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Stars and Birds

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“Designers, for this challenge you will not be needing your models.”

Kurt felt the panic in the room ratchet up a notch as soon as the words were out of Heidi’s mouth. They’d all seen every episode of every season, and they all knew that whenever Heidi Klum said ‘you won’t be needing your models’, the challenge was going to end in tears for more than just the loser. So he wasn’t surprised to hear the buzz of conversation among the seven remaining designers, and he wasn’t surprised when his fellow designer Mercedes leaned in and whispered, “Do you think it’s the Moms challenge?”

As soon as she said it Kurt’s heart fell. He’d watched every season of Project Runway, so he knew it was a possibility. He’d thought about it when he applied, wondered if the fact that he didn’t have a single strong female influence in his life would hold him back from being cast. He pictured his dad standing on the runway with everyone else’s moms and sisters and bit his lip; as much as he’d love to see his dad, Kurt knew whoever got stuck doing menswear would hold a grudge.

After all, the one thing worse than designing for normal-sized women was the tailoring involved in menswear, and Kurt wouldn’t even blame whoever got stuck trying to make it work. He shrugged in answer to Mercedes’ question and looked expectantly at Heidi, but she just flashed her gorgeous, enigmatic smile and said, “I’m sending you all on a little trip.”

Kurt joined the rest of them in an excited round of applause, because any challenge was worth it if it got them out of the workroom at Parsons for awhile. Even if it was the ‘inspired by New York’ challenge, where they got to go out into the city and take pictures to inform their design, he’d welcome the change of scenery. Of course, that didn’t answer the question of who would be doing the modeling, but there was always the chance they’d be paired up and forced to design for each other.

Kurt glanced around at the men still in the competition, mentally calculating whether or not Sam would insist on menswear and trying to come up with a strategy to avoid getting paired with him. Blaine he was pretty sure could be convinced to dress outside the box, but to be safe Kurt would just have to figure out a way to get his hands on Tina or Brittany or even Santana. Santana would be a complete nightmare to deal with, but Mercedes would be just as hard to design for as the boys, given her dress size, and as shallow as it was, Kurt would rather deal with Santana’s attitude than Mercedes’ curves.

He followed the others down to the lobby and to the van that would take them to wherever Tim was waiting for them. Mercedes slid into the seat next to him and squeezed his arm, leaning in and dropping her voice so the others wouldn’t hear. “What do you think it is?”

“It’s not the Moms,” Kurt said with a little more confidence than he really felt. “If it was, Heidi would have paraded them out and made us choose. Besides, I don’t have a mother or a sister, so I don’t know how they could have that challenge before I’m Aufed.”

“Boy, you’re not going to get Aufed,” Mercedes said. “It’s you and me at Fashion Week, just you wait.”

Kurt smiled at her confidence and glanced out the window as the van headed south on 7th Avenue. “Looks like we’re headed toward the water. Could be the recycled materials challenge.”

“I hope not,” Mercedes said, her nose wrinkling at the thought. “These nails were not made for digging through garbage or thrift stores.”

“Honestly, I don’t know why you even tried out for the show. They have a recycling challenge at least once every season.”

“Exactly. It’s time to change things up, and they can’t have someone as fabulous as me digging through trash on national television. They know that; it’s the whole reason we haven’t had a recycling challenge yet.”

Kurt rolled his eyes but didn’t bother to argue. In the few weeks they’d known each other he’d gotten used to Mercedes’ particular brand of optimism. If she thought something was beneath her talent she had no problem letting everyone around her know it, and so far she’d managed to find a way around compromising any of her principles. It was admirable, to be honest, and though Kurt would never say so, he was sort of impressed.

Still, the fact remained that eventually the producers were going to make them dumpster dive or something, and there was no way Mercedes was going to get out of it unless she got herself eliminated before the recycling challenge rolled around. The closer they got to the water the more sure Kurt was that her time really had run out, but when they reached the bridge and headed into Brooklyn, he realized he might be wrong.

“Brooklyn?” Tina said, leaning over their seat to watch the city roll past the window. “What’s in Brooklyn?”

“Good pizza,” Mercedes said, but before Kurt even had a chance to roll his eyes they were pulling up in front of what looked like an ordinary brownstone. Tim Gunn was standing outside, and when the designers piled out of the van he smiled and clapped his hands together in front of him.

“Designers, welcome to Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood. We’re here today to meet the very special inspiration for your next challenge. This person has graciously invited us into their home, and I’m sure you’re all excited to find out who you’ll be designing for. Please, follow me.”

He led them into the brownstone, through an elegantly appointed foyer and into an airy, spacious living room. There were framed playbills hanging on the walls, and when Kurt caught sight of the picture on one of them, he groaned inwardly and reached out to grab Mercedes’ arm. She glanced over at him, but Tim was already waving toward a door on the other side of the room, and when they caught sight of their ‘special guest’, Mercedes muttered, “Oh, hell, no.”

“Designers, I’d like to introduce you to Broadway star William Schuester. He’s invited us here to his home to announce your next challenge.”

Kurt knew who Will Schuester was; he’d watched the Tony Awards every year since he was eight, and as soon as he relocated to New York he spent every spare dollar he could scrape together on matinee tickets to Broadway shows. The rest of the designers seemed to recognize him too, at least if the buzz of whispered conversation around him was anything to go by.

“Please, guys, call me Will. Thanks for stopping by,” he said, flashing a movie star smile at all of them. “You might know that the Tonys are coming up. I’m thrilled to have you design my outfit for me.”

Kurt’s mouth fell open at the same time as everyone else’s. The truth was that the Tonys had just happened, but by the time the current season of Runway aired, the next Tony awards would be coming up. And even if he wasn’t accepting a Tony next year, Will was usually presenting one, which meant not only red carpet exposure for one of their designs, but an onstage appearance and guaranteed interviews. Will Schuester wearing one of their designs at the Tonys meant instant fame, and it meant the entire viewing audience would see every single flaw.

“Designers, you’ll have two days and two hundred dollars to complete your look,” Tim announced, smiling as though he wasn’t asking for the impossible. “Remember, at the end of this challenge Will will be choosing a look to wear on the red carpet. Now let’s get back to the studio and start designing.”

“No pressure or anything,”Mercedes muttered as they filed back out of Will’s house, and Kurt smiled and nodded and hoped he didn’t look as terrified as he felt.

~

“Menswear. I can’t believe they’re making us do menswear. Don’t they remember what a disaster it was in season four?”

“I imagine they’re remembering the ratings they got when people tuned in for the train wreck,” Kurt answered. He worried his lip with his teeth as he sketched yet another design, then shoved it to the side. “I’m not going home on menswear.”

“Kurt, you’re a man. This should be easy for you,” Mercedes said, craning her neck to get a look at his pile of discarded designs.

“Please, I don’t make my own clothes. I make fabulous, red carpet-worthy gowns. If we were dressing Bernadette or Idina I’d have it in the bag, but dressing Will Schuester?” Kurt scowled down at the sheet of paper in front of him for a second, then he picked up his pencil and tapped it against his cheek. “I wonder if he’d be opposed to a kilt.”

“He could totally rock a kilt,” Mercedes said with a little sigh, and when Kurt raised an eyebrow at her she just shrugged. “The judges would probably call you out for taking the easy way out, though.”

Kurt sighed down at his latest design, then he put it in the ‘possible’ pile. It was true that the judges might accuse him of being lazy or cutting corners by making what was essentially a skirt, but the more he thought about it, the more he liked the idea. It was certainly fresh, at least if he updated the look without losing the traditional feel of the kilt, and as long as he chose the right fabrics, he might even pull off a winning look.

The door swung open before Kurt answered her, and his heart sank when Tim appeared. “All right, everyone, time’s up. Let’s go shopping.”

Kurt followed the rest of the designers out of the workroom and out of Parsons, mentally sorting through his sketches as he tried to pin down a look that would win him the menswear challenge. A kilt would be easier than tailoring pants, certainly, but in order to make it work for the Tonys he’d have to make a tuxedo shirt, and all those fiddly little pleats would take forever. Then there was the risk of making Will look really, really gay. Not that everyone didn’t already know that about him, but Kurt wasn’t sure if he’d be willing to wave the rainbow flag, as it were, from the Tonys stage.

By the time they got to Mood he wasn’t any closer to making a decision, and Kurt sighed and hoped the fabric would make his choice for him. He headed straight for the wool suiting and picked out a medium weight black before any of the other designers could get their hands on it. Next he found some white shirting fabric to make the tuxedo shirt, and by the time Tim caught up with him he’d wandered over to the satin section.

“Kurt, what are we thinking?” Tim asked, eyeing the bolts of fabric in Kurt’s arms. It was impossible to tell what he was thinking by his expression; he might think classic black was the only way to go, or he might deem it ‘boring’ or ‘predictable’. But the part Kurt was most nervous about was the kilt; Tim might love the idea, but he might think Kurt was taking the easy way out, just like Mercedes said.

“I’m thinking of making a tuxedo shirt and a modern take on the classic kilt,” Kurt said, barely managing not to wince as he waited for Tim’s reaction.

For a moment Tim just looked at him, expression just as unreadable as ever. Then he reached out and ran his fingers along the black wool, feeling the weight of it before he looked at Kurt again. “So you’re thinking a classic black wool tuxedo, but with a kilt instead of a trouser. And the satin?”

“I thought I might do a piping detail down the sides, just in front of the pleated section. To emulate the detail of a classic tuxedo.”

Tim nodded, then he stepped back and frowned at Kurt’s fabric some more. “It’s a risk. There’s a chance the judges will accuse you of finding a way around tailoring.”

“But there’s a lot of tailoring in the shirt.”

“What about a jacket?”

“I’m not sure I’ll have time,” Kurt answered, because the last thing he wanted to do was run out of time and send something half-finished down the runway. He knew people got sent home for pinned hems, and he wasn’t going out that way.

“Well your color palette’s a little drab. Have you considered adding a plaid? It’s sort of a nod to the traditional kilt, and it adds a splash of color at the same time. Remember, you’re designing for Will Schuester. He’s not a drab man.”

Kurt nodded and tried to imagine where he could incorporate a plaid so that it wouldn’t come off too gimmicky. “Thanks, Tim. I’ll think about it.”

“Well, we’re nearly out of time, so think fast. Make it work,” Tim said, then he spotted Tina and left Kurt standing in front of the satin alone. He reached out and grabbed a bolt of black, then he scanned the rows of fabric in search of the plaids. He finally found plaid wool almost back where he’d started, debating between a traditional red Tartan or something a little more modern before he finally decided to go with a rich purple and blue pattern.

He was just finishing at the cutting table when Tim called time, and Kurt thanked the clerk and dashed for the line at the register just in time.

