Chapter 1: Glacier's Patience
There are plenty of places that Kurt Hummel doesn't want to find himself -- staring at his father from underneath a boyfriend (once and only once was more than enough to cause permanent psyche scarring for everyone involved), stuck inside of a car with Christopher Cross cranked all the way up on the radio, the men's section at Walmart on Christmas Eve.
Number one on the list, though, is definitely "mired in the mud on an Oklahoma dirt road with a tornado bearing down."
"Finn," Kurt warns, his hand white-knuckled on the passenger-side door.
The tornado is textbook elephant-trunk, crooked like a dark bent finger reaching down out of the sky and ripping across the fields toward the dirt road. The sky has gone a familiar sickly shade of gray. The roar is picking up, golf ball-sized hailstones starting to clang across the truck's hood and windshield, and Kurt knows that that crooked finger is headed right at them with winds of at least 80 miles per hour.
The engine revs and the wheels spin again, the truck careening precariously toward the watery ditch on the other side of the muddy wheel tracks. Finn's face is set and, Kurt can see under the next fork of lightning, very pale.
"Finn," Kurt says again, sharper, just as Puck hollers, "Hey, hit the gas already!" as he punches the back of Finn's headrest.
"I know, I know I know!" Finn yells at them, hitting the shifter and throwing the truck into reverse. It groans, shudders, and then pulls out of the worst of the mud pit.
"Go!" Puck shouts, but it's Kurt who Finn glances to for direction.
"Back!" Kurt agrees shrilly, his hand on the laptop balanced between their seats to keep it from shaking too strongly. "Back, back; it's coming right at us!"
Finn guns it. The truck flies backward down the country road, everything inside rattling and swaying and banging with every bump. Kurt grits his teeth and maintains his death grips on the computer and on the door handle until Finn has put some distance between them and the spot where they'd gotten stuck.
"Slow down," Kurt orders. "It's going to intersect up--" And then it's scouring the dirt five or six hundred feet ahead. Finn puts it into park and they watch the swirling debris cross the road as the truck shudders in the very outer edge of the circulation. Kurt is vaguely aware of Puck reaching out of the backseat and taking a picture with his cell phone just to the left of his ear, and he bats at his hand. He isn't in the mood to put up with thrill-seeking; not when they've just blown yet another perfect intersect opportunity. It was mechanical error and the road conditions working against them this time, but it seems that it's always something.
The tornado moves farther and farther away with every second. There's no way to catch it again; not on this miserable excuse for a back country road network. The worst of the rain has already passed, and with one last thud, the final hailstone falls. The truck rocks and Finn's door slams, followed by Puck's. They step out, and all three of them – Kurt leaning out his open window, chin resting on his neatly folded forearms – watch the tornado tear through the wheat field.
"That would have been a perfect intercept," Kurt says, brittle.
Leaning against the side of the hood beside the window, Finn shoots an incredulous look down at him. Puck pulls one of those hoo shit, I don't want any part of this faces that he does so well, lifting his hands up with his palms pointed out, and he steps away from the truck.
"Seriously?" asks Finn. "We saw an awesome tornado and we practically got flattened, and that's what you think?"
"What else do you want me to say, Finn?" Kurt demands, raising his head. "Everyone is fine and we need data; that's the closest we've come in three weeks on the Plains. I'm starting to get a complex."
Finn pulls his patented I can't believe this guy face (it looks mildly constipated, to Kurt's judgmental eyes), shaking his head. He stalks around the back of the truck. Kurt rolls his eyes and then two doors open, Finn shoving himself into the driver's seat and Puck climbing into the back.
"You two assholes are more like brothers than any actual brothers I know."
"Shut up, Puck," Kurt and Finn say over each other. Finn punches the radio and a Journey song crackles into the cab. Kurt wrinkles his nose and glances out the window as Finn turns the truck around. There's the glint of metal visible through the slowly settling dust clouds that the tornado raised; probably cars headed their way. Probably more storm chasers, since the locals would know better than to try to drive on these dirt and gravel roads immediately after a rain like that.
Kurt ignores Finn, and Puck drumming along to "Don't Stop Believin' " on the back of his seat, and he pulls up National Weather Service radar on the laptop. The hook echo that they just unsuccessfully chased was by far the most promising of the day; he would eat his fabulous hat if the weakening system put down another tornado today. The tornado they'd tried to get out in front of is already roping out into thinner and thinner tendrils of debris and smoke, several miles away across the fields.
Finn sighs into the heavy atmosphere. He's caving; he almost always does. "I didn't m--" And then the rear wheels slip (Finn hisses through his teeth) and the back of the truck starts to fishtail.
Kurt thinks a quick, wild not again as he grabs the handle above the door, Puck swears in the back, and Finn fights to bring the truck under control and away from the giant puddle -- more like a small lake -- to the left of the road.
It's a losing battle, and then a fairly subdued splash, considering how heavy the truck is and how deep the body of water is.
After he has spun the wheels a few times, doubtless only sinking the tailgate deeper into the slop, Finn lets his forehead thunk against the top of the steering wheel and groans. Kurt leans over and pats Finn's shoulder twice with the tips of his fingers before following Puck out into the muck.
"We're hosed," Puck says, standing in water and mud that goes over the top of his boots. Kurt, wearing his oldest and most battered pair of knee-high Doc Martens, doesn't have the same problem, but he scowls all the same as he takes a look at just how deep the back wheels have sunk. Even with the front half of the truck still mostly on the road, there's no way they'll be able to get out of the ditch by themselves.
Kurt pushes his hair back with a hand. It's falling in the post-storm humidity. To add insult to injury, the sun chooses this moment to begin beaming back through the retreating clouds. "Where's a farmer with a tractor when you need one?" he drawls.
"Hey," calls Finn's sheepish-sounding voice, and a splorch heralds the moment when he jumps out of the cab. "There's major crackage from that hail. I think we're going to have to replace the windshield."
And of course, of course, before Kurt even has a chance to react to yet another piece of expensive bad news piled atop the heap of misery that has been the day -- a horn honks. It's a familiar horn. Kurt watches in stony silence as the Crescendo – which remains one of the most gauche things Kurt has ever seen, and that says a great deal considering how much time he spends in truck stops – rolls up the dirt road with its usual convoy of black SUV's tailing just behind.
"Hi there," says Jesse St. James, leaning out the passenger window of his hideous and absurdly-named but admittedly effective Frankenstein of an armored vehicle. "Need a lift?" And he smiles.
Kurt still thinks that that stupid tornado-chasing vehicle looks like a particularly heinous tin-plated shoe. Something lime green and atrocious from the bargain racks at Payless.
He isn't about to let Jesse St. Sucks lord victory over them yet again and flounce off with an unearned, dicktastic air of superiority. Kurt draws himself to his full height, spine tightening icily, and he opens his mouth – and Puck calls, "Yeah, we could use a tow."
Kurt hates when Puck is the voice of reason.
Then Puck adds a muttered, “Douchebag” under his breath.
Rachel Berry greets them with all of the terrifying energy, matter-of-fact rudeness, and probably-well-meaning-but-incredibly-insulting condescension that Kurt has come to expect after four years of chasing the same storms.
"Hello Rachel," he says stiffly, keeping a wary eye on the proceedings as one of the SUV's slowly hauls his truck out of the ditch, tow cable quivering. He wouldn't put it past Jesse to “accidentally” let the truck crash back into the ditch. Puck seems to have the situation under control, though, hollering instructions to the driver. "You're looking particularly eye-catching today."
Rachel looks, for a moment, like she isn't quite sure how to take that. She should know how to take that; she's wearing at least six primary colors, for God's sake. She's the only regular chaser Kurt knows whose wardrobe is even more impractical than his own. After those few seconds of indecision, though, she continues energetically sticking her penny loafer in her mouth. "It's too bad about your truck," she says. "If you'd gotten on the right side of the storm, like Jesse and I, you could have avoided the worst of the rain curtain and dropped your probes without incident."
Kurt's fingers tighten in their grips on his biceps. "That's rich, coming from someone wh--"
Hurried footsteps squelch up from behind him and Finn interrupts, "Oh whoa, hey Rachel." He's clearly trying to sound cool and casual, like it's a breezy surprise to come across Rachel Berry standing under a rainbow while grown men shout and maneuver enormous pieces of machinery in the background.
"Hello Finn," Rachel greets, turning a distracted but visibly warm smile on him.
"We really appreciate the tow," says Finn. He claps Kurt on the shoulder, presumably to signify his inclusion in 'we.' Kurt stiffens and glares at him. He's an idiot. Kurt has an idiot for a stepbrother.
"Jesse and I are happy to help the less fortunate. The system is currently in something of a lull, it's in a lull," she assures them, "so we decided not to leave you to drown in a puddle." She beams at them. Finn smiles back uncertainly, but Kurt has had more than enough, thank you very much.
However, "'Less fortuna--' " is as far as he gets before he's cut off again, this time by the man of the hour.
"Finn, Kurt," says Jesse St. James, coming around the front end of the Crescendo and sliding into place at Rachel's side. "So good to rescue you again."
"Wait a minute," Finn says, frowning, though Kurt frankly isn't sure if the expression is because of the -- blatantly untrue -- condescension or because of the way that Jesse has put his arm around Rachel.
"And while we're always delighted to stop and exchange pleasantries with rank amateurs," Jesse continues, "your truck has been towed and the system seems to be re-forming three miles away." The drip of disdain that he lets loose on the word 'truck' alone has Kurt ready to break into his bags and pour peroxide into every single bottle of hair product; calling them amateurs is just as bad, but the insult to the truck that Kurt retrofitted from the ground up with his father makes him so furious that every possible cutting retort flies out of his head.
