. He didn’t think about the fact that disassembling Puck’s bed meant they’d probably end up sharing again until the mattress was already leaning against the wall, and Kurt blushed as he helped Puck lift the surprisingly heavy frame and lean it against the mattress.

They’d shared Kurt’s bed plenty of times already, so it shouldn’t be a big deal. And it wasn’t, except that a lot had happened in the past week, and some of those things had made Kurt question everything he thought he knew about Puck.

“You said something yesterday,” Kurt said, not quite looking at Puck as he helped stack the extra pillows from Puck’s bed on a chair. “When you said you tried to be what you thought your mother wanted. What did you mean?”

When Puck didn’t answer right away Kurt ventured a glance at him, and when he found Puck staring back at him he felt warmth spread down his neck and into his chest. “I tried to prove I could be straight.”

It wasn’t as though he hadn’t wondered, especially when Puck more or less coerced Kurt into letting Puck give him a massage. He’d wondered, and maybe he’d hoped a little, but until Puck said it out loud Kurt hadn’t let himself believe it.

Puck cleared his throat and turned away, reaching for Kurt’s iPod and handing it over. “So let’s see what you’ve got,” he said, then he crossed the room to plant himself on the edge of Kurt’s bed, and Kurt nodded and did his best to focus on his dance.

Chapter Text

If Kurt’s life were a movie, when Puck came out to him Kurt would have found exactly the right words to say. He would have opened his mouth and said something intelligent and charming, something that made Puck laugh and showed him that Kurt was perfect for him. He would have found a way to keep the conversation going, maybe told Puck the story of coming out to his father, and he wouldn’t have minded when Puck laughed about the fact that his father had known before Kurt even did.

If only he had a script to work from, the night would have ended a lot differently. The thought was terrifying, because he still didn’t have a clue what he was doing, but he had a feeling Puck knew enough for both of them.

And if this were a movie, Puck would do something about it, because he was the one who knew how this sort of thing was supposed to go. Maybe he’d stand up and pull Kurt close, move their hips together the way he’d done a couple times now, except this time instead of just dancing Puck would lean in and brush a kiss across his lips. Or maybe he’d run his thumb along Kurt’s cheekbone the way they did in the movies sometimes, then he’d say something corny and impossibly romantic and Kurt wouldn’t have any choice but to sway forward and kiss him.

But his life wasn’t a movie – it wasn’t even a trashy romance novel – so instead of announcing that he was gay and then confessing that he wanted Kurt, Puck just watched him dance. He helped Kurt decide on the strongest part of the routine, and once Kurt was fairly sure he was ready to perform a solo if he had to, he gave up the floor to Puck.

They both knew Puck wasn’t going to have to perform a solo, but instead of pulling Kurt down next to him and showing Kurt some moves he wouldn’t need on the dance floor, Puck stood up and dug through CDs until he found the one he was looking for. A minute later the room was filled with what sounded like a cross between rap and club music, and Kurt swallowed a sigh and settled in to watch Puck dance.

Not that he minded watching Puck dance. It was becoming one of his favorite things to do, but now that he knew without a doubt what they could be doing, it was hard to focus on anything else. He focused anyway, mostly because he knew he wouldn’t be able to explain if Puck noticed how distracted he was. So Kurt watched him practice the solo he wouldn’t need, and the next night, when Cat announced that Puck and Rachel were safe, Kurt smiled and mouthed ‘I told you so’ the second Puck caught his eye.

As soon as Cat dismissed them Puck was off the stage and headed straight for Kurt, reaching for him even as Mike and Blaine patted him on the back and shouted congratulations over the noise of the crowd. Kurt barely registered any of it, because Puck’s arms were sliding around him, then Puck’s lips were pressed close to his ear and whispering, “Guess I should have listened to you.”

Kurt laughed and held him a little tighter, ignoring the way his stomach trembled when he felt Puck’s breath against his ear. He let go long before he was ready, because they were still on TV, and anyway Puck wasn’t his to hold onto. Not yet, and maybe not ever. Maybe Puck didn’t want that from him; it wasn’t as though Kurt knew how to read the signals, or what to do about them even if he did.

Kurt and Tina were called up in the second group, and when Cat sighed and let her shoulders drop a little before she told them they were in the bottom three, he wasn’t surprised. He gripped Tina’s hand a little tighter and did his best to smile, then he tuned out whatever Cat was saying until she finally sent the show to commercial and let them leave the stage to get ready for their solos.

Puck didn’t meet him backstage; he couldn’t, though Kurt comforted himself with the thought that he probably wanted to. He pictured Puck standing in the hall with his hands in his pockets, looking guilty but determined all the same and telling Kurt he was going to kill it and he had nothing to worry about. And he wasn’t worried, not really, because Kurt knew his solo was strong, and as long as he showed the judges that he could connect with his audience as well as he could complete his jumps, he wouldn’t go home.

So he wasn’t worried, but he felt the jolt of nervous excitement roll through him when he heard Cat announce his solo. He stepped onto the stage, glancing toward the small group of contestants watching from the edge of the stage as he took his place and waited for his music to start.

~

One thing was for sure: Kurt could dance. He was something to look at all the time, but when he was dancing, he was…beautiful. He was dancing to some song Puck had never heard before, something about taking the high road, and Puck figured it made a lot of sense, considering. Kurt had been shut down by the judges a few times since this whole thing started, but he kept on getting up no matter how many times they knocked him down.

This time he wasn’t just getting up; he was fighting back, and he was giving it his all. Puck could feel how bad he wanted it, and judging by the way the whole audience seemed like it was holding its breath, everybody else could feel it too.

When Kurt finished the whole place exploded, and Puck knew he was grinning like an idiot, but he didn’t care. All he cared about was that Kurt had killed it, and there was no way the judges were sending him home after that. Hell, if he kept dancing like that for the rest of the show he could give Mike a run for his money, and Puck had always known he could do it, but he was pretty sure Kurt hadn’t known until tonight.

He didn’t rush the stage when Kurt was done, but it was tempting. In a way he was kind of grateful they weren’t letting him near Kurt until the show was over, because Puck was pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to control himself if he got his hands on Kurt right now. And he needed to stay in control – one of them needed to stay in control – or things would get out of hand pretty damn quick.

There was a part of him that really, really liked the idea of things getting out of hand. He was pretty sure part of Kurt liked the idea too, and that was the whole problem, because Kurt had no clue what he was asking for.

So it was good that they kept Puck away from him until after the results were announced, when Nigel said Kurt left it all on the stage, then told him he better bring it like that every week, now that they knew he could deliver. When they said he was safe and Cat sent him off the stage Kurt headed straight for him, but Tina got to him first and Puck was grateful for that too, because he wasn’t sure what he would have done if Kurt got to him first.

But Tina grabbed him, then he was being swallowed up in a three-way hug with Brittany and Mercedes, and after that it was Sam and Mike patting him on the back and by the time Kurt got to him, Puck mostly had himself under control. He wrapped his arms around Kurt and breathed in deep anyway, face pressed against Kurt’s neck and it probably didn’t count as keeping his cool, but at least he was keeping it PG.

He didn’t say anything, because what was he going to say besides, Don’t you dare fucking leave me? But maybe Kurt could read his mind anyway, because as soon as Puck thought it the arms around his waist tightened a little, and he had to swallow hard and let go of Kurt. He grabbed David and hugged him too, murmuring a congratulations that he mostly meant, just to distract himself from the fact that Kurt was still standing close enough for Puck to feel the nervous energy pouring off him.

Puck didn’t remember much about the rest of the show. They showed the packages for the two dancers who got eliminated, then Cat talked for what felt like forever, but was probably only a minute or two. After that they had to go back to the green room to talk to whatever press was hanging around – like that wasn’t totally weird – before the producers finally sent them to dinner.

It should have been a relief, getting out of the theater and away from the lights and the people and even more cameras shoved in their faces every time they turned around. But everybody was still keyed up from the show, and when Kurt sat down next to him Puck could almost feel him buzzing with it.

“Hey,” Puck said, and he wasn’t trying to keep his voice down or anything, but it came out sort of low anyway, so Kurt had to kind of lean into him. “You were really good out there tonight.”

“Thanks,” Kurt said, cheeks going the shade of pink that Puck was starting to think meant Kurt was embarrassed, but kind of happy too. "It felt good. I mean, I knew I was in danger of going home, and I just wanted one more chance to show them what I could do.”

“Well, you did,” Puck answered, grinning when Kurt blushed even harder and didn’t quite manage to kill his smile. He opened his mouth to say something else, something dangerous like I’m glad you’re still here or maybe do you even have a clue how much I’d miss you if you were gone?, but before he got the words out Tina and Brittany were standing on either side of him, jostling Puck out of the way so they could drag Kurt to his feet.

“Blaine wants to see,” Brittany said, tugging Kurt away from the table – away from Puck – and toward the far side of the room.

“Blaine wants to see what?” Kurt asked, but his voice was already going kind of high, like maybe he knew what she was getting at and he wasn’t going to like it.

Sure enough, a few seconds later somebody’s phone was playing “Single Ladies”, and Kurt was blushing redder than ever and trying to get away from Brittany and Tina. It didn’t take that long for him to give in, though, and by the time they were halfway through the routine he looked like he was even having a good time.

And yeah, it was kind of dumb, but they were bringing it, and it turned out it was exactly what everybody needed to kill the tension. He wasn’t crazy about the way Blaine was smiling like Kurt was the best thing he’d ever seen, but he was pretty sure Kurt hadn’t noticed so far. Then again, maybe Blaine just thought Kurt was the funniest thing he’d ever seen; it was kind of hard to tell with him.

Either way, when they finally finished Kurt made a beeline for Puck, dropping back into his seat and blushing so hard Puck was pretty sure he could feel it coming off him. He was still kind of flushed when they finished dinner, and Puck kind of expected Kurt to go hang out with the girls for awhile, but he just smiled and waved goodbye to them before he followed Puck back to their room.

“That was some show,” Puck said as they walked down the hall shoulder to shoulder, and when Kurt glanced over at him and blushed again Puck had to stop himself from reaching out to touch.

“I should have known better than to teach it to Brittany. I suppose at least I’m grateful there isn’t a video on her cat’s Youtube account.”

“What?”

“It’s a long story,” Kurt said, blushing even harder now, and Puck wasn’t sure if he really wanted to know. He opened the door to their room and held it while Kurt brushed past him, shoulder brushing Puck’s chest, and it sort of felt like something was about to happen. Like maybe Kurt was expecting something from him, only Puck still hadn’t decided if he could give it.

He took his time closing the door, breathing deep before he turned around to look at Kurt again. “Listen…”

Kurt was checking his messages, frowning down at his phone, but when he heard Puck’s voice he looked up. “My family’s coming.”

“What?” Puck said, and he wasn’t sure if he was relieved or annoyed about the change of subject. “When?”

“In two days.”

“That’s kind of fast, isn’t it?”

Kurt pursed his lips and looked down at his phone again, and this time when he cheeks went pink Puck was pretty sure it meant he was pissed. “It’s because I was in the bottom tonight. They probably think I’m going to fall apart if it happens again.”

Until tonight Puck had been kind of worried about that too, but once he saw Kurt’s solo he knew there was nothing to worry about. Kurt wanted this, maybe more than most of them, and he wasn’t going down without a fight. So if it took flying all the way out to California to see that, maybe it was a good idea for his family to visit, even if it meant he wouldn’t get Kurt all to himself for awhile.

“Still, it’s cool that they care, right?” Puck said. He swallowed a sigh and crossed to his bed where it was still leaning against the wall, then he glanced at Kurt again. “Guess we better put this thing back where we found it before your folks get here and want a tour.”

Kurt’s lips pursed again, like maybe he wanted to argue, to remind Puck that they still had two nights before his family showed up. But it was a bad idea before he found out Kurt’s parents would be in town in a couple days, and now it was an even worse idea. A second later Kurt must have realized that too, because he nodded once and set his phone down before he crossed the room to help Puck put his bed back together.

Chapter Text

Having his family around was…kind of weird, actually. He’d only been in L.A. a couple weeks, but the whole experience was so far removed from his real life that it was hard to imagine his family as part of it.

Not that he wasn’t happy to see them. He was, even if his dad frowned every time Puck’s name was mentioned, and Carole kept looking at him like she was afraid he was going to break. Still, it was nice to have a reminder of home, familiar faces who knew where he’d come from and believed he could do anything he set his mind to.

It was even nice to see Finn, though Kurt couldn’t say he was thrilled about the fact that Finn had invited himself to crash in Kurt’s room. Kurt couldn’t really blame him; given the choice between sharing with their parents and crashing with Kurt and Puck, Kurt would probably have chosen door number two as well. But it wasn’t really helping sort things out with Puck when Finn was always there, asking dumb questions about the competition and bonding with Puck over guy things that Kurt didn’t know anything about.

At the moment they were discussing some sports team’s prospects – a baseball team, Kurt thought, though he couldn’t swear to it – and using words Kurt didn’t understand like ‘batting average’ and ‘switch hitter’.

Well. Kurt had heard that term before, but he was fairly sure they weren’t using it in the context he’d heard it. At least he hoped they weren’t; the last thing he really needed was for his step brother to show up and start flirting with the guy he had a stupid, hopeless, gigantic crush on.

And it was obviously hopeless, because if Puck felt anything at all for him he would have done something about it by now. He certainly wouldn’t be lying on his bed laughing with Finn about some professional athlete’s stats and pretending Kurt wasn’t even in the room.

“Why aren’t you practicing?” Kurt said when Finn finally shut up long enough to use the bathroom, and when Puck looked over at him he did not blush.

“We pulled lyrical hip hop this week,” Puck said, pushing himself up on his elbows to frown at Kurt. “I’ve totally got it in the bag.”

“Yes, but your partner doesn’t. Shouldn’t you be helping Rachel get the routine down?”

For a second Puck just looked at him, then he sat up and swung his legs over the side of his bed, and suddenly Kurt felt like Puck was looking right through him. “Dude, if you wanted to get rid of me, all you had to do was say.”

“What? I didn’t…”

“No, it’s cool,” Puck said, and it really, really wasn’t, but he was reaching for his shoes anyway. “Sorry, I wasn’t thinking. Of course you want to hang out with your brother without me getting in the way. It’s fine, I can just go crash with Mike.”

“Puck, I didn’t mean…” Kurt started, but before he got halfway through the sentence Puck was standing up and pocketing his room key.

“Kurt, it’s cool. I’ll just come by before breakfast and get some clothes. Don’t worry about me. Just catch up with your brother.”

A second later he was gone, leaving Kurt sitting in the middle of his bed staring at the door and wondering how he’d just managed to make things even worse. The bathroom door opened before he figured it out, and Finn looked around the room for a second before he said, “Where’d Puck go?”

“He left. I’m sorry; I know you were enjoying his company.”

“Yeah, I mean, he’s cool, but I wasn’t enjoying it in, like, a gay way,” Finn said, and Kurt knew that was supposed to make him feel better, but it didn’t. “He didn’t think I was hitting on him, did he?”

“No. At least I don’t think so. I mean, he’s gay, so it’s not as though he would have been offended even if he did think that.”

“He is?” Finn said, and now he was staring at the door as though he was thinking about going after Puck, and that was just perfect. But the truth was they had a lot more in common than Kurt and Puck did, and Kurt couldn’t exactly blame Finn if he was attracted to Puck. “So Burt was right?”

“Right about what?” Kurt asked, though he had a sneaking suspicion he already knew the answer.

“Well, he hasn’t said anything,” Finn answered, eyes going wide the way they did when he thought he was about to get into trouble. “But I got the feeling he thought there was something up with you and Puck.”

“There’s not,” Kurt said, reaching up to run his hands over his face, and if his eyes were stinging a little it was just because he was tired.

“But you wish there was.”

Kurt looked up at that, cheeks burning and he knew there was no use denying it, but he wasn’t going to admit it out loud. He didn’t have to, because as soon as Finn looked at him he laughed and sat down on the end of Kurt’s bed.

“Don’t bother denying it, bro. He’s totally your type.”

“I don’t have a type. I don’t even have a life, but thanks for rubbing it in.”

“You would if you ever hung out with anybody besides those girls from your dance studio,” Finn said. He fell back on the mattress and turned his neck to look at Kurt, one arm tucked under his head and looking so serious that Kurt sort of wanted to laugh.

“That’s easy for you to say, Mr. Homecoming King and quarterback of the football team. You have no idea what it’s like for me.”

Finn shrugged against the mattress. “Maybe not, but I know you’re awesome. If he doesn’t like you back, that’s his problem.”

“Thanks,” Kurt said, his face flushing at the compliment, “but it doesn’t really work that way, does it?”

Finn shrugged again, then he pushed himself up on his elbows to look at Kurt. “Nah, I guess not. It should, though.”

Kurt rolled his eyes and climbed off the mattress, glancing toward Puck’s empty bed and taking a deep breath before he looked over at Finn again. “You can take my bed, since Puck’s not coming back tonight. No sense sharing if his bed’s empty anyway.”

“Right,” Finn said, and Kurt couldn’t tell if he was just agreeing, or if he’d somehow figured out that Kurt sort of wanted to sleep in Puck’s bed. Not that it mattered if his brother figured out how pathetic he was, Kurt told himself. As long as Puck didn’t know, Kurt could live with it.

He’d dug a fresh pair of pajamas out of his bag and was headed for the bathroom when he heard Finn’s voice again, and Kurt paused long enough to roll his eyes. “But you do have a type, dude, and he’s totally it.”

~

It figured that the one day he woke up earlier than Kurt was the one day they weren’t sharing a room. Not that Puck had gotten much sleep; mostly he’d laid awake on the floor in Mike’s room, staring at the ceiling wondering if he’d missed some sign that Kurt was trying to get rid of him.

He didn’t talk about his stepbrother much, so Puck hadn’t really thought about the fact that Kurt might want to hang out with him alone. Maybe it was the fact that if Puck’s family was visiting, he’d want Kurt to hang out with them too. He kind of liked the thought of Kurt getting to know his family, hanging out with Sarah and getting to know Beth, and Puck knew what a dangerous thought that was.

That was half the reason he cleared out of their room so fast; until Kurt said something, Puck hadn’t stopped to think that maybe it was kind of weird that he was doing more of the talking than Kurt was, but when he saw how pissed Kurt was, he knew he’d fucked up.

He wasn’t sure what time it was when he finally gave up trying to sleep. It was still dark in Mike’s room, Mike and David both still snoring when Puck slipped out of the room and into the hall. When he let himself back into his own room it was dark in there too, and the fact that Kurt was still fast asleep told him it had to be pretty early. Kurt was always one of the first people up, maybe because it took him so long to get ready to go anywhere, but when Puck got back to their room he was still curled up in Puck’s bed, mouth open and kind of drooling on Puck’s pillow.

For a minute Puck just stood there and watched him sleep, but when he heard a snore from the other bed he remembered they weren’t alone and started to turn away. He was halfway to the bathroom when Kurt murmured something and sat up, and when Puck glanced back at him Kurt was blinking at him in the darkness.

“Puck?”

“Yeah, sorry,” he said, glancing toward Kurt’s bed, but the Finn-shaped lump in the middle didn’t stir. “It’s early. Go back to sleep.”

“What are you doing?”

“Figured I’d grab a shower and go kill some time in the rehearsal room until it’s time for breakfast.”

Kurt frowned and disentangled himself from Puck’s sheet enough to lift his arm and squint at his watch, then he yawned and stretched out on Puck’s mattress again. “It’s four o’clock in the morning. Come back to bed.”

He knew it was just because Kurt was still half asleep, but something about the way he said come back to bed, like Puck belonged there, made his stomach tremble. And yeah, okay, Kurt was in his bed, so technically he did belong there. That didn’t change the fact that Kurt seemed to assume Puck would just get in bed with him and go to sleep, even though Kurt’s brother was right across the room.

As soon as Kurt said it all Puck wanted to do was crawl under the covers with him and close his eyes for awhile, and when Kurt threw the covers back and squinted up at him like he was wondering what the hold-up was, Puck gave in and crossed back to the bed. He kicked his shoes off and pulled his shirt over his head, hesitating for another second before he climbed onto the mattress and stretched out next to Kurt.

He wasn’t sure how long he laid there listening to Kurt breathe, watching the rise and fall of his shoulder with each breath and wondering what would happen if he reached out and pressed his hand against Kurt’s back. Maybe nothing; maybe Kurt was asleep already and he wouldn’t even notice. Or maybe Kurt was still awake, and he was just waiting for the moment Puck gave him a sign that he wanted more from Kurt than just help with his dancing.

“I’m sorry about earlier. I didn’t want you to leave.”

Kurt’s voice was soft, back still turned toward Puck and for a second he thought maybe he’d imagined it. Then Kurt turned toward him, back against the mattress and Puck couldn’t tell for sure in the dark, but he had a feeling Kurt was blushing.

“You didn’t? Because you seemed kind of pissed that I was hanging around.”

“It wasn’t that,” Kurt said, looking down at the sheet so he wouldn’t have to look at Puck, and yeah, he was definitely blushing.

“Then what was it?” he asked, and when Kurt just kept staring at the mattress like maybe it had insulted his dancing, Puck took a chance and reached out to tilt Kurt’s chin up to look at him. “Just tell me.”

“It’s silly,” Kurt said, and Puck was trying to listen, but Kurt’s skin was warm under his fingers and it was hard to focus on what he was saying when he wasn’t making any kind of move to get Puck to stop touching him. “It’s just…when my dad and Carole first started dating, he and Finn used to bond over sports all the time. That’s not something I’ve ever had in common with my father, so I spent a lot of time feeling left out.”

“So…what, you just wanted us to shut up about baseball? Why didn’t you say so?”

“And admit to Finn that I spent the first two years of our parents’ marriage being jealous of his relationship with my father?” Kurt stopped talking and let out a deep breath, but he didn’t try to look away again. “I told you it was silly.”

“No, it’s not.” Puck pulled his hand away from Kurt’s face, and he didn’t miss the way Kurt’s lips parted just a little, like maybe he wanted to argue about why Puck had stopped touching.

“Back before my old man went to prison I would have given anything to get him to hang out with me. I did all kinds of stupid shit to try to get his attention, and all it got me was more trouble than my mom could handle. I wasn’t trying to make her life harder, but I was too busy trying to make my dad give a damn to notice she already did.”

For awhile Kurt just looked at him, eyes bright in the early morning light that was starting to filter in through the curtains. Puck wasn’t sure what he was looking for, but before he could ask Kurt must have found it, because he smiled and reached out to brush his fingers against Puck’s. And they weren’t holding hands, exactly, but their hands were still touching, resting on the mattress between them as Kurt’s smile turned kind of shy.

“Dad and Carole want to take us out for dinner after we’re done with rehearsal tonight. I’d like it if you’d come.”

“I don’t know if that’s such a good idea. I don’t want to crash a family thing. Besides, your dad doesn’t want to get stuck feeding your roommate.”

Kurt looked down at their hands where they were still kind of touching, then he stretched his fingers out, just a little, like he was worried maybe Puck would pull his away or ask him what he was doing. Puck heard him take a breath, then he pushed his hand under Puck’s and slid their fingers together. As soon as he did Puck’s fingers curled around his, grip tight and he didn’t know what they were doing, exactly, but he wasn’t going to turn down whatever Kurt was offering.

“You’re not just my roommate.” He paused and bit his lip, looking a lot younger than eighteen for a second. “We’re friends, right? My dad won’t mind.”

“Yeah,” Puck said, voice too loud in the stillness of the room. “Friends.”

But the thing was, he didn’t share a bed with any of his other friends, and he didn’t hold hands with them or look for excuses to hug them so tight neither of them could breathe. “Listen, Kurt...”

“Yes?” Kurt said, and he sounded so hopeful that suddenly Puck felt like the biggest asshole on the planet.

“Nothing. I’m gonna go grab that shower,” he said, then he pulled his hand out of Kurt’s and climbed out of bed before he could answer.

~

When he agreed to let Finn stay in his room, Kurt hadn’t been counting on his stepbrother following him around the hotel like a puppy. He assumed when they headed down for breakfast with the rest of the dancers that Finn would go find their parents and spend the day playing tourist in L.A. What he hadn’t expected was for Finn to follow him down to breakfast, asking stupid questions the entire time about what they did all day.

“Practice,” Puck answered, and he didn’t sound quite as annoyed by the questions as Kurt, which annoyed Kurt even more for some reason he couldn’t quite put his finger on. “We dance all morning, then we break for lunch, then we dance until dinner. That’s pretty much it.”

“Yeah, but don’t the judges come around and talk to you and stuff?”

“No,” Kurt said, frowning at Finn as he slid into the seat across from Kurt and set his tray down on the table. “We mostly don’t see them until the night of the show.”

“But I saw one of them on the flight here,” Finn said, frowning right back at Kurt, and it shouldn’t have been as annoying as it was, but Kurt kind of wanted to kick him anyway. “It was that Broadway guy with the curly hair, Will something. Why’d he fly in so early if he doesn’t have to be here until the night of the show?”

As soon as he said it Finn looked around as though maybe he was hoping to spot Will mingling with the other dancers. Kurt rolled his eyes and reached for his coffee. “Honestly, if you want to play ‘spot the celebrity’, you’d have better luck at the Whole Foods in Beverly Hills.”

“Besides, Will’s not judging this week,” Puck said, reminding Kurt that he was sitting right next to him. He managed not to flinch at the thought, but he didn’t look over at the sound of Puck’s voice. “He’s Kurt’s choreographer.”

“Really?” Finn said, and when his eyes went wide Kurt frowned again.

“Since when do you even know what the word ‘choreographer’ means?”

“Dude, we’ve watched the show every week since it started airing,” Finn said, and that was just great, because now he was pouting.

“And I appreciate the support,” Kurt conceded, his cheeks flushing a little at the thought of just how supportive his family really was. “But why the sudden interest in my choreographer?”

“No reason,” Finn said, shrugging and looking down at his breakfast like it was suddenly fascinating, and Kurt knew he was missing something. “I ran into him on the plane and he introduced himself. He seems like a pretty cool guy.”

“Yeah, he’s pretty cool,” Puck answered when Kurt didn’t say anything, and something about the sound of his voice made Kurt glance over at him. He was starting at Finn like he was trying to figure something out, and Kurt clamped down hard on the surge of jealousy that coiled in his stomach. “Hot, too.”

Kurt frowned at Puck’s profile until Puck looked at him, rolling his eyes and reaching out to grip Kurt’s chin. Just for a second Kurt was reminded of the way Puck had touched him that morning while Finn was still asleep, but this time Puck turned Kurt’s face until he was looking at Finn again.

Finn who was blushing and shoveling eggs in his mouth like he hadn’t eaten in days, and Kurt couldn’t decide whether to be more mortified about his table manners or his apparent inappropriate crush.

“You can’t be serious.”

“What?” Finn said, looking up at him with those wide eyes that Kurt knew were supposed to make him look innocent, but mostly made him look like he was up to something.

“Dude, you should totally go with Kurt to rehearsal today,” Puck said, and when Kurt shot him a look Puck just shrugged and turned back to Finn. “You know, if you want to see what we do all day. Will won’t mind if he hangs around, right, Kurt?”

“I don’t suppose it matters if I mind.”

Puck leaned close, shoulder pressed against Kurt’s, and that so wasn’t fair after the way he’d flat-out rejected Kurt just two hours ago.

“Come on, he’s your brother,” Puck said, voice low like maybe he thought Finn wouldn’t hear him from right across the table. Though Finn was staring into space and looking sort of dreamy now, so maybe he had a point. “Throw him a bone. But you know, like, not literally, because that would be...”

“Please stop talking,” Kurt interrupted, his whole face heating up, and when he felt Puck’s fingers trace the line of his cheekbone he looked up.

“You sure you guys aren’t real brothers?” Puck asked, and how he had the audacity to smirk Kurt would never understand. “You look the same when you blush.”

“Please, as though I could be related to anyone as uncoordinated as Frankenteen over there,” Kurt said, blushing even harder when Puck laughed.

“Well I’ve never seen him move, but I know you sure as hell can, so I’ll take your word for it.”

He turned back to his breakfast before Kurt could come up with a suitable reply that didn’t involve either more blushing or unattractive gaping, and maybe that was for the best, because Noah Puckerman had to be the most confusing boy he’d ever met.

~

Puck was sort of surprised when Kurt came looking for him after rehearsal. He figured between blowing it that morning and then...well, sort of pimping out Kurt’s brother, he’d be uninvited from the family dinner for sure.

He still wasn’t all that sure Kurt’s dad wanted him there, but he wasn’t being a jerk about it or anything. Mostly he just kept shooting weird looks at Puck every so often, like maybe he was wondering what exactly Puck was doing following his son around like he didn’t have anywhere else to be.

Still, he seemed like a pretty cool dad, and he obviously loved Kurt a lot, so Puck was glad he’d let Kurt talk him into coming. He didn’t know a lot of cool dads; there was Mike’s dad, but he was older and mostly spoke Mandarin at home, which made him sound like he was pissed even when he was just talking about the weather. Santana’s dad had a decent job, at least, but he mostly wasn’t home much, and it didn’t seem like that was much better than not having a dad at all.

He was trying to be a good dad to Beth, but most of the time that just meant making it through the day without losing her or taking his eyes off her long enough to let her put something dangerous in her mouth. She spent more time in day care than was probably good for her, too, and he felt pretty guilty whenever she asked about her mom, even though he wasn’t the one who bailed.

So it was cool to see a dad who cared about his kids, even the one who wasn’t his blood. And yeah, he could see what Kurt meant about the bond Finn and Burt had, and he could see how that hurt, but in a way it kind of made Puck feel better. Like maybe he’d find somebody someday who could feel that way about Beth, even though she wasn’t his blood.

As soon as he thought it he glanced over at Kurt, and when he found Kurt watching him Puck’s stomach did that weird flip-flop thing that made him feel like he was on one of the rides they used to have on Coney Island.

“How old did you say your daughter was, son?” Burt asked, and Puck blinked and looked away from Kurt to face his father across the dinner table.

“She’s three, sir. Four in September. Ma’s already planning a huge blowout for, like, the whole neighborhood. Beth’ll just eat way too much sugar and bounce off the walls for days, but it’ll be worth it.”

“It must have been rough, having a kid that young.”

“Dad,” Kurt said, warning clear in his voice, but Puck shook his head and reached over to rest a hand on his arm.

“It’s cool,” Puck said, holding Kurt’s gaze for a second before he let go and looked back at Kurt’s dad again. “It was rough at first, but Ma and my Nana helped out a lot. Plus there are all the moms in the neighborhood; my family’s been there forever, so we know pretty much everybody and they all look out for each other. Any time you need something, there’s somebody there holding out a hand.”

When he finished talking Kurt’s dad was still kind of staring at the spot on Kurt’s arm where Puck had been touching him. He was pretty sure that was a bad sign, but whether it was because he thought Puck wasn’t good enough for his son or if he was just wondering what was going on Puck couldn’t say.

And the thing was, he wished somebody would tell him what was going on, because he still hadn’t figured it out.

“It sounds like a wonderful way to grow up,” Kurt’s stepmom said, beaming at him across the table, and Puck was pretty sure she meant it. He could see where Finn got the wide-eyed thing from, and Puck felt a little twinge at the thought of his own mom and sister back home watching the show on TV.

“It has its moments,” Puck answered, chancing another glance at Kurt to find him looking again. And yeah, he was supposed to be keeping his distance until he figured out what they were doing, but it was hard to remember why when Kurt kept looking at him like that.

They spent the rest of dinner making small talk about the differences between growing up in Ohio and New York, and once somebody brought up Finn’s high school football career and Puck mentioned that he’d played a little too, Kurt’s dad warmed up to him. And yeah, it would have helped if Finn had jumped in with the sports talk earlier, but he’d been looking kind of dazed since they got to dinner, and Puck figured that had something to do with his afternoon watching Kurt’s Broadway rehearsal.

Once they finished dinner and headed outside to hail a couple cabs back to the hotel Puck caught Kurt’s arm, nodding in Finn’s direction. “So was I right?”

“About what?” Kurt asked, but when he followed Puck’s gaze and pursed his lips, Puck had his answer. “Oh. That.”

“I’m guessing that’s a yes.”

“It was pathetic, truly. I’ve seen him go all doe-eyed before, but never at someone so clearly out of his league. I’m just thankful Will’s going back to New York after this where he’ll be safe from his stalker.”

“So I’m guessing Finn won’t be dropping in when you move to New York?”

As soon as he said it Kurt blinked at him, and Puck felt his heart drop right into the pit of his stomach. “What, you change your mind about New York or something?”

“No, I...” Kurt paused, cheeks flushed and glancing at his folks before he turned back to Puck and dropped his voice a little. “It’s not that I’ve changed my mind. I just haven’t made any concrete plans yet.”

“Oh.” He was pretty sure what Kurt meant was that he hadn’t broken the news to his dad yet, but Puck didn’t call him on it. “Well, if it helps, you can always stay with us until you get on your feet. Ma won’t care.”

It wasn’t strictly true; his mother would bitch about how their apartment was already crowded enough, and she’d remind Puck for the millionth time that had to put his daughter first, but he didn’t see how helping out a friend meant he was neglecting his kid. And yeah, okay, maybe it was a little more than helping out a friend, but he still meant it.

Kurt was blinking at him again, blushing even harder now, and it was only because his dad was standing ten feet away from them that Puck didn’t lean in and kiss him. He caught himself staring at Kurt’s mouth anyway, and he cleared his throat and turned away before he could do something stupid. A second later he felt a hand close around his, squeezing for a second before Kurt let go of him.

“Thank you,” he said, and Puck just nodded and stuck his hands in his pockets to keep himself from reaching out and grabbing Kurt’s hand again.

~

Their packages this week were about family, because Kurt’s life was just that obvious. He promised himself when he took his seat in front of the camera that he wasn’t going to cry; his entire family was in town, after all, so there was no reason to miss them. But as soon as the producers asked about his mom his throat started to get tight, and by the end of the package he knew there was footage of him looking red-eyed and sniffling about losing his mother and how hard it had been for him to let Carole fill that hole in his life.

When they finally let him go Finn was there, and Kurt might have been comforted by his presence and his wide-eyed, “Dude, what’s wrong?” if it weren’t for the fact that he knew Finn was only hanging around because he was hoping for another glimpse of Will.

“Are you crying?” Finn asked, and Kurt scowled and reached up to wipe at his eyes.

“No. It’s nothing.”

Before he managed to pull himself back together Puck found them, and when he caught sight of Kurt he let out a heavy sigh. “That bad?”

“They made me talk about my mother,” Kurt answered, doing his best to smile and hoping he didn’t look as bad as Finn was making it seem like he did. “Apparently it’s family week.”

Puck’s shoulders tensed a little and for a second Kurt wondered why, because he seemed to enjoy talking about Beth. Surely talking about his daughter would guarantee him a spot in the top fourteen, even if he weren’t already dancing his own style this week. But when Kurt remembered Puck’s father he got it, and he reached out to squeeze Puck’s arm.

“It’ll be fine. Just talk about your beautiful daughter and they’ll show her picture a million times, and every mother in the country will be picking up the phone to vote for you. That’s been your trump card all along, right?”

Puck grinned at him, but Kurt could see the tension around his mouth, and he wished he could guarantee that they wouldn’t make Puck talk about his dad. They’d made Kurt talk about his mom, though -- it had been one of the first questions out of the producer’s mouth -- so the chances of someone bringing up Puck’s father were pretty good.

“You sure you’re cool?” Puck asked, his hand coming up to rest on Kurt’s shoulder, and when his thumb started moving in little circles on Kurt’s collar bone he wished his stepbrother wasn’t standing right next to him.

“I’m fine, thank you,” Kurt said, cursing his pale skin for what was probably the thousandth time since he first met Puck. “Look on the bright side; maybe the dead parent card will get me some sympathy votes.”

“You’re not gonna need sympathy votes.”

The hand on his shoulder tightened and Kurt managed a smile, but before he could answer the door opened and Puck’s name was being called. He took another deep breath, then he let go of Kurt, nodded at Finn, and marched off to his fate.

When he was gone Finn pushed himself off the wall he’d been leaning against, frowning in the direction Puck had disappeared for a second before he looked at Kurt again.

“I don’t get it.”

“It’s nothing, they do these interviews every week to air before our performances. You’ve seen them on the show,” Kurt answered, reaching up to pinch the bridge of his nose.

“No, not that. I mean you and Puck. The guy’s obviously into you, and I know you like him, so what’s the problem?”

Kurt glanced toward the door Puck had disappeared through, his skin heating up when he remembered the way Puck’s hand felt on his shoulder and the soothing little patterns he’d been tracing along Kurt’s collar bone. “You really think he’s interested in me?”

“It’s totally obvious, bro.”

He sounded so sure that Kurt wanted to believe him, but the thing was, he didn’t have any experience with this sort of thing. He’d spent most of his life worrying so much about getting hurt that he’d never let anyone in, and now that he wanted to take the chance, he wasn’t even sure where to start.

~

Usually the choreographers all sat in the audience together, right up front where the cameras could find them easily. Whatever family or friends happened to be in town for the show sat behind them where the cameras could still get to them if they needed, but mostly they didn’t get a lot of airtime.

Will was sitting with the choreographers like he was supposed to, Tabitha and Napoleon on his right and Tony and Melanie sitting in front of him. But the seat to his left wasn’t occupied by a choreographer, and Puck watched Will lean over to whisper something to Finn that made him blush and start nodding in a way that made him look a lot like a big, dumb dog.

It was embarrassing to watch, but Will sort of looked like he was digging it, at least from where Puck was standing. He wasn’t touching or anything, but he looked like maybe he kind of wanted to. It was hard to tell with Will, mostly because he always seemed happy to see everybody, but there was being nice to Kurt’s dumb brother, and then there was inviting him to sit up front with the choreographers, so Puck figured Will at least got off on the attention.

Whether or not he was planning to do anything about it was another story.

Puck barely listened to the judges telling him and Rachel they’d done an awesome job with Tabitha and Napoleon’s routine, mostly because he was too busy wondering if Kurt had spotted his brother yet and how pissed he was going to be. Then again, they were both adults, and if Will was into Finn too, Puck didn’t see what the problem was.

He tuned back into Cat’s speech in time to hear her mention Beth, and he grinned and hoped she wouldn’t notice that he had no clue what she was talking about. But she was just going on about how much Puck must miss her, and that was true, so he nodded and let Cat and Rachel fuss over him, because hey, a few sympathy votes couldn’t hurt.

They’d tried to steer his interview onto the subject of his dad, but all Puck said was that his father was out of his life, and he was trying to do better by his own kid. Then he launched into a speech about his mom and how she’d always been there for him, even when he didn’t deserve it, how she was taking care of Beth right now, along with his sister, and that all things considered, his family was pretty awesome.

He was pretty sure the producers had been hoping for a different package, but Puck still didn’t see what his old man had to do with his dancing anyway, so he figured it didn’t really matter what the producers wanted.

When they sent him and Rachel backstage Kurt was waiting for him, and yeah, Puck could tell he was trying not to look like he was waiting, but he wasn’t that good at playing it cool. The thought made Puck grin, and he slid an arm around Kurt’s shoulders and dragged him away from the monitors where Cat was sending the show to commercial.

“Your interview was good,” Kurt said, stealing a quick glance in Puck’s direction. “I’m sure your mother will be touched.”

“I’m just glad I remembered to mention Sarah. Pretty sure it wouldn’t be safe to go back to Queens if I forgot her.”

“Well, there’s always Ohio,” Kurt said, and when Puck looked over at him he was blushing. “It’s not very exciting, but we have plenty of room.”

Puck grinned and swayed forward, just a little, and when Kurt blushed even harder he leaned in to whisper in Kurt’s ear. “I don’t know, it might start getting pretty crowded around there. Have you seen your brother yet tonight?”

“No. Why?” Kurt asked, then he glanced toward the monitors, but he didn’t make a move to pull away. “Please don’t tell me he’s embarrassing me on national television.”

“Relax, he’s just sitting with Will. And from the looks of it he’s not sure how he got there, so I have a feeling it was Will’s idea.”

He wasn’t surprised that Kurt seemed kind of pissed. He didn’t really get Kurt’s relationship with his stepbrother, but from what he could tell it was kind of rocky. Still, he didn’t get why Kurt cared so much what Finn did or who he did it with, especially when they didn’t seem all that close.

“What’s the problem?” Puck asked when he felt Kurt tense next to him. “They’re just having a good time, right? Where’s the harm in that?”

“There’s no problem,” Kurt answered, not really looking at Puck as Kurt shrugged out of his grip. “I better go get ready; we’re on soon.”

He was gone before Puck could even answer, leaving him standing alone in the dim backstage lights and wondering what he’d said to piss Kurt off this time.

~

Kurt spotted Finn in the audience almost as soon as their routine was over. He was impossible to miss, considering he was sitting shoulder to shoulder with Kurt’s choreographer for the week. And Puck was right; he did look a little confused as to how he’d gotten there, but the sidelong glances he kept shooting at Will told Kurt that he was pretty happy about it too.

He was fairly sure that there was nothing going on between them; Finn had been with him most of the week, including the times he’d been with Will. Kurt wasn’t so naïve that he’d missed the way Will’s eyes had lit up when Finn walked into rehearsal with him, the amused smile or the way he’d said, “So we meet again” when he took Finn’s hand in both of his. So he’d remembered Finn from the plane; it wasn’t difficult, considering how freakishly tall Finn was.

And fine, maybe there had been a few sparks between them, but Kurt had been trying to ignore them. Will was going back to a glamorous life in New York after tonight, and even if Finn wasn’t headed back to Nowhere, Ohio, he’d never fit into Will’s life. At the most it would be a fling, just another conquest that Finn stumbled into more or less accidentally. He didn’t even have the decency to be suave about it, and that was the worst part of all.

Kurt was used to Finn getting what he wanted more through sheer luck than any actual effort on his part. He was used to it, but that didn’t make it any easier to watch. It didn’t make him feel any less damaged when Finn just got whatever he wanted and Kurt…didn’t.

He’d as good as thrown himself at Puck at this point; maybe Finn was even right and Puck felt something for him, but whatever it was, he obviously wasn’t going to do anything about it. Which meant he didn’t feel the same way Kurt did – he couldn’t, or he wouldn’t keep pulling away every time they got close – and Kurt was just going to end up brokenhearted at the end of the season.

If he even made it to the end of the season, and considering he’d been in the bottom last week, there certainly weren’t any guarantees. The judges praised his and Tina’s Broadway performance, but Kurt knew that praise from the judges wasn’t necessarily enough to keep them safe. If the viewing audience didn’t like them they’d end up in the bottom no matter how well they danced, and the next time Kurt danced for his life, he might not get so lucky.

After all, luck had always been Finn’s thing, not Kurt’s. He spared another glance toward his brother as Cat sent the show to commercial, and when he found Finn leaning in to let Will whisper something in his ear, he swallowed a sigh and let Tina pull him offstage.

Chapter Text

Connie Puckerman doesn’t know from dancing. She doesn’t pretend to understand what she sees every week when they turn on the TV to watch Noah, just like she doesn’t understand what the so-called judges have to say about it after.

This week is no different; she doesn’t understand the stories the dances are supposed to tell, no matter how many times Sarah sighs and calls her old-fashioned. And maybe she is; that doesn’t change the fact that she doesn’t understand what it is Noah’s been doing with all his time for the past two years.

But he’s her son, and she knows he’s trying to do the right thing, so she sits down on the couch and she watches his show with Sarah and she tries to see what it is he loves so much about dancing. When they introduce Noah she sees his smiling face flash on the screen and remembers the way he smiled at her when he was just Beth’s age, sunny and innocent and full of life.

The blond lady with the accent mentions that Noah’s from Queens, then there’s a picture of him and Sarah on the screen, taken on a Christmas morning years before their father proved himself to be a no-good lowlife, just like Connie’s mother predicted. Then Noah’s voice is telling her that he grew up in Queens with his mom and his sister, and when he mentions his father it’s only to say that he didn’t stick around, but he’d rather talk about his mother.

Connie’s hand comes up to rest against her chest, and when she realizes she’s doing it she drops it back into her lap and goes on watching.

“Ma did everything for us,” Noah’s saying, then they’re showing a picture of her with Noah and Sarah, all of them dressed for Temple back when they used to make the effort. “I didn’t appreciate it until I had a kid of my own, but now that I’m a dad, I see how much she sacrificed for us. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here right now.”

Connie blinks and sits back on the couch, arms folded in front of her and clutching the dish towel she’s been holding hard enough to stress the seam. She watches a picture of Beth flash on the screen, then one of Beth and Noah, and finally they go back to Noah’s smiling face.

“She doesn’t really get why I love dancing so much, but I know she loves me, so it doesn’t really matter.”

After that the picture shifts to Noah’s dance partner, and Connie blinks some more and wipes at her eyes with the dish towel before she looks over at her daughter. “And where’d they get all those pictures?”

Sarah shrugs and looks away from the TV. “Somebody from the show called. You were at work. They wanted pictures, so I scanned some at Krista’s house and e-mailed them.”

Connie shakes her head and looks back at the TV, but the girl Noah dances with is still talking about the men who adopted her. “I don’t know about putting the baby’s picture all over the TV like that. There are a lot of crazies out there.”

“Ma, nobody’s going to come all the way to Queens to kidnap Beth just because they showed her picture on the show. If anything, Noah’s going to get a bunch of marriage proposals from single moms.”

“They’d be barking up the wrong tree there,” Connie says, and when Sarah laughs she allows herself a small smile. Then Noah’s partner stops talking and the scene changes back to the stage, which means Noah’s about to dance.

