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The Boy Who Cried

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It is said you shouldn't start writing a story by describing the weather. It's supposedly clichéd, boring, and undesired by the reader.

Well, I think whoever made that rule up didn't know what they were talking about – it was probably someone who took creative writing classes.

Here's what I know: weather is one of the biggest factors of how your day is going to go. I haven't met many people who excitedly jump out of bed in the morning when it's dark, cold and rainy. I also haven't met many who close the blinds when the early summer sun wakes them up. When the coulds are gone, everything is alive; birds and butterflies fluttering their wings, children playing in the streets, neighbors driving by and waving hello. It makes you happy, because that's just how the nature goes.

For most people, anyway.

Trust me. If the first sentence of your first paragraph mentions how brightly the sun was shining, the only thing on your reader's mind is to imagine it first, to get themselves inside that perfect little world you're trying to capture before they can get inside the story. It's up to you if you ruin it with a murder in the pretty neighborhood house with the yellow or enhance it with you heroine meeting her heart's desire while she's taking out the trash.

There's only one point: to follow your heart.

Which is why, believe it or not, the story I'm telling starts and ends with rain.

~*~

The small pane of Kurt's basement window was unusually cold underneath his fingertips. The rain was falling in thick torrents and splattering on the ground outside, the drops so fast and forceful he could feel them shattering against the glass.

The rest of the house was eerily still. Kurt couldn't distinguish any of the usual thuds and thunks of his father's work boots or the annoying clanking of Maddie's heels. He was alone.

As a roar of thunder rocked Kurt's bones, he flopped miserably back down on his bed. It wasn't a good day – not a good day at all. He was feeling hollow again, like when he was six and Jenny Wilson kept whispering in his ear; or when he was eight and stood above his mom's open grave, watching his dad's mouth move in sad quirks and shaky smiles and not knowing what he was saying. It was nothing unusual these days – he woke up with the blackness already inside him, eating up every positive thought he might have had, sucking up the dreams full of moving colors and only leaving the nightmares.

It was always worse when it rained. His mom used to have a book about a raindrop that he read every night as soon as he learned the letters – it was about how the raindrop fell from the clouds and landed on the ground, confused and scared, dodging people's feet and looking for a place it where it could belong again. When Kurt was younger, he was sure his whole town was only a cloud, hanging underneath the sky, but perhaps above something else, and that he was going to fall through to a new world, find a place where nobody looked at him like he was a freak; stay and never look back.

Needless to say, that didn't exactly work out. His mother had died; abandoned him with nothing but a memory of her perfume and her touch and a library full of fairytales he didn't believe in. She left him, the first and only person to understand and be his friend, in a world where people like him were too much trouble.

Kurt sighed. It was a Saturday, which meant no classes. His bookshelf was stacked with several new paperbacks, but he just wasn't feeling like reading. He wasn't really feeling like anything.

He stood up, igniting a spark of anger – he hated to let his mood slip into feeling sorry for himself. He really, really needed to get out. Kurt fished a hoodie out of the closet, threw the hood over his head and, not bothering with an umbrella, walked out of the house.

The town looked just as bleak as it had from his window – all grey sidewalks and twisted, dark brown trees; silver family cars and muddy puddles on the groud. The air seemed to shimmer with rain, falling thicker and faster every second. Checking the street for cars, Kurt crossed to the other side and started walking. He wasn't surprised when his feet automatically started to carry him towards the park – he didn't go out much; there weren't many places he knew, even in a town as small as Lima. Kurt's father had always tried to make him stay close to the house, and after years and years of being defiant, Kurt just gave in.

He felt a frown bloom on his face at the thought of his father. There weren't many positive memories of him Kurt kept around these days, and sometimes all he wanted to do was pack a bag and run. Of course, he knew he wouldn't get any further than five streets away; the years and years of fear that was drilled into him would stop him and make him turn back. It's dangerous for you out there, Kurt. You stay close, where I can protect you.

He wasn't a child anymore. His naiveté has worn off long since, and his father hasn't been protecting him for years. There were more important things than the son he'd trained like a dog and kept on an invisible leash. Kurt hated it, but he didn't know how to be anything else. Not that it'd make a difference – the people out there, outside his range, would still look at him and treat him like a freak or a toddler. He didn't want either. For once, the only thing he craved was normalcy.

Sloshing through a puddle, Kurt made a left turn onto yet another empty street, the colorful townhouse facades just as washed-out by the storm as everything else. The park gate was just a few feet away, and Kurt sped up, running until long branches closed over his head. They didn't offer much protection from the rain, most of their leaves already on the ground, but even soaking wet, Kurt felt a sense of safety wash over him. This had always been the only place he was allowed to go on his own that he actually liked.

As he carefully treaded the leaf-covered paths, kicking up waves of yellow and orange and brown, a real movement finally caught his eye. There was a huddle of children in brightly colored raincoats on the far side of the park, running around splashing in the rain like little hyperactive supernovas. Kurt couldn't help a smile – he remembered those days in his own life; the warmth of his mother's hand as it closed over his, leading him closer, showing him how to climb the jungle gym, but be careful.

Turning on his heel, Kurt spotted an empty swing, swaying from side to side next to a fir tree. Hands in his wet hoodie pockets, he hopped up on it, feeling rainwater soak his jeans, the heels of his sneakers digging into the dirt. It was a little small for him, and he caught a dissaproving glare from one of the supervising moms; he smiled in what he hoped wasn't a hostile manner and stayed where he was.

Watching water splash every way from underneath tiny rubber boots, happy little faces with toothy smiles, Kurt was reminded of all his childhood books that were now stashed in the back of his bookshelf, too painful to look at. They've all drawn rain as a messenger of bad news, a flock of ravens preceding death, war, sickness; but now, looking at the hapiness it seemed to bring, Kurt somehow had a hard time believing that. It was also said that rain was magical – that it swallowed all the ordinary, everyday noises in its clattering on tin roofs and windowsills, in thunder and lightning. That it created a completely new world as soon as the skies opened up. That it hummed in the grass, splashed flowing down into the sewer, pitter-pattered against windows.

To Kurt, those were just words. In his eyes, rain freshened the air after it stopped falling. It flowed down the streets and glistened like tiny rivers. It changed moods and feelings and sometimes, he just wanted to hear it so badly.

Sometimes, it was hard to be proud of being deaf.

~*~

Kurt supposed the moment his home life had started getting worse was the moment the last breath left his mother's body in the cold white hospital room in Columbus. He remembered his dad crying next to her, holding her hand in his own shaking one; he remembered Maddie, four years old and scared, no really knowing what was happening; he remembered himself, sitting on the hard chair and selfishly thinking neither of them was going to miss her as much as he was.

The funeral was small and strange. Maddie had her hair in two braids down her back, her usually shiny blonde locks dry and frizzled. She was wearing a black dress – it was Kurt's most vivid memory of that day; his little sister in a color that she hated, with a big hat that made her look like a porcelain doll, quietly sniffling and squeezing his hand. Several people delivered eulogies, smiling plastic, shaky smiles. Kurt hadn't understood back then – why would someone hold themselves together for other people's benefit when the other people were crying, shaking and red-faced too. Kurt's dad had talked for about half a minute, Kurt's grandparents looking at him with stony eyes and pinched eyebrows, like everything was his fault. It was the last day Kurt had seen his mother's beautiful, pale face, and from then on, everything had changed.

Kurt had always understood. He had always known exactly what happened and how it happened, but by the time he was old enough to change it, it was too late.

After his wife died, Kurt's dad had suddenly found himself with two children on his hands – the only one to take care of them, and also the only one to earn enough money to support them. He had worked long hours; Kurt was the one who made dinners for Maddie, the one who turned on the cartoons for her and the one who put her to sleep. They hadn't needed words back then – she could understand what he was saying all the same, and she never complained that he couldn't read her a story before bed.

Then they got older and Maddie started school. Kurt was eight, and he couldn't help the jealousy. His own teacher, Mr Scott, was old and an incredible jerk who very much enjoyed signing as few things as possible, instead forcing Kurt to read his lips; nevermind the fact that he had a giant mustache, barely opened his mouth and all his words looked the same. Kurt had wanted to go to a normal school – or at least as normal as he could get. He was also supposed to, after two years of experimental homeschooling, but his dad was always at work at the time, and Kurt just wanted him to relax instead of struggling with his deaf son.

In retrospect, mistake number one.

These days, most things didn't make sense anymore. His sister and his father couldn't sign – that was always his mom's strong suit, and after she died, the rest of Kurt's family seemed to give up somewhere along the way. He didn't really mind; loved them all the same. He wished them a good day every morning over breakfast, told his dad to be careful at work, Maddie to do good in school. All he ever got was a raised eyebrow or – now that Maddie was a teenager – a grimace like she couldn't believe they were even related. Kurt was usually fine with that – it didn't matter if they didn't understand him, nobody really did, but as long as his blessings were with them, he could stay home without worrying so much.

Other days, Kurt's world seemed to crumble underneath his feet. He suddenly wanted his father's attention, wanted to be best friends Maddie like before, wanted someone – anyone – to treat him like the adult he practically was, no careful words and gentle hands.

Somehow, he still believed there were people out there who were different, just like him; and people who could hear, but didn't think there was anything wrong with Kurt because he couldn't. His mother and her fariytale books, however painful the memories, made him believe in the good in people, and on the brighter days, he still remembered that.

Most things in Kurt's life were far from perfect. But he had to hope, had to believe that one day, they would be.

~*~

Monday afternoon found Kurt in the park again – he was done with his classes for the day, and it was his favorite reading spot. Nobody ever really noticed him, which was a very welcome distraction from the way everything seemed to be focused on him at home. It was the perfect place to escape; the silence felt less immediate, less pressing in his ears.

Turning a page, Kurt immersed himself back in the story. If anyone cared, they would probably make fun of him for reading Harry Potter over and over; he usually went through all the books at least four times a year. Somehow, the story of a boy who started off completely lost in himself and became so much more called to him; he could lose himself in it like in no other. Sometimes, he could swear he'd even imagine a sound – an owl hooting, a spell swishing through the air, even though he didn't even know what sound was.

Kurt startled when a shadow suddenly fell over him, looking up from his book with a flinch.

There was a boy – almost a man – standing in front of him, dressed in a hoodie and torn jeans. The hair on his head seemed to be constructed into a completely ridiculous mohawk; he was fidgeting nervously, playing with the leather leash he was holding. He seemed to have come out of nowhere.

Kurt raised his eyebrows in a silent question.

"Hey, sorry," the boy said, thankfully one of those people who actually moved their lips while speaking. "I just saw—" and then he dropped his head, effectively cutting Kurt off. Not that it wasn't at least a little bit adorable, seeing what was obviously a jock being so shy with him.

Now that he didn't have to focus on one point, Kurt gave the stranger in front of him a once-over. He was pretty good-looking – fit, broad-shouldered, strong jaw, full lips. Theoretically speaking, of course, because...well, obviously. Kurt was who he was; even thinking thoughts like that was ridiculous.

"-weird." the stranger finished, raising his eyes once again – ooh, pretty, Kurt thought instantly, studying the light brown peering back at him. Somehow, he actually felt bad about having to shrug and turn back to his reading – there was no point in asking the boy to repeat the question. He'd probably realize Kurt couldn't hear him and either run or make fun of him; he could save both of them the trouble.

Kurt could feel the confused stare on the top of his head, but he stubbornly held on, reading over and over how Hagrid knocked down the door on Harry's birthday. When Kurt finally looked up, the jock was walking away, waving his arm at an overexcited Australian shepherd puppy that was rolling around in the grass. It ran to him immediately, and once he clipped the leash on the dog's collar, it only took them a few steps to get lost in the shadow of the trees. A second later, they were gone.

Kurt sighed. He didn't like turning people away any more than the next guy, but there really was no point. They were in Lima, Ohio, and Kurt was still pretty sure he was the only deaf person around. Add that to the way he dressed and acted, and the result was a grade A freak.

It was better for everyone if he just stayed away.

~*~

Tugging on Mark's leash, Puck slowly shuffled through the park gate. It seemed like it was just the usual ensemble inside – children with parents on the far end and a few elderly people soaking up the sun. Praying none of them were in the mood to argue, he let the dog go, watching him hightail it through the grass until it closed over him. Puck grinned. Jackass.

He walked along the path, trying to find a free bench he could sit on – it was a sunny day, probably one of the last before winter, and every single one was occupied. Puck really, really didn't want to accidentally sit next to a friend of his Nana's and be forced to listen about bad hips and porcelain teeth.

He came to a halt just as he passed a naked oak tree. Another bench came into view – and he was sitting on it.

Puck couldn't pinpoint the exact moment the mystery boy had captured his attention. He remembered seeing him when he was just a kid, walking around wide-eyed, holding hands with who Puck assumed was his mother, and Puck's own ma always steering him away. It was a long time ago, though; Puck grew up and got too old for playing on jungle gyms, prefering to stay in his room and play guitar – he forgot all about the strange, quiet boy.

That is, until he got the dog and started going to the park again. When he saw him again for the first time in years, somehow, even though he looked completely different, he was instantly recognizable; the dark hair, the way he held himself, completely oblivious to everything happening around him with a copy of Sorcerer's Stone on his lap.

Initially, it was the book – one of his greatest secret pleasures - that made Puck come closer and chance a question about how the guy liked it. Puck hadn't been completely sure of what he was doing, didn't even really know why, but there was no-one around to spread it and ruin his reputation; to hell with it. He immediately wished he just stayed away when all he'd gotten was raised eyebrows, then a shrug, and then nothing.

Dammit, it stung.

Okay, so it's not like Puck was particularly interesting, especially to a guy like that, who obviously thought he was better than everyone else. But...maybe, just maybe, Puck had wanted a friend. Someone who wasn't Finn, someone who wasn't dating a girl Puck was pretty sure he felt something weird for, someone who wasn't on the damn football team. Someone who actually liked him for him.