That fury apparently blinds him more than he realizes, because he's startled when Finn asks, "--Uh, who's that?" and points at a man with a video camera. Actually, he points directly at the camera, which is aimed at all of them; the man is standing just over Jesse's shoulder. He doesn't look up from the flip screen of his camera, not even after Finn calls him out. He is short and sweaty and has unappealingly tangled black curls, and he is still filming.
"Oh," Rachel says, flapping a hand dismissively, "this is our cameraman."
Said cameraman glances up from the camera and blinks at her. Kurt recovers enough to lift an eyebrow. "You have your own cameraman," he says.
"Naturally," says Jesse. Rachel tosses her hair. Kurt is half-surprised that Jesse doesn't do the same. "Blake has requested the opportunity to share our thrilling exploits with the world and," he smiles, "who are we to disappoint our audience?"
"Actually," says the cameraman, "I'm working on my PhD in atmospheric phy--"
"Come, Blake!" Jesse calls imperiously, and he and Rachel pull a perfectly-synchronized spin on their heels and walk away toward the Crescendo. The cameraman stares after them for several seconds, looking lost, then lowers his camera and follows.
"I hate them," Kurt says, glaring after them, just as Finn sighs, "She's so hot," and Puck grunts agreement.
Kurt vindictively uses all of the hotel room's hot water that night. Finn shouts a complaint and Kurt tells him through the bathroom door that that ought to teach him and Puck to keep their eyes on the prize rather than on the competition's improbably short skirts.
It's also some measure of payback for when Kurt tried to veto the Enid Super 8 on the basis of its abysmal TripAdvisor score and the fact that all of those SUV's and the Crescendo were parked in the parking lot, but was outvoted because the Indians were playing the White Sox tonight and the Super 8 promised free cable. Kurt is an equal opportunity revenge-taker.
Finn's indignant yells after he stepped into a freezing cold shower almost make it worth the bedspreads that look like they haven't seen the inside of a washing machine since Corey Hart wore his sunglasses at night, and the fact that Jesse St. James smirked at Kurt from across the lobby when they came in. Almost, but not quite. Kurt takes a certain pride in still hearing Finn's muffled whining when he ducks out into the hall with the ice bucket. Rachel caught Kurt in the elevator and talked at him for the entire two-minute ride about the double tornadoes that she managed to get the Crescendo's nose into this afternoon. Finn deserves every bit of icy reminder that they're not in Oklahoma to get him a girlfriend.
Anyway, Finn and Puck do not understand the importance of nightly ritual. They would be perfectly happy eating an entire greasy pizza apiece and then falling asleep in the wrinkled clothes they've been wearing for two days on the road. Kurt, meanwhile, has needs, and those needs include ice for how puffy his face has become after a day spent cramped in the passenger seat and then pacing the sweltering bay of a local mechanic's shop while the truck windshield was replaced. It is a tragedy with potentially far-reaching implications if he doesn't take care of it now, he thinks, and then he turns the corner and sees that someone has beat him to the ice machine. Someone who has bent over to pick stray ice cubes off the bargain-basement carpet. Kurt unexpectedly finds himself appreciating the way that the back pockets of a stranger's jeans fit his body. It's not a view that he gets to take in often while chasing.
Rural Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, South Dakota; gas stations and the cheapest of Motel 6's and countless tiny towns where the tallest thing for miles is a grain silo -- the environment isn't conducive to high fashion, particularly given that chase season falls during some of the hottest, heaviest months of the year. Chasers tend to wear baggy cargo shorts and flip flops and backwards baseball caps like it's some sort of unacceptable frat boy uniform, going for days in states of highly questionable hygiene; townspeople and farmers can often be seen in jeans and work boots and T-shirts and flannel. So much plaid flannel.
Kurt himself naturally does his best to maintain a certain level of style (every day, even during chase season, is an opportunity for fashion), but it isn't often that he finds someone else wearing jeans that could be called skinny -- rolled just the right amount at the cuffs -- with a cardigan that isn't even that tragic.
So, yes, for a split second, he allows himself to take in the view.
And of course, when the man straightens up and glances over his shoulder, it's Rachel's cameraman.
"Oh, hey!" he says, smiling, and Kurt is forced to rethink his earlier snap judgment (which had been primarily predicated on the facts that the stranger was a member of Rachel's team, and that Kurt had been having a very, very bad afternoon). His hair has been tamed and he isn't as short as he'd first seemed, and his smile does remarkable things to his face. He's handsome.
Kurt refuses to allow himself to be dazzled by any friendly smiles. "Hello," he says, aiming for just the right amount of politely-aloof-and-very-faintly-disdainful.
That smile doesn't slip even the slightest bit. "Kurt Hummel, I presume."
Kurt raises an eyebrow. "I see my reputation precedes me."
"Rachel complains about you a lot," the cameraman confides, and Kurt faintly smiles, momentarily pleased despite himself. "I'm Blaine, by the way." He reaches out and Kurt automatically shakes his hand; it's warm in a solid grip. "Blaine Anderson. Hi."
Kurt raises his eyebrow. “Not Blake?”
He sighs. “I keep thinking that if I correct Jesse enough times, he'll get it right, but so far, no dice.”
"Are you actually Rachel's designated cameraman, Blaine Anderson?" Kurt asks, peering at him with all of the leery, judgmental skepticism that the question deserves, and Blaine laughs, shaking his head.
"Jesse contacted my adviser at OU, looking for a grad student to work with the team this season. I thought I'd be helping track storm systems and analyze data sets, but Rachel and Jesse apparently saw that I'd spent a misguided year in film school before deciding it wasn't for me, and--"
"--Now you're chasing them around Nebraska, cataloging their every move, but only as long as it's from their good sides and under flattering light," Kurt finishes. He can't decide if he's appalled or envious that he didn't think of it first.
"Wow," says Blaine, "I'm pretty sure those were almost Rachel's exact words," and Kurt is a little startled to find himself sharing a smile with him. He has a very, very nice smile.
"...Well," Kurt says. "I'm sorry to hear that you were lured into our profession under the vainest of false pretenses."
"I'm not sorry." Blaine tucks his own ice bucket up under his arm, and the contents slosh wetly. "I may not have known what I was getting into, but I've been following storms since I could pedal a tricycle; the opportunity to chase with Rachel Berry and Jesse St. James is just--" He is waxing rhapsodic now; he almost sounds dreamy.
"Marvelous," Kurt supplies, dry and, he is perfectly willing to admit, very bitter. The failure of the day is getting to him, and will continue to get to him even after Finn and Puck are keeping him awake with their snores late tonight. Now is not the time to listen to someone fanboy his greatest funding rivals.
"Not quite the tone I would have used," Blaine says, his head cocked sideways; he looks like he's trying not to smile, "but accurate." He takes a step and Kurt can hear the ice in his bucket splash around again. "Watch out; that ice machine is kind of temperamental." He lightly pats Kurt on the shoulder as he passes, a casual sort of touch that Kurt isn't used to among the testosterone-laced circles that he moves in.
Kurt stares after him for several seconds too long after he disappears down the hallway.
Kurt is woken at three A.M. by the piercing ring of Finn's cell phone. There is a series of thuds and crashes from the general vicinity of the other bed, presumably due to Finn's blindly questing hand knocking various items off of the bedside table as he gropes for the phone, before it finally cuts off.
Finn's groggy voice says, "H'lo?" and then, noticeably more awake: "Wait, what?"
"Are you actually telling me that Puck is in the slammer," Kurt says, in full high dudgeon as he stalks through the hallway, overloaded with baggage, "because he took a pool cue to a juke box? What is this, an episode of Happy Days?"
"I don't think I'd call it the slammer; it seriously looks like the old-timey jail in Blazing Saddles..." says Finn's voice, and Kurt's huff of breath must be audible, because he hurriedly goes on. "I guess he really, really didn't want to hear 'Achy Breaky Heart' again." He sounds helpless and bewildered. Finn and Puck may have been friends since childhood, but even Finn can't always understand why Puck is the way he is.
Kurt stabs the 'down' button at the elevator. "There is something seriously wrong with that man," he hisses; "and I mean aside from the fact that he thinks that three Twinkies and a slab of bacon make the ideal breakfast."
"He says we can leave him here because he's in love," Finn says dubiously, "but I'm pretty sure he's still hammered."
A voice hollers something in the background of the conversation as Kurt wrestles his bags (one for Finn, two for himself, and four satchels and suitcases full of sensitive equipment that couldn't sit in the truck overnight) into the elevator. "What did he say?" Kurt demands.
"Uh," says Finn, in that distinct tone that means that he doesn't want to repeat it because Kurt's just going to get more annoyed. "She's the most beautiful woman alive."
"And who precisely is this modern day Helen of Troy?" The elevator doors shut on one of Kurt's personal valises; he yelps and pounds the doors-open button so that he can yank it free.
"The biggest, meanest looking lady prison guard I've ever seen."
"How many lady prison guards have you seen in your lifetime?" The elevator finally begins to descend, and Kurt hears his stepbrother's indrawn crackly breath. "You know what, never mind, don't answer that. Finn, this is the best day of the season so far; this is possibly the best day that we're going to have in the entire year."
"I know," he says miserably.
Ruthless: "We need three people in the truck, Finn."
"I know, dude. But we can't just -- hang on a second." There are more voices in the background, and Kurt stares at the uneven elevator ceiling panels and wills them to bring him strength. Or at least coffee.
The doors give a half-hearted ding and slide open. From the looks of things, Rachel and Jesse's convoy has already departed; the lobby is far too empty and quiet for them to still be marshaling their troops. Kurt hauls his things out of the elevator, barely grabbing the last bag before the doors close, and drags them all off to the side. The front desk attendant eyes him from across the room, chin resting in her hand. She idly pops her gum. She has one of the worst perms Kurt has ever seen.
Finn comes back. "I guess he's more sober than I thought."
Kurt leans against the wall and resists the overwhelming urge to scrub a hand across his face or to snap; he says, tired, "What, Finn?"