“Quiet, your brother’s back on,” she says, leaning forward and dropping the dish towel on the coffee table to watch her son perform.

~

Carole doesn’t actually come out of her seat when Cat announces that Kurt and his partner are safe, but it’s a close call. As it is she sort of dances in her chair, giggling a little when Finn and Burt let out whoops on either side of her like they’re at a football game instead of a dance competition.

Up on stage Kurt’s grinning from ear to ear, clearly thrilled to be safe after last week’s scare. And Carole’s always loved watching him dance, but she’s just as happy that he doesn’t have to perform another solo so soon after the last time. She claps again when he runs offstage with Tina to join the other safe dancers, then she goes back to holding her breath while Kurt’s friend Puck stands on stage with his partner and another pair of dancers.

She doesn’t know much about him, other than the little Kurt’s told them and what Puck said at dinner. But she knows he’s important to Kurt, so she wants him to do well in the competition. She wants him to stay in L.A. as long as he can, mostly because as long as Puck’s here she knows Kurt has someone looking out for him.

Burt would disagree, of course. He can’t seem to get past the fact that Puck has a daughter, as though all kids don’t make mistakes. And now that she’s seen pictures of his little girl, it’s hard to think of her as a mistake. She’s beautiful, with big brown eyes like her father and a head full of curls, and it’s easy to see how much he loves her.

It’s easy to see that he’s trying to do the right thing, to learn from his mistakes and become a better man. A better father, and maybe a better partner, for the right person. She looks over at Kurt, down in front of the stage, sees the worry on his face even from her seat in the middle of the stands and she knows her stepson, so she can see how much Puck’s come to mean to him.

And Burt’s not the only one who worries; of course she worries about Kurt out here all alone, putting his dreams and his heart on the line at the same time. She worries about him coming home brokenhearted, but she’s known Kurt for a long time now, and she’s seen how strong he is when he has to be.

She watched what he went through in high school, watched how hard he struggled while Finn seemed to take so many of his adolescent growing pains in stride. She knows how hard Kurt works to keep people from seeing when he’s hurt, and she knows that makes the hurt that much harder for him.

So she’s happy for Noah when Cat sends him and his partner to safety, but she’s even happier for Kurt. He’s been insisting to his father since he came back from New York that he and Puck are just friends, but she sees Puck practically throw himself off the stage to pull Kurt into a tight hug, and she sees the way Kurt’s eyes close when he wraps his arms around Puck’s waist.

She saw the way Puck touched Kurt’s arm at dinner, and the way it calmed Kurt was something she’d never seen anyone else do for him before. So maybe they’re just friends for now, but Carole knows her boys, and she can see that it won’t stay that way forever.

Chapter Text

Puck wasn’t jealous.

He wasn’t; just because Kurt hadn’t shut up about Travis Wall since he found out Travis was Kurt’s choreographer this week, it didn’t mean anything. Puck already knew Kurt had a thing for Travis, just like he knew Kurt was probably going to get a chance to work with him eventually, so he’d sort of been bracing himself for a week of Travis’ Greatest Hits.

In a way he was sort of grateful for the timing, because things were kind of weird between them after Kurt’s family went home. So if landing Travis as his choreographer distracted Kurt from the sidelong glances he kept casting in Puck’s direction every time they were alone, it was probably for the best. It was safer, anyway, because the truth was Puck wasn’t sure how long he could pretend not to notice the way Kurt had been looking at him since his family went home.

Still, after two days of hearing what an awesome choreographer Travis was and how Kurt was grateful that he got to learn from him, and wow, he did this thing during rehearsal today that was totally amazing, every word delivered with the same little blush, Puck was pretty ready to be done with Travis Wall.

But he wasn’t jealous. Mostly he just wanted to talk about something – anything – besides Kurt’s hard-on for his choreographer.

Not that Kurt was willing to own up to his crush. Every time Puck so much as hinted that he might have a thing for Travis Kurt blushed even harder, then he launched into another lecture about Travis’ credentials, and every time it lasted a little longer. By the time the last one ended Puck was pretty sure his ears were never going to stop ringing, and he wasn’t really interested in hearing Travis’ name ever again.

He didn’t have much choice, though, because they were done for the day, and any second Kurt was going to walk through their door and start talking about Travis before Puck could say so much as ‘hi’. Puck sighed as the door opened and Kurt did walk in, but he wasn’t wearing his usual dopey grin and launching into a story about how Travis saved a bunch of orphans from a burning building and then hung the moon. Truth was he looked pretty freaked out, and Puck was halfway across the room before he even realized he was moving.

“What’s wrong?”

At the sound of his voice Kurt looked up, eyes wide like maybe he was surprised to find Puck there. Like that made any sense when Puck had beat him back to their room every night since Kurt found out Travis was his choreographer, and Puck was pretty sure it was because Kurt was hanging around after rehearsal to drool over the guy.

As soon as he saw the look on Kurt’s face Puck wondered if he’d been alone with Travis after practice. From what Puck knew about Travis he seemed like a stand-up guy, but that didn’t mean Kurt hadn’t accidentally gotten himself into something he couldn’t handle. The second he thought it Puck’s stomach turned, and he stopped himself just short of touching.

“Kurt? Seriously, did something happen at rehearsal?”

“He wants me to kiss her,” Kurt said, blushing hard at the sound of his own voice, and yeah, okay, that was better than Travis making a pass at him or something, but it still wasn’t what Puck was expecting.

“What?”

“At the end of our routine. He thinks it will make the story more powerful,” Kurt said, sinking onto the edge of his bed and covering his face with his hands.

“Oh.” Puck frowned and crossed to Kurt’s bed, hesitating for a second before he sat down next to Kurt. “But it’s just a kiss, right? I mean, it’s not like you have to make out with her.”

Kurt pulled his hands away from his face long enough to frown at Puck, and when Puck saw how red his face was he knew it was the wrong answer.

“Just a kiss on national television. Never mind that I have no clue what I’m doing.”

It wasn’t like Puck was so crazy about the idea of Kurt planting one on Tina. The thought made his stomach feel all tight and weird, but it wasn’t like he could do anything about it. Plenty of dancers had kissed during their performances; it didn’t mean anything, it was just that most of them had a little experience under their belt before they had to kiss their partner on live TV.

“Yeah, but you can practice that part too, right?”

Kurt turned a weird shade of green at the thought, then he put his head in his hands and closed his eyes. “We haven’t gotten that far. Tina doesn’t even know about it yet. I just…I’d hoped that my first kiss might actually mean something, and now...”

He wasn’t talking about how awesome Travis was anymore, but now that they were talking about Kurt giving up his first kiss to Tina, Puck kind of missed the hero worship routine. And yeah, the fact that Kurt was freaking out about his first kiss was exactly the reason Puck shouldn’t even be thinking about starting anything with him, but mostly when he thought about Kurt kissing Tina, Puck kind of wanted to punch something.

“Listen, Kurt,” he said, his arm sliding around Kurt’s shoulders, and he didn’t miss the way Kurt kind of tensed against him. “That whole first time thing…it can be kind of overrated, you know? I mean, it doesn’t have to be that big a deal.”

Kurt sniffed and looked away, but before Puck could get a decent look at him and see whether or not he was really crying, Kurt was shrugging out of his grip and standing up.

“You’re right,” he said, then he let out a weird, choked little laugh that made Puck want to pull him back down onto the bed and wrap his arms around him for real. “Not that I’d know or anything.”

He crossed the room to his suitcase, digging around inside while he mumbled something about taking a shower before dinner. And he still wasn’t looking at Puck, but even from halfway across the room Puck could see the flush on the back of his neck, and he knew Kurt was embarrassed. A second later he was gone, the bathroom door closing behind him, and Puck let out a heavy sigh and fell back on the mattress to stare at the ceiling and listen to the sound of the water running.

~

Kurt thought that admitting his painful virginity to Puck was the most humiliating moment of his life. Until Puck put his arm around Kurt and suggested that first times were overrated, Kurt assumed nothing could be more embarrassing than saying out loud that no one had ever touched him before.

Of course the joke was on Kurt, because it turned out having to fake enthusiasm while Travis explained the concept for his routine was nearly as humiliating, and telling Puck about it later was even worse. Maybe a little part of him had hoped that Puck would offer to help him practice the kiss, just so he wouldn’t completely humiliate himself in front of the entire viewing audience. And even that was humiliating, because at least part of him was willing to take a pity kiss from Puck in place of a real first kiss.

He didn’t want Puck’s pity. What he wanted…what he wanted he wasn’t going to get, and if he couldn’t have it he didn’t want to know what he was missing.

Travis didn’t bring up the kiss at rehearsal the next day, and Kurt knew it meant that he was letting Kurt decide whether or not to go through with it. And it would have been an easy decision if Kurt didn’t understand dance or Travis’ choreography. If he didn’t see Travis’ vision and know exactly how much stronger the routine would be if he just kissed Tina at the end the way Travis wanted him to, Kurt could say no.

But he knew the mood Travis was trying to convey, the story he was telling and the worst part was, Kurt could relate to it. He knew the song by heart; Travis had chosen a version by some band Kurt had never heard of, but he knew Beyonce’s entire catalog, and he’d sung along to “Sweet Dreams” more times than he could count.

He knew what the song was about, and he knew exactly how that kind of longing felt. He’d felt it every night since he met Puck, and for once Kurt was positive he could convey the emotions his choreographer was looking for.

The kiss at the end would make the entire piece stronger, and Kurt didn’t want to let Travis down just because he didn’t know what he was doing. That didn’t stop him from panicking every time he thought about it that he’d be terrible at it, that he’d go in for the kiss and somehow miss, or worse, break Tina’s nose.

Which was how he ended up knocking on Tina’s door that night after dinner instead of going back to his own room to face Puck. He wasn’t avoiding Puck, exactly, but he wasn’t about to ask for Puck’s help, and he had to ask someone, so his partner seemed like the most logical choice. Kurt took a deep breath and reached up, knocking on the door and then glancing down the hall to make sure no one was hanging around.

A few seconds later the door swung open, but instead of Tina on the other side of the door Kurt found himself staring back at Mercedes. He heard voices behind her, and when she stood aside to let him in Kurt spotted Tina, Rachel and Sunshine sitting cross-legged on one of the beds. His heart sank, but he pasted what he hoped was a convincing smile on his face and let Mercedes close the door behind him.

“Kurt,” Tina said, smiling and reaching out to pull him down on the mattress next to her. “I was just saying how amazing it is, working with Travis.”

“He’s great,” Kurt agreed, and he was, but Kurt wished he could enjoy working with Travis a little more.

“His choreography is so beautiful,” Tina added. “Wait until you guys see it. I think this is the best routine so far on the whole show.”

“Travis is an amazing choreographer,” Rachel said, “but the routine Mia choreographed for Noah and myself was phenomenal. Nigel said himself he’d be surprised if it didn’t get her another Emmy nomination.”

Kurt rolled his eyes, but he didn’t say anything. The truth was Nigel spent a lot of time throwing around potential Emmy nominations that never came to fruition, and even if a choreographer’s routine was nominated, it didn’t do much for the dancers. Besides, Rachel and Puck’s routine really had been beautiful, and it didn’t really matter whether or not Travis’ was better.

“He wants us to kiss at the end,” Kurt said, the words escaping him before he even realized he was thinking them. As soon as he said them he blushed, turning away from Rachel to look at Tina.

She was staring at him, mouth open and eyes sort of wide, but as soon as their eyes met she blinked and forced a smile. “Really? He hasn’t said anything to me.”

“I think he’s waiting for me to decide if I’m comfortable with it,” Kurt said, blushing even harder, because he was pretty sure if it was Puck and Rachel dancing the routine, Travis wouldn’t even have asked before he put the kiss in.

“Oh. Well, if you don’t want to...”

“It’s not you,” Kurt said a little too quickly, then he forced himself to relax and give her a genuine smile. “It’s just...I haven’t really done that. With anyone.”

Oh,” Tina said, blinking and glancing past him toward Mercedes. Kurt didn’t follow her gaze, because he didn’t really want to know what the rest of them thought of him. Mostly he just wanted to get this over with and then maybe go find a hole to hide in until the week was over.

“It’s no big deal, Kurt,” Mercedes said, sitting down next to him and putting an arm around his shoulders, and Kurt pushed the memory of Puck doing the same thing out of his mind. “Lots of people have never kissed anybody.”

When Kurt raised an eyebrow at her she had the grace to flush, then she shrugged and pulled her arm away from his shoulders. “Okay, so nobody here. That just means there are lots of candidates to practice on, right?”

“Mercedes makes a good point,” Rachel said, nodding and sort of bouncing on her knees as though maybe she was getting ready to volunteer. Kurt inched a little further away on the bed, his gaze darting toward the door before he turned back to them.

And okay, that was sort of the reason he’d come to Tina’s room, but he’d been expecting to find her alone. He hadn’t been planning on an entire entourage of girls willing to give him his first kiss.

“Guys, Kurt doesn’t want to practice with any of us,” Sunshine said, sort of pushing Rachel out of the way as she scooted a little closer to him. “Your first kiss should be special. You’d rather kiss a boy, right?”

Kurt blushed all over again, heat creeping down his chest and up his neck and he couldn’t quite stop himself from glancing at Rachel. The thought of her and Puck dancing this routine instead -- of standing backstage and watching them kiss at the end -- made his stomach roll, and he swallowed hard and nodded as he turned back to Sunshine.

“Obviously.”

“I bet Blaine would practice with you. He thinks you’re cute,” Sunshine said, and when Kurt looked up at her she was smiling in the way that made him think her parents had chosen the right name. “I could talk to him if you want.”

“Thank you, I...that...please don’t. But thank you,” he stammered, his face turning a little more red with every word, until he felt like his face was on fire.

Sunshine just shrugged as though talking to her dance partner about which of the male dancers he thought were cute was totally normal. And maybe it was, for some guys, but the thought had never even crossed Kurt’s mind. He talked to Tina about Puck sometimes, sure, but they were roommates, so it was only natural that he’d come up in conversation from time to time.

“Well, if you change your mind,” Sunshine said, and Kurt forced another smile without quite meeting her eyes and changed the subject.

~

It didn’t take a genius to figure out that Kurt was avoiding him. Puck wasn’t even surprised; he knew Kurt was embarrassed about how inexperienced he was, and Puck knew he’d made it worse when Kurt told him about the kiss.

And that was the thing; Kurt told him stuff because he trusted Puck, and Puck kept fucking it up and making things weird between them again. So now Kurt wasn’t talking at all, at least not to him, and Puck wanted to be happy about it, because it meant there was less of a chance he’d lose it and just show Kurt how he felt. Except instead he mostly felt kind of...empty, like Kurt had taken Puck’s insides with him when he fucked off to hang out with the girls.

He knew that was where Kurt had spent last night, mostly because Rachel started talking about it the second he walked into rehearsal. She got as far as ‘Kurt and Tina seem to think their contemporary routine is going to be better than ours was’ before Tony started bitching at her to pay attention. And Puck was with him for once, because they were stuck doing the fucking samba, and their contemporary routine wasn’t going to help when they fucked up ballroom and landed in the bottom.

Which was exactly what was going to happen, because they sucked at the samba. Puck knew it and Tony knew it, and maybe Rachel was in denial or whatever, but once the judges told her how bad they sucked even she wouldn’t be able to pretend they were getting it.

He was trying to focus on keeping his toes pointed and extending his arms, getting the lifts right and not dropping Rachel on her ass. He tried to remember everything Tony told him and everything Kurt had taught him too, but every time he thought about the way Kurt had spent that whole afternoon at auditions teaching some dude he didn’t even know how to partner, Puck just felt guilty again for being such a fuck-up.

And now he was going to get sent home on something Kurt had tried really hard to make sure he could do, and Puck knew he wouldn’t get any more second chances after that. Nobody else was going to drop out and open up a spot for Puck to come back, and before long he’d just be a text message once a week telling Kurt to break a leg.

It sucked, and thinking about it just made his lines or whatever even weaker, so Puck shoved the thought to the back of his head and did his best to lift Rachel off the studio floor without breaking anything important. And he didn’t drop her, but it was a pretty close call, so Puck wasn’t surprised when Tony let out an exasperated noise and told them to take five. He was pretty sure Tony only wanted a break so he wouldn’t give in to the urge to kneecap either of them, and Puck couldn’t blame him for that either.

He sighed and followed Rachel to the other side of the studio, grabbing his water bottle and draining half of it while she babbled about their contemporary routine some more. When he came up for air he glanced over at her, frowning when he heard her say, “...personally I’ve always thought putting a kiss in a routine was a cheap gimmick.”

“He told you about that?” Puck asked, regretting it the second the words came out of his mouth, because as soon as he let her know he was actually listening, she was talking even faster.

“It’s not that I don’t feel for him. It has to be intimidating, thinking of your first kiss in front of a national audience. I was prepared to offer my services, purely for educational purposes, but Sunshine seemed to think he’d be more comfortable with a boy. She suggested Blaine, but really, I don’t see why it shouldn’t be me. I do have two gay dads, after all, and I’m sensitive to...”

“Hold up a second,” Puck said, hand over Rachel’s mouth to stop her from talking. “What does Blaine have to do with it?”

“Apparently he’s interested in Kurt,” Rachel answered when Puck pulled his hand away from her mouth. “That’s what Sunshine said. She offered to speak to him, but Kurt turned her down. Though if he’s really that worried about his first kiss happening on national television, I have to say, his options are rather limited. There’s only one more day before dress rehearsals.”

As soon as she said it Puck pictured it: Blaine’s stupid grin as he leaned in, and the way Kurt’s cheeks would go all pink as soon as he realized what was happening. He imagined the moment when Kurt relaxed into the kiss, when he reached up to let his fingers run through Blaine’s stupid, perfect hair. Puck felt his hands curl into fists, and he wasn’t that guy anymore, so he wasn’t going to break Blaine’s jaw or anything, but that didn’t mean he didn’t want to.

“But Kurt said no, right?”

Rachel frowned at him, but before she said whatever she was thinking Tony was calling them over again. And Puck never thought he’d be grateful for the samba, but he was pretty sure he’d rather deal with Tony than anything else Rachel had to say about Kurt and Blaine.

~

For once Kurt beat Puck back to their room after rehearsal, a fact he attributed to practically sprinting out of the studio as soon as Travis dismissed them. He wanted to avoid another conversation with Travis about the kiss, but he also wanted to avoid more meaningful glances from Tina and hints about who he might want to ‘practice’ with.

At first he was horrified to think that she might be hoping he’d choose her, but it didn’t take long to figure out that she and most of the rest of the girls were on Team Blaine. Kurt was fairly sure it was because Team Blaine was the only viable option they could see, at least on short notice. And maybe they were right, but that didn’t stop Kurt from wishing he had another option.

The real problem was that he didn’t want to practice kissing. Maybe Puck was right and his first kiss wasn’t a big deal, but it felt like it. It felt important, and he didn’t want it to happen with just anyone.

He didn’t want it to happen at all, not like this. When Kurt thought about his first kiss it had always involved hand-holding and good lighting that flattered his complexion, the swell of violins in the background and a perfect, faceless boy who knew exactly what he was doing and didn’t mind that Kurt didn’t. The boy in his fantasy wasn’t faceless anymore, but the rest of it hadn’t really changed, and the thought of giving that up, even to keep him in the competition, made his stomach twist into a tight ball of dread.

He took a deep breath and let himself into their room, glancing in the direction of Puck’s bed as he tried to decide whether to wait for Puck or change his clothes and try to make it to dinner before Puck got back. Before he could decide he realized he wasn’t alone, and Kurt blinked a few times at the sight of Brittany sitting on the edge of his bed.

“Brittany? What…how did you get in here?”

“I can help you with your problem,” she said, and when he realized what she meant his whole face flushed. “I’ve had lots of practice.”

“Oh my God,” Kurt breathed, his hand slipping off the door to let it close behind him. “How did you hear about this?”

As soon as he said the words Kurt remembered who her partner was, and instantly he pictured Puck telling Mike all about Kurt’s ‘problem’. Laughing at his utter cluelessness, maybe, and Kurt blushed all the way to the roots of his hair at the thought.

Instead of answering Brittany stood up, crossing the room to stop in front of him and Kurt’s heart stopped when he realized what she was doing. He took a step backwards just as the door opened, and before he could stop himself Kurt was colliding with a solid chest.

Puck’s hands landed on his shoulders to steady him, warm and solid and Kurt leaned back into them for a second before he caught himself. As soon as he did he straightened up and took a step forward, but that just brought him face to face with Brittany again.

“What’s going on?” Puck asked, glancing between Kurt and Brittany and frowning as though he thought maybe he’d interrupted something. Which, okay, technically he had, but it certainly wasn’t an unwelcome interruption.

“It’s okay,” Brittany said, “I want to help. I’m good at it; everybody says so.”

Kurt really didn’t want to know how many people Brittany had been kissing to lead her to that conclusion. He didn’t even care how she’d gotten into their room; he just wanted her to go away, and preferably take Puck with her so Kurt could die of humiliation in peace.

“Thank you, Brittany, but that really won’t be necessary,” Kurt said, inching toward the door only to find himself met with Puck’s chest again. He turned and glared until Puck took the hint and got out of the way, then he pulled the door open and looked at her again.

“Did you find someone else to practice with already?” she asked, and she almost sounded…disappointed. Which was weird all on its own, but Kurt wasn’t going to think about it.

“I…not exactly,” Kurt said, not quite looking at Puck as he reached for Brittany’s arm and tugged her toward the door. Once he got her into the hallway she turned to look at him again, then she glanced past him, and Kurt blushed when he realized Puck was still standing right behind him. “I’ll see you at dinner, okay?”

He shut the door in her face before she could answer, then he pressed his forehead against the little sign on the back mapping out the nearest fire exits. And it was probably unsanitary, but the second he turned around he was going to have to face Puck, and Kurt wasn’t sure he could handle any more humiliation in a lifetime, let alone one day.

“Did she just offer to make out with you?”

Kurt blushed even harder and pushed himself off the door, turning to scowl in Puck’s direction. “Thanks to you, I’m sure.”

“Me? What’d I do?” Puck asked, and Kurt wasn’t exactly looking, but he thought he could hear something like hurt in Puck’s voice.

“Did you or did you not tell Mike about my pathetic lack of experience?” Kurt snapped, his whole face burning, and he was not going to cry and make it even worse.

“Dude, I didn’t say anything,” Puck said, and now he definitely sounded hurt. “Come on, Kurt, do you really think I’d do that?”

“Well how else would she have heard about it?” Kurt asked, but some of the anger drained out of him at the look on Puck’s face, and he crossed his arms over his chest and looked away. “Mike’s her partner; if she was going to hear about it from anyone, it would be him, wouldn’t it?”

“Seriously? She could have heard it from anybody. You told Rachel, and she’s got the biggest mouth I’ve ever heard. Hell, she told me about it today during rehearsal. Said Sunshine was trying to pimp you out to Blaine or something.”

And he’d thought this entire mess couldn’t get any more embarrassing, but obviously he’d been wrong. It was his own fault, of course, for telling Tina and the others that he’d never been kissed. If he’d just kept his mouth shut and kissed Tina on the day of the performance none of this would be happening, but now not only did Puck know exactly how pathetic he was, apparently all the other dancers did too.

“Kurt, come on. You’re not pathetic,” Puck said, and when Kurt felt a hand on his shoulder again he flinched. Puck pulled his hand away as though Kurt had burned him, but Kurt told himself it didn’t matter. He was pathetic, and now everyone knew it, so it didn’t matter what Puck thought.

“I have to change,” was all he said, crossing the room and grabbing the first clothes he laid his hands on before he locked himself in the bathroom and hoped Puck would be gone by the time he came out.

~

Puck could take a hint. One of the things about growing up in New York was that it meant he’d learned a long time ago how to read people, so he knew when someone was blowing him off. And Kurt was definitely trying to blow him off; that much was obvious by the way he barricaded himself in the bathroom. He couldn’t stay in there forever, though, and another thing living in the city had taught Puck was how to wait.

He’d been picturing Kurt kissing Blaine for most of the afternoon, trying not to picture it even more, and by the time he headed back to their room he was so on edge that he wasn’t sure what he would have done if he’d run into Blaine. Walking into their room to find Brittany coming onto Kurt…well, it bothered him probably more than it should have.

It wasn’t like he was worried that Kurt was interested in Brittany, but the thought of him kissing someone else – anyone else – still made Puck want to hit something, no matter how hard he tried to avoid it. It made him want to grab Kurt and drag him into the nearest room and show him exactly how good his first kiss could be. He wanted to leave Kurt wanting him so much he’d never even look at another guy, and even if it meant taking the chance that it wouldn’t work out, he still had to do it.

When the bathroom door finally opened Puck was sitting on the end of Kurt’s bed, and when Kurt spotted him and went even paler than usual, Puck knew he’d been hoping Puck would take off while he had the chance. And maybe he should have, but if he did there was a chance Blaine would show up instead of Brittany next time, and that was a chance Puck wasn’t willing to take.

“I thought you’d be at dinner already,” Kurt said, and the thing was, he was pretty cute when he blushed like that.

“Yeah, I figured.” He waited until Kurt finished fussing with his suitcase before he stood up, taking a few steps forward and then pausing when Kurt looked up. “So listen, what did you mean before when you said ‘not exactly’?”

“What?” Kurt said, nose kind of scrunched up like when he was concentrating really hard on a dance step he didn’t get, and that was pretty cute too.

“Before, when Brittany asked if you found somebody else to practice with and you said ‘not exactly’. You’re not really thinking about hooking up with Blaine, are you?”

He shrugged and kind of stuck his chin out like he was expecting an argument, and Puck’s stomach tied itself into a hard knot. “I considered it. At least he expressed some interest; that’s more than anyone else has ever done.”

And yeah, okay, so maybe Puck kind of deserved that. He’d been so busy trying to trying to protect himself that he hadn’t stopped to think about how all the mixed signals might be making Kurt feel, but obviously it wasn’t making him feel great.

“Kurt, come on. Just because most of Ohio can’t see how awesome you are doesn’t mean nobody can.”

“I’m not,” Kurt said, voice so soft that at first Puck wasn’t sure he’d really heard it. But Kurt was blushing again and looking at the floor between them, and Puck wanted to kick the ass of whoever it was that ever made Kurt doubt how great he was.

He took a chance and took a few steps forward, and when he reached out and took Kurt’s hand he didn’t flinch this time. He was looking at Puck like maybe he was a little worried Puck was going to hit him or something, but he didn’t put up a fight when Puck pulled him forward until they were barely a foot apart.

Puck reached up and curved his free hand around the back of Kurt’s neck, thumb tracing little patterns on his skin and he felt the shiver that Kurt tried to hold back. “Yeah, you are.”

Kurt started to shake his head, but when his mouth brushed Puck’s palm he let out a little gasp and looked up again. “What are you...?”

“I was wrong, you know,” Puck interrupted, because seriously, if Kurt couldn’t figure out what he was doing, he needed more help than Puck thought. “It should mean something.”

He leaned in, taking in flushed cheeks and blue eyes that were just a little darker than usual. He could feel Kurt’s breath against his lips, felt Kurt trembling but kind of leaning in at the same time, like maybe he was afraid Puck was going to change his mind.

“I’m not totally off base here, right?” Puck asked, pausing to breathe the words against Kurt’s mouth.

And he was pretty sure he wasn’t, but he didn’t want to make things worse by taking something Kurt wasn’t ready to give up. When he heard a frustrated sound and felt Kurt’s hand close around the front of his shirt to haul him forward Puck had his answer, and he grinned against Kurt’s mouth and slid his hand into Kurt’s hair to tilt his head just so.

Kurt’s fingers curled in the front of Puck’s shirt, holding on like maybe he was expecting Puck to put the brakes on before he was ready. Like there was any chance of that happening when Kurt was pressed against him, strong and solid and so much better than Puck even imagined. And yeah, they’d danced together often enough that he knew what to expect, but there was a big difference between teaching Kurt to krump and teaching him to kiss, breathing the same air and holding hands like maybe this did mean something.

Like maybe they meant something, and now that Puck had kissed him, he really wanted to believe they did. He pulled away just far enough to look at Kurt, foreheads pressed together and his hand still resting on the back of Kurt’s neck, fingers in his hair and listening to Kurt breathing hard.

“Okay?” he said, and when Kurt nodded and pressed forward Puck let him, turning into the kiss and parting his lips to give Kurt whatever he wanted. He figured they should probably take it slow, considering, but right now he just wanted to keep kissing Kurt and forget about everything and everyone else outside their door.

Kurt wasn’t some magically great kisser right out of the gate or anything, but he was pretty good at following Puck’s lead, and he wasn’t freaking out or changing his mind yet. The hand that had been clutching Puck’s shirt in some kind of death grip slid down his chest, stopping at his waist to rest there, like Kurt wasn’t sure he should be touching.

It was tempting to wrap his arms around Kurt and drag him over to the bed, to push him down onto the mattress and show him exactly how good Puck could make him feel. But that definitely didn’t count as taking it slow, and Puck wasn’t about to fuck this up by pushing for more than Kurt wanted to give. So he kept his hands above the waist, and when Kurt drug him even closer he swallowed a moan and didn’t rock their hips together.

When they came up for air again Kurt kept his eyes on Puck’s chest, like maybe he was kind of embarrassed to look at him. “Please tell me you’re not just doing this because of the performance tomorrow.”

“I’m not,” Puck said, his heart beating way too loud when he realized that at least part of Kurt actually thought that. “Kurt. I’m not.”

Kurt looked up at him then, and Puck slid a hand under his chin and brushed another soft kiss against his lips. When he pulled back Kurt smiled, kind of shy and Puck ran a thumb along one flushed cheek before he let out a little laugh.

“I mean, yeah, the timing pretty much blows, because we suck at the samba, so I’m gonna be in the bottom three this week, and I’m probably going home.”

For a second Kurt looked so miserable that Puck wished he hadn’t brought it up, but then he kind of squared his jaw and squeezed Puck’s hand. “I’ll help you. After dinner we can run through the technique again. It can’t be that bad; you’ve done fine in ballroom so far.”

It was pretty bad, but Puck wasn’t going to pass up the chance to dance with Kurt again, so he didn’t say so. Instead he said, “Yeah, okay,” then he leaned in for one last kiss before he dragged Kurt out of the room and downstairs to dinner.

~

The last place Kurt wanted to be was in the dining room with the rest of the dancers. Where he wanted to be was back in their room, pressed up against Puck and breathing against him, feeling the drag of Puck’s stubble against his cheek and the warmth of his hand on the back of his neck.

He imagined those hands on other parts of him and blushed bright and hot, and when he felt a hand on his thigh under the table he knew Puck had noticed. Kurt didn’t know what they were doing, but Puck had promised him it wasn’t just a pity kiss, and the hand resting on his leg was a pretty good sign. At least he thought it was; he was still pretty much clueless, but he wanted to believe it meant Puck felt something at least close to what Kurt was feeling.

Puck was talking to Mike, comparing notes on whether or not ballroom was worse with Tony and Melanie or Pasha as their choreographer, but when Kurt reached under the table to cover Puck’s hand with his own Puck’s fingers slid through his. His thumb traced little patterns on the back of Kurt’s hand while Mike talked, and it was distracting in a way that Kurt could definitely get used to.

It felt sort of strange, holding hands with Puck while the rest of the cast was still oblivious to the change in their relationship. But he sort of liked having a secret, too, something just between the two of them that they didn’t have to share with anyone else.

When Puck’s grip on his hand tightened Kurt blinked and looked up, his face flushing when he realized he had no idea how long he’d been staring into space, replaying their first kiss over and over in his head. It was a nice memory, but Kurt knew if he didn’t get a grip that he’d end up daydreaming himself right back to Ohio.

“You ready to head out?” Puck asked, and when Kurt blushed a little harder and nodded, Puck grinned and let go of his hand.

“You guys can come hang out in our room if you want,” Mike said, watching them push their chairs back from the table and pick up their trays.

For a second Kurt thought Puck might actually agree, just to save face, but when he glanced over Puck was already shaking his head. “Thanks, dude, but Kurt promised to help me with my samba.”

“Must be nice, having your own private instructor,” Mike said, but he was grinning, and Kurt felt his blush heat up even more.

“Yeah, Kurt’s awesome.”

Puck grinned right back at Mike, raising his eyebrows when Mike laughed, then he slid an arm around Kurt’s shoulders and dragged him away from the table.

They ditched their trays before they headed back upstairs, neither of them looking back to see if anyone was watching them go. Puck kept his arm around Kurt until they reached the elevators, letting go long enough to press the button. It felt like forever before the doors finally slid open, but when they climbed in and leaned against the back wall Puck’s hand found Kurt’s to slide their fingers together again.

He didn’t let go until they made it all the way back to their room, and then it was only long enough to slide his key card into the door before he was reaching for Kurt to pull him into the room. As soon as the door closed Kurt found himself pressed up against it, Puck’s chest warm against his and his hands on Kurt’s hips to hold him against the door.

Kurt’s arms slid around Puck’s neck when he leaned in, lips parted on a sigh and kissing Puck back as though his life depended on it. And he still didn’t know what he was doing, but Puck didn’t seem to mind, so Kurt was determined not to worry about it. Not yet, not while Puck’s hands were on him and he was murmuring Kurt’s name against his mouth as though maybe he’d been a little afraid he was never going to get a chance to do this.

Kurt wanted to laugh, because Puck had to know that all he’d ever had to do was ask and Kurt would have given him anything. He’d tried to hide how he felt, but it had been hopeless from the start and they both knew it.

“Noah,” Kurt whispered into the kiss, and he wasn’t even sure he’d said it out loud until Puck pulled back to look at him.

“Say that again.”

“Noah,” Kurt said, his hand on Puck’s face and tracing the sharp angle of his cheekbone.

Puck sucked in a harsh breath, then his hands left Kurt’s hips and he took a step backwards. “Yeah, we gotta take a breather here.”

“Did I do something wrong?”

As soon as the words escaped his mouth he wanted to take them back, but Puck just shook his head and reached for Kurt’s hand to pull him away from the door. “No, babe, but I’m afraid I’m going to if we don’t stop.”

When he realized what Puck was saying Kurt’s face flushed all over again, and when he realized Puck had just called him ‘babe’ Kurt blushed harder than ever. “Oh.”

“Yeah,” Puck said again, hand on the back of his neck and just looking, like maybe he was thinking about some of the things he’d like to do. Kurt’s heart hammered in his chest, and just when he was starting to wonder if maybe Puck was going to do some of them anyway, he cleared his throat and turned away.

“Come on, help me move the bed so we can practice.”

Kurt nodded even though Puck wasn’t looking at him, mostly because he didn’t trust his voice not to betray just how much at least part of him wanted to find out what exactly Puck was thinking. He followed Puck across the room to his bed, not looking at Puck while they took the mattress off the frame and propped it against the wall. Once the bed was out of the way Kurt turned on his iPod, scrolling through playlists until he found something with the right beat for a samba.

When he turned around again Puck was watching him, eyes dark and the sight of him sent a thrill of want down Kurt’s spine that he had no idea what to do with. He swallowed hard and took a few steps forward, stopping when he reached the center of the space they’d cleared.

“I suppose I’ll have to dance Rachel’s part again. Why don’t you lead me through the routine once and we’ll go from there.”

Puck nodded, rubbing the palms of his hands on his thighs before he moved forward and reached for Kurt. “It starts with Rachel kind of hanging out on the stairs, so we’ll have to take it from a few steps in.”

Kurt nodded and took Puck’s hand, letting Puck lead him into the turns until he picked up the rhythm of the choreography. Once he had the basic idea it was easier to follow Puck, to anticipate each spin and the moment when Puck caught him and dipped him.

He lifted himself back up and rested a hand on Puck’s neck the way his own partner did every time he danced a ballroom routine, their foreheads touching for a moment and Puck’s eyes went dark again. “Damn, babe, you’re so much hotter than Rachel.”

Kurt flushed and let Puck spin him out of the dip, fumbling a couple steps before he found his rhythm again. When their eyes met again Puck was smirking at him, and Kurt rolled his eyes and let Puck spin him away, then draw Kurt back against his chest again. They stayed that way for a beat, then another, and Kurt was about to ask if he’d forgotten what came next when Puck leaned forward and kissed him.

For a second Kurt was too startled to respond, but as soon as he realized what was happening he pulled Puck closer and kissed him back. Puck’s hands were on his back, pushing up under his shirt just a little, and the touch of warm hands on bare skin made him feel like he was on fire.

“I assume that’s not part of the routine,” Kurt murmured when Puck’s mouth left his to trail along his jaw, then down his neck and back up again.

“I’m improvising,” Puck answered, and when Kurt let out a breathy laugh he felt Puck’s answering smile against his skin.

Kurt’s hands landed on the sides of his face, pulling Puck back to look at him. “Your samba isn’t that terrible. I don’t think you’ll necessarily be in the bottom three.”

“It’s better when I’m dancing with you,” Puck said, his hand coming up to cover Kurt’s where it was pressed against his skin. “Think they’d let us change partners?”

“Nigel would never stand for two men doing the samba,” Kurt answered, smiling when Puck laughed. “He’s far too insecure in his own masculinity. We’d be lucky to get a paso doble or maybe a hip hop routine at the end of the season.”

“If I make it that far.”

Kurt sighed and leaned in to kiss Puck again, lingering for a moment before he pulled back to look at him. “There’s no guarantee either of us will.”

“I keep telling you, you’re going all the way,” Puck said, and when Kurt saw Puck’s determined expression, he could almost believe it.

~

When they finished working on Puck’s samba technique he made Kurt help him put his bed back together again. Kurt didn’t seem all that happy about it, but considering the number of times they got distracted in the middle of dancing by a kiss or even a hand sliding just a little lower than strictly necessary, Puck figured it was safer if he slept in his own bed.

But the thing was, he’d kind of gotten used to sharing with Kurt, to the steady sound of his breathing and the way Puck could feel him there in the darkness, even though they never really touched.

Well. There was that whole deal with the hand-holding the last time they shared his bed, when he’d almost given in and kissed Kurt for the first time. It was all he could do to resist back then, and that was exactly the reason Puck figured they should go to their own corners, at least until Kurt figured out exactly what he wanted.

He thought Kurt got that – he didn’t like it much, but Puck was pretty sure he understood – until Puck woke up in the middle of the night to the feeling of the mattress dipping under him, then Kurt was sliding under the sheet and pressing himself up against Puck’s side. His hand landed on Puck’s chest, sort of tentative, like maybe he was afraid to touch. Like maybe he was afraid Puck was going to wake up and send him back to his own bed, and as soon as he thought it Puck reached up and closed his hand over Kurt’s.

Puck turned until they were face to face, hands trapped between them as he leaned forward and pressed their lips together. He took his time kissing Kurt, sucking Kurt’s full bottom lip between his teeth and sliding their tongues together until Kurt was making these little whining noises that went straight to Puck’s cock. And he wanted to do something about it – knew Kurt would let him if he tried – but they still hadn’t figured anything out, and for once in his life Puck wanted to do this right.

When Kurt pressed even closer Puck pulled away with a gasp, closing his eyes until he was sure he could look at Kurt without losing it completely. He felt a hand on his neck, sort of stroking over his scalp, and when he opened his eyes again Kurt was watching him with a kind of awed expression, like he was still trying to convince himself this was real.

“Would you believe I couldn’t sleep?” Kurt asked when their eyes met, and Puck let out a soft laugh and squeezed the hand that was still wrapped around his.

“Here’s the thing,” he said, watching Kurt’s expression shift from awed and kind of amused and straight into nervous. “I have a kid.”

“I’m aware,” Kurt said, but Puck could hear the fear in his voice.

“Yeah, well, Ma’s always on me about how I have to put Beth first, how she’s my priority now and I can’t just screw around anymore. And she’s right.” He paused, thumb tracing little circles on the back of Kurt’s hand while he tried to find the best way to say what he was thinking. “I’m not trying to lay a bunch of pressure on you here, but if we’re just fooling around I kind of need to know.”

“Are you asking me for a commitment?”

Kurt sounded kind of nervous, or maybe surprised, but the thing was, he didn’t sound like he hated the idea. And Puck wanted to say yes, that he wanted Kurt to guarantee that he wasn’t going to change his mind, because Puck was already in over his head and he knew if things went any farther that he might as well just box up his heart and hand it over.

“No. I mean yeah, I guess I kind of am. I’m not asking you to say you’ll marry me or anything,” Puck added, his heart skipping a beat at the thought, because the thing was, they could get married, at least in New York, and if Kurt said he wanted to get married, Puck wouldn’t even have to think about it. “I’m just saying that you should know that’s where I’m coming from. This isn’t just because we share a room or because you have to kiss Tina tomorrow. At least not for me.”

“It’s not for me either,” Kurt said, his voice sort of soft, like maybe he was afraid to say it out loud. “This isn’t…I hope it’s not some showmance that will be over when one of us gets sent home.”

“Yeah?” Puck said, and when Kurt blushed and nodded against the pillow Puck let go of his hand to curve his palm around Kurt’s cheek. “Good.”

He kissed Kurt again, soft and slow and thorough enough to leave Kurt breathing kind of heavy when Puck pulled back again. “So you’re cool if we take things slow? I just…I don’t want to fuck this up.”

“Okay,” Kurt said, breathing in deep like there was at least part of him that wasn’t crazy about that plan, but he nodded anyway. “If that’s what you want.”

What he wanted didn’t have a whole lot to do with it, but Puck didn’t say so. Instead he slid his arms around Kurt’s shoulders and pulled him close, holding on tight and burying his face in Kurt’s neck to breathe in deep. Kurt’s hand stroked down his scalp, and when he turned into Puck and brushed a kiss against his cheek, Puck wasn’t sure how well this whole ‘going slow’ plan was going to work out.

Chapter Text

Kurt didn’t kiss Tina during the dress rehearsal. Whether it was because he chickened out or if he was just saving the big moment for the live performance Puck wasn’t sure, but he’d seen Kurt whispering with Travis before he and Tina went on, so Puck figured he knew what he was doing.

Not that he was all that jazzed about watching his boyfriend macking on somebody else, but he knew it was just part of the show. Besides, he’d seen Kurt and Tina dance their routine once already, and he knew if they pulled off a convincing kiss the judges were going to go crazy. There was no way they were in the bottom either way, but the kiss would just push them over the top in the judges’ eyes.

So he wanted Kurt to go for it; he just wasn’t sure how bad he wanted to see it. Still, watching him kiss Tina was better than watching him kiss Blaine or even Brittany, so Puck leaned against the wall near the monitor and watched while Kurt and Tina took their places again.

Even on the monitor he could see how keyed up Kurt was, the nervous energy making his muscles flex under his costume as the music started. He could tell how much Kurt was feeling the story, watched him sell the idea that Tina was some kind of dream girl he didn’t want to wake up from. He watched the two of them practically float around the stage like they didn’t even need to touch down, and he knew they were killing it.

When they got close to the end Puck felt himself tense, and when Kurt caught Tina in the final turn and pulled her in, Puck held his breath. Then Kurt planted a barely-there kiss on her lips, pausing just for a second before he let her pull away, and the whole audience went crazy.

He didn’t have to see to know the judges were standing up, just like he didn’t have to see Kurt’s face to know he was smiling bright enough to light up a football stadium. Puck grinned at the thought as someone leaned against the wall next to him, and he glanced over to find Mike watching him.

“That was some performance.”

“What’d I tell you? Kurt’s awesome,” Puck answered, grinning when Mike laughed.

“Any idea who taught him that last part? I know it wasn’t Brittany; she said he shut her down.”

Puck snorted a laugh and leaned a little closer, dropping his voice and raising an eyebrow at Mike. “My boy’s a natural, dude.”

He didn’t even mind that Mike was laughing at him, because Kurt was his boy, and Puck didn’t care who knew it. He hadn’t run that part past Kurt yet or anything, but he was pretty sure Kurt wouldn’t care either. Then again, this was Kurt’s first time out of the gate, so maybe Puck should give him the choice.

Mike was still laughing at him when Kurt found them, his cheeks flushed from the ass-kissing the judges had just given him. Not that Puck was thinking about his ass, because that would just get him in even more trouble. Instead he grinned and pushed himself off the wall, and when Kurt made a beeline for him he figured maybe Kurt didn’t care who knew about them after all.

As soon as Kurt spotted Mike he paused, though, then he looked back at Puck like he wasn’t sure what to do. Like he wasn’t sure what he was allowed to do, and it was Mike, so that was just stupid. Puck rolled his eyes and grinned again, then he caught Kurt’s hand and dragged him forward for a hug. He leaned in and pressed his lips to the side of Kurt’s neck, smiling against his skin when he heard the little gasp Kurt didn’t quite manage to suppress.

“You looked awesome out there, babe.”

“Yeah, you guys totally killed it,” Mike added, and Puck let go of Kurt to grin over at him.

“Thank you,” Kurt said, blushing even harder now, and it was tempting to grab his hand and drag him into the nearest empty room to show him just how awesome Puck thought he was. Before he even remembered why that was a bad idea he heard someone calling his name, and a second later Rachel rounded the corner and zeroed in on him.

“Noah, there you are,” she said, and she had that frantic look in her eye that Puck was starting to know and fear. “We’re almost on; we need to ground and center and make sure we’re in perfect sync before we take the stage.”

“I don’t even want to know,” Kurt said, and Noah huffed a soft laugh and looked away from her long enough to lean in and brush a kiss against Kurt’s cheek.

“Trust me, you don’t.” Puck grinned one more time, then he left Kurt blushing and pressing his fingers to his cheek and followed Rachel down the hall.