Well, this was probably his answer. Not happening.

He didn't let that steer him away, though. Mark liked the damn park, and Puck wasn't going to stay away just because a little prissy bitch spoiled it for him.

Which, in the end, was how he found himself here – hiding behind a tree, spying. Probably one of his lesser moments.

It was an impact to his calves that distracted him. Mark was back at Puck's feet, tail wagging, a stray tennis ball in his mouth.

"Hey, boy," Puck laughed and dropped on one knee. "You wanna play fetch?"

Mark answered him with an enthusiastic bark, turning in a spastic circle. When Puck reached for the ball, though, instead of letting it go, he bit into it harder and took off again, running around trees and dodging squealing children. Puck shook his head. Getting a dog might just have been the craziest idea his Nana had ever had.

"Mark! Come on, get back here!" he shouted helplessly, laughing against his will. Mark was currently in the process of bugging random strangers by bumping his nose into any body parts he could reach – he jumped around a little boy, then licked his mother's hand, lunged after a pigeon, bumped an old lady's walker and – oh, crap.

By the time Puck noticed his damn dog heading for the mysterious bitchy stranger, it was too late. Mark skipped happily all the way to the bench, sitting a few steps away and cocking his head, like he didn't understand why the human's attention wasn't instantly turned to him. He kept it up for about two seconds, then let go of the ball, barked and lay his head smack in the middle of the guy's open book.

Now, true, Puck was hidding behind a tree, creeping on his dog molesting a guy who probably hated Puck already – still not his finest moment – but he still saw the way Mystery Guy (it was completely fine calling him that, alright? It's not like he knew the guy's name) flinched when a whole lot of drool and hair landed on the pages of what looked like the same copy of Sorcerer's Stone he was reading last week. Puck frowned – okay, a little weird. A whole lot intriguing, too.

He bated his breath, waiting for Mystery Guy to bitch Mark out, maybe kick him a little for good measure for intruding.

Which is why his eyebrows almost got lost in his mohawk when all the guy did was scratch the dog behind the ears and smile.

You see, Puck wasn't a very poetic person in his best moments. Except for when he was and all sorts of scary adjectives popped into his head the second he saw that smile. It looked so foreign on the closed-off, stony face; brigthened everything up like when his Nana changed the lightbulb in the porch light (and attracted a whole lot of moths). Or, you know, like a breath of spring in the middle of winter, or something. It crinkled the corner's of Mystery Guy's eyes, wide and uninhibited, and it almost looked like he wanted to laugh, but didn't.

As for Mark, he seemed to be enjoying the attention more than he should – he never wagged his tail like that when Puck scratched him. Maybe it was time to cut it out.

Mystery Guy made the decision for him – with one more smile, he picked up the discarded tennis ball from under the bench, rolled it in his hand a couple of times, then threw it towards the other side of the park with impressive strength. Mark immediately shot off, collar clinking as he bounded through the tall grass.

Shaking his head, Puck was just about to come out of hiding – maybe even try his hand at Chatting Up a Complete Stranger 0.2 – but Mystery Guy, again, beat him to the punch. Sending Puck's dog one last amused and – sad? – look, he carefully slipped a bookmark into his book, collected his bag and slowly walked off, looking around every few steps.

Puck didn't even register when Mark crashed back into his legs. He was too busy watching the mop of brown hair move along the length of the park fence, then turn left and dissappear.

He didn't know why, but there was a little, insistent voice in the corner of his mind, telling him there was more to be discovered here if he poked long enough; that there was a different person hiding behind that cold exterior, the one that appeared and went away with the smile.

His Nana had always told him to follow his instincts.

Grinning, Puck clipped Mark's leash back on, tugging the resistant dog behind him as the beginnings of a master plan began cooking in his mind.

A challenge, then.

~*~

As much as looking around was ingrained in Kurt's very being - just to make sure he was safe and there wasn't a giant tsunami or a fruit truck headed his way - sometimes, he managed to just let it go. He resented having to do it in places he felt safe – like at home, tucked into the corner of his room, or here, in the park.

The clouds were gathering up for rain again when he walked through the gate, clutching the strap of his bag. It seemed like everybody else had remembered to look at the sky, too; the usually busy playground only had two kids eating from a bucket of sand in the sandbox, and most of the benches were unoccupied, too.

Breathing in, the fresh, rainy scent in the air filling his lungs and rushing into his head, Kurt turned right, walking towards the bench that he'd come to prefer over time – it was more or less hidden in a shadowed corner, easily facing most of the park, and its back was turned to only a bunch of bushes. It was, by far, the safest place out there.

Coming closer, Kurt broke his intent stare in one direction and checked for any stray kids. There was a kindergarten just across the street – sometimes, they tended to just run in without rhyme or reason, and Kurt always felt bad when some of them bumped into him because he didn't spot them in time. The paths were blessedly empty, though, and Kurt finally sat down, sweeping an old leaf or two off before taking a seat. He opened his book hungrily, ready to inhale the last few pages, excited for the ending just as much as he was every single time. Thankfully, there were some things that never got old.

Kurt only realized something was throwing him off when Harry walked into the room with the mirror and he had to close the book. There was something in his peripheral vision, just out of reach—

There, right next to him on the bench, like it'd been there the whole time – which it probably had – was a book. Not just any book, either – it was The Chamber of Secrets, exactly like the one resting in Kurt's bag, waiting to be read. Kurt frowned and immediately swept his surroundings – the children were gone, an old man walking a Yorkie the only remaining presence. There was no obvious movement behind him in the bushes, or behind the fence on the street. Whoever put the book there must have done it before Kurt even got into the park – he'd just been too preoccupied to notice it.

For a while, Kurt contemplated just running, running home and hiding under the covers where no new things meant no danger, but he quickly stomped on the feeling. This was new, but also potentially exciting – something he desperately needed, like he was Harry, living in a cupboard, receiving his first Hogwarts acceptance letter. Tentatively, he reached out and poked the spine with his index finger. Nothing happened; Kurt had to roll his eyes at himself.

It was a book; there wasn't anything more to it. The pages weren't soaked in poison, there wasn't a hole cut out inside with a bomb waiting to go off; just a book, possibly left behind by a stranger. Kurt's fingers itched to open it and leaf through it – to look for the little notes in the margins, the underlined phrases, the coffee stains and lines left after carelessly dog-earing the pages; to trace the breaks in the spine and the tears in the paper where it was turned over too hard, to see if it still had the new, papery smell or reeked of cigarettes or coffe. What he loved the most about books was the character they got after going through their reader's hands; once, twice, or time and time again.

The book was still lying silently on the slightly cracked varnish, Fawkes looking right at Kurt from the cover. After stealing one last glance around, he reached out and closed his hand over the spine, pulling it closer. As expected, there was no explosion.

Kurt felt his lips stretching into an involuntary smile before he even cracked the book open – newexcitingnew kept running on a loop in his head, and he couldn't find it in himself to care.

When he finally flipped the first pages to land on the beginning of chapter one, he was greeted by neat, black-on-white letters, no tiny scrawled notes in pencil; no signs that the book belonged to anyone at all. He kept leafing on, white after white after white, and after a while, he couldn't hide his dissappointment. The book has obviously been read more than once, but also properly cared for – no stains, not even dog ears.

And then, just as Kurt was ready to give up, his gaze landed on The Writing on the Wall – chapter nine; more or less the middle of the book.

Right there, smack in the middle of the page, was a post-it in the most outrageously red color Kurt has ever seen. Hey, was the only thing it said. Kurt blinked, some of his paranoia rushing back. Somehow, he thought he was supposed to feel creeped out; like somebody was stalking him, out for his life or his money or the necklace he inherited from his grand-grand-grandmother. Except...he kind of didn't.

It seemed innocent enough, right? Not very real – more like something that'd happen in a Meg Ryan movie – but not threatening.

Suddenly feeling light-headed and reckless, Kurt looked around again. The old man was gone now, which, as far as Kurt could see, left him the only person in the park. He quickly rummaged through his bag, fingers closing over a pen, and before he could overthink what he was doing, his hand was pressed to the paper, looping the H in Hi.

It was probably stupid. Scratch that, it was definitely stupid – the odds of someone leaving the book for Kurt to find, leaving the post-it inside as a message were practically non-existent. Still, when he thumbed his own book open again, The Chamber of Secrets resting next to him, he couldn't help a smile.

In the life he lead, everything out of the ordinary was a welcome distraction.

And talking in letters? He could do.

~*~

The next time Kurt walked into the park, he was doing a pretty good job of denying he was just the teeniest bit excited. There were plently of completely reasonable, rational reasons why the book wouldn't be there again. For one, thinking it meant something in the first place was stupid. Two, people just didn't talk to random strangers through post-its in public places in tiny towns in Ohio. Three, even if, it's only been two days. Four, in Kurt's life, nothing ever happened. Five—

Or, apparently, it did.

The shiny front page of the very same book was suddenly staring up at Kurt from a bench he was passing. It was the seond one in the row, not that far from the one tucked in the back, and even though it was sunny and crisp and the park was full, it stood abandoned, passing people giving it distrustful glances.

Kurt felt the smile blooming on his face before he was aware of it. Not even thinking about it, he cast a quick look around and sat down, dropping his bag in favor of getting his hands on the book before anyone could run up to it and snatch it.

Just as he'd hoped, the same post-it was stuck to the first page of the ninth chapter, its red just as painful for Kurt's eyes as it was two days before. Underneath the exchanged greetings, a new message was scrawled in black ink.

Hey! I can't believe you actually answered! I mean, it is you, right?

Kurt blinked, tilting his head to see if maybe it'd reveal some hidden text, or make something click into place. Unsurprisingly, nothing happened.

What?

Shaking his head, Kurt stubbornly pulled out his pen, refusing to give up on a mystery. If this was the only excitement he was going to get, he'd sure as hell take it.

Who exactly am I supposed to be? he wrote, the smile creeping back onto his face as he finished the questionmark. The book, the secret notes, all this – it was making him feel silly in that wonderful way he hadn't felt since he was a child.

That day, for the first time in a long time, Kurt let reading be, content with just sitting and tilting his face towards the sun.

He barely even realized that the bench he was sitting on had its back turned to an open green patch of grass.

~*~

The next time, just as Kurt's copy of The Chamber of Secrets was running out, it was The Prisoner of Azkaban that appeared. There was a new post it stuck to chapter eleven, now a scary neon yellow.

You're the guy with the Harry Potter books, right? You come almost every day, read for a couple hours and leave again, never talk to anyone, right?

The writing was neat, if fast and slanted a little too much to the left. Kurt supposed he should be a little creeped out – the message sounded a whole lot stalkerish – but by now, the stranger in the book has started to feel safe. He couldn't help it when he picked up his pen and scrawled You got me ;) to the very bottom of the post-it. He was still smiling when he closed the book, ran a finger over its spine and laid it on the bench next to him, the wide open space and miling people all around barely registering.

~*~

I'm glad.

So, who are you?

Your miserable stalker :)

Why are you stalking me, of all people?

You're interesting.

Stop making me blush.

So, what's your name?

Kurt. Don't tell anyone. What's yours?

Noah. I won't if you won't.

Deal ;)

~*~

The speed with which the time seemed to pass was incredible. Before Kurt knew it, he was reading the last few lines of The Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blooded Prince on the bench next to him with a green post-it hiding inside. The weather was steadily getting colder, but the sun still gave off some warmth, making early afternoons the perfect time to sit in the park and snuggle into a sweater.

Kurt no longer paid any notice to which bench he was sitting on – his old favorite one mostly stood abandoned, drowning in fallen leaves in the shade – and followed the books wherever they took him. At home, more and more suspicious looks were thrown his way, and Kurt always had to raise a hand to his face to notice the smile that somehow found its way on his face every time he got back from the park, storing another piece of information about the mysterious stranger – Noah – in his head for safekeeping.

When it got too rainy for anything to be safe outside on a bench, the books started appearing in plastic bags. Most of them had cartoon animals on them, silly little giraffes and dogs with funny one-liners in speech bubbles. They made Kurt smile so wide his cheeks hurt, often made him throw away all caution and jog through the park to look inside. He was always tempted to take every one of them home with him, hide them under his bed, a secret that nobody but him knew about; on the other hand, the messages were more important, and he didn't want to risk them getting ruined.

By the end of October, when they sky was more gray than blue and the puddles became the size of small lakes, Kurt realized that the silly little rainbow of post-its always present in his imagination wasn't only the best part of his days – it became the only thing he could geniunely look forward to.

That, combined with the unmistakable warmth in his chest whenever he walked past the park gate, equaled a small miracle in his world.

~*~

Boxers or briefs? :)

Oh, come on. I'm not telling you that.

You started it.

I asked if you like horror or action movies better. Jeez, you have a dirty mind.

I don't. I'm just curious.

How about we get back to the cute 'tell me about your life' part?

We're waaaay past that.

I still don't know why you refuse to have an actual conversation with me.

If you keep asking about it, you won't.

Alright, alright...how about I tell you something about me that you don't know yet and you tell me something about you in return?

Shoot.

~*~

Hand in hand with the second November week came the wave of cold weather everyone had been expecting. One morning, Lima awoke to slippery streets and thick fog covering the whole town, temperature rapidly dropping.

Kurt didn't really care, and once he was done with studying, he determinedly bundled in a shirt, sweater, hoodie and a coat, slipped gloves on his hands and walked the dangerously glistening sidewalks all the way to the park. The town hadn't removed the benches for winter yet, and despite the barely twenty-degree weather, people still sat around and enjoyed the air, their forms like ghosts in the milky fog that only seemed to expand as the day went on.