"He says he knows we don't have the money to bail him out and this is--" A voice growls something in the background. "He says to go without him."
Kurt sags, letting a scraggly potted plant hide him from the nosy woman at the check-in desk. For all that Noah Puckerman is a tremendous pain in the ass, he has been an equally tremendous asset to the team. He's practically fearless; he hops out of the truck and hefts tornado probes, no questions asked, while storms are coming right at them, and he has become surprisingly adept at his spotter duties.
And on a personal level -- he's crass and rude, but they've known each other since middle school and he's Finn's best friend and he has declared Kurt "his boy." As strange as it sounds, he really seems to mean it in his own unique way. He doesn't say offensive things on purpose anymore, and he chewed out (and nearly tried to beat up) a table full of drunks in Wichita Falls after they vocalized their feelings about Kurt's martini-sipping presence in their sports bar. Kurt has become far more fond of Puck than he would ever like to admit.
"We can't just leave him," Kurt says, quiet and thin.
"It sucks, but we can. He's right." Finn, bless his heart, sounds suddenly firm. "We've gotta do this, Kurt. We need funding, and today looks really, really good. Puck did awesome in juvie in high school; he'll be okay."
"Okay." Kurt shuts his eyes and replays the certainty in Finn's voice in his head. For all of his stupidity, and it can be rampant -- Finn can be really excellent at taking charge and stepping up when need be. "Okay. We'll work," he wags a hand, "something out. Ask if there's anything you can do for him and then pick me up."
"Cool," says Finn; "I'll be back in, like, 15 minutes," and then he's gone.
Kurt gives himself another couple of seconds to stand there under the air-conditioning vent, and then he starts the laborious process of carrying, dragging, and kicking bags over toward the door. He has no idea how they're going to pull this off without Puck. The three of them have fallen into set roles -- Finn drives, Kurt keeps his eyes glued to the radar display and GPS as he tracks storms and navigates, and Puck spots wall clouds and potential tornadoes from the backseat.
Now it's two of them trying to lift 300-pound probes out of the back of the truck, instead of three; it's two sets of eyes, both of which are preoccupied with other tasks -- tasks that aren't always keeping track of where the tornado is -- instead of three. It's doable without Puck, but it will be hard and it will be dangerous. It makes Kurt want a massage and a foot soak just thinking about it.
He has hauled all of their things over to the hotel front doors by the time he finally realizes that there's one other guest in the lobby at 4:56 in the morning. He recognizes the back of a curly head and a familiar red cardigan, the wearer sitting in an armchair with bags piled beside him and a cell phone held to his ear. Kurt hesitates -- and then the phone lowers. Keeping a watchful eye on his small mountain of bags, he strolls toward the small grouping of chairs and sofas. He must not be as casually stealthy as he thought, because Blaine Anderson turns around when he's only halfway there.
He looks resolute but exhausted, his face set in lines that Kurt doesn't remember seeing last night. "Hey," he says, as Kurt stops a few feet away.
"Hello," Kurt says, and there's an awkward half-second that feels strangely, unexpectedly loaded. "I would have expected Rachel and Jesse to be long gone by now. The two of them are nothing if not punctual." Kurt himself would have been on the road at 4:00 A.M. if it hadn't been for Noah Puckerman and his insatiable need to cause mayhem and destruction wherever he goes. "After all, there's a lot of ground to cover between here and South Dakota, and I'm sure they have a lengthy list of dramatic spontaneous moments for you to film."
Blaine's mouth quirks humorlessly. "They left a half an hour ago."
Kurt hovers a few feet closer; can feel his eyebrows knitting in dubious confusion. "You aren't going to South Dakota?"
"Jesse got a call late last night," Blaine says, managing to sound both frustrated and resigned at the same time. "I guess some media contacts in Chicago came through and a reporter and her cameraman are coming out to chase with them; they're picking her up at the airport on the way north."
"And there are only four seats in the Crescendo," says Kurt. Half-admiring, but mostly sympathetic: "Those bitches."
He cracks a small smile. "They were actually pretty nice about it. Rachel was very apologetic."
"You shouldn't take it personally," he says matter-of-factly. "Rachel and Jesse are brilliant, but they'd push their own grandmothers into traffic if they thought it would further their research or their public profiles."
"And you wouldn't?" Blaine asks. It's a challenge; a friendly one, but a challenge nonetheless, a grin hovering at the corners of his mouth.
They maintain eye contact for several seconds, and then Kurt taps two fingers against his chin and says, "Which grandmother?"
Blaine's laughter draws the desk attendant's eye; Kurt ignores her and he smirks, closed-lipped and small but self-satisfied. He lets it fade after a moment. "What exactly do you plan to do now?"
He exhales a heavy breath through his teeth. "Go home and figure out another way to collect data for my dissertation, I guess. I just called Enterprise."
Most of Kurt's best decisions have been spur-of-the-moment impulsive affairs. Most of his worst decisions have been, too. He's not sure yet which category this one is going to fall under; he doesn't really think about it. He just says, "I may have a proposition for you."
When Finn rolls up in the heavily modified GMC Sierra, he stares out the driver's side window as Kurt hauls the first set of gear out into the parking lot, followed closely by a similarly weighed-down Blaine Anderson.
"Uh," Finn says, putting the truck into park, and Kurt doesn't let him finish.
"I found us a spotter," he calls as he lifts the side compartment on the utility shell and then lowers the tailgate. Blaine gives a tiny, cheerful wave to Finn when he passes the cab of the truck and walks back to join Kurt.
"--Wow," says Blaine, staring into the side compartment and the covered truck bed. There are six sliding drawers of flattened conical orange probe after probe and three standing tower probe arrays, in addition to perfectly-organized bundles of wiring and computer innards, cameras and auxiliary batteries and spare parts, rain gear and first aid kits and rolled-up sleeping bags. Kurt points out the bag-shaped spaces where their things should go, and he walks back up to the front of the truck.
Finn is leaning out the window. "What are you doing?" he asks, as confused and charmingly blunt as ever.
“Jesse and Rachel abandoned him.”
“Okay, but you know this could totally be sabotage, right?” Finn asks, eyeing Blaine over Kurt's shoulder as Blaine goes back into the lobby for the rest of the bags.
“The thought had crossed my mind, Finn, yes,” says Kurt, at his very dryest. “We'll just have to watch him. We need a third body, and as someone with an actual degree in meteorology and experience in tracking storms, he's by far the most qualified candidate. In point of fact--" he takes a glance around the deserted pre-dawn parking lot of the Enid Super 8, "--he's the only candidate."
"Okay, dude, okay," says Finn, raising his hands in surrender like Kurt was on the attack or something. "You had me convinced at 'Jesse and Rachel abandoned him.' "
"Oh," says Kurt. The truck shudders as the tailgate slams shut. "Well." His mouth opens and shuts. "Good."
Blaine pops up on the other side of the truck, leaning against the open passenger-side window. "I think I got everything in okay," he says, looking through the cab at Kurt, and then his eyes shift to Finn. "Hey, I'm Blaine." He sticks his hand into the truck. "I really appreciate you guys taking me on. This is gonna be great!"
Finn leans over and shakes his hand. "Finn. It'll be cool having you with us."
Blaine's smile is blinding. Kurt shakes his head to himself, faint but vehement, and then he says, "I'm driving." Finn starts to turn back toward him; before he can say a word, Kurt talks over him. "It's nine hours to Wakonda and you've been dealing with Puckerman all morning; get back there and start snoring."
"Uh huh," says Finn, who can be irritatingly perceptive when he wants to be. Thankfully, he opens the door and steps out of the cab without more than a knowing look. Kurt has an idea of what Finn thinks he knows, but he is entirely incorrect. Kurt is doing his stepbrother a favor; that's all. Finn clambers into the backseat. Blaine glances back at him, looking a little uncertain, but Finn has long hours of practice at folding himself into the truck; there's a pillow back there and he stretches across the entire seat.
"Speaking of Puck..." Kurt says, hopping into the truck. He pulls the driver's seat up and gestures to Blaine to climb in, and he lifts an eyebrow at Finn in the rearview mirror as he adjusts it to account for their height difference.
"He's so stupid," Finn groans. Kurt refrains from comments about pots and kettles. "He's fine. I called some girl for him; she was really scary," (the passenger door shuts and, out of the corner of his eye, Kurt can see Blaine's mouth twitch), "but she said she was gonna bail him out. I left his stuff with the cops and he's supposed to call once he's out."
"I'm honestly surprised it took him this long to get arrested again," Kurt says, tucking his messenger bag behind his seat and settling the laptop into its place in the center console. "He has such a gift for miscreancy and general stupidity." He glances over at Blaine while the computer boots up. "Our very own not-so-juvenile-anymore delinquent."
Blaine nods, like he's trying to look knowing but isn't entirely sure what that's all about, and Kurt finds himself having to fight a smile again. He briskly swivels the laptop toward Blaine. "Shotgun gives directions and keeps an eye on the radar and the weather reports. Do we have an accord?"
"We have an accord," Blaine says, looking like he's caught between grinning and trying to show Kurt how serious he is about his responsibilities. Kurt nods, satisfied. They'll find out soon enough whether Blaine is who he says he is. If he's working for Jesse and Rachel, he'll try to slip Kurt wrong directions; Kurt would bet his entire collection of stacked heel boots on it. He connects his iPod on shuffle as he puts the truck into drive. The opening strains of "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" fill the cab.
"Classic," Blaine says, smiling now, and Kurt's eyes flick over to him very, very quickly before going back to the task of safely pulling out of the parking lot.
"You're an Evita fan?" he asks. He can feel his voice trying to go breathy.
"A Patti fan," Blaine confides, his eyes glued to the computer. "Sunset Boulevard is probably my personal favorite when it comes to guilty pleasure Andrew Lloyd Webber shows; I'm more of a Rodgers and Hammerstein guy, in general. Hey, the South Dakota system is looking fantastic; there's definitely going to be a killer hook on this thing."