~

Puck wasn’t exaggerating about the samba.

It was awful; the judges thought so, and even the booing from the audience when Nigel panned their performance wasn’t as vehement as it normally would be. Kurt could see from Puck’s expression that he knew how bad it was, just like he could tell that Puck was expecting to be in the bottom.

Kurt understood why, but that didn’t make him feel any better about the fact that there was a very real possibility Puck could be going home just when their relationship was getting off the ground.

Relationship. It was a word he’d started to think would never apply to him, and now that he’d had a taste of what he was missing, he couldn’t bear the thought of giving it up. The only thing Puck and Rachel had working for them was that they’d gone last, and it was possible they’d pick up some sympathy votes after being panned by the judges.

He expected Puck to be more upset about it, at least once they were alone. But when they finally said goodnight to the rest of the dancers and let themselves into their room, Puck just pushed him up against the door again and smiled. “You really were awesome out there tonight.”

“Thanks,” Kurt said, hands on Puck’s waist to push his shirt up, just enough to expose a sliver of warm skin. “You and Rachel...”

“Sucked,” Puck said, but he was grinning, and when Kurt frowned at him he just laughed. “Babe, I told you we would.”

Kurt swallowed a sigh at the word ‘babe’, hands on Puck’s chest and tracing the pattern on the t-shirt he was wearing. “You might be fine. Plenty of people vote based on personality, regardless of the night’s performance. And no one listens to what the judges think.”

Puck laughed and leaned in, pressing a kiss to the corner of Kurt’s mouth. “We’re in the bottom, Kurt.”

He knew Puck was right, and he knew it wasn’t a guarantee Puck would go home. That didn’t make it any easier to think about the possibility, so instead Kurt focused on what he could do to make sure it didn’t happen. He took a deep breath and flattened his hands against Puck’s chest, and it was hard to focus when Puck was standing so close, but he knew he what he had to do.

“We should work on our solos.”

“I’ll just do the one I worked on last week,” Puck said, hands on Kurt’s hips and leaning in to murmur the words against Kurt’s neck.

“The one you haven’t practiced since last week,” Kurt answered, but his voice was a little breathy and his hands slid down Puck’s chest without his permission. “And I have to prepare something. I certainly can’t dance the same solo I performed last week if I’m in the bottom again.”

Puck’s mouth was moving on Kurt’s neck, but as soon as Kurt mentioned his own solo Puck laughed against his skin and pulled back to look at him.

“What?” Kurt asked, and when he realized how hard he was gripping Puck’s shirt he took a deep breath and forced himself to let go.

“You know you don’t have anything to worry about.”

Kurt rolled his eyes, but he couldn’t quite stop the smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “There are no guarantees, Noah.”

When Puck’s eyes got a little darker Kurt swallowed hard, but before he could suggest that maybe they didn’t need to practice after all, Puck was nodding and backing out of Kurt’s grip. “Yeah, okay. Let’s go practice.”

“Okay,” Kurt said, then he took a shaky breath and pushed himself off the door. “Should we...?”

He gestured toward the bed they’d put back the night before, the same bed they’d both woken up in that morning, and Kurt wasn’t sure he’d get used to waking up with Puck’s arm wrapped around his waist no matter how many times it happened.

“Let’s...uh...let’s go use the rehearsal studio,” Puck said, and when their eyes met Kurt felt it all the way to his toes.

He understood why Puck was suggesting they use the rehearsal studio for the first time. There was a part of him that was grateful, because he still didn’t know what he was doing, and the knowledge that Puck did was more than a little terrifying. But the rest of him...the rest of him wanted to tell Puck to forget the competition, forget his insistence on going slow and just take what he wanted.

Instead he nodded and pushed himself off the door, then he led Puck into the hall and told himself it was for the best.

~

Practicing in the rehearsal studio was a good idea. It distracted them a little, anyway, and when they finally went back to their own room the tension wasn’t so thick Puck felt like he was choking on it.

He let Kurt have the bathroom first, mostly because he took forever, but it gave Puck a little time to pull himself together too. Once Kurt was finished Puck took a colder shower than he really wanted, then he brushed his teeth and let himself back into their room. When he got there Kurt was in his own bed, kind of curled on his side with his back to Puck, like maybe he was already asleep. Except they’d shared a bed often enough now for Puck to see the tension in his shoulders, and he knew it meant Kurt was still awake.

Awake and waiting to see what Puck would do, he was pretty sure. He knew what he should do; he should keep his distance, climb into his own bed and if Kurt crawled in with him again Puck should kick him right back out. There was only so much either of them could take, after all, and considering how much time they spent together, he knew it was only a matter of time before somebody gave in.

But he liked sleeping with Kurt, and if he did get sent home tomorrow, this was his last chance, at least for awhile. The thought made his heart skip a beat, and Puck turned off the light before he crossed the room and slid under the covers to wrap his arm around Kurt’s waist. As soon as he did Kurt’s hand closed around his, fingers threading together and Puck swallowed hard and turned his face to press a kiss against Kurt’s neck.

“What if one of us does go home tomorrow?”

Kurt’s voice was soft, like maybe he wasn’t all that sure he wanted to hear the answer to the question. And the thing was, Puck didn’t really have an answer, at least not a decent one.

“Then I guess it’s back to texts and phone calls until we figure things out. I told you, babe, this isn’t just a show thing for me.”

“I know,” Kurt answered, his fingers squeezing Puck’s for a second before he let go and shifted onto his back. When he was looking up at Puck he seemed even younger than he was, and Puck’s heart clenched hard in his chest when Kurt reached for his hand again and pressed it against his chest. “But don’t you want...I mean, if this is our last night...”

He was blushing so hard Puck could feel it when he touched Kurt’s cheek, and that was exactly why he was taking things slow. He took a deep breath and eased a little away from Kurt, putting just enough room between them to keep his head more or less clear when he answered.

“Are you kidding? Of course I want to, but not because one of us might get sent home. So what if I get the boot tomorrow. It just means we’ll have to wait awhile longer, right?”

For a few seconds Kurt just looked at him like he was expecting Puck to disappear or something. Then he leaned up and wrapped a hand around the back of Puck’s neck, dragging him forward and pressing their lips together, and maybe it was a bad idea, but Puck didn’t try to stop him. Instead he kissed Kurt back, his hand leaving Kurt’s chest to slide down his side. He could feel Kurt’s fingers warm against his neck, felt the tension in Kurt’s body as he pressed up to get Puck closer. Which meant this was definitely a bad idea, at least if he didn’t want to break his promise to do this right for once.

Puck pulled back to look down at Kurt, taking in his full bottom lip and glazed blue eyes, and he groaned and dropped his forehead onto Kurt’s shoulder. “If I do go home tomorrow...”

“You’re not,” Kurt said, and this time his voice was steady. “Your solo’s amazing. Even if you are in the bottom three, you’ll be fine.”

“Yeah, but if I do,” Puck answered, pulling back again to look at Kurt. “I meant what I said. We’ll figure it out, okay?”

Kurt nodded, lip caught between his teeth, and that just made Puck want to kiss him even more. “I know. Noah...”

“Yeah?” Puck said, and he couldn’t say why, but suddenly his heart was hammering so hard in his chest he could practically hear it.

“We should try to get some sleep. Elimination day is always exhausting, and it’s worse if you have to dance for your life.”

He was pretty sure that wasn’t what Kurt had started out to say, but Puck didn’t call him on it. Instead he nodded and slid his arm around Kurt’s waist again, let him turn so his back was pressed against Puck’s chest and brushed one last kiss against his cheek.

“Yeah, okay,” he said, then he closed his eyes and listened to the sound of Kurt’s breathing for a long time.

~

It was the first time they’d been called up for results together. Kurt and Tina and Puck and Rachel, side by side in the center of the stage while Cat recapped their dances for the audience. Kurt was shaking; he could feel it, and he knew by the death grip Puck had on his hand that he could feel it too.

That was the only saving grace of the entire night; the fact that they were on the stage together meant that Puck could hold onto him, and the fact that they were both holding hands with their respective partners meant that no one in the audience would even think anything of it. Not that Kurt had any problem with the whole world knowing that the hot guy clutching his hand was Kurt’s boyfriend, but he knew how weirdly homophobic Nigel could be, and he didn’t want to run the risk of their relationship ruining either of their chances of continuing in the competition.

When Cat announced that he and Tina were safe and Puck and Rachel were in the bottom Kurt wasn’t surprised, but he felt his eyes start to sting anyway. He let go of Puck’s hand long enough to hug Tina, then he turned back to Puck and wrapped his arms around Puck’s shoulders. Puck pulled him close and turned his face into Kurt’s neck, just for a second, then he let go and Kurt let Cat usher him and Tina off the stage.

He was aware that he was crying, but the audience would just assume he was relieved that they’d made it, so he didn’t try to hide it. Instead he took his place with the other safe dancers, then he watched while Cat lined up Puck and the others and announced that they’d all be dancing for their lives after the break.

The guest performers were an amazing pair of Latin dancers from Miami, but Kurt couldn’t enjoy their performance. Mostly he spent the time scanning the edges of the stage and hoping for a glimpse of Puck, but he knew from experience that he and the other couples were all sequestered in the back to pull themselves together and mentally prepare to dance again.

Even when the other contestants performed Kurt couldn’t really focus on their routines. He wanted to be supportive, to cheer for them all equally the way the rest of the dancers did, but he couldn’t deny that it mattered to him who stayed and who went home. He needed Puck to stay, because this thing between them was brand new and no matter how many times Puck promised, Kurt wasn’t convinced it could survive the distance.

Not when they’d barely gotten started, when everything was still new and tentative and Puck was still being so careful with him. It made Kurt want to scream in frustration, but it was sweet, too, and that made it a little easier to believe things really could work out for them.

Standing on the sidelines watching Puck dance should have been awful. It should have made Kurt feel completely helpless, and in a way it did. But when the music started and Puck began to move he looked strong, sharp and sure and hitting every one of his tricks as hard as he could. Kurt had seen him dance the routine more than once, but he’d never seen Puck fight so hard for it, and when he was finished it was all Kurt could do not to rush after him and tell him how amazing he was.

Somehow he managed to stay put, gripping Tina’s hand a little tighter than strictly necessary as Puck and the others lined up to hear their fate. Nigel called them forward one by one, telling each of them what they’d done right and where they needed to improve before he finally sent David home. Kurt clapped his free hand over his mouth to hold back a sob, felt a hand on his shoulder and registered vaguely that Mike was standing next to him.

He blinked back tears as he watched the safe dancers head off the stage to join the rest of them, and when he felt a pair of strong, familiar arms wrap around him Kurt closed his eyes and buried his face in Puck’s neck. He didn’t care how it looked or if the cameras were pointed at them; he didn’t care about anything except the fact that Puck was safe and he was going back to their room with Kurt tonight.

“I told you you’d be safe,” he murmured, and when Puck laughed Kurt felt it rumble in his chest.

“You didn’t think I was gonna leave you alone with your fan club, did you?” Puck said, pulling back to grin when Kurt rolled his eyes.

For a second Kurt thought Puck might actually kiss him, but then Cat was talking again and the rest of the dancers were pushing them toward the stage where David and his partner were waiting to say goodbye to everyone. Kurt let go of Puck and turned toward the stairs, but when a hand closed around his, he smiled to himself and pulled Puck with him onto the stage.

Chapter Text

It was sort of strange, sharing a bed with Puck every night without actually doing anything. There was plenty of kissing, certainly, but he could tell that Puck wanted more as much as he did. Maybe even more, because Puck was the one who knew what he was missing. But he was holding back, and as far as Kurt could tell it was because he was waiting for Kurt to decide what he wanted.

The answer to that was simple enough; Kurt wanted everything, and he wanted all of it with Puck. The problem was that he wasn’t exactly sure what ‘everything’ entailed, so he had no idea how to ask for it.

He thought he understood why Puck was being so cautious. A daughter at his age was a huge responsibility, and taking on the care of someone else’s child was something Kurt had never even considered. He definitely wasn’t ready for it, but he knew how he felt about Puck, and he knew he couldn’t walk away just because the thought of dating someone with a child terrified him.

They were alone in their room during one of the rare afternoons when they didn’t have anywhere to be. They’d spent the morning choosing their styles for the week, and Kurt was already worried about the fact that he and Tina had drawn hip hop and African jazz for their last two dances as a pair. If they made it to the top ten they wouldn’t be dancing together anymore, and that meant not only a new dance style, but getting used to a new partner every week as well.

It made sense that the competition would get harder as more dancers went home, but he still wasn’t looking forward to giving up his partner. The further they got in the competition the closer they all got to going home, which meant saying goodbye to Puck.

He kept promising Kurt that they weren’t just some showmance, but Kurt knew he couldn’t guarantee they’d be able to make it work. No matter how much they wanted to be together, Kurt still lived in Ohio and Puck’s life was in New York. Puck’s daughter was in New York, and that meant if Kurt wanted any chance of a future with him, he was going to have to make a decision about his own future soon.

Kurt listened to Puck talking to his mother, mostly listening and occasionally making some noise of agreement. He was pacing back and forth between the beds, glancing over at Kurt every so often to roll his eyes at whatever his mother was saying. Kurt didn’t even try to pretend he wasn’t staring; it would have been impossible to ignore Puck even if he wanted to, considering the size of their room and the fact that he kept passing close enough for Kurt to reach out and touch.

It was tempting, but Puck was talking to his mother, and distracting him in the middle of his conversation seemed unfair. Besides, if he did get Puck’s attention he’d have to do something about it, and Kurt still wasn’t sure what to do, exactly.

When he realized Puck was staring back at him Kurt blinked, then he blushed and looked back down at the magazine he’d been pretending to flip through while Puck was on the phone. He felt the mattress dip and glanced up to see Puck sitting on the edge of the bed, still nodding into the phone.

“Yeah, Ma, that’s great. Listen, I gotta go, they want us to film some promos or something for the show. Kiss Beth for me, okay?”

A few seconds later he hung up, dropping the phone on the bed beside him before he turned to look at Kurt. “Everything okay at home?”

“Oh, yeah,” Puck answered, grinning and propping himself up on one elbow. “Ma’s the star of the neighborhood now that I’m on TV. She’s having the time of her life.”

Kurt smiled and let Puck drag his magazine out of the way, watching him flip it closed and toss it on the other side of the bed. When the magazine was out of the way Puck reached out and took Kurt’s hand, fingers threading together and Kurt’s heart skipped a beat when Puck tugged until Kurt took the hint and leaned forward to kiss him.

When he pulled back Kurt’s hand rested on Puck’s cheek, thumb tracing the sharp angle of his cheekbone. “You miss home, don’t you?”

Puck shrugged, leaning up for another kiss before he answered. “Some. Not as much as I would if you weren’t here.”

Kurt’s heart hammered hard against his chest and he kissed Puck again, hands on his shoulders and dragging him up the mattress until Puck was stretched out next to him. Kurt slid his arms around Puck’s neck and parted his lips against Puck’s, sighing when blunt teeth grazed his lip and tugged just a little.

“I didn’t say that to get in your pants,” Puck murmured against his mouth, and Kurt laughed and brushed another kiss against his lips.

“I know,” he answered, though the truth was it didn’t matter even if he had. He kissed Puck again, easing forward until their chests were pressed together. Puck groaned against his mouth and slid a hand down Kurt’s side, and when Kurt felt warm fingers slide under the hem of his shirt, he gasped and pressed even closer.

He knew Puck hadn’t been trying to seduce him. In fact, with each night they spent in the same bed without doing more than a little kissing, Kurt became increasingly aware that he was going to have to make the first move. He was going to have to show Puck what he wanted, or at the very least indicate in no uncertain terms that he was ready to move their relationship forward.

Puck didn’t want it to happen just because their time together might be limited, but the thought of one of them going home before Kurt worked up the nerve to make a move always left Kurt feeling sort of hollow and sad. So really this was the perfect time, because they were all alone with nowhere to be until tomorrow, and they hadn’t even met their choreographers or seen the week’s routines yet, so they hadn’t had time to panic about going home.

It was just them, just Kurt and Puck, doing whatever felt right. And this definitely felt right; Puck was solid against him, hot and strong and kissing Kurt like he meant it. Like there was nothing else he’d rather be doing, or anyone he’d rather do it with.

“Noah,” Kurt murmured, his breath warm against Puck’s lips and when Puck pulled back to look at him he smiled and ran a thumb along Kurt’s bottom lip.

For awhile he just looked, studying Kurt’s features as though he was trying to commit the moment to memory, and the thought made Kurt’s heart clench so tight he wondered for a second if he was having some kind of attack. Kurt turned his face into Puck’s touch, closing his eyes and brushing a kiss against the heel of his palm before he looked at Puck again.

“It’s okay to miss your family, you know. My family just left, and I miss them a little. Well, Dad and Carole, anyway.”

Puck laughed, warm against Kurt’s cheek, and Kurt smiled and let his hand wander down Puck’s back to rest against his spine.

“I know. I guess I worry some about Beth sleeping alone in our room. She’s always had me right there, you know? But it’s not like she can share with me forever, especially…”

“Especially what?” Kurt said, his heart beating out a rhythm so fast he was sure Puck was going to hear it.

“Nothing,” Puck answered, looking away for a second, and Kurt bit back a sigh. “She’s just getting older, that’s all. Eventually we’re gonna have to think about getting our own place.”

Kurt knew that Puck was talking about him and his daughter, about moving out of his mom’s apartment and providing his child with a home where she could have her own room and her own space. He was raised by a single father himself, so Kurt knew how it worked. But that didn’t stop him from wishing he was included in the equation, that when Puck said ‘our own place’, that he was thinking about him and Kurt and Beth.

The thought was just as terrifying as ever, but Kurt had never wanted anything so much in his life, not even his place in the competition. In the past whenever he thought about his future, it was always in terms of his career, of a spot in a prestigious dance troupe or maybe even on Broadway, dancing for the likes of Will Schuester and Susan Stroman and even Twyla Tharp.

He still wanted all those things, but now when he thought about his future he thought about Puck. He pictured a little apartment in Queens, somewhere close to the subway line that would take Kurt into Manhattan and the Times Square terminal. He pictured trips to the park with a little girl he’d only seen pictures of, and even awkward family dinners in Puck’s mother’s apartment. And maybe he was getting ahead of himself, but Puck was the one who kept promising they’d find a way to stay together, so if he was in over his head, at least he wasn’t alone.

“Noah, when this is all over…”

That was as far as he got before someone knocked on the door, and when Puck frowned and started to pull away it was all Kurt could do not to fist his hands in the fabric of Puck’s shirt and pull him back down onto the bed.

“We could just ignore it,” Kurt suggested, but Puck was already swinging his legs over the edge of the mattress, and when he looked back at Kurt his expression was a strange mixture of relief and regret.

“Could be a producer. Maybe they really do want us to film some promos.”

Puck was pulling the door open before Kurt could point out that none of the producers had ever dropped by unannounced. Kurt sat up, smoothing his shirt back into place and when Puck looked over his shoulder and said, “It’s for you,” Kurt swallowed a disappointed sigh.

A second later Tina was standing inside their room, looking from Puck to Kurt and back again, and Kurt blushed and ran a hand through his hair before he climbed off the bed.

“Kurt, you have to come shopping with us,” Tina said, crossing the room to slide her arm through his like maybe she wasn’t planning to take no for an answer. “Rachel’s threatening to buy the most hideous dress ever and you’re the only one who can talk some fashion sense into her.”

On any other day Kurt would have jumped at the chance for an impromptu shopping trip; he liked spending time with the girls, and he liked it even more when there was L.A. fashion involved. But even the prospect of a post-shopping trip to the Starbucks for some celebrity watching wasn’t appealing in the face of staying right where he was and finishing what…well, what he was fairly sure he’d started with Puck.

“Frankly I don’t think there’s anyone who can save Rachel from herself,” he answered, glancing in Puck’s direction for help, but all he got was a shrug and what he suspected was a flash of guilt before Puck looked away. “Honestly, I’d love to, but…”

“You have to come,” Tina interrupted, and now she sounded a little frantic. “If you don’t it will just be me and Rachel, and you know how scary she can be.”

Kurt opened his mouth to ask how the rest of the girls had managed to dodge Rachel so successfully, but Tina was already tugging him toward the door. He glanced at Puck again, but it was obvious he wasn’t planning to come to Kurt’s rescue. When Kurt realized he was about to be hauled out of the room without so much as looking in a mirror, he reached for Tina’s arm and squeezed to get her attention.

“At least let me put some shoes on,” he said, tugging out of Tina’s grip long enough to find his shoes and his bag before he let her drag him out of the room and away from Puck.

~

As soon as Kurt was gone Puck wanted to kick his own ass for letting him leave. He didn’t even have a decent excuse, other than the fact that he was a total coward. All he knew was that one minute he was a second away from saying that Beth would need her own room when Kurt moved in with them, and the next he was freaking out.

But the thing was, Kurt hadn’t even said for sure that he was moving to New York, and if Puck started making plans before he even made up his mind, there was a decent chance he’d scare Kurt away. Sure, they’d known each other for a few months now, but they’d only been officially dating for a few days, and that was probably kind of soon to start talking about moving in together.

Except that it didn’t feel too soon; it felt like they belonged together, and now that they’d found each other he didn’t want to wait. But he didn’t want to freak out Kurt and ruin everything, either, so he backed off and when Tina showed up Puck didn’t try to come up with a reason for Kurt to stay.

Which left him alone and half-hard, and he couldn’t even do anything about it, because he’d been cockblocking both of them long enough that it just seemed unfair to jerk off while Kurt was stuck at the mall or wherever with both their dance partners.

Part of him wanted to call Kurt and find out where he was, maybe ask him to come back to the hotel or else go get him and drag him back. He was pretty sure they’d been getting somewhere when Tina showed up, and maybe if they’d ignored her like Kurt wanted they’d be making plans for Kurt to move to the city right now. Or maybe they wouldn’t be talking at all; Puck wasn’t all that sure he would have been able to stop if they hadn’t been interrupted this time.

He let out a frustrated growl and left the room, heading down the hall to knock on Mike’s door. Since David had been sent home Mike had the room to himself, but when he pulled the door open and let Puck in he wasn’t alone. Blaine was sitting on the edge of David’s empty bed, elbows on his knees and when Puck walked in he flashed that toothpaste commercial smile that made Puck want to hit him.

He wasn’t even sure what it was about Blaine that bugged him; he seemed like a nice enough guy, and yeah, okay, he had a thing for Kurt, but he hadn’t done anything about it. Even if he did, Puck knew Kurt wouldn’t go for it, so the truth was Blaine should be the one who hated Puck for beating him to the punch.

“Dude, I was just about to call you,” Mike said as Puck pushed past him to throw himself into the only chair in the room. “Blaine figured since we’re free all afternoon, maybe we could get a jump on practicing the guys’ group routine.”

“How are we supposed to do that when we haven’t seen it yet?” Puck asked, and he was aware that he sounded pissed, but he didn’t care that much. “Besides, Kurt’s not here. He went shopping with Rachel and Tina.”

“Really? Where’d they go?”

Puck looked over at the sound of Blaine’s voice, scowling until the dopey smile dropped right off his face. “Beats me.”

“Right,” Blaine said, casting a nervous glance in Puck’s direction before he stood up and headed for the door. “I’m going to see what Sam’s doing. I’ll check back, okay?”

Mike nodded and let him out of the room, waving and shutting the door before he turned to look at Puck again. “What’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing,” Puck answered, which was about as close to the truth as he was willing to get.

“You sure about that? Because I think Blaine thought you were going to kill him.”

“Whatever,” Puck answered, frowning in the direction Blaine had disappeared. “I just think it’s dumb to rehearse for something we haven’t even seen yet.”

“I think he meant more working on our timing and stuff, you know? Because most of us haven’t danced together before.” Mike shrugged and sat down on the edge of his bed, leaning forward to look at Puck. “You sure there’s nothing bothering you? It’s not Kurt, is it? The last time anybody saw you two you both still looked crazy about each other.”

At the sound of Kurt’s name Puck’s heart performed a full halo, and he swallowed hard and told himself it would be too pathetic to call Kurt, even if he had bothered to bring his phone with him. Instead he let out a sigh and dropped his head into his hands, scrubbing his palms over his scalp before he ventured another glance at Mike.

“Everything’s fine. I mean, he’s probably pretty pissed at me right now, but he’ll get over it.”

“What’d you do?”

“It’s more like what I didn’t do,” Puck answered, but when Mike frowned at him he was sorry he’d said anything. Because Mike was his best friend, sure, but it wasn’t like they sat around talking about their feelings. So he couldn’t ask Mike’s advice about Kurt, about his lack of experience and how scared Puck was that he was going to fuck up everything by wanting too much.

“Listen, forget it, okay? It’s no big deal,” Puck said. He stood up and shoved his hands in his pockets, then he nodded toward the door. “I’m gonna bail. You guys don’t need me to practice or whatever.”

“You can still hang out if you want,” Mike said, but he was already standing up, and when Puck shook his head and headed for the door Mike beat him to it and pulled it open.

“I’m lousy company anyway,” Puck answered. He grinned and clapped Mike on the shoulder, then he headed back to his room and the phone he’d left sitting on Kurt’s bed.

~

Kurt wasn’t brooding, exactly. He’d engaged during the shopping trip, though granted, he hadn’t managed to talk Rachel out of what was a truly hideous dress. Maybe he would have been more successful if he hadn’t been so distracted, but it was hard to focus on Rachel’s latest fashion disaster when he was busy thinking about Puck.

He’d played the morning over and over in his head at least a hundred times, but he wasn’t any closer to figuring out what he was doing wrong. Somehow he kept scaring Puck off, making him pull back just when they were starting to get somewhere. If he could figure out what it was he’d stop doing it, but all he’d come up with so far was the fact that he didn’t really have any experience that Puck hadn’t given him.

Maybe he was bad at kissing; maybe Puck hated the way he did it, but he was afraid to tell Kurt he’d changed his mind and he wanted to go back to being just friends. But if he was bad at kissing Puck wouldn’t have practically hung up on his own mother just to kiss Kurt; he would have stayed on the phone as long as possible, maybe even come up with some excuse to get out of their room and leave Kurt alone.

So the problem had to be something else, and if Kurt couldn’t figure out what it was there was a chance Puck really would decide he didn’t even want to kiss Kurt anymore. That thought left a hollow feeling in the pit of Kurt’s stomach, and he was contemplating tossing what was left of his skinny mocha when he felt his phone buzz in his pocket.

He pulled his phone out of his pocket and looked at the screen, heart skipping a beat at the sight of Puck’s name. Kurt glanced at Tina and Rachel to make sure they were still engrossed in the sale rack they’d been perusing for the last ten minutes before he took a deep breath and flipped his phone open.

“Hello?”

“Hey,” Puck said, voice deep and rumbling in his ear, and Kurt’s stomach performed a pirouette at the sound. “That ‘shop ‘til you drop’ thing is just an expression, you know.”

Kurt smiled into the phone, cheeks flushing and his fingers curling a little harder around the receiver. “Clearly you’ve never been in a Barney’s Co-op with someone as spoiled as Rachel Berry.”

“And I plan to keep it that way,” Puck answered, then he cleared his throat and Kurt’s stomach did another flip. “So listen, about before…I just wanted to say sorry.”

“For what?” Kurt asked, and now his heart was hammering so loud he was sure Puck could hear it.

“I don’t know, things just felt kind of weird when you left.”

Kurt wasn’t positive, but he thought Puck sounded almost…nervous, like maybe he was expecting Kurt to be angry at him. And okay, he’d been confused and maybe a little hurt when Puck just let him leave without a word, but all that disappeared as soon as he heard the fear in Puck’s voice.

“There’s nothing to apologize for, Noah. Honestly.”

Puck took a deep breath that Kurt felt all the way to his knees, and suddenly he wished he’d just told Tina no and shoved her out the door when she showed up at their room. “So, uh, any idea when you guys are heading back?”

“Soon,” Kurt answered, his stomach fluttering all over again when Puck said, “Good.”

He hung up the phone and rounded up Rachel and Tina, herding them toward the bus stop that would take them back to the hotel. They were halfway across the shopping center when he spotted a store they’d walked right past on their way in, and Kurt caught Tina’s arm and pulled her to a stop.

“I need to make one last stop.”

Tina followed Kurt’s gaze to the display they were stopped in front of. “Kurt, that’s a kids’ store.”

“I know that.” Kurt felt himself blush, but he wasn’t going to worry about Tina and Rachel guessing why he wanted to go into a children’s clothing store, not when the outfit in the window was too perfect to pass up.

~

When Kurt got back it was almost time for dinner. Puck was lying on his own bed when the door swung open, and a second later Kurt was pushing his way into the room and dropping a pile of bags on his bed.

Puck let out a whistle and sat up, raising an eyebrow when Kurt looked at him. “That’s some haul.”

“It’s not as much as it looks like,” Kurt said, but he was kind of blushing when Puck stood up and reached for him.

He slid one hand around Kurt’s waist, the other curving around his cheek to hold him in place while Puck leaned in to kiss him. Kurt sighed against his mouth and flattened his hands against Puck’s chest, fingers closing around Puck’s shirt to drag him even closer. Like he’d been thinking about doing this since he left, wandering around some store after Rachel, talking about dresses or whatever while he pictured the next time he got to kiss Puck.

Puck liked the thought of Kurt spending his whole afternoon thinking about him – thinking about them – and he liked it even more that Kurt wasn’t shy about showing Puck just how much he’d missed this. And yeah, okay, they could have been doing this all day if Puck had just ignored Tina when she knocked, but Kurt wasn’t mad at him anymore, and that was the important thing.

Besides, they were together now, and they still didn’t have anywhere to be. Puck tightened his grip on Kurt’s waist and backed toward his own bed, mouth moving down Kurt’s neck and dragging breathy little gasps out of him.

“Noah,” Kurt said, his voice kind of broken, and that was just as hot as the fingers still clutching Puck’s shirt. “I brought…”

That was as far as he got before there was another knock on the door, and Puck groaned and dropped his head onto Kurt’s shoulder when he heard Mike’s voice shouting in the hallway.

“Guys, dinner,” he called through the door, and Noah sighed and pushed back against the hand stroking down his scalp.

“Dinner,” he said, turning just enough to look at Kurt.

“So I gathered.”

“We could blow it off, stay here instead.”

“How many people do you suppose would come looking for us if we did?” Kurt asked, and it wasn’t like he was wrong, so Puck sighed and let go of him.

“Yeah, okay,” he answered, though dinner was the last thing on his mind. What he really wanted was to get Kurt out of his clothes and make up for a hell of a lot of lost time, but instead he ran a hand over his face and cleared his throat. “So let’s go to dinner.”

He was halfway through his plate of spaghetti when Puck realized Kurt had never finished what he started to say before Mike interrupted them. He looked across the table, watching Kurt push his own dinner around with his fork for a second before Puck reached across the table to tap the back of his hand.

“What were you going to say before?”

“When?”

“Right before Mike knocked. You said you brought something.”

“Oh,” Kurt answered, his cheeks going kind of pink, “it’s…sort of a surprise. I’ll show you later.”

“A surprise, huh?” Puck said, raising an eyebrow when Kurt lucked at him from under his eyelashes. “Surprises are cool.”

Kurt blushed even harder at that, and Puck really wanted to climb across the table and give Kurt a surprise of his own. But he had a feeling that wouldn’t go over so well with all the other dancers around, so instead he just smirked and turned his attention back to his dinner.

When they finally headed back to their room Kurt was still blushing, but when Puck caught his hand and threaded their fingers together Kurt smiled and squeezed his hand. Puck didn’t care who saw them, and it was kind of cool to know that Kurt didn’t care either. He pulled Kurt into their room and shut the door, arm around Kurt’s waist and pulling him close to pick up where they’d left off before dinner.

“So do I get my surprise now?” Puck asked, murmuring the words against Kurt’s cheek, and he felt the shiver that rolled through Kurt.

“It’s not exactly for you,” Kurt said, his hands sliding down Puck’s arms to ease him away. Puck let him go, watching as Kurt dug through the bags on his bed until he found what he was looking for.

When he turned back to Puck he looked kind of nervous, like maybe he wasn’t exactly sure how Puck was going to react to whatever it was. Then he held out a bag, and Puck frowned and ran a hand over his scalp.

“Kurt, you didn’t have to get me anything.”

“I told you, I didn’t. Just open it,” Kurt said, shoving the bag at his chest.

Puck took it and sat down on the edge of his bed, looking up at Kurt for another beat before he opened the bag and pulled out a shirt. A really small shirt, as it turned out, bright pink with a bunch of shiny stuff spelling out the letters ‘L.A.’ across the front. There were little silver designs behind the letters, butterflies and what looked like a palm tree, and Puck didn’t know anything about fashion, but it looked kind of expensive.

He looked up at Kurt, then back at the shirt again before he shook his head. “Kurt, you didn’t...”

“I wanted to,” Kurt interrupted, sitting next to him and pressing their shoulders together. “I know you hate that she has to spend so much time in daycare, but I thought if she injected a little L.A. baby couture into the Queens daycare scene, she’d have an edge over the other toddlers. It’s never too early to start inspiring envy in your peers.”

“Kurt, I...”

“There’s more,” Kurt said, nodding toward the bag, and Puck’s heart skipped a beat when he reached in and pulled out a tiny pink and white plaid skirt with little ruffles all over the butt.

When he looked up he got a shrug, then Kurt’s cheeks went kind of pink again. “It goes with the shirt. I couldn’t resist.”

There were a dozen things Puck wanted to say, like thank you and I can’t afford this and I love you, but none of that would make it around the lump in his throat. So instead he leaned forward and kissed Kurt hard, and when he felt a hand come up to curve around the back of his skull, Puck swallowed hard against the urge to cry.

When he pulled back to breathe Kurt pressed their foreheads together, hand still resting against the back of Puck’s neck and sort of stroking along his skin. “I wasn’t sure what size she is, but the salesgirl thought I’d be safe with a 4T. That way she can grow into it if it’s too big.”

“It’s perfect, babe,” Puck said, then he leaned in and kissed Kurt again. “It’s...you’re...thanks. She’s gonna be the coolest kid at the Hebrew Kindergarten.”

Kurt smiled and kissed him again, slow and soft and when he finally pulled back Puck’s heart was pounding against his chest.

“Do they actually teach Hebrew to toddlers?”

“Nah,” Puck answered, pulling away long enough to set Beth’s clothes on the nightstand next to the bed. “But it makes Ma feel better if she’s in a Jewish daycare. Plus it’s right around the corner, so it’s easy to drop her off.”

When he turned back to Kurt he was smiling, soft and kind of shy, and Puck didn’t bother checking the urge to lean in and press their lips together. Kurt’s hands were on him as soon as Puck kissed him, sliding up his chest to grip his shoulders and pull him down onto the mattress. When they came up for air Puck found himself stretched out next to Kurt, one leg hooked over his and his hand pushing up under Kurt’s shirt.

Kurt was flushed and breathing heavy, fingers flexing against Puck’s shoulders like he wasn’t sure how to ask for what he wanted. Puck was pretty sure he knew, but he didn’t want to push it and scare Kurt away. So instead he leaned in, planting chaste kisses to the corners of Kurt’s mouth, then his cheeks and his eyes and finally his forehead.

“Noah,” Kurt murmured, like he was trying to convince himself this was really happening. He leaned up to press their mouths together again, and when Puck’s lips parted against his Kurt sighed and pushed his tongue past Puck’s teeth.

Puck’s hands pushed under his shirt, sliding along smooth skin and pushing the fabric up toward Kurt’s chest, and when Kurt realized what he was doing he pulled away long enough to sit up and tug his shirt over his head. For a few seconds Puck just looked, taking in pale skin flushed pink and the sharp angles of Kurt’s muscles under his skin.

But fair was fair, so he sat up and tugged his own shirt over his head. When he stretched out next to Kurt again a hand slid down his chest, pressing against his stomach and sending a thrill of want straight to Puck’s dick. He wanted Kurt to make the call here, though, so he kept his hands on Kurt’s back and kissed him back, panting against his mouth and hoping Kurt could tell what he was thinking by the way Puck was kissing him.

Kurt’s hands slid over his skin, touching every part of Puck he could reach, and Puck groaned against his mouth and hooked his leg over Kurt’s thighs again. He thrust forward, grinding their dicks together through their pants, and Kurt moaned against his mouth and bucked up against Puck.

It was hot and kind of scary at the same time, because he knew what happened if Kurt decided this wasn’t what he wanted after all. He knew he’d go home nursing a broken heart, but it was worth the risk if there was a chance Kurt would still want him when the competition was over. That he’d still want them, Puck and his kid and all the baggage that came along with them.

He was murmuring against Kurt’s mouth, words he’d never have the guts to say out loud, but he figured Kurt probably already knew what he was saying anyway. His arms were wrapped around Puck like he knew how Puck felt, like Kurt was right there with him and no matter what happened, they were in this thing together.

“Babe,” Puck whispered against his cheek, and he wasn’t even sure what he’d been planning to say, but when someone knocked on their door Puck groaned and looked over his shoulder.

“Don’t you dare,” Kurt said when Puck started to pull away, and Puck grinned and planted another firm kiss against Kurt’s mouth before he sat up and crossed the room.

Puck pulled the door open long enough to register the sight of Mercedes and Rachel standing in the hall, then he hung the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door handle and shut it in their faces. He pulled the chain before he crossed back to the bed, taking in the sight of Kurt shirtless and flushed, leaning up on his elbows to watch Puck watching him.

“Pretty sure it was for you again,” he said as he planted a knee next to Kurt’s thigh and climbed back onto the bed.

As soon as he leaned in Kurt’s hand closed around his bicep, dragging him forward and leaning up to press their lips together again. “To be honest, I don’t really care.”

“Good.” He stretched out next to Kurt, turning into him and sliding a hand down the center of his chest. “You want to put the brakes on, all you have to do is say so.”

Kurt shook his head and kissed him hard, but Puck could feel his stomach trembling where his hand was pressed against Kurt’s skin. He kissed his way down Kurt’s neck, making soothing noises in the back of his throat as he worked his way across Kurt’s collar bone. His hand was still resting on Kurt’s stomach, fingers spread wide to feel each shiver that rolled through Kurt.

He could tell Kurt was kind of nervous, but he seemed pretty determined too, like he wasn’t planning to take no for an answer this time. Puck laughed at the thought, face pressed against Kurt’s shoulder and when Kurt’s hand stroked down the back of his head, Puck looked up.

It wasn’t like he’d suddenly stopped worrying about what happened when they went home. He knew Kurt buying a present for his kid didn’t necessarily mean anything; it sure as hell didn’t mean Kurt was ready for a commitment, but Puck wanted to believe that it meant something.

He wanted it to mean that Kurt wanted them to have a future as much as Puck did, that he wasn’t so freaked out by the idea of Beth that he’d change his mind about them as soon as he got back to Ohio. And Puck wouldn’t even really blame him if he did, because he knew better than anybody what a big deal having a kid was. He knew Kurt’s dad wasn’t crazy about the idea of him getting involved with someone who was already a dad, and he knew he couldn’t count on Kurt not to change his mind eventually.

But the fact that he was willing to try...well, it was better than nothing, and suddenly it seemed kind of stupid to try to stop himself from falling hard for Kurt. Puck’s heart skipped a beat and he pressed forward for another kiss, lips parted against Kurt’s and when Kurt sighed against him Puck took the in. His hand left Kurt’s stomach to slide down his hip, along his leg to catch just behind Kurt’s knee and hook Kurt’s leg over Puck’s thigh.

The sound that got him was a breathy, hitching little gasp, and it was pretty sexy, so Puck rolled his hips a little, just enough to make Kurt gasp again.

“Noah,” Kurt breathed against his mouth, like maybe he didn’t know what to ask for. And that was cool, because Puck knew exactly what to do.

He rocked forward again, hand sliding back up to palm the swell of Kurt’s ass, dragging him forward until they were fitted together and Kurt was breathing hard and kind of rocking against him. He was pretty sure Kurt wouldn’t last all that long, considering, but that was cool too. They had plenty of time; all night, and the night after that and hopefully a few more weeks’ worth of nights before either of them had to go anywhere.

But he wanted Kurt’s first time to be better than coming in his pants from a little dry fucking, so Puck reached between them to pop open the button at the top of Kurt’s jeans. He felt Kurt tense against him, heard his own voice murmuring things that maybe didn’t even make sense, but Kurt relaxed a little anyway. When Puck eased his zipper down he tensed again, so Puck pulled back to look at him.

“You want to stop?”

Kurt blushed bright red, but he shook his head hard against the mattress and reached down to help Puck get him out of his pants. Puck climbed off the bed long enough to get Kurt out of his shoes, then he kicked off his own sneakers and scrambled out of his jeans and boxers. When he looked up again Kurt was watching him, his chest flushed red and rising and falling kind of fast, dick bulging against his boxer briefs and his pupils blown so wide they were almost black.

Puck climbed back onto the bed, knees on either side of Kurt’s thighs and leaning over to kiss him again. Kurt pushed up off the mattress to meet him, his breath coming in little gasps against Puck’s mouth and his hands gripping Puck’s shoulders to try to pull him close again.

“Just relax, babe,” Puck said, pressing one last kiss against Kurt’s lips before he pulled back and looked Kurt over again.

He could tell Kurt was tense, saw it in the flex of muscles in his arms and the way his stomach rippled under Puck’s touch. He could see it in the way Kurt’s fingers curled around the bedspread, felt it in his shoulders where those fingers had been a minute ago, and he was pretty sure he was going to have bruises.

Puck leaned in again, one hand on Kurt’s hip to hold him down as he mouthed his way along the trail of hair leading down Kurt’s stomach. Kurt strained against his hand, trying to get Puck’s mouth lower and murmuring the whole time, words like Noah and please and a few things Puck wasn’t even sure were English. Then Noah’s mouth closed around the head of his dick, tongue teasing him through his underwear until Kurt was making a kind of high-pitched noise and pushing up for more.

He pulled back just far enough to huff a hot breath against the wet spot he’d made in the fabric, and when Kurt gasped he let out a soft laugh and hooked his thumbs in the sides of Kurt’s boxer briefs. Puck paused long enough to get Kurt’s attention, and when he looked down Puck grinned and pulled Kurt’s underwear off in one quick motion.

And Kurt definitely wasn’t going to last long, not when he was already leaking and rocking up against the hand that landed on his hip again. Puck leaned in again, taking a breath before he closed his mouth around the head of Kurt’s dick and swallowed him as deep as he could. The noise Kurt made was totally pornographic, and Puck knew he’d be embarrassed if he wasn’t already too far gone to hear himself. But there was nothing to be embarrassed about, because Kurt was hot all the time, but now that he’d seen Kurt all flushed and needy and wrecked, Puck knew he’d never get enough.

He worked his mouth in time to the thrust of Kurt’s hips, one hand still holding him down and the other wrapped around the base of Kurt’s cock to stroke in time with his mouth. Kurt’s hands twisted hard in the bedspread on either side of him, and when he let out a moan like he was dying Puck knew he was close.

He pulled his mouth off with a wet pop, let go of Kurt’s hip to let him fuck the tight circle of Puck’s fist. Puck leaned up to kiss him, tongue pushing past his teeth and fucking Kurt’s mouth with his tongue in time with the wild thrusts of Kurt’s hips. It was hot and frantic and Puck knew it was going to be over way too soon, so he wasn’t surprised when he slid his thumb over Kurt’s head and Kurt tensed and came in his hand.

Wet heat hit Puck’s fingers and Kurt’s stomach, and Puck loosened his grip and kept stroking until Kurt stopped shaking. He pressed soft kisses to Kurt’s mouth, then his cheeks and his neck, pausing to suck on the sensitive spot just below Kurt’s ear. When Kurt relaxed Puck let go of him, dragging his palm across the sticky mess on Kurt’s stomach before he rolled onto his back and reached down to close a slick hand around his own painful erection.

His hand moved in rough, sure strokes, eyes closed and lips parted, and when he felt Kurt’s hand on his stomach Puck moaned and forced his eyes open. Kurt was watching, his bottom lip caught between his teeth and his hand moving on Puck’s skin like he wanted to touch, but he wasn’t sure what to do.

Puck let go of his dick and reached for Kurt’s hand, threading their fingers together and wrapping them around his cock to show Kurt what he liked. Rough, firm strokes, faster and faster to match the rhythm of his hips. Kurt was still watching their hands moving in tandem, but when he looked up to find Puck watching him he leaned in and pressed their lips together.

He moaned into the kiss and tightened his grip, and when Kurt let go he spread his legs wider and stroked even faster. Kurt’s hand slid down the inside of his thigh to cup his balls, rolling them between his fingers, and Puck hadn’t showed him that. Which meant he probably did it to himself, so Puck made a mental note and broke the kiss to gasp against Kurt’s mouth.

“Fuck, babe,” he heard himself murmur, and when Kurt’s fingers dipped a little lower to press against the taut skin behind his balls, Puck let out a shaky breath and came.

When he caught his breath he reached up, hand on the back of Kurt’s neck to pull him into another kiss. They were both sticky and Puck knew they’d have to get out of bed and clean up eventually, but for right now he just wanted to keep kissing Kurt, hands moving on sweat-slick skin and sharing the same air. He wanted to forget about the part where they both had to go home sooner or later, at least for a little while.

And maybe Kurt got that, because he was holding onto Puck tighter than ever, like he couldn’t get close enough. His arms were around Puck’s waist, hands on his back and flexing against his skin, and when Puck eased back to look at him Kurt tried to drag him close again.