“Plaid?” Santana said, and Kurt turned to find her sneering at him. “That’s kind of tacky, even for you.”

He glanced down at her armful of maroon pleather and what looked like a cream chiffon and rolled his eyes. “I see you’re going for the low-rent escort look again. Good luck with that.”

She opened her mouth to snap a comeback, but before she could get the words out Tim was clapping his hands for their attention and checking to make sure nobody had gone over budget. Kurt handed over his stack, smiling when Tim nodded his approval at Kurt’s choice of plaid. Santana could think what she wanted, but he’d seen enough of her designs to know she was never going to make it in high fashion. This outfit was going to wow the judges and Will, and Kurt was going to be in the top six for sure.

~

Two hours into the challenge the tension in the workroom was so palpable Kurt was sure someone was going to have a nervous breakdown before they ever got their hands on their models. He’d worked out a plan to work the plaid into his design, but he’d started to wonder if he really had time to pleat an entire tuxedo shirt.

The rest of the designers were already panicking about time, mainly because they were all trying to make pants, and most of them didn’t have a clue how to tailor men’s pants. The minute they got back from Mood, Sam had taken his pants off and completely deconstructed them to make a pattern. Since then he’d been wandering around in his boxer briefs, and Kurt didn’t particularly object to the view, but he wasn’t sure it was fair that Sam was sharing his pattern with Santana and Brittany.

He hadn’t said anything, of course, but Mercedes had been grumbling about it to Tina for the past half hour. Still, it wasn’t against the rules, so there was nothing they could do about it. Kurt glanced at the clock again, frowning as he wondered if they were going to get a chance to measure their models before morning. The producers had provided them model cards with some basic measurements, but everybody knew models lied to make themselves sound as perfect as possible.

Kurt’s model, for instance – Noah Puckerman, according to his card – was some kind of Greek god, at least if his measurements were to be believed. And okay, judging by the picture attached to the card, he looked the part, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t stretched the truth about his height and the broadness of his shoulders. He’d probably lied about his waist measurement too, which meant if Kurt committed to sewing a pleated kilt before he got a chance to re-measure this Noah person, he was going to have to take the entire thing apart and redo it, and he didn’t have enough fabric to take that kind of chance.

The problem was the plaid, really. He’d decided to line the insides of the pleats with the plaid, so that it would only be visible on the kilt in glimpses as his model moved. The effect was bound to be dramatic, if he pulled it off, but in order to do it right he needed the fit to be perfect.

He needed his model to be perfect too, if he was going to sell a kilt to a Broadway star of Will Schuester’s caliber. If he had his regular model he’d know exactly how well she’d pull off the movement on the runway, but this Noah Puckerman was a complete enigma. Kurt was stuck with him, though, so he was just going to have to make the best of it.

His pleats were almost pinned together when Tim walked back into the workroom, and Kurt’s stomach clenched when he called for their attention. “Designers, I have a surprise for you. We’ll be sending your models in a bit early. You’ll have an hour for measurements and initial fit.”

All eyes turned toward the door as the models filed in, each one more gorgeous than the next. Kurt could appreciate the eye candy as much as the rest of them, but he still had hours of work ahead of him, and what he needed was to get his model out of his clothes and get some measurements.

He spotted Noah in the middle of the pack, waving him over and flashing a tight-lipped smile when Noah smirked at him. “I’m Kurt Hummel. You’ll be modeling my look.”

“’Sup,” Noah said, and he was a model, so Kurt wasn’t expecting much, but he hadn’t been anticipating a language barrier.

“Right. So if you’ll just get undressed I’ll take your measurements,” Kurt said, turning away to reach for his tape measure.

When he turned back again Noah was pulling his shirt over his head, muscles flexing in his arms and across his chest, and Kurt swallowed hard and willed himself not to blush. Noah pulled his shirt off and dropped it on the table, then he reached for the button on his jeans and slid it free.

“You know, usually a guy buys me a drink before he tries to get me naked.”

Kurt rolled his eyes and didn’t dignify the joke with an answer, because he’d read Noah’s card, and Kurt knew he had at least enough modeling experience to know how it worked. That much was clear from the way he’d started stripping as soon as Kurt asked, which meant he was…flirting, Kurt was pretty sure. He frowned at the thought, his cheeks burning in spite of his irritation, because he really didn’t have time for some narcissist who thought he was God’s gift to mankind just because he happened to be blessed with good genes.

“Yes, well, you’ll just have to forgive me. I’m afraid I’m not exactly equipped to entertain at the moment.”

“No problem, dude,” Noah said, then he slid his zipper down and stepped out of his jeans, and for the love of Prada, he really was a Greek god. “I’ll take a raincheck.”

Kurt swallowed again and took a step forward, glancing around the workroom to verify that the other models were in various states of undress before he turned back to Noah. And it wasn’t like he’d never measured a model before, but usually he worked with female models, and there was a big difference between measuring some sixteen-year-old waif who did nothing at all for him and getting up close and personal with someone as…well, perfect as Noah Puckerman.

He was the kind of guy who would never even look Kurt’s way if they were at a club. He was the type who could take home anyone in the room, male or female, and usually left with the hottest, blondest woman on the dance floor. So the fact that Noah was flirting with him was disconcerting, to say the least, especially since there were four actual women in the room, any one of whom probably wouldn’t mind one bit if Noah flirted with them.

Kurt stole a glance over at Santana to find her looking his way, a smile that could only be described as predatory curving her lips as she looked Noah over. Her own model was sort of cute too, in a corn-fed, small-town sort of way, but he was nothing compared to the physical perfection standing in front of Kurt.

“So how long have you been modeling, Noah?” Kurt asked, clearing his throat and tearing his gaze away from Santana.

“Most people call me Puck.”

Kurt reached around him, blushing when his hands skimmed Noah’s waist as Kurt brought the ends of the tape measure together. He looked down at the number and reached for his pencil, then he glanced at Noah’s card and realized the measurement he’d given his agency was the same as the one Kurt had just taken.

“Huh.”

“What?” Noah asked, and before Kurt even looked at him Noah was leaning in, bare chest brushing Kurt’s back as he looked over Kurt’s shoulder at his own card.

“It’s just…your waist measurement is accurate. Your height’s correct too.”

“Oh, right. Most models bullshit about their measurements. That’s the difference between me and most models,” Noah said, and when Kurt turned to look at him Noah smirked. “I don’t need to bullshit about mine.”

Kurt felt his cheeks flush again, so he looked down at Noah’s card and hoped he wouldn’t notice. He glanced toward Mercedes’ station and saw her glowering at her model, and Kurt couldn’t help wondering if he’d lied about his measurements. He knew Mercedes had already started sewing her pants, and if her model was a little too thick around the waist the inseam was going to be a disaster.

He winced in sympathy and turned back to Noah, gaze wandering down his chest and then back up again. “I’d like to check your chest measurement, just to be sure.”

Noah shrugged, but he lifted his arms to let Kurt slide the tape measure around his chest this time. “It’s your dime, dude. But I’m telling you, I don’t bullshit about my measurements.”

And he didn’t, as it turned out, which meant Kurt could have gotten started on the tuxedo shirt an hour ago. But he was better safe than sorry, he reminded himself, and at least he had the kilt started, so he wasn’t as far behind as he could be.

“Thank you, Noah,” Kurt said, and when Noah raised an eyebrow at Kurt’s insistence on using his first name, Kurt allowed himself a small smile. “I think I have everything I need for tonight.”

“What, you don’t want to check my inseam?”

Noah smirked again, and Kurt got the distinct impression that he was being made fun of. He felt his cheeks flush and cursed his thin, flawless skin, but he cleared his throat and turned to pick up the start of his kilt.

“That won’t be necessary. I’m not making a trouser.”

“So I guess I shouldn’t go commando on runway day.”

Kurt rolled his eyes and tried not to picture Noah going commando. “My design includes a kilt in place of tuxedo pants. It’s going to be quite fashion-forward; I think I have a good chance of winning, as long as you do your job and show the look properly.”

“Hey, I know how to bring it on the runway,” he said, and Kurt wasn’t sure, but he thought Noah might have been a little insulted that he’d implied otherwise. “I’ve been doing this for a few years now, you don’t have to worry about me fucking it up. I can rock any look, even a skirt.”

“It’s a kilt,” Kurt corrected him, huffing an exasperated sigh to keep himself from smiling at Noah’s righteous indignation.

“Whatever, I can rock it.”

“I have no doubt that you can,” Kurt said, but what he really meant was, “You’d better.”

His entire design depended on Noah selling the look on the runway; if he didn’t get the subtle details across, the judges were going to think he’d just made a skirt and a shirt and not challenged himself at all. “Since we have a little time, maybe we should fit the kilt. I’d like to see you walk in it.”

Noah smirked but didn’t answer; instead he shrugged and sat down on the stool next to Kurt’s bench, watching him pin the kilt’s seams for a moment or two before he started talking again.

“Six years.”

“I’m sorry?”

“You asked how long I’ve been modeling. When I was still back in Ohio some old dude came up to me at the mall one day and asked if I had any modeling experience. At first I thought he was just some creep looking to take naked pictures of hot guys to post on the Internet, but it turned out he was casting for the mall’s print ads. So that was my first gig.”

“You grew up in Ohio?” Kurt said, glancing up long enough to look at Noah. “What part?”

“West. A cow town called Lima. It’s a total pit, you’ve probably never even heard of it.”

Kurt shook his head and turned back to his sketches, cheeks flushing a little and he wasn’t even sure why, because it wasn’t like it mattered that they happened to have grown up in the same part of the country.

“I have, actually. I’m from Columbus.”

“No way,” Noah said, and when Kurt ventured a glance at him, he was grinning as though that was the best thing he’d heard all day. “When’d you come to New York?”

“Last year. I got my degree in Fashion Design at OSU. After graduation I packed…well, almost nothing, considering the size of my current apartment, and came to New York to become a designer.”

“College wasn’t really my scene. I tried it for a semester, just to shut my mom up, but I was never any good at school. I’d done a couple more print ads by then, just local stuff, so when I dropped out of school I moved here and got signed with an agency. I still do some print stuff, but I like runway better.”

Noah glanced around the room, watching the rest of the models struggling into various pairs of ill-fitting pants. Mercedes had draped hers, but Kurt knew she’d already started sewing them based on her model’s card, and he could see that she was going to have some trouble altering them to fit his actual measurements.

Across the room Blaine appeared more interested in flirting with his model than he was in fitting anything, though it was possible he didn’t have anything to fit yet. He’d been spinning his wheels about this challenge even more than usual, after all, wandering around the workroom annoying everyone else while they tried to work instead of figuring out what he was going to do to keep himself from getting sent home.