Kurt clutches the steering wheel until it creaks under his white-knuckled hands.
Blaine quickly proves to be a far better navigator than either Puck or Finn even on their best days. Kurt half-expected an attempt to send them off into the Texas Badlands, but the directions that Blaine gives take them unerringly north toward the South Dakota storms. In addition to being able to read a map and follow GPS instructions, it also turns out that Blaine is highly knowledgeable when it comes to weather patterns, and, most unnervingly, the best conversational partner that Kurt has ever hosted in this truck. He's self-assured and funny and an attentive listener, but best of all -- he's the first person Kurt has ever met (whose last name isn't "Berry") who shares Kurt's interest in and enthusiasm for all things Broadway, musical, and Vogue.
Kurt doesn't want to like him. He doesn't need to like him. The deal that they shook on in the Super 8 lobby was simple: Blaine will chase with Kurt and Finn until they figure what in God's name they're going to do about Puck, and as long as he does his fair share of work and gives credit where credit is due, he can pull any data that they collect into his dissertation. He is only going to be in the truck until Puck comes back, and no matter what idiotic thing he has done this week, Puck always somehow manages to come back. Blaine is temporary. He'll last a week or two at best, and then he'll be gone. At worst, he won't be able to handle the pressure and will exit within a few days, or he'll turn out to be a double agent sent by Jesse and Rachel to destroy the competition. Either way, becoming attached to Blaine is a terrible idea.
"One, two, three--"
"Marion Cotillard!" they crow at the same time. As he laughs, Blaine lifts a hand off the computer and holds it out. Kurt flicks a couple of wary glances toward it before tapping a light high five against his palm. Blaine's skin is warm.
"Your taste is impeccable," Kurt allows. The yellow lines in the median of Route 81 flash past the car, fields of grass and grain stretching out on either side of the highway as far as the eye can see.
"So is yours," he says, still grinning, and then Kurt can see out of the corner of his eye that Blaine lifts his head and glances around the cab of the truck. "In magazine covers and in storm chasing; this truck is mind-blowing."
"He did most of the changes on it himself," says Finn's sleepy voice from the backseat, and Kurt practically hits his head on the cab ceiling; Finn has been dead to the world since they crossed the Nebraska border.
"I did," Kurt admits, preening once he gets over the initial shock. But he can be magnanimous, too, when the mood strikes him. "With help, naturally; it pays to have a father who's a mechanic, and Finn lent a hand." When he glances to the side, he finds Blaine looking at him with something that looks very much like awe in his face.
"That's amazing," Blaine says.
From the way that Finn pipes up with, "He totally designed the probes, too," Kurt is fairly certain that (A) his faint flush is visible, and (B) Finn has somehow spotted it in the rearview mirror. Sometimes, Kurt can't make up his mind whether the way that Finn has improved in reading his moods since high school is touching or awful.
Blaine looks at Kurt like he's something astonishing, like his interests and skills really are amazing, not weird or unexpected or all of the other less-than-PC ways that people – including distant relatives and ex-boyfriends and complete strangers – have phrased it in the past. His face is honest and open, eyes bright with interest--
--And Kurt has been staring at him for several seconds too long now; he whips his head back to the road and yanks the truck out of its drift toward the shoulder.
"Sorry," Blaine says, and he sounds like he genuinely means it. He also sounds, to Kurt's horror, like he just said something that Kurt completely missed. "I didn't mean to distract you; I'm just really curious about how your probes aren't picked up and tossed."
"The secret lies in the pyramid shape," Kurt says, though it's really not a secret at all or else he wouldn't be mentioning it. "It--" He lifts a hand off the wheel momentarily to give a twirl of a gesture.
"Oh," says Blaine, sounding both startled and appreciative. "It funnels the wind. The stronger the wind, the harder the probe gets pushed into the ground."
"Where it will measure humidity, temperature, pressure, and wind speeds, as well as providing a 360 degree view of the inside of a tornado," Kurt says. "That's the theory."
Blaine nods slowly, considering. "What about the taller probe arrays; how do those stay grounded?"
"They're really heavy and they have spikes," Kurt says, frank, and Blaine laughs. Kurt checks the mirrors and the road ahead before putting on his blinker and gunning it around a pick-up truck that's been trundling along ahead of them.
"Have you had a lot of success?"
"...No," Kurt admits. "Well--" He pauses. "No. We've gotten close, but there hasn't been an ideal result yet. The one time that we had a direct hit, Finn forgot to turn on the probe's pressure sensors." Thinking of that day even two years later brings the unpleasant taste of bitter, bitter defeat back to Kurt's mouth. Honestly, he generally tries not to think about it. He sees Blaine's cringe; it's a broad enough expression that he spots it out of the corner of his eye. "Storm chasing is a rigorously exact science," Kurt says. "It requires almost as much luck as it does intelligence; not all of us cavort around the midwest in a green shoe, flinging ourselves into every tiny eddy of wind."
"Duly noted," Blaine says. Kurt can hear him stifling a smile, which is irritating and potentially condescending, but he doesn't say anything about the tornadoes that he must have already driven into with Rachel and Jesse, which garners points in his favors. "Do you think you could talk me through what you guys do when you drop the probes? I don't want to mess this up."
If Blaine is a saboteur, Kurt reflects as he starts to explain the process and what Blaine will be expected to contribute to it, he's either the worst ever or he could out-Mata Hari the original.
"So I really was only with them for four days," Blaine finishes. "Don't get me wrong, Jesse and Rachel are amazing, but they were a long four days."
It has taken five hours to get Blaine to say something even remotely negative about Team Irritating and Precocious, and he tempered it with a compliment at that. And still, Kurt can't find it in himself to give a good eyeroll. This is the point of the drive where Puck is usually snoring in the passenger seat or Finn has put his mutant giant feet up on the dashboard and is futiley trying to pirate a wireless signal because he thinks he can stream video of dubious qualities as they drive along the highway at 70 miles an hour, but Blaine is still neatly sitting up, conscientiously checking the radar and the weather reports. He hasn't even pushed the seat back or made the slightest attempt at sprawling; he has just been keeping Kurt company.
"You put off joining a chase so you could finish spring classes," Kurt muses. "That places you as the exact opposite of most of the chasers out here."
Blaine's teeth flash with his laugh. "I wanted to be chasing," he says. "I just kind of needed those credits." There's a beat, and then he adds, "The storm just went tornado warned." When Kurt flicks his eyes over, he gets a quick look at Blaine studying the computer screen.
"Finn," Kurt says, raising his voice sharply and looking into the backseat through the rearview mirror.
"Whumat," says Finn's muzzy voice.
Finn mumbles something incoherent; there's the sound of fabric sliding against the seat as he re-settles himself, and then silence.
"God, your music is so good," Blaine says, which is when Kurt realizes that the original Broadway cast recording of "I'll Cover You" just came up on shuffle and that Blaine has shut his eyes to listen, his eyelashes dark smudges against his cheeks.
The early afternoon glare is really picking up; Kurt pulls his Ray Bans out from where they've been tucked into the sun visor and he slips them on. "It's not the full really-gay-playlist experience without something from Rent."
"Right?" Blaine asks, laughing. "I swear every guy I've dated has been obsessed with this song."
Oh, Kurt thinks dimly.
He barely registers Blaine adding, "For good reason; the show is a total classic." Kurt doesn't think he's imagining just how fey Blaine suddenly goes on the last few words, with a flick of his wrist. They're mannerisms he's seen hints of once or twice in the last few hours, but this is the first time he's seen it after having had his suspicions confirmed.
This doesn't change anything, he reminds himself. Blaine is both temporary and potentially in league with obnoxious pure evil.
They're passing a herd of cows; they actually have been for miles. The scenery primarily involves dry grass and some fencing and spotted cow after spotted cow, and also more dry grass. But it's the cows that really stand out. "Moo with me," Kurt says, and Blaine bursts out laughing.
By mutual agreement, they take the iPod off shuffle and put on "Over the Moon."
When they stop for gas at a station outside of Fordyce, Nebraska, Finn yawns enormously and gets out of the truck “just to stretch his legs,” but his face lights up when he spots the tiny McDonald's on the other side of the interstate.
Kurt sighs and waves a magnanimous hand. “Go forth and consume grease,” he says; "quickly, quickly," and Finn springs surprisingly fast for someone who has been asleep for the last three hours.
“He's going to look both ways before he tries to cross Route 81, right?” Blaine asks, a little dubiously but his eyes are bright as he leans against the truck with both hands in his pockets.
Kurt keeps a weather eye on the gauge at the pump, and magnanimously doesn't make a crack about back roads and whether that amount of caution would really be necessary. “Ideally,” he says. He glances up at the gray skies overhead, which have been darkening significantly as they travel farther north, then over at Blaine. “You didn't want to join him?”
“I've had enough McDonald's, Steak 'n Shake, and convenience store food to last me a lifetime,” Blaine says decisively. If Puck or Finn or one of any number of chasers were here, they would probably laugh and tell him that he's only four days in and that this is not the life he should be living if he doesn't want fast food.
Kurt, however, lifts an eyebrow.
Chapter 2: Rake the Springtime
Finn salutes both of them with his double quarter-pounder before tearing into it. “The weather looks seriously good,” he says, and because he is a good guy, he doesn’t point out that Kurt is giving him the stink-eye for talking with his mouth full when he just beamed at Blaine for doing the exact same thing.
Finn comes back with the best burger ever (it's definitely going to be, he can already tell) tucked safely in its bag under his arm and finds Kurt and Blaine on the gas station curb, sitting on Blaine's coat and eating out of a Tupperware container with plastic forks.