Uncomfortable, Kurt sat on the first bench he could get to, hissing at the cold feel of the wood. He'd always hated fog – it made one of his good senses feel useless, and he imagined it had to be something like silence to someone who couldn't see; thick and impenetrable and ominous, like something bad was lurking just beyond it. When he was a child, five or six maybe, his mom used to take him outside to the front porch in the fall, bundle him up in blankets and watch the fog shift and slowly dissipate in the light of day with him. She'd tell him it wasn't something to be afraid of, but even now, he couldn't help flinching every time somebody or something appeared in his line of vision with too little warning.

Of course, as fate would have it, the one day Kurt had to force himself to go to his usually favorite place, there was no colorful plastic bag in sight - not even when he stood up and carefully walked around, taking extra care to look everywhere so he wouldn't have to – God forbid – do it twice. Maybe Noah was one of the people who didn't step a foot out of the house when the temperature went under thirty. Kurt, admittedly, didn't know him well – once that realization struck, in the middle of an extremely depressing fall day, no less, he had to force the feelings of fear back down. He'd never had a real friend – everyone eventually got too tired of trying to draw letters in the air or spelling them with their fingers or playing guessing games. Maybe this stranger who came out of nowhere actually didn't mean so much; maybe Kurt just wanted him to.

Lost in thought, Kurt once again forgot to watch what was happening around him, sitting slumped on a bench. When something warm and heavy crashed into his legs, he had to fight himself not to instinctively kick out and get rid of it – it was probably alive, and he didn't like being cruel, even accidentally.

Big, blue eyes were staring up at him, almost a little too scary in their puppy soulfulness. Kurt immediately recognized the dog from about a month and a half ago – it was the same puppy who stuck the pages of his copy of Sorcerer's Stone together with spit, the one with its left ear a little crooked. It was sitting at his legs happily, wagging its tail, not in the least bothered by the stray, dying brown leaves that were tangled in its fur in places or the murky water droplets clinging to its nose.

Despite himself, Kurt smiled and reached out his hand. The fur behind the puppy's ears was just as soft as he remembered, and he had to sigh a little with regret. He'd always wanted a dog – when he was ten, he used to be convinced he could train it to work with him somehow, that he could take care of it by himself. Kurt's dad had long since chased the idea out of his mind.

The puppy barked, the slight vibration echoing through its skull and tingling Kurt's fingertips. He looked around, trying to find the tennis ball – maybe the dog wanted to finish their game of fetch from the last time. When he didn't spot any offensively bright yellow items hiding in the grass, it finally occured to him to raise his head.

To Kurt's immense surprise, the figure that was slowly taking shape in the fog looked vaguely familiar. When he spotted the mohawk and the torn jeans, he remembered a little too quickly – it was the strange boy who had tried talking to him all those weeks ago. His hands were tangled in a leash again, and when the dog at Kurt's feet barked happily and bumped the boy's legs with its nose, Kurt made the connection. He wasn't quite sure what to do with it.

Seemingly just as frozen as him, the other boy reached a hand into his hoodie pocket, then hesitated. He caught Kurt's eyes for a moment, breathed out, then closed the distance between them it two long steps, handing Kurt a plastic bag with a cartoon lion smoking a cigarette. Kurt's fingers traced the familiar shape of a paperback. He frowned.

Inside, just as he'd expected, was a shiny copy of The Deathly Hallows and, right in the middle, another post-it. Okay, new fact number one – I have a dog. His name's Mark, it said.

Kurt had to blink, then read the tiny scrawl three more times before he dared raise his eyes. A somewhat apprehensive brown gaze was aimed right back at him, and he couldn't prevent the rush of familiarity that hit him. He'd never really looked into Noah's eyes - and yet, he was absolutely sure this was him. The mystery boy, the one he'd shrugged off and expected to never see again. Something in Kurt's chest constricted.

"Kurt," Noah suddenly said – Kurt would've almost missed it. "Look, I..." he trailed off, hand coming up to scratch his mohawk.

Kurt made the decision in a split second. He didn't know how it came over him – just kept picturing his dad, his sister, his uncle Jeff, telling him he had to make more of an effort if he ever wanted to meet someone new; telling him he had to try and act more like a normal boy his age. There was nothing normal in getting to know someone through a book being left on a park bench, but maybe Kurt liked it that way, and maye this was his chance. Despite – or beause - everything, he trusted Noah just a little bit; just that little bit he needed to confess. He wanted to tell him, and when he dug out a pen from his inner pocket and began to write, he could feel the curious gaze on his head.

Taking a deep breath, he peeled the post-it off the page and closed the book. I can't hear you. He was looking at the four simple words, the words that usually chased everyone away. Before he could change his mind, he stuck the purple piece of paper on the cover and outstretched his hand in Noah's direction, silently thanking the boy for standing around and waiting this time.

Tentatively, Noah's fingers closed around the spine, turning the book around, his eyes falling to the single line in Kurt's curly handwriting.

Kurt could see the exact moment the words registered in their full meaning - Noah's whole body went from nervous and fidgety to a statue in a matter of seconds, the grip he had on the book turning his knuckles white. Kurt suddenly wished he'd thought to add I'm sorry underneath – it always seemed like the right thing to do, even though he had nothing to be sorry for. When he apologized for something that had been a part of him since birth, it usually gave the look in people's eyes a softer tone, more empathy in their rejection. If nothing else, he wanted at least that from Noah.

Even before the other boy raised his head to look into Kurt's eyes again, Kurt knew it was too much. He felt panic rising in his chest, the familiar unpleasant tingling in the tips of his fingers, tears stinging in his eyes. He wrapped his arms around himself, grip tight enough to bruise, and before he could try and find the him that had the courage to admit who he was, he was running, barely keeping his feet under him on the slippery ground.

As the first snow of the season started falling down in big, fluffy flakes, Kurt wondered what would his name sound like if Noah was calling after him, but, as always, all he came up with was silence.

~*~

Puck honestly didn't know how long did he stay sitting on the creaky bench – Mark sitting at his feet bemused and snow slowly starting to fall from the grey sky.

I can't hear you.

It seemed simple enough. Just four words, something that was shouted over loud music or into the phone when the connection was bad. But, contrary to popular belief, Puck wasn't an idiot. He could understand that when Kurt wrote the words on a post-it in the middle of a silent park, he probably didn't mean it in a 'I can't hear you, please speak up' kind of way. He couldn't hear. At all.

Somehow, the very next thought Puck's mind jumped to was whether Kurt was born that way. He imagined a picture of a small boy, maybe five or six years old, sitting in the park all alone after a horrible accident that left him in silence; scared and confused and trying to cry out for help, even though he was starting to forget how. Puck's lungs burned at the image and he quickly swept his hands over his eyes to chase it away.

Now, he supposed, everything about Kurt made so much more sense; how he always seemed to be alone, just coming and going, not noticing anyone or anything going on around him; how he used to sit on a bench where his back wasn't turned to an open space; the smile that went just as quickly as it appeared. It went a long way to explain why Kurt shrugged Puck off like he wasn't even talking the first time they met.

Now that he had the truth on his hands, though, it was hard to think of any plan of action beyond going home and getting out of the snow. There were probably dirty dishes and dinner to be cooked and bedtime stories to be read back there – anything old and familiar to relieve his racing mind.

Standing up, Puck absentmindedly clipped Mark's leash back on and slowly shuffled towards the gate, watching the sloppy outlines of Kurt's shoe prints dissapear and fill with new snow.

~*~

By the time he got home, changed, and toweled off sixty pounds of wet, enthusiastic dog, it was almost six – ma would be coming home with a hungry Sarah in tow in about twenty minutes. Puck managed to set some pasta boiling on the stove without hurting himself or tripping over anything, I can't hear you running through his mind all the while, the image of the curly letters now imprinted into the back of his eyelids. He was all too relieved when the keys clanged at the door and, seconds later, a small tornado collided with his legs, hugging him tight around the waist – as high as his baby sister could reach.

"Hey, Monkey," he couldn't help a smile.

"Noe!" she replied, smirking, in all her seven-year-old glory, adressing him in the way she used to before she learned how to talk properly; she knew it drove him crazy. "What's for dinner?" she sniffed the air cautiously, the Grilled Chicken Incident of last month probably still fresh in her mind.

Puck rolled his eyes. "Pasta. If you can wash up by yourself, I might let you pick the sauce."

Seconds later, Sarah was thumping up the stairs and shedding her schoolbag with a dull thunk. As if on cue, Puck's ma finally clambered into the kitchen, carrying a dangerously unbalanced grocery bag. Puck watched her with wary eyes, all too aware of what would happen if he offered to help, and let out a sigh of relief when everything ended up safe on the counter.

"Ma?" he finally asked, hoping she was in a better mood than yesterday.

Ruth turned her eyes on him, a little sunken and tired, but the sharp glint that used to be so her when Puck was a kid was there for the moment; she was there.

"Noah," she nodded, keeping her distance, some of the usual cold gone from her voice. She opened the fridge to take a few swallows of orange juice, then dug around in her purse, pulling out a pack of cigarettes. "I'm gonna lay down for a bit," she said then, hanging the purse on a corner of a chair and slowly shuffling up the stairs to her bedroom. Puck heard the door slam closed behind her and let out a breath.

Not so bad.

Just then, the timer he'd set to prevent any further accidents (when people said you can burn water, Puck didn't think you actually could until the day he'd tried for chicken soup) went off, and he automatically went through the process of pulling the pasta off the stove, draining it and setting out the plates. Normally, it would be Sarah's job, but it was a Tuesday – the only day she came home late, and Puck didn't have it in him to insist every time, especially since she did everything without asking every other day of the week.

He was dividing the pasta into portions (one for him, one for Sarah, and a half of one for ma when she got hungry in the middle of the night) when Sarah danced back in, the red dress she was wearing exchanged for pink sweatpants and one of Puck's old Led Zeppelin t-shirts she loved to steal. She climbed into a chair, putting her elbows on the table in an insistent gesture. Puck rolled his eyes, pulled the ketchup bottle out of the fridge (it was always ketchup for Sarah) and set it down with her plate, just standing still for a second and watching her dig in.

Slowly chewing on his own spaghetti, he watched her rattle on and on about her day in school, excited words tumbling over one another, and his mind was apparently a one-way track; Puck couldn't help but imagine what would their life be like if his little sister couldn't hear. He immediately lost his appetite.

Standing up, he discarded the half-eaten meal into the trash, opting instead for putting away the groceries his ma brought – a jar of pickles, a bag of flour, six eggs, six packs of cigarettes, a pack of chewing gum and a box of cereal that Sarah hasn't been eating for two years. Something stung sharp deep inside his chest then, something that felt an awful lot like loneliness. He thought again of the image of his little sister suddenly gone deaf, opening her mouth with no words coming out; of her not wanting to play with other kids because they'd scream and push her and overwhelm her. He thought of a sad, young boy petting a dog and smiling like he had his own little world nobody cared enough to wander into.

Mind made up, he told Sarah to get her homework and called Nana, eager to hear her voice, the soft caring and worry that was always hiding in it.

~*~

Kurt was fully aware he was hiding. He'd slipped into some sort of a panic mode, a wild feeling he barely remembered from when he was younger; whenever he felt footsteps upstairs, his heart started racing to make its way out of his chest, his palms sweating, lungs getting heavier until he could barely breathe.

He hadn't told anyone; if he could help it, he'd never tell anyone anything ever again. How could've he been so stupid? Nobody went around telling people they were deaf, not in Lima. All he needed to see was Noah's stiffened posture – he could immediately imagine the words that would come out of his mouth, trying to sugarcoat the raw, hurting truth – Kurt wasn't worth so much trouble.

Sometimes, he wondered how'd he ever keep the blind, naive faith he carried around. How did he go on believing in better things, better people, if all they ever did was let him down anyway?

Feeling the sting of tears behind his eyes, Kurt stood up and slowly wandered to the window. It was snowing again, hasn't really stopped in the three days since he'd last been outside, but it wasn't the kind of snow that would stick around. Kurt was already mentally steeling himself for another long winter, dark nights and short days and the all-around gloomy feeling he hated. Maybe he ought to go outisde, just for a little while, before the real, bone-deep chilling cold came and settled over everything like a silent blanket.

Grabbing his coat and walking up the stairs, he wasn't sure; he'd probably never been less sure in his life. As soon as he opened the door, he knew where was he going to end up.

Surprisingly, the benches still stood in the park, now covered in half-melted white mush – a few adventurous people have brushed them off and sat down anyway. Kurt had to smile as he walked the pathways, leaving bundled up little kids and joggers with white puffs of breath rising from their mouths behind. Before rounding a corner, he exhaled, willing the memory back where he'd managed to push it. He got burned, and he ran. Nothing new. Get over it.

Except as soon as he made the step, a new view opening up in front of him, he had to stop and stare. There wasn't any doubt in his mind that it was Noah curled up on the bench, head barely peeking out from under a blanket, thermos next to him, book in hand; he'd recognize the mohawk anywhere.

Kurt wanted to run. He really did. But his feet have apparently decided to root him in place, watching as what could have been his first friend sat and read just a few feet away, reminding Kurt of himself.

Trying desperately to decide what to do, Kurt must have made a sound shuffling in the wet leaves, because Noah slowly raised his head, looking around, and when he spotted Kurt, he grinned. It went straight through to Kurt's heart; heating it and thawing the ice of dissapointment. He involuntarily took a step, just to be closer to the warmth.

Glint in his eyes, Noah dropped the book, reaching underneath the blanket, and waved at Kurt with a big legal pad that said Hi! in black block letters.

Kurt couldn't help the giant grin he could feel almost splitting his face open. A tiny bit of doubt slithered into his steely resolve to never open up to anybody ever again, slowly expanding and flooding him with relief. Maybe, just maybe, it had been his own fears that drove him away.

In another two steps, he was close enough to sit down, eyes downcast, spotting the white dots on Noah's blanket were actually tiny, cheesy horses. When Kurt raised his head, Noah was looking at him, all warmth and friendliness, before he bent down to magick up a felt tip and started writing.

Nice of you to show up. When Kurt frowned, he quickly added a smiley.