Sam was still working in his boxers, kneeling in front of his model -- a tall, chiseled Asian with a dancer’s build -- and grinning up at him while he measured the guy’s inseam, and it would have been kind of hot if Kurt didn’t know for a fact that Sam wasn’t gay. He wasn’t even bi, at least not that Kurt could tell. The truth was he just liked attention, which meant he’d flirt with anyone who crossed his path, including Heidi, Tim, and even the judges.

Santana’s model was ridiculously tall, and Kurt could hear her complaining from all the way across the room about all the extra fabric she’d been forced to buy. He rolled his eyes and turned back to his own station, watching Noah watch Santana, and it shouldn’t bother him, because he didn’t even know this person, but his stomach still dropped when Kurt realized Noah was watching her.

Then Noah turned back to him, grinning and leaning forward and Kurt’s temperature crept up a degree or two. “Dude, I think you’re onto something with the skirt.”

“It’s not a skirt, it’s a kilt,” Kurt said, ducking his head to hide an amused smile. “And it’s ready for you to try, I think. It’s just pinned right now, so be careful.”

Noah stood up and took the kilt Kurt held out to him, stepping into it and easing it up over his hips to rest on his waist. Kurt moved forward and adjusted it until the side seams lined up on either side of his hips, then he turned Noah so he could see how the pleats fell in the back.

“The fit’s perfect.” Noah huffed a laugh and Kurt blushed, but he didn’t try to hide his smile this time when Noah turned to face him again. “I just hope it looks as good on Will Schuester as it does on you.”

“That’s who you’re designing for? Man, my roommate’s gonna flip.”

“Your roommate?” Kurt asked, raising an eyebrow when Noah grinned again.

“Yeah, the freak of nature over there catching all the attitude from the bitchy one.” He gestured in the direction of Santana’s bench, and Kurt caught sight of the tall, sweet-looking model who admittedly looked a little terrified of his designer. “We share a place with a couple other guys, mostly just somewhere to crash when we’re not on the road. He wanted to be on Broadway. He can sing okay, but he’s not much of an actor, and dancing…well, just look at him.”

Noah trailed off and shook his head as his roommate stumbled into the bench next to him trying to get back out of whatever that thing was Santana was calling a shirt. “Somehow he makes the awkward thing work for print, though, so he makes a decent living modeling. Then he spends all his money going to musicals, and every time that Schuester dude’s on stage he makes sure to spring for the expensive seats way up front. He says it doesn’t have anything to do with the guy, but he’s a total liar.”

“Really? Your roommate’s gay?”

Kurt stole another glance across the room at the tall, awkward-looking model currently blushing while Sam and Blaine weighed in on Santana’s latest fashion disaster.

“Yeah. So?” Noah said, and when Kurt turned back to him, he was surprised to find Noah frowning.

“Nothing. It’s just that most male models are straight, regardless of the stigma.”

“Yeah, well, a lot of gay dudes have a hard time selling chemistry with women. Some of us know how to fake it, though.”

Kurt blushed and looked down at the kilt so he wouldn’t have to look at Noah. He took a step back, eyeing the hem to make sure it was even and didn’t need to go up a bit. Sure, Noah had flirted with him a little, but that was no reason to assume he was gay. Lots of male models flirted with male designers; they all knew it was just part of the job to keep the designer happy so he’d request them again. Stroking a designer’s ego worked just as well as stroking...other parts of him, and Kurt was so not picturing that or he’d never finish his look on time.

“So are you and your roommate...?”

“What, me and Finn? Hell, no,” Noah answered, and Kurt glanced up to find him frowning again. “I don’t date models. Talk about high maintenance.”

Before Kurt could come up with an appropriate answer that didn’t involve asking who Noah did date, exactly, Tim reappeared, hands clasped in front of him and calling for their attention. “Designers, I hope you’ve gotten everything you need from your models, because it’s time for them to go. You’ll see them again tomorrow for fitting.”

“Damn,” Kurt murmured, turning back to Noah to help him out of the kilt. “I wanted to see how it moved.”

He pulled out the pin that was holding the kilt on Noah’s waist, then he eased it down Noah’s hips, careful not to stick him with any pins on the way down. He was on his knees by the time Noah stepped out of the kilt, leaving him standing in front of Kurt in a pair of black boxer briefs that fit him far too well for Kurt’s comfort.

Noah smirked when Kurt stood up, clearing his throat and trying his best to pretend he wasn’t blushing like some kind of virgin. When Kurt was on his feet again Noah leaned close, reaching around Kurt to pick up the shirt he’d tossed on the bench. He pulled back, pausing with his mouth close to Kurt’s ear.

“Relax, Princess. We’ve totally got this.”

Before Kurt could react Noah was pulling his shirt over his head again, then sliding back into his jeans. A minute later he was following the other models out of the room, not even glancing back to see Kurt watching him. Which meant either he knew full well that Kurt was watching, or Kurt had just hallucinated his model calling him ‘princess’ and then promising Kurt that they were going to win.

“Designers, you have until midnight tonight and then all day tomorrow,” Tim said as the last of the models filed out of the workroom. “Make it work.”

Then Tim was gone too, and as soon as the door swung shut the room filled with chatter. “I didn’t get everything I needed from Kurt’s model,” Santana said, her smile turning predatory again. “Damn.”

“I’m afraid you’re not exactly his type, Santana,” Kurt called back across the workroom. He cast a glance at Mercedes, smirking when she looked at him. “Though I can see why you might think he’d mistake you for a man.”

Santana’s mouth dropped open, but before she could come up with a reply Brittany said, “Wait, who’s really a man?”

Kurt tuned out the sounds of Brittany trying to figure out what she’d missed and Santana trying to get her to shut up and turned back to his own bench. He had a long night ahead of him and a lot of work to do, but he was confident in his design, and thanks to Noah, he was reasonably confident that it would show well on the runway.

~

Puck followed the rest of the models out of Parsons, falling into step next to Finn as they parted ways with the rest of the guys. A few of them he knew: Mike and Matt he’d worked with on a few shows, and he’d seen that Jesse guy around once or twice. Puck had always thought he was kind of a douche, but the nice thing about doing Project Runway was they didn’t have to worry what the other guys were doing. In a way it was like seven separate shows, which meant all Puck had to do was show up and bring his A game and Kurt would be just fine.

He’d probably even win. Puck hadn’t seen much of his work yet, granted, but he seemed further along than a lot of the others, and at least he hadn’t spent the past hour trying to shove Puck into a pair of pants that were totally the wrong size. He’d heard the other guys talking about their fittings while they were waiting around for the production assistant to tell them when they were supposed to show up tomorrow, so he knew a lot of the clothes were pretty jacked up.

Kurt’s kilt had fit him like a glove, though, and if he got the rest of it right, there was no way Puck wouldn’t look totally hot on the runway. He’d meant what he said about rocking Kurt’s look; he knew how to sell an outfit, no matter how weird it was, and he’d modeled a lot weirder stuff than a kilt before.

“So what’s your guy like? You haven’t said much about him,” Finn said, glancing over at Puck as they reached the subway station.

Puck shrugged and followed Finn down the stairs, swiping his MetroCard and heading toward the platform that would take them uptown and to The Bronx. “He’s pretty cool. Kind of uptight. Great ass.”

“Dude, I meant how was the fitting, not do you want to hook up with him.”

Puck smirked as the train rolled into the station, standing aside to let a handful of passengers off before he led Finn into the car. They found a pair of seats near the back and slid into them, legs sprawled in front of them and settling in for a long ride uptown.

“It was cool. He’s not dumb enough to try to make pants like the rest of them. He’s making a kilt instead, and it fits awesome.”

“Wait, he’s making you wear a skirt?”

“Dude. It’s a kilt. Totally different,” Puck said, but he couldn’t quite hide a smile at the memory of Kurt’s face when Puck had called it a skirt. “Anyway, I can rock any look, including a skirt. Hell, I could walk the runway in a prom dress and still be the hottest one up there.”

“Yeah, well, if you can rock anything, maybe we should change designers. I’m going to look like some kind of retarded clown on the runway.”

Puck huffed a laugh and shook his head. “Hell, no. You’re just trying to cockblock me because I got the cute one and you got the bitch. Anyway, at least if your girl’s in the bottom three it means you get to stand on the runway and get judged, right? You know they’re designing for that Broadway dude you jerk off over all the time. Maybe you’ll get to meet him.”

“No way. Will Schuester’s going to be there? While I’m dressed like a retarded clown?”

“Maybe he’ll feel sorry for you,” Puck said, grinning when Finn groaned. “Play your cards right and you could get pity sex out of it.”

“I doubt it,” Finn said, and he actually sounded kind of miserable about it. “He’ll probably be too busy looking at you in your skirt.”

“Probably,” Puck answered.

He was going to look hot, after all, and then Kurt was going to win, and he was going to be so grateful to Puck for rocking his look that he’d want to thank Puck the right way. All night long, if Puck had anything to say about it. He might have to wait for Kurt to finish filming the show, but there were only seven designers left, so even if Kurt made final three, it would only be another couple weeks before he didn’t have producers and camera crews following him around all the time.

Anyway, he had a feeling Kurt was worth the wait.

~

Kurt woke up the next morning to the sound of Sam making coffee in the kitchen. He groaned into his pillow and forced his eyes open, glancing toward the bed on the other side of the room. Blaine was still sprawled on his back, mouth wide open and making a truly unattractive noise with every inhale.

Kurt wrinkled his nose and levered himself out of bed, running a hand through his hair and stumbling into the bathroom for a hot shower and his skin care routine. By the time he finished and emerged from the bathroom – fully dressed and looking truly fabulous – Blaine had managed to drag himself out of bed.

Well. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, anyway, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his palms and ignoring the camera pointed directly at him. Kurt cast a sympathetic look in his direction and stashed his stuff back in his suitcase, then he headed for the kitchen and the promise of coffee.

“Morning,” Sam said when he got there, his mouth stretched in a wide grin as he handed Kurt a cup of coffee.

“Thanks,” Kurt said, wrapping his hands around the mug and inhaling before he took a sip. “So are you ready for today?”

Sam shrugged and picked up his own cup without looking away from Kurt. “I think so. My design’s pretty solid, and the pants fit my model great. I’m glad I thought of making a pattern from my own clothes, otherwise I’d be fucked.”

Kurt nodded and kept his opinion of Sam’s pattern to himself. “Do you have any idea what Blaine’s doing?”

“Not a lot, from what I can tell.” Sam laughed, then he glanced toward the bedroom where Blaine was presumably still trying to wake up. “I don’t know, man. I know he draped some pants, but I never saw him try them on his model.”

“Well, there’s still today, right? Technically we were just taking measurements last night. The real fitting happens this afternoon.”

“What about you?” Sam asked, watching Kurt over his coffee cup. “Are you really sending a kilt down the runway?”