“Hey,” Puck said, pushing sweat-damp hair off Kurt’s forehead as he spoke, “I’m not going anywhere. Not without you, anyway.”

“For now.” Kurt eased up on his death grip a little, but he was staring at Puck’s chest like he was kind of scared to look him in the eye. “I’m dancing hip hop this week. Chances are I’ll be in the bottom.”

“You don’t know that, babe. Besides, we’ve got two routines, so even if your hip hop sucks, your jazz routine will probably get you through.”

“African jazz,” Kurt said, then he let out a sigh and pressed his forehead against Puck’s shoulder. “It’s completely different.”

“That doesn’t mean you can’t handle it.”

Kurt took a deep breath, then he nodded and looked up at Puck again. “But if I do go home…”

“Babe, you’re not going home.” Puck reached up to curve a hand around Kurt’s cheek, and when Kurt turned into the touch to brush his lips against Puck’s thumb, his heart skipped a beat.

“Okay,” Kurt said, murmuring the word against Puck’s fingers, and Puck felt it in his dick. “But if I can’t go home then you can’t either.”

“Deal.” Puck grinned and kissed him again, then he pulled back and caught Kurt’s hand in his own to tug him off the bed.

“Where are we going?” Kurt asked, but he let Puck pull him to his feet, arms sliding around Puck’s waist when Puck reached for him.

“Shower.” Puck leaned in and pressed a kiss to the side of Kurt’s neck, hand sliding down his back to cup his ass. “I want to clean you up before I get you all messy again.”

Kurt snorted a laugh, but he was blushing, too, and his hands landed on Puck’s hips to push him toward the bathroom. “Then what are we waiting for?”

Chapter Text

Kurt was sort of expecting to be in the bottom. First there was the fact that they were dancing two unfamiliar styles in one week, not to mention that performing two routines meant they had half the usual time to learn each one. Nerves alone would have been enough to make him worry, but Kurt knew he’d let Tina down by letting himself get distracted.

Even when they were practicing Puck was always there in the back of his mind, the sound of his voice and the feel of his hands on Kurt’s skin, the way he smiled when he talked about Beth, and the way he smiled when he was looking at Kurt.

He knew it wasn’t fair, not to Tina or to himself, but Kurt couldn’t seem to help himself. He’d never had a boyfriend before, never had someone to make him feel important, like he mattered because of who he was, not just because he could dance.

He’d never fallen asleep in someone’s arms after mind-blowing sex, only to wake up and do it all over again in the morning. He’d never shared a shower, never been pushed up against wet tiles and kissed until his knees were shaking. He’d never been in love, and it was hard to focus on dancing when he was faced with all that.

But he was still here to compete, and he still had a partner who depended on him to put in a good performance, so when they landed in the bottom three Kurt knew it was his fault. When Cat announced they were in the bottom he took a deep breath and turned toward Tina, and when she pulled him into a hug he whispered, “I’m sorry,” in her ear.

Before she could answer Mike and Brittany were hugging them both, then they were heading off the stage to safety, and Kurt gripped Tina’s hand and waited for Cat to send them backstage to prepare for their solos. Distantly he heard Cat sending the show to commercial as they headed backstage, and he was so distracted by his own guilt that he didn’t notice someone waiting for him just past the reach of the cameras until a hand closed around his.

“Hey,” Puck said, and Kurt frowned and glanced toward the stage before he looked at Puck again. “You okay?”

“Fine,” Kurt answered, squeezing Puck’s hand in spite of the fact that he was pretty sure Puck was supposed to be on the opposite side of the stage waiting for his turn to find out if he was in the bottom. “Disappointed in myself, mostly.”

“Just kill your solo, babe,” Puck said, then he tugged Kurt forward and pressed a soft kiss against the corner of his mouth. “You’re not leaving me, remember?”

“Never,” Kurt said, and he wasn’t sure if Puck realized just how much he meant it, but when Puck’s eyes got a little darker Kurt’s stomach trembled. “Shouldn’t you be getting ready to go on?”

“Yeah,” Puck answered, looking away from Kurt long enough to glance toward the stage. “Shit. Yeah. Listen, if I don’t see you, just blow the judges away like last time. I’ve seen your solo, I know you can do it.”

Kurt nodded and leaned up to kiss Puck one more time, then he flattened his hands against Puck’s chest and shoved him in the opposite direction. “Now go. Before Nigel figures out you’re not on your mark and sends you home on principle.”

When Puck grinned Kurt’s heart skipped a beat, then he was gone, turning away from Kurt to jog around to the other side of the stage. Kurt watched for a few more seconds, but he knew someone would come looking for him soon enough, so he forced himself to turn away from the stage and head toward the holding room where Tina was already waiting.

He let himself into the room and closed the door, and when Tina looked up at him Kurt felt a fresh stab of guilt in his stomach. “I really am sorry. This is all my fault.”

“There were two of us on stage yesterday, Kurt,” Tina said, but she sounded sort of resigned. “Besides, there are only twelve of us left. It was always a fifty-fifty chance we’d be in the bottom.”

Kurt nodded and sat down next to her, arms crossed over his chest and his hands gripping his elbows hard. It wasn’t their first time in the bottom, but somehow he was more nervous this week than he had been last time he danced for his life. If anyone had asked he would have chalked his nerves up to the competition getting fiercer as the talent pool shrank, but the real truth was that he didn’t want to say goodbye to Puck.

The holding room door opened again, and Kurt’s heart stopped as he waited for the next couple to walk into the room. If it was Puck and Rachel there was no way their luck would hold out for another week; they’d both been in the bottom before, and surely one of them would be eliminated. Kurt held his breath, fingers digging into his elbows as he watched the door open further, and when Mercedes and Sam walked in he had to choke back a sob.

“So this is what it looks like in here,” Sam said, flashing a nervous grin that Kurt tried and failed to return.

“You get used to it,” Kurt answered, though this was his second time in the bottom, and he hadn’t gotten used to it yet. He wasn’t used to the way his heart raced when Cat announced they were in danger, and he was never going to get used to the thought of going home and leaving Puck here all alone.

The fact that his relationship was riding on a thirty-second dance as much as his career terrified him, and he had to squeeze his hands into fists to keep them from shaking while they waited for the final couple to come through the door.

~

Puck knew firsthand that ‘preparing for their solos’ pretty much meant sitting around and trying not to freak out while they waited. Being the first pair to find out they were in the bottom meant Kurt and Tina had even more time to sit around and freak out, and there was a part of Puck that almost wished he’d landed in the bottom again, just so he could be back there with Kurt.

Instead he stood on the sidelines with Mike and watched while Cat announced Tina’s solo, then he watched Tina come out and do some crazy technical ballet routine that Puck couldn’t have pulled off in a million years. She looked perfect, but he didn’t know a damn thing about ballet, so he had no clue what the judges were going to think.

When Tina was done Cat announced Kurt, and Puck crossed his arms over his chest and waited for the music to start. He’d seen Kurt perform this routine just last night, when they were practicing in case one of them landed in the bottom three. They’d gotten distracted pretty early on, though, and now that Kurt was the one up there dancing to keep his spot in the competition, Puck figured maybe they have should focused less on each other and more on making sure neither of them went home.

He was dancing to one of those slow, moody songs he liked so much, and Puck didn’t really get the lyrics, but he figured it was about heartbreak or something. It worked with Kurt’s routine, anyway, and when he started moving Puck knew he was going to be okay. No matter what Sam and Blaine did, Kurt was putting in a solid performance, drawing the audience in and making the whole room feel how bad he wanted it.

The question was whether what he wanted was his place in the competition or to stay here with Puck. To the rest of the audience the answer was that Kurt wanted to dance, but Puck was the only person here who really knew him, and he wasn’t so sure.

And okay, he kind of liked the thought of Kurt fighting so hard to stay with him. He liked the thought of being the one to bring out that kind of passion in somebody; his family loved him, sure, and he was pretty much the center of Beth’s world, but she was three, so it wasn’t like she got out much.

He’d never been so important to anyone that they’d do whatever it took to be with him – that they’d fight for him – and now that he knew how it felt, there was no way he was giving it up. So even if the judges were blind and Kurt did get sent home tonight, he knew it wasn’t the end. There was no way it could be; there was no way Puck could go back to Queens and just forget they’d ever met.

After Kurt’s dance he disappeared backstage again, and Puck didn’t have a choice but to stand there and watch the rest of the dances, then whatever singer they’d booked to entertain the crowd while the judges decided who to cut. His heart pounded way too hard in his chest the entire time, and it felt like forever before Cat finally dragged the bottom three couples back onstage and lined them up.

They called the girls up first, but Puck barely heard what Nigel said to any of them, because he was too busy staring so hard at Kurt that he was surprised Kurt didn’t burst into flames or something. A few times he glanced in Puck’s direction, like maybe he could feel the weight of Puck’s gaze on him, but Puck knew from experience that it was impossible to see into the audience from Kurt’s spot on the stage.

So he waited while the judges told Sunshine her time was up, his stomach unclenching just a little when he realized it was Blaine’s partner going home and not Kurt’s. Not that it meant much; they’d split up couples before, and anyway they were about to give up their partners, so that meant they could send home whoever they wanted and it wouldn’t make a difference.

Puck held his breath when Tina and Mercedes headed offstage, leaving Kurt, Blaine and Sam standing in front of the judges. His fingers drummed out a nervous beat against his bicep, and when Nigel called Kurt forward he felt his whole body tense.

“Kurt, your solo tonight was breathtaking. That doesn’t change the fact that your performances so far have been uneven. You had one strong performance last night, but your hip hop was weak. We’re looking for someone who’s well-rounded enough to perform in all styles of dance, not just their specialty. Step back.”

Kurt nodded, lips pressed together as he stepped back into the line, and Puck could tell he was trying not to cry. It took everything in Puck not to climb over the judges’ table and lay Nigel out, but he knew it wouldn’t do Kurt any good, and it would probably get Puck arrested. So he stayed where he was, bouncing on his heels as he listened to Nigel feed the same line of bull to Blaine and then Sam.

At the end of his spiel he called Sam forward again, and when he said, “Sam, I’m sorry, your journey ends tonight,” Puck’s knees threatened to give out on him. He caught Mike’s shoulder and held on, and when he heard Mercedes let out a little sob next to him he almost felt bad for being happy to see Sam go.

But if it was between Sam and Kurt, Puck knew whose side he’d come down on every time. He watched Kurt and Blaine hug Sam, then he watched them both cross the stage and head down the stairs to join the rest of the dancers. Kurt hugged Tina first, then Mercedes, and when he finally got to Puck his whole face was flushed and his eyes were red and watery.

Puck slid his arms around Kurt’s back and pulled him in for a tight hug, and he didn’t even care if Kurt couldn’t breathe, because he wasn’t planning to let go any time soon.

“I don’t know how much more of this I can take,” he murmured near Kurt’s ear, and when Kurt huffed a laugh and brushed a kiss across his cheek, he held on a little tighter.

All he wanted to do was go back to their room, but they still had to wait for Cat to send them to the final commercial break, then they had to say goodbye to Sam and Sunshine. After that was the press gauntlet, which Puck thought was pretty lame, but there was no getting out of it.

So it wasn’t until after dinner when he finally got Kurt alone, closing their door and pulling the chain before he turned to wrap his arms around Kurt again. For a minute they just stood there, and it wasn’t like somebody had died, so Puck laughed and let Kurt pull back to frown at him.

“You were awesome tonight,” Puck said, just to watch Kurt blush.

“I had an excellent reason to stay.”

Puck grinned and reached up to run a hand through Kurt’s hair, smoothing it away from his forehead before he answered. “Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that.”

“Oh?” Kurt said, kind of nervous now, and it took every bit of self-control Puck had left not to skip the conversation and focus on kissing that expression right off Kurt’s face.

“Did you talk to your dad about New York yet?”

“No. There hasn’t really been time, and besides, I wasn’t sure…” Kurt trailed off, blushing bright red and staring at Puck’s chin like he was afraid to look him in the eye. “Until recently I didn’t exactly have a reason to uproot my entire life and move to a strange city with no prospects. Needless to say, it’s going to be a hard sell with my father.”

“Yeah, well, you have a reason now.” Puck slid a hand under Kurt’s chin to tilt his head up until they were eye to eye, then he leaned in and pressed a firm kiss against Kurt’s lips. “I’ll go to Ohio and drag you back to Queens myself if I have to, babe. I mean, I don’t exactly have a lot of prospects either, but I’m crazy about you, and I’m not giving you up. So you’re just gonna have to break the news to your family, okay?”

For a second Kurt didn’t answer. He was still blushing, staring at Puck like he’d never really seen him before, but just as Puck started to get nervous Kurt nodded and gripped the front of his shirt to drag him forward.

“Okay,” he said, breath hot against Puck’s mouth, and Puck grinned and let Kurt kiss him again.

Chapter Text

“So then Twitch pulls off a totally sick coin drop. It was killer.”

Kurt’s only answer was a soft hum through pursed lips, but Puck wasn’t actually paying attention to him, so it didn’t matter. He and Mike had been talking about Twitch since they found out they’d both be performing a routine with him this week, and after two days of hearing about how amazing Twitch was, Kurt was a little tired of it.

Not that he wasn’t happy for Puck. He understood why Puck was so enthusiastic; he’d felt the same way the first time Kurt found out Travis was choreographing for him, and he was looking forward to his contemporary routine with Allison and even his jazz routine with Kathryn. Working with amazing professionals was half the reason they’d tried out for the show, and having a chance to dance with the all-stars was exciting for all of them.

Still, that didn’t mean they had to talk about it non-stop, and surely Puck had to run out of praises to sing about Twitch at some point. That point obviously wasn’t now, because he and Mike were still reliving Twitch’s Greatest Hits over and over, describing routines they’d seen him do in such loving detail that Kurt had a feeling there was a Youtube playlist favorited somewhere with thousands of hits racked up by Mike and Puck alone.

It was almost cute, or at least it was for the first hour or so. But Puck and Mike had been at it since dinner, and three hours later they hadn’t slowed down. Mike had followed them back to their room after dinner, throwing in one of the tricks he was describing every so often, and by the time Kurt finally gave up on the prospect of Mike leaving and shut himself in the bathroom to get ready for bed, he was fairly sure he’d seen almost their entire routine.

When he let himself back out of the bathroom he expected to find Mike still sprawled across Puck’s bed, or possibly standing on his head in the middle of the room. But Puck was alone, standing in the middle of the room with his back to Kurt. His hips were swaying to a rhythm only he could hear, and Kurt’s lips twitched with the effort not to laugh.

“And here I thought you’d forgotten you had another routine to learn.”

Puck turned toward him at the sound of his voice, a slow grin spreading across his face and tugging at the center of Kurt’s chest. “Nah, babe, I kicked Mike’s ass out so you could help me practice.”

Kurt rolled his eyes when Puck held his hand out, but he took it and let Puck pull him close. Strong hands landed on his hips, grinding against him, and Kurt felt his face heat up.

“This isn’t the cha-cha.”

“See? I told you I needed you to help me practice,” Puck said, leaning in to press a hot, open-mouthed kiss to the side of Kurt’s neck.

Kurt sighed and tilted his head a little, hands closing around the front of Puck’s shirt to hold him close. And this wasn’t the cha-cha either, but he had a feeling Puck didn’t really want to practice.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to go get Twitch? He has some experience with ballroom, and you seem to be enjoying his company.”

Puck’s mouth stilled on his skin, then he pulled back to look at Kurt. “Jealous?”

“No,” Kurt lied, but his blush deepened a little, and he was sure Puck noticed. “Far be it from me to stand in the way of your celebrity crush.”

“For one thing, Twitch totally isn’t my type. I just like the way he dances. He helped put hip hop back on the map, babe. I’m not allowed to admire the guy’s moves now?”

They were still moving together, swaying in the center of the room, and when Puck pushed a knee between Kurt’s thighs he bit back a gasp. “You can admire whatever you like. Just try to remember this conversation the next time you think about accusing me of having a crush on Travis Wall.”

Puck swayed a little closer, arm sliding around Kurt’s waist to pull him flush against Puck’s chest. “Totally different situation. Twitch is straight.”

“And how does that make any difference?” Kurt asked, laughing and curving a hand around the back of Puck’s neck. “Are you suggesting that if I did have a crush on Travis, which I don’t, thank you very much, that he might take advantage of it? And that I’d let him?”

Puck shrugged, and he was still grinning, but there was a flash of something close enough to fear in his eyes to make Kurt’s stomach clench. “It’s not like I’d blame the guy. You’re totally hot, of course he’d want to hit this.”

Puck’s hand landed on Kurt’s ass to illustrate his point, dragging him close enough to feel the heat of Puck’s erection through his sweatpants. Kurt bit down on his lip to hold back a moan, but he didn’t try to pull away. He’d been thinking about exactly this all day, as a matter of fact, and now that they were finally alone he wasn’t planning to waste any more time.

“Even if that were true, it wouldn’t matter. I’ve got everything I want right here.”

“You sure about that?”

Kurt expected Puck to follow the question with a smirk and maybe a crack about how Kurt didn’t have a basis for comparison, so he couldn’t really know what he was talking about. But Puck looked serious – more than that, he looked nervous – and for the first time Kurt realized he was really worried that Kurt might change his mind.

“Of course I am,” Kurt said, breathing the words against Puck’s mouth before he pushed forward to press their lips together. His hand slid up the back of Puck’s scalp, holding him close and parting his lips against Puck’s.

Puck took the invitation gladly, breathing in deep through his nose as he pushed his tongue past Kurt’s teeth to deepen the kiss. His arms were wrapped around Kurt’s waist, pressing them together from their mouths all the way to their knees, and when Kurt felt Puck pulling him toward the bed he didn’t argue.

Instead he let Puck pull him down onto the mattress, then he let Puck push him onto his back and stretch out on top of him. Kurt kissed him again, just a soft brush of lips against Puck’s before Kurt pulled back to look at him. “I mean it, Noah. I’m sure.”

Puck nodded and leaned in, mouth open against Kurt’s neck and mouthing his way along Kurt’s skin. Kurt could tell he was avoiding the subject, but he didn’t push it. Instead he ran his hands down Puck’s back, tugging at the hem of his shirt until he found smooth, warm skin. Puck’s mouth was still moving on his neck, teeth grazing his skin and then his tongue sliding out to soothe each spot.

Kurt’s hands were flat against Puck’s back, pushing his shirt further up to reveal more tanned skin. He hooked a leg around Puck’s thigh, dragging Puck even closer and rocking his hips up to drag a moan out of him.

“Also not the cha-cha,” Kurt murmured, and when Puck laughed against his skin he felt it vibrate all the way to his dick.

“So I’ll suck at the cha-cha and end up in the bottom again.”

Kurt laughed, hands leaving Puck’s back to push between them and work Puck’s sweatpants down his hips. “You’re doing hip hop with Mike and Twitch. You’re not going to be in the bottom, even if you drop Chelsie during your cha-cha.”

Puck laughed even harder at that, but he rolled off Kurt long enough to drag his clothes off. Kurt took the opportunity to drag his shirt over his head, tossing it on the floor before Puck crawled over him again. He’d changed into a pair of cotton pajama bottoms while he was getting ready for bed, and when Puck’s hands slid up his thighs he felt the heat of them through the thin fabric.

Kurt had been dancing long enough to get over any insecurities he had about his body a long time ago. He knew he wasn’t as built as Puck; he wasn’t as broad through the shoulders, his thighs weren’t the size of small tree trunks and he’d never be mistaken for a football player. But he was strong, hard muscles flexing under his skin and his smaller frame helped make him a lot more flexible than Puck.

So he didn’t mind Puck looking, didn’t mind the heat of Puck’s gaze as his hands slid along Kurt’s pajamas, and he didn’t blush when he lifted his hips off the mattress to let Puck drag them down his thighs. But being comfortable with his appearance didn’t mean he magically knew what he was doing; it didn’t make him an expert in the right way to touch Puck to reduce him to the same trembling mess he could make of Kurt.

He didn’t know if he was pulling his weight or letting Puck do too much of the work, didn’t know if he was supposed to be louder or quieter or tell Puck when he liked something. He didn’t even know if he kissed right, and granted, Puck hadn’t complained about anything so far, but that didn’t stop Kurt from worrying a little.

Still, he knew Puck wanted him to move to New York, which meant he wanted some kind of future for them. He knew Puck had a daughter to think about, and that meant he didn’t take their relationship lightly. And he was still getting used to the idea of being in a relationship at all, but Kurt wanted it to work more than he’d ever wanted anything, so he was going to have to figure out a way to meet Puck in the middle.

“Noah,” he said, and if his voice shook a little it was only because of the way Puck was sucking on the skin just below his collar bone, “we haven’t…that is, you haven’t said what you like.”

“Huh?” Puck pulled back to frown at him, and Kurt’s stomach lurched into his throat. “I thought that was kind of obvious, babe.”

“Of course I know what your preference is,” Kurt answered, blushing a little harder with each word, “but I don’t know what you want me to do, exactly. Surely there are certain things you like more than others.”

“Oh,” Puck said, his frown shifting into something more thoughtful, as though he really had to consider it.

“Noah?” Kurt asked, and now his voice was shaking even harder. “Should I not have asked?”

“No…I mean, I don’t mind or anything,” Puck answered, but he sort of rolled off Kurt and stretched out next to him, and putting more space between them hadn’t really been part of the plan. “Nobody’s ever asked me that before is all.”

“Really? No one?”

Puck shrugged and looked down at Kurt’s collar bone, fingers sliding along the mark beginning to form on Kurt’s skin. “Truth is I don’t usually hook up with the kind of people who’d bother asking. I mean, before Beth I was mostly just screwing around, and after her I didn’t have a lot of time for dating, you know?”

Kurt didn’t know, because until he met Puck all he had was time. He danced and he worked in his dad’s body shop to save money for the day he finally escaped Lima, but he’d never had to worry about anyone but himself. The thought of taking on the responsibility of someone else’s child was terrifying, but the fact that Puck trusted him enough to invite Kurt into not only his life, but his daughter’s made Kurt want to try.

“That doesn’t answer my question,” Kurt said, then he took a deep breath and pressed a hand to the center of Puck’s chest. “What do you want?”

“I just like making you feel good.” Puck’s hand came up to cover Kurt’s, strong and solid and Kurt could feel Puck’s heart beating fast under his palm.

“It’s okay to ask for what you want, Noah.”

“Babe, you don’t have to…”

“If it’s something I’m not ready to try, I’ll tell you. But I’ve enjoyed everything we’ve done so far.” Kurt leaned in and pressed a kiss to the corner of Puck’s mouth, and when Puck breathed in hard through his nose and kissed him back, Kurt’s heart picked up speed.

He had no idea what he’d just offered to do, but he trusted Puck, and he wanted to make Puck feel as good as Puck always made him feel. Puck’s hand slid down his back to curve around his ass, fingers splayed and when his middle finger dipped between Kurt’s cheeks Kurt managed not to tense. He knew there was a chance that was what Puck would ask for, and there was a part of him that really wanted to try it.

There was another part of him that was a little nervous, but he ignored it and pushed back into Puck’s hand. His heart was pounding so hard he was sure Puck could feel it, and when Puck pulled away to press their foreheads together Kurt expected him to try to take it back again.

“So if I wanted you to use your fingers while you blew me, you’d be cool with that?”

And okay, that wasn’t even close to what he’d been expecting, but Kurt felt himself nodding before Puck even finished talking. He surged forward to kiss Puck again, dicks sliding together and Kurt moaned against Puck’s mouth and pushed back into the hand still gripping his ass.

“Don’t we need some kind of lubricant?” Kurt asked, panting the words against Puck’s mouth, and when Puck laughed he felt himself blush again.

“I’m on it, babe,” Puck said, pressing one more kiss against Kurt’s lips before he climbed off the bed and crossed the room to dig through his bag.

Less than a minute later he was back, planting his knees on either side of Kurt and looking him up and down. And Kurt still didn’t mind him looking, but he felt his face heat up when Puck let out a low whistle and pressed the tube of lube into Kurt’s hand.

A second later he was stretched out on his back, legs splayed and looking for all the world like some kind of pornographic Greek god. Kurt swallowed hard and knelt between Puck’s legs, hands on his thighs and willing himself not to shake.

It wasn’t the first time he’d had his mouth on Puck’s dick, but it was the first time Puck had specifically asked him to do it. Kurt knew it should make him feel better, that it should convince him that he must be doing something right if Puck was asking for it. Somehow that didn’t help settle his nerves, and Kurt’s stomach fluttered as he reached out and closed a hand around Puck’s cock.

Puck groaned and closed his eyes, head dropping back against the mattress, and when Kurt leaned forward and wrapped his lips around the head of Puck’s cock he let out a moan and reached down to push his fingers through Kurt’s hair. Kurt worked his mouth as far down as he could get, breathing through his nose and trying to remember all the things he liked when Puck did this to him.

He could hear Puck talking, murmuring encouragement and saying his name over and over, and every time he heard it Kurt’s heart clenched hard in his chest. Then his fingers tightened in Kurt’s hair, and when he murmured, “babe, please,” Kurt remembered what he was supposed to be doing.

Kurt pulled off long enough to get the lube open, hand shaking a little as he poured some on two fingers. “How many…?”

“Two’s good,” Puck said, eyes blinking open to look up at him, and when Kurt looked back at blown pupils and red, swollen lips he felt it all the way to his dick.

He nodded and poured some more lube on his fingers, just in case, and when Puck bent his knees and sort of tilted his hips up Kurt swallowed hard and pressed two fingers to his opening. He circled the spot a few times, his own dick aching with need as he listened to Puck groan and push down to try to get more.

Kurt held his breath and pushed a little harder, and just like that his fingers slid into tight heat. It was hotter than he expected, feeling Puck pulsing around his fingers and imagining what that same tight heat would feel like surrounding his dick. He dropped the lube and gripped Puck’s dick again, leaning in to wrap his lips around Puck’s cock and slide his tongue over the head.

Puck groaned and pushed down to get Kurt’s fingers even deeper, his hand back in Kurt’s hair and flexing against his scalp as Kurt worked two fingers in and out of him. He was murmuring again, things like Kurt and yeah and fuck and right there, and Kurt was reasonably sure that meant he was doing something right.

Puck’s hips rocked a little harder with each twist of Kurt’s fingers, moan after moan escaping him, and when his grip in Kurt’s hair tightened and he moaned Kurt’s name, Kurt pulled off far enough to keep himself from choking and buried his fingers in Puck as he came.

He waited until Puck relaxed into the mattress before he pulled his mouth off Puck’s dick, fingers still buried inside him and Kurt pulled out almost all the way before he pushed them back in again. He watched his fingers working in and out of Puck, listening to Puck’s strangled moans until finally he reached down and grabbed Kurt’s wrist.

“Babe, you’re killing me.”

“Sorry,” Kurt said, smiling when Puck let out a shaky laugh. He worked his fingers free as carefully as possible, then he climbed over Puck and pressed a soft kiss to the corner of his mouth.

Instantly an arm slid around his waist, pulling Kurt down until he was stretched out on top of Puck. Kurt sighed against Puck’s mouth, and when Puck’s tongue pushed past his teeth Kurt moaned and thrust against the solid warmth underneath him.

Before he knew what was happening he was on his back, Puck’s knee pressed between Kurt’s thighs and pressing down to drag another moan out of Kurt. He thrust up against Puck, hard enough to be painful, and he knew it wasn’t going to take much to drag him over the edge. It was hot enough knowing that Puck was turned on because of him, but watching his fingers sliding into Puck was definitely hotter than he’d expected.

“Noah,” Kurt breathed against his mouth, and when Puck let go of him to fumble on the mattress for something Kurt’s stomach trembled again. But his dick was definitely interested, so when Puck pressed a slick finger between his legs and pulled back to say, “Okay?”, Kurt nodded against the mattress and pushed down against Puck’s hand.

It was a little weird, definitely, but it felt good too, and when Puck sort of twisted his finger and kissed Kurt again, he wondered if he could come just from this. He was pretty sure he could, but when a hand closed around his dick Kurt knew he wasn’t going to find out.

He moaned and arched up into Puck’s grip, rocking between Puck’s hands until finally he let go with a gasp. Wet heat hit his stomach and Puck’s fingers, and Kurt arched so hard he knew his muscles would be sore tomorrow. When he finally relaxed Puck’s finger slid out of him, mouth on Kurt’s neck and pressing warm kisses to sweat-slick skin.

Kurt sighed and wrapped an arm around Puck’s shoulders, pulling him close and turning into him to press their lips together. He panted against Puck’s mouth, forcing his eyes open to find Puck watching him.

“That was…”

“Yeah,” Puck said, grinning at him up close, and Kurt’s stomach performed a back flip that would have made Nigel proud.

Kurt laughed at the thought and pressed one last breathless kiss against Puck’s lips, then he fell back against the mattress and closed his eyes. He felt Puck stretch out next to him, one arm sliding around Kurt’s waist to pull him close, Puck’s breath tickling the hairs at the back of his neck.

He reached down to slide his hand over the one resting on his stomach, sliding their fingers together and smiling to himself when Puck’s hand squeezed his.

“Hey, Kurt?”

“Hmm?” Kurt hummed, eyelids fluttering, but he didn’t quite manage to open them.

“Thanks.” Puck’s lips brushed the top of Kurt’s shoulder, then his arm tightened on Kurt’s waist, and Kurt swallowed hard against the sudden tightness in his throat.

It seemed silly to thank him, considering, but Kurt thought he understood what Puck meant. He squeezed the hand still wrapped around his in answer, and when Puck’s mouth curved into a smile against his shoulder Kurt sighed and pressed back against solid warmth as he drifted into sleep.

~

Puck wasn’t really the crying type. He didn’t cry about it when his dad landed himself in jail and left them to fend for themselves, and he didn’t cry when he ended up in juvy. He didn’t even cry when Beth was born – not really, anyway – so he wasn’t sure why Kurt kept making him fight back tears.

First it was the present for Beth, and okay, that one took him off guard. He knew Kurt liked him, but buying something for Puck’s kid just because he thought she’d like it...well, that meant something. So it was sort of understandable that it would get to him, especially when they hadn’t really said what they were doing yet. But blinking back tears just because Kurt asked him what he liked in bed didn’t make any sense at all, and there was a part of Puck that worried maybe he was losing it.

The competition was pretty stressful, after all, and he wasn’t used to it like the rest of them. He hadn’t spent years fighting other dancers for a few spots in a show or a studio; he just sort of fell into it, and most of that was because he knew Mike. So maybe the stress was starting to make him crack, and the next time he found himself standing in front of the judges he might just burst into tears the way Kurt did practically every week.

Except dancing never made Puck want to cry, and listening to the judges tell him he sucked at ballroom didn’t either. He already knew he sucked at ballroom, so it wasn’t like it bothered him to hear someone say so out loud. But nobody had ever bothered asking him what he wanted before, and the fact that Kurt wouldn’t take ‘you’ for an answer meant he actually cared.

That was the part that made it kind of hard to breathe for a second, made his skin feel too tight and his throat close up and his grip on Kurt tighten. Like maybe if he held on tight enough it would start to feel real, and he could stop worrying all the time about Kurt changing his mind about them.

It was a big deal, moving to a whole new state just so they could be together, and there was still plenty of time for Kurt’s family to talk him out of it. Their luck was bound to run out eventually, then one of them would get sent home, and it would probably be easier to change Kurt’s mind if Puck wasn’t around to remind him every night of what a good thing they had going.

Then again, if one of them was going home it was Puck, especially after he totally blew his cha-cha. Which meant Kurt would be here all alone, and without his family around to soften the blow Kurt would probably miss him even more.

He wasn’t proud that he kind of liked the idea of Kurt pining for him, but at least Puck would be in the same boat back in Queens. Maybe it would be even worse, because Kurt would still have the competition to distract him, and all Puck would have was work and picking his kid up from day care and the same episode of Dora the Explorer over and over until he wanted to scream.

Before he met Kurt that had seemed like enough. And maybe it would have kept being enough if he hadn’t met Kurt and figured out what he’d been missing all this time, but now that he knew he couldn’t go back to just getting by.

It wasn’t just about the sex. That was good – heading toward ‘great’ territory, even – but it wasn’t the best part. The best part was knowing he and Kurt were in it together, that Kurt cared enough to stick around even though he knew Puck came with some baggage. He cared enough to ask what Puck wanted, to make sure that Puck was getting just as much out of this thing as he was putting in.

He wasn’t sure how long he’d been lying there watching Kurt sleep, his arm curled under his head and feeling the steady rise and fall of Kurt’s chest under his hand. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been listening to Kurt breathe, memorizing every little sigh like he was some kind of stalker. Puck swallowed a laugh at the thought and leaned forward, lips brushing Kurt’s shoulder for the second time that night, and when Kurt murmured something and pushed back against him Puck figured he wasn’t quite as asleep as he’d thought.

His back was flush against Puck’s chest, when Kurt pushed back again Puck’s dick took an interest. He rocked against Kurt a little, just to see if he really was awake, and when Kurt made a little humming sound and ground back against him Puck groaned and pressed his mouth to the side of Kurt’s neck.

“Please tell me you’re awake.”

Kurt’s laugh rumbled through his chest, sending a shiver down Puck’s spine and making him rock his hips a little harder against Kurt. “I can hardly sleep with you thinking so loudly back there.”

“If I’m keeping you awake I could go back to my own bed,” Puck said, but when he started to slide his hand off Kurt’s stomach Kurt reached down to hold him there.

“Stay.”

“Whatever you say,” he said, whispering the words near Kurt’s ear just to feel him shiver.

He wasn’t sure what time it was. All he knew was that they were both going to be beat in the morning, but when Kurt threaded his fingers through Puck’s and wrapped both their hands around his dick, Puck knew it would be worth a little lost sleep. He gripped Kurt’s dick loosely, hand moving in slow strokes while Kurt rocked up to meet him.

He rocked back against Kurt, hips moving in slow circles and his dick sliding between Kurt’s cheeks with each thrust. It was slow and lazy and Puck didn’t care if they just stayed like this all night, skin on skin and touching wherever they could reach.

But his hand dragged against Kurt’s skin a little, and he knew from experience how distracting that was, so Puck let go long enough to find the lube and pour a little in his hand before he wrapped it around Kurt again. The moan that got him went straight to his dick, and Puck pressed his forehead against Kurt’s shoulder and gripped his dick a little harder as he picked up the pace of his own hips.

They moved together, and when Kurt thrust forward for more Puck met him halfway, rocking harder against his ass and stroking more and more roughly until Kurt let out a strangled little cry and came in Puck’s hand. And he liked listening to Kurt come, but what he really liked was the fact that Kurt was already comfortable enough to show Puck what he wanted. He might still be learning, but he wasn’t afraid to touch, wasn’t afraid to wrap Puck’s hand around his dick and show Puck how much Kurt wanted him.

Puck feathered kisses along Kurt’s shoulder while he waited for him to come down, waiting until he stopped shaking before he let go of Kurt long enough to reach between them. He wrapped a slick hand around his dick and stroked a few times, moaning every time his thumb slid across the tip of his cock.

He reached for the lube again, tipping it over his hand and then reaching between them to press slick fingers between Kurt’s cheeks. Kurt gasped and pushed back into his touch, and Puck didn’t push inside him, but he had a feeling Kurt wouldn’t mind if he did. The thought that Kurt trusted him that much made Puck’s chest clench all over again, and he swallowed hard and slid his arm around Kurt’s waist to pull him as close as he could.

He wanted to fuck Kurt, wanted Kurt to fuck him too. He wanted everything Kurt would give him, but he wanted to do it right, and he didn’t have the patience right now to make sure Kurt was prepared before Puck slid inside him. So he pulled Kurt tight against him instead, dick sliding against his ass and every time his balls slid across Kurt’s hole he let out a breathy little gasp.

That was hot all on its own, and when Kurt turned his head to plant a messy kiss on the corner of Puck’s mouth he grunted and thrust forward one last time and came. He was still panting when Kurt turned in his grip, easing onto his other side to press their lips together. Puck panted against his mouth, lips parted to let Kurt in, and when Kurt’s hands landed on his face to stroke along his cheekbones, Puck’s heart clenched.

“Noah,” Kurt murmured, like his name was something special, and when Kurt said it Puck could almost believe it.

“I’m right here, babe.”

Kurt nodded and kissed him again, slow and soft and kind of tugging on Puck’s bottom lip with his teeth, and Puck thought about telling him that if he kept that up, they really weren’t getting any sleep. Except if he did Kurt might stop, and that was the last thing he wanted. So he kissed Kurt back, hands sliding down his back and dragging a corner of the sheet up to clean him up a little while they made out.

When Kurt laughed against his mouth Puck grinned and pulled back, then he dragged Kurt even closer and slid a hand under his knee to hook Kurt’s leg over his thigh. And he was totally fine with making out all night – more than fine; as far as Puck was concerned, it was the best idea he’d ever had – but way too soon Kurt’s smile faded.

“What’s on your mind?”

“Nothing. Just you,” Puck said, and it wasn’t a lie, exactly. He had been thinking about Kurt, but it wasn’t like he was going to say, “I was thinking about how to keep you from figuring out you’re too good for me.”

But maybe Kurt read his mind or something, because he just looked at Puck for a second, thumb still moving on Puck’s cheek before he leaned in and brushed their lips together. His arms slid around Puck’s waist, pulling him close and pressing his cheek to Puck’s shoulder, hair tickling the bottom of Puck’s chin and just...holding him. Something else nobody had ever really done for him before, and Puck had a feeling Kurt was going to come up with a lot more firsts he’d never even thought of.

The thought was kind of scary, yeah, but it was Kurt, so Puck would take whatever he could get.

Chapter Text

Burt wasn’t an idiot. He didn’t really get the whole dancing thing, didn’t understand the stories the dancers were trying to tell or why they got so worked up about it they always looked like they were going to bawl by the time they were done. He didn’t understand most of what the judges said to Kurt about his dancing, but Kurt was still on the show, so Burt figured that meant he was pretty good.

He didn’t get it, but Kurt was his son, so Burt sat through the show every week and watched him dance. They talked a few times a week, mostly when Kurt had time between rehearsals and whatever else it was he was doing out in L.A., but Burt missed having him around all the time, so it was nice to turn on the TV and see his face.

He liked the little interviews they did before each dance, because it meant he got to see Kurt talking about something he loved. And Burt still didn’t get it, but he liked seeing his kid happy.

This week he was smiling like he’d just been offered a role on Broadway, and Burt couldn’t figure out why, because the whole interview was about how he was too small to lift his partner and she kept kneeing him in the face. Injuries were a common part of dancing, Burt knew that, but he still didn’t like seeing Kurt get hurt.

Kurt didn’t seem to mind, though; if anything he seemed to think it was pretty funny, and every time he grinned at the camera and then starting blushing about nothing at all Burt got a little more suspicious.

If he didn’t know better he would have thought Kurt had a thing for one of the girls he was dancing with this week. Burt wouldn’t blame him; they were both beautiful, and Kurt had gushed to the camera about how big a fan he was of both of them. But Burt had known Kurt his whole life, and he knew Kurt wasn’t interested in girls.

He made it to the den first on the night of the results show, switching over from the last few minutes of a Deadliest Catch rerun in time to watch Kurt and the other dancers do their usual Thursday night group routine. It didn’t make any more sense to Burt than usual, but he called for Carole and Finn anyway, and when they showed up carrying drinks and a plate of cookies Carole had baked he rewound the DVR to the beginning of the dance.

“Either of you talked to Kurt this week?” Burt asked when the leggy blond started talking about the judges, like the whole country didn’t know who they were by now.

“Just a couple texts,” Finn answered, frowning and dragging his gaze away from the TV long enough to glance at Burt. “Why?”

“No reason. He just seems...happier than usual, that’s all.”

“Well, yeah, he made it to the top ten. That means he gets to go on the tour and keep hanging out with Puck,” Finn said. “Seems like he’d be pretty happy about that.”

“Did he say something to you about what’s going on with that Puckerman kid?”

“No,” Finn answered, but his eyes went kind of wide like they did whenever he thought he was about to get in trouble, then he glanced over at Carole, and Burt could tell he knew more than he was letting on. “I mean, they’re roommates, right? They’re going to hang out.”

“Honey,” Carole said, “Kurt deserves a little happiness. Does it really matter why he’s happy?”

“It does if it has something to do with his roommate,” Burt answered, still eyeing Finn, but he was staring at the TV like he suddenly cared about dancing.

“Kurt likes Puck, and he’s an excellent judge of character,” Carole pointed out, but she was staring at the TV too, watching the blond call the guys out onto the stage.

It wasn’t Puck’s character Burt worried about so much as the fact that he had a kid already, but when Burt opened his mouth to say so Finn and Carole both shushed him. He turned back toward the TV in time to watch the male dancers line up at the center of the stage, Kurt right in the middle with Puck standing awful close to him, in Burt’s opinion.

They all looked pretty nervous, but Kurt’s cheeks were kind of pink and his shoulder was pressed against Puck’s, and when Burt saw Puck’s hand close around Kurt’s and squeeze before he let go, he knew something was going on. He didn’t know what, exactly, and he definitely didn’t want to hear the details, but he knew that there was more to Kurt and Puck than just the two of them ending up in the same room.

He wanted Kurt to be happy. He did, even if it was with some kid from New York who looked a little like the kind of punk Burt wouldn’t want hanging around his shop. He just wasn’t so sure about the idea of his kid taking on the responsibility of somebody else’s kid, and if Kurt was dating this Puck character, that was a real possibility. Either that or Kurt was going to come home with a broken heart and spend the rest of the year moping, and Burt wasn’t sure which would be worse.

He hated the thought of Kurt getting hurt, but he wasn’t crazy about the thought of Kurt moving to New York, either. And he wasn’t dumb, so he knew that was what would happen if Kurt and Puck were serious about each other.

The guys were still lined up in the middle of the stage while they recapped every performance like the audience hadn’t just watched them the night before. Finn and Carole were both sitting forward on the couch, Finn’s elbows on his knees and Carole’s hands clasped in front of her like they were really worried Kurt might be in the bottom again. And Burt knew it was a possibility; he’d been there before, but he’d always managed to pull off a good enough performance to save himself at the last minute.

There were only five guys left, though, and when the Asian kid was declared safe that only left four. Next up was some short kid with curly hair whose name Burt couldn’t remember; he’d been in the bottom with Kurt last week, and when the hot blond told him he was in the bottom again, he didn’t look all that surprised.

“Blaine, if you’ll just head offstage and get ready for your solo,” Cat, waving him off to the side of the stage before she turned back to the last three guys.

When she got to Kurt he sat up a little straighter, hand gripping his beer a little harder than usual. They showed clips of Kurt dancing again, then the camera cut back to his flushed cheeks and Burt could tell by the way he was gripping his own elbows that he was nervous.

Instead of just telling Kurt if he was safe and putting him out of his misery, she moved on to Puck next. And even Burt could appreciate the routine he did with the two other guys, but it was obvious he’d messed up his other dance. When she was done with him Cat moved on to the last guy, recapping his dances too.

“Two of you are safe, and one of you is in the bottom four,” she announced, and she looked like she kind of felt bad about it, but Burt still found himself holding his breath when she said, “Kurt, you’re safe.”

When Kurt’s eyes filled with tears Burt felt his hand curl into a tight fist, and he glanced over at Carole to see her pressing a hand to her mouth and blinking back her own tears. And yeah, Kurt was safe, but it was hard to feel good about it when it was obvious he was feeling pretty bad.

Burt watched Kurt turn to Puck and wrap his arms around him, and he didn’t miss the way Puck’s eyes closed or the fact that he whispered something to Kurt before he let him go. And if he hadn’t already figured out there was something going on between them he’d know now, because Kurt looked like somebody had died.

He wasn’t crazy about the idea of Kurt hooking up with some guy who was going to take him away from Ohio. Burt had always known he’d leave someday, but he’d kind of hoped maybe Kurt would go to college first, that Burt could buy a little more time before he lost his son to the world outside Lima. But all he had to do was look at Kurt’s face to see that it was too late, and no matter what happened in the next half hour, Kurt was already gone.

Cat shooed Kurt off the stage to stand with the Asian kid, then she turned back to Puck and the other guy and pulled out her last card. “And the final dancer in our bottom four is…” she said, pausing just to torture them a little more before she added, “Thad. Puck, that means you’re safe. You can head off stage and join Kurt and Mike.”

They watched the rest of the show. Burt was pretty sure it was Thad who got kicked off instead of the short kid, but he wasn’t positive. When the show was over all he remembered was the look on Kurt’s face when Puck came down the stairs and grabbed him, like he’d just won the lottery and an Oscar on the same day.

“Oh, thank God,” Carole said, and even Finn had his phone out, fingers flying across the keys. Burt didn’t ask who he was texting; he figured Finn was congratulating Kurt, even though Kurt’s phone was probably back in his room. Back in the room he was sharing with the guy currently wrapped around him, and Burt definitely wasn’t thinking about what happened when they got back there.

“How long’s this tour again?”

“A couple months, I think,” Finn answered, glancing up from his phone long enough to look over at Burt. “But it doesn’t start until September, so Kurt gets to come home first.”

Burt glanced at the screen again, watching all the dancers pile on the stage to say goodbye to the two that were going home. Puck stuck right next to Kurt the whole time, hand on his shoulder and then his back. He didn’t always understand his son, but Burt knew love when he saw it, no matter what Finn and Carole thought.

“I wouldn’t count on it,” Burt said, and when Finn and Carole both looked at him he just shrugged and drained his beer. “Better look and see if this tour’s coming anywhere near Ohio. I have a feeling we won’t be seeing much of Kurt around here anymore.”