Accepting the new form of communication, Kurt took the offered pad and replied: What are you doing here?

Noah bared his teeth on a smirk, wrote down Waiting for you and held it up to his head, rolling his eyes at the same time, like he couldn't believe Kurt was that thick. Kurt furrowed his brows in response, quickly, instinctively reaching a hand up to his forehead to ask why before he remembered. Noah seemed to understand anyway – Because you ran away, duh.

Sorry about that, Kurt wrote, unsure, biting his lip. Noah shook his head with a soft smile, as if to say it's okay.

Thank you for that, by the way. Trusting me like that.

Kurt could slowly feel his resolve crumble to pieces. Feelings, bright like fireworks, were exploding in his chest, so strong they took his breath away for a second. Noah came back, practically camped in the park for God knows how long, he was still smiling and making faces and joking around, just the way Kurt imagined he'd be back when all he knew was his handwriting. He closed his eyes; it didn't even occur to him to check for a threat; then opened them again, taking a breath. Time to be a big boy.

Still friends? he wrote, childlishly, contrary to what he'd just been thinking.

Noah smiled, bright and wide and breathtaking, Of course.

Happiness exploded in Kurt's chest; they filled the whole legal pad before he even thought of going home.

Later that night, he stumbled inside, giddy. The smile on his face was so wide it hurt, and as Kurt pranced into the kitchen to get a glass of water, somehow, everything seemed brighter.

Madison's confused eyes followed him all the way down the stairs.

~*~

It seemed like barely any time had passed, and suddenly, it was December; tacky Christmas lights hung up all over town, snow that actually stayed on the ground, and the air getting cooler and cooler with every passing day.

Kurt was on top of the world. Just the fact that he had someone to talk to after yet another exhausting session with Mr Scott, or a Saturday when both Maddie and his dad were home and everything was awkward and strained – that fact alone had him waking up lighter, cheerfully making breakfast for everyone, barely even noticing the strange looks he got from his family. Every day, he woke up already desperate for the afternoon, when, more often than not, Noah would meet him in the park and they'd walk around, passing a notebook back and forth, Kurt's soundless laugh matching Noah's grin. Sometimes, Mark goofed off and trotted along with them. It felt better than anything Kurt could remember ever feeling.

Noah was incredible; if this is what having friends felt like, Kurt could fully understand why everyone had always pushed him to make some. It's been just a little over two months of knowing each other, but Kurt had no problem trusting Noah with looking out for kids, animals, tennis balls flying their way, checking for cars if they happened to cross a road. It felt reckless in a good, almost life-affirming way, the way the other boy would squeeze his shoulder and wink when it was safe to pass, not thinking twice, just easily slotting into all the empty places in Kurt's life, like they've been carved out just for him.

The only thing that had Kurt worriedly frowning every morning when he woke up was the temperature – it barely ever rose above fifteen degrees, and both of them were starting to feel the effect it had.

Which is how, in a crazy, spur-of-the-moment decision, Kurt ended up asking Noah to come over one especially cold afternoon. Maddie was out with friends, Burt working, and they still had plenty of time before Noah had to leave to pick up Sarah from school.

It was another thing they bonded over – little sisters, even though Noah's adored her brother and Maddie barely even looked at Kurt most days. They both knew what it was like, caring about someone so small and feeling the responsibility, and that knowledge went unspoken between them.

They've talked about their families, too; as it turned out, Noah wasn't very lucky on that front either. He defended his mom, but admitted she was just spread too thin to be able to take care of both her kids and herself. Kurt silently thought she had no idea what was she missing out on.

When Kurt stood there, nervously fidgeting on the frozen path in the middle of an abandoned park, he couldn't help the anixety that closed over his head like the surface of a sea he was drowning in. Maybe this would be the deal-breaker – maybe right now was when Noah would figure Kurt was too much trouble, or too much danger, refuse, and leave.

In the next second, when the other boy smiled wide and held up his gloveless hand to show Kurt how much he appreciated the idea of warmth, Kurt hated himself for ever doubting.

~*~

Puck really wanted to laugh, or maybe point out that nobody's home and they don't have to sneak; but Kurt seemed to be concentrating way too hard, biting his lip, tongue peeking out, walking slow and crouched like a cat. If Puck just casually tapped him on the shoulder, it might not end well.

Rubbing his hands together in an attempt to chase away the cold from outside, he slowly looked around and catalogued his surroundings. The Hummels' house seemed ordinary enough, walls painted in warm colors and comfortable furniture. There was something that Puck didn't recognize from his own home, though; something impossible to spot, a different shape in the shadows, and he wondered if that's what having a father in the household looked like. When they passed the kitchen with beer cans piled high next to the sink, he couldn't help a grin.

At the end of the hallway, Kurt looked over his shoulder and pointed to a door that Puck hadn't even noticed before, dark wood hiding in a brown wall. Puck nodded and opened it, coming face to face with a wide staircase.

Kurt's room was...well, different. There was something in the white, beige and wine tones that felt inexplicably pleasing to Puck's eyes, but, even knowing what Kurt was like, it didn't feel lived-in or comfortable. Everything was clean and neat, things stored away instead of randomly strewn around, bed made, bathroom door closed.

From the sounds behind him, Kurt was probably nervously shuffling in place, hoping Puck wasn't commenting on what he saw out of Kurt's sight. Puck had found out that it was what he automatically assumed about a lot of people – his family, the cashiers at the grocery store, the neighbors; he thought they were talking behind his back, just because they could, and he'd looked so sad, so resigned when he wrote about it. It made Puck's knuckles itch to smash something into pieces.

Turning, Puck grinned at the other boy, giving him a thumbs up – for some reason, this was really important to Kurt, and Puck just wanted to keep them both in a good mood.

Kurt grinned back and skipped down the rest of the steps, immediately more at ease now that he was in his own safe space. He looked around, then pointed towards the small TV set in the corner, eyebrow raised. Puck spotted the Xbox in under three seconds; he knew he probably had to look like a kid at Christmas. He'd had to sold his own console when they were a couple hundred dollars short on the rent - now he could only play at Finn's place. Which wasn't saying much, because Finn owned a grand total of three games, one of which was, for some reason, Dance Revolution.

Kurt clapped like he did when something was really funny, and motioned for Puck to move closer. Once they were settled on the couch (which, was a lot more comfortable than it looked), he produced a small pile of games, dropping them in Puck's lap, obviously letting him choose. His heart did a small happy flip when he found Halo, and when Kurt smiled and nodded okay, it jumped a couple of sommersaults. Puck popped the disc in, grabbing two of the five (five?) controllers, and the other boy somehow managed to sit them down so that they saw both the screen and each other.

It was only then that Puck realized, and it immediately stopped him cold – he couldn't care less about Kurt being deaf, hell no, it made him all the more awesome. But, playing video games was kind of supposed to be about the tinny explosion and gunshot sound effects, about screaming at each other and trying to kill whoever you were playing with onscreen. Puck was slowly losing his footing; what was he supposed to do? Keep quiet – which, honestly, he didn't think he could do – or shout and make Kurt feel miserable because he couldn't?

When Kurt raised an impatient eyebrow, Puck decided to screw it and just ask; he wasn't used to tiptoeing around issues anyway, unless they were his own. He reached for his discarded jacket, pulling out a notebook and a pen from the inside pocket. There was probably no tactful way to phrase this, he thought, and settled for asking How do you play these?

Kurt's expression when he read it was very hard to figure out. His eyes widened for a second, and Puck almost got ready for a round of apologies, because apparently he'd screwed up again, but before he could scramble for the pen again, Kurt smiled. It was the kind of wide, open-mouthed smile that Puck knew was really a laugh trapped somewhere inside.

In the next second, Kurt's eyes got a dangerous gleam to them, and then he was scooting closer until their shoulders were touching, bumping into Puck with what seemed to be all his limbs. They started the game, sitting through the intro, and before they knew it, they were both hunched forward, hands at the ready for shooting aliens. Puck felt himself unwind and relax the moment he fired the first shot, shoulders loosening, and suddenly, Kurt's elbow hit him (very gently, mind you) in the ribs. Puck's mouth fell open, turning away from the screen just to look properly scandalized, and he was met with a sunny grin. On the screen, both their characters went down.

When they started the next game, Puck was prepared. He dodged the elbow, nudging back with his foot instead, and they were all over each other in a second flat, trying to get the other's character killed, even though they were supposed to play together. By the time the first mission was over, Kurt being the one who had managed to survive, Puck was panting, sweat beading on his forehead. He gripped the controlled tighter, determined to be better this time, laughing more than he had in ages; when Kurt settled down next to him, radiating warmth, Puck could tell by the small smile on his lips that he felt it reverberate through him, too.

It felt uplifting, almost freeing also for a whole another reason – the easy way Kurt was touching him. He didn't hesitate when he tried to ruffle Puck's mohawk, or pry the controller out of his fingers. Puck should've maybe been bothered, but he wasn't; every time they've met before, Kurt was always hesitant with touching Puck, stepping away when their shoulders brushed, taking the notebook and pen from Puck's hands carefully so their fingers wouldn't come anywhere near. Now, it was like Kurt was completely turned around, joking and easy, and the change was breathtaking. Puck didn't feel like, didn't even want, to tell him to cool it down, like he probably would to anyone else; he knew what he was to Kurt, was still coming to terms with being worthy of that, and he absolutely refused to do anything to hurt the other boy because of his own unwritten rules that he didn't even feel like following anymore.

They played like that, roughousing like a couple of kids, for over two hours, and by the time Puck had to go, it was already pitch black outside. He thanked Kurt over and over in pretty much the only ASL sign he knew, grinning like a loon, and jogged the entire way to Sarah's school, feeling high. She looked at him suspiciously when she saw him bouncing in place, but didn't comment, taking his hand as always and chattering away about her day at school.

Their house was dark when they finally got home, ma already gone for her shift. Puck let Mark outside and dug a couple of frozen dinners out of the freezer, not feeling like making anything else. Sarah loved ready-made food best, anyway. They did homework after that, watched some TV, and Sarah nodded off on Puck's shoulder just before nine. He shook her gently to wake her up, helped her brush her teeth and change into her pyjamas when she was barely conscious enough to walk up the stairs; and then, after he carefully closed the door of her room, he was finally, blessedly free, alone with his thoughts.

They weren't anything earth-shattering, really – the mind of Noah Puckerman was not made for that. Basically, there was only one thing on his mind – Kurt.

It was somewhat incredible, really; the way they'd managed to meet, through Puck's curiosity and post-its stuck in Harry Potter books. It felt like they've known each other forever, would probably finish each other's sentences if they talked aloud; Puck was more comfortable with Kurt than he was with anyone else besides Sarah, not ashamed to just give his honest opinion on things, knowing they weren't going to be laughed at. Puck and Finn have been friends more or less their entire lives, and they used to be like that, too, once upon a time, before high school and Quinn came along. Nowadays, Puck had to remind himself that Finn was his best friend – it didn't really feel like it anymore.

It was silent and dark in the house, nothing except Puck's breathing and Mark chewing in the kitchen distubring the peace. The notebook Puck used to talk to Kurt was lying on the coffee table – he liked to keep it close when he was home, simply because his ma had a habit of tossing his things when she found them outside his room. He reached for it, opening it with a bittersweet smile at the corner of his lips. The pages were almost filled with his left-inclined sentences and Kurt's neat, curly script.

It was actually a lot cooler than Puck would've thought, having almost all the conversations they've ever had right in front of him to read through. A little creepy, maybe, but still cool.

When he reached the end, page filled with their writing from earlier today, he stopped and blinked. His own genius question - How do you play these?- was there, but it wasn't the last filled line. Right underneath, the familiar curve of Kurt's O started a sentence in response – Only you, it said. Kurt was sneaky when he wanted to.

Puck grinned. Only him, alright. The Puckster was one of a kind.

Later that night, trying to put off sleep and sitting behind the computer, he stumbled on something called the American Sign Language University. There was a video of a creepily smiling guy signing something right on the first page – it looked crazy, fingers moving like he was a robot, and Puck was transfixed. He clicked at a random article; something about motivation, and how ASL was different from spoken English. There was another one about grammar, then about the advantages of learning, about how deaf people perceive the world, and before he knew it, his fingers were trying to shape into an awkward "R" underneath his desk.

Huh. Maybe he should pick up something else in place of the Math lessons he always ditched.

~*~

The next day – a Saturday, thank God – he made breakfast for all three of them, left ma's on the counter, took Mark and walked Sarah to her friend's place for a birthday party. For once, he had absolutely nothing to do, and it felt awesome. The first thing he wanted to do was to text Kurt, but it wasn't even ten yet, and Puck knew for a fact that the other boy wouldn't be up before noon.

Burying his chin into his scarf, hands in his pockets, he slowly made his way through the empty ice-slick streets, whistling Alice Cooper. His Nana's house wasn't that far, but it was well-hidden, a big, old townhouse back-to-back with a grocery shop that most people just passed by.

Mark pulled Puck up the porch stairs, nearling making him slip and break his neck, excited to see Nana just as much as his master was. She loved dogs – she usually treated him the same she did her grandchildren, spoiling him, slipping him extra food when Puck wasn't looking.

Brushing stray snow off his coat, Puck rang the doorbell. The hollow sound carried all the way outside, loud in the stillness that was Lima on Saturdays. A minute later, his Nana was looking up at him from the shadow of her hallway, brown eyes mischievous as ever, grinning.

"My boy!" she exclaimed. "Took you long enough!" she waved him in, spidery arms wrapping around his middle and squeezing tight, the way she always did. Mark barked, feeling overlooked, and Nana bent down to give him a thorough scratching. The silly noises she made always made Puck laugh.

"So," she started in on him before he even took off his coat, "to what do I owe the rare pleasure of my own grandson visiting?"

Puck finally got out of his winter clothes, unclipped Mark's leash, then gave her a kiss on the cheek. "Sorry, Nana. I was busy."