“That’s the plan.” Kurt shrugged and took another sip of coffee, then he looked at Sam again. “You have to admit it’s different than anything else that’s going down the runway this challenge. And it fits my model perfectly, so as long as I execute the tuxedo shirt I’m at least safe.”

“Yeah, but just two pieces, dude? Do you really think you can win with just two pieces?”

“Better two well-executed pieces than three substandard pieces,” Kurt said, frowning at Sam. “Why, how many pieces are you doing?”

“Four, if you count the tie.”

“You’re doing a tie?”

“Dude, it’s the red carpet. He kind of has to wear a tie, right?” Sam shrugged and set his coffee cup in the sink, then he pushed himself off the counter. “I’m gonna go see what’s taking Blaine so long.”

Kurt nodded as Sam walked away, but he wasn’t really listening anymore. Maybe Sam was right; maybe two pieces weren’t enough to win him the challenge. Tim had urged him to make a jacket, but Kurt was pretty sure he didn’t have enough fabric for an entire jacket. Still, he really wanted to win this challenge, and a shirt and kilt might not be enough to do it, no matter how well-tailored they were.

~

“Not even playing, I’m going to kill that lying bastard when he shows up,” Mercedes said.

She’d spent the past hour ripping out seams and trying to find a way to make the pants she’d already cut out work for her model’s real measurements, and the more frustrated she got, the worse they looked. Kurt sympathized; they’d all been there at one point or another during the show, but he couldn’t help being grateful all the same that his kilt was finished and hanging safely on his dressmaker’s dummy.

He’d been fiddling with tiny pleats for the front placket of his tuxedo shirt all morning, and he knew it was worth the effort, but he still sort of wanted to scream. He still had the rest of the shirt to put together and he didn’t have a clue what he was going to do about a third piece. He had enough satin to make a tie, but that was an accessory, not a garment, and the further into the challenge they got, the more he worried that without a jacket he might as well just go back to the apartment and start packing.

He was pinning the sleeves to his shirt when the workroom door opened, and Tim walked in followed by Will Schuester himself. Instantly the chatter in the workroom stopped, all eyes on Tim and their guest judge as they looked around the room.

“Designers, I have a surprise for you. Will is here to give you some feedback on your designs. Remember, people, he’s going to be judging your look on the runway tomorrow.”

“Like we need the reminder,” Tina muttered under her breath. Kurt cast a sympathetic smile in her direction, taking in the pair of pants she’d been struggling with since last night. They were hanging sort of awkwardly off her mannequin, one of the legs a little longer than the other and some puckers along the side seams that couldn’t have been intentional.

Kurt winced and turned back to his own bench, glancing over at his finished kilt and picturing the way it had looked on Noah the night before. The pleating was perfect, the length was right, and it didn’t hurt that Noah had great legs. Kurt still hadn’t seen him walk, granted, but he knew that at least his outfit would look good while Noah was standing in front of the judges.

Still, he was designing for Will Schuester, not some runway model, and when Tim appeared at Kurt’s bench with Will in tow, Kurt pasted on what he hoped was a convincing smile.

“Kurt,” Tim said, his hand on Will’s shoulder, “Will’s very interested to see what you’ve come up with.”

Kurt nodded and ignored the flush in his cheeks, reaching for his designs and setting them out on the bench in front of him. “My look’s a little different than everyone else’s. Instead of a tuxedo pant I decided to go with a kilt. So it’s still formal, but it’s a little more interesting than a standard tuxedo.”

“A kilt?” Will said, and he was smiling, but Kurt couldn’t tell if it was an ‘I’m intrigued’ smile or a ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’ smile. “That would certainly make for some interesting red carpet interviews.”

“I’ve paired it with a classic pleated tuxedo shirt,” Kurt said, holding up the pinned shirt against his dressmaker’s dummy. “And I was thinking instead of a standard tie I’d go with a bowtie, to highlight the pleats.”

Tim nodded and took a few steps forward, reaching out to lift the back of the kilt. “And you’ve incorporated the plaid on the interior of the pleats?”

Kurt nodded, moving around behind the dressmaker’s dummy to watch Tim inspecting his garment. “The idea is that when the pleats move, you get a glimpse of the plaid. I chose a more modern color palette than the traditional red tartan.”

Tim nodded again and stepped back, one hand on his chin and sort of frowning at Kurt’s look. “I love the use of the plaid. It’s fun, but understated enough for a red carpet event. Still, I’m worried that it’s not enough look.”

“Right,” Will said, arms folded in front of him and leaning back against Kurt’s work bench. “I can’t really show up at the Tonys without some kind of jacket, especially not if I’m presenting.”

Kurt nodded, lips pressed together to push down a surge of panic. He was fairly sure he didn’t have enough fabric for a full jacket, even if he used the plaid as the lining, and anyway if he lined a wool jacket with wool plaid, the judges would probably just complain that it was too bulky.

“Make it work,” Tim said, and Kurt nodded again and let out a frustrated breath.

“Thanks, Kurt,” Will added, clapping Kurt on the shoulder before he followed Tim toward Mercedes’ bench. “It looks great so far.”

He couldn’t tell if Will meant it or if he was just being nice, but Kurt was too busy panicking about the jacket situation to care. He still had to finish his shirt, and he’d just told Tim that he was planning to make a bowtie, as though he had any idea how. Kurt frowned and headed for the sewing room, telling himself he’d worry about the jacket situation once he had two finished pieces to show.

~

Puck had been a runway model long enough to be used to the buzz of excitement right before a show. He’d heard enough about the way Project Runway worked to know it was kind of like a mini-show, only the tension was ratcheted up by double. So he wasn’t surprised to walk into the workroom with the rest of the models to find the designers in a panic, looking kind of wild in the eyes and practically bouncing off each other as they ran back and forth between their work stations.

And he knew the prize for winning was big, so he got why they were all freaking out. Winning Runway was different than winning Top Model; those chicks got zero respect in the industry, from other models or agencies. But Project Runway was different, because name recognition went a lot further when you were selling clothes than if you were trying to land a contract with a modeling agency.

It wasn’t like any of the designers who’d won Project Runway were giving Versace or even Donna Karan a run for their money or anything, but the smart ones had lines with major retailers, and one or two of the losers had made a big enough splash while they were on TV to have entertainment careers now.

So yeah, he got that Runway was a big deal, and he figured that was the reason Kurt looked kind of like he wanted to puke when Puck found him at his work bench.

“Hey,” he said, dropping onto the stool next to Kurt’s bench and watching while he cut something out of a scrap of shiny black fabric. “You want my clothes off?”

Kurt looked up at him, eyes kind of wide and his face going kind of pink. It was a good look for him, especially when he opened his mouth without saying anything, like he wasn’t really sure how to answer. Then he blinked and pressed his lips together, face going a darker shade of red and when he looked back down at whatever he was working on, Puck could see that even his ears were blushing.

“Yes, actually. I need to see how this shirt fits, and I still haven’t seen you walk.”

“Whatever you want, Princess,” Puck said, smirking when Kurt looked at him again.

He stood up and pulled his shirt off, watching Kurt watch him as he tugged it over his head and dropped it on the bench. He kicked his shoes off next, then he slid his jeans down and dropped those next to his shirt. Finally he was standing in the workroom in nothing but a pair of boxer briefs; he was used to being backstage at runway shows, so it didn’t bother him, and anyway half the other models were already undressed.

Kurt blinked again, then he shook his head and turned to his dressmaker’s dummy. He unbuttoned the shirt Puck assumed he’d finished sometime that morning, then he turned and held it out for Puck to slide his arms into the sleeves.

“It seems a bit early in our relationship for pet names,” Kurt said, voice next to Puck’s ear as he smoothed his hands over Puck’s shoulders. Getting the fit of the shirt, Puck knew, but he didn’t have any complaints about Kurt touching him either way.

A second later Kurt was standing in front of him, tugging the front of the shirt closed and working on the buttons. And Puck didn’t have any complaints about that either, but he’d rather Kurt take his clothes off than help him put them on.

“You look like a princess,” Puck said, reaching out to run his thumb along one of Kurt’s cheekbones. “The way you walk around with your nose stuck in the air. And the way you blush.”

“I’m not a girl. And I’m not blushing,” Kurt said, then he blushed even harder. “I’m just…in a hurry.”

He was still staring at Puck’s chest as he tugged the shirt straight, but he couldn’t quite hide the way the corners of his mouth twitched when Puck snorted a laugh. Kurt took a step back and raised his eyebrows at Puck’s chest, and Puck looked down at the rows of pleats and the button holes that looked pretty good from where he was standing.

“This is a nice shirt.”

“Thank you,” Kurt said, nodding like maybe he thought so too. He turned and slid the kilt off the dummy, then he held it out to Puck. “Here, put this on. I want to see them together.”

“What, no help this time?” Puck asked, smirking when Kurt’s ears went pink all over again. He stepped into the kilt and slid it up, then he held his arms out of the way while Kurt tucked in the shirt and zipped him up.

When he was finished Kurt stepped back, arms crossed tight over his chest and looking Puck up and down. “Could you walk a little? I need to see how it moves.”

Puck nodded and turned away from Kurt, walking the length of the bench. He put a little extra swing in his hips, just because he knew Kurt wanted the judges to see the color hidden inside the pleats, but when he heard Kurt say, “No, no, stop,” Puck frowned and turned to look at him.

“What’s the problem? My walk is great.”

“Your walk’s fine,” Kurt conceded, but he was still frowning down at Puck’s legs. “The pleats work exactly the way I planned. The problem is your boxer briefs. I can see them when the kilt swings up.”

“Oh. Dude, that’s not a problem,” Puck said, then he shrugged and reached under the kilt.

“You don’t have to take them off now,” Kurt said, his whole neck going bright red, and Puck had the sudden urge to lick it, just to see if his skin was as hot as it looked. “Just…wear briefs tomorrow.”

“You sure you don’t want a preview?” Puck said, raising an eyebrow when Kurt shook his head and looked down to hide a smile.

“That won’t be necessary. Now stop distracting me, I still have to finish this damn bow tie and then figure out what I’m going to do to keep myself from getting sent home tomorrow.”

Puck looked around the workroom again, taking in the guys trying to fight their way into pants that didn’t fit right, and the guys who still didn’t have anything to try on. Compared to them he looked like he was ready for an actual runway show, and even if some of the designers pulled out some major last-minute magic, Kurt was still nowhere near the bottom.

“You’re not getting sent home,” Puck said, leaning against Kurt’s bench and dropping his voice so nobody would overhear him. “Maybe you haven’t noticed, but there’s some jacked up stuff going on around here.”