Chapter Text

Seven weeks into the competition they were all starting to feel it. Kurt was covered in bruises from the jazz routine he’d performed last week, Puck was still nursing a weird bicep pull that wouldn’t heal, and every time he saw Brittany she was either heating or icing her knee.

Mike kept saying he was okay, but Puck could tell he was favoring one of his legs, and Mercedes hadn’t been the same since Sam left. All of them looked tired all the time, and most days after practice they barely had enough energy for dinner and a little commiserating about their latest injuries before they all turned in.

Not that Puck really minded the extra time alone with Kurt. He wouldn’t have minded if all they did was collapse into bed and pass out together, as long as Kurt was there with him. But most nights Kurt got out that stuff of his that smelled like mint, then he made Puck stretch out on his stomach and spent some time rubbing the ache out of Puck’s shoulders and his bicep.

And fair was fair, so once Kurt climbed off him Puck pulled Kurt down onto the mattress and returned the favor. He was careful not to put too much pressure on any of Kurt’s bruises, but Kurt had a cream for that too, so Puck applied it to each purple mark with gentle fingers.

“You look like you’ve been in a fight.”

“Kathryn’s stronger than she looks,” Kurt answered, his laugh making him shake under Puck’s hands.

“This one’s fresh,” Puck said, fingers tracing an angry red mark in the center of Kurt’s thigh.

“Anya has really bony knees. Anyway, I’ve had worse.”

“From what, full contact jazz hands? What the hell have you been doing to get worse bruises than this?”

Puck’s fingers were still tracing the red mark on Kurt’s thigh, but when Kurt flinched he pulled his hand away and looked up at Kurt’s face. He looked kind of pissed, but sort of embarrassed too, eyes locked on Puck’s hands where they were stroking up and down his leg.

“I was never any good at blending in, and in Lima that can be dangerous.”

He shrugged and looked up at Puck, jaw set like maybe he was waiting for Puck to tell him he was a wuss or something. But that was crazy, because Kurt was a lot braver than Puck was. Puck was great at blending, and he’d spent years trying to convince himself he could play it straight forever. He tried so hard to be the guy everyone expected that he ended up with a kid, and he didn’t regret Beth, but he wished he’d had the balls to be honest about himself from the start the way Kurt was.

Maybe if he had he would have taken the same shit Kurt did, but at least he wouldn’t have been lying to everybody. “So is that why you know so much about healing injuries?”

“Some of it’s from dancing,” Kurt answered, but his expression was softer now, and Puck felt Kurt relax under his touch. “It could have been a lot worse, honestly. I’ll take locker checks and slushies in the face over some of the stories I’ve read online.”

Puck knew which stories he meant; he’d heard them too, and he knew they didn’t just happen in places like Lima. That was the whole reason he’d tried so hard not to be who he was for so long, because he knew that kind of thing could happen just as easily in Queens. It had happened, to people he knew, even, and it could have been worse, but that didn’t make it any better.

“Santana got jumped once, after she came out senior year. They messed her up pretty bad; she couldn’t dance for a few months.”

Kurt’s sharp intake of breath let Puck know that he hadn’t been expecting to hear that. And yeah, it still could have been worse, but it was bad enough to remind Puck why he laid low for as long as he did.

“That’s awful.”

Puck shrugged and looked up at him, his hands still moving up and down Kurt’s thigh. “She put one of them in the hospital. If they hadn’t cornered her when she was alone like the cowards they are, we would have kicked all their asses.”

“So what happened? Did she press charges?”

Another shrug, and this time Puck had to work hard not to put too much pressure on Kurt’s leg and hurt him by accident. “The cops took the easy way out, called it a ‘schoolyard incident’ or whatever. The school blew it off completely, suspended everybody for a week and that was it.”

A hand landed on his, and at first Puck thought maybe he really was hurting Kurt, but when he tried to pull it away Kurt’s fingers closed around his and held on tight. “I’m sorry, Noah.”

“I just wish I’d been there to have her back, you know?” Puck said. “But not as much as I wish I’d been there to have yours.”

Kurt nodded and swallowed hard, then he tugged on Puck’s hand, and Puck took the hint and leaned forward. His free hand slid back up Kurt’s thigh, past the fresh bruise and one of the fading ones, until he felt Kurt shiver under him and shift a little closer. Puck planted one hand on the mattress next to Kurt’s shoulder, the other one still riding high on his thigh as he leaned over and pressed a soft kiss to Kurt’s mouth.

He didn’t picture Kurt covered in cuts and angry red bruises the way Santana had been for the first week or so. When the image did try to surface he closed his eyes, squeezing them shut tight to chase it away before he opened them again to look at Kurt. At Kurt’s pale, perfect skin, at blue eyes and pink cheeks and slightly parted lips.

He pulled back almost as soon as they made contact, searching Kurt’s face until Kurt reached up to grip Puck’s bicep and tug him forward again. And Puck let him, let Kurt’s other hand slide around the back of his neck to hold him close and kiss him for real. He lowered himself to the mattress without breaking the kiss, stretching out along Kurt’s side and pushing a knee between his legs. He gripped Kurt’s thigh and dragged it up over Puck’s leg, then slid his hand up to Kurt’s ass to drag him even closer.

Kurt rocked against him, making needy noises in the back of his throat that went straight to Puck’s cock. His hands were everywhere, on Puck’s shoulders and his back, gripping hard and pulling him even closer, like Kurt was trying to fit them into the same space. Like he couldn’t get close enough, and Puck knew the feeling, because Kurt was kissing him like it was his job and rocking up against him, and Puck still wanted more.

He hooked his thumbs in the waistband of Kurt’s underwear, lifting up long enough to drag them down and off. And that seemed like a pretty good idea, so Puck pulled the rest of his own clothes off before he climbed back onto the bed to kiss Kurt again.

“Noah, please…” Kurt said, voice breathy and kind of broken, like Kurt didn’t really know how to ask for what he wanted. Then he was pushing something into Puck’s hand, and when Puck looked down and saw what was left of the lube he’d brought with him, most of the blood in his body rushed straight to his dick.

Puck kissed him again, tongue pushing past Kurt’s teeth to taste Kurt while he fumbled some lube onto his fingers and reached between them. Kurt’s leg hooked around his waist, tilting his hips off the mattress and Puck took a deep breath and pushed a slick finger into tight heat.

The moan Kurt let out was a weird mixture of torture and relief, and Puck had to close his eyes for a second before he opened them again to watch Kurt biting his lip and grinding down onto Puck’s hand. He could tell by the way Kurt’s forehead wrinkled that it kind of hurt, but he kept pushing for more, clutching Puck’s shoulders hard enough to leave marks and fucking himself on Puck’s finger.

When he finally relaxed a little Puck reached for the lube again, slicking up two fingers this time before he slid them into Kurt. For a second Kurt tensed, clamping down so hard on Puck’s fingers that he couldn’t move. So he waited it out, and slowly Kurt relaxed enough to push down for more. Puck worked his fingers in time to the shallow thrusts of Kurt’s hips, his own dick aching as he watched his fingers slide in and out of Kurt.

“Please say you have a condom,” Kurt said, voice kind of breathy, and his neck and face were so flushed that Puck couldn’t tell if he was blushing.

“You sure you’re ready for that?” he asked, fingers still buried inside Kurt as Puck leaned up to kiss him. “We don’t have to.”

He twisted his fingers all the same, and when Kurt let out a breathy moan against his mouth and surged up to kiss him hard, Puck had his answer.

“Okay,” he said, lips brushing against Kurt’s cheek. “Okay.”

He climbed off the mattress again and crossed the room, dragging stuff out of his bag without bothering to pay attention to where any of it landed until he finally found what he was looking for. He wasn’t even positive he had a condom until he found it shoved way in the bottom of one of the inside pockets of his duffel bag; he hadn’t really been thinking about hooking up when he left New York, and when he thought about what might happen with Kurt he mostly tried to tell himself he wasn’t going to let anything happen.

Except now he knew what he’d been missing, and he knew there was no way he’d be able to say no to anything Kurt asked for. When he turned around and took in the sight of Kurt stretched out on the mattress, knees bent and one hand wrapped around his dick, his heart stopped for a second. He swallowed hard and crossed the room to climb back onto the bed, kneeling between Kurt’s legs and tearing the condom wrapper open with shaking fingers.

“Last chance to change your mind,” Puck said, his voice low and rough and he watched Kurt shiver at the sound. “You could do me instead.”

Kurt shook his head against the pillow, then he pushed up onto his knees and reached out to pull Puck forward. “I need…”

“What, babe?” Puck asked, whispering the words against Kurt’s mouth..

Kurt didn’t answer right away; he kissed Puck first, fingers stroking down the sides of Puck’s neck and sending little shivers down Puck’s spine. “You.”

His voice was so soft Puck wasn’t sure he’d really heard it, but he nodded anyway and reached down to roll the condom on. He closed his eyes against a jolt of want, then opened them again when he felt a slick hand close around his dick. Kurt stroked a few times before he let go, arm hooked around Puck’s neck and kissing him while Kurt eased them back down onto the mattress.

Puck let Kurt pull him down until he was stretched out on top of Kurt, one hand behind Kurt’s knee to push his leg up and hold him open. For a second he just looked, heart pounding in his chest at the sight of Kurt stretched wide and waiting for him. He leaned in and kissed Kurt again, stretching him a little wider and dragging a breathy moan out of Kurt. When Kurt was panting and straining up against him Puck pulled back, letting go of his leg long enough to fumble for the lube.

He slicked up his fingers and slid them back into tight heat in one smooth stroke, and when Kurt moaned and arched up to get them even deeper Puck bit back a groan. “Fuck, babe.”

“That’s the idea,” Kurt said, and Puck laughed and twisted his fingers to drag another moan out of him.

He kissed Kurt again, then he caught Kurt’s knee and pushed it toward his chest, taking a deep breath before he lined himself up and pushed inside Kurt. As soon as he did Kurt tensed, hand coming down to cover Puck’s where it was holding him open. Puck pressed kisses to the corner of his mouth, then his cheek and along his jaw, the rough drag of Kurt’s stubble distracting him from the urge to thrust forward.

He held his breath and waited, hand still trapped under Kurt’s and planting kisses wherever he could reach until finally Kurt relaxed a little. As soon as he did Puck sank a little deeper, groaning and dropping his forehead onto Kurt’s shoulder to close his eyes against the urge to move. Kurt’s other hand tightened on his shoulder, eyes closed tight and breath coming in short, sharp bursts.

“Kurt,” Puck said, but when he started to pull away Kurt’s grip tightened even more.

“Stay.”

It wasn’t like he was going to argue with that, and when Kurt relaxed a little more and arched up to pull Puck further inside he groaned and pushed forward to meet him. Kurt’s leg was hooked around his waist, heel digging into the back of his thigh and holding him there, like maybe he was afraid Puck was going to try to put the brakes on. Like that was going to happen, not as long as Kurt wanted this.

He heard himself murmuring, mouth open against Kurt’s neck and whispering things like relax and I’ve got you, and before he knew it Kurt was moving under him. Kurt’s hips rocked up off the bed, leg tightening on Puck’s waist to drag him even deeper, and Puck groaned and went with it.

They moved together, hands clasped against the mattress and lips pressed together as Puck thrust forward, taking his time because he wanted this to last, yeah, but he wanted Kurt to enjoy it, too. He wanted to give Kurt everything, to make him feel so good he’d never stop coming back for more.

Puck was still murmuring against his skin, saying Kurt’s name over and over against his mouth, and when a hand slid around his neck to pull him into another kiss Puck groaned and thrust forward a little harder.

“Noah,” Kurt breathed against his mouth, and Puck wasn’t even sure why his heart clenched every time Kurt said his name, but there it was anyway. Maybe it was the way he said it like it was something special – like Puck was something special – like maybe Kurt had just been waiting around for him to come along.

And the funny thing was, Puck didn’t even know he’d been waiting until Kurt stumbled into his life, but as soon as they kissed the first time Puck knew this was it for him. This was it, and if it didn’t work out he was going to spend the rest of his life comparing everybody he touched to Kurt.

Just the thought of giving Kurt up made his throat feel tight, and Puck broke the kiss to bury his face in Kurt’s neck, eyes shut tight and focusing on the feeling of Kurt’s arms wrapped around him. Like maybe he was thinking the same thing, and that was crazy, because there was no way Puck was going anywhere unless Kurt made him.

Kurt let out a little whining noise, forehead wrinkling in a little frown and Puck pulled all the way out and reached for the lube again. He ran a slick hand over his dick a few times before he let Kurt pull him forward, lining himself up and pushing back into tight heat until he was buried as deep as he could get.

Kurt’s arm was hooked around his neck, holding on and rocking up into Puck, hand between them to stroke his own dick in time to Puck’s thrusts. Puck watched Kurt’s face while he fucked him, watched the way his eyelids fluttered and the way he bit down on his lip to try to hold on, just a little longer. He watched Kurt’s eyes blink open again to look at him, blown wide and kind of dazed but looking right at him, like he could see inside Puck.

Like he saw Puck the way nobody had ever even tried to before, and he still wanted to be right where he was. And maybe it was a weird thing to pull him over the edge, but Puck came anyway, tensing and burying himself deep inside Kurt to gasp out his orgasm against Kurt’s neck.

Hands stroked down his neck and back, across his shoulders and down his arms, just kind of petting him until Puck stopped shaking. When he relaxed Kurt reached between them again, stroking hard a few times before Kurt clenched hard around the cock still buried inside him and came. Puck rolled onto his side, and when he slipped out of Kurt he heard the soft hiss Kurt couldn’t quite suppress.

Puck pulled him close and pressed a soft kiss against his lips, listening to their harsh breathing in the silence of the room. His heart was pounding hard against his ribcage, and he figured maybe Kurt could hear it, but it didn’t really matter. He climbed off the mattress long enough to deal with the condom, then he ran warm water over a clean washcloth before he crossed the room to lean over Kurt again.

He ran the washcloth over Kurt’s stomach, then he nudged Kurt onto his side and wiped what was left of the lube away as carefully as he could. Kurt tensed a little at his touch and Puck figured he might be kind of sore tomorrow, which wouldn’t be such a big deal if they didn’t have another full day of rehearsals ahead of them.

When he was finished Puck dropped the washcloth on the floor, then he leaned over and pressed a kiss to the top of Kurt’s shoulder. When Kurt turned onto his back to look up at him Puck pressed their lips together, lingering for a moment or two before he pulled back to look at Kurt again.

“Okay?”

Kurt nodded, cheeks flushing a little, but he reached up to curve his hand around Puck’s cheek. “Perfect.”

Puck laughed, because yeah, he pretty much was. “No argument here, babe.”

Kurt rolled his eyes, but he couldn’t quite kill his smile as he pulled Puck back down next to him. He let Puck slide an arm around his waist, leaning into him and pressing his cheek to Puck’s shoulder for a second before he looked up again.

“Mike’s never danced for his life.”

Puck nodded, his hand sliding up and down Kurt’s back, fingers moving in a lazy pattern like they didn’t want to stop touching. “Yeah, well, he’s pretty good.”

Kurt’s fingers traced Puck’s arm, gliding over the lines of his muscles where they flexed under his skin. Like he couldn’t stop touching either, and Puck’s heart did a little tap dance as he wrapped his arms tighter around Kurt’s waist. “So he won’t be in the bottom this week either. Which means at least one of us will.”

Puck got what he was saying; the chances were pretty good that they’d have to stand up there together eventually, maybe even this week. Blaine had been in the bottom enough times that there was a good chance it would be him up there with one of them this week, but he’d saved himself with his solos enough times that Puck knew they couldn’t count on Blaine going home even if he did have to dance for his life.

“So if I go home it’ll give me time to start looking for a place for us,” Puck said, and when Kurt looked up at him his heart skipped a beat. Puck shrugged and tightened his grip even more, dragging Kurt closer and leaning in to brush a kiss against his lips. “It’s only another couple weeks, babe.”

“You know we still have the entire tour to get through before anyone can move anywhere.”

“Yeah,” Puck answered, his laugh warm against Kurt’s cheek. “Not sure how Ma’s gonna feel about me being gone for another two months. I didn’t really think I’d make top ten.”

Kurt shook his head and pressed his hand to Puck’s chest, right over his heart. “You were the only one.”

~

They didn’t get much sleep, but Kurt didn’t really mind. It was worth the sacrifice to spend the night tangled together, kissing slowly before drifting off for awhile, then waking up to talk a little and kiss some more. Kurt laid in the dark and listened to Puck make plans for their future, running down the different neighborhoods they could actually afford, but would still be close enough to his mom and sister that they could help out with Beth.

It was scary, thinking about moving to a city as big as New York, but even scarier was the idea of moving in with Puck and his daughter. When Kurt asked what happened if Beth hated him Puck just laughed, pressed a kiss to the bottom of Kurt’s chin and said, “That’s crazy, babe. She’s gonna love you.”

Puck didn’t say she’ll love you because I do, but Kurt was pretty sure it was implied. His throat got a little tight, anyway, and he just nodded and shifted until he could kiss Puck again, just to distract him from the fact that Kurt hadn’t answered.

If Puck knew he was being distracted he didn’t call Kurt on it; he just kissed Kurt back, slow and soft like they had all the time in the world. Kurt supposed they did, even though it didn’t really feel that way while they were waiting for one of them to be eliminated from the competition. If he went home this week he’d be going back to Ohio, back to his room in his father’s house, and it would give Puck plenty of time to decide that he didn’t really want to uproot his life and his daughter’s just to fit Kurt into it.

If Kurt went home this week they’d be separated for over a month, and he’d gotten so used to spending every night together that he wasn’t sure he could sleep without Puck anymore. He didn’t want to go back to waking up without Puck’s hand on his chest or his arm slung across Kurt’s waist. He didn’t want to wake up alone and stumble into the shower by himself when he could have this: Puck pulling him out of bed and into the shower to spend their morning making out pressed up against wet tiles, or even Puck’s hand on his waist when he leaned over Kurt to grab his toothbrush, because Puck just couldn’t stop touching him.

Even once they left their room Puck kept touching him, an arm around his shoulder as they walked down the hall to the elevators and holding Kurt against his side. When they got there they found Mercedes and Brittany already waiting, and even then Puck didn’t let go of him. Not that the rest of the dancers didn’t know about them, but Kurt had spent so many years alone that it still felt a little strange to be part of something.

Something he could be proud of, that he wouldn’t be expected to hide just because he was worried about what other people might think.

When they got to breakfast Puck let go of him long enough to grab a tray and fill it with more carbs than should be legal, but as soon as Kurt sat down Puck’s shoulder was pressed right up against his. It was…nice, and Kurt couldn’t help the pleased little smile that tugged at the corners of his mouth whenever Puck found an excuse to brush his knuckles across the back of Kurt’s hand or along his forearm. He knew it would make the inevitable moment when they did have to say goodbye even harder, but Kurt had a feeling that was part of the reason Puck kept touching in the first place.

He knew the chances were good that one of them would be going home this week. He was trying to be okay with it, trying not to worry about how much could change in a month and just focus on the way he felt right now. It wasn’t that hard, not when he got a reminder of last night every time he shifted in his seat. He didn’t even mind that it hurt a little; he kind of liked the burn, mostly because it reminded him of the way Puck had held onto him like he never wanted to let Kurt go.

It was terrifying, mostly because he’d never expected to get everything he’d ever wanted just handed to him, and he kept waiting to wake up from the most amazing dream he’d ever had. Kurt reached out and caught Puck’s hand before he even realized he was thinking about it, and when Puck just slid their fingers together and squeezed back Kurt’s heart clenched hard in his chest.

“Okay?” Puck said, leaning in and dropping his voice, and the sound sent a thrill of want straight down Kurt’s spine.

He nodded and smiled, then he let go of Puck’s hand and reached for his coffee cup. “Never better.”

Puck grinned back at him and set his fork down, reaching for his own coffee before he leaned back and slid his arm around the back of Kurt’s chair. He swayed a little closer, lips brushing the skin just below Kurt’s ear before he whispered, “Yeah? Just wait ‘til I get you alone again. I can make you feel better.”

Kurt’s breath caught in his throat and he felt his whole face heat up, but instead of responding he just rested a hand on Puck’s thigh and squeezed. As soon as Kurt touched him Puck’s legs parted a little more, letting Kurt’s fingers dip a little lower until he could trace along Puck’s inseam.

His blush spread down his neck and across his chest, and when he ventured a glance at Puck Kurt found him smirking. It should have been annoying, but it was Puck, so instead it just made Kurt want to kiss him until they were both breathless. No one had ever made him feel wanted the way Puck did, and he was still figuring out how to respond, but he knew he didn’t want it to end.

It was easy to forget they weren’t alone already when Puck was leaning close and whispering in his ear, but as soon as Kurt remembered they were in a room full of other dancers he glanced around. No one was paying any attention to them, but Kurt cleared his throat and pulled his hand away from Puck’s thigh anyway. He heard Puck’s soft laugh and blushed even harder, but when Puck’s arm slid around his shoulders again Kurt decided he didn’t mind being laughed at all that much.

Puck’s arm stayed around his shoulders all the way to the rehearsal studio for their group routine, and when Tyce ordered them all into their places Puck’s grip on his shoulder tightened one last time before he let go. Kurt wasn’t any less tired than he had been when they dragged themselves out of bed and into the shower, but he danced as hard as he could anyway, because there was no way he was going to let the rest of them down.

He was so focused on his own performance that he didn’t notice what was going on across the room until the rest of the dancers stopped one by one, and when he heard Rachel gasp Kurt knew something was wrong. It took a few moments to spot Blaine on the floor, hands clasping his ankle and his eyes squeezed shut while Tyce and his assistant knelt next to him.

Somebody called for a medic, then everyone was moving and Kurt backed out of the way to help clear a space for the medical team to get through. He stopped when he ran into something warm and solid, and Kurt glanced over his shoulder in time to watch Puck swallow hard.

“What happened?”

Kurt shook his head, fingers pressed to his lips as they watched the medics evaluating Blaine’s injury. He felt Puck’s hand on his back and leaned into the touch, watching as they stabilized Blaine’s ankle and then lifted him onto his good leg to help him out of the room.

Once he was gone Tyce clapped his hands and called for places, and when Rachel protested he just waved a hand to shut her up. “The show must go on, we all know that. Blaine’s going to be fine. The rest of you I can’t be so sure about.”

They all tried their best to run through the routine, but it was harder when they were missing a dancer, and after a couple aborted attempts, Tyce dismissed them early. Puck’s hand closed around Kurt’s as soon as they were clear of the rehearsal studio, and they followed the rest of the dancers back up to their rooms to enjoy the unexpected break before lunch.

It was hard to be grateful for the time off when they all knew why it was happening, though, and every time Kurt pictured Blaine’s face twisted in pain, he felt a little sick. “What do you think will happen to him?”

Puck shrugged, hand tightening a little more around Kurt’s as they followed Mike and Tina onto the elevator. “Hard to say. It might just be a sprain or something.”

“Yeah, but if he can’t dance tomorrow he’s in the bottom for sure,” Mike said, leaning back against the wall as the doors slid closed. “And if he can’t perform his solo he’s out automatically.”

He didn’t say it, but they all knew that if Blaine was too injured to go on, it let them all off the hook for another week. Kurt didn’t want to hope for that; he didn’t have anything against Blaine, and for the most part he’d rather move forward on his own merits than because someone else was forced out of the competition.

But if Blaine got sent home because of his injury, Kurt got another week with Puck, and it was hard not to hope for that. He let Puck pull him into their room, waving goodbye to Mike and Tina and letting the door close behind them before he pulled Puck close. His arms slid around Puck’s waist, face turned into the curve of Puck’s neck and inhaling Puck’s scent.

“Does it make me a terrible person if I hope Blaine does have to go?”

He felt Puck shrug, then his arms tightened around Kurt and he backed them toward the bed. “Better him than one of us, right?”

It felt wrong to agree, but Kurt nodded anyway and let Puck pull him down onto the mattress. He let Puck pull him close, burrowing a little further into the warm circle of Puck’s arms and pressing his cheek into Puck’s shoulder.

“We should practice our solos,” Kurt said, but his eyes were closed and he was sort of mumbling the words into Puck’s shirt. “There’s still a chance one of us could go home.”

“I know,” Puck answered, but he didn’t sound like he meant it any more than Kurt did. “Later, okay?”

His hands slid up Kurt’s back, pushing under his shirt to flatten against Kurt’s skin and just hold on, and Kurt found himself nodding and holding on just as tight.

Chapter Text

Blaine didn’t come back for dinner. The longer he was gone the easier it was to believe something serious was wrong, and Kurt still felt guilty for hoping for the worst, but there it was all the same. Every time someone walked by he looked up, expecting it to be a producer coming to tell them that Blaine had to drop out of the competition.

But no one told them anything, not that night or the entire next day. They wouldn’t even say where Blaine was, if he’d been rushed into emergency surgery or just spirited away somewhere to keep them all in suspense

He didn’t turn up again until the morning of the live performances, and when he hobbled into the studio on a pair of crutches Kurt knew he wouldn’t be performing tonight. He felt badly for Blaine, because he knew if he was taken out of the competition by a random injury Kurt would have been devastated. But if Blaine couldn’t even perform a thirty-second solo he was automatically disqualified, and that meant Kurt and Puck were automatically safe.

Everybody knew Mike wouldn’t be in the bottom four. He hadn’t been in the bottom once since the show started, and most of the contestants just assumed he’d win the whole thing. And he deserved to win, but if Blaine’s injury bought Kurt another week with Puck, he wasn’t above taking what he could get.

Puck found him backstage after they went through wardrobe, hand on Kurt’s back and glancing around to make sure no one was watching before he leaned in to kiss Kurt. “So Blaine’s ankle looks pretty fucked up.”

It did, but for all they knew the producers were making him fake it just to amp up the drama. “Maybe. Maybe they’re just making him rest it before his miraculous comeback tomorrow.”

Puck glanced toward the stage as though maybe he was expecting to find the producers clustered together somewhere, plotting to keep them all in the dark. “They wouldn’t really do that, would they?”

“I hope not,” Kurt answered, but the truth was he wouldn’t put it past them. They kept the contestants in the dark when Wes got hurt, after all, and if Kurt hadn’t been sharing a room with him he wouldn’t have known Puck was back until breakfast on the morning after Wes’ things disappeared from their room.

“Yeah, well, if I didn’t know better I’d think you got your brother to put a hit on Blaine like you did with Wes.”

Kurt rolled his eyes at Puck’s grin, but he let Puck pull him a little closer. “You’ve met my brother. Do you really think Finn’s capable of anything remotely criminal?”

"Yeah, I guess not," Puck said, murmuring the words against Kurt's mouth.

Kurt sighed into the kiss and slid his arms around Puck's neck. He knew he’d have to be on stage any minute, then he’d have to dance a tango with Anya as well as the solo he’d barely practiced. He’d meant to practice, but it hadn’t seemed important when Puck was kissing him. When they were alone together all that felt important was them, spending as much time as they could cementing their bond in case one of them did go home at the end of the week.

And maybe they’d relied a little too much on the possibility of Blaine being forced out of the competition, but it was easier to think of Blaine being disqualified than to consider the possibility of being separated until the tour. Now that Blaine was back Kurt felt even more guilty, but that didn’t stop him from holding on even tighter, as though maybe he could keep them together through sheer force of will.

When the producer called for places Kurt pulled away, hands lingering on Puck’s shoulders and worrying the edges of his collar. “If I thought Finn could pull it off I might have considered it.”

Puck huffed a soft laugh and reached up to close a hand around Kurt’s. He brushed his lips across Kurt’s knuckles, eyes closed for a second, and Kurt’s heart pounded a little harder in his chest. He rested his free hand on Puck’s cheek, leaning in to press one last kiss against Puck’s lips before he pulled Puck with him toward the stage.

They were the last ones to arrive, and when they spotted Nigel standing at the edge of the stage and Blaine sitting in a chair in front of the rest of the dancers, Puck’s hand gripped his even harder.

“You all know Blaine was injured during rehearsal yesterday,” Nigel said, gaze wandering over all of them one by one before he looked back at Blaine. “The doctors feel it would be best if he not perform tonight. According to the show’s rules, that means Blaine will be in the bottom two. If he cannot perform a solo tomorrow, he’ll be automatically eliminated.”

As soon as he said it Rachel’s arm went around Blaine’s shoulders, and Mike clapped him on the back and gave him a sympathetic smile. Blaine smiled back, and Kurt couldn’t tell for sure, but he thought he saw a hint of resignation in Blaine’s expression. Kurt felt as bad for him as the rest of them; they all knew it could happen to any one of them, that they could land wrong or jump just a little too high or too low and land themselves in the same situation.

His stomach balled into a tight knot as he watched Blaine hobble off the stage, and he leaned a little harder into the comforting warmth of Puck’s side. An arm slid around his waist and he knew he should care that Nigel was still standing right in front of them, but at the moment all he cared about was the fact that Blaine was probably going home.

“No way can he dance on that ankle,” Puck said, leaning close to whisper in Kurt’s ear, but he didn’t sound as sure as Kurt imagined he intended to.

“I suppose we’ll find out tomorrow.”

~

It wasn’t that Puck had anything against Blaine. He didn’t think much about him one way or the other most of the time, especially now that he knew there was no chance of Kurt choosing Blaine over him. So he wasn’t happy that the guy was hurt, but if it meant he had to go home Puck wasn’t going to lose any sleep over it.

Half of being a successful dancer came down to luck; everybody knew that, and it was something they were all going to have to deal with if they were going to make a living at it. Granted, Puck hadn’t considered dancing as a potential career option until the show. Before he tried out he’d been bussing tables while Beth was in daycare, and he fit in dancing for fun whenever he could.

But the closer he got to the end of the competition the more he thought maybe he could make a living as a dancer. He wasn’t going to be on Broadway or anything like Kurt, and he couldn’t go on tour dancing back-up for any rap singers when he had a kid at home to take care of. The one thing the show had taught him was that he was good, though, that he could make people want to watch him move.

He wasn’t sure yet what he was going to do about it, but just knowing he could was pretty amazing. So if Blaine did perform and Puck ended up going home this week it would suck, yeah, but he knew it wouldn’t be the end of his dance career.

It was kind of weird, having a real shot at a future for the first time, but it was a feeling he was pretty sure he could get used to. The fact that Kurt would be there with him just made it that much better, and in a way he was sort of looking forward to the show ending so they could get started on their future together.

The judges didn’t love the jazz routine he danced with Lauren, but the audience seemed to love his solo, so he figured he still had a chance even if Blaine was up to dancing tomorrow. It meant coming up with yet another solo, and he was hoping he wouldn’t need it, but when Kurt suggested they practice after the show Puck just nodded and followed him to the rehearsal studio.

“Mary said your tango was good,” Puck said as he watched Kurt working out a solo of his own. “If anybody’s gonna have to dance tomorrow, it’ll be me.”

“Not necessarily. It’s about votes, not what the judges think, and people don’t vote for ballroom routines.”

“Yeah, but you said yourself that people are voting for the dancer at this point, not the routine.”

“Which means I better practice my solo,” Kurt said, and he didn’t quite look at Puck, but his cheeks were kind of pink, and Puck frowned and caught Kurt’s hand to pull him close. “Noah, I’m serious.”

“I know, babe. In a minute,” Puck said, one hand on his waist and the other under his chin to force Kurt to look at him. “We’re in the top eight. It’s not like you got there by accident, you know?”

Kurt nodded, but he didn’t look like he believed it. And yeah, maybe in the beginning he’d had some problems connecting with his audience or whatever, but he’d come a long way in the last couple months. Puck had seen him connect a little more every week, and he knew Kurt was still in the competition for a reason.

“Kurt. You’re an awesome dancer. I’ve said it since the beginning: you could win this whole thing.”

Kurt shook his head and reached up to pull Puck’s hand away from his face, then he leaned in and pressed their lips together. “I don’t care about winning. Not anymore.”

Puck thought about making Kurt tell him what he did care about, just to hear him say it out loud. But he already knew the answer, so instead he brushed another kiss against Kurt’s lips, hands on the sides of his neck and tracing the line of his jaw with his thumbs.

“You know I’m totally in love with you, right?”

Kurt nodded, his face flushing a little darker and his eyes going kind of watery. But he was smiling too, lips kind of twitching like he was trying not to laugh or something. “I know. I love you too.”

Puck grinned and pulled him close, planting a hard kiss on his mouth. Kurt kissed him back, hands curled around the front of his shirt to hold him there. Like Puck was planning on going anywhere, except maybe back to their room. And that sounded liked a great plan to him, but as soon as he thought it Kurt pulled back just far enough to pant against his cheek.

“Don’t think saying it out loud is getting you out of practicing.”

Puck laughed, warm against Kurt’s lips and when Kurt turned into him Puck kissed him again before he let go and took a couple steps backwards. Letting go of Kurt was about the last thing he wanted to do, but the sooner they got this over with the sooner they could get back to kissing. “So let’s practice.”

~

Blaine didn’t join them for the group number on elimination night. Kurt tried not to get his hopes up that it meant Blaine was going home; he didn’t want to be the type of person who’d wish that on someone, but he wanted to stay, and he wanted Puck to stay with him, and the only way that was going to happen was for someone else to go home.

Kurt held his breath when Cat took the stage after the first commercial, then called Blaine out to stand in front of the judges. He was still on crutches, and Kurt reached blindly for Puck’s hand and held on tight while he waited to hear whether or not Blaine was going home.

If it was Blaine that meant another week of nights like last night, of going back to their room after rehearsal to peel off their clothes, hands touching every inch of skin as it was revealed and slow, soft kisses. Of Kurt whispering I love you over and over, Puck saying it back every time just because he finally could.

He knew that even if one of them did go home it wouldn’t be the last night like that – not even close – but Kurt wasn’t ready to give it up just yet. He just wanted a little more time, just a few more days to convince himself this was really happening so he could go home knowing for sure that they were going to keep all the promises they’d made to each other.

Puck’s hand tightened around his as though maybe he could tell what Kurt was thinking, and Kurt squeezed back and flashed a more or less convincing smile in Puck’s direction. Then Nigel started talking, asking Blaine how he was feeling and what the doctors had said, and Kurt turned back to the stage.

“It’s a partial ligament tear,” Blaine answered, and Kurt could tell he was trying to sound upbeat about it, but they all knew what even a partial tear meant. Weeks of healing, then months of rehab to get his ankle back up to full strength, and there was no way Blaine could dance. “The surgery’s easy enough, but I’ll have to stay off it for awhile.”

He heard one of the girls gasp, and when Kurt glanced over he saw that Tina and Rachel were both crying. Puck let go of his hand to slide his arm around Kurt’s shoulders, and Kurt turned into him and pressed his face against Puck’s shirt for a second. When he straightened up again Mary was crying and Cat was crouching down on her heels to hug a teary-eyed Blaine, and Kurt vaguely registered the sound of Nigel’s voice telling Blaine that he’d talk to the network about letting Blaine try out again next season.

They still made the girls dance. Tina and Mercedes both performed solos, and when the judges finally sent Mercedes home Kurt did cry. He wasn’t sure if he was more relieved for Tina or sad for Mercedes, or if it was just the stress of the last few days finally catching up with him.

He climbed back onto the stage to hug Mercedes along with everyone else, and when Puck pulled him close before the cameras were even off Kurt didn’t argue. He just wrapped his arms around Puck’s waist and held on, face pressed into his neck and brushing a kiss against his skin, and if Nigel or anybody else had a problem with it…well, one of them was probably going home next week anyway, so it didn’t really matter.

Chapter Text

“Well?”

“Disco,” Puck answered, slumping against the wall next to Kurt and holding up his card. “I can’t believe I made it all the way to the top six and I’m going out on disco.”

He was going out either way, he was pretty sure, but he would have rather gone out on something like contemporary or even ballroom. Disco was…kind of embarrassing, and he knew he was going to hear about it from all his friends as soon as he got home.

“You don’t know that you’re going home.”

Puck rolled his eyes as the door opened and a producer called Kurt’s name. A second later he was gone, and Puck leaned back and waited for Kurt to reappear. When he did he looked a little nervous, and Puck figured maybe he’d gotten stuck with hip hop again.

“So?”

“Contemporary. With Robert,” Kurt answered, his eyes kind of wide as he looked up at Puck.

“Yeah, I’m definitely going out on disco.”

Kurt frowned and opened his mouth to answer, but before he could get the words out Cat was calling them all over. She smiled at all of them, eyes sparkling, and they’d been around her long enough to know by now that meant something was up.

“This week you will not be performing solos in addition to the routines you dance with the All-Stars.” She paused to drag out the drama or whatever, and Rachel kind of shoved him out of the way to get a better look at Cat.

“Is the show going down to a one-hour format this week? Please don’t tell me we’re being preempted by basketball.”

“It’s baseball season,” Puck said, but Rachel was too busy staring at Cat to hear him.

“No, my darlings, this week you’ll also be partnering with each other,” Cat said, then she smiled at them the way Puck had seen Kurt’s stepmom grinning at Kurt and Finn when they hugged goodbye.

Cat pulled out a card and announced that Mike and Rachel would be dancing together, and Puck didn’t look over to see Mike’s reaction, because if he did he was pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to keep a straight face. Then Cat pulled out a second card, grinning down at it for a second before she fixed them with that look like she knew something they didn’t.

“Oh, this routine I am looking forward to. Kurt and…” She paused, smiling at Kurt as though she’d personally given birth to him or something, and Kurt’s grip on Puck’s hand tightened so hard he felt his bones creak. “…Puck. You two will be dancing a Broadway routine choreographed by Will Schuester.”

When Puck looked over at Kurt he was still staring at Cat, like maybe he was waiting for her to tell him she was joking. And she did look like she thought the whole thing was pretty funny, but she was already waving her last card around, and Puck could see that it had Brittany and Tina’s names printed on it.

“What, you don’t want to dance with me?” Puck asked, leaning close to whisper the question in Kurt’s ear. And it was a joke, but it kind of…wasn’t. Because Kurt hadn’t even looked at him yet, and maybe he had a thing about keeping his personal life separate from work or whatever.

“Of course I do,” Kurt said, then he did turn to look at Puck, all the color drained from his face. “It’s just…they gave me Robert and you. That’s two all-male routines. That’s never happened on this show before.”

Puck wanted to pull him close and kiss the doubt off his face, but they were surrounded by Cat and the rest of the dancers, and he didn’t really want to start something he couldn’t finish right before they got split up for rehearsals. Instead he shrugged and squeezed Kurt’s hand a little harder, then he tugged until Kurt was close enough to let Puck whisper in his ear again.

“So maybe Nigel’s finally giving up and embracing the gay. It’s about time they figured out the audience doesn’t care anyway.”

Kurt nodded, but he didn’t look all that convinced. Puck wasn’t sure he believed it either, but if it meant he got to dance with Kurt, he didn’t really care what the reason was.

“Maybe they’re just taking pity on us and giving us a little more time together before they send one of us home.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Puck answered. He slid an arm around Kurt’s shoulders and leaned in, foreheads pressed together for a second before he pulled back again. “But once this is all over we’ll have all the time in the world.”

Kurt didn’t answer – not with words, anyway – but he leaned in and kissed Puck, right in front of Cat and the rest of them, and granted, nobody was paying attention to them, but still. “You realize I’m holding you to that.”

“Not a problem, babe.”

~

Their first rehearsal with Will was...strange. As soon as they walked into the studio Will was hugging them both, arms wrapped around their necks as though they were old friends, and for a second Kurt had some trouble breathing.

Once he let them go Will gripped Kurt’s shoulders, beaming at him in a way that made Kurt feel like he was missing something. “So Finn tells me you’re planning to move to New York.”

Kurt’s gaze slid toward Puck, but he just shrugged and edged a little further away from Will. Coward, Kurt thought, but he couldn’t exactly blame Puck, considering Kurt was already considering the best way to put some distance between himself and Will without being obvious.

“When exactly did you speak to Finn?”

As soon as he said it Will’s smile faded a little, and he let go of Kurt’s shoulders and took a step backwards. “Oh, not long ago. He was kind enough to remember the opening of my latest show and wanted to wish me well.”

“How uncharacteristically thoughtful of him,” Kurt said, and when Puck snorted a laugh Will’s cheeks flushed. For a second Kurt felt almost bad for him, but then Will clapped his hands together and smiled at them both again.

“So let’s get started. I’m really excited to be working with you both this week; I think you’re the perfect pair to pull off this routine.”

Twenty minutes later Will and his assistant had taken them through it step by step, explaining the story along the way, and once Will started the music Kurt had to agree that it really was tailor-made for them. That wasn’t a surprise, considering Will choreographed the number with them in mind, but when he heard the opening strains of “New York City” start to play, Kurt couldn’t help glancing at Puck and flashing a shy smile.

According to Will, Kurt was portraying a wide-eyed young man coming to New York for the first time. Puck was the local who took Kurt under his wing and showed him everything the city had to offer, and in return Kurt’s character helped him to see the city again through fresh eyes. Will claimed the song was a love song to New York, but Kurt was fairly sure it was just a love song.

The routine ended with them hand in hand, backs to the audience and staring in front of them at what was supposed to be the New York skyline. So maybe it was about the city, but in a way it was about their future, too, and if this was their last week on the show together, Kurt couldn’t think of a more fitting way to close things out.

He didn’t ask how many times Will had spoken to Finn, or just what Finn had told him about Kurt and Puck. He didn’t ask where Finn had gotten the impression that Kurt was planning to move to New York, either, because Kurt hadn’t said anything to his family yet, but it wasn’t as though Finn was wrong.

“At least somebody’s embracing the gay,” Puck said during their first break. They were sitting side by side on the bench that ran along one wall, sharing a bottle of water and watching Will and his assistant fine-tune the routine.

Kurt laughed and looked over at Puck, holding out the water bottle for him to take. “I suppose if one of us is going home this week it won’t really hurt.”

“Whatever, you’re an awesome dancer. It doesn’t matter who you’re hooking up with.”

“It does matter,” Kurt said, and he felt his face heat up, but he didn’t look away. “And it’s not just hooking up.”

For a second Puck just grinned at him, then he swayed a little closer and pressed their shoulders together. “Yeah, I know, babe.”

Puck set the water bottle down on the floor, then he reached for Kurt’s hand and threaded their fingers together. Kurt squeezed back, then he leaned hard against him and smiled. “I’m glad they paired us together. If this is our last week…”

“Our last week here,” Puck interrupted, lifting their joined hands to press a kiss to Kurt’s fingertips. “After that...”

“Guys, let’s take it from the top, if you’re ready,” Will said, and Puck laughed when Kurt let out a frustrated sigh.

“You heard the dude,” Puck said, standing up and dragging Kurt to his feet. “Let’s take it from the top.”

Kurt rolled his eyes, but he took his mark, and by the time Will was ready to call it a day they’d made it all the way through the routine a few times. It helped that they’d been dancing together for months; Kurt knew how Puck moved, knew what to anticipate and he was confident that Puck would be there to meet him at every turn.

He was looking forward to dancing with Robert, of course. Robert was an amazing performer, and Kurt had admired his technique since he watched Robert’s season. But dancing with Puck felt like more than just a performance; for the first time he could really relate to the story they were trying to tell, and he thought he finally understood what the judges had been saying about him connecting to the audience since the beginning.

And he didn’t want either of them to go home, but if one of them had to leave he was grateful that they got a little extra time together before they were separated. He slipped his hand into Puck’s as they left the rehearsal studio, and when Puck looked over at him Kurt just smiled and pulled him a little closer.

“I thought you were waiting to tell your dad about New York until you could do it in person.”

“I was,” Kurt said, shrugging when Puck raised an eyebrow at him. “He knows how I feel about you, though, so I suppose it wasn’t much of a leap, even for Finn.”

“Yeah? You told your brother how crazy you are about me?” Puck asked, and he was grinning, but Kurt could see the hint of surprise in his expression.

“I doubt I needed to spell it out,” Kurt answered, and he didn’t even mind that he was blushing again. “According to him, we’re sort of obvious.”

“It’s not our fault we’re perfect for each other, babe,” Puck said, and Kurt wasn’t inclined to disagree.

~

“What happens when you get home?”

They were stretched out in bed, legs tangled together and Kurt’s fingers stroking along the side of Puck’s neck. Puck’s head rested on Kurt’s shoulder, eyes closed and drifting toward sleep, but when he heard Kurt’s voice he blinked his eyes open and looked up.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you’re not going back to your old job, right? There’s the tour, of course, but after that...have you thought about what you’d like to do?”

He’d thought about it some, sure, but he still didn’t have any answers. Until the show he’d never really minded bussing tables; it wasn’t glamorous or anything, but it kept his kid in Pull-Ups, and it meant he could help out with the bills instead of just being another burden on his mom. The thought of going back to that now was weird, though, like something had changed and he couldn’t go back to his old life even if he wanted to.

“I don’t know, babe. I mean, I’m not exactly cut out for Broadway, you know?”

“No, I don’t know.” Kurt shifted until he was propped up on one elbow, frowning down at Puck and yeah, he kind of wanted to laugh, but mostly he was too busy trying to breathe around the lump in his throat to worry about anything else. “You’re an amazing dancer, Noah. There’s no reason you can’t do whatever you set your mind to.”

And the thing was, Puck could tell Kurt believed it. Kurt believed in him, and yeah, Puck already knew that, but every time Kurt reminded him it managed to catch Puck by surprise all over again.

“Look, Kurt, Broadway’s your thing, not mine. No way could I keep that kind of schedule with a kid anyway. Not right now.”