She squinted, crossing her arms on her chest, and tilted her head in her patented inquisitive stance. "Does busy involve not eating properly?"

"I didn't lose any weight," Puck rolled his eyes.

"I will be the judge of that. Kitchen, now," she commanded. Puck, feeling the familiar warmth of the house trickle deep into his bones, smiled and followed. Nana's cooking was the best, especially since she didn't eat kosher all that often. "We're bad Jews," she'd smile at him while making pulled pork sandwiches, and "Don't tell your mom". As if he ever would.

The minute he crossed the kitchen threshold, his nose tingled, recognizing the aroma.

"Pancakes? Really?"

"Had a feeling you'd come," Nana gave him a mysterious smile, already sliding a short stack drowned in syrup in front of him. She filled her mug with coffee and sat opposite him, watching him dig in – it was a habit nobody could ever talk her out of.

"Now, tell me what's got you so busy you can't even pay me a visit," she said, no-nonsense.

Puck wasn't really sure what to say. 'I have a new friend' sounded like he was five.

"Met someone," he replied over a mouthful of food, and it took him a second to realize what he just made it sound like.

It was too late, of course – Nana was already leaning forward, sharp smile in place. "Really?"

Puck sighed. "It's not—like that. We're friends. He's a guy."

"Never thought that would be a problem for you," she said, unimpressed, and Puck almost choked. "Why haven't I met him yet?"

"Nana, you don't know all my friends."

"Course I do," she sipped on her coffee, smiling at Mark who had finally returned from his customary tour around the house. "Finn, Mike, Matt, David and that poor deluded girl, what's her name—Santana?"

Puck opened his mouth.

"And before you tell me that's not all of them, I'm pretty sure it is. Sounds like you've spent a lot of time with this young man, so why haven't I met him yet?"

Okay, so Puck's Nana was actually a nosy busybody. He loved her all the same – at least she gave a crap.

"He's kinda nervous about meeting new people," he tried, hating how he sounded. Kurt wasn't a nervous wreck, or a wimp, but Puck could imagine that asking him to meet Nana wouldn't go very well.

To Puck's surprise, Nana's face suddenly lit up, like she came to a revelation she wasn't about to share. Her features softened, and she gave him a soft smile.

"How come?"

"He's—um. It's not really mine to tell."

Nana raised an eyebrow, silently putting her mug back on the table. "I'm not going to ask twice."

"I can't!" he frowned; Kurt didn't make him promise it was a secret or anything like that, but it still felt wrong, saying something so personal, even if it was to his closest family member. Kurt's never met her.

"Are you ashamed?" she asked. There was a sharp pang in Puck's chest; he frowned.

"No!"

"You sure?"

"Nana, I can't tell you, okay? I can talk to him about meeting you, and if he wants to, he'll tell you himself. It's personal."

She went from curious to concerned in under a second. "Is something wrong with him?"

Puck sighed and shook his head, pushing his plate away. "No, there's nothing wrong. He's not...like other people."

"In a good way?" she prompted, gently, smiling and catching his eyes. She was looking at him the way she used to whenever he scraped a knee as a kid.

"Yeah," he smiled back, "definitely in a good way."

"Okay, then. You talk to him. I'll make hot chocolate," she winked, and that was that. They spent the rest of the morning catching up, talking about how Sarah is doing in school and avoiding the topic of Puck's ma, as usual. Nana walked him home, even though he insisted she should have stayed in where it's warm; she cuffed him upside the head, made him help her down the porch stairs and wrestled him for the leash when Mark sat at her feet and whined pitifully.

They said goodbye at his front door, Puck made her promise to be careful, and she was gone with a kiss on his forehead. He barely realized how cold it was.

~*~

So, you see, the thing about sign language? It was fucking difficult. Or maybe it was made for people who were smarter than Puck.

He'd started with the alphabet, pointedly ignoring the bald guy signing like his hands were on fire. Easy enough, right? Wrong. Admittedly, it was fine until O, even if Puck felt like an idiot, sitting in front of the computer playing with his fingers. Then he got to P, and everything went to hell.

He honestly had no idea how were people supposed to actually learn anything from the diagrams. Most of the letters looked nothing like their written alternatives, and the difference between them was in one, maybe two fingers, conveniently tucked away so he couldn't see what to do with them.

Signing individual words seemed to be a little easier, at first. Obviously, being lazy to look for stuff himself, he'd clicked on the link that promised "First 100 basic signs". He was met with basic vocabulary – family members, places, times of day. He started from the beginning, signing "mom", "dad" (even though he might have had jerked his hand a little too high on that one in something that was totally not anger), going through "home" and "work" and "day" and "night" and on in less than an hour. He'd felt pretty good about himself – he might have smirked a little in accomplishment – but when it occurred to him to revise, as he landed on the third word in a row, all he came up with was a blank.

They were hand gestures, dammit.

Puck went through everything he'd learned again, and again, and one more time for good measure, and by the time he gave it up and went to bed, his hands and fingers were twitching nervously.

It was difficult, and he hadn't even started yet, but it would make things so much easier with Kurt, and he wasn't going to give up.

~*~

When Kurt woke up the next Thursday, it was snowing outside, big, fast, brilliantly white flakes. He had to smile despite himself, the brightness resonating behind his eyelids.

Slowly but surely, Christmas was coming again. Today was Kurt's last class for two weeks – Mr Scott was leaving to visit his relatives wherever he came from, and Kurt could only be glad. Two weeks of nothing but sleeping in and eating leftovers and, if he managed to avoid his dad's suspicious looks for how much he was spending, texting with Noah. Hannukah had already started, and while Noah kept repeating that his mom didn't mind him being out in the afternoon, as long as he came home for dinner, Kurt felt bad asking him to. He couldn't expect Noah to drop everything and come meet him just because he didn't want to be alone.

Sighing, he got out of bed, stumbling to the bathroom, and splashed some cold water on his face to wake up. It got better after he took a shower and got dressed, but he still felt the chill of the winter morning under his clothes when he padded upstairs to get breakfast.

Unexpectedly, the house seemed to be empty. Kurt's dad was putting in extra shifts, fixing up cars before people drove across the country for a Christmas with relatives, but Maddie had a habit of waking up late, even more so on days before her holiday started. Sometimes, she didn't go to school at all. Still, when he walked into the kitchen, Kurt instinctively knew from the characteristic stillness that only came with an empty house that he was alone.

Just as he was reaching for a box of cereal from an overhead cupboard, he felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. As expected, it was a text from Noah, the sentence stop being a party pooper and meet me at three :) immediately putting a smile on his face. He had something to look forward to again, and when he poured himself coffee, for once, he didn't care that six sugar cubes was way too much.

Probably thanks to the magic of the Christmas spirit, Mr Scott was't looking like he sucked on a lemon for a change, signing his sentences properly, if a little fast. Thanks to that, Kurt didn't have to scramble to catch every other word. Their customary five hours went by surprisingly quick. Kurt even bit his tongue and wished his teacher a happy Christmas with a strained smile before all but shoving him out of the door. It was two o'clock, and he still had to get ready.

Naturally, he spotted Noah before he even set foot in the park, the other boy's black coat standing out stark against the blindingly white snow. Kurt waved, grinning, and carefully made his way across the road.

How was school? Puck immediately thrust the notebook at him, smiling like a lunatic.

Kurt shrugged, then scrawled OK underneath. Mostly, he was just glad it was over for a while.

Puck nodded, smiling at Kurt in a way that meant he understood, and in a split second, the crazy gleam was back in his eyes again. He grabbed the notebook – Hey, watch this.

Kurt raised a sarcastic eyebrow. Puck answered with a shake of his head, then he held up a finger, as if to say wait for it.

Immediately after that, his hands started moving, slowly but surely, and Kurt's brain automatically sorted them out. I – the pointing finger said, learn – picking something up from his palm and raising it to his forehead, A-S-L in sure, firm-fisted letters. Then, Noah was looking at him expectantly, and it took Kurt a minute to catch up to what he just saw. Sure, he was used to seeing sign language – if mostly in the mirror or online – but not on anyone he knew. Not on Noah.

He started learning that because of me. The thought slammed into him like a freight train, and he felt the familiar prickling behind his eyes, a tug in his chest. His lips curled into a smile on their own. He felt...happy. So much happier than he could ever remember being – the feeling was rising inside him like a tide, washing away all sadness and doubt and every last negative thought he'd ever had. The giddy excitement, the rush, the flush that burned his cheeks, it was all that was left.

Nobody had ever started learning ASL just for him. His mom knew it before he was born, studied it in college, and just perfected it a little when it was time to teach him. Kurt could remember his dad trying, too; rough fingers shaping letters, smiling at his wife when he failed and had to do it all over again. He'd stopped trying, eventually, after mom died and the light died in his eyes. As for Maddie – well, Kurt had tried. He got her far enough to know how to spell her name, to ask him basic questions, but then kindergarten came along, and she found out nobody else understood her when she'd tried to show them what her big brother taught her. They grew apart, to the point they were at now, cold indifference, and Kurt was sure she'd forgotten all about how he used to correct all her shaky E's.

But now, there was someone else – someone so wonderful Kurt could still barely comprehend it – making the effort of learning just to talk to him. It was – impossible. Amazing. Incredible.

Before Kurt knew it, his feet were moving in the shallow snow, running, running in the one direction that mattered – towards Noah. Smile still firmly on his face, Kurt didn't hesitate, didn't even stop to think about it as he wrapped his arms around the other boy, clinging on to his shoulders, all his senses immediately hit with the closeness – the smell, the feel of muscle under his hands.

He felt Noah exhale into his hair, a small chuckle rumble all the way through him. It had been so long since Kurt had touched another person like this – years, maybe even all the time since he'd last hugged his mother. Kurt didn't like touching people. He'd never quite mastered reading what they thought and felt just from their eyes.

Kurt held on. He felt Noah's arm wrap around his shoulders, the second one holding on to the small of his back, trying to balance them and save them from ending up in the snow. Right now, Kurt really wouldn't care; not even about his wool coat getting wet.

Time seemed to slow down. Every breath Kurt took felt longer than usual, just standing there, hugging his favorite person in the entire world. To Noah's credit, it didn't seem like he minded. He stood still and strong, letting Kurt hold on, enveloping him in his warmth, breathing slow and hot into his hair.

More than ever, Kurt wished he knew how to speak, knew how the words he was supposed to say sounded, just to show Noah that he wanted to give back anything he could. He didn't know how, of course, but maybe one day.

When he finally let go, the sudden rush of cold air hit him like a slap in the face. It had been warm in Noah's arms, but now the winter was slowly crawling back into him to fill every empty space and chill him to the bone. Noah was smiling at him, brilliant grin as bright as the snow all around them.

Kurt touched his gloved hand to his mouth, letting it drop forward in a thank you, and he knew Noah understood just by the look on his face. The other boy tilted his head towards the snowy pathway, silently asking shall we? with that familiar, nonchalant grin, and Kurt could honestly say there wasn't anything in the world he'd rather be doing.

Late that night, sky colored a faint, murky orange in anticipation of snow, Kurt lay in his bed doing absolutely nothing but happily staring at his ceiling. Earlier in the day, he'd realized something, and didn't quite have an idea of what to do with it.

It was a simple thing, really: he had a friend. Of course, he'd known that before, but this time, after spending the afternoon teaching Noah tricks to make some of the signs easier and feeling so happy he could honestly float off the sidewalk, it was a fact that ran deeper than his skin, into his very core, and filled him with so much emotion it got a little hard to breathe.

He'd always known what friends meant; technically. Maddie had loads of them, people she talked to and laughed with and rarely brought around the house, because she was ashamed of him. Dad had them, too, and sometimes, when they weren't too exhausted from working at the shop, he'd invite them over, stomping of so many pairs of boots Kurt usually lost count. His mom used to have friends, too – everybody loved her. It was Kurt who was destined to be alone forever, because the minds of other people were too small to make space for a different kind of person, for him, for the deaf kid.

Noah was different, so much diffferent. He was accepting, and kind, and never acted like he thought Kurt was a burden, or like he had to be nice to him because he was a backwards freak. Noah knew Kurt was smart, and was just as smart himself; he knew how to make Kurt laugh and how to make him feel better when he was down. He refused to let Kurt read his lips, because he didn't want to make him feel inferior. He wasn't afraid to open up, tell Kurt about how desperately he wanted out of the role he'd carved out for himself in school, how he wished Nana would accept the money he offered her, instead of inisisting on pulling her weight alone. Noah was, all around, no exceptions, a good person; a good person who thought Kurt was worth a try and didn't run away even when he knew.

Noah had kind eyes, and big hands that always playfully stole the nootebook from Kurt, but still made him feel safe. He was the best thing in Kurt's life, like a beacon in the middle of a sea, and he saved him every day just by existing.

So yes, friendship was something that ran deeper that Kurt could have ever imagined. It came out of the blue, lightning-fast, and unlike other unexpected things in Kurt's life, he was not afraid of it at all.

~*~

Christmas came and went - weird and uncomfortable, just as it always was – and Madison couldn't wait to get out of the fucking house. It was bad enough that she had to ask her dad to drive her places until she was sixteen – spending a whole week, all day, every day, with him pretty much equaled torture. Not to mention her brother – her skin crawled whenever they were in the same room. He was the most silent person she'd ever met, which probably made sense, but he brought it to a whole new level. He moved like a ghost, she didn't see or hear him until she turned around and he was standing right behind her. There was something that rebelled in her when she called him a freak in her mind, but that was still exactly what he was. He talked with his hands, trying to tell her something she didn't have an interest in, smiled at her every morning before she left for school and sent shivers down her back. She couldn't remember what he was like when she was a kid; couldn't imagine how she didn't cry and kick and scream every time he even came close.