Kurt smiled again, the sweet one that made him kind of duck his head like he wasn’t sure if he should be taking whatever Puck said as a compliment. He glanced around at some of the other designers, then he looked back at Puck and smirked. “Well I can’t deny that you wear my clothes very well. But a kilt and shirt aren’t enough to win. Will Schuester came through earlier to look at our designs, and he said himself that he couldn’t go to the Tonys without a jacket.”

Puck shrugged and sat down again, one elbow on the bench to watch Kurt fiddle with his bow tie. “So make a jacket.”

“I don’t have enough fabric.” Kurt frowned and turned toward him, holding out the tie and wrapping it around Puck’s neck. He was standing between Puck’s knees, close enough for Puck to feel the nervous energy pouring off him. It made Puck want to reach out and pull him close, run his fingers over Kurt’s cheekbone again and maybe lean in and kiss him until he relaxed a little. “Is that too tight?”

“Nah,” Puck said, his Adam’s apple moving under Kurt’s fingers when he swallowed. “I told you, I can rock anything.”

Kurt rolled his eyes and pulled the tie away from Puck’s neck, then he took a few steps away from Puck and flattened the tie on the bench. Puck watched him in silence for awhile, eyes following the way Kurt’s hands moved across the fabric and remembering the way they’d felt on his skin the few times Kurt had touched him so far.

“So what do you have enough fabric for?”

Kurt looked up from his bow tie, frowning at Puck like he’d forgotten Puck was sitting there. “I’m sorry?”

“You said you didn’t have enough fabric for a jacket. But my roommate makes me watch like every interview that Will guy does, right? So I know for a fact that the dude wears a lot of vests.”

For a few seconds Kurt just stared at him, and Puck figured he was about to get the ‘you’re paid to look good, not think’ speech. It wouldn’t be the first time; he’d heard it a lot at the beginning of his career, when he was still inexperienced enough to think photographers and designers might actually want to hear his opinion. Since then he’d learned how to keep his mouth shut, but this wasn’t a real show or anything, and anyway Kurt wasn’t the one who’d hired him, so he couldn’t tell Puck to get lost and call the agency to send over another model.

“You said you can rock anything,” Kurt said, and okay, that wasn’t the ‘just shut up and look pretty’ speech.

“Damn straight I can.”

“What about a needle and thread?”

Puck raised an eyebrow at him, but when Kurt smirked and shoved the bow tie and a needle and thread in his direction, Puck shrugged and got to work.

~

By the time Kurt collapsed into bed he was feeling pretty good about his look. Noah wasn’t much of a seamstress, but he’d managed not to completely mangle the bow tie, and letting him finish it had freed Kurt up to design a vest that would work with his shirt.

The vest was a perfect solution, in retrospect. He should have come up with it himself, and maybe he would have, given enough time. But time was the one thing they didn’t have during this process, and he knew if he won tomorrow he’d owe at least part of it to Noah. He didn’t even mind admitting it, though so far Noah hadn’t seemed all that interested in getting any credit.

Mostly he’d just hung around and watched Kurt work until Tim kicked the models out again, asking questions now and then as though he actually cared what Kurt was doing. If it was any of the other models Kurt might have thought he was just worried about being made to look ridiculous on the runway, but Noah seemed pretty convinced that he could rock any look a designer chose to throw at him.

And Kurt was starting to believe him, especially after he’d seen Noah walk in his outfit. He’d seen plenty of models with great walks, and he’d seen plenty of models ooze self-confidence. Noah was no different than any of them, and yet there was something about him that made Kurt want to know more.

He wasn’t naïve enough to think that was going to happen. Noah might enjoy flirting with him while they were working together, but it was only because he liked the attention. As soon as his job was done he’d go back to his life and forget all about Kurt, and with any luck Kurt would still have a competition to win.

Still, he appreciated Noah’s competitive spirit, and he was certainly grateful that of all the models he could have gotten, Noah was the one he’d been paired with. Mercedes’ model Jesse was a complete nightmare, second-guessing her design at every turn and complaining about the fit and the color. Noah’s roommate was nice enough, but his proportions really were bizarre, and Kurt was just as glad not to have to deal with fitting him. Blaine’s model was a bit on the short side, though Kurt supposed if anyone could design for a shorter model, it would be Blaine. Not that he’d done much designing; Kurt still hadn’t figured out what he’d spent the past two days doing, exactly.

Besides, his look was edgy enough that not just anyone could pull it off. A couple of the male models looked a bit like prep school students, and Noah’s roommate screamed ‘small town’. The only one edgy enough to pull off a kilt was Noah, when he really stopped to think about it.

The workroom door opened as Kurt was putting the finishing touches on the vest he’d designed the night before, and he looked up in time to watch Tim walk in. “Designers, I’m sending in your models. You’ll have one hour for hair in the Garnier Salon and makeup in the L’Oreal Studio. Mercedes, I’m afraid your model Jesse isn’t here yet. The agency’s trying to track him down now.”

All eyes swung toward Mercedes, but instead of the rant Kurt expected, her mouth dropped open and then closed a few times. “What am I supposed to do if he doesn’t show?”

“The agency’s working on a replacement, but I’m afraid you won’t have time for a new fitting,” Tim said. “You’re just going to have to make it work.”

Before Mercedes could come up with an answer for that he was gone, and the models were walking through the door. And they all knew that this sort of thing happened at runway shows, but that didn’t really help Mercedes. Kurt winced sympathetically as she stared at the look she’d just barely managed to make work in the first place.

“What’s the matter?” Noah said from his shoulder, and Kurt swallowed against the shiver that rolled down his spine.

“Mercedes’ model didn’t show,” Kurt said, turning away from her to look at Noah.

“Oh, yeah, that guy. He’s a total douche. She’s better off.”

He was already pulling his clothes off when Kurt turned around, and he felt his face heat up when he caught sight of a broad, muscular chest. He still hadn’t gotten quite used to the concept of a guy as hot as Noah taking off his clothes every time they were in the same room, and he wasn’t going to, because after today they were never going to see each other again. Still, he might need a few male models for his final collection, and there was a chance they’d let him request Noah again.

When he caught himself thinking it Kurt cleared his throat and turned away, reaching for the kilt and handing it over as Noah stepped out of his jeans. His boxer briefs were shorter than yesterday’s, the hem landing at mid-thigh and Kurt hoped that would be enough to keep the judges from seeing the legs when Noah moved.

As soon as he fastened the kilt Noah reached under it, and before Kurt could protest he tugged his underwear off and dropped them in the pile with the rest of his clothes. “Just in case.”

Kurt flushed even harder at Noah’s slow grin, then he turned away and reached for the shirt. He helped Noah slide into it, doing his best not to think about exactly what Noah wasn’t wearing under his kilt as he tugged the shirt closed and started working on the buttons. When he was finished he glanced down at the shirttails that were still hanging over the kilt, and when he looked up again Noah smiled and held his arms out to his sides.

“Surely you know how to tuck in your own shirt.”

“Hey, it’s your ass on the line, Princess. I just want to make sure I look exactly the way you want.”

Kurt rolled his eyes again and stepped forward, hands landing on Noah’s waist and tugging the shirt straight before he tucked in the front. He was careful not to touch any more skin than he had to, but he still blushed bright red when he looked up and found Noah watching him.

He wasn’t smiling anymore, but his eyes were darker than they had been the last time Kurt looked. His arms were still stretched out at his sides, hands open and looking for all the world like he was on offer.

Kurt swallowed hard at the thought and slid his arms around Noah’s waist, hands sliding under the waistband of the kilt to tuck the back of the shirt in. His fingers slid along bare skin, lingering for just a beat longer than necessary before he cleared his throat and took a step back. He could feel his blush spreading down his neck and across his chest, and he hoped there weren’t any cameras pointed in their direction.

“Let’s try the vest,” he said, and when Noah smirked Kurt knew he hadn’t missed the way Kurt’s voice caught in his throat.

“Looks good,” Noah said, looking down as Kurt held it out and let Noah slide his arms through the holes. The front was made of black wool lined with what was left of the satin, cut wide to show the pleating on the front of the shirt. The back piece was cut from the plaid, and Kurt smoothed his hands over the pattern before he turned Noah to face him again.

“I’m so glad you approve,” Kurt said, rolling his eyes and ducking his head to hide a pleased smile.

The truth was he was starting to value Noah’s opinion; he wasn’t a designer, but he knew clothes, thanks to his experience on the runway. Besides, the vest had been his suggestion, and even if Kurt designed it, Noah still deserved some of the credit.

“The fit’s perfect,” he said, pulling the vest closed at Noah’s waist and buttoning it across his stomach. “I just hope the plaid’s not too much.”

“I’m telling you, if Schuester gets a vote, you’ve got it in the bag. Seriously, you wouldn’t believe the vests this guy wears. I think he’s got a fetish.”

“It’s sort of disturbing that you know more about Will Schuester’s fashion sense than I do,” Kurt said as he pulled the bow tie around Noah’s neck. He held his breath while he tied the perfect bow, teeth digging into his bottom lip and working hard to ignore the heat of Noah’s laugh on his cheek.

“I told you, my roommate’s, like, stalking him.”

“He’s not going to throw himself off the runway or anything, is he? Because if he’s going to upstage my outfit I’d just as soon know now.”

“Please. Between your clothes and my walk, he could drive down the runway in a clown car and it wouldn’t upstage us.”

“Well, the clown car would go with his outfit.”

They both turned to look at Santana's bench, watching Finn frown at what looked like a bad costume from an off-off-Broadway production of The Pirates Of Penzance. Kurt was still trying to figure out what exactly was going on with her shirt when he felt a hand close around his, and he flushed when he realized his hand was still resting on Noah's shoulder.

His heart skipped a beat when he looked up to find Noah looking at him, and he swallowed and pulled his hand away. "We should get you into makeup before we run out of time."

"You're the boss," Noah said, but he was still looking, and Kurt had a feeling he wasn't going to stop blushing until this challenge was over.

Until Noah went back to wherever he'd come from and right back out of Kurt's life. It was a depressing thought, but Kurt managed to swallow his sigh as he unbuttoned the vest and helped Noah slide out of it. He turned to set the vest on his bench, but before he got more than a step away from Noah a hand reached out and closed around his wrist. Kurt looked back at him, heart pounding a little harder when he saw the look on Noah’s face.

“We got this, okay?” Noah said, like he really believed it, and the funny thing was, Kurt was starting to believe it too.

“Why do you care so much?” Kurt asked before he even realized he was thinking it, and he felt his face flush, but he didn’t try to take it back.

Noah shrugged and swayed a little closer, mouth quirking into a smirk that was starting to get way too familiar. “Because when you win you’re gonna want to thank me, and I’m planning to let you.”

A second later he was walking away, following Sam and his model out of the workroom and all Kurt could do was blush even harder and hurry to catch up.