He could tell by the way Kurt was looking at him that he wanted to argue, but the truth was there was nothing to argue about. Beth wasn’t even in school yet, and it would be a long time before she was old enough to look out for herself, so Puck couldn’t sign on for anything that would keep him away from home at weird hours.

“Noah,” Kurt said, and now he just sounded kind of nervous. He reached out to rest one hand on Puck’s chest, fingers trailing along his skin and sending distracting little shivers down Puck’s spine. “Are you sure you want to leave your mother’s place? It’s just...I know how much she helps you with Beth, and it would be understandable if...I mean, I would understand...”

“Hold up a second,” Puck interrupted, pushing up on his own elbow to look at Kurt. As soon as he did Kurt went kind of red, and Puck’s stomach twisted for a whole new reason. “What are you saying here? I thought you wanted to move to New York.”

“I do. It’s just...”

“You just don’t want to move in with us.”

Puck’s stomach took another nose dive, but he swallowed hard against the sensation and sat up. And yeah, he got it; moving in with Puck was one thing, but taking on a kid too? That was a big deal for anybody, let alone somebody who’d never even been in a relationship before. Hell, his mother hinted around about it every time he called home, so maybe he should have seen this coming.

He didn’t look over when Kurt sat up, or when Kurt let out a sigh and knelt in front of him. Puck wanted to be cool about this, wanted to understand where Kurt was coming from, even though just the thought of not waking up with Kurt every day left a weird, hollow feeling in the middle of his chest, but that didn’t mean he wanted to look at Kurt while Kurt shot him down.

“I get it, Kurt. It’s okay.”

“No, you don’t,” Kurt said, and when his hand closed around Puck’s he did look up. Kurt was kneeling on the mattress in front of him, his blush spreading clear down his chest, but his eyes were bright and a little darker than usual and the sight sent another thrill of warmth through Puck.

“Of course I want to move in with you. I love you, you idiot. I’m not going to pretend I’m not a little terrified at the thought of living with you and your daughter, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be with you. I just don’t want you to feel like you have to uproot Beth’s entire routine to make room for me. I’m sure I could find somewhere to stay, at least for awhile, until we decide what’s best for everyone.”

He was pretty sure what Kurt meant was, “Until we know if it’s going to work out between us.” And he was probably right; that was probably the smart approach, not rushing into anything they’d have a hard time taking back.

But the thing was, they already knew they could live together, and they knew they loved each other, so Puck didn’t see how adding Beth to the mix was going to change things all that much. Kurt would have to get used to Dora the Explorer and sticky fingerprints on every flat surface and telling the difference between Beth’s real tears and when she was faking it to get her way, but Puck was pretty sure he could handle it.

It probably wouldn’t even take him that long to get used to it, and once he did he wouldn’t have any excuse not to marry Puck. And it would be a lot easier to plan a wedding if they were already living together, so the way Puck saw it, moving in together just made sense.

“Look, babe, I don’t know what I’m going to do after the tour. I don’t know if anybody even wants to hire a guy like me to dance. But I know I’m crazy about you, and I know Beth’s going to love you too. I mean, I don’t even have a job, so it’s not like I have a lot to offer here,” he said, pausing to grin when Kurt laughed. “But you can’t afford a place in New York on your own, so you might as well move in with me.”

“You make a compelling argument,” Kurt said, still smiling as he let Puck ease him forward for a kiss.

“I figure I better stake my claim before you get a better offer.” Puck grinned at him up close this time, hand sliding through Kurt’s hair. “Though I’m starting to think Will would put you up if you asked, just to score points with your brother.”

Kurt frowned, his forehead wrinkling the way it did whenever Puck brought up Finn and his weird thing with Will. “I almost feel sorry for him. Finn’s sweet and all, but he’s not exactly known for his long attention span. I can’t imagine him managing a long distance relationship.”

“Who says it has to be long distance?” Puck asked. He slid his arms around Kurt and dragged him forward, then pushed him back onto the mattress and stretched out next to him. “Maybe he’ll follow you to New York. You know, keep an eye on his little brother and all.”

He laughed when Kurt rolled his eyes, then he leaned in and pressed a soft kiss to Kurt’s lips. “Anyway, why are we talking about Finn?”

“You’re the one who brought it up,” Kurt said, arms sliding around Puck’s neck to drag him closer. He bent a leg and slid it around Puck’s waist, fitting them together and seriously, dating a dancer was awesome.

“Right. Forget I said anything,” Puck answered, swallowing Kurt’s laugh with a kiss.

~

“Oh. You look…wow.”

“I look like a total dork,” Puck said, rolling his eyes and tugging at the shirt that was hanging open over his chest.

They’d both been in wardrobe for the past hour, and Kurt hadn’t seen Puck since the makeup and hair people got their hands on him. So he hadn’t seen Puck’s costume until it was almost time for the dress rehearsal to start, and now that he had seen it he wasn’t sure how he was going to focus on his own routine.

It was clear that Puck wasn’t comfortable, and it wasn’t exactly fashion-forward, but he definitely didn’t look like a dork. His pants were black and clinging to him in ways that should really be illegal, and his red silk shirt was open across his chest, revealing tanned skin that Kurt had seen up close and personal plenty of times, but never in front of other people.

“You look incredible,” Kurt said, his gaze wandering back down Puck’s chest.

“Yeah?” Puck said, his lips curving up in a slow smirk. “You like what you see, huh?”

Before Kurt could stop him Puck was moving forward, arms sliding around Kurt’s waist and he could hardly resist when there was so much warm skin right there. Kurt’s hands landed on Puck’s chest, running under the edges of his shirt while Puck leaned in to open his mouth against Kurt’s neck.

“We have to go,” Kurt said, but his voice was breathy already and his hands were wandering without his permission.

“What are they gonna do, send us home?”

Kurt’s heart clenched at the thought, and he pulled his hands away from Puck’s chest to let them rest on his hips. “Only one of us.”

“Babe,” Puck said, hand under Kurt’s chin to tilt his face up just enough to press a kiss against Kurt’s lips. “It’s gonna be fine.”

Kurt nodded, then he pressed forward and kissed Puck hard. His hands left Puck’s hips to slide around his back, curving around his ass and squeezing just hard enough to get Puck’s attention. “See if you can get away with keeping the pants.”

Puck snorted a laugh and let go of him, then he caught Kurt’s hand and dragged Kurt’s arm around his waist to steer them both toward their marks. “I’ll see what I can do.”

~

Puck liked watching Kurt dance. It was one of his favorite things to do, and the fact that he got to keep doing it after the show was over was still kind of hard to believe. So he watched Kurt and Robert run through their contemporary routine, and he wasn’t jealous or anything, but he was glad he got to dance with Kurt last.

In a way it kind of made sense that his last dance on the show was with Kurt, because Kurt was the first dancer he partnered with all the way back in New York. And granted, that wasn’t technically part of the competition, but if it wasn’t for dancing with Kurt, Puck never would have made it past that first round of choreography.

He’d never expected to be here this long. He figured top twelve, maybe, if he kept getting lucky, but he hadn’t even planned on making the tour. So he was okay with going home this week, even if it meant leaving Kurt for awhile. He was okay all the way through dress rehearsals and through the first part of the show, but as soon as Kurt stepped onto the stage and Puck saw that they were going to show video footage of their parents, he wasn’t quite as okay anymore.

It was bad enough watching Kurt’s dad talking about how proud he was and how he’d always known Kurt was going to do big things someday. Then his stepmom came on, all teary-eyed and going on about what an amazing young man he was, and it wasn’t like Puck disagreed, so when Kurt came offstage and pressed a wet face to Puck’s neck it was hard not to lose it himself.

Puck didn’t cry; instead he wrapped his arms around Kurt’s back and held on until Kurt pulled it together, then he pressed a kiss to salty lips and ran his thumbs under Kurt’s eyes.

“Okay?” he asked, and when Kurt nodded and flashed a watery grin Puck laughed and kissed him again.

“You’d think they could have given us a little warning, at least.”

“Where’s the fun in that?” Puck asked, and when Kurt snorted a laugh, Puck grinned back at him.

“It’s your turn next,” Kurt reminded him, and Puck nodded and hoped he didn’t look as nervous as he felt. He kissed Kurt one more time before Puck let him go, then he headed to the edge of the stage to take his mark.

He took a deep breath while he listened to Cat do the lead-in to his video package, and when his mom’s face appeared on camera looking terrified he let out a surprised laugh. When she started talking about how he’d given her so much trouble when he was a kid his stomach dropped, but when she brought up how he’d stepped up with Beth and how he was trying to make a life for them he had to swallow hard against the lump in his throat.

They showed some video of Beth too, Sarah’s voice in the background coaxing her into a little kid booty shake to her favorite Wiggles CD. Puck laughed again, then he cleared his throat, and when he felt a hand on his shoulder he looked over to find Ellenore standing next to him.

“It’s like a sucker punch right to the gut,” she said, smiling sympathetically. “They do it every season, the bastards.”

Puck laughed as Cat introduced them, then he led Ellenore onto their mark, and when the music started, he started to move. He wasn’t thinking about the disco routine, about the cheesy costume or even the way the pants made his ass look. Instead he thought about Kurt, about the routine they still had to perform and all the stuff they’d be doing together when they got back to New York. They’d be there to have each other’s backs for everything, and yeah, it might be hard sometimes, but Puck already knew it was worth it.

His smile was a little less cheesy than their choreographer probably wanted, but he got all the lifts down and he didn’t drop Ellenore on her ass, so he was calling it a victory. And he was still going home on disco, but his mom was proud of him and Kurt loved him, so nothing else really mattered.

Once the judges were done telling him he didn’t completely suck he headed backstage for a wardrobe change, and it was hectic enough back there that he managed to get away with shoving his disco costume in his bag before any of the wardrobe girls grabbed it. He pulled on the outfit for their Broadway number, then he let one of the makeup artists smudge some black shit around his eyes before he went looking for Kurt.

Puck found him in the hallway running through some of his steps, but when Kurt looked up and found him watching he smiled and spun toward Puck. “Okay?”

“Now I am,” Puck answered, and that was even cheesier than the disco routine, but Kurt was grinning at him, so he didn’t really care. He took a couple steps forward and slid a hand around Kurt’s waist, pulling him close for a quick kiss. “You ready for this?”

Kurt nodded and took a deep breath, his smile slipping a little, and Puck knew he was thinking about one of them going home tomorrow. He knew exactly how to distract Kurt, but before he got the chance one of the producers was barreling down on them and shoving them toward the stage. Puck heard Cat introducing them, and he grabbed Kurt’s hand and squeezed before the music started.

Before he tried out for the show Puck didn’t think of dancing as telling a story. He just liked the way it made him feel, and if other people liked watching him do it, that was just a bonus. But as soon as Kurt took the stage it was like he became the wide-eyed kid Will was talking about in rehearsals, and it was easy to believe that this was a story about them and all the things Puck was going to show Kurt when he moved to New York.

He wanted all that stuff with Kurt, wanted to show him everything the city had to offer and discover a whole bunch of new stuff with him too. He had a feeling some of it he wouldn’t be all that crazy about, like sitting through musicals, but he’d do it if Kurt wanted him to. Besides, the good stuff would make up for a few boring musicals, and he already knew there would be plenty of good stuff.

Puck grinned at the thought and caught Kurt in mid-air, spinning him in time to the music to show him some imaginary tourist attraction to the left of the stage, then spinning him to the right to show him something else. Kurt grinned right back at him when they separated, and Puck knew it was only partly because of the character he was supposed to be playing.

He managed to remember not to kiss Kurt at the end of the number, though he figured it wouldn’t really matter if he did. They were already holding hands, after all, and the crowd was still going crazy, so it didn’t matter much if Nigel was going to be uptight about the whole gay thing.

When Cat called them over Puck wrapped an arm around Kurt’s shoulders, pulling him close and brushing a kiss across the top of his ear that made Kurt blush. Puck laughed and straightened up again, sliding his other arm around Cat’s waist and grinning up at her as she beamed down at the two of them.

“Magnificent, my darlings,” she said while they waited for the audience to settle down. “I expected nothing less, of course.”

Once the applause died down she turned to the judges, but Kurt’s hand was clutching his where it rested on Kurt’s shoulders, so Puck wasn’t really listening. Instead he focused on the feeling of Kurt’s hand wrapped around his, and when Cat finally let them go he pulled Kurt close and hugged him again before they headed offstage.

“Your mother was right, you know,” Kurt said, his hand closing around Puck’s again as soon as they were off camera. “You’re amazing.”

Puck stopped walking and pulled Kurt close, backing him against the wall and leaning in to plant a soft kiss on his corner of his mouth. He pulled back far enough to look at Kurt, taking in flushed cheeks and a sad smile. Puck grinned and ran a thumb over Kurt’s bottom lip, then he leaned forward for another kiss.

“You’re not so bad yourself,” he whispered against Kurt’s mouth, smiling at Kurt’s soft laugh. And yeah, this was probably the end of the road for him on the show, but when Kurt kissed him back it felt like it was just the beginning.

Chapter Text

Cat’s not exaggerating when she says she hates Thursdays. She loves her job, loves the choreographers and the judges and especially the dancers, every one of them, and she dreads nothing more than telling two of them they’re going home every week.

If it were up to her they’d all stay and dance all season long, and at the finale the judges would pick one final winner and be done with it. She’s said as much to Nigel, but so far he hasn’t seemed keen on taking any of her suggestions on board.

More’s the pity, she thinks as she lines the boys up, taking in their sad little faces and the way they’re all clinging to each other as though they can delay the inevitable. She’s already sent Brittany to safety, and when she opens the envelope and reads Mike’s name she’s not surprised.

“Mike. You’re the first guy through to the finale,” Cat says, then she steps back to let first Puck and then Kurt congratulate him. She gives them a moment before she shoos him off the stage, then she has to send Kurt and Puck backstage to suffer with Rachel and Tina for a bit longer.

And she feels terrible for Rachel and Tina, but she feels worse for Kurt and Puck. It’s been clear since the start that they’re sweet on each other, and Cat’s been dreading the time when she has to bring them up on stage together and split them up. It’s partly selfish; she loves a good love story, and they are sweet together. But mostly she just hates that they have to be separated so close to the end of the competition, when they need the moral support more than ever.

Puck’s the only contestant whose family hasn’t come to see him dance, and if Kurt leaves too then he really will be all alone. Kurt, on the other hand, has grown so much since the start that even Cat can see it, and even after all these years she still doesn’t know much about dancing.

But someone has to go, and it’s going to be one or the other. She takes a deep breath as the final commercial rolls and steps back onto the stage, taking her mark and calling the girls onto the stage first.

“Shall we get it over with quickly, my lovelies?” she says, smiling at a nervous Tina and an absolutely panic-stricken Rachel. “The final girl joining our top four is…Tina. Rachel, that means you’re leaving us tonight.”

After a quick hug Tina escapes to safety, and Cat smiles and pulls Rachel close. “Come here, you gorgeous creature. Let’s take a look at some of your best moments, shall we?”

She keeps her arm around a shell-shocked Rachel throughout her package, smiling when Rachel’s fathers come on the screen to assure the viewing audience that she’ll be bringing home this trophy just like she’s brought home every other trophy she’s ever gone after. Cat pats her shoulder when it’s all over, then she sends Rachel backstage and calls the boys out.

It’s the moment she’s been dreading most of all, if she’s being honest. She doesn’t play favorites, really; she loves all her babies equally, and she hates to see every one of them go. But pitting these two against one another seems too cruel, even if it’s only a week before they’ll be reunited at the finale.

Kurt and Puck walk onstage hand in hand, and Cat just smiles at them for a moment before she gets down to business. They really are lovely together, she thinks, her heart breaking a little when Puck’s arm goes around Kurt’s shoulders and he leans in to whisper something in Kurt’s ear. Whatever he says makes Kurt laugh, and Cat smiles again and takes a deep breath.

“You two. You’ve had quite a week, both of you, but we’ve delayed as long as we can, I’m afraid,” she says, brandishing the card in her hand for the audience to see. “The final dancer in our top four is…”

Cat pauses and glances down at the card, and she’s truly not sure whether or not to be surprised at the result. “Puck. Kurt, I’m afraid your journey ends tonight, my darling.”

Kurt nods, his sweet face flushing pink as he turns into Puck. She watches Puck pull him close and press a kiss to his cheek, and over the roar of the audience she hears Puck say, “I thought for sure it would be me.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Kurt answers, then, “You deserve it, Noah. Remember that.”

She gives them another moment to hold onto one another before she reaches for Kurt’s hand, then she shoos Puck toward the edge of the stage. “Off you go, you. Join the others.”

For a moment she thinks he might refuse, but he finally nods and lets go of Kurt to head offstage and complete the final four. Once he’s gone Cat pulls Kurt close, sliding an arm around his shoulders and turning him to face the screen at the back of the stage.

“Shall we see some of your best moments?” she asks, and when he gives her a watery smile and nods she squeezes him and turns back to the screen. Together they watch Kurt at his audition, looking nervous and dancing flawlessly, but never once looking at the audience. They see him dance with Tina and some of the all-stars, see him laughing with the rest of the cast and finally they all watch him dance with Puck, eyes shining and lighting up the whole stage, and it’s easy to see just how far he’s come.

“Amazing. Truly amazing, you are,” she says, giving him one more squeeze as he wipes away fresh tears.

Once the package is over she calls Rachel back out, then she closes out the show while the top four scramble back onto the stage to say goodbye to the two ousted dancers. And they won’t be gone for long, because they’re all coming back to dance in the finale, but it’s still difficult to see them go.

Cat stands back and lets the others swarm Kurt and Rachel, passing them from one pair of arms to another and then back again, and when Kurt gets to Puck and pulls him forward to kiss him square on the lips Cat laughs along with the rest of them. Some of the producers might not care much for it, but there’s not a thing they can do about it now.

Chapter Text

Burt didn’t spend a whole lot of time at the airport. He’d never had much cause before now, but he had a feeling all that was about to change. If there had been any doubt about what was going on between Kurt and Puck it would have been erased when Burt and the rest of the country watched them kiss on TV the night before, so Burt figured it was only a matter of time before the only time he saw his son was when Kurt flew home for a visit.

He spotted Kurt standing at the curb just outside baggage claim, and Burt pulled his truck up and slid the transmission into park before he climbed out of the cab and reached for Kurt. Instantly Kurt’s arms went around his waist, and Burt didn’t think about who might be watching as he pressed a kiss to the side of Kurt’s head.

“Welcome home, son,” he said, then he patted Kurt on the back and let go to reach for Kurt’s suitcase. Burt set it in the back of the truck while Kurt climbed into the cab, then Burt slid back behind the wheel and shifted into gear. “Good flight?”

“Long,” Kurt said, then he reached into his bag and pulled out his phone. His fingers flew over the keyboard in a way Burt had seen a thousand times before, and he figured Kurt was probably texting Puck to let him know he’d made it okay.

“So how long until you head out again?” Burt asked as he eased the truck back onto the highway and pointed them toward Lima. “I know you’ve got this tour business coming up, but they said something on the show about you coming back for the finale, right?”

Kurt put his phone away and looked over at Burt, lips pressed together the way he did when he didn’t really want to talk about something. “The tour doesn’t start for a month, but I have to go back to L.A. for the finale, yes.”

“Seems like kind of a waste of a trip, coming all the way home just to turn around and go right back again.”

Kurt’s lips went kind of thin for the second time, then he glanced out the window at the highway rolling past. “I wanted to come home and talk to you.”

When Kurt chanced another look at him Burt nodded, glancing in his mirrors before he looked over at Kurt again. “I take it this is about you and Puckerman.”

Most people probably wouldn’t have noticed the way Kurt’s eyes went kind of wide, just for a second before he pulled it together again. But Burt had known him for almost nineteen years now, and he could tell when Kurt was surprised.

“Did Finn tell you?”

“He didn’t have to, son. I’ve seen you two together. Not just on the show; I saw how you both were when we all went out to dinner. Though if it wasn’t already obvious, seeing you two on the show last night would have done it.”

Kurt blushed, and Burt kept his eyes on the road and tried not to think about his only son kissing his first boyfriend on national TV.

“Point taken,” Kurt said, and when Burt chanced a glance at him he was still blushing, but he was kind of smiling too. “He wants me to move in with him.”

That wasn’t a surprise either, but it still kind of hurt to hear it out loud. Burt nodded anyway, keeping his eyes on the road and clearing his throat before he answered. “It’s a big step.”

“I know.”

“Taking on the responsibility of a kid…that’s a big deal, Kurt,” Burt said, and he knew he wasn’t telling Kurt anything he hadn’t already thought of, but he wanted Kurt to understand that what he was taking on wasn’t something he could just walk away from when things got rough. “You sure you’re ready for that?”

“No.” Kurt took a deep breath and crossed his arms over his chest. “I have no idea what I’m doing. But if I don’t try I’ll never know, right?”

Burt knew what Kurt was asking. He wanted to hear Burt say that he could do it, that Kurt could handle whatever he set his mind to. And Burt believed that – he believed in his kid; always had – but this was one time when Burt wasn’t sure Kurt could pull it off. It was a tall order for Burt and Carole when they got married, and they both had years of experience as parents when they took on each other’s kids.

“So when’s this big move of yours supposed to happen?”

He heard Kurt breathe in and looked over in time to watch him blush again. “After the tour, I suppose. We haven’t really worked out all the details yet. I wanted to talk to you first.”

Burt nodded, because that was pretty much what he figured Kurt would say, but he couldn’t pretend to be happy about it. It was hardly any time at all, just a few weeks and Kurt would be gone for good. The thought left a weird, unsettled feeling in Burt’s chest, but he didn’t mention it because he knew it would just make Kurt worry.

“Guess that means you’ve got a lot of work to do in the next month. You’re going to have to decide what you’re taking with you and what you’re getting rid of, for starters. I guess we’ll have to think about what to do with the Navigator, too.”

“I thought we could drive it up to New York with my things, then you and Finn could drive it back and sell it, unless Finn wants it,” Kurt said, and when Burt raised an eyebrow at him he just shrugged. “It’s not as though I’ll need a car in the city, and even if I wanted one I’d have to downsize.”

The fact that Kurt already had a plan for the actual move didn’t make Burt feel all that much better. He was glad Kurt was taking it seriously, sure, but that wouldn’t make it any easier when it was time for Burt to leave him behind in New York with Puckerman and his little girl.

But it was Kurt’s life, and Burt had always known that someday Kurt was going to want to live it somewhere besides Lima. He swallowed a sigh and glanced over at Kurt again, smiling when he found Kurt chewing on his bottom lip.

“We’ll work it out. I’m proud of you, you know.”

“I know,” Kurt said, then he smiled and relaxed for the first time since he climbed into the truck. “Thanks, Dad.”

“Any time, son,” Burt said, returning Kurt’s smile. “You know you can always come home if you need to.”

“I won’t. But thanks,” Kurt answered, and Burt had the sinking feeling he was right.

~

Kurt had been home for a couple hours when he heard the front door slam, then the unmistakable sound of Finn’s footsteps bounding up the stairs. He watched Finn rush past his door, then he heard Finn come to a dead stop and back up to peer in at Kurt.

“Hey, bro. You’re here already.”

Kurt murmured an affirmative without looking up from the pile of magazines he was sorting through. “For awhile now, just like it said on my plane ticket.”

“Yeah, I guess I thought you were getting in later,” Finn said, inviting himself into the room to perch on the edge of Kurt’s bed and watch him separating back issues of Dance into ‘keep’ and ‘recycle’ piles.

“Lucky for me you weren’t my ride.”

“Yeah, I guess. What are you doing?”

“Downsizing,” Kurt answered, flipping through another magazine before he tossed it in the recycle pile.

Every time he added another issue to the pile it caused him physical pain, but when he thought about Puck he remembered why it was worth it. They wouldn’t have room for most of Kurt’s things wherever they ended up; Kurt knew that, just like he knew he wouldn’t miss them anymore once they were together for good.

“So…what, you’re really moving?”

“That’s what you told Will, isn’t it?”

When Finn blushed Kurt smiled, ducking his head and pretending to be fascinated by an article on the 2006 Broadway revival of A Chorus Line so Finn wouldn’t notice Kurt laughing at him.

“Well, yeah, but I wasn’t positive or anything.”

Kurt thought about pointing out that maybe Finn shouldn’t go around sharing his theories with virtual strangers when he wasn’t even sure he was right, but he had a feeling Will didn’t really count as a stranger anymore. He shrugged and tossed the magazine he was holding, then he looked up at Finn again.

“As it turns out, your instincts were correct for once.”

“Yeah? That’s awesome, dude,” Finn said, grinning for the first time since he invited himself into Kurt’s room, and Kurt didn’t bother trying not to smile back.

“It is,” Kurt said, and when Finn laughed he felt his cheeks heat up.

“Sucks that you’re back home, though. I mean, it doesn’t suck that you’re here, but it sucks that you had to leave, you know?”

For once Kurt didn’t really mind Finn’s rambling, maybe because he completely agreed. He hated being away from Puck, even for a few days, but he’d come home for a reason. Except that he’d accomplished his main goal on the ride back from the airport, and his dad had taken the news of his impending move much better than Kurt expected.

So now he was just killing time until he could go back for the finale, and then he’d have to say goodbye to Puck all over again.

“We were totally gonna fly out to see you again, if you made top four,” Finn said, drawing Kurt’s attention back to the fact that he was still sitting perched on the edge of Kurt’s bed. “Did Burt tell you?”

“No, he didn’t mention it. Though I suppose it hardly matters now.”

“No, dude, it matters.” Finn shifted a little further onto the mattress, but when he started to slide one of his sneakers onto Kurt’s duvet Kurt lifted an eyebrow and Finn flushed and put his foot on the floor again. “We all wanted to come out and cheer you on. I mean, I could still come with you when you go back, if you want.”

Kurt didn’t bother trying not to roll his eyes at that. He knew full well Finn’s offer was completely selfish; it wasn’t as though he needed the company, not when he’d be in rehearsals as soon as he got back to L.A. Still, if Finn was really that desperate to see Will again, it wasn’t like Kurt was going to stand in his way.

“Please, Finn. Subtlety has never been one of your strengths. If you want to go to L.A. with me, just say so.”

Finn blushed even harder at that, but he didn’t deny it. Instead he shrugged and glanced toward the hall, as though maybe he was expecting one of their parents to be lurking around. When he turned back to Kurt he was still flushed, but the look on his face almost made Kurt feel sorry for him.

“Only if it’s cool with you.”

“That depends. You’re sure he wants to see you again, right? I’m not aiding and abetting a stalking situation here, am I?”

Until that moment Kurt hadn’t realized that particular shade of fuchsia occurred in nature, but Finn’s complexion was proof to the contrary. It looked sort of painful, and for a second Kurt was almost sorry he’d asked.

“No...I mean yeah...I mean, he told me he wants to see me. I sort of promised him I’d show up.”

Kurt rolled his eyes again and dumped the rest of the magazines in the recycle pile, then he picked up the few he couldn’t bring himself to part with and dropped them in the box on the floor. “Fine. But you’re paying your own way. And you’re bringing all of these down to the recycle bin for me.”

Finn frowned at the pile, then he sighed and started stacking magazines, and Kurt really didn’t want to know what else Will had said to make Finn agree so readily to manual labor.

~

The thing about being down to just four of them was that it got kind of…well, quiet. They still had plenty of rehearsals to take up their time – more than ever, thanks to the fact that they were each dancing three numbers during the finale, plus the routines they’d be performing on the results show – but during meals and what little free time they had, there just weren’t that many people around.

And okay, maybe Puck hadn’t paid all that much attention to who was around while he had Kurt to distract him, but that just made the fact that he wasn’t there anymore that much more obvious. The thing was, he missed Kurt, but he felt kind of guilty too. Like he’d taken Kurt’s spot in the finale without even trying, and there wasn’t anything he could do about it.

It was cool to be in the final four with Mike, even though he knew there was no way Puck could win against him. Then again, he’d never expected to be here after Kurt went home, so maybe Kurt was right and talent didn’t count for everything. He still thought Kurt should have stayed, but they weren’t allowed to vote for each other, so his opinion didn’t count for much.

Once Kurt left they made him move in with Mike, and that was cool too, because if Kurt wasn’t there he didn’t really need the privacy. Besides, he and Mike went way back, so Puck was used to him. He didn’t mind that Mike was constantly moving, practicing dance moves in the middle of the room the way Kurt and Puck used to do. Granted, for them it was mostly an excuse to touch, but he was pretty sure it had helped some too.

So he stretched out on his bed and watched Mike dance, wincing every time he started to sing along off-key with the song that was playing. When Mike started working on his backspins Puck grabbed his phone and took a few seconds of video, then he sent the file to Kurt’s phone with a short message: my nu roomie

“Dude, are you taking pictures?” Mike asked, pausing in his routine to look at Puck.

“Just thought Kurt might want to see what he’s missing,” Puck answered, grinning when Mike shook his head.

“You are so whipped.”

It was true, so Puck didn’t bother arguing. He did put his phone down, but first he double-checked to make sure the ringer was on, just in case Kurt texted him back. When he looked up again Mike was working on a halo, and he watched for a few seconds before he spoke again.

“So are your brother and cousin coming back out for the finale?”

“I think they’re flying all the families out for the finale,” Mike answered, pausing to frown over at Puck. “Didn’t your mom tell you she’s coming?”

“No,” Puck said, glancing at his phone like maybe it was going to own up to holding out on him. “But you know how she is. She doesn’t even like to leave Queens.”

Mike snorted a laugh, and Puck knew he got it, because Mike’s parents were the same. Worse, even, because they probably didn’t understand half the show if they were even bothering to watch, which was why Mike’s cousin and brother were the ones to come out and see him dance live.

Puck knew his mom couldn’t afford to fly her and Sarah and Beth all the way to L.A., but if the show was footing the bill she couldn’t turn them down, right? No way would she let Sarah come alone, even though she was old enough, and for once Puck was glad, because if his mom came too that meant she had to bring Beth with her.

His heart skipped a beat at the thought, which was kind of stupid, because he was going home in a week. But this was the longest he’d been away from his kid since she moved in with him full-time, and he missed her more than he expected to. It wasn’t as hard when Kurt was around to distract him, but now that he had nothing to do with his free time but think, he spent a lot of it thinking about how much he missed home.

He grabbed his phone again and sat up, mumbling an excuse about calling home to check in before he left Mike practicing his routine and headed out of their room. He slid down the wall and leaned back against it, hitting the speed dial for home and waiting while the phone rang. The line connected on the second ring, and Puck’s chest tightened at the sound of his sister’s voice.

“Hello?”

“Hey, dork. Is Ma around?”

“She’s putting Beth to bed. You want me to see if I can catch her so you can say hi before she goes down?”

He did, but he knew it would just annoy his mother, and anyway sometimes just hearing how confused Beth got about where Puck was made it even harder to be away from her. So he shook his head, then he remembered Sarah couldn’t actually see him and rolled his eyes at himself.

“It’s cool, let her sleep. Listen, have you heard Ma say anything about the show flying you guys out here for the finale?”

There was a weird pause on the other end of the line, and Puck could tell something was up, because his sister had never been the quiet type. “They sent the tickets a couple days ago. I’m still working on Ma.”

Puck knew what she was trying to say; their mother was freaked out at the idea of flying all the way across the country with her daughter and granddaughter in tow. She’d probably already claimed that it wouldn’t be any different than watching the show on TV, maybe even that Puck would be too busy rehearsing to notice. And yeah, he’d be busy a lot of the time, but that didn’t mean he didn’t want them there.

“So how close is she to caving?”

Sarah sighed into the phone, and Puck pictured her rolling her eyes. “She’ll come around. I mean, they’re free tickets to California. Just because she doesn’t care about the world outside Queens doesn’t mean she can keep the rest of us here forever.”

“Doesn’t mean she’s not gonna try,” Puck said, grinning when Sarah laughed.

He heard his mother’s voice in the background, then his sister’s voice saying, “It’s Noah,” and, “Hang on a second,” kind of muffled like she was holding her hand over the receiver. A second later she was back again, and this time her voice sounded normal. “Ma wants to talk to you.”

“Thanks, Sarah. Listen, I’ll see you soon, okay?”

“One way or the other, I guess,” Sarah said, and Puck laughed and waited for his mother to pick up the receiver.

“Noah?”

“Hey, Ma. How’s Beth?”

“She’s fine,” his mother answered, which was pretty much what she said every time he asked, so he figured that meant she still had all her limbs and his mother hadn’t spotted any suspicious-looking characters lurking in their neighborhood lately waiting to kidnap the first kid they laid eyes on. “We saw how your friend went home this week.”

“Yeah,” Puck said, and he didn’t bother correcting her when she called Kurt his ‘friend’. She hadn’t met Kurt yet, after all, and Puck knew once she did that she’d see Kurt wasn’t like any of the other guys he’d dated. Kurt was…special, and as soon as she figured that out she’d come around. “So listen, you’re coming out for the finale, right?”

There was a heavy sigh on the other end of the line, and Puck could hear Sarah in the background saying something he couldn’t make out. “It’s a long way to travel with a baby, Noah.”

“Ma, Beth’s not a baby anymore. She’s almost four, she can handle a plane ride.”

“That’s easy for you to say, all the way out there where you won’t have to deal with it.”

“I’ll deal with it on the way back,” Puck promised. “Come on, Ma, it’s a free vacation. When’s the last time you had any kind of vacation?”

He knew the answer was ‘never’, but all he got was another sigh. “I don’t know why it matters. You’ll be too busy to notice we’re there anyway.”

“They don’t make us dance 24/7, Ma. I’ll have plenty of time.”

And okay, maybe ‘plenty’ was stretching it a little, but he’d make time if he had to. He wanted to see his kid, and he wanted his family to be there to see that he really was doing something right for once. He wanted them to meet Kurt, too, and he figured if Kurt met them next week he wouldn’t spend the whole tour stressing about the possibility of Puck’s mom hating him.

“Look, it’d be cool if you guys came out. It’s a whole different experience when you see the show live, I swear. Besides, I miss my kid.”

She took a deep breath, then let it out again and said, “We’ll see,” and Puck knew that was as close as he was getting to a yes.

“Thanks, Ma.” He closed his eyes for a second, then opened them again and let out a breath of his own. “I better go get some practice in. I’ll talk to you soon, okay?”

He listened to her say goodnight, then he hung up his phone and glanced down the hall in the direction of the rehearsal studio. It was still early enough to get in a decent amount of practice, and he could probably use it. But no matter what he did he wasn’t going to beat Mike or even Brittany and Tina, for that matter, so it didn’t really matter if he practiced.

Puck glanced down at his phone again, grinning at the text notification he hadn’t noticed while he was talking to his mom. He read Kurt’s text and smiled again, then he pressed another speed dial and settled back against the wall to wait for the line to connect.

~

By the time Carole practically dragged him out of his room for dinner, Kurt had made considerable progress on his desk and his bookcase. His father and Carole both reminded him that there wasn’t a rush; he still had a month between the official end of the show and the beginning of the tour, and he didn’t have that much stuff to go through.

But Kurt planned to spend at least some of his time before the tour helping Puck apartment-hunt, at least online, and he had to spend some time working out his career prospects as well. They were going to have rent to pay, after all, and even the stipend they got from doing the show and the tour wasn’t going to stretch far in New York City. There was still the chance that Puck would win the grand prize, of course, but Kurt was trying to be realistic.

So he wasn’t counting on anything except the fact that he’d be moving to New York in a few months, and what happened after that…well, he assumed he and Puck would figure it out together.

After dinner he humored his dad for a little while, lingering at the dining room table and telling them stories about the other dancers and what it was like being on TV. He lasted until he felt his phone vibrate in his pocket, and when he pulled it out and saw Puck’s text he faked a yawn and pleaded exhaustion.

His father practically shoved him up the stairs to his room after that, and once Kurt was alone with the door closed he pulled his phone out again and pressed ‘reply’.

Just as long as you’re sleeping in your own bed.

He smiled and pressed send, then he set his phone down on the table next to his bed and turned back to the pile of books he’d set aside to donate to the library. He tried to focus on sorting them by subject, but his gaze kept straying to the phone sitting on the table. It was possible that Puck was rehearsing and didn’t even have his phone with him, but the longer time stretched out with no answer, the more distracted Kurt got.

He’d just spoken to Puck this morning, kissed him goodbye and promised to text Puck as soon as he got back to Ohio, just to let him know Kurt was safely home. They hadn’t promised to call every day; Kurt knew as well as Puck did how hectic his schedule was going to be for the next week, and he didn’t want to be the kind of demanding boyfriend that eventually made Puck resent him for being too clingy.

Still, he’d gotten used to talking to Puck every day, to eating every meal together and falling asleep wrapped around each other. So he could hardly be blamed for missing it a little – fine, it sort of felt like he’d misplaced a limb somewhere – and he wouldn’t hate it if Puck decided to call.

When the phone rang he dove for it, glancing down at the display and swallowing a sudden rush of nerves before he answered. “Hello?”

“Babe,” Puck said, his voice low and amused and sending a shiver straight down Kurt’s spine, “you know Mike’s not my type.”

Kurt smiled into his phone and dropped the book he was holding, then he sank onto his bed and fell back onto his pillows to stare up at the ceiling. “If he were I suppose I’d be in some trouble.”

Puck’s laugh sent a flock of butterflies fluttering in his stomach, and Kurt closed his eyes and waited for the feeling to pass.

“The bed does feel kind of big without you, though.”

“I know the feeling,” Kurt said, forcing his eyes open again and willing his body not to react to the sound of Puck’s voice. “So have they assigned your routines for the finale?”

“Yeah, I landed hip hop with Joshua, and they’re letting me dance with Mike again. The contemporary routine with Brittany’s going to be the toughest one, but the rest should be pretty fun. I mean, at least it’s my style, you know?”

“You’ll be fantastic,” Kurt said. “You might even win, you know.”

Puck huffed a soft laugh, and Kurt pictured him smiling on the other end of the line. “Not much chance of that, but thanks.”

And okay, maybe it was a long shot, considering the competition, but Kurt wished Puck would at least pretend to have a little more faith in himself. “I keep telling you, it’s as much about charisma as it is talent, and you have both.”

“So does Mike. And Brittany. And Tina’s got that whole shy, sweet thing going for her.”

“There’s that,” Kurt conceded. “Still, Brittany and Tina are both from California. That means you only have to split the East Coast voting block with Mike. And I happen to know for a fact that you've got an edge in central Ohio now.”

Puck laughed again, and Kurt didn’t try to hold back a smile. “I thought Brittany was from Texas.”

“Technically, I suppose. She’s been living in L.A. for a couple years, though. And even if she gets the Texas vote, that still leaves the rest of the country free to vote for you.”

“You sure you want to be a dancer? I’m starting to think you should run for president or something.”

Kurt laughed at that, and he was aware that he was grinning up at the ceiling like a moron, but there was no one around to see him, so it didn’t matter. “I’ll keep it in mind in case my dance career doesn't pan out. Anyway, it doesn’t matter who wins. The money would be nice, certainly, but we’ll be fine either way.”

There was a pause on the other end of the line, then Puck let out a shaky breath that made Kurt’s chest ache. “Yeah. Yeah, we will.”

For a few seconds Kurt’s throat was too tight to answer, and anyway he wasn’t sure what to say other than I love you, and Puck already knew that. Finally he swallowed hard, then he cleared his throat and forced a passable laugh. “That’s not to say I want you to throw the competition or anything.”

Puck’s laugh was deep and warm, and Kurt felt it all the way to his toes. “Not a chance, babe.”

“Good.”

“So I’ll see you in a few days?” Puck said, and Kurt was glad he’d come home and talked to his father, but at the moment he was sorry he’d ever left L.A.

He swallowed against the sudden fluttering in his stomach, then he closed his eyes and pictured the look on Puck’s face when Kurt had kissed him goodbye, mentally calculating the hours until he’d see it again. “Count on it.”

Chapter Text

‘Nervous’ wasn’t exactly the word for what Puck was feeling. Hyped up, maybe a little edgy, but that kind of went with the territory, considering his family was flying in tomorrow, and Kurt would be here any minute.

He’d warned Puck that Finn was tagging along, which meant they probably wouldn’t have a lot of time to themselves before Puck’s family got there, but he didn’t even care that much, as long as he got to see Kurt. And maybe that made him as whipped as Mike said, but Puck didn’t really care about that either.

He was hanging around in the hotel lobby, one eye on the door and checking his phone every few minutes, just in case Kurt texted and Puck didn’t hear the beep. It was kind of stupid, sure, but he was wired and he couldn’t settle down and at least checking his phone constantly gave him something to do.

He was checking it again when the lobby door slid open, and Puck looked up in time to watch Kurt walk through carrying the bag he kept all his bathroom stuff in over his shoulder. Finn was right behind him, a duffel bag slung over one shoulder and pulling Kurt’s suitcase behind him, and Puck laughed to himself as he pushed off the wall he’d been leaning against to meet Kurt halfway.

As soon as Kurt spotted him he was grinning, and when Puck reached him and slid his arms around Kurt’s waist to drag him close, Kurt didn’t fight it. He let Puck kiss him right in front of his brother, and yeah, they’d kissed on stage in front of the whole country, pretty much, but Puck had a feeling it was different when Finn was standing like five feet away.

Not that he cared, because he hadn’t kissed Kurt in almost a week, and he wasn’t letting anything or anybody get in the way of doing it again. Kurt dropped his bag on the floor before he reached for Puck, hands on his chest to grip Puck’s shirt and kiss him back like he’d been thinking about this moment just as much as Puck had.

“Where’s your brother staying?” Puck asked, murmuring the words against Kurt’s cheek.

“Finn’s responsible for his own accommodations,” Kurt answered. He pulled away far enough to glance at his stepbrother, watching Finn type a text on his phone for a second before he turned back to Puck. “That was part of the agreement when I said he could come with me. He pays for his own plane ticket, and he doesn’t tell me where he’s sleeping.”

Puck grinned and cast another glance at Finn, but he was still staring at his phone and ignoring both of them. “So he is hooking up with Will?”

“I don’t know and I don’t want to,” Kurt said, and when he kind of scrunched up his nose Puck didn’t bother trying not to laugh. “But he’s certainly not here to provide me with moral support, so I can’t think of any other reason.”

Puck laughed again and leaned in, pressing another kiss to the corner of Kurt’s mouth. “Did they tell you who you’re rooming with?”

Kurt made a little humming noise and shook his head, and Puck was pretty sure that was a no. His breath was warm against Puck’s cheek, and he really wanted to blow off his afternoon rehearsal and drag Kurt back to his room where they could be alone. But that wasn’t even close to an option, even if he thought he could talk Kurt into going along with it. He was tempted to try anyway, especially when Kurt took a deep breath and let his hands trail down the front of Puck's chest.

“Yeah, well, when your roommate shows up, tell him there’s been a change of plans,” Puck said. He let go of Kurt long enough to reach into his pocket, pulling his room key out and holding it up for Kurt to take. “Give him this and tell him he’s sharing with Mike instead.”

Kurt’s mouth turned up in a little smile, cheeks kind of flushed, and he wasn’t making it any easier for Puck to leave him again and focus on rehearsal for the next few hours. He reached out and closed his hand around Puck’s where it was still holding out his key, fingers warm against Puck’s and lingering for a second. “I’ll text you when I have a room number.”

“Good.” Puck leaned in and kissed Kurt again, then he let go and let out a frustrated sigh. “If I don’t get to rehearsal on time Christopher’s gonna kick my ass for the next two hours.”

“Go. I have to check in and get settled anyway, and I’ll have to make sure Finn’s got an actual plan so he doesn’t end up sleeping in the hotel lobby or something.”

Puck laughed and glanced over at Finn, but he was still ignoring them. Judging by the way he was grinning at his phone Puck was pretty sure he wasn’t going to have a problem finding somewhere to crash, but he knew Kurt didn’t want to hear it, so he kept his opinion to himself.

“Guess I’ll see you in a couple hours, then,” he said instead, taking a couple steps backwards to keep himself from touching Kurt again and letting himself get distracted.

“I’ll be here,” Kurt answered, cheeks flushing an even darker shade of red, and Puck groaned and turned on his heel before he did something stupid right in the middle of the lobby. When he reached the end of the lobby he looked over his shoulder to find Kurt watching him, and for a second Puck considered turning around and heading back to kiss him one more time. But he was probably already late, and Christopher was going to kick his ass either way, so Puck just shook his head and forced his legs to carry him down the hall to rehearsal.

~

Kurt watched until Puck disappeared in the direction of the rehearsal studio, then he watched for a little longer, in case Puck changed his mind and came back. When he didn’t reappear Kurt let out a deep breath and turned away from the hall, raising an eyebrow as he watched Finn grinning down at his phone.

“I take it you have some kind of plan for the next two days,” Kurt said, and when Finn blinked and looked up at him he didn’t bother trying not to roll his eyes. “Other than stalking one of the most accomplished choreographers on Broadway via text message, that is.”

Finn scowled, but he snapped his phone shut and shoved it in his pocket. “I told you, I’m not stalking him. He wants to meet for dinner.”

“And after that?”

For a second Finn just frowned at him, then he glanced over his shoulder as though maybe he was expecting to find Will lurking around. “I don’t know, I mean, I was kind of hoping…but we haven’t, like, talked about it...I thought you didn’t want to hear details.”

He was bright red now, and Kurt was fairly sure his complexion wasn’t much better. He rolled his eyes again and picked up the bag he’d dropped when Puck kissed him the first time, taking his time lifting it back onto his shoulder before he answered Finn.

“I don’t. What I want to know is that you have some plan for where you’re spending the night, because you’re not staying with me.”