And now, ever since September, he got even scarier, to the point where she turned around and went back to her room if she so much as saw a flash of his ridiculous clothes. He used to be...well, emo before. He'd wake up, pour his coffee like a mummy, read the newspaper completely without a facial expression. He'd only smile when he "told" her something, look at her with those eyes, so blue they felt like ice on her skin, and something would flash in them for a moment before they turned back into stone.

Now, he practically skipped up the stairs every morning. He smiled even if it was still dark and snowing outside, made breakfast for all of them (she never took any, couldn't eat that many carbs anyway) and sat at the kitchen table, almost bouncing in place. He beamed at her every day when she came back from school, cooked lunch, cooked dinner, and, what was most disturbing, he'd dissapear for hours at a time, coming back practically radiating with happiness. It was unnerving; unnatural, to see him feel something after all those years.

She'd almost asked her dad, once, when they were eating and her brother was looking at his plate. He wouldn't hear it, and what he doesn't hear, doesn't hurt him.

In the end, she didn't, looking at her dad's hunched shoulders and tired eyes, and kept it to herself instead. And then, before she could muster up enough courage to ask again, she figured it out herself, and it surprised her way too much.

Kurt had a...well, she didn't know what he was. It was a guy, a jock, the kind girls her age swooned over, football jersey and all. She had to admit he was pretty hot – didn't catch the color of his eyes, but he was tall, dark and muscular, with a mohawk that gave him just the right edge. Shortly, someone who had absolutely no business hanging around with her bore of a brother.

But when she saw them, accidentally, that one time Cindy cancelled their afternoon plans in the mall and she came home early...well, she caught them in a scene that seemed almost surreal. Her brother was laughing freely, eyes crinkled and mouth open wide, even though no sound was coming out. The other guy was grinning, one arm around Kurt's shoulders – touching him! – writing something down into a thick, spiral-bound notebook on the coffee table. Madison startled as her brother looked at it, then hit the other boy in the arm, hard, before burying his head in mystery guy's shoulder. It seemed so alien, the way they were familiar, comfortable around each other – or mostly Kurt, of course.

Madison couldn't recall a day in her life when she'd seen her brother touch someone, or even sit that close to someone, nevermind let them touch him, or ruffle his preciously styled hair. It was surreal; she had no idea what was happening, and she tiptoed into her room, leaving them alone.

It was the next time she saw them that made another emotion rise in her out of nowhere: anger. She didn't know why, but when she spotted them again, standing outside on the front porch, it shattered all the fragile hopes that somehow, what she saw was a one-time thing - some unbelievable miracle that wouldn't happen again.

They were standing close again, both grinning, doing something she could only assume was sign language with their hands. She almost stepped out from behind the corner, walked right up to them to see what they would do, but then their hands dropped and they were hugging. It wasn't a manly hug, either, the kind that all teenage boys already did with a lot of discomfort. Kurt and the other guy were pressed against each other, Kurt's arms around the stranger's neck, head buried in his shoulder, while the jock wound his arms around Kurt's waist, slow, tight. They both looked completely comfortable, standing in each other's arms in broad daylight, and that's when red tinged Madison's vison.

This guy was running his hands over her brother's back. He was obviously dangerous, probably a bully, and her deaf brother apparently trusted him way beyond reason. There was also the way they seemed to just fall into each other, slot together seamlessly like pieces of a puzzle, that made her chest burn, made her want to run over there and rip them apart. She didn't do anything. She stood, watched, waited, and ignored Kurt when she finally got back in the house.

That night, instead of going out, she waited silently in the living room, sitting in the dark. When she finally heard the front door open, she shot up, ignoring the nervous sweat on her palms.

Her dad looked exhausted when he raised his head in the hallway lights, but she knew this couldn't wait.

"Dad, I gotta talk to you."

~*~

As soon as Kurt woke up in the morning, he knew something was wrong; he could feel it. Even downstairs in his room, where his family rarely ever stepped a foot, the air was thick with tension, and he immediately sat up in his bed, trying to figure out what was wrong. Unsurprisingly, he drew a blank.

He stood up apprehensively, shook off the last remnants of sleep and took a long shower, but by the time he was pacing around his room in circles, dressed, for a good twenty minutes, he knew he couldn't put it off any longer. He slowly walked up the stairs, mentally building up barriers against whatever it was that his father wanted to talk about this time. It was the only thing he could do; not like he had words to interrupt him.

When Kurt finally stopped in the kitchen doorway, still somehow trying to dodge the inevitable, he came face to face with his dad, sitting at the table and morosely staring out of the window.

Kurt knocked twice on the doorframe, like his mom taught him to when he wanted to get her attention, and walked through the kitchen to sit down. Burt had already turned around, facing him, and he had on an expression that Kurt hadn't seen in a very long time, but still could identify – anger, an underlying confusion, trying to appear more menacing than he actually was.

"Kurt," he said – Kurt could recognize the shape of his own name anywhere –, "I hear you've been letting someone into the house."

Kurt was focusing so hard on reading his dad's lips – it's been so long since he'd only had that to rely on – that for a second, he completely missed the actual meaning of the sentence. He was just grabbing for a notepad when he caught up. His eyes immediately shot to his dad's, and he knew he couldn't hide his panic. Hands shaking, his handwriting came out all wobbly when he asked What do you mean?

Burt gave him his patented 'don't bullshit me' frown. "You're talking to some—" he went to wipe his hand over his mouth before he realized, "some punk with a mohawk. I want you to stop being stupid."

Kurt...stared. And stared, and he couldn't believe the sting of tears that sprung up into the corners of his eyes. He was used to his dad more or less ignoring him, or treating him like a toddler, but he'd never called him that. And, from what he was saying, he wanted Kurt to stop inviting Noah over, probably stop seeing him altogether. Just like that, no questions asked, and Kurt could tell by his dad's expression that he expected him to just bow his head and walk away, like an obedient dog.

A long forgotten rage rose in Kurt. Not this time. He'd changed over the past months; became so much happier, so much more content, got hope for a different future than being stuck in small-minded Lima. It was his dad's fault he hadn't noticed, hadn't realized that this time, making Kurt do something would be harder than just giving an order.

Suppressing his nerves and gripping the pen tight, it only took Kurt four deep, black lines to spell a NO. Maybe the caps were a little over-dramatic, but he couldn't find it in himself to care.

Burt reacted exactly the way Kurt had thought he would – half-rising from his chair, ears reddening, a hand slamming on the table: "What?!"

Kurt fought to stay calm. More than ever, he wished he could at least use his voice to scream back and match his dad in volume, if not eloquency, but as it was, he could only sit stubbornly and talk through his pen.

I don't know what you want me to do, but I won't do it.

"I want you to stop seeing that guy! He's bad news," Burt sat back on his chair, but his hand stayed, dangerously tense, in the middle of the table.

Kurt frowned. You don't know anything about him.

"I know he's probably just playing you because of a prank, or something. That's what guys like him do. I know, I was exactly the same when I was his age."

Kurt underlined his last line. Burt scowled.

"I don't need to know anything about him. I can tell."

Shaking his head, Kurt gave a sad smile, anger dissipating. He suddenly knew where this was going.

Because he's a jock and he's friends with me.

Kurt saw the flash of guilt on his father's face, immediately covered up by indifferent self-righteousness. That, he was used to. Burt trying and failing to be a parent for the first time in nine years was the more surprising part.

"Because he's no good for you," Burt retaliated, but the twitch of his jaw, the tightening of his throat – all things Kurt could only see thanks to years of practice – said something different.

He's the best thing that ever happened to me, Kurt wrote, not caring at all about the conclusions his dad could draw, or about how he sounded like a twelve-year-old girl. He's nice to me, and he accepts me the way I am. When you learn how to do that, you'll get a right to criticize.

His father's eyes flashed with hurt, but Kurt couldn't really find it in himself to care. He'd been quiet for too long, anyway. He picked up the pen again – It's a little too late to start caring, Dad. Not waiting to see his father's reaction, he stood up, hand shaking, and walked downstairs on unsteady legs. He grabbed his phone before he even sat down.

Minutes later, ignoring the imposing figure of his father in the kitchen doorway, he was putting on his coat and running outside, door slamming behind him. It was a cold, bleak day, sky grey, but Kurt ran, all the way to the park, chest tight, reckless, barely looking out for cars in the snow that was slowly starting to fall.

Amazingly enough, when he got there, Noah was already pacing nervously, chewing on his nails, and just the sight of him grounded Kurt and calmed him down so much he wanted to sob with relief. The second Noah spotted him, he turned around, opening his mouth to say something before he caught himself.

Instead of saying anything, he took three big steps until he was standing in front of Kurt and seemed to be content to just ask the question with his eyes, the concern in them almost palpable. He took Kurt's shoulders in his hands, moving his fingers in soft circles, and even through all the layers Kurt was wearing, the warmth seemed to soak right into his skin. Something came loose where the tightness was just seconds ago, like a flood breaking, and Kurt could barely raise his hand to his forehead to sign father and catch Puck's understanding look before he felt tears push their way out of his eyes and just reached out, hoping against hope that—

Noah caught him, safe and snug, wrapping his arms tight around Kurt's back. Kurt tried desperately to control his breathing, to stop the rising wave of soundless sobs that was pushing its way out of his lungs, but all he could do was clutch his fingers in Noah's coat and hold on. The tears came like a tide, wiping out any conscious thought, and the only constant, the only point Kurt could hold on to was Noah's warm breath in his hair, comforting in a way that said it's going to be okay. He didn't pull away for a long time, until it started getting dark and the snow was thick enough to obscure his vision.

Even then, they didn't write – neither of them brought a notebook, anyway – or sign, and Noah wound his arm around Kurt's shoulders and walked him home, slow and steady. The outside world could bang on Kurt's door as much as it wanted, but as long as this lasted, it wasn't getting in.

~*~

Burt flinched with the deafening (and wasn't that sickening irony) sound of his son slamming the door closed. He didn't know what to think, or feel, or do. This was what it came to, and it was all his damn fault.

He really didn't know when had he become a shitty parent – not only to his son, but to his daughter, too. When Elizabeth had died, he'd promised to himself he'd keep them safe, and happy, and loved. And then he lost himself somewhere along the way.

Maddie was a full-blown teenager now, friends and parties and most probably illegal things, and boyfriends. Burt knew he didn't have a right to know about any of it, seeing as he'd barely told her good morning for the past nine years, but it still hurt, and he still worried. He wanted to keep her safe, to tell her to watch out for herself when he couldn't, but she's already learned all that.

And Kurt...Kurt was sneaking around behind his back. It wasn't like him at all, although thinking of the alternative had Burt cringing again. His son usually spent all his time in his room or in the park, and Burt knew he was alone from the miserable lines that have etched themselves permanently into his face. That was Burt's fault, too – Kurt was supposed to start special school after two years of homeschooling, but with being busy at the shop and, at some level, worrying what might happen, Burt just kept his head low and hired Mr Scott for another year. That's how they got here - Kurt was almost an adult, incredible and smart and so kind but deaf and miserable, because his father had failed him. He didn't even bother learning to sign, for God's sake. He'd never really gotten to the bottom of it, and when Elizabeth was gone so suddenly, all it did was remind him of her.

He was a selfish bastard, all right.

And the moment things have started getting better, when Kurt started smiling more, when some of the invisible weight on his shoulders had lifted – which Maddie still had to point out – the first thing Burt did was blow up, like he had any right to. His son had a friend; as his father, he should be happy for him, happy that he finally broke the curse of his disability, but all he saw when his daughter told him were images of Kurt completely devastated, curled up in his room crying, giving up on everything because someone broke his heart. And so Burt's long-lost parental instincts came back online, and he dealt with it the only way he knew how – the wrong way.

Now his son had stormed out, way too distraught to pay meticulous attention to pedestrians and cars like he always did, and if anything happened to him, Burt would never forgive himself. Kurt was probably right, anyway – it was too late to start caring.

He looked out of the window, thinking about going to the cemetery for the first time in a long time, to go talk to Elizabeth like he used to, but he knew that where he was didn't make a difference. She'd hear him everywhere, and he knew what she'd say: "Try to understand instead of being harsh, Burt. Be the father our baby boy deserves."

Although it was probably too late for that, too.

~*~

Standing in front of the old townhouse, Kurt's stomach felt like it was swimming. Even though Noah was grinning by his side, he couldn't help but think this was the worst idea ever.

Since Kurt's house wasn't really a safe zone anymore – who knew what his dad would do, after that little show – they only really had two options if they wanted to keep meeting. Freeze outside, which Kurt wasn't a big fan of, or come here, to Noah's Nana's house. Seconds from being invited in, Kurt was starting to think the first option would have been better.

He knew so much about the woman, without ever even meeting her, and techincally, he knew he shouldn't be worried – in Noah's own words, Nana was kick-ass awesome, crazy smart, the nicest person he'd ever meet, and she baked awesome cookies. On the other hand, she didn't know about Kurt – didn't know he was deaf, just that he was different. Kurt had almost zero experience with meeting new people, and from what he'd experienced, few ever reacted with a smile and a pat to his back.

Noah nudged his shoulder, making Kurt turn around automatically, and his grin softened into a soft, calming smile. Kurt felt himself relax a fraction; he breathed out, determined, and reached his hand out to knock.

Just as Puck had told him, it was less than five seconds before a small, thin, grey-haired woman was opening the door, smiling wide. The first thing Kurt noticed were her eyes, big and brown just like Noah's – they even crinkled in the corners the same way when she smiled.

Noah immediately stepped into her outstretched arms, laughing and hugging back, and the way he always talked about her suddenly made even more sense. They were so warm, so familiar with each other, and Kurt felt a little stab of jealousy for a second before she turned to him.

"Kurt," she said, or maybe asked, he couldn't really be sure. He felt panic slowly creeping up on him, the edges of his vision graying, and he just stood for a second, frozen, head bowed and hands by his sides; then he shook himself off a little, dared to look back at her, nod and smile a little. He could only hope she wouldn't notice all he really wanted to do was throw up on her slippers.