~

When Puck got to the room where they had the makeup artists set up, most of the rest of the models were there with their designers. They were all talking about the fact that Jesse still hadn’t showed, but Puck didn’t see what the big deal was. When a model flaked at a real runway show it just meant whoever was the closest to his size stepped in; an extra wardrobe change wasn’t that big a deal, as long as the looks didn’t have to go out back-to-back.

“Why doesn’t Mike just do it?” Puck asked, nodding toward Sam’s model. “He’s the closest to Jesse’s build. At least he’s got the best chance of fitting in the clothes as is, right?”

“We can’t double up on models,” Sam said, but he looked pretty bummed about it, like he felt bad for not volunteering Mike. “The judges want to see all the looks on the runway at the end of the show, and we can’t show two looks at the same time if there’s only one model.”

“So...what, she gets disqualified if Jesse doesn’t show?”

“Surely they wouldn’t disqualify her,” Kurt said from behind him, and Puck turned to take in still-pink cheeks and the way Kurt’s arms were crossed over his chest. “Would they?”

“They can’t,” Matt’s designer, the Asian chick with the blue streaks in her hair, said. “It’s not her fault her model’s unreliable. They’ll just send someone else.”

“Yeah, and then she won’t have time to fit him, and she’ll still be screwed,” Sam said. He frowned in the direction of the door for a second, then he turned back to the makeup artists and waved one of them over. “Listen, just make him look hot, okay? It’s not much of a challenge; he’s pretty hot already.”

Sam shoved Mike in her direction before she could answer, then he bolted out of the makeup room and back in the direction of the workroom.

“What was that about?” Puck asked once he was gone, but when he looked at Kurt he just shrugged.

“For all I know he just remembered a sale on peroxide at Duane Reade.” Kurt glanced toward the door, then he turned back to Puck and looked him over. “I suppose there’s not much to do with your hair. Unless...”

“What?” Puck asked when Kurt paused, reaching up to run a hand over his close-cropped curls. They were a little longer than usual, but considering ‘usual’ for him was a buzz cut, that wasn’t saying much. Still, Kurt was staring at him like he’d never really looked at him before, and Puck knew for a fact that that wasn’t true.

“Nothing. I can’t ask you to do that.”

“Have I said no to you yet?” Puck said, and when Kurt flushed he smirked and swayed a little closer. “I sewed for you, babe.”

For a second Kurt just blinked at him like maybe Puck had started speaking a different language all of a sudden. It was pretty cute, and Puck figured it was worth whatever Kurt was about to ask. Anyway, he was right; there wasn’t much he could do to change Puck’s look, unless the peroxide joke had given him an idea.

“It could backfire,” Kurt said. He reached out and ran his fingers through Puck’s hair like he was testing fabric instead of just looking for an excuse to touch, and he totally sucked at flirting, but Puck didn’t really mind.

“Try me,” he said, pushing back against Kurt’s fingers, and when he realized he was still touching Kurt blushed and let go.

“Would you consider a mohawk?”

“What, you think I can’t rock a mohawk?”

“It’s not a question of whether or not you can. It’s a question of whether or not you’re willing.”

Puck grinned, slow and warm and when he leaned even closer he heard Kurt’s breath catch in his throat. “I’m willing.”

~

Kurt left Noah in the makeup chair with instructions to make him look ‘edgy’. What that translated to, as far as he could tell, was lots of kohl eyeliner smudged under Noah’s eyes. Once he was done in the makeup chair the hairstylists would get their hands on him, and Kurt hoped his mohawk idea wouldn’t turn out to be a mistake.

He had no doubt Noah would look good no matter what they did to his hair, but there was a chance the judges would find the mohawk to be a bit much. Too dated, maybe; less punk rock and more costume party. Kurt hoped that it would lend itself to the overall ‘rock star’ look he was going for, but he knew he was taking a risk.

The fact that Noah was willing to go through with it was kind of a surprise, except that it was true that Noah hadn’t refused him anything yet. For the past two days Kurt had assumed the flirting didn’t really mean anything, that as soon as the job was over Noah would go back to his life and forget all about whatever passing attraction he might have felt for Kurt.

Except Noah had as good as admitted that he was already thinking about what happened after the challenge was over. Maybe he didn’t know that Kurt wasn’t allowed contact with the outside world until he was eliminated, but the fact that he wanted contact with Kurt at any point was…well, unexpected, to say the least.

Kurt smiled to himself as he walked back into the workroom, heading for his bench to pick up his vest. When he realized he wasn’t alone in the room he glanced over at Mercedes’ work bench, eyes widening a little at the sight of Sam standing in front of Mercedes with his arms stretched out to his sides.

He was wearing her look, flashing his toothpaste commercial smile in Kurt’s direction as Mercedes fitted him in her pants. And Kurt had to admit that the fit wasn’t terrible; clearly she had more work to do than she really had time for, but at least she was sending a look down the runway, even if it wasn’t perfect.

“Trying on a new career, just in case you get eliminated?” Kurt said, raising an eyebrow when Sam laughed.

“Just being a team player.” Sam grinned at him for another second, then he looked down at Mercedes. “Besides, it’s a good look. Mercedes should be able to show it.”

When Mercedes smiled up at him Kurt rolled his eyes, but the truth was he was glad she was going to get a chance to show. It didn’t seem fair that she should suffer just because she had the bad luck to draw the wrong model, and at least with Sam stepping in it meant she had a little time to get the fit right.

“You’re a lifesaver, Sam,” Mercedes said, watching as he slid the pants off and handed them back to her. “And you’re hotter than that jerk Jesse, too.”

Sam flashed his toothpaste commercial smile at her this time, then he reached for his shorts and pulled them on. “I better go get them to do something with my hair while you finish the pants. I’ll be back before the show starts.”

He leaned in, hand resting on her elbow to brush his lips across her cheek. When he pulled back he grinned again, then he turned and headed back out of the workroom in Mercedes’ shirt and tie and his shorts. Kurt rolled his eyes again, turning back to Mercedes in time to watch her smile to herself.

“I’m glad he’s helping you,” Kurt said, and it was still true, but he couldn’t help wondering what Sam’s motivation for helping Mercedes was. It was one thing to be a team player, but if that was his only reason he was laying it on kind of thick. “I suppose knights in shining armor can come in surfer blond too.”

Mercedes laughed and glanced over at him, and for someone who had less than an hour and sewing to do, she was in an awfully good mood. “Sam’s a really nice person.”

Kurt made a little humming noise that could have meant he was agreeing with her, then he picked up his vest to follow her to the sewing room. He finished his button holes while she let out the seams on her pants for the second time, sighing occasionally, and whenever Kurt looked at her she was wearing a dreamy smile that didn’t correspond at all with the amount of stress she should be feeling.

“Sam’s really nice,” Kurt said after awhile, laying his vest flat and making sure the buttons lined up before he turned to look at her. “But he really likes attention.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Kurt sighed and waited until she finished the last seam on her pants, then he reached for a pair of scissors and started helping her cut loose threads. “It means don’t go falling in love just because he did something sweet.”

She opened her mouth to answer, but before she got the words out the sewing room door opened, and they both looked up to find Noah walking in. His eyes were dark and smoky and his hair was completely gone except for a thick stripe right down the center of his skull. He was wearing the kilt and tuxedo shirt with a pair of heavy black boots, and when he spotted Kurt and smirked, Kurt’s heart skipped a beat.

“I won’t if you won’t,” Mercedes said, but Kurt was too busy staring at Noah to hear her.

~

The show went off without a hitch, as far as Kurt was concerned. Noah delivered everything he’d promised and more on the runway, somehow managing to look both dangerous and fashion-forward without looking like he was trying too hard. Kurt’s clothes moved perfectly on him, and he had no idea what Heidi or Nina or Michael thought, but he was fairly sure at least Will had liked his look.

Still, the runway show was the easy part; all they had to do was sit there and watch their models do the work. The hard part came after the show was over, when the producers lined them up and made them all file onstage to find out who was in danger of going home.

Kurt lined up with the others, heart in his throat as he turned to face the judges. Heidi introduced them for the sake of the cameras, and all the designers smiled and nodded as though they wouldn’t rather be anywhere other than exactly where they were.

“If I call your name, please step forward. Tina,” Heidi said, smiling in that sweet way that told Kurt Tina was about to get a reprieve. “Congratulations, your score has qualified you to continue in the competition. You can leave the runway.”

Once Tina was gone Heidi turned back to them, her smile a little more grim. “Designers, you represent the best and the worst. One of you will be the winner, and one of you will be out. Let’s bring out your models.”

Kurt turned to watch the remaining five models file onto the runway. Sam was already standing next to Mercedes, so the rest of the models took their places next to their designers. When Noah stopped next to him Kurt looked over, forcing a tight-lipped smile before he turned to face the judges again.

He felt Noah’s shoulder press against his and leaned into the touch, and when he felt a hand land on his back Kurt bit his bottom lip to hold back a gasp. Noah’s fingers splayed across the small of his back, warm and strong and pressing just for a moment before he let go and let his hands fall to his sides. It was over practically as soon as it started, but it lasted long enough to distract Kurt from the nerves making his stomach flutter as the judges looked at their outfits up close.

“Sam, let’s start with you,” Heidi said, and Kurt glanced over to watch Sam smile at her. “Tell us about your look.”

Noah’s shoulder was still pressed against his, warm and solid and it was hard to pay attention to whatever Sam was saying when all he could focus on was the fact that Noah was touching him.

“What’s the jacket made out of?” Michael asked, and Kurt leaned around Noah far enough to look at Sam’s jacket.

“It’s fleece. I thought the texture would be interesting.”

“It’s a good thing you chose a fleece,” Michael said, “because otherwise it’s just a boring gray jacket.”

“I like the jacket,” Will said, leaning forward in his chair and giving Sam the same smile he gave Kurt right before he told him his look wouldn’t cut it on the red carpet, “but I can’t really wear fleece to the Tonys.”

Kurt glanced at the plaid wool on the back of his vest and hoped it wouldn’t fall into the same category as fleece. Then again, he’d only made a vest, not a full jacket, so at least it wouldn’t be as hot in June.

“Next we’d like to hear from Mercedes,” Heidi said. “Mercedes, tell us about your look and your model.”

“My model bailed,” Mercedes said, glancing at Sam long enough to smile, “but that’s okay, because Sam looks better in my clothes anyway.”

“I have to say, Sam, I’m impressed. You walked the runway as though you’ve done it before. However,” Heidi said, “that doesn’t make up for the fact that these pants just don’t work.”

“Yeah, what’s going on with the crotch?” Michael added.