“Oh my God,” Blaine is saying through a mouthful of that-stuff-that-looks-like-rice-but-Kurt-always-says-isn't. It's honestly almost a moan, though Finn tries not to consider that; they are really obviously digging each other, and Finn is 100% okay with the gay part of the equation, seriously, but he'd rather not think about moaning in connection with his brother. Blaine covers his mouth with his hand, chews, swallows, and finishes: “You made this?”
“He cooks tons of stuff and freezes it whenever he gets a chance,” Finn says, unceremoniously plunking down on the pavement by their feet. He opens up the McDonald's bag and takes a minute to appreciate the smell of his perfect cheeseburger and equally perfect fries.
“You didn't want any?” Blaine asks incredulously.
Kurt's face is shining with all of the compliments. “Finn won't touch quinoa. He says the look of the word makes him dizzy.”
It's totally true. It starts with a qu but doesn't make a qu sound; it's weird. And besides, it's just funny-tasting rice. “Quinoa,” Finn mutters, mostly to himself. If he thinks it or says it one too many times, it's going to stop sounding like an actual word.
“He'd rather have a cheeseburger dripping with artery death any day.”
Finn salutes both of them with his double quarter-pounder before tearing into it. “The weather looks seriously good,” he says, and because he is a good guy, he doesn't point out that Kurt is giving him the stink-eye for talking with his mouth full when he just beamed at Blaine for doing the exact same thing.
“It does.” Blaine leans over to scoop up another forkful of whatever exactly Kurt made and then flash-froze and has been carrying around in coolers in the back of the truck this week. “It's definitely getting uglier as we head north.” He glances up and Finn reflexively does, too, taking in the roiling dark gray clouds that they're just reaching the edges of. Finn shoots a thumbs up, then realizes there's ketchup on his hand and reaches into the bag for a napkin.
“Uglier is the general idea,” Kurt points out, but he doesn't say it meanly. He says it with a half smile and an unfamiliar lilt in his voice, his head tilting, and it takes Finn a second to place it as 'actually kind of flirty,' though he's not totally sure if Kurt is doing it on purpose or if he even knows he's doing it. Finn hasn't exactly seen Kurt do a lot of flirting. He was the only gay kid growing up in Lima and he's still the only gay dude there, as far as Finn knows, so he doesn't date while they're at home in the off-season, and Finn missed meeting the first two boyfriends while he was at Ohio State and Kurt was at UNOH.
A lot of the places they go now – just like in Lima, people don't get Kurt. Finn doesn't get Kurt half the time, either, but sometimes other people really don't get him. They think he's putting on airs or there's something wrong with him; once in a while, somebody seriously thinks he's a girl. Mostly, though, they stare as he struts through truck stops at three in the morning or complains about the thread selection in a Pick 'n Save, or just when he says something and they hear his voice for the first time. Finn thinks that a lot of the people they meet are probably okay people, but some of them get uncomfortable around Kurt and they don't act like okay people when that happens. They act like assholes. Total assholes. And that makes something like flirting – well, it'd be a bad idea. And if Finn knows it, Kurt definitely knows it. So it's not something he's ever really seen Kurt do.
Sometimes it sort of escapes him – and he knows it's bad, but he forgets anyway – that Kurt is a dude, too. It's hard to remember when Kurt really doesn't show it if he ever thinks anybody is hot or whatever; definitely not like he used to when they were in high school, during the whole junior year disaster that they both like to pretend never happened. A couple times when they were in Austin or Omaha, he gave Finn the names and addresses of places with names like Oilcan Harry's and the Max and Cockpit and gave strict instructions about what to do if Finn hadn't heard from him by midnight. But he always came back to the hotel by 10 and wrinkled his nose and said dismissive stuff about bars and Nebraska, or whatever state they were in, when Puck tried to bro it up and get details out of him.
Seeing him with Blaine – it's a side of Kurt that Finn doesn't know. That's kind of weird, since they're brothers and they obviously know each other really well by now, and Finn isn't totally sure how he feels about it. It feels strange. Not necessarily bad; just unfamiliar, like it'll take some getting used to. Plus, Blaine seems like a nice guy and everything, but he might be a spy who's going to break Kurt's heart, and then Finn would be forced to threaten him and he's really not good at that kind of stuff, especially when somebody's that much smaller than him. It doesn't seem fair. And more importantly – Kurt deserves better than somebody who would treat him like that. A lot better.
Finn realizes that Kurt and Blaine are both looking at him strangely. “--What?” he asks around a half-chewed mouth full of burger. He wonders if he has something in his hair. Maybe on his face? He reaches up and pats his hair down.
“You're staring,” Kurt says, blunt.
“Oh,” says Finn. “Uh. My bad.” He awkwardly waves his burger. “Food.”
“I swear, the phrase 'food coma' is more applicable to your life than to anyone else I've ever met,” Kurt says. Blaine stands up and rolls his shoulders, then offers Kurt a hand. Finn isn't always great with this kind of stuff, but even he notices the way that Kurt goes still and stares at it for a moment before he takes it and he lets Blaine pull him up. Blaine smiles at him and Kurt doesn't smile back, but he looks like he's thinking about it.
Finn wonders if maybe they would have preferred it if he'd eaten his burger at McDonald's.
The thing about storm chasing is that it's kind of boring.
It's a lot of driving and crappy hotel rooms and getting really bruised playing punch tractor with Puck (punch buggy is pretty pointless in some of the places they spend a lot of time; people on back country roads just don't own a ton of Volkswagen Beetles) and waiting and doing equipment management and sciencey stuff, and then even more driving. The chases themselves are awesome, like explosions of adrenaline and all of the scariest roller coasters Finn has ever been on combined into one massive thrill ride of terror, but they're kind of short in comparison to all of the prep work that he has to do. It's totally worth it, though. Finn loves barreling down back roads and watching tornadoes throw trees and stuff, and he always thought it was cool that he got to do it with his best friend and his brother. He first came out to the Plains three years ago so Kurt wouldn't have to do this alone, and he promised Burt and Mom that they'd look out for each other and everything, and that's really important, but seriously, Finn just wants to chase tornadoes forever.
When he's behind the wheel and Puck is punching the back of his headrest with excitement and Kurt is yelling at him and there's a tornado roaring across a field of corn 400 feet behind them -- it's worth every night sleeping in the truck and every pee he's taken by the side of some random road in Oklahoma.
The vibe is a little different with Puck gone. Nobody is swearing, convincing Finn that you can get a UTI from pissing in a bathroom where they use urinal cakes, or trying to take video to sell to a bunch of news stations as "guaranteed exclusive" footage. But otherwise: things are pretty normal.
Accidentally getting caught up in the most dangerous part of a storm: unfortunately, normal.
"Left!" Kurt yelps, his voice high in that way it gets when he's really stressed or really mad. Finn thinks he's probably both, right now. "I said left, Finn; do I have to write a giant L and R on your hands?!"
"Dude, I can barely see the road!" Finn protests, hunched over the steering wheel and trying to peer out the windshield through the quick holes that the wipers are punching in the rain. He can vaguely see the yellow center line, and he's sticking to it like glue.
"We should be out of the high-precipitation core within a quarter of a mile," says Blaine, his voice close enough to Finn's ear that he must be leaning up between the seats to watch the radar over Kurt's shoulder. If that's the kind of practical information that he's going to contribute to the team, Finn is totally okay with Blaine sticking around for a while.
"Finn," Kurt starts, practically vibrating beside him, and Finn sees the sharp turn that the yellow line takes up ahead.
He snaps, "I've got it!" He cuts the wheel and they take the turn. The whole truck jolts, hard enough for Finn to hit his head on the cab ceiling and for everything to go crashing around. Shit, he thinks, shit shit shit, starting to slow down, but Blaine hollers from the back seat.
"It was just a pot hole!" Finn chances a lightning-fast glance in the rearview mirror. Blaine is leaning into the truck again, his hair dripping and shoulders wet, and he starts to roll his window back up. "You're -- good; you didn't hit anything." He breaks off abruptly when lightning forks somewhere nearby, but finishes the sentence.
Finn loves Blaine. Spy or not, Blaine can chase with them forever.
"Okay," Finn chants quietly to himself, "okay okay--" and then with a suddenness that's surprising even after a couple years on the Plains, there's sickly gray light in the sky again and the hail tapers off.
"Nice core punch," Blaine says, voice muffled, and Finn is aware that Kurt has turned around in his seat, too, staring behind them. A quick look in the rearview confirms it: the storm that they just came out of is black and nasty with huge thunderous clouds and sheets of rain. The weather doesn't look all that much better on the outside than it did on the inside, rain pelting across the fields and a farm up ahead, but at least the hail stopped and Finn can see the road now. He can see the storm behind them, too, and that storm ... is giving him all kinds of bad feelings. It looks tall enough that he thinks that planes might actually have to divert around it instead of being able to fly over it.
"I don't know, Kurt," Finn says, stealing another couple quick glances as he drives, and feeling his stomach knot up worse every time. "That's seriously like the worst rain-wrapping I've ever seen. Stopping to drop a probe seems ... bad."
"It'll be fine. We'll pull over in -- one mile, up the road; there'll be enough time to deploy a probe and get out of the way." Finn can tell, when Kurt talks in that dismissive voice, that he's not really listening; he's reading weather forecasts and maps and making decisions in his head. "Easy like Sunday morning."
"We won't be able to see a tornado in there til it's about to hit us in the face." Kurt doesn't love it when people touch him. He deals a lot better with shoulder-pats and stuff once in a while from Finn, but it has taken them years to get here. Finn tries not to abuse the privilege. So when he reaches out and puts his hand on Kurt's shoulder, they both know, have to know, he means it. "It could hit us in the face, Kurt," he says seriously.
Kurt falls quiet, which means he's listening. Blaine is quiet, too, even though Finn wishes he'd chime in with some practical advice now. Then Kurt's cell phone rings. It's that weird eighties song about rain that's really about emotions and stuff, that Finn always forgets the title of until the lady comes in with the first line ("Here comes the rain again," she sings, and oh, right, that's it), so it's got to be one of the chasers who Kurt likes. He puts it on speaker. Before he even says anything, a girl's voice says, "Kurt, don't you dare try to deploy on this one."