This was such a bad, bad, bad idea. He should've at least let Noah tell her, so she could refuse right away, or...something. As it was, Kurt had no idea what to do, how to communicate with her, if he should just hold up a sign that said I can't hear you (again), or tell her in some combination of ASL and just pointing his fingers so she'd understand, or if he should just run and hide.

Thankfully, or maybe unfortunately, Nana made the decision for him, stepping forward and draping thin, strong arms around his middle. Kurt let out a startled huff of breath, but hugged back, tentative hands on the small woman's shoulders. When she pulled back, there was a sharp glint in her eyes, something that reminded Kurt of a predator. She took a step back and raised her hands in front of her; before Kurt knew what was happening, she was sliding her right palm against her upturned left one, then sticking out her index fingers and bringing her hands together in a smooth, practiced nice to meet you. All Kurt's breath left his lungs.

Before he could make up his mind, count all the arguments why this was still a bad idea, he was drawing circles in the air with his index fingers, the pointing at her tentatively, not quite sure about sticking his hands in her personal space; do you sign?.

She grinned, immediately transforming into a little schoolgirl, and brought her fist up to sign a fierce yes. Kurt was barely aware of the answering smile stretching his lips; he looked up to find Noah, just out of habit, and was met with the other boy looking at him in something like wonder, eyes round and soft and smiling. He motioned his head to the inside of the house just as Nana tugged on Kurt's sleeve and walked inside.

Feeling like something heavy smacked him over the head, Kurt dazedly followed. Noah squeezed his shoulder in the doorway, small grin still in place, and in a rush of happiness, Kurt brought his own hand up to cover his. They both froze for a second as time slowed down, the low hallway light painting shadows on Noah's face.

Kurt had a feeling something was supposed to happen, the air thickening imperceptibly, but in a second, Noah's hand dropped away and he waved at Kurt to follow. The room they were headed to turned out to be the kitchen, and before he even crossed the threshold, the smell of hot chocolate hit Kurt's nostrils and made his mouth water. There were three steaming mugs already on the table, and Nana was putting a tray of cookies into the oven. It was all so natural, so homey; Kurt would forever deny his eyes watered just a little bit.

Noah sat down and motioned to the empty seat next to him. Kurt happily fell into the chair, watching the old woman puttering around the kitchen, wiping the flour-dusted counter, grabbing a bag of marshmallows from a cupboard, then finally sitting down. The soft smile she was wearing never left her face.

Nana caught Kurt's eyes and raised her hands to sign something, but Noah interrupted her, throwing a well-worn notebook on the table. When Kurt looked at him, he was – well, pouting would be the right word, but Noah Puckerman wouldn't be caught dead with a pout. He might call it a manly display of distress.

Noah opened the notebook and pulled a pen out of his hoodie pocket. Until one of you teaches me how to sign properly, we're writing.

You know how to sign, Kurt wrote underneath, fondly rolling his eyes.

Yeah, about twenty words, Noah replied, then stopped and looked at his grandmother. How come you speak ASL, anyway? He pushed the notebook towards her.

Nana smiled with an air of mystery. I've been alive for 69 years, boy. You'd think I've met a few deaf people.

Kurt knew, just knew there was more to the story, but despite the newly found affection he already had for the woman, he didn't feel entirely comfortable prodding. Next to him, Noah laughed with a rumble.

It should have been incredibly awkward, sitting there, sipping hot chocolate and passing a notebook back and forth. After all, there were two hearing people at the table, only indulging Kurt by not speaking a word aloud. But, magically, neither of them seemed to think it was the least bit strange.

When Nana got the glint in her eyes again, and passed them the notebook with a new page saying So, how did you two even meet? on the top, Kurt was certain he didn't imagine Noah's reddening ears. He grinned and grabbed the pen. That's actually a very interesting story.

While Noah was writing, all the while rolling his eyes, Nana pulled the cookies out of the oven and put them in the middle of the table, delicious smell making Kurt reach out for one even though he knew they were still hot.

When Kurt remembered his earlier nerves, standing on the front porch, it felt like a lifetime ago. He would never have imagined someone else besides Noah accepting him so immediately, so freely, without batting an eyelash. For one, it made him feel more melancholy than he would have liked. He couldn't even remember the last time he'd felt like this in his own home – welcome and loved, offered sweets that someone else made for him. They were small things, something most people probably didn't even have to think about; to Kurt, they meant the world. More than ever, he wished he knew how to fix what was happening at home.

But on the other hand, as they smiled and joked and spent one of the most pleasant afternoons Kurt's had in a long time, he felt overwhelmingly happy. Nana's reaction to him had filled him with even more hope – hope that somewhere out there, there were other people like Noah and his grandmother, with their minds and hearts open even to people like Kurt. It gave him hope for the future – for a place that he still didn't know, but it already felt like paradise.

~*~

Madison couldn't believe her eyes when she spotted her brother walking home, side by side with the guy.

It wasn't a particularly nice day – cloudy, cold, windy, gathering for a snowstorm. She'd techincally broken up with Eric, even though they didn't really date in the first place, and for once, she wasn't feeling like spending the Saturday out, so she'd stayed home. The whole house was quiet, but it was no secret that her brother barely made any noise; she'd assumed he was just downstairs in his room.

Except, apparently, she was wrong. Kurt and the jock were walking slowly down the street towards the house, and she could see them passing a notebook and laughing even from behind the living room window.

Madison felt the anger bubble up again. She'd talked to her father – told her how the jock guy was nothing but trouble, what with the mohawk and the jersey and the generall cockiness and the way he carried himself. Dad should have done something about it – if she hung around with a guy like that in secret, she'd probably be grounded for life.

She retreated a little further into the shadows of the living room as they got closer. Kurt suddenly stopped just a few steps from their driveway, face changing, clouding over, and wrote something in the stupid notebook of theirs. The jock nodded, smiling, and then they hugged again, exactly the same way they did the first time she'd seen them – arms tight around each other, pressed together head to toe, fitting and melting around each other. Madison fought the desire to bang on the window and make them stop.

When they finally, finally let go, they smiled at each other again like teenage girls with a crush. It made her feel sick.

She heard Kurt's keys rattling outside the front door. Seconds later, her brother walked in, fighting to shut the door against the wind blowing from outside and shaking off stray snowflakes at the same time. He was still grinning a little, untying his shoes, tucking the notebook under his arm, walking downstairs. He didn't notice her at all.

Before she could change her mind, Madison grabbed her coat and slipped her feet into her dad's oversized shoes. She threw the door open and ran out into the wind, silently praying it wouldn't start snowing just yet.

Just as she'd expected, she caught the jock just as he was rounding the corner. He must have heard her running and stopped; she could see his shoulders tensing.

"Relax," she sniped, in a tone that said he should do anything but.

He obviously hadn't been expecting a girl, if his raised eyebrows when he finally turned around were any indication. "Who are you?" he asked, and Madison blinked in surprise. She'd expected him to put on some kind of dangerous voice, or maybe try to intimidate her somehow to get her to leave him alone.

"What do you want with my brother?" she decided to cut straight to the chase.

"What?"

Madison rolled her eyes. "Kurt. What do you want with him?"

She could see the wheels in his head turning as he took a few steps closer, until she had to look up to see his face. Damn, he was tall.

"You're Maddie?" he asked, finally. The old nickname made her cringe.

"Madison," she told him in her best no-nonsense voice, trying to sound as adult as she could manage.

"Puck," he waved sarcastically. "Now, what the hell are you talking about?"

"Look, I know he's probably easy prey or whatever, but, just...leave him alone. I can get you money, or whatever's in it for you. Stop playing him."

The jock – Puck, and what the hell kind of a name was that, anyway? – scowled, his eyes immediately darkening in anger. Madison involuntarily took a step back.

"Why won't you just leave him alone? Both of you?"

"Both of us?"

"Your dad and his pretentious little speech about how I was trouble. I'm gonna go ahead and say that's your doing, too."

Dad had talked to Kurt. Well, that was something. She crossed her arms tighter, trying to appear menacing and ward off the cold at the same time.

"We just want what's best for him."

"Oh really. Like, I don't know, treating him like trash for years? Is that your idea of good?"

"We—I don't—"

Puck took one more step, invading her personal space. He was downright scary now, eyes blazing, fists clenching by his sides. "He basically raised you. He played with you, and made you food, and put you to bed, while your damned father was off wallowing. He wishes you a good day every morning, and he worries when you're out late, and—" he took a breath to steady his voice, "it hurts him. Every single time we talk, he mentions you and how he wishes he could have his little sister back, and all you do is ignore him over and over. You don't get to tell me to stop playing him."

Madison closed her eyes, willing herself not to cry. She'd grown out of that a long time ago; just because someone was shouting at her, she didn't need to have a break down in the middle of the street.

"I don't believe you," she said, and cringed at how weak her voice was.

Puck threw his arms up in the air. "Whatever. Why do you even care?"

"I don't know."

"Yeah. Or you just wanted to fit in and be like all the other kids, and a deaf brother didn't fit into that picture. And now you're feeling sorry, but you're too much of a coward to say it."

Madison's eyes snapped up to his face, which was now more or less resigned, anger gone. She shook her head. "That's not true."

"Yeah," he sighed, "right. Well, in case you haven't noticed, your brother can't hear. There's nothing wrong with his mind, and he's not a child. He can take care of himself. I'm not going to leave him alone, because thanks to you, I'm the only friend he has."

Now was Madison's time to get angry; the now-familiar red bled into the edge of her vision as she shoved at Puck's chest. "You're using him! You made a bet with your sick little friends, or you think he's a pretty piece of ass—"

"Shut up!" he interrupted, now shouting too, a slight tinge of hysteria coloring his voice. "Shut up, and stop hiding your head in the damn sand. He'd forgive you anything."

And then he was gone – turning around and running off in the opposite direction. For a second, Madison thought he was going to see Kurt again, but he flew past their house, turned left and disappeared.

She stood shaking on the street corner for another twenty minutes before she forced herself to move.

~*~

Puck ran and ran, lungs burning, and let the sharp wind in his face wipe out his mind. He was supposed to be home to cook dinner, but he couldn't. He knew the questions his mother would immediately ask if he showed up upset, how she'd resignedly shake her head and automatically call the school to apologize; he knew that Sarah would be worried and hanging on to his waist until he swore he was okay at least ten times. He couldn't, wouldn't deal with that – his sister was a smart girl, she knew how to pop leftovers into the microwave.

Rounding the corner, he released one last exhausted breath and slowed down. The house was still there, looking the same way it did less than an hour ago when they left. Puck hesitated for a while; maybe he shouldn't.

Thinking about it, it really wasn't anything Nana could help with, was it? He didn't know how to explain that just one sentence from Kurt's little sister had him panicking and literally running away; didn't know how to put his feelings into words.

Once again, Nana decided for him, opening the door and frowning at him across the street. She must have seen him from the window.

"Noah!" she shouted. "Did you forget something?"

Shoulders sagging, Puck sighed and walked all the way to the porch. As soon as he looked up, he was certain she knew.

"Did something happen?" her voice softened, and she waved him in, pulling on his shoulder when he stood still. Tired, he gave in.

"I...I honestly don't know, Nana."

She frowned again, feeling his forehead (she always did it, "just in case," she said) and pushing him into the living room onto the sofa. She cautiously sat next to him and took his hand – her universal calming gesture. Puck could remember it back from when he was three and lost his favorite action figure in the park.

"Come on, spill," she said, not her usual firm tone.

"It's...I, um, ran into Kurt's sister."

"Kurt's sister?"

Puck nodded. "Maddie. Or, well, she actually ran after me."

A puzzled frown settled on Nana's face. "Why?"

"She thinks—she thinks I'm using Kurt. So does his dad."

Nana snorted.

"What?" Puck asked, offended. His grandmother's face immediately softened, and she brought a hand up to his cheek.

"Noah, sweetheart. Anybody with eyes knows that's not true," she said it with absolute conviction, and the tension knotting Puck's muscles loosened a little.

"That's not the only thing bothering you."

Guess grandmother really does know best. "Yeah, but...it's nothing, Nana, really."

"Noah. You know you can talk to me about anything."

"ShethinksIwanttosleepwithhim," Puck exhaled, the air leaving his lungs in a panicked rush.

"Excuse me?"

"She...she thinks I hang out with Kurt because I want to sleep with him."

There. The single most mortifying sentence he'd ever said to Nana. Thankfully, just like he knew she would, she didn't miss a beat.

"Well, do you?"

"Nana."

"What? If you're expecting me to help you, you need to give me something to work with."

Puck shook his head, free hand picking on a loose seam of his jeans. "I don't."

He wasn't looking at her, but the raised eyebrows were audible in her voice. "Okay."

"I'm just...she's talking about him like that's the only good he could ever be to someone, you know? To win a bet, or to..." he waved his hand in the air.

"But you know he's not, right?"

"Right."

"Well then, you don't have to be this upset."

Puck sighed. He was very well aware of that, but he still couldn't stop feeling like he should be able to do something, to help Kurt out of the misery that was his family. Puck's own was probably broken way beyond repair, but that didn't mean others didn't still have it in them.

"I just...they care about him, Nana. I mean, they try to keep him away from danger, which he doesn't need, but they still care. Why...why are they being stupid?" he turned to her, aware he souded like he was five; Nana had always been the one with the answers.

"Oh, Noah," understanding dawned in her eyes. "You can't save everyone. Sometimes, they have to clean up their own messes."

Puck exhaled. "Yeah, I guess. I just want to help him. He doesn't deserve this."

Nana smiled one of her trademark smiles – like she knew something he didn't – and stroked the back of his hand with her thumb. "You're a good boy, Noah."

He smiled back. "You got any hot chocolate left over?"