Kurt tuned out the judges as they critiqued Mercedes’ design, focusing instead on the look on her face. He could tell she was trying not to lose her temper, but just when he thought she was going to snap Sam reached over and put his arm around her. Just like that she calmed right down, and okay, it was sweet, but it didn’t change the fact that Sam was a flirt.

And sure, Noah was a flirt too, but so far the only person Kurt had seen him flirt with was...well, Kurt.

He tuned back in when they said Santana’s name, glancing at Noah when the word ‘clown’ came out of Michael’s mouth. If Noah was listening he didn’t show it; his expression was completely blank, and the dark smudges around his eyes made him look almost angry. But his shoulder was still pressed against Kurt’s, and when Kurt felt the pressure increase just slightly he knew Noah was listening.

“Seriously,” Heidi added, “the shirt kind of looks like a Disney pirate costume or something.”

“The pants aren’t horrible,” Nina said, but her head was tilted kind of sideways, and that was never a good sign. “Will, would you wear this?”

“Maybe on stage,” Will said, and he was still smiling, but it looked almost painful. “Though the pants fit really well. Do you mind turning around so we can see the back again?”

Kurt watched Will’s gaze shift to the model’s ass as Noah’s roommate turned around. He glanced at Noah, watching one eyebrow arch as Will Schuester checked out his roommate. Kurt coughed to cover a laugh, hand clamped over his mouth and pressing hard against Noah’s shoulder.

“Thanks,” Will said when Finn turned around again, his smile more genuine this time. “I’m curious what you think of it, Mr...”

“Finn. Finn Hudson,” Santana’s model said, blushing and glancing in Santana’s direction before he turned back to Will. His whole face was flushed, the blush spreading down his neck and making the clown pirate shirt look even weirder. “It’s not really my style. I know it’s not yours either, Will. I tried...”

He stopped, glancing at Santana again, and when he saw the look on her face he leaned away from her. “I mean...I just want to say that it’s an honor to meet you. I’m a big fan.”

Will’s smile this time was the one he usually reserved for red carpets, bright and boyish and Finn’s face went from bright pink to an almost painful-looking red. It was...sort of cute, and the fact that Santana looked like she wasn’t sure whose eyes to scratch out first just added to the effect.

“Kurt,” Heidi said as the judges all turned to look at him. “Tell us about your look.”

“Well, I wanted to bring a little drama to the red carpet,” Kurt said, taking in his outfit, and when he saw how well it fit Noah, he knew he had to be in the top three. “And since it’s the Tonys, something a little theatrical works. I used the plaid as a sort of nod to the tradition of the kilt.”

Noah turned as he spoke, and Kurt reached for the back of the kilt and opened one of the pleats to show the pattern hidden inside. As soon as he touched the kilt he remembered exactly what Noah wasn’t wearing underneath it, and he cleared his throat and willed himself not to blush as Noah turned around again.

“Will, I want to hear what you think of the idea of a kilt on the red carpet,” Heidi said, flashing the smile that either meant she loved it and didn’t want to show her cards yet, or she thought Kurt had lost his mind and didn’t want to be the first to say so.

“You know, when you first said you were doing a kilt I wasn’t sure what to think,” Will said. “But the vest is a great answer to a more formal jacket, and the whole thing looks really well-made. I could see this on the red carpet.”

“Thank you,” Kurt said, a pleased smile turning up the corners of his mouth.

“I’d go a little less Braveheart with the makeup if I were you,” Michael said, and when the judges laughed Kurt felt his face heat up.

“I’d probably skip the mohawk too,” Will answered, still smiling, and Kurt was starting to wonder if he ever stopped. “Though it really works on your model.”

He didn’t say he wouldn’t wear the look, though, and that was what Kurt cared about. In fact, he sounded like he really liked it, and when Nina called it ‘innovative’, he thought they might actually have a chance at winning. And he wasn’t sure when he’d starting thinking of them as a team, but Noah had helped out a lot with the challenge, so the win was really both of theirs.

Once the judges moved on to Brittany’s look Kurt let out a deep breath and stole another glance at Noah, and when he found Noah watching him his heart skipped a beat. Noah leaned in and Kurt swallowed hard, but instead of touching him again Noah leaned around him to look at Brittany’s model. The movement brought them back in contact, Noah’s chest pressing against Kurt’s side and when a hand landed on his ass this time Kurt didn’t quite stifle a gasp.

“Stop,” he hissed under his breath, eyes on the judges to make sure none of them were paying attention to what Noah was doing. Thankfully they were too busy trying to follow Brittany while she described her creative process to notice what was going on between him and his model, and Kurt couldn’t really say he was surprised.

It seemed as though Brittany’s creative process consisted of draping whatever fabric made her feel like she was wrapped in sunshine and rainbows and then sending it down the runway. It had worked for her so far, though, and considering what the judges had to say about her pants, Kurt had a feeling this week wasn’t going to be any different.

Noah laughed, but his hand disappeared, and there was a part of Kurt that was sorry he’d said anything. Still, they were standing in front of the judges, not to mention the cameras, and eventually someone was going to notice how close Noah was.

He was grateful when the judges finished and Heidi dismissed them, even though he knew how long they were going to have to wait to find out who was going home. When he remembered that the models wouldn’t be joining them during the wait he was a little less grateful, especially when it dawned on him that he might not even see Noah after the results were announced.

And it was stupid, because they barely knew each other, but that didn’t stop Kurt’s stomach from tying into a knot when he looked over at Noah. He opened his mouth to say something – thank you, maybe, or just goodbye – but before he got the words out Noah’s hand closed around his and Kurt found himself being pulled away from the rest of the designers.

“What are you doing?” Kurt asked, heart pounding in his chest as he glanced in the direction of the lounge where they usually waited for the judges to call them back onto the runway. “Noah, I have to go. The producers...”

Instead of answering, Noah gripped his hand a little harder and steered him toward a closed door. He turned the knob and pulled Kurt into what turned out to be some kind of storeroom, kicking the door closed behind them and flipping on a light switch to reveal shelves with rows of what looked like spare sewing machine parts.

As soon as the door was closed Noah’s hands were on his hips, pushing him back against the shelves and pressing close, and Kurt’s heart pounded so hard he was sure he was having some kind of attack. “You’re going to get me disqualified.”

“They’re not going to notice you’re gone for a couple minutes,” Noah said, grinning like he actually knew what he was talking about. “I just wanted to give you this.”

Noah reached between them, fingers sliding under the waistband of the kilt, and Kurt tried and failed to stifle a gasp. Then Noah slid something out of the kilt and held it up, smirking when Kurt blushed and rolled his eyes at the sight of a piece of paper.

“It’s my number. When you make top three and they let you out of here, give me a call and I’ll let you thank me for helping you win today.”

“I haven’t won yet,” Kurt answered, but he reached out to close his fingers around the piece of paper in Noah’s hand. “There’s still a chance they’ll give it to Brittany again. The judges love her. No one can figure out why.”

And now he was just babbling, but when he felt a hand slide into his hair Kurt stopped talking. He looked up to find Noah watching him, eyes dark, and he wasn’t smiling anymore, but something about his expression made Kurt shiver against him.

“You’re gonna win, Kurt. But call me even if you don’t.”

Kurt nodded idiotically, but before he could open his mouth and embarrass himself by saying something stupid, Noah was kissing him. His hand was still in Kurt’s hair, sliding down to the back of his neck to hold him in place. The kiss was slow, softer than Kurt expected and almost sweet, as though Noah was committing the moment to memory.

The thought made Kurt’s heart skip a beat, and when his lips parted on a sigh Noah took the in and slid his tongue past Kurt’s teeth. Kurt’s arms slid around Noah’s waist, over the back of his kilt and he was glad he’d used wool so he didn’t have to worry about leaving wrinkles in the fabric.

Noah’s hand left his back to reach for one of Kurt’s hands, sliding it further down and lifting the kilt until Kurt’s hand was pressed against bare skin. Kurt’s fingers curved around the swell of Noah’s ass, dragging him closer and when their cocks ground together Noah moaned into his mouth. And they didn’t have time for this, but if it was the last chance they got before Kurt made it to the final three, he wasn’t going to pass it up.

He wasn’t going to pass up Noah’s hands on him, pushing up under his shirt and stroking down his skin like Noah couldn’t get close enough. He wasn’t going to pass up the feel of Noah’s mouth on his neck, sucking hard at his skin as Kurt rocked up against him, fingers still kneading his ass in an effort to get even more. It was too much and nowhere near enough, and Kurt didn’t even care if he got in trouble with the producers for disappearing right in the middle of taping.

As soon as he thought it there was a knock on the door, then the muffled sound of someone saying Kurt’s name. A producer, he was pretty sure, which meant they knew exactly where he and Noah had disappeared to. Kurt groaned and pressed his forehead into Noah’s shoulder, just breathing for a second before he pulled his hand away from Noah’s ass and smoothed the kilt back down.

“Call me. Promise,” Noah said, his lips brushing Kurt’s cheek right up next to his ear, and it was sweet in a way that made Kurt’s breath catch.

“I promise,” Kurt answered. He pulled back to look at Noah, reaching up to slide his thumb along Noah’s cheekbone. “This is the first time I’ve sort of hoped I don’t make it to final three.”

Noah smiled and turned into Kurt’s touch, lips brushing Kurt’s palm and sending a jolt of want straight to Kurt’s cock. “No way, babe. You’ve got this thing in the bag. I’m not going anywhere.”

For a second Kurt just blinked at him; he was fairly sure Noah had just promised to wait for him, as unbelievable as that was. Then the producer knocked on the door again and Kurt sighed, leaning in to press one last kiss to Noah’s lips. “Thank you, Noah.”

“Hey, all I did was show up and look good,” Noah said, and when Kurt rolled his eyes Noah laughed and let go of him. He pulled the door open and slipped back into the hallway, cheeks flushing when the producer raised an eyebrow at him.

“I think we’ll do a quick interview.”

Kurt shook his head and followed the producer to the interview room, sliding onto the stool and reaching up to press his fingers to kiss-swollen lips.

“So you seem to have hit it off with your model for this challenge,” the producer said, and Kurt blushed even harder and didn’t look into the camera.

“No comment,” he said, but he couldn’t quite hide his smile.

~

Once Kurt was gone Puck leaned against the door of the supply closet, and he knew he was grinning like an idiot, but there was no one around to see him, so he figured it didn’t matter. He stayed put until he was sure Kurt was gone, then he pulled the door open and stepped back into the hallway. By the time he found the room where the rest of the models were waiting out the results he wasn’t hard anymore, at least, which was good, considering he was still wearing Kurt’s kilt.

“Where’d you go?” Finn asked when Puck walked in, moving over to make room for Puck on the couch.

“Just taking care of some business,” Puck answered, grinning when Finn frowned at him. “Speaking of which, way to be smooth on the runway, dude. ‘I’m a big fan’? That’s the best you could come up with?”