Finn loves Tina Cohen-Chang. He loves a lot of people today, but he's got room for all of them.
"I know how you are, how we all are about this, but this thing's totally invisible. It's so unsafe."
"Did you call Tina with your brain?" Kurt asks, which is when Finn knows they've won.
He focuses on driving, and on not smiling too hard.
"Fine! Fine. I'm succumbing to peer pressure," says Kurt, waving a hand in the air. "Tina, where are you two?"
"On the wrong end of this beast, getting the crap pounded out of us by hail," she answers promptly. Like in a movie or something, there's a loud metallic clank; Tina yelps and then there's a dude's voice in the background, too. "--Speaking of, gotta go. There's this tiny place called Uncle Dave's in the middle of town. Meet there in an hour if this system keeps looking like it won't put another tornado down?"
That sounds awesome. They've done a lot of driving today, and Finn has a theory about tiny local restaurants called "Uncle Andy's" or "Aunt Minnie's" or "Mama's": they're always delicious. Kurt shoots a sideways glance at Finn, who fires back a huge grin and an enthusiastic thumbs up. "Be prepared to watch Finn eat them out of house and home," Kurt says.
"Always," Tina laughs, and then there's another thud from her end of the line and she gasps and hangs up.
"So," Finn says into the silence. "There's a scary storm right behind me; where am I going?"
Kurt sighs and twirls his finger in that way that made Finn totally believe him when they were 16 and Kurt convinced him he was distant royalty. "Take a left," he says, like he's tired, and Finn happily takes the first left he finds.
In short order, they're parked on a damp gravel shoulder, watching the thick clouds roll away from them. Kurt looks like he's been sucking on a lemon, like he usually looks after they crash and burn. He actually got out of the truck, though, which is an improvement. "It could have been a good day."
"I think it was a good day," Finn says, leaning comfortably against the hood. "The truck didn't get pounded, we didn't get hit by a tornado, and we're gonna hang out with Tina and Sam."
"Oh, you simple, simple soul," Kurt says. Finn doesn't take any offense; there's no bite to the words. It's just Kurt being cranky and too tired to even try to be mean. And he doesn't try often, now; not like he did when they were teenagers and they were, looking back on it, really crappy to each other.
"Finn does have a point," says Blaine. "It's got to be a great day when you come out of the bear cage in one piece."
"Something about that sentence sounds very different when you say it, as opposed to Finn or Puck," Kurt says, tone like he's pretending to be thoughtful, and Blaine chokes a laugh.
Finn looks away from the sky so he can frown at them, feeling the space between his eyebrows wrinkle up. "What?"
The two of them look at each other.
"Well," Blaine says slowly. " 'Come out' is a reference to the closet, and 'bear'--"
"Oh my God," says Kurt, shaking his head hard. "Please don't."
Finn still doesn't totally get the joke, but he gets it enough to agree with Kurt that he probably doesn't want to get it; they're bros and they totally love each other, but neither of them wants to think a lot about the other one having sex, even when it's just in the context of dirty jokes. 'Bear cage,' outside of what it means in a storm context, is probably a sex thing.
So he's good with standing quietly and watching the tall grass bend over almost halfway in the wind; the wind that's pushing the supercell away from them. Kurt leans into the open passenger side window and starts doing something on the laptop.
"Man," Blaine says softly. "It doesn't matter how many of them I've seen; these storms are beautiful."
"I know," Finn says, and he lets himself smile as he glances over. "And they all look so different, you know?" Blaine nods emphatically, and he opens his mouth.
"Yes. They're veritable snowflakes," Kurt says, still halfway inside the truck. "Meanwhile, the hook is dead, there's no sign of a new one, and the supercell is halfway to Minneapolis by now. Do you want your provincial small-town welcome and warm apple pie or not?"
Now that was mean. Or, not mean as much as ... tense. Sharp. It's not like Finn doesn't know why; he turns around and glances back through the windshield, but Kurt doesn't look up from the computer, his face set tightly. Should he say something? Finn wonders.
In the end, he just hesitates a half a second and then he says, "Mm. Warm apple pie." Kurt's disgusted noise from inside the truck sounds distinctly warmer than his icy tone did a minute ago, and Finn swings the keyring around his finger before closing his hand around the keys and standing up straight.
Blaine has a really weird expression on his face, looking from the truck -- where Kurt has now opened the door and climbed in, and seems to be applying hairspray in the rearview mirror -- to Finn. He looks kind of confused, and maybe a little unsettled.
"Come on," Finn says, giving him a friendly clap on the shoulder as he walks around to the driver's side. "You're totally a pie guy, right, Blaine? Back me up here."
"Honestly, I'm really more of a cake fan," says Blaine apologetically after a few seconds, shoes crunching on the gravel. He's good at playing along, Finn thinks. It's too bad that they'll have to ask him to leave when Puck gets back; Blaine Anderson has turned out to be both cool and really useful to have around.
"Seriously?" Finn asks, derailed. He steps up into the truck and pulls the rearview mirror away from Kurt, who narrows his eyes at him but doesn't complain. "No way; that's the worst."
"I, on the other hand, know the value of a good tart," Kurt says, neatly shaking his tiny can of hairspray and tucking it away in his bag. "Or a soufflé au chocolat." He sounds dreamy and wistful for a second, saying it with the full-on French accent thing.
"Which are also delicious," Blaine allows, and Finn turns the key in the ignition but waits to hear the back door close before he puts the truck in gear. It's not a courtesy he would have given Puck, but it's Blaine's first day. Besides, it wouldn't be nearly as funny to have Blaine chasing the truck, swearing, as it was when Puck did it.
Finn hopes everything's okay with Puck. Or as okay as everything can be when you're in jail. They've been best friends since the day Puck talked him into sitting under the jungle gym and throwing rocks at the flagpole in third grade. Blaine's cool and all, and Puck would make fun of him so bad for saying it, but Finn misses him.
"But, no," Blaine continues, "I just really love vanilla cake with chocolate frosting. It's a classic."
"Wow, dude." Finn pulls his eyes away from the road long enough to hit shuffle on his iPod; Kurt sucks an audible disapproving breath in through his teeth when a Foreigner song starts playing. "That's pretty boring."
"So says the man who thinks that apple pie is the sixth major food group," Kurt says, and Finn hears him tap a few keys. "Take a right on 302nd Street in six miles."
"Would confetti cake be considered any more exciting?" asks Blaine.
"Go on. Get simultaneously gayer and more tasteless," Kurt says. "Please. Make my day." Blaine only laughs, which answers Finn's lingering faint (very faint, but present) question about whether he is actually gay. "Cake with rainbow sprinkles from a Duncan Hines mix, Blaine?" There's a rustle and movement; Finn darts his eyes over quickly to see that Kurt has turned all the way around in his seat so he can have this conversation.
"It's easy!" Blaine defends, and Kurt raises an eyebrow and lays into him even as Blaine still laughs.
Finn listens for a couple seconds, but when Kurt really gets going on the familiar argument in RE: the advantages of making one's own vanilla pastry cream to accompany a glazed tart, Finn tunes them out, turns up the sound system, and sings along. "Maybe I'm wrong; tell me if I'm coming on too strong. This heart of mine has been hurt before, this time I wanna be sure - I've been waiting! For a girl like you..."
He stops and squints at the iPod for a second.
Yeah, that note is definitely too high for him.
Wakonda, South Dakota is even smaller than Finn had expected. Something like 300 people live here; the town can't be more than a half a mile wide. It's a tiny cluster of five or six interconnected streets, under a rainy night sky, surrounded for several miles mostly by farms and fields. They leave the truck in front of a hardware store and Finn crosses the street toward Uncle Dave's Wakonda Cafe while Kurt stays a few steps behind -- Blaine with him -- to lock up.
The town was really lucky; the tornado, and the worst of the storm in general, totally missed them this afternoon. There are some wet leaves in the street but that's all the damage that Finn can see. He absently kicks at them as he walks past the sparse row of parked cars.
"She just started chasing on her own last year," Finn can hear Kurt explaining behind him. "She's the happiest goth you'll ever meet, except for when she's having a cry--"
Then Tina squeals, "Kurt!" and comes around a familiar red Pathfinder and past Finn so fast that he mostly gets an impression of a bright purple blur. Kurt makes a winded noise; Finn turns around and finds that Tina has flung (flinged? no, he thinks flung) herself into Kurt's arms. "It's been forever! Happy storm season!"
"Hi," Kurt wheezes. Blaine has stood back and is looking on with a smile and a wondering expression; Kurt gingerly pats Tina on the back. She is wearing a really bright purple dress, Finn notes, and her hair streaks aren't blue anymore. They're, like ... blonde-ish. "Tina, this fabric needs to breathe, and so do I."
"Sorry, sorry," Tina says, pulling away and beaming as Kurt tugs his jacket back into place.
"Let me look at this," Kurt orders, and she laughs and spreads her hands wide, like go ahead, take a look. Sometimes, Finn can't believe that this is the shy-but-kind-of-angry girl who he met three years ago because she used to sometimes go chasing with the dude who's now her ex-boyfriend. This is definitely one of those times.
"I'm trying something new," Tina says. "I'm a strong, confident woman who isn't afraid to admit that she likes bright colors. You like?"
"I love," Kurt proclaims, and Tina laughs and hugs him again. Finn is pretty sure that she and Mercedes are the only people on the planet who can get away with that.
Finn kind of loses track of their conversation then, because that's when Sam hops out of the SUV and they totally bro-hug it out, handshake to hug to back-clap style. Sam does awesome impressions and likes football and knows roughly as much about storms as Finn does; the two of them and Puck get along, Kurt says as if he disapproves (but they make him laugh sometimes, and Finn knows for a fact that he genuinely likes Sam), like a house on fire.