Finn shrugged, then he glanced toward the elevators again, and Kurt started to wonder if he wasn’t worried about being overheard so much as he was hoping Will would show up out of nowhere. “I figured I’d just stash my stuff in your room and play it by ear.”

“No way.”

“Kurt, come on,” Finn said, eyes wide and a little pathetic, as though Kurt was as easy as Carole. “It’s just one bag. It won’t even take up any room.”

“That’s not the point,” Kurt answered, averting his eyes from Finn’s kicked puppy expression before he found himself agreeing to anything he’d regret. “I’d prefer not to be interrupted at whatever hour you decide you need your toothbrush, for one thing.”

“Look, I promise I won’t knock on your door in the middle of the night, all right? If Will doesn’t want...” He paused, blushing all over again, and Kurt rolled his eyes for the third time. “Look, if I need to I’ll get a room and get my stuff tomorrow, okay? It’s not a big deal.”

“Not a big...” Kurt paused, closing his eyes and counting to five before he opened them again. “You didn’t even make a reservation, did you?”

And now Finn was giving him the confused puppy expression, which was even worse than the kicked puppy look. “Why would I do that? I didn’t even know Will wanted to get dinner until like five minutes ago.”

“A hotel reservation, you idiot,” Kurt said, and he’d known this was a bad idea, but this was ridiculous. “The season finale of the top-rated summer program is happening live right down the street in two days, Finn. Do you really think the hotel’s going to have any last-minute openings just in case your plans to hook up don’t pan out?”

He could tell by the look on Finn’s face that the thought hadn’t crossed his mind, which meant Finn didn’t have a plan period. Not that Kurt was surprised; he’d known Finn long enough to realize he was used to charming his way through life, and it had worked for him so far, so there wasn’t really a reason for Finn to expect anything to change now.

“Look, don’t worry about it, okay?” Finn said, but Kurt could see that he was a little worried. “I swear I’m not going to show up and blow your whole night.”

“What’s your master plan, then?” Kurt asked. “If Will turns you down you’ll just find someone else to throw yourself at?”

As soon as he said it he wished he could take it back, but the truth was that Finn had never been all that particular about who he spent the night with in the past. It was one of the things Kurt had never understood about him, and he’d just assumed that this thing with Will was more of the same. When he saw Finn flinch he wasn’t so sure, but a second later Finn shrugged it off and reached for Kurt’s suitcase.

“I’ll just tell Will you threw me out. He’ll probably take pity on me.”

Kurt thought about pointing out that lying his way into Will’s bed wasn’t exactly the best way to start a relationship, but for all he knew Finn really had flown all the way back to L.A. just to hook up. Instead he shook his head and turned his back on his brother, heading for the check-in desk and leaving Finn to deal with the luggage.

~

So okay, maybe Finn hadn’t thought this whole thing through, exactly. When Will said I’d like to see you again his plan had pretty much ended with getting himself back to L.A. He hadn’t thought about what happened after that – he’d thought about what he wanted to happen, yeah, but apparently that didn’t count as a plan – and now that he was here he knew Kurt had a point.

He’d never been all that good at planning ahead. He’d never gone anywhere overnight without his parents, and he’d definitely never reserved his own hotel room before. He wasn’t even sure how to reserve a hotel room, but he was pretty sure it involved a credit card. And yeah, maybe his mom had said something to him about that, now that he thought about it, but he’d been too busy thinking about the sound of Will’s voice when he asked if Finn was coming back out to L.A. to pay attention to what she was saying.

Which meant Kurt probably had a point about his reasons for coming to L.A. Not that there was anything wrong with wanting to hook up with Will; he was nice and funny and he had an awesome smile, and he was smoking hot. But Finn was kind of hoping for more than a hook-up this time, and he sort of got the impression that Will maybe wanted more than that too.

He was the one who kept bringing up the possibility of getting together, anyway, and Finn figured that had to mean something. He was the one who suggested dinner, and if he just wanted to hook up he didn’t have to feed Finn first. Then again, maybe he was just being nice. Maybe that was what guys Will’s age did before they hooked up with somebody; it wasn’t like Finn had ever dated anybody older than him before.

He swallowed a rush of nerves and followed Kurt to his room, dragging Kurt’s suitcase in and setting it at the end of one of the beds before he dropped his own bag against the wall. Kurt disappeared into the bathroom to put the rest of his stuff away, and Finn took a seat on the end of the other bed and looked around. The room looked pretty much the same as the one Kurt stayed in when he was still on the show, except the windows in this one faced the street instead of the pool.

When he caught himself wondering which way Will’s hotel room faced he stood up again, rubbing his hands on the front of his jeans before he reached for his phone. Before he got as far as his pocket the door opened, and Finn looked up in time to watch that Blaine guy from the show walk in. As soon as he spotted Finn he stopped, eyes kind of wide and a smile frozen on his face.

“I’m sorry, there must be a mistake. The front desk said I was in this room.”

“Yeah, you are. I mean probably. This is Kurt’s room. I’m his brother. Finn Hudson,” he added, taking a few steps forward and holding out a hand.

Blaine took it, his smile turning up a notch or two. “Hi, I’m Blaine. You’re very…tall.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Finn said, and he wasn’t sure why he was blushing, but he pulled his hand out of Blaine’s grip and shoved it in his pocket.

“So you’re Kurt’s brother?”

“Stepbrother, actually,” Kurt said, and Finn swallowed a sigh of relief when he glanced over his shoulder to find Kurt crossing the room. “Listen, Blaine, would you mind terribly sharing with Mike instead?”

He held out another room key, and Blaine’s movie star smile faltered a little before he nodded and reached for it. “Of course.”

Finn watched while he handed over his own key, then looked at down at the carpet and let out a little laugh. When he looked up again the smile was back in full force, and Finn had to bite his lip to keep from laughing.

“I suppose I’ll see you at rehearsal, then.”

“Thanks, Blaine,” Kurt said, and the only hint that he even noticed Blaine was kind of flirting was the flush in his cheeks. “See you tomorrow.”

Blaine nodded, then he glanced over at Finn. “Nice to meet you, Finn,” he said, flashing another movie star smile and raising his hand in a little wave before he turned and headed to his own room.

Once he was gone Finn blew out a deep breath, then he let out a shaky laugh and looked at Kurt. “What was that about?”

“It’s nothing,” Kurt said, but he was blushing a little harder now. “You can stay until dinner, but then you have to go.”

“No problem,” Finn said, reaching for his phone and glancing at the screen before he looked up again. “I told you, I have plans.”

For a second Kurt just looked at him, lips pressed together like he was trying to figure something out. “Why are you here?”

“I told you, Will asked me to come,” Finn answered, frowning because seriously, they’d been over this a couple times already.

“But why? You barely know him.”

Finn shrugged, his face heating up, but he didn’t look away. “Yeah, but I like him. He’s cool and he laughs at my jokes and I mean, have you seen him?”

Kurt rolled his eyes, but Finn could tell he was trying to hide a smile. And it wasn’t like he didn’t get it; he’d come home from New York talking about Puck nonstop after one day, so he had to understand.

“Just…try not to embarrass me. He’s a very influential choreographer, and I’m going to have to find a job when I get to New York.”

Finn snorted a laugh and sat down on the edge of the bed to watch Kurt unpack. “I’ll try, dude.”

“That’s all I ask.”

~

By the end of rehearsal Puck’s head definitely wasn’t in the game. He tried to focus, but it was hard when he was thinking about Kurt waiting for him upstairs, and his family getting ready to fly out tomorrow.

One more day and he got to introduce Kurt to his daughter, and okay, maybe he was a little nervous about that.

It wasn’t like he was expecting Kurt to freak out and dump him or anything. He knew about Puck’s kid, he’d heard plenty of stories and Puck was pretty sure he knew what he was getting into. And maybe Kurt was a little scared, but Puck knew he could handle it. So it was just a matter of getting used to each other, and the sooner Kurt met Beth the faster they could get comfortable with the idea of being a family.

Just the thought of making Kurt a part of his family was enough to distract Puck; he tried to keep his mind on rehearsal, but he kept messing up steps anyway. By the end of the day they were all frustrated, and even Joshua’s assurance that they’d kill it once they got on stage didn’t make him feel a whole lot better.

Puck nodded and let himself out of the rehearsal studio before he pulled his phone out, flipping it open to read Kurt’s message. When he saw the room number he headed for the elevators, punching the button for the fifth floor and leaning against the back wall to tap his foot against the ugly carpet while he waited for the doors to open again.

It felt like forever before he finally got to their floor, but when the doors slid open Puck turned down the hall and headed straight for his new room. He knocked, leaning against the door frame and counting the seconds until finally the door swung open and Kurt reached out to pull him inside.

And Puck let him, hands on Kurt’s hips and dragging him close to press their lips together. When Kurt sighed against his mouth Puck took the in, tongue sliding past Kurt’s teeth and backing them toward the bed.

“So who’s rooming with Mike now?” Puck asked, murmuring the words against Kurt’s skin as he kissed his way down Kurt’s neck.

“Blaine,” Kurt answered, hands sliding under Puck’s shirt as he spoke, and Puck laughed against his neck and kissed his way back up to Kurt’s ear.

“Too bad. I heard he kind of had a thing for you.”

Kurt made that little humming noise that always went straight to Puck’s cock, tugging on Puck’s shirt until he gave in and lifted up long enough to let Kurt pull it off. “Actually I think he might have sort of hit on my brother earlier.”

Puck laughed and sat up, pulling Kurt with him to start working on his clothes. “I guess that means Finn’s got another option, if the thing with Will doesn’t work out.”

“We are so not discussing my brother’s love life right now,” Kurt said, his voice catching a little when Puck slid his zipper down.

“Whatever you say, babe,” Puck answered, because the truth was he didn’t really care what Finn did, as long as he did it somewhere else. He focused his attention on getting them out of the rest of their clothes as quickly as possible, because they only had an hour or so before they had to show up for dinner, and he was planning to make the most of their time.

If it was up to him they’d bail on dinner altogether, but they both knew if they didn’t show up that the producers would probably come looking for them. There was bound to be some kind of speech about tomorrow’s rehearsal schedule and how things were going to work, and Puck didn’t really care who knew about them, but he didn’t feel like getting a lecture on top of the speech.

So he dragged Kurt’s shirt off, then he slid down Kurt’s legs to help him out of his jeans and briefs, and once he was naked and sprawled on the mattress Puck stood up and slid his own jeans off. He kicked his shoes off and scrambled out of his boxers and his socks, tossing them in a pile on the floor before he looked back at the bed. His breath caught in his throat at the sight of Kurt up on his elbows, a hot blush spreading up his neck and across his chest as he watched Puck strip.

Kurt’s dick was standing at attention, and Puck planted a knee on the edge of the mattress, intent on crawling over him and getting down to business when it dawned on him that all his stuff was still back in Mike’s room.

“Fuck.”

“What?” Kurt asked, frowning and sitting up, hands on the mattress now to stare up at Puck.

“I left my bag in the other room. Condoms, lube…everything’s in there.”

“Oh.” For a second Kurt looked kind of deflated, but then he scrambled off the mattress to cross the room. “Hang on a second.”

He bent over to dig around in a bag that looked an awful lot like the one Finn had been carrying earlier, and Puck sat down on the edge of the bed to enjoy the view. When Kurt found whatever he was looking for he straightened up and looked over his shoulder, cheeks flushing when he caught Puck looking.

“I’m afraid Finn’s not much help. He packed lube, but I don’t see any condoms. I thought he was smarter than that, at least.”

Puck shrugged and sat up as Kurt crossed the room again, reaching out to catch Kurt’s hand. “Guess he was counting on Will to cover the ‘safe’ part.”

He laughed when Kurt scrunched up his nose, tugging him forward until Kurt was standing between his knees. His hands landed on Kurt’s thighs, sliding up and over Kurt’s ass and then back down again. “Okay, so we work with what we’ve got. We know you’re clean, right? If you do me the risk’s pretty low that you’d catch anything.”

“Do you have something to catch?” Kurt asked, one eyebrow arched and Puck wanted to laugh again, but he stopped himself and shook his head instead.

“No, babe. But I’ll go get tested before we toss the condoms completely if you want, just to be sure.”

His hands were still sliding up and down the backs of Kurt’s thighs, easing Kurt a little closer each time, until Kurt’s arms slid around his neck and he leaned in to press his lips to the corner of Puck’s mouth. Puck turned into the kiss, lips parting to taste mint and Kurt.

“Have you been tested before?” Kurt asked, murmuring the words against Puck’s mouth, and he nodded and pulled back to look at Kurt.

“Right after Beth moved in with us full time. I figured if she was counting on me to be around, I should make sure I could keep my end of the bargain, you know?”

Kurt nodded and let Puck pull him back onto the bed, sprawling on the mattress and running his hands down Puck’s chest when Puck planted his knees on either side of Kurt’s hips. “And since then?”

He got what Kurt was asking. He wanted to know what Puck had been doing since then, and who he’d been doing it with. And he got why Kurt was asking; he’d never been with anybody but Puck, and it had to be a little intimidating to think about the other guys Puck had slept with.

But the thing was, nobody had mattered until Kurt, so he didn’t have anything to worry about. He shrugged and leaned over Kurt to reach for the lube, and when Kurt’s hand slid along his side he grinned and pressed forward for another kiss.

“To tell you the truth, nobody’s really been worth the effort.”

Until you, he didn’t add, but he could tell by the way Kurt smiled that he got it anyway. He let Kurt pull him forward, pressing their lips together and breathing hard into the kiss. Hands slid up his back, fingers digging into his shoulders to press as much of them together as he could. Puck groaned against Kurt’s mouth and flipped the lube open with one hand, spilling onto the sheet as he slicked up his palm and pushed a hand between them.

When he closed his hand around Kurt’s dick Kurt gasped against his mouth, thrusting up into his grip and digging his fingers even harder into Puck’s shoulders. Puck laughed and kissed Kurt one more time before he pulled away to push up onto his knees, pouring more slick onto two fingers before he reached behind himself and slid them inside.

Kurt’s hands landed on his thighs this time, fingers kneading his skin and distracting Puck from the slight burn of the stretch. He rocked back onto his own fingers, lip caught between his teeth and fighting to keep his eyes open. He wanted to watch Kurt watching him, wanted to see the way his eyes went almost black and the way his blush spread all the way across his chest.

Puck’s dick ached with the need to be touched, and when Kurt reached out and closed his hand around it he knew he wasn’t going to last long. He eased his fingers free and pushed up on his knees, reaching for Kurt’s cock and running slick fingers over it once, then twice before he lined them up and sank down until Kurt was buried all the way inside.

Finally he let his eyes slide closed, breathing deep and focusing on not coming before they even got started. Kurt’s hand left his dick and Puck let out a groan, though he wasn’t sure if it was from disappointment or relief. He knew if Kurt kept touching him he was going to lose it way before he was ready, but he’d been waiting way too long for this to give up Kurt’s touch.

“Kurt,” he murmured, eyes blinking open in time to watch Kurt spreading a little lube on his palm. He looked up at Puck while he reached down to close his hand around Puck’s cock again, slick this time and that felt even better.

He could hear himself talking, things like Kurt and damn, babe and I love you, thighs flexing as he rocked up and down faster and faster. Kurt’s hips moved in time with each thrust, pressing up to meet him until Kurt was buried as deep as he could get. His grip on Puck’s cock tightened a little more with each stroke, thumb sliding across the tip of his cock and spreading wet heat along the slit.

Puck moaned and pressed forward, hand behind Kurt’s neck to pull him up for a hard kiss. The grip on his dick tightened even more, Kurt’s hand moving fast and Puck moaned again and snapped his hips forward, pulling almost all the way off Kurt and then sinking back down again.

Kurt was talking now, murmuring encouragement against his mouth, and Puck pulled back and sank down onto Kurt’s dick and came. Wet heat coated Kurt’s hand and stomach, and he slid slick fingers up and down Puck’s dick until he stopped shaking. He waited until Puck relaxed before he sat up, pushing until Puck’s back hit the mattress.

He expected Kurt to slide back inside him, but when Puck tried to bend a knee to give him more room to work, Kurt pushed his leg back down onto the bed. “Babe, what…”

“I want you inside me when I come,” Kurt said, knees on either side of Puck’s thighs and not even bothering with more lube before he lined himself up.

Kurt blushed when he said it, cheeks and neck flushing dark red and there was no way Puck was going to say no to an invitation like that. He wasn’t sure he could pull it off, considering how hard he’d just come, but it turned out that all it took was Kurt asking for what he wanted and Puck’s dick was right back in the game.

“What about getting tested first?”

Kurt paused, one hand pressed to the center of Puck’s chest and the other wrapped around his dick, and it would have been funny if Kurt wasn’t looking at him like Puck was the best thing he’d ever seen. “I trust you, Noah.”

And yeah, okay, he already knew that, but hearing Kurt say it was pretty awesome. Instead of answering he just nodded, hands on Kurt’s thighs and sort of stroking along his skin as Kurt sank down until Puck was buried inside him. He spread his legs a little more, letting Kurt sink even deeper and dragging a moan out of him. Puck rocked up into tight heat over and over, watching Kurt’s hand moving on his dick in time with Puck’s thrusts.

“Damn, babe,” he said, and he didn’t even care how he sounded, “I missed you so fucking much.”

Kurt ground down even harder against him, eyes closed and lips parted, trying to get Puck even deeper. He could tell how close Kurt was, felt his muscles flexing under Puck’s hands and knew he just needed a little more to pull him over the edge.

He sat up, stomach trembling with the effort to hold himself up as he slid his hands up Kurt’s back and pulled him close. When Puck slipped out of him Kurt let out a moan that sounded totally pornographic, and Puck surged up to swallow the sound with a kiss. He pushed until Kurt was flat on the mattress again, arms around Puck’s neck and dragging him forward to kiss him hard as Puck slid back inside.

Kurt’s hand closed around his dick again, grip tight and Puck pulled back to watch him rock between his fist and Puck’s cock. And they’d done this plenty of times before, but it felt different without a layer of latex between his dick and the tight heat surrounding him. More intense, like tossing the protection meant they were both really in this thing, and Puck didn’t even know he’d been worrying about Kurt backing out until he said, “I trust you,” and guided Puck inside him.

His heart clenched hard in his chest and he leaned up to kiss Kurt again, pulling almost all the way out and then pushing right back in, every muscle in his body tense with the effort to give Kurt what he needed. A few seconds later Kurt tensed under him, coming with a low, broken moan that went straight to Puck’s dick.

That was all it took to drag Puck over the edge too, thrusting forward one last time to bury himself in tight heat and come. He buried his face in the curve of Kurt’s neck, feathering kisses along hot, sweat-slick skin until he found Kurt’s mouth again. As soon as their lips met Kurt’s hand slid around the back of his neck, fingers splayed on Puck’s skin and holding him there while Kurt took his time kissing Puck.

It was hot and kind of sweet and Puck felt his chest go tight again, so he eased himself out of Kurt to drop onto the mattress and wrap his arms around Kurt’s waist. Puck pulled him close and kissed him again, lips parted to let Kurt in and he knew they had to get up soon and clean up for dinner, but the last thing Puck wanted to do was let go.

“I missed you too,” he heard Kurt whisper, and Puck huffed a breathless laugh and pulled back just far enough to grin at him.

“Yeah?”

“Of course,” Kurt answered, rolling his eyes like it was a pretty dumb question, but he couldn’t quite hide his smile.

“So what’s Finn going to say when he figures out we stole his lube?”

“Nothing, if he knows what’s good for him,” Kurt said, mouth turning down into a little frown, and if Puck didn’t know Kurt better he’d worry that he’d just totally killed the mood. “Anyway, he’s with Will already and his things are here, so if something does happen between them it wouldn’t have done him much good.”

“Why are you so bent out of shape about your brother hooking up with Will, anyway?” Puck asked, his hand sliding down Kurt’s hip to splay his fingers across Kurt’s ass. “I mean yeah, he was a judge and all, but it’s not like he ever had that much say in which of us went home even when you were still in it.”

“It’s not about the show,” Kurt said, sighing and burrowing a little further into Puck’s body heat. “It’s just…Finn thinks he knows what he’s doing, but he’s barely even been out of Ohio before this summer. I just don’t want him getting in over his head with some older guy and getting hurt.”

It seemed like it was kind of late to worry about that now, but Puck didn’t say so. Truth was he sort of got what Kurt was saying; he’d felt pretty much the same way the first few times he dropped Beth off at daycare, and yeah, it was different when it was his kid and not his brother, but he figured the principle was the same.

Kurt complained about Finn a lot, but it was obvious they loved each other like they were real brothers, so it was natural that Kurt would want to look out for him. That was what families did for each other, and now that Kurt was part of his family, Puck would be looking out for Kurt and his brother too.

“I don’t think you really have to worry, babe,” Puck said, leaning in to brush a kiss against the side of Kurt’s head. “From where I’m standing it seems like Will’s got it just as bad.”

Kurt shrugged and pressed his hands against the center of Puck’s chest, flattening his palms on warm skin and pushing back far enough to look at Puck. “Didn’t I say something earlier about not discussing my brother’s love life right now?”

Puck laughed and slid his hand up Kurt’s back again, focusing on the warmth of Kurt’s skin against his palm and the way they fit together like they were made for it. “Yeah, I guess you did.”

~

Kurt was trying not to be nervous. It wasn’t that hard during rehearsal, mainly because he was focused on not confusing the routines he’d be dancing during the finale. It wasn’t that hard when he was alone with Puck, either, but whenever he found himself without a distraction he remembered that Puck’s family was arriving soon, and the nerves started creeping back in.

The few times he’d voiced his concerns Puck told him he was being crazy, that his family would love Kurt because Puck did. It was a nice sentiment, certainly, but Kurt knew better than to believe it. And granted, he didn’t have any experience with ‘meeting the parents’, as it were, but he’d seen enough reality TV to know that sometimes the exact opposite held true. Puck’s family might hate him precisely because Puck loved him. They might resent him for taking Puck away, for being the impetus for Puck to take his daughter and move out.

Not that they were planning to move far, but there was still a big difference between Puck’s mother being able to see her granddaughter every day and tuck her in every night, and being close enough to drop for dinner once or twice a week. Then there was Beth herself; she was probably still too young to understand what it meant for Kurt and Puck to live together, but she was still being taken away from the home she knew and the people who loved her.

It was a huge change for all of them and it hadn’t even happened yet, so there was no way of predicting how any of them were going to deal with the consequences. So it was ridiculous to worry about it, but the closer they got to Puck’s family’s arrival, the more Kurt’s stomach tied itself in knots.

“What’s the matter?” Puck asked over lunch, frowning as he watched Kurt pushing food around his plate without actually eating any of it.

“Nothing,” Kurt said, because there was no point in having the same conversation they’d already had more than once on the phone, and again when they woke up together this morning. Puck’s family was going to show up whether Kurt was ready to meet them or not, and talking about it wasn’t going to change anything.

“Babe,” Puck said, but before he got any further Kurt’s phone rang, and he scrambled to pull it out of his pocket. He glanced down at the screen, frowning at Finn’s name before he answered the call.

“Hello?”

“Hey,” Finn said, and Kurt supposed he should be glad that at least Finn was alive and able to call him after disappearing without a word for nearly an entire day. “Listen, do you think I could get my stuff out of your room? I can come get your key if you’re in the middle of something.”

“No, I can meet you,” Kurt answered, sparing a glance at his barely touched lunch before he looked over at Puck and mouthed Finn’s name. “I’m done here anyway.”

“Great. Thanks, Kurt,” Finn said, then the line clicked, and Kurt stood up and put his phone back in his pocket.

“My wayward stepbrother wants his bag,” Kurt answered when Puck raised an eyebrow. “Stay and finish your lunch; I’ll meet you in the lobby when you’re done.”

Puck looked a little like he wanted to argue, but Kurt turned away before he got the chance. It wasn’t as though he was avoiding the arrival of Puck’s family; Kurt knew he was going to have to meet them at some point, but if letting Finn into his room and spending a few minutes avoiding the details of his night with Will helped distract him from worrying about it for a little while, Kurt was willing to make the sacrifice.

Finn was leaning against the wall next to his door when Kurt reached his room, clothes wrinkled as though maybe he’d slept in them but otherwise undamaged, as far as Kurt could see. He frowned and unlocked the door, holding it open to let Finn inside before he closed it again.

“Thanks,” Finn said, heading straight for his bag and pulling it open to drag out some clothes. “Listen, do you mind if I change quick? If you need to go I can let myself out.”

“Take your time,” Kurt said, but instead of leaving Finn to it he took a seat on the edge of the bed he and Puck hadn’t wrecked the night before and watched while Finn held up two nearly identical shirts. “Wear the one on the left. That shade of blue works better with your complexion.”

“Thanks.” Finn dropped the other shirt back on his bag and pulled the t-shirt he’d been wearing over his head, and it wasn’t until Kurt watched him drop it on the only chair in the room that he realized it wasn’t the shirt Finn had been wearing when they got to L.A.

He raised an eyebrow, but instead of asking whose wardrobe Finn had been raiding, Kurt just cleared his throat and looked out the window while Finn slid his jeans off. “So I take it things with Will went well?”

“Yeah, I mean, Will’s...he’s awesome,” Finn answered, and when Kurt ventured a glance in his direction Finn was blushing. “He’s nice, you know? He’s not an idiot like all the guys in school.”

It wasn’t as though Kurt would know, because he wasn’t enrolled in college, so all he knew about Finn’s current classmates were the stories Finn told him. But Will had a few years on all those guys, so Kurt wasn’t surprised to hear that Finn found him to be different from his usual conquests.

“He wants to talk to you, by the way,” Finn added, and Kurt frowned and looked at him again. “He told me to tell you.”

“About what?”

Finn’s only answer was a shrug, but he was blushing again, and Kurt’s stomach tied itself in knots for a whole new reason. “Please tell me he’s not going to ask my permission to date you or something. He knows we’re not actually related by blood, right?”

“It’s not like that. At least I don’t think it is,” Finn said, but he wasn’t actually sure, which meant it could be exactly that.

And it wasn’t as though Kurt didn’t have enough to worry about already with Puck’s mother and daughter descending on him any moment, but now he had to deal with Finn’s bizarre love life on top of it. “Why doesn’t he just call Carole?”

“I told you, it’s not about me,” Finn answered, and at least he sounded a little more confident this time. “I think it’s about dancing. Maybe it’s about the finale or something.”

Kurt couldn’t think of a reason Will would need to talk to him about the finale; he wasn’t dancing any of Will’s routines, and even if he was, they’d see each other in rehearsal. The fact that Will had paused in...whatever it was he did with Finn long enough to specifically mention needing to speak to Kurt made it seem as though it was important, but Kurt didn’t have a clue what it could be about.

“Fine,” Kurt said, letting out a heavy sigh and watching as Finn struggled back into his sneakers. “And when is this conversation supposed to take place?”

“Right now, if you want. I’m supposed to meet him at his room so I can drop off my stuff before he has to leave for rehearsal.”

Kurt had a rehearsal of his own to get to, but he had a little time. Granted, he’d promised to meet Puck as soon as he was done here, but if he took a little extra time before he had to face Puck’s family, it would just give Puck and his daughter a chance to get caught up without an audience. He knew what Puck would say if he heard Kurt say that, but he shoved the thought aside and stood up.

“Might as well get it over with,” he said, then he led Finn out of the room and back to the elevators.

~

Kurt wasn’t in the lobby when Puck got there. He wasn’t all that surprised; he was probably somewhere freaking out about meeting Puck’s family, like they were going to hate him on sight or something. Which was just stupid, considering they’d already seen him on TV a bunch of times, and they definitely didn’t hate him.

Okay, so maybe his mom wasn’t exactly dying to meet Puck’s boyfriend. Sarah was, though, and Puck knew for a fact that it wasn’t because she didn’t like him. Beth didn’t have an opinion one way or the other, but she was three. The only way Kurt would register on her radar at this point would be if he showed up on TV in a Big Bird costume.

Once she got used to having him around she’d start to understand, though, and by the time they all got comfortable with each other it would probably feel like they’d always been a family. Like they were always going to be a family, and that was the thought that left Puck grinning like a complete moron when his mom showed up in the lobby dragging Sarah and Beth with her.

“Ma,” he called across the room, waving to get their attention and jogging across the lobby toward them.

As soon as she heard his voice Beth was fighting his mother to get down, and Puck felt the hard lump in his throat tighten until he could barely breathe. He swallowed hard as he reached them and held out his arms to catch Beth, burying his face in thick curls and breathing in the familiar smell of baby shampoo.

“Hey, kid,” he said when he got his voice to work again, pulling back to look at his daughter. “I missed you.”

She was already babbling, telling him about the plane they flew on and the lady on board who gave her fruit snacks, and every time he tried to look at Sarah or his mom she stuck sticky fingers on his cheeks and turned his face back to her again. Puck laughed and ruffled her hair, listening to her story about the cab ride from the airport, and he could tell she was going to crash pretty soon just from how hyper she was.

“How long’s she been at it?” he asked when she finally ran out of steam for a minute or two, glancing at his mother to take in the circles under her eyes and the Beth-sized fingerprints on the front of her shirt.

“Since someone told her we were going to see you,” she answered, casting a glare in Sarah’s direction. Puck laughed when Sarah just shrugged and went back to scanning the lobby, like maybe she was hoping to spot a movie star or something.

“Is that him?” Sarah said, and she sounded so excited that for a second Puck wondered if maybe she really had spotted a movie star. But when he followed her line of sight he saw Kurt instead, looking kind of dazed and a little flushed as he crossed the lobby to meet them.

“Yeah,” Puck answered, and he wasn’t worried about whether or not they were going to like Kurt, but as soon as Puck spotted him his heart started pounding anyway.

It felt like forever before Kurt finally reached them, and Puck could tell he was stalling, but it wasn’t like he really blamed Kurt. Puck had met his whole family before anything happened between them, but Kurt...well, he was about to be introduced as the guy Puck was planning to spend the rest of his life with, at least if he had anything to say about it.

He took a deep breath as Kurt stopped in front of them, heart pounding so hard now he was pretty sure they’d all be able to hear it.

“Hey,” he said, watching Kurt blush a little harder as he glanced at Beth and then back at Puck. “Guys, this is Kurt. Kurt, this is my mom and Sarah. And this is Beth,” he said, bouncing her on his arm when she pressed closer and put her head on his shoulder.

“It’s a pleasure to meet all of you,” Kurt said, and Puck wanted to laugh, because it was so polite it sounded kind of painful. But he knew laughing would just piss him off, so instead Puck kept his mouth shut and edged a little closer to Kurt.

For a few seconds they all just stood there looking at each other, and maybe Kurt had been right to worry, because meeting Puck’s family was shaping up to be kind of a disaster. His mom had barely said a word since she showed up, and he could tell how exhausted she was, but that didn’t mean she had to take it out on Kurt.

He was just starting to wonder what would happen if he just grabbed Kurt and his kid and took off when Sarah kind of pushed her way in front of him and latched onto Kurt’s arm.

“So I had to vote for Noah because he’s my brother and all, but I just wanted to tell you that you totally got robbed. I mean, no way should you have gone home last week,” she said, then she cast a glance over her shoulder at Puck. “No offense.”

Puck snorted a laugh and didn’t bother telling her that he’d said the same thing more than once. Kurt still looked pretty much like a deer in headlights, but he was doing his best to smile at Sarah. “Thank you.”

“Yeah, I figured Noah would be back in Queens way before you got cut, so I was just going to vote for you once he went home. If I’d known what bad taste the rest of the country has, I totally would have voted for you last week.”

“Sarah, don’t talk Kurt’s ear off,” their mother said, rolling her eyes when Sarah frowned at her. “He’s not here to see you.”

“It’s fine,” Kurt tried to say, but Sarah was already talking over him, and this time Puck didn’t bother trying not to laugh.

“I’m not, Ma, I was just telling him how great he was on the show,” she said, then she tightened her grip on Kurt’s arm and pulled him closer. “So not all the guys on the show are gay, right?”

“No,” Kurt answered, glancing in Puck’s direction, but if he was looking for a rescue he was out of luck. “You know Mike, don’t you? He’s not...”

She waved her hand like Mike didn’t count, and Puck figured to her he probably didn’t. She’d known him for long enough to think of him more as another brother than a ‘guy’, he figured, which meant she was asking about some other dancer. Some specific dancer, and when she leaned even closer to Kurt and dropped her voice Puck frowned.

“What about Sam?”

“What about him?” Puck said, raising an eyebrow when she turned to glare at him. “He’s too old for you anyway.”

Kurt made a weird choking sound that Puck was pretty sure started out as a laugh, but before Puck could call him on it Kurt eased his arm out of Sarah’s grip. “We should probably get to rehearsal.”

Puck sighed and bounced Beth on his arm again, tilting his head to look down at her. “What do you say? You wanna go watch Daddy dance?”

She nodded, curls tickling his chin and neck, and Puck grinned and glanced over at Kurt again. When he caught Kurt watching them his heart did a little tap dance of its own, and when Kurt looked up and blushed it was all Puck could do not to kiss him right there in front of his mom and his sister and everybody else in the lobby.

He thought about doing it anyway, because he didn’t really give a damn what anybody else thought, and anyway it wasn’t like his mom and sister didn’t see Kurt plant one on him on TV less than a week ago. But he had a feeling Kurt wouldn’t be that thrilled about it, so Puck kept his hands to himself and turned to his mother instead.

“You guys want to get checked in and come check out rehearsal?” His mom mostly looked like what she wanted was a nap, and Puck felt kind of bad about guilting her into flying all the way across the country with a hyper three-year-old and nobody to help but the teenager who’d made Beth hyper in the first place. “If you’d rather go get some rest I can take Beth and Sarah with me. Sonya won’t mind if they hang out and watch.”

He wasn’t sure that was true, but he figured what his mother didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her. Besides, he was pretty sure Beth would freak out if he left again so soon after they got there, so he didn’t really have much choice if he didn’t want to ditch his mom with a screaming kid.

“You’re sure it’s okay,” his mother said, and the fact that she was willing to give up control of anything meant that yeah, she really was wiped out.

“It’s totally cool. Everybody’s dying to meet Beth anyway,” Puck said, and that part, at least, was definitely true. The girls were all dying to get their hands on her, and Puck figured between them and Mike and Sarah there would be enough people to keep her occupied for awhile.

“Honestly, Mrs. Puckerman, it’s fine,” Kurt said when his mom frowned like she still didn’t believe him. “My brother hung around and watched rehearsals when my family visited, and no one batted an eye.”

For a second his mother just looked at Kurt, then she let out a breath and nodded. “Call me Connie. And you,” she said, turning on Puck, “call me if she gets too fussy.”

“Don’t worry about it, Ma,” Puck said, leaning in to brush a kiss against her cheek. “Just get some sleep. You’re on vacation, remember?”

She rolled her eyes at him, but he could see the smile she was fighting. Then she leaned in to kiss Beth’s forehead before she turned to Sarah and launched into a lecture about behaving herself and not asking nosy questions of people she didn’t know. Puck had a feeling that last part had something to do with Kurt, but he just let her have her say before they sent her off to the check-in desk with their bags.

When she was gone Puck shifted Beth to his other arm and looked at Kurt, and when he found Kurt smiling at him again he didn’t resist the urge to lean in and kiss him. He knew without looking that Sarah was probably rolling her eyes, and when he heard Beth giggle near his ear Puck let go of Kurt and looked at her.

“What, you want a kiss too, squirt?” he asked, tickling her under the arm until she squealed and squirmed away.

“Kissing boys is yucky.”

“Yeah? Where’d you hear that?” Puck said, and when he looked over at Sarah she just shrugged.

“Daycare.”

“Yeah, well, you just keep thinking that,” Puck said, turning back to his daughter. “No kissing boys for you until you’re, like, thirty.”

It was Kurt who laughed this time, and when Puck felt Kurt’s fingers graze his, he caught Kurt’s hand and held on.

Chapter Text

The first thing Connie noticed about the hotel room was the quiet.

Back in Queens there was always at least one kid around, usually more, and even once they were all in bed there was the street noise from their neighborhood to keep the quiet at bay. The hotel room was six stories up, and any street noise was swallowed long before it reached her. So she was alone for the first time in she couldn’t remember, and it was so quiet she couldn’t relax. Connie settled on the bed anyway, hands folded on her stomach and just listening for a few long moments before she sighed and sat up again.

She thought about going back downstairs to find Sarah and Beth, just to make sure they weren't in the way. It wasn't that she didn't trust Noah to take care of his daughter; he was a good father, despite her worries when he first told her Quinn was pregnant. But this competition was important enough to leave his daughter for two months, and she knew he'd regret it if he let himself get distracted now.

Still, Sarah was old enough to look after Beth for a couple hours, and if Connie went back down there she knew Noah would think it was because she didn't trust him. And she did; he'd earned her trust over the last few years. It was just that she'd been raising kids for so many years that it was a habit now, and she wasn't sure how to step aside and let him take over.

Though she was about to find out. He’d made it clear how serious he was about this Kurt person, and now that Connie had met him she could see that he really wasn’t like the others. He was polite, for one thing, and in the few minutes they’d spent together so far she could see that he was nervous about making a good impression. Which meant he cared about Noah, and if he really was going to move to Queens she was going to have to get used to the idea of Noah and Beth moving into a place of their own.

Connie let out a sigh and reached for the remote, then she settled back on the bed to flip through the channels. Mostly it was just the usual talk shows and soaps, but noise was soothing, and when she found a rerun of Law & Order she stopped and let the familiar sounds of New York City lull her to sleep.

~

Turned out Puck was right about everybody wanting to get their hands on Beth. Not that he was surprised; she was his kid, after all, and awesome pretty much ran in the family. So he wasn’t surprised when the girls all tag-teamed Sarah and Beth the minute they walked into the studio – Sonya included – and pretty much shoved Kurt and Puck out of the way while they passed his kid around for ten minutes.

By the time Sonya finally remembered they had a routine to learn and called places Sarah was grinning like she’d just won homecoming queen, and Beth was planted so firmly on Sonya’s hip that Puck wasn’t a hundred percent sure he was getting her back. But it was a lot better than Sonya kicking Sarah and Beth out of rehearsal, and as long as Beth wasn’t screaming or anything Puck figured she was okay.

He kept an eye on her during rehearsal anyway, and by the time Sonya called break he could tell Beth was getting pretty close to her limit. The girls were all swarming her again, but Puck fought his way through them, and when Beth spotted him and held out chubby arms his heart clenched hard in his chest. He swallowed hard and took her from Sonya, letting her wrap her arms tight around his neck to bury her face in his t-shirt.

“Daddy?” she mumbled, and man, he’d really missed hearing that.

“Yeah, kiddo?”

“We go home now?”

“Soon,” he answered, a hand on her head to stroke his fingers through soft curls. There was a part of him that wished they could go home right now, him and Beth and Sarah and their mom and Kurt. And he knew Kurt had to go back to Ohio for awhile, but the selfish part of him wished he could just blow off his family and go home with Puck until the tour started. “Daddy’s gotta be on TV a couple more times, then we’ll go home.”

Beth let out a heavy sigh against his neck, the one that he always figured was a preview of the drama queen she was bound to be when she hit puberty. Just the thought made him feel kind of like crying, but instead he laughed and bounced her a little on his hip.

“Don’t worry, kiddo. Sarah and Nana and me are all gonna be right here with you, then we’ll all go home together.”

He reached the bench along one side of the studio as he finished talking, and when he glanced over to find Kurt watching him his pulse picked up speed. Sarah was sitting next to Kurt, but instead of watching Puck and Beth cross the room she was staring at something by the door. Puck followed her gaze in time to spot Sam leaning against the wall talking to Mercedes, kind of tilted toward her and grinning while she laughed at something he’d said.

Puck rolled his eyes and dropped onto the bench on Kurt’s other side, shoulders pressed together and sighing in a decent imitation of Beth. “How long’s that been going on?”

“If you’re asking how long your sister’s had a crush on Sam, I couldn’t say,” Kurt answered, leaning a little harder against Puck and smirking at him. “I just met her this afternoon.”

And the thing was, it was easy to forget that Kurt didn’t know his family. It already felt like he and Kurt had known each other forever, so it was weird to think that the rest of Puck’s family still had to get to know him. But Kurt had met his mom now, and he hadn’t bolted yet, so Puck figured that was a good sign.

“Yeah, well, seems like you two are pretty tight already,” Puck said, grinning when Kurt rolled his eyes. “Figured maybe she tried to get you to hook her up.”

“It’s possible she requested an introduction,” Kurt said, his voice going soft, like he was worried that maybe Sarah was going to hear him ratting her out. “I suggested that she run the idea by you first.”

Puck laughed, swaying a little closer, and Kurt blushed and met him halfway. He pressed their lips together, lingering for a second before he pulled back again. “Good answer, babe.”

Kurt made that little humming noise that always drove Puck crazy, glancing at Beth where she was probably fast asleep on his shoulder. He lifted his hand like he was thinking about touching her hair, then he changed his mind and let it drop back into his lap. “How’s she doing?”

“She’s pretty beat,” Puck answered, turning into Beth to try to get a look at her, but all he got was a faceful of curls. “She’ll probably sleep through the rest of rehearsal, then Ma’ll kill me when she won’t go down later.”

“Is she not staying with you tonight?” Kurt asked, eyes kind of wide like he’d already been bracing himself for his first night with Puck’s kid. The fact that he’d assumed that was the plan and hadn’t tried to figure out a way to bail for the night made Puck’s heart do a somersault, and he cleared his throat before he tried to answer.

“Nah. I mean, I wish I could stay with her, but we’ve got rehearsals first thing and it would be too much of a hassle to have to hand her off to Ma that early.”

“But you could stay with your family. I’d understand, if you wanted to be there.”

He could tell Kurt meant it, just like he could tell Kurt didn’t really want him to bail when they only had a couple more nights before they flew back to separate cities for awhile. Puck shifted Beth a little further up on his shoulder, then he reached out with his free hand and gripped the back of Kurt’s neck.

“She’s not gonna miss me while she’s sleeping, babe. Besides, I get to go home with her in a few days. You’re the one who’s ditching me for Ohio.”

He leaned in to kiss the frown off Kurt’s face, and he knew they probably had an audience, but he didn’t really care. Because they only had a couple more days, and anyway everybody in the room had already seen them kiss on live TV.

“I am not ditching you,” Kurt said, but he didn’t sound all that mad, so Puck figured at least he wasn’t cut off. “In fact, I have news.”

Puck raised an eyebrow at the look on Kurt’s face, but before Kurt spit out whatever was on his mind, Sonya was shouting for their attention. He frowned and let Kurt stand up, then he slid down the bench toward Sarah and handed Beth over.

“Seriously, he’s like ten years older than you,” Puck said, scowling in Sam’s direction before he looked back at his sister.

“Six,” Sarah said, liked she’d looked it up or something, and Puck rolled his eyes and leaned in to press a kiss to the top of Beth’s head.

“His girl could break you in half,” he answered, and when she scowled at him he knew she got the message. “To tell you the truth, I’m not even sure if I could take her.”

~

Watching Puck interact with his daughter was just as strange as Kurt expected. Mostly it was strange because Puck wasn't acting any differently; he still flirted as much as ever, and he was just as quick to pull Kurt in for a kiss, even with his daughter balanced on his hip.

He’d been expecting Puck to be different somehow once his family arrived. Less affectionate, maybe, less quick to touch Kurt in front of people who knew him well. So it took him by surprise when Puck kissed him in front of his sister and his daughter, and when Puck took his hand and didn’t let go until they reached the rehearsal studio.

Maybe he should have known better. They’d been talking about moving in together for weeks, after all, and it wasn’t as though either of them would be satisfied with pretending to be just roommates every time Beth was around. Because they weren’t just roommates; they were a family, and that included Beth. So there was no reason for Kurt to be surprised that Puck was just as affectionate in front of her as he’d ever been, and Kurt felt a little guilty for thinking that he might not be.

It made him even more anxious to tell Puck his news, but they didn’t get a chance to talk again during rehearsal, and once it was over Beth woke up and Puck had to focus on her. And Kurt understood; his dad had talked to him enough about what it would be like to have a child around to share Puck’s attention with that Kurt was ready for it, and now that Kurt was experiencing it he was grateful that his father had tried to prepare him.

He didn’t even mind, but it meant he didn’t get a chance to tell Puck his news before they had to meet his mother for dinner. Mrs. Puckerman – Connie – seemed more relaxed after her nap, but she started fussing over Beth the minute they sat down at the restaurant, and Kurt could only guess that it was because she was as nervous about dinner as he was.

Puck had told him at least a dozen times in the past week that it would be fine, that his family would love Kurt and he didn’t have anything to worry about. And Kurt knew he believed it, but Puck wasn’t the one uprooting his life and moving four hundred miles away to start all over again with a new family. With a child, and even though Kurt wasn’t her father, it was still a big responsibility.

He glanced across the table at big brown eyes and dirty blond curls, and the pout Kurt had seen on Puck’s face more than once in the past three months. The thought made him smile, and when he felt a hand close around his Kurt looked over to find Puck smiling back at him. He felt his face heat up but didn’t try to pull his hand away, even though Puck’s mother was sitting right across from them.

“So you’re really moving to New York?” Sarah asked.

Kurt blushed even harder at the question, casting a quick glance at Puck’s mom before he answered. “If all goes well. I have to go back to Ohio for awhile first, and then there’s the tour.”

Puck’s grip on his hand tightened, and when Kurt looked over and saw his determined expression his heart skipped a beat. “Everything’s gonna go fine, babe. As soon as I get home I’ll start looking for a place for us.”