“What’d you want me to do, throw myself off the runway?” Finn asked, but he was blushing again, and Puck didn’t bother trying not to laugh.

“Probably would have worked. He totally checked out your ass when he made you turn around, dude.”

“Really?” Finn said, glancing toward the door like maybe he was expecting Will Schuester to walk through and propose or something. And they both knew that wasn’t going to happen, but now that Puck had something going with Kurt, he sort of hoped Finn did get a shot with Will out of all this.

“Yeah, dude, he was totally into you,” Puck said. “He didn’t ask what I thought of wearing a skirt, did he?”

Finn opened his mouth to answer, maybe to argue that it wasn’t about him so much as the clown suit he was wearing, but before he got the words out the TV on the wall across from them switched on. All the models leaned forward to watch the designers file back onto the stage, lining up in front of the judges to find out who won and who got sent packing.

And yeah, the prize for the model who was paired with the winning designer was decent, but Puck didn’t care about a gift bag from some big name designer as much as he cared that he’d rocked Kurt’s outfit well enough to get him the win. He leaned forward on the couch, elbows on his knees and totally focused on Kurt while Heidi delivered her usual speech about somebody getting the boot.

They all clapped when Heidi told Sam he was safe, then they sent Mercedes back to safety too, and Puck was glad she didn’t get the boot just because she got stuck with Jesse. Then the camera closed in on Kurt, and when Heidi said his name Puck stopped breathing. He tuned out the rest of the models, focusing on the way Kurt’s lips kept trying to curve into a smile in spite of the fact that he was waiting to hear his fate.

“Congratulations,” Heidi finally said, “you are the winner of this challenge.”

As soon as she said it Kurt stopped trying to fight his smile, and Puck’s heart skipped a beat at the look on his face. He knew he was grinning like an idiot again, but he figured the rest of the guys would chalk it up to him winning the extra prize. Except maybe Finn, but he just clapped Puck on the shoulder and said, “Congratulations, man. You guys deserve it.”

“Thanks,” Puck said, but he didn’t take his eyes off the screen even long enough to grin at Finn. He watched while Kurt blushed, then headed off the runway and back to the designers’ holding area.

Once Kurt was gone he stopped paying attention, because it didn’t matter who got sent home. They all got paid either way, but it was easy to get caught up in the drama when they were all involved in the competition. So he wasn’t surprised that the rest of the models kept holding their breath while they listened to the judges declare Brittany safe, then it was down to Santana and Blaine.

And it didn’t make a difference to Finn if his designer got the boot, but he still watched while Santana scraped by and Blaine got sent home. Then again, it was possible Finn was staring at the screen in the hope of another glimpse of Will, and Puck couldn’t even blame him, because all he really wanted to do was go find Kurt and kiss him again.

~

Final three wasn’t exactly what Kurt expected. For one thing, he’d sort of expected to be in the final three with Mercedes and maybe Sam. But the judges had loved Brittany all along, so he wasn’t all that surprised when in the end they chose her over Mercedes to show at Fashion Week.

Still, it felt great to make the final three, until it really sank in exactly how much work he had to do in the next six months. It was longer than most people assumed they got, thanks to the show’s schedule, but it still wasn’t that much time to come up with a cohesive collection. So he hugged the others and wished them luck, then he headed back to his tiny studio in Brooklyn and locked himself in alone for the first time in over six weeks.

He found Noah’s phone number tucked into the pocket of his favorite pants, carefully folded so that the crease wouldn’t fade any of the numbers before he got a chance to dial them. Once he was home with his cell phone and absolute privacy he took it out again, setting it on the single bed that was the only other piece of furniture in the room besides his sewing table and staring at it for awhile.

It had been a few weeks since Noah pulled him into that closet and kissed him as though his life depended on it. Since Noah made him promise to call, and sure, he’d meant it at the time, but a few weeks was practically a lifetime in a model’s social life, and chances were good Noah had already moved on.

He might not even remember Kurt, and if he called only to be met with a “Wait, who is this again?” Kurt was pretty sure he’d die of humiliation. Then again, if Noah had already forgotten him, at least Kurt didn’t have to worry about running into him at any industry functions and embarrassing himself.

He considered leaving it to fate. Designing some menswear to go in his collection, then requesting Noah as one of his models, and if he showed and remembered Kurt, then it was meant to be. Except that if Kurt didn’t call and Noah really was waiting to hear from him, he might be hurt enough by the time Fashion Week rolled around to refuse to walk in Kurt’s clothes.

“This is ridiculous,” Kurt said, his voice too loud in the quiet studio. He rolled his eyes at himself and picked up his cell, punching in the number before he could change his mind.

It connected on the second ring, and when Kurt heard Noah’s voice on the other end of the line, his heart actually skipped a beat. “Hello?”

“Noah?”

For a second there was no answer, and Kurt wondered if perhaps he’d made a mistake after all. Then Noah let out a sigh, and Kurt pictured him running his hand over his shaved scalp. “Babe, what took you so long? I was starting to think you were going to blow me off.”

Kurt felt the heat rising up his neck and into his cheeks, and he was glad Noah wasn’t there to see him blush. “I just got home today. I made it to the final three, if you can believe that.”

“I said you would, didn’t I?” Noah said, his smile clear in his voice and Kurt didn’t bother trying not to grin. “So when are we going out to celebrate? I want to see you.”

“I still owe you that thank you,” Kurt said, cheeks flushing a little harder when Noah laughed.

“You don’t owe me, but I’ll take it anyway. I’ll take whatever, just tell me when I can see you again.”

“Are you free tomorrow?” As soon as he said it he sort of regretted not telling Noah to just come over right now, but they’d waited this long, and he wanted to do this right.

“Yeah,” Noah said, voice dropping a little and sending a shiver up Kurt’s spine. “For you, I’m always free.”

~

“Babe, shake a leg or you’ll miss it.”

“One second,” Kurt called. He swung the fridge shut and picked up his glass and a fresh beer, then he headed into the tiny living room and settled on the couch. As soon as he sat down Puck’s arm slid around his shoulders, lips brushing his cheek as he pulled the beer out of Kurt’s grip.

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” Kurt said, turning to press a kiss to the corner of Puck’s mouth before he pulled back and settled against his shoulder.

Puck grinned and pulled him a little closer, swinging his feet up on the second-hand coffee table and scanning the crowd on the TV screen until he spotted a familiar face. “There they are.”

“Where?” Kurt leaned forward to squint at the screen, and when he saw the outfit he’d designed on the red carpet he let out a weird little squeak he’d never actually admit to and gripped Puck’s thigh. “Oh, my clothes look better than I thought they would.”

“Not as good as when I wore them,” Puck said, and it was true, so it wasn’t like Kurt was going to try to deny it.

“Yes, but you didn’t wear them on the red carpet at the Tonys. Do you know what this kind of exposure can do for my career?” Kurt said, like Puck hadn’t heard this speech a million times in the past year.

They watched while Will stopped in front of some talking head with a microphone, then he reached off-camera and grabbed for something, and a second later Finn was being hauled into frame. Puck snorted a laugh and shook his head at the sight of Finn towering over Will, red-faced and looking like he’d just woken up and realized he wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

Not that Puck really blamed him. It was still kind of hard to believe that Will Schuester had gone to all the trouble to track down their agency and send over front-row tickets to his latest show after a three-second conversation on Project Runway. What was even more unbelievable was the fact that Finn had taken his mom, but she was in town that week and it wasn’t like he could tell her he was ditching her with his roommates for the night so he could make a booty call.

So he took her to a Broadway show instead, and apparently Will was into the cornball Midwestern routine, because he was nice to Finn’s mom, then he called Finn the next day and asked him out again. Since then they’d been pretty much joined at the hip, and maybe Finn hadn’t expected to end up on the red carpet at the Tonys, but he was going to have to get used to it, because Will was crazy about him.

When the interviewer asked about Will’s kilt he smiled into the camera and said Kurt’s name, and Puck laughed when Kurt squealed again and grabbed for his hand this time. “Did you hear that? I’m going to be famous.”

“You’re already famous, babe,” Puck said, and it was kind of true, because a lot of people still recognized him from the show even a year later.

At first it bugged Kurt that they mostly recognized him as the guy who lost to that Brittany chick, but after awhile he embraced the concept of all publicity being the good kind, and he was making it work for him. He’d found a website to sell his line, anyway, and he was doing a decent business in pre-sales. It wasn’t enough for them to move to Manhattan or anything, but between his line and the jobs Puck was booking these days, they were doing okay.

“I told you it didn’t matter if you won the show. Do you see Brittany getting name-checked at a nationally syndicated awards show?”

Kurt smiled and turned far enough to brush a kiss across Puck’s jaw, then he turned back to the TV in time to watch Will pull Finn into the interview and introduce him as his boyfriend.

“Practically jailbait arm candy, more like,” Puck said, laughing again and lifting his beer to take a long pull.

Kurt smacked him in the center of his chest, but he managed not to spill beer down the front of his shirt. “I think they look sweet together. Besides, you know Will’s crazy about him.”

“Believe me, I know. I have to hear about it through the wall all the damn time.”

Puck paused and leaned forward to set his beer on the coffee table, planting his feet on the floor and sliding his arm off Kurt’s shoulders to turn toward him. He’d been thinking about bringing up the subject for awhile, but the timing had always been bad and he kept finding reasons to put it off. Now was as good a time as any, though, so he took a breath and reached for Kurt’s hand.

“Speaking of which, they’re moving in together.”

“Really? When?” Kurt asked, eyes kind of wide. And it had kind of seemed for awhile now like Finn and Will already lived together, but it was still going to be kind of weird not to come home from a job and find Finn sprawled on the couch, taking up most of the room with his giant legs and surfing the entertainment news for a Schue Sighting.

“Our lease is up at the end of the month, and Will’s got that sweet place in Brooklyn. I guess he finally talked Finn into being a kept man.” Puck shrugged and glanced at the TV again, but Will and Finn were gone and the interviewer was talking to some old dude in a regular tux now. “The other guys have a lead on a place in Harlem, so I was thinking maybe we should move in together too.”

“You and me?” Kurt said, like it was the first time the thought had ever crossed his mind. But he was blushing, and Puck knew from experience that was a good sign.

“Unless you’ve got a better offer. I mean, you’re a famous Project Runway star now, people are probably beating down your door.”

Kurt cut him off with a hard kiss against his lips, and when he pulled back he was smiling even bigger than Will when the cameras were on him. “The best thing I got out of Runway was you.”

For a second Puck just grinned back at him, then he shrugged and leaned in to brush his lips against the corner of Kurt’s mouth.

“Damn straight, babe,” he whispered, then he kissed Kurt again.