"Hey Finn," Sam says once they've stepped back from each other, grinning. "How'd you guys do?"
"Total bomb; there was no shot at a deployment," Finn says. "We had a pretty awesome core punch, though. How about you and Tina?"
"Tina's doing a story for the Leader about the big tornado outbreak this week, and she thinks they'll be able to use some of the shots I got before it went rain-wrapped."
"Nice," Finn says approvingly, and they exchange a high five. He knows how much Sam has really gotten into the whole photography thing in the last couple months; they keep up on Facebook in the offseason.
"--cerated; this is Blaine," Finn hears Kurt saying behind him. "Blaine, this is Tina and Sam."
Tina's eyebrows have lifted a little in obvious interest as she takes Blaine in; Sam reaches over to shake Blaine's hand. "Hey, it's nice to meet you."
"Seriously, it's fantastic to meet more chasers," Blaine is saying, half to Sam and half towards Kurt and Tina, sounding like he's finishing something he was saying before Finn started listening again.
Sam asks Finn, "Wait, what happened to Puck?"
"He's in jail in Oklahoma," Finn says, pulling a face. "It's kind of a long story."
"No, it's not," says Kurt. He turns to Sam. "He got drunk and tried to destroy a jukebox with a pool cue." Tina's hand raises halfway to her mouth, like she's shocked but also might be trying not to give a startled laugh. Sam winces. Kurt finishes: "He should be out on bail in a few days. And Blaine joined us after being ditched by Rachel."
"Then you're in good company, Blaine," Tina assures him, either not noticing or choosing to ignore Blaine's uncertain blink at that. "Come on; we should definitely eat. Hi Finn," she says, patting his arm and smiling up at him.
"Hey." Tina is definitely Finn's favorite of Kurt's friends, Finn reflects, as the two of them start across the street together. Not ... that Kurt has a lot of friends for Finn to choose from, but he is starving and she is leading him directly toward food. "I like your hair," he says, and she chirps, "Thanks!"
"Where's Mike?" he asks.
"He couldn't get away; research is killing him," Tina tells him. "And he was the lead in USD's spring production this year, so it's been hard getting him out here with us."
"Mike is Tina's boyfriend; he's in medical school and he sometimes joins in on weekend chases. They're recreational chasers based out of Sioux Falls," Kurt is saying behind them, apparently still giving Blaine the low-down. "Tina is finishing a journalism degree and writes for the Argus Leader, and Sam is an aspiring photographer."
"He's like a walking Wikipedia entry on us," Sam says, sounding bemused. "I'm right here."
"What was the production?" Kurt calls to Tina, ignoring him.
Tina says proudly, "Grease."
Kurt makes a tiny noise even as Blaine says, "Nice."
"He's the hottest Danny Zuko that Vermillion, South Dakota has ever seen." She seems to think about it for a second. "And the most Asian one, too. But definitely the hottest." She looks up at Finn as she steps past him and pushes open the front door of Uncle Dave's Wakonda Cafe. "This place has the best cherry pie."
Definitely, definitely Finn's favorite.
Uncle Dave himself didn't serve them (Finn never did get a definitive answer on whether there really is an 'Uncle Dave' somewhere), but the dude behind the counter didn't even blink at the pack of them, which is pretty rare when you've got Kurt and Tina in a group together. He just talked with them about the weather, brought them great food, and then left them alone. The only way this dinner could be better would be if Puck and Mike were there, too. Even Kurt isn't complaining about the triceratops of the food or whatever, now that he's got Tina on one side of him and Blaine on the other.
"Seriously," Sam insists, "there's a place in Marvel comics called 'Wakonda.' I swear."
Tina shifts around in the booth to pull out her Blackberry. "No town in South Dakota has ever been in a comic book. I'm testing this."
"Finn, come on," Sam says over his cheeseburger. "Help me out here."
Finn is a little busy inhaling his pie (Tina was right; it is the best) and isn't exactly a comic book expert. He nearly chokes a little at suddenly being addressed, but chews and swallows, and opens his mouth--
"No, no, I definitely think Sam is onto something," Blaine says, leaning across the table. "It's got something to do with the Black Panther, right?"
Sam's head snaps around to face Blaine, away from Finn. "Right!" he says, grinning, and he points at Blaine enthusiastically with a french fry, like Finn isn't even there. "It definitely does."
That ... feels weird. Finn isn't totally sure why, but his bite of pie has gone a little ashy in his mouth. He blinks at his plate.
"What is it?" Finn hears Kurt ask, and all three of them turn to look at Kurt and Tina. She is still bent over her Blackberry, and she glances up when she realizes that everyone in the booth is looking at her.
"Rachel updated Facebook," she says, glancing hesitantly at Kurt and almost toward Blaine.
Kurt scoffs lightly. "This meal was perfectly civil and kneesock-free without the inclusion of Rachel Berry; why would you look at her Facebook?"
"I didn't. I got an email because she tagged me in a post," Tina says, and everyone is silent for a long moment. Finn resists the urge to groan or to put his face into a perfectly good plate of pie. Rachel is amazing, seriously; she's pretty and ambitious and smart and he's almost completely sure he could lift her with one hand, if he wanted to and she was okay with it, and that apparently kind of does it for him. And she's a lot sweeter than people tend to give her credit for, especially Kurt. But she's so driven and all about getting ahead that she says and does the worst stuff sometimes, and it's a safe bet that that's what's coming now.
"We saw them today," Sam says, not smiling anymore. "Just before the hail got really bad; they went right into it."
Kurt sighs. "Let's get it over with. What did the creature from the rude lagoon say this time?"
" 'Jesse St. James and I took the Crescendo on a life-changing chase today,' " Tina reads. " 'We sallied forth into a rain-wrapped tornado that has been estimated as a 3 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, and measured wind speeds of 132 miles per hour with our brand new, top of the line mobile radar system. We launched multiple parachute probes into the circulation and are currently compiling groundbreaking data which will have to be seen to be believed. We were talented enough to be accompanied by reporter Quinn L. Fabray of ABC7 Chicago, where you will soon be able to watch a full and detailed report on our thrilling exploits. See below for images.'
" 'On a lighter note,' " Tina continues, and her voice flattens even more, " 'it was wonderful to see lessor competitors such as Tina Cohen-Chang and Sam Awesome Evans. I wish you all the luck in your future endeavors in storm chasing.' "
"Wow," Blaine says hollowly, leaning into Kurt's space so he can peer over Tina's shoulder. "Those are some pretty amazing pictures."
They all sit in silence. The cafe's crackly sound system plays "Born in the USA."
Tina taps something on her phone.
"... Wakanda is the fake African country that the Black Panther is from," she says, weakly.
The very first thing that Finn does, upon walking into the motel room, is put down the bags and throw himself face-first onto the first available queen bed.
"Very mature," Kurt says, and Finn hears him walking around. Finn doesn't care; they drove 10 hours to South Dakota, chased intensely for three hours, and then drove six hours to Kansas -- after dealing with the whole 'Puck's in jail' mess last night -- and that's it, he's done, good night. He's perfectly happy to let himself drift while Kurt continues to talk.
"Welcome to our humble abode." A suitcase hits the bed with a light thump, jarring Finn lightly.
"It's very homey," Blaine jokes. "Are the other rooms adjoining, or...?"
That blinks Finn out of his full-and-sleepy stupor. He stares at the bedspread for a minute, then lifts his head. Kurt is standing beside his open suitcase on the bed and is staring, too, his head cocked to the side and his eyes narrowed in confusion. "What -- other rooms?" he asks, slow.
Blaine is standing in the doorway, the strap of his duffel bag still thrown over his shoulder. "The other rooms," he says helplessly. "Don't you guys usually...?"
"Do Rachel and Jesse seriously rent separate rooms for each member of their entourage?" Kurt asks, and Finn can't really tell if he's disbelieving and judge-y or jealous. Probably jealous.
"No," says Blaine. "They each get their own, and then the rest of us were two to a room."
So Rachel and Jesse have separate hotel rooms, Finn thinks, and he brightens. That's awesome. "Yeah, we don't have that kind of money," he tells Blaine frankly. "This is it, dude."
Blaine glances around. Finn does, too, to see what he's looking at. Two creaky beds with worn bedspreads and a tiny TV and weird pastel art framed and hung on the walls.
"Is that going to be a problem?" Kurt asks, his eyebrows raised.
"No!" Blaine says quickly. "No, definitely not; sorry. I was just surprised."
That seems like it's enough for Kurt; he nods faintly and starts digging through his suitcase again. "You can have the other bed."
"What? No. Kurt, come on," Finn protests, frowning. "That means we're sharing." And? asks Kurt's raised eyebrow. "You kick."
"Finn Hudson, I do no such thing."
"Yeah, you do. You just don't know it 'cause you're asleep when you do it."
"I'm doing the polite thing and giving Blaine at least one night to get used to your snoring from a slight distance," Kurt says tartly. He leans over and grabs the laptop out of his shoulder bag, and he pushes it along the bedspread toward Finn. "If you're just going to lie there, you can at least make yourself useful and check tomorrow's forecast."
Finn sighs heavily but pushes himself up on one elbow, pulls the computer out of its case, and opens it up. While Windows loads and Kurt starts fishing bottles out of his suitcase, Finn says to Blaine (who stood by helplessly through most of that argument, but finally put his bag down on the other bed), "If you want the bathroom anytime in the next month, you probably wanna go now."
Kurt shoots him a look. Blaine raises his hands and says earnestly, "You guys, I'm really happy to sleep wherever; I don't want any special treatment just because I'm the new guy."
"This isn't special treatment," Kurt says, now tucking bottles, combs, and one of his fancy towels under his arm. "Thanks to Jesse and Rachel's ditching stunt, you've had the least sleep out of any of us, and you're statistically likely to get the most sleep when you're the farthest away from Finn. It's simple mathematics."