“You’re staying in the neighborhood.”

At the sound of Connie’s voice they both looked across the table, and Kurt caught the little frown before she wiped it off her face.

“Ma…”

“Don’t give me that, Noah. Beth’s daycare is in the neighborhood, and you can’t just pull her out and put her somewhere with people we don’t even know because the rent’s good.”

Puck frowned and opened his mouth to argue with her, but before he got the words out Kurt squeezed his hand hard enough to get his attention. When Puck looked over at him Kurt shook his head, and Puck sighed and settled a little further in his chair.

“Yeah, okay,” he finally said, looking at his mother again, “we’ll stay in the neighborhood if we can. But only if we can find a place we can afford, Ma.”

“There’s an apartment open in Nina’s building,” Connie said, turning away from them to wipe apple juice off Beth’s chin as she spoke. “The super will give you a break on the rent because it needs some work. There’s only one bedroom, but there’s an extra room in the back you could use for Beth’s room. It’s small, but Nina says it’s big enough for a crib, and she won’t need much room for awhile yet.”

“You’ve been looking at places for us?”

For a second Connie kept fussing over Beth, and Kurt was starting to wonder if she was going to refuse to answer altogether when finally she took a deep breath and looked up. “I just mentioned to Nina that you were in the market, and she told me about the open apartment. If you’re not interested it’s no skin off my back.”

“We’re interested,” Kurt said, and when Puck looked at him Kurt shrugged and turned back to his mother. “Thank you.”

“Babe,” Puck said, lowering his voice and leaning in until his shoulder was pressed against Kurt’s, “this place could be a total dump. When they say it needs work, that’s not a good sign.”

“It can’t hurt to look at it, right?” Kurt answered, stealing another glance at Puck’s mother.

He didn’t add that it would make Puck’s mother happy, but as far as Kurt was concerned, that was just as big a selling point as the price. And he knew plenty of people would call him crazy for voluntarily moving into the same neighborhood as his boyfriend’s mother – his father had implied as much while he was home – but it would be easier on all of them if she was still close enough to help with Beth.

He considered telling them all his news. It might make Connie feel a little better about Kurt and Puck moving in together and taking her granddaughter with them, and he knew Puck would want to know. But Kurt sort of wanted Puck to be the first to know -- okay, aside from Finn and Will, but they hardly counted, considering -- so in the end Kurt kept his mouth shut and let Puck argue with his mother about the definition of ‘it needs some work’.

~

All things considered, Puck figured dinner could have gone a lot worse. He still wasn’t sure how they’d gotten roped into looking at an apartment in his mom’s best friend’s building, and he wasn’t all that confident it would be worth their time, but if it made his mother happy, he’d go look at it when they got home. It would give him something to do while he was hanging around in Queens waiting for the tour to start, anyway, and if there was a lot of work to do maybe the super would let him get started before Kurt got to town.

When Puck caught himself thinking of the place as theirs already he frowned in his mother’s direction, but she was too busy digging through her suitcase for Beth’s pajamas to notice. He still had no clue how she managed to get her way every time, but if it meant they had a place to move into as soon as the tour was over, he wasn’t going to complain. Besides, it would probably be easier for her if she at least thought she had some say in where they were going, so if they stayed in the neighborhood for now it didn’t really make that much of a difference.

She had a point about Beth’s daycare, anyway; it was going to be a big change, moving out of his mother’s apartment and in with Kurt, so keeping the rest of her routine more or less the same would be important, at least until she got used to the new place. Until she got used to sleeping in her own room, and until she got used to having Kurt around and figured out that he wasn't going anywhere.

Thinking about it made Puck wish Kurt had come back to his mom's room while Puck put Beth to bed. He understood why Kurt didn't; he was trying to give Puck some time with Beth, and maybe he was still feeling a little weird about being around Puck's mom, too. But Puck could tell she was coming around to the idea of him moving out, and if they were close enough to come by for dinner a couple times a week it would be easier for her not to have Beth around all the time too.

Once Beth was changed into her Ariel nightgown Puck picked her up and swung her onto the bed closest to the window, pulling the covers back and stretching out next to her to let her snuggle close. He took the book she handed him, swallowing a sigh at what had to be the hundredth reading of Love You Forever. Personally, he thought it was kind of creepy, with the old lady climbing through the window and all, but Beth loved it, and Puck’s mother had bought it for her, so he kept his opinion to himself and opened the book.

He could tell by the way she let out a little sigh as she settled against his shoulder that she was still wiped out in spite of her nap during rehearsal, so he wasn’t surprised when he looked down halfway through the story and found her fast asleep. Puck stopped reading, holding his breath while he set the book aside and just watching to make sure she didn’t wake up. For a few minutes he stayed like that, partly because he didn’t want to move too soon and wake her, but mostly because he just missed watching her sleep.

He’d gotten pretty used to looking in her crib every night when he went to bed, brushing curls away from her face and just watching her breathe for a minute or two before he crashed. For three years it had been just the two of them – and okay, his mother and Sarah too – against the world, and until Kurt came along that had been okay with him.

When he was sure she wasn’t going to wake up Puck slid out from under her, then he tucked her in and climbed off the bed. He looked up and spotted his mom watching him, but as soon as they made eye contact she looked down at the suitcase she was still fussing over. Puck shook his head and glanced back at Beth, then over at Sarah where she was stretched out on her own bed with her earbuds in.

“Thanks again for coming, Ma,” he said, keeping his voice down. “It’s cool that you guys are here.”

“Thank your sister. She was relentless,” his mother answered, rolling her eyes before she glanced past Puck toward Beth. “Your…Kurt seems nice.”

He raised an eyebrow when she stopped herself from saying ‘friend’, but he didn’t call her on it. He knew she was trying; just showing up in L.A. meant she was trying, and even the whole thing with the apartment meant she was trying to get used to the idea of him being serious about somebody for the first time in his life.

“Yeah, he’s great,” Puck answered. “He bought an outfit for Beth. It’d be cool if she wore it during the show; he’d get a kick out of it.”

He could tell she wanted to argue, maybe to say that the clothes she’d brought for Beth were just fine. But instead she nodded, then she looked back down at the suitcase in front of her. “You’ll have to bring it by the room.”

“I’ll come by right after rehearsal tomorrow,” Puck said, glancing back toward the bed where Beth was still sleeping. “They usually give us some time before lunch.”

“Will we see you for more than a few minutes?”

“Yeah, I mean, you guys can have lunch with us, then there’s more rehearsal, but I’ll have some time after that too. But there’s a lot of stuff to do; there’s the pool, and if you want I think they’re doing a tour of L.A. for the families or something.”

“The baby doesn’t want to sit on a tour bus all day, Noah.”

“She’s not a baby anymore, Ma,” Puck pointed out, grinning when she scowled at him. “Come on, she’ll be fine. And Sarah will love it. Besides, it’s not all day. They’re probably just trying to keep all the families busy while we’re in afternoon rehearsals.”

She shrugged without looking at him, which Puck knew from years of experience meant she was probably going to go, but she didn’t want to admit it. He stifled a laugh and crossed the space between them, leaning in to brush a kiss across her cheek. “Relax, Ma, you’re still on vacation, remember? I’ll see you tomorrow.”

He waved to Sarah on his way out, then he let himself out of the room and headed down the hall to the elevators. It took longer to get back to his room than he wanted, and when he finally let himself in Kurt wasn’t sitting on the bed like Puck had been expecting. He wasn’t anywhere in the main part of the room, and for a second Puck wondered if maybe he’d gone to hang out with some of the other dancers.

Except he’d told Puck he was going to wait in their room, and when Puck heard the water running in the bathroom he shook his head at himself and threw himself down on the bed to wait for Kurt to finish his beauty routine. He settled back on a pillow and closed his eyes, and he wasn’t sure how long he laid there, drifting just on the edge of sleep, but when he felt a pair of lips brush against his Puck blinked his eyes open again to find Kurt looking down at him.

Puck grinned and ran his hands up Kurt’s thighs where they were planted on either side of his hips, but when he tried to pull Kurt in for another kiss Kurt caught his hands and threaded their fingers together.

“I have to tell you something. I was going to tell you earlier, but between rehearsal and your family…I thought about just telling you all at dinner, but I didn’t want to make it all about me, and anyway I wanted to tell you first. Well, technically third; Finn and Will already know, but that could hardly be helped, considering…”

“Babe,” Puck interrupted, because he wasn’t sure how long Kurt could babble like that before he ran out of air and, like, passed out or something, but Puck had a feeling if he didn’t do something he was going to find out. “Just tell me.”

“I am telling you.” Kurt frowned and shifted his weight, and that was kind of distracting, but Puck did his best to ignore it and focus on what Kurt was saying. “Will offered me a job.”

“What? When?” Puck asked, letting go of Kurt to push up onto his elbows.

“After lunch. Right before your family arrived,” Kurt answered, and now Puck could feel the excitement kind of buzzing through him. “I went up to my room to give Finn his things, and he said Will wanted to talk to me. So I went to Will’s room, expecting some speech about dating Finn that would only embarrass us all, but instead he said he really admired my technique and he wondered if I wouldn’t consider working with him once I move to New York.”

“Babe, that’s awesome,” Puck said, sitting up and gripping Kurt’s hips to tug him a little closer. “So does he want you to dance in one of his shows or what?”

Kurt’s arms slid around his neck, but his smile disappeared and he pressed his lips together for a second like he was thinking hard. “No, nothing so glamorous as that. Though maybe this is better; we could use the steady income, after all, and a spot in a show, while great for my resume, would only be a temporary job.”

Puck didn’t point out that he was babbling again. Instead he leaned in and pressed a kiss to Kurt’s lips, then another one on his cheek before he pulled back to watch Kurt blush. “So what’s the job, then? It does involve dancing, right?”

Kurt rolled his eyes, but he was smiling again, so Puck grinned back at him. “He wants me to be his assistant. Apparently his current assistant was offered a place in a company here in L.A., and when Will found out I was moving to New York he thought of me to fill the vacancy. Mostly it means helping him teach his choreography to other dancers, but if it works out I might get to come back to the show next year to help out behind the scenes.”

“Of course it’s gonna work out, babe. You’re awesome; he’d be crazy to let you get away,” Puck said, grinning when Kurt blushed even harder. His hands slid up Kurt’s back to pull him into another kiss, lingering this time before he pulled back to look at Kurt again. “But why’d you wait so long to tell me?”

Kurt shrugged like he wasn’t really sure himself, gaze locked on Puck’s chin. “I told you; I wanted to tell you first. Besides, your family’s here to see you, not hear about my career aspirations. I didn’t want to monopolize the dinner conversation.”

“Are you kidding? Ma’s gonna be stoked that at least one of us has a paying job.”

“Well it’s not as though it pays much,” Kurt said, but he ventured a glance up at Puck, two bright spots of pink in the middle of his cheeks, and Puck didn’t bother trying not to touch. “But it’ll make my father feel a little better about the idea of me moving to the big city all on my own.”

“You’re not on your own, babe.” Puck leaned in again, pressing a hard kiss against Kurt’s lips this time. “It’s you and me, for the long haul. So even if you do make it big on Broadway someday, you’re still gonna be stuck with me.”

Kurt laughed and kissed him again, then he planted his hands on Puck’s chest and pushed him backwards onto the mattress. “That won’t be a problem.”

~

It was a little strange, watching the competition along with the rest of the live audience for the first time. Some of the other eliminated dancers had come back already to cheer the remaining competitors on, but it was Kurt’s first chance to sit in the audience and watch Puck and the others dance.

He hadn’t planned to sit with Puck’s family. Finn was there, after all, and he couldn’t sit with Will, since Will was on the judges’ panel. So Kurt had planned to sit with his brother and give Puck’s mother a little space, just so she could enjoy Puck’s performance without worrying about Kurt horning in on their experience.

That was the plan. What he hadn’t expected was for Sarah to find him as they were heading down to the theater, looping her arm through his and holding on tight, as though she thought maybe he was going to try to make a break for it. And maybe he considered it, just for a second, but when Finn grinned and introduced himself Kurt knew it was a lost cause.

Before he could say a word Finn and Sarah were chatting away like old friends, and just like that they were sitting with Puck’s family for the show. He smiled politely at Puck’s mother, then he introduced Finn to Connie and Beth. As soon as they finished exchanging awkward hellos Sarah pulled him down into the seat next to her and gestured at Beth where she was wriggling on Connie’s lap.

“Look, she’s wearing your outfit.”

“You bought clothes for Puck’s kid?” Finn asked from his other side, leaning around him to get a look at the outfit in question. As though he knew anything about toddler fashion. And okay, maybe Kurt didn’t either, but he was more qualified than Finn to recognize whether or not Puck’s daughter could rock L.A. fashion.

And she was Puck’s daughter, so of course she could rock it. Kurt rolled his eyes and didn’t bother to answer; instead he turned back toward Sarah, smiling at the sight of Beth’s unruly curls. “I was worried it would be a little too big.”

“She’s been in 4Ts for a few months now,” Connie answered, looking up from her struggle to keep Beth still long enough to glance at him. “Thank you, it was very thoughtful of you.”

Kurt opened his mouth to say that it was nothing, that it was just an outfit, and he’d only bought it because he knew Puck was missing his little girl. Except that was the same as admitting that it was a big deal after all, and Kurt wasn’t sure he was ready to tell Puck’s mother exactly how he felt about her son.

He was spared the trouble of making a decision when Cat stepped onstage and the crowd erupted in cheers and applause. Kurt smiled in spite of himself when she waved and gestured for them all to settle down, then launched into her speech about how the show was going to work. And he’d never seen her from this angle either, but it was kind of nice, sitting back and watching the show without the pressure of worrying about his next performance.

Not that the pressure of sitting next to his boyfriend’s mother for the next few hours was much better, but at least he didn’t have to worry about dancing in front of her. Then again, he’d be right up there with all the other eliminated dancers tomorrow, and Puck’s entire family would still be in the audience.

In a way it was even more intimidating than standing in front of the judges; they were only judging Kurt on his dancing, but Puck’s mother was deciding whether or not he was good enough for her son. For her son and her granddaughter, and Kurt had no idea how to measure up to that.

He stole a glance in Connie’s direction in time to watch her lose the battle to keep Beth on her lap. She escaped Connie’s clutches just as the show started, clamoring onto Sarah’s lap at the same moment Cat came back out to start the show. As soon as she appeared the entire audience stood up, the noise around them deafening and Sarah wrapped her arms around Beth and hoisted her up. But she wasn’t tall enough to see over the crowd herself, which meant when Cat announced the final four and Puck stepped onto the stage, Beth couldn’t see him.

Kurt could hear Beth asking for Puck, fighting Sarah’s grip on her now to try to see over the people in front of them. He heard Sarah’s frustrated huff of breath, then Connie shushing them both, and a second later Sarah was turning to him and shoving Beth into his chest.

“Here, you’re taller.”

He didn’t have time to think before he caught Beth around the waist, tensing as he waited for her to realize a stranger was holding her and start screaming. But she just wrapped her arms around his neck and held on, straining up just in time to watch Puck perform a complicated flip.

“Daddy!” she shouted, more or less in Kurt’s ear, but instead of wincing and pulling away he just shifted his grip until she was a little higher. Beth turned to look at Sarah and Connie, and Kurt expected her to reach for one of them, but instead she just pointed toward the stage until they acknowledged that it was, indeed, her father up there, then she turned back toward the stage and tightened her grip on Kurt’s neck.

Kurt didn’t have any experience with kids. He’d seen them before, of course, mostly in the dance studio when a whole group of screaming preteen girls invaded the rehearsal room en masse for the Prima Ballerinas class. But he’d never had any firsthand experience with them, so he wasn’t prepared for the feeling of chubby arms wrapped tight around his neck or soft curls brushing his cheek as Beth turned her head to try to spot her father on the stage.

As soon as Cat turned to the judges and the audience took their seats again Beth reached for Sarah, and Kurt held his breath while he handed her over, lest he drop her and have to face Puck later and explain how Kurt broke his little girl. Once she was safely back in Sarah’s lap Kurt took a breath, settling back in his own seat to watch Cat introduce all six judges.

He hadn’t held her long enough to get used to it or anything, but Kurt could still feel her hands on the side of his neck. He could still smell baby shampoo and something sweet, felt the faint stickiness of his skin where her fingers had been, as though maybe she’d been eating fruit snacks before they got to the theater. And Kurt supposed he was going to have to get used to sticky fingers and the idea of fruit snacks as a food group, but he found that he didn’t really mind.

Puck and Mike had the first routine of the evening, and when Cat announced them, Sarah cheered and Finn let out a wolf whistle. Kurt laughed in spite of the fact that he was fairly sure he was going to be deaf by the end of the night, then he turned back to the stage and watched as Puck and Mike took their places.

Kurt had been dancing for most of his life, so he knew talent when he saw it. He knew that Mike had the total package: charisma and natural talent, plus the training to take him anywhere he wanted to go in the dance world. His skill was unmatched by any of the other dancers on the show, and that was why they all knew he was going to win.

But when the music started and they began to move, it was Puck Kurt couldn’t take his eyes off of. And okay, maybe he was a little biased, but that didn’t change the fact that Puck had improved by leaps and bounds. He was holding his own in styles he’d never even tried before the show, and now that Kurt was watching him dance his own style from the audience, he could see how much more comfortable Puck was on stage.

As though he finally believed he belonged up there just as much as the rest of them did, and when they reached the end of their routine and Puck’s whole face lit up in a grin, Kurt could tell it was true. He cheered just as loud as Sarah this time, standing up with the rest of the audience as Puck and Mike made their way across the stage to face the judges. Before the crowd even settled down he felt a tug on his sleeve, and when Kurt looked over Beth was reaching for him.

“Oh,” he said, face flushing, but he reached out and caught her anyway, settling her on his hip and holding her up so she could see the stage. He knew it had nothing to do with him; she just wanted to see her father, and she’d already figured out that she could see him a lot better if Kurt was holding her than if Sarah was.

Which meant she was smart, and that was going to be a problem when she got to high school. Kurt’s stomach did a somersault at the thought, but he just held her a little tighter and tried to focus on what the judges were saying about Puck’s performance.

They all loved it, of course. Mike got a lot of the praise, granted, but they had good things to say about Puck as well, and by the time Cat sent them offstage to prepare for their next performances Puck was positively beaming. Kurt realized he was smiling as well when Finn laughed next to him, and he frowned and glanced over to find his brother watching him.

“What?”

“Nothing,” Finn said, shrugging as the audience sat down again. “It’s just weird, thinking of you with a kid.”

“She’s not…” Kurt paused and looked down at the little girl he was still holding. He’d been expecting her to reach for Sarah again the second Puck headed offstage, but when Kurt sat down she just settled in his lap and leaned back against his chest. It was strange, but not completely unwelcome, and when he looked over to find Sarah and Connie both pretending not to watch him, he knew neither of them were going to come to his rescue. “It’s not that weird.”

Finn snorted next to him, and when Kurt looked at him again he was grinning. “Yeah it is. But it’s kind of cool, too.”

‘Cool’ wasn’t the first word that sprang to Kurt’s mind when he thought about being responsible for someone else’s child. ‘Terrifying’ was a little closer, or maybe ‘insane’. It still seemed crazy that anyone would trust him with a kid when he didn’t know anything about them; according to his father, even when he was a kid he wasn’t exactly typical.

But he knew a lot about clothes, and that was something most little girls enjoyed. He could teach her to dance, and he could teach her about theater and music and all the stuff he was pretty sure her father wouldn’t consider important. And he was fairly sure Puck was never going to love going to the theater with Kurt, even if there was dancing involved, so it would be nice to have someone around who enjoyed that sort of thing.

So maybe Finn had a point after all; maybe once they all got settled and Kurt got past the ‘terrifying’ part, having Beth in his life would be kind of cool.

~

It was pretty awesome, having everybody back together for the finale. Kind of like a reunion, and everybody seemed pretty stoked to be back. Sonya's group routine went over pretty well, judging by the noise from the audience, and knowing the votes were all in meant they could just enjoy it and not worry about what the judges were going to think.

Puck got decent feedback from the judges the night before, but he knew he wasn't going to win. So he wasn't stressed about the results or anything, but it was still cool to have Kurt backstage with him again. It was nice to leave the stage after revisiting Mia's contemporary routine with Rachel and find Kurt waiting for him, eyes kind of watery just from watching Puck dance. He laughed and wrapped his arms around Kurt, pulling him close and murmuring 'I love you' against Kurt's lips right before Puck kissed him.

When he pulled back again Kurt was smiling, cheeks pink and his hands curled around the front of Puck's shirt. "I'm proud of you, you know. No matter what happens."

Puck's throat got sort of tight, and he pulled Kurt close and buried his face in Kurt's neck until he pulled it together. A hand landed on the back of his neck, stroking over his scalp and Puck wanted to laugh, because he already knew Kurt thought he had a chance at winning, so it was stupid to cry about it now.

"Your whole family's proud of you," Kurt added, whispering near Puck's ear, and he nodded against Kurt's neck and swallowed hard against the lump in his throat. "You should have seen them yesterday. Surely you heard them, even from the stage."

Puck did laugh at that, the weight on his chest easing up enough to let him breathe again. "Sarah’s always had a pretty big mouth."

"Beth too. Not that she has a big mouth," Kurt added, blushing even harder, and Puck laughed again. "Though she nearly perforated my eardrum screaming for you once or twice."

"She does have kind of a big mouth," Puck said. "Pretty sure she learned that from Sarah."

He grinned when Kurt laughed, but before Kurt could point out where else Beth might have learned that particular habit, they were calling the final four back out onstage.

"Guess that's me."

Kurt nodded and leaned in to press one last kiss to his lips. "For luck."

"The voting's over already, babe," Puck reminded him, grinning when Kurt rolled his eyes. "See you in a few minutes."

He let go of Kurt and headed for the edge of the stage to meet Mike, Brittany and Tina. The four of them walked out together, taking their places next to Cat and joining hands while they waited for her to announce which of them had come in fourth. Tina's hand was gripping his hard enough to hurt a little, fingers shaking against his and her palm was kind of sweaty. Puck wanted to tell her to relax, that it didn't really matter who won, not anymore.

But that was the thing; winning probably did still matter to her. Winning still mattered to Mike and Brittany too, because that was the reason they'd all come here. Puck had always known he wasn't going to win, but he'd tried out to prove something to his mom and his kid, and along the way he'd gotten an even bigger prize than the title of America's favorite dancer.

It was pretty corny, but Puck grinned anyway and glanced toward the edge of the stage where he knew Kurt was waiting for him. When Cat said his name he turned back to the center of the stage, and when she looked at him and said, “Your journey ends here, I’m afraid,” he just nodded and turned to hug Tina and then Mike.

“It’s cool, bro, everybody knows you’re going to win the whole thing,” Puck whispered when Mike pulled him close, then he clapped Mike on the shoulder and let Brittany hug him before Cat chased all three of them off the stage.

Once they were gone Cat’s arms slid around his shoulders, squeezing for a second like she thought he might be upset or something. And yeah, it would have been cool to pull out a win, but fourth place wasn’t the end of the world. It was a hell of a lot better than he’d expected to do when he showed up for that first audition, when he’d been told to stick around for choreography and then struck up a conversation with a cute contemporary dancer from Ohio and changed his whole life.

“Shall we look at some highlights of your time in the competition?” Cat said, giving him another squeeze, and Puck laughed and said, “Bring it.”

She grinned back at him as the reel started, and Puck saw himself up on the huge screen, first at the New York auditions and then during Vegas week, dancing with Rachel and hanging out with the rest of the dancers, and in almost all the scenes Kurt wasn’t far away. The reel ended with a shot of him and Kurt standing hand in hand, facing a fake New York City skyline, and Puck grinned and reached up to rub at his eyes.

When the reel finally ended Cat hugged him one more time, then she let him go, across the stage to the spot where he knew Kurt was waiting. Puck found him right where he expected to, and when Kurt reached out to pull him close Puck didn’t argue.

He let Kurt put his arms around Puck’s back, slid his own arms around Kurt’s waist and when Kurt’s hands slid up and down his shoulder blades and he started making little soothing noises like he thought Puck was really bummed about getting cut, Puck stifled a laugh and reached down to cup Kurt’s ass.

As soon as he made contact Kurt’s hands were on his chest, shoving him away to frown at him, and Puck didn’t bother trying to stifle his laugh. “Neanderthal.”

“Babe, come on,” Puck said, and when he took a step forward Kurt didn’t push him away again. “It’s no big deal. Besides, now I don’t have to sweat it anymore. We can just enjoy the rest of the show and not worry about who wins, right?”

Kurt sighed and let Puck tug him close, hands on the front of his shirt to splay his fingers against Puck’s chest. “I suppose so. Though I still think you could have won.”

“Any of us could have won. Hell, Brittany’s never been in the bottom either; maybe she’ll take the whole thing instead of Mike.”

Personally, Puck still thought Kurt should have won the whole thing. Nobody had asked him, though, and anyway it didn’t really matter. Sure, the money would have been nice, but they’d be okay without it. Kurt had a job waiting for him to finish with the tour and move to the city, and Puck would figure out something to do just as soon as he got home. The money they made from appearing on the show would pay for first and last on an apartment, at least, and the rest of it they’d figure out together.

“I have to go get ready to dance,” Kurt said, but he didn’t sound much like he wanted to let Puck go even long enough to perform his African jazz routine with Tina.

“Yeah, I know,” Puck said, pulling back just far enough to brush a kiss against Kurt’s lips before he let go and took a step back. “It’s cool, babe. I’m not going anywhere.”

“Promise?”

“Promise,” Puck answered, and he meant it.

~

It came as no surprise to anyone when Cat announced that Mike was the winner. Even Brittany seemed genuinely happy for him, at least if the way she squealed and launched herself at him right in the middle of the stage was anything to go by. For his part, Mike seemed pretty shocked -- both at the win and the launching -- and it made Kurt feel a little better about Puck’s loss when he saw that Mike had been just as worried as the rest of them.

Once the show wrapped and the press ran out of inane questions to ask and they were allowed the relative privacy of a room full of all the contestants, their families, and the judges who’d chosen to stick around, the reality that this was really the end started to sink in for Kurt. Tomorrow they’d all be getting back on planes and going home, and sure, there was the tour to look forward to, but there was an entire month between the end of the show and the beginning of the tour, and Kurt was already wondering how he was going to survive it.

He hadn't seen much of Puck since they got to the party. Mercedes and Tina had grabbed him as soon as he walked through the door, and by the time he said hello to their parents and heard about what they were both planning to do after the tour, Puck had been swallowed up by the crowd. Kurt assumed he was congratulating Mike again, or else he was letting his family fuss over him and tell him he should have been the one to win.

Kurt scanned the crowd, but there were a lot of bodies packed into a fairly small space, and it was hard to see much of anything. He spotted Finn across the room, mostly because he was a head taller than most of the guests, and as soon as Finn saw him he was pushing his way through the crowd in Kurt's direction.

"Hey," Finn said when he reached Kurt. "You looked great out there tonight."

"Thanks," Kurt answered, still scanning the crowd for Puck as he spoke. "It's a lot easier to get out there once the pressure to win is gone."

"Yeah, I bet," Finn said, though Kurt could tell he had no idea what Kurt was talking about. Not that it mattered; they both knew Finn hadn't come to L.A. for Kurt's sake. "So listen, I told Will I'd hang out with him tonight, grab some food or whatever, and then..."

"No details," Kurt reminded him, and when Finn blushed Kurt frowned. "And please don't do anything to embarrass me. He's not just some random notch in your bedpost anymore. He's my boss now."

"He's not...I mean, I know, I was there when he offered you the job," Finn said, blushing even harder now. "But either way, it's not just some hook-up. At least not for me."

Kurt let out a sigh, then he nodded and glanced past Finn again. "Fine. I'll meet you in the lobby at 9:00. Try to be on time."

"I'll be there. Later, bro," Finn said, grinning and clapping Kurt on the shoulder before he headed back in the direction he'd come.

Kurt didn't look to see if Will was waiting for Finn, because as soon as Finn moved he finally spotted Puck. Beth was sitting on his hip, arms wrapped around his neck and they were headed right for Kurt. His heart skipped a beat at the sight of them, and he felt the color bloom in his cheeks when Puck smirked at him.

"Hi," Kurt said when they reached him, leaning in to let Puck brush a kiss across his cheek. "I was looking for you."

"Yeah, I had to fight my way through Mike's fan club to say congratulations," Puck answered, shifting Beth a little further up on his hip. "Everything cool with your brother?"

He glanced in the direction Finn had disappeared, and Kurt frowned and followed his gaze. "Apparently he's in love. Which means either I'm going to be working for the man who broke my brother's heart, or I won't have a job at all for long."

Puck snorted a laugh and slid a hand around the back of Kurt's neck, easing him forward to plant a kiss on his lips this time. "You never know, babe. They might make it."

Kurt didn't see how, considering Finn’s track record and the fact that he still lived in Ohio, but he didn't argue. Instead he glanced at Beth, watching her eyes flutter closed before she forced them open again. "Looks like it's someone's bedtime."

"Yeah, she's about had it," Puck answered, glancing at the shock of curls resting on his shoulder. "So what do you say? You ready to get out of here?"

Kurt nodded and reached for Puck's hand, threading their fingers together before he looked back up at Puck. "Shall I meet you in the room?"

"You can come with me to tuck her in if you want. She'll probably only make it through a couple pages of her bedtime story before she passes out anyway."

Kurt's first instinct was to say no, mostly because he knew Puck's mother was probably already back in her room waiting for him to bring her granddaughter back. But it was their last night together for an entire month, and even if he didn't want to spend every second he could with Puck, Kurt could tell Puck wanted him to go.

He nodded and squeezed Puck's hand, backing toward the door and dragging Puck and Beth with him. "I think I can handle a few pages."

"Just wait until you have to hear the same book every night for a month," Puck said, letting go of Kurt's hand to slide his arm around Kurt's shoulders and pull him close.

It would be awhile until Kurt had an entire month of uninterrupted nights with Puck and his daughter. By the time the tour was over and they found a place to live almost three months would have gone by, and that was a long time to wait to start their lives together. But they were going on tour together, and Kurt was planning to use the month before the tour to make sure he was ready to move just as soon as he got back.

"I'll look forward to it," Kurt said, and when Puck huffed a soft laugh Kurt just smiled and steered them toward the elevators to take his family to bed.

Chapter Text

The second his flight touched down at LaGuardia Kurt had his phone out, fingers flying across the keyboard to type two words: I’m home.

He was halfway to baggage claim when he heard the answering beep, and he pulled his phone out and grinned at the new message.

Finally. Come by the studio?

Give me half an hour, Kurt answered, then he pocketed his phone again and went in search of his luggage.

It wasn’t the first time they’d been apart since they moved in together. Will traveled a lot, and there were times when he needed an assistant to travel with him. So Kurt had been to Chicago and Miami and even back to L.A., but he still hadn’t gotten over the thrill of coming home to New York.

Part of it was the idea of calling New York City home; he’d been dreaming about it for so long that it still seemed like a dream most of the time. So it was nice, flying into LaGuardia and hauling his bags to the taxi stand knowing he’d get to stay. But the truth was he could have been coming home to Newark and he wouldn’t care, as long as he was coming home to Puck.

The cab ride into Queens didn’t take long, even with rush hour traffic to contend with. Barely fifteen minutes after they left the airport they were pulling up in front of the studio, and Kurt paid the driver and dragged his bags up the short flight of steps into Mike’s place. It was still hard to believe Mike had used his prize money to open a dance studio in the neighborhood when he could have done anything with his win. He could have used the money to pay for a place in Debbie Allen’s school, or he could have moved out of his parents’ apartment and used the leverage from his win to land a spot in a Broadway show.

But he’d told the press he wanted to open this place to give other kids in his neighborhood a place to go, even if they couldn’t afford dance lessons. Then he’d offered Puck a job, and Puck still made jokes about being the least qualified teacher in the city, but Kurt knew better. He’d seen Puck with the kids he taught, seen him laugh with them and pick them up when they fell, and he’d seen the pride on Puck’s face when one of them picked up a tricky move for the first time.

He watched Puck go from unsure what he was going to do with his life to believing he really did have something to offer. Mike’s studio was still struggling, but the place was always full of students, and they were making ends meet, even if no one was getting rich. And even if he wanted to Kurt couldn’t exactly complain, because Will didn’t pay him much either. But they managed to pay the rent every month, and Beth had everything she needed, so Kurt figured they were doing okay.

He smiled at the thought and set his bags down near the door, then he straightened up and stepped into the studio. He got all of five steps in before he heard a shout, then something was hurtling toward him and he caught a glimpse of unruly curls before he was nearly knocked off his feet.

Kurt’s arms went around Beth’s waist as he caught his balance, holding on tight while she wrapped her arms around his neck and squeezed the breath out of him. She was already talking faster than he could keep up with, telling him everything he'd missed in the week he'd been gone. When she finally ran out of breath he laughed and planted a kiss on her cheek.

"I missed you too," he said. "But I brought you something from L.A."

"Babe, you said you were gonna stop spoiling her."

The sound of Puck's voice sent warmth curling in Kurt's stomach, and when Beth's hand pressed against his cheek he knew he was blushing.

"Please; that ship sailed before I entered the picture," he said, turning to take in the sight of Puck smirking at him. His tank top was stretched across his chest, forehead shiny with sweat from the class he'd just finished teaching, and when he leaned in Kurt didn't try to stop him.

He just kissed Puck back, one hand coming up to rest on the back of Puck’s neck and pull him even closer. When he heard Beth giggle Kurt blushed again and pulled back, smiling and running his thumb along Puck's bottom lip before he let go.

"So how's Nigel?" Puck asked, grinning when Kurt laughed.

"As self-satisfied as ever, I'm sure, but I didn't really see him. I spent most of the week in the studio with the contestants."

"Sounds like you had some time to shop, at least."

"There's always time to shop," Kurt answered, smiling and glancing at Beth again. "Speaking of which, I can take this little princess home and let her open her gift if you're still teaching."

"Santana said she'd cover for me when I told her you were back. I'm probably gonna pay for it later, but it's worth it," Puck said, then he reached for Beth and pulled her out of Kurt's arms to set her down on the floor. "So as soon as somebody gets their Dora backpack out of the dressing room, we can bail."

Beth took off immediately, hurtling toward the dressing room without so much as a backward glance. Kurt watched her go, but when she disappeared through the door on the opposite side of the room he turned back to Puck. "Surely she's not that excited over a Hollywood t-shirt."

"First of all, if you think I'm gonna buy that all you got her is a t-shirt, you're dreaming," Puck said, grinning when Kurt rolled his eyes. "Anyway, she's stoked because Ma's taking her tonight. She's been hassling me about how she hasn't seen Beth all week, and you know how she gets when she doesn't get a chance to spoil her grandkid."

"I haven't seen her all week either," Kurt reminded him, glancing toward the dressing room, but there was no sign of Beth yet. "I just got home, Noah."

"I know, babe, and you haven't seen me all week either," Puck said, hands on Kurt's hips to drag him close, and when Kurt realized what he was saying he blushed all the way to the roots of his hair. "Give me a break here."

"Point taken." Kurt slid his arms around Puck's neck and let Puck kiss him again, harder this time. It was completely inappropriate, considering they were in Puck's workplace, but what his students weren't around to witness wouldn't hurt them. “So let’s go home.”

~

It took longer than Puck wanted for them to get back to their place, mainly because they had to stop and drop Beth off first, which meant going in and hanging out while she opened her presents, then listening while Kurt answered all of Sarah’s dumb questions about the new season’s contestants. Finally Puck actually dragged Kurt out of his mother’s apartment, ignoring the apologies Kurt tossed over his shoulder about Puck’s rudeness.

His mother already knew why Puck was so anxious to get Kurt alone; that was the whole reason he’d asked her to take Beth on Kurt’s first night back. And he’d had plans for tonight, but when Kurt ditched his bags right inside their apartment door instead of dragging them to the bedroom and unpacking right away, Puck knew his mind wasn’t on a romantic dinner for two.

So he let Kurt pull him into the bedroom, and he didn’t argue when Kurt started working on their clothes. This was all part of his plan, after all, so if Kurt wanted to change up the order a little, he wasn’t going to bitch about it. Not when it had been a whole week since he'd slid his hands down Kurt's back, pressed his lips to the soft skin just below Kurt's ear and listened to Kurt's little gasp when Puck slid inside him. Like they hadn't done this more times than they could count, and until Puck met him he didn't believe it could feel like the first time every single time.

But it did, and Puck knew he was never going to get enough. He couldn't get enough of Kurt wrapped around him, sweaty and just this side of too hot, fingers tracing random patterns on his chest and pressing little kisses to Puck's shoulder just because he could. He was never going to get enough of pressing his mouth to the red blush that spread across Kurt's chest, and he was definitely never going to get enough of hearing Kurt whisper his name when he came.

He wasn't sure how long they laid tangled in the center of the bed, drifting in and out of sleep in between long, slow kisses. His hand rested on Kurt’s hip, thumb moving back and forth across pale skin, just to remind himself that Kurt was still there.

“When do you leave again?”

At the sound of his voice Kurt shifted, blinking a few times and even that made Puck’s heart skip a beat. “Trying to get rid of me already?”

“Hell, no,” Puck answered, his hand sliding around Kurt’s back to pull him flush against Puck’s chest. “I just want to know how much time I’ve got before you bail on me again.”

He felt kind of bad about putting it like that when Kurt sighed; it was part of the job, and they’d both known that when Will offered it to him. At the time Puck figured he could handle it, but he hadn’t counted on how hard it would be to be apart once they were living together full time. Even taking care of Beth on his own was hard, because Kurt was the one who helped her pick out her clothes for preschool, and Puck never did the voices as well as Kurt when it came to reading her bedtime story. The thing was, they made a good team, and when one of the team was missing it threw off their whole vibe.

Which was the whole reason he’d planned tonight out, because he wanted everything to be perfect. He wanted to get it right, because he could deal with Kurt taking off for a week here and there, as long as he knew Kurt was always going to come back to them.

“Will’s not choreographing again for a couple weeks,” Kurt said, his fingers stroking along Puck’s scalp as he spoke. “He took a detour to Ohio for a few days, and when he gets back to the city we’ll start working on his next show. I won’t have to leave again until the end of the month. Maybe I can cut my trip short next time; he doesn’t really need me for the entire week.”

“Good,” Puck said, leaning in to press their lips together for another soft kiss. “Gets kind of lonely around here without you.”

Kurt sighed again, hands moving on Puck’s skin and sending little shivers down his spine. “I have a feeling I’m going to find out for myself before long. I think they’re going to invite you back to be an All-Star.”

“For real?” Puck said, pulling back to look at Kurt. “When?”

“The schedule’s still tentative, but Will said he overheard some of the producers discussing potential slots and the choreographers they want to work with certain dancers. I’m not sure what we’ll do if Will has to choreograph the same week they want you.”

“Ma could watch Beth,” Puck answered, his hand coming up to catch Kurt’s and thread their fingers together. “Or hell, we could just bring her with us. Sarah’s so into the show now she’d probably pay us to tag along and play nanny for a week. Plus, it would give Ma a break.”

Kurt didn’t look all that convinced, but Puck was pretty sure he could talk his mother into it. Now that she’d been out to L.A. and seen what it was like she probably wouldn’t freak out too much at the thought of Sarah and Beth tagging along with them, as long as Sarah called every day to report in. Besides, Beth was his kid, and if he wanted to take her to L.A. with him and Kurt, there wasn’t a whole lot his mother could do about it. And if it meant he didn’t have to spend another week away from Kurt, he’d make her listen to reason.

Their hands were still entwined, caught between their chests and Puck’s thumb slid along Kurt’s ring finger. When Kurt kind of frowned at him Puck realized when he was doing, and he let go of Kurt’s hand and put a little space between them so Kurt wouldn’t feel his heart racing.

He’d had all this planned out, how the night was going to go and exactly what Kurt’s reaction was going to be. But that had all gone out the window pretty much the minute they got home, and the longer he waited the more nervous Puck got that maybe the rest of it wasn’t going to go the way he’d imagined either.

He leaned up far enough to glance at the clock on Kurt’s side of the bed, and when he realized how late it was he swallowed hard and sat up. “Dinner should be here any minute. I ordered Vietnamese.”

“Vietnamese?” Kurt said, frowning again, but he climbed out of bed after Puck and pulled on a pair of those cotton pajama pants he liked to sleep in when Beth was home to burst into their room way too early every morning.

Puck pulled on a pair of sweatpants and followed the trail of clothes into the hallway, picking up his jeans long enough to pull his wallet out of the pocket before he dropped them again. As soon as he did the buzzer went off, and he pressed the button to let the delivery guy into the building. Once dinner was paid for Puck headed for the living room, hands shaking a little as he lit the candles he’d set on the coffee table that morning and set takeout containers down.

“I got Pho and summer rolls and Bánh cuốn. I remembered how much you dug it on our first date.”

“Our first…” Kurt trailed off, the color in his cheeks turning up a notch or two as he sat down on the couch and watched Puck unpack their dinner. “Noah, what is all this?”

Puck paused long enough to look up at him, and when he saw how nervous Kurt was it made his heart hammer so hard he was positive Kurt would hear it. “You have no clue what day it is, do you?”

For a minute Kurt just stared at him, and Puck almost felt bad for him, because he could tell Kurt was afraid to admit that he had no idea what Puck was talking about.

“Babe, it’s our first anniversary,” Puck said, rolling his eyes and turning back to their dinner. “A year ago you threatened to let Blaine teach you how to kiss, and I figured out that if I didn’t want to blow it completely, I better make my move.”

“You remember that?”

“What, our first kiss? That’s not the kind of thing you forget,” Puck answered, looking up to find Kurt kind of blinking at him again.

“No, I mean you remember the date.”

“Well, technically our actual anniversary was three days ago, but you were in L.A., so there wasn’t much I could do about it on the day. I figured we could just ignore that part and celebrate when you got home.”

Kurt nodded and took the plate Puck pushed toward him, fingers wrapping around the edges just a little harder than strictly necessary. Puck glanced toward the bag he’d stashed at the end of the couch and felt his heart start to flutter again, then he turned his attention back to their dinner.

“Eat before it gets cold, babe.”

Kurt looked like he sort of wanted to argue, but he picked up his fork and piled pork rolls onto his plate before he pulled his Pho toward him. “You know, I’d convinced myself you didn’t think of that first night as a date.”

Kurt was blushing down at his dinner like maybe he was embarrassed to admit that he’d wanted it to be a date. Puck let out a soft laugh, and when Kurt looked up at him he reached across the coffee table and grabbed Kurt’s hand.

“Are you kidding? The first second I laid eyes on you I was crazy about you. If I didn’t have a kid waiting for me at home I would have put the moves on you that night. The only reason I didn’t go for it anyway was because I knew my mom would have given me hell if I stayed out all night.”

It wasn’t a hundred percent true. He didn’t try to hook up with Kurt that first night because he knew exactly what would happen the second Puck kissed him, and he’d known better than to set either of them up for that kind of heartache. But it had worked out all the same, and Puck didn’t necessarily believe in destiny or anything, but he figured sometimes people found each other for a reason.

“Really?” Kurt said, and he sounded so surprised about it, as though Puck hadn’t proved just how crazy he was about Kurt a million times over. As though they hadn’t been sleeping together for almost a year now; as though Puck hadn’t been in love with him for even longer.

He shook his head and let go of Kurt’s hand, pushing himself off the floor long enough to retrieve the bag he’d tucked between the couch and the side table before he left for work that morning. When he straightened up Kurt’s eyes were wide, and Puck’s heart started hammering again when he sat down on the couch next to Kurt and handed it over.

“What is this?”

“Anniversary present,” Puck answered, and if his voice was a little more gruff than usual Kurt didn’t call him on it. Or maybe he didn’t even notice, because his hands were shaking so hard he could barely get the bag open.

Finally he managed it, and when he reached in and closed shaky fingers around the box inside he looked up at Puck again. “Noah…”

Puck rolled his eyes and pulled the bag out of the way, then he pulled the box out of Kurt’s hand and opened it. For a second he just stared down at the set of rings nestled together in the box, then he took a deep breath and looked up.

“Look, I know it’s only been a year, and maybe that’s not a lot of time or whatever, but I’ve been crazy about you since the first day I met you. Beth’s crazy about you too, and I think we make a pretty good team, the three of us. I just figured maybe we should make it official.”

It wasn’t the speech he’d spent the past week planning. Then again, he hadn’t planned on proposing in nothing but a pair of sweatpants, or letting their food get cold while he did it. But Kurt was staring at him with that watery expression that meant he was either really stoked or about to reach into Puck’s chest and pull his heart right out, so the last thing on his mind was dinner.

“What are you saying?” Kurt asked, and for a second Puck thought maybe it was going to be the heart crushing thing, but then Kurt reached out and ran the tip of his finger across the rings. “Are you…proposing?”

“Yeah. I mean, I guess I’m doing a pretty lousy job, but yeah. Marry me, babe."

Kurt shook his head and Puck’s heart took a nose dive straight into his stomach, but a second later Kurt was moving forward and reaching out to rest a hand on the back of Puck’s neck.

“You’re not doing a lousy job," Kurt whispered against his lips. “I love you, Noah. Of course I’ll marry you.”

“Really?” Puck said, pulling back far enough to look at him, and this time it was Kurt who rolled his eyes.

“Yes,” Kurt answered, and Puck knew this was the part where he put the ring on Kurt’s finger and then tried on his own for the hundredth time, but Kurt was kissing him again, and Puck figured maybe his master plan didn’t matter so much anymore.