Blaine looks like he's trying not to laugh.
"Seriously," Finn says. "The bathroom. It's kind of now or never." Kurt rolls his eyes and perches on the edge of the bed beside Finn, leaning over to pull up Firefox and then the National Weather Service radar on the computer.
Blaine glances uncertainly at Kurt, who absently waves him on, and he grabs a toothbrush out of his bag and heads for the bathroom. "Okay, but really," he says, from the door. "I'm just one of the guys."
"Just one of the guys," Kurt says, and Finn notices immediately when -- instead of just staring at the radar images as he answers, which is Kurt's general thing -- he actually looks over at Blaine. Blaine smiles and shuts the door.
"Just one of the guys?" Finn asks dubiously.
"Take that tone with him, not with me," Kurt says, scrolling down the Firefox page. "He said it."
The water is running in the bathroom, which means Finn is safe to say whatever he wants. "You like him."
Kurt doesn't look up. "His company is tolerable and he doesn't smell like wet dog."
"That was one time, and only because that lady's St. Bernard was really awes--" Finn stops. Kurt is distracting him. He's doing it successfully, too. He frowns and lowers his voice. "I'm just asking, can we trust him? I mean, he was on Jesse's team."
"It's Rachel's team, too," Kurt points out dryly, his face tinted a weird green-red color in the cast from the laptop screen. "And no. We can't. Which is why you and I are sleeping in the bed that has all of the equipment piled beside it, and why we'll let him prove himself."
"Oh," says Finn. A second passes. The toilet flushes. "That's smart."
"Why thank you," Kurt says, light and high and airy, like he's kind of teasing and kind of proud of himself. Finn likes it when he talks like that. It means everything is good; it means they're good. "It still looks like we'll be deciding between north-central Kansas or the Oklahoma-Arkansas border tomorrow."
"Which one looks better?"
"At the moment? Kansas," says Kurt, and Finn hisses, "Yesss!" and fist-pumps. They're currently within an hour of the projected Kansas storms; picking Kansas will mean a lot less driving.
Kurt sorts softly, but he's smiling. When the bathroom door opens, he pushes the laptop to Finn and hops up. Blaine steps out toweling off his hair, which is damp and curly-looking, and he and Kurt have one of those moments that Finn thought only happened in movies, both of them trying to side-step out of the other's way and instead almost bumping chests. Blaine is laughing and saying, "Sorry, sorry," by the time they finally make it past each other on the fifth try.
Kurt says a quick, "It's fine" as he escapes into the bathroom, but he sounds flustered and he shuts the door very fast.
Finn wonders if he can film this stuff on his phone and send it to Tina without Kurt noticing.
Finn wanders down to the complimentary continental breakfast with bruised shins thanks to Kurt's very real habit of sleep-kicking. It's pretty quiet at 10 in the morning; the motel doesn't seem to have a ton of guests in general, especially at the end of free breakfast time and this close to check-out. The truck is already loaded but if Kurt doesn't hurry up, they're gonna get charged for an extra night's stay.
There are a few occupied tables; a middle-aged couple, a few guys in suits. Finn has his plate half-loaded from the buffet by the time he recognized the back of a head bent over a laptop at a table in the back. He finishes gathering bacon and pancakes, then heads over to Blaine's table.
"Hey," he says, pulling out a chair.
Blaine looks up with a jolt, hand flying to grab the screen of his tiny laptop like he's about to slam it shut or hide it. His hair is all flat and shiny again, and he's wearing a fancy-looking sweater; there are a mug of coffee and a plate with some eggs and a half-eaten bagel on the table in front of him. "Oh, hey Finn," he says with a laugh, and he gently closes his laptop.
"Checking your email?" Finn asks, tucking into his breakfast.
"Oh, no, just trying to get some work done on my thesis." He picks up his fork.
Finn chews while he thinks, mostly about what Blaine said but also a little about the pancakes (they're kind of dry). "What's your thesis about?"
"Well," Blaine says, as he forks up some eggs, "I was going to assimilate mobile Doppler radar data collected in tornadic supercells into the WRF model using an ensemble Kalman filter technique, but VORTEX2 wrapped up last summer and you guys don't have a radar on the truck like Rachel and Jesse did, so I'm kind of--" He glances over and gets a look at Finn's face. "--I'm reevaluating." He clears his throat, and, to Finn's relief, starts talking in regular English again. "I'm mostly focusing on the formation of tornadoes, but I'm also really interested in the processes that control them once they're fully together. You know -- how long they're on the ground, how strong they are... That stuff."
"That's cool," Finn says around a mouthful of eggs. "That's what we're studying, too." He pauses for a second, because that's not quite right. "We're not studying it; we get the numbers and send them to this professor at Texas Tech. But we're totally measuring how tornadoes get started and why they do stuff."
"Wait, you guys don't analyze your own data?"
"Not really," says Finn. "Kurt gets it more than I do, but he's not a scientist either."
Finn laughs. Blaine's face was really, really funny. "No," he says. "We're mechanics."
"Like ... mechanical engineers?" Blaine asks, eyebrows furrowed.
"Like mechanics," he says, frank.
Blaine obviously can't wrap his head around it. "You guys have no formal meteorological training," he says. "Either of you."
He considers it for a few seconds. "Kurt reads a lot."
Blaine's eyebrows look like they're trying to join with his hair. "Kurt reads a l-- Wow. He's really knowledgeable for someone who's not actually trained in this."
"I know, right?" Finn asks, popping in another mouthful of eggs since Kurt isn't here to make dagger-eyes and pointed commentary about table manners. "It's awesome."
"He's really intense about it, too," he says, more careful this time, like he's thinking about what he's saying, and Finn slows down his chewing for a few seconds as he watches Blaine. "He would have gone after that storm yesterday, if you and Tina hadn't talked him out of it.
"Oh, yeah, definitely." He chews and swallows, and points at Blaine with his fork. "You totally thought it was a bad idea, too." Blaine's silence tells him everything he needs to know. "Why didn't you say something?"
"I really didn't think it was my place," Blaine says.
"You're in the truck. We're doing pretty dangerous stuff," Finn says. "I think it's your place, dude. Just -- so you know. For next time."
"Okay. Thanks, Finn," he says, smiling. "I'll remember that."
Finn is pretty sure he said the right thing, which is awesome. "Yeah. I mean, you're invested, too." He thinks about it for a half a second. "Not -- invested invested, not an investor, but... you know what I mean." Blaine is putting his life in Finn and Kurt's hands, Finn figures; he gets to have a say, the same way Puck did.
“I do," Blaine says, and for a couple of seconds, they're both quiet, forks clinking; it's a little awkward, but not bad. "Finn, you mentioned investors-- How do you guys fund this?” he asks, glancing at Finn carefully. “If you don't mind my asking.”
“It's cool. You'd have to ask Kurt if you want, like, specifics, but we've got a couple grants, and some manufacturers donate equipment or give us discounts because we're trying to help people with tornadoes and stuff.”
Blaine doesn't look like that answer actually cleared much up for him. “What about the rest?”
Finn pulls a face. “We pay it,” he admits, and he can see the impressed horror spreading across Blaine's face as he does some obvious mental math.
“Wow,” he says, finally.
“Yeah,” Finn agrees. “I mean, it helps that we get free labor on the truck and there was money left over in both our college funds because we went to state schools, but--"
"Good morning," snaps Kurt, which is Finn's cue to remember that the friendly guy he's talking to might be a spy and he probably shouldn't be saying any of this stuff. He shuts his mouth. Kurt takes the third chair and settles down with a bowl of cereal. "What have I missed? Dashing feats? Intrigue? Derring-do?"
"Daring what?" asks Finn, blank.
"Just me asking Finn nosy questions," Blaine says cheerfully. "Good morning, Kurt. What's the plan for today?"
Kurt raises an eyebrow and makes a complicated-looking gesture toward Blaine's laptop. "If I may?"
"Oh, uh, yeah," says Blaine, opening the laptop and clicking around a couple of times, closing browser windows (Finn tries and fails to sneakily see what they are), before passing it over to Kurt, "sure."
Pretty quickly, all three of them are gathered around the computer, Finn leaning over Kurt's right shoulder and Blaine over his left. Kurt and Blaine are ignoring their food; Finn chose to take his plate with him. "Wow," says Blaine. "That looks perfect."
From his tone, Finn isn't totally sure that Blaine is looking at the National Weather Service radar images and not at Kurt. But when he sneaks a glance over to be sure, Blaine is pointing at the mass of green-red-yellow-purple pixels, and Kurt is nodding emphatically.
"Today is going to be huge," says Kurt frankly. "Philip-Treacy-hats huge."
And all of a sudden, Blaine is derailed in a way that Finn totally didn't realize he was even capable of. "--Oh my God, his headpieces are amazing. Did you see all of them at the royal wedding last y--"
If they get Kurt on the subject of the royal wedding, they are never going to check out on time. Finn does them all a favor and interrupts. "So -- this storm is going to blow up," he says, piece of toast stopped halfway to his mouth. "Right? 'Cause that's the feeling I'm getting here."
Kurt makes a tiny hmph and suddenly sits up very straight, like he just realized he's been steadily drifting toward his left. "Yes," he says. "That's an accurate summary."
"This cold front combined with the dry line is going to cause huge supercells. It's amazing, it's the only storm system in the country, and today is a Sunday. Every chaser in the midwest is going to be on this," adds Blaine, and he runs his finger along under the cold front on the computer.
"Well," Kurt says lightly, eyes momentarily on Blaine again. Finn knows that look. It's Kurt's determined, on look, and he can feel himself starting to get amped up in response. They're going to bring it today. "We'll just have to beat them to it, won't we?"
"Yeah we will," Finn says, mouth full of the last bite of toast, and then he accidentally showers them both with crumbs when he wipes his hand off.