She did. They sat on the couch with her giant mugs and a new bag of marshmallows, watching Iron Man until it was dark out. Puck had calmed down some – that was just the effect of Nana's presence and the old, familiar house - and he succesfully managed to ignore the tiny speck of something that was still lodged in his chest, way too close to the surface.

When he was leaving, Nana hugged him and gave him a kiss on the forehead. They exchanged smiles, quietly promising to keep each other's secrets as always. Then she stretched up, held a hand on his shoulder, and whispered into his ear.

"You know, maybe you should look into your feelings."

She winked, and then she was gone. Puck stood on the porch for five more minutes, fighting with himself – he knew what she meant, but he didn't want to know. What he wanted was to rewind the past few hours, erase everything that's happened since they left Nana's for the first time, and not feel like this.

He took off at a run again, cold viciously lashing his face, but it didn't succeed at erasing his thoughts this time around. His mind was still reeling, turning in circles, and he knew it was only a question of time before ignorance stopped working.

~*~

When Puck finally closed the door of his room behind him – after apologizing to Sarah, putting her to bed and reading her a story – all he wanted to do was crawl under a rock and sleep. Unfortunately, his computer had different ideas – a chat window was bobbing insistently on the screen, telling him he had ten new messages. He sighed, sent his bed a longing look, and sat down; as it turned out, all ten messages were from Kurt, everything from Noah? to I need to talk to you to Where the hell are you?. It was only then that it occurred to Puck to check his phone – sure enough, five new texts.

He immediately felt bad. I'm here, sorry, he typed hastily, and not even a minute later, he had an incoming video call.

He was prepared for a distraught Kurt on the other end, frowning or watching him with thoughtful eyes, trying to figure Puck out – which is why Kurt's beaming smile took him completely by surprise. Puck waved, unsure and just a little bit freaked out.

Hi! Kurt waved a paper back, then: What did you do?

Puck frowned, scrambling for a notebook and a pen. What do you mean?

With Madison, Kurt rolled his eyes.

Puck froze. How did Kurt know? And why the hell was he smiling about it?

Nothing? he wrote, worrying his bottom lip. Kurt liften an unimpressed eyebrow.

All right, we talked. How do you know about it?

Kurt grinned again, so wide it looked it would split his face in half. His letters were big and loopy with excitement when he lifted the paper back up.

She apologized, it said, and Puck felt hope slam into him, so strong he had to wait to catch his breath for a second.

That's awesome! he answered, finally grinning back in earnest.

I know...she came in crying, and she said she didn't realize, and I just...you know?

I know, Puck wrote. He felt the thing in his chest he'd tried so hard to ignore coming loose, but he refused to pay it any attention. So, what happens now?

Kurt shook his head. I don't know. It hurts just as much as it did yesterday, but I just want her back. Is that weird?

Puck smiled. He thought of his mother coming home one day, eyes open, to see the way he'd changed; how he tried to be a better son, a better brother, a better person. How being around Kurt helped tame him and bring his grades up, how much more free and light he felt these days. He tried to imagine himself rejecting her apology just because she was too late, and, just as he'd thought, he couldn't. He shook his head.

Nothing weird about that.

Kurt's smile fell a little, and he nodded. Puck saw the slight tremor of his lips and knew what was coming before Kurt blinked and bowed his head, hair sliding down to shadow his face. Puck almost knocked on his screen to get Kurt's attention, and it took him a minute to realize there was no way he could make Kurt raise his head, just to tell him it was all right, eveything was going to be okay. For a moment, he hated not being right there, where he could touch and pull Kurt in, bury his face in his hair to comfort not only Kurt, but himself, too.

When Kurt's shoulders started shaking, Puck finally lost it. He let the last remnants of his desperate denial fall off, and the force of the feeling made him close his eyes in something akin to pain. He felt it running through his whole body, the exhilariation, the headiness, the need to be there for Kurt while he cried, curled in on himself on the screen.

It wasn't like he hadn't felt it before – the urge to take Kurt's hand when they were walking through the park to keep him on the path, to hold him close and keep him safe when they were crossing the road and Kurt couldn't hear the cars. He hadn't noticed how or when, but over time, he became stupidly happy every time he even thought of the other boy, of the next time they'd see each other, of the things they'd laugh about. Somehow, along the way, he'd fallen for Kurt head over fucking heels, and he had no idea what to do.

When Kurt finally raised his head, a whole world of realizations later, his eyes were red-rimmed and tired, but still brimming with happiness; right then, Puck knew he didn't need to know what to do. The only important thing was to be there.

~*~

When spring finally came, it was with a bang. From one day to another, the temperature climbed up to fifty degrees, and left everybody blinking when they woke up in the morning, expecting a blizzard. Two weeks later, every last patch of snow was gone, flowers already blooming, grass getting greener and greener every day.

For Puck, it only meant one thing – they could go out to the park again. He texted Kurt on that very first warm day, buzzing with excitement; he grabbed Mark right after school and jogged the whole way to Kurt's house.

It was incredible, the change in Kurt as he walked outside and soaked up the sun. He'd been pale and tired in winter, always coughing or sneezing, but as he ran down the stairs to Puck's side and greeted him with a hug, there was no trace of that. The color was back in Kurt's cheeks, eyes glinting, hair product-free and ruffled, falling into his face.

Puck could almost hear himself fall a little harder.

Kurt slid his palms across each other, flinging the right one out – let's go! Puck chuchled, whistled at his dog, and had to run to catch up to the other boy, already well on his way, shoes flinging wet, half-melted snow in every direction. The air was warm and smelled like spring as it filled Puck's lungs, the sun was beating down on them, and he honestly couldn't make up a more perfect day if he could, to hell with being macho.

All he wanted – now, and tomorrow, and possibly a long way into the future – was to be with Kurt; to see him smile the way he did when the sun was shining.

There were a few things he had to take care of before that.

~*~

It was beautiful outside – sunny and warm, the smell of flowers in the air, and Kurt would stay out there forever if he could. He was still riding high on endorphins when he waved to Noah one last time and closed the door – he certainly didn't expect his dad standing in the hallway, leaning against the wall, hands casually in his pockets.

Kurt could feel his good mood disappear, automatically moving into a defensive stance. They haven't argued since the one time in winter, but they haven't talked, either. Kurt didn't know what was going on in his father's head, and frankly, he wasn't all that interested.

As he tried to fake ignorance and quickly move to the stairs, his father held up a placating hand, nodding questioningly towards the kitchen. He didn't look angry; Kurt didn't know what to think. The hurt from realizing his own father didn't think he was good enough to have normal friends was still way too close to the surface.

Burt moved his head again, a little more insistingly. Kurt closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and followed, feeling like he was going to his own execution.

Once in the kitchen, Kurt's dad sat down, limbs sprawling and relaxed as usual, and motioned for Kurt to do the same. He sat, but before he could say anything, a notebook was pushed towards him on the table. I was wrong, it said, in his dad's unmistakable, blocky letters.

Kurt had no idea what to think. He didn't think his dad would be cruel enough to make this some sort of a trap, but the Burt Hummel he knew would never admit to being wrong, no matter what the consequences. He warily picked up a pen.

About what?

His father huffed. Everything. Mostly you and the mohawk.

Kurt's eyes snapped up, finally looking at the older man for the first time. He looked tired, as always, the lines around his eyes deeper since the last time Kurt had bothered to check. There wasn't anything different about him, but he reminded Kurt of someone else – a much younger mechanic, with his hair still intact, enthusiastic and fresh-faced, teaching him how to ride a bike.

I still don't understand.

Burt took off his cap and rubbed a hand over his head. I didn't have a right to order you around. You're not a child anymore, and you have a right to make your own decisions.

Wary, Kurt barely noticed the shaking of his hand when he replied. You don't think I don't have a right to have friends because I'm a freak?

That was never what I meant, Kurt, I promise. I'm sorry. He obviously was, nervous and fidgety in the unfamiliar territory.

Can I bring Noah around again? Kurt asked, aware he might be pushing it, but dammit, he deserved that much.

You've been sneaking around anyway.

When Kurt reached for the notebook to reply, Burt pulled it back. His hand was shaking, too, and he almost tore the paper with the force of his pen strokes.

Look, this is a conversation for another time, but I want you to know that I'm not going to stand in your way. Date who you want. He made you stand up for yourself, and that's good enough for me.

Kurt's brain stopped. His dad was—oh. Oh. He wanted to automatically snatch the notebook, to say it wasn't like that, that he got it all wrong, but something stopped him. He scrawled a Thanks, Dad instead, asked to be excused, and ignored his father's hurt face, because Kurt wasn't the one in the wrong.

When the door of his room finally closed behind him, he had to take a deep breath just to remind himself he could and calm down his lungs, straining for air like he was drowning. He leaned his back on the wall and slid to the floor.

His dad thought him and Noah were dating. Which, okay – they did go out for walks in the park, and for coffee, sometimes, but that didn't mean anything. He wanted to be angry at his father for sorting him into yet another box, making a guy he was just friends with into a boyfriend, or something, but his mind was racing around other things.

What if—what if he wanted Noah to be his boyfriend?

Kurt didn't know. He'd never even had a crush, much less been in love; he only knew it from books. Writers usually described it as something that hit you over the head, or you woke up one morning and you just knew.

Kurt didn't know. Noah was the first real friend he'd ever had, and he didn't actually know how was he supposed to feel about friends, either.

He thought about Noah. Often. Every day, pretty much every hour, just so he could escape a boring class or a tense dinner at home and lose himself in lame jokes and teaching Noah how to sign and playing fetch with Mark. He didn't think that meant he was in love.

He thought Noah was a good person. If anyone else went into the trouble of getting to know him, they'd think so too.

He thought Noah should think more of himself. The other boy was the kindest, gentlest person Kurt had ever met. He had no problem looking past other people's differences, and he always tried to do better, be different than what he used to be. He tried so hard, but constantly brought himself down, and one of Kurt's ultimate goals was to show Noah how he'd helped turn his life around.

That was still friendship, right? Maybe if he thought about specific things. What did boyfriends even do? Take you to romantic dinners by candlelight – no, not really; Kurt couldn't really see Noah or himself doing that. Bring you flowers? Kurt wasn't a girl. Kiss you—

And, well. Kurt didn't really realize how, but by the time he came back to himself, he was breathing just a bit too fast, heat rising into his cheeks. He tried to imagine it – walking through the park with Noah, just like any other day – maybe holding hands, he liked that idea – when the other boy would suddenly turn to him and kiss him. He'd probably be a good kisser, too, and his hands were big enough to cradle Kurt's head, to anchor him, make him feel safe and...loved.

And then, finally, Kurt realized the one thing he'd always managed to overlook as insignificant, because it was so far away – in his future, wherever it took him, he'd always imagined Noah by his side. Whether it was in New York – a secret dream of his, a big city full of people different in the same ways he was – or still in Lima, doing something ridiculous like running a coffee shop, Noah was always there at the end of the day, to joke with, to smile at, to talk to. Kurt didn't want to – couldn't even imagine letting him go, waving goodbye while they took off for colleges on the opposite sides of the country; not seeing him every day. He wanted to keep him close, to hug him and feel so peaceful and happy, like he did every time. Now kissing, and – oh God, Kurt blushed just thinking about it – more than that, it didn't disrupt the fantasy at all. In fact, it made it about a thousand times better. The thought of having Noah in almost every way, of letting him in into all aspects of Kurt's life, it sounded – incredible.

Kurt let out a shaky breath, running a hand through his hair. It was probably some sort of a cosmic joke, something like this happening to him, of all people.

What was he supposed to do? He couldn't just...tell Noah. That's not how it worked. He was already pushing it by being friends with him; even if he wanted to, even if he thought that, just maybe – he couldn't expect anyone to want to be with him like that, his own feelings be damned.

Kurt didn't know. There was no book written for this, no manual to tell him what to do; the first thing that came to his mind was just avoiding Noah, but before the tought even fully formed, he knew he couldn't do it. Maybe it was selfishness, maybe he just didn't want to hurt his best and only friend – he couldn't stay away, couldn't even try.

There was only one thing he could do – be quiet and pretend nothing happened. While feeling like everything he'd ever known was falling out from underneath him, he had no idea how to make that work.

~*~

By some magical twist of fate, or maybe a divine intervention, it turned out he didn't have to.

It was a day like any other, really – bright and hot, spring in the air, and Kurt walked into the park, expecting to see Noah and Mark already waiting for him. At first, he thought he'd just missed them – there were a lot of people these days, coming out of the winter limbo to get some sun. But even after he looked around five times, he didn't spot a mohawk or a tuft of grey fur.

He turned around, suddenly feeling unsafe – he just wanted to get out, behind the fence, think and maybe wait out of sight of all these people. That was when he noticed the book.

When he took a step closer, he immediately recognized the cover – The Princess Bride, the same version he had in his own library. It couldn't possibly—

Kurt looked around again, heartbeat picking up speed out of nowhere. Before he could change his mind, he reached out and flipped the book open. And, sure enough, stuck in the middle was a neon pink post-it, stuck a little crookedly on the page.

Kurt grinned. Then, as he peeled the small paper off and read it, the grin froze on his face. The letters were unmistakably Noah's:

Okay, so, I'm really sorry I'm doing it like this, but I guess I'm too chickenshit for anything else. I just wanted to say...I love you. I mean, I'm in love with you. Jesus. I don't know what I expect you to do with that, but...turn around?

Kurt's heart was beating fast enough he could feel the blood rushing in his ears. This wasn't a prank – it was Noah – but he couldn't even begin to understand—

He turned around. Noah was standing a few feet away, hands tucked in his jersey pockets, head bowed. Kurt didn't need to see to know he was biting his lip hard enough to draw blood. In two steps, he was there, pulling Noah's head up, suddenly needing to see his eyes.

Noah held up a paper – Surprise?

Kurt smiled – at least he tried to. Mostly, he still felt like he got hit in the head by something heavy.

He brought up his fingers to ask What are you doing?

Noah smiled. He tucked the paper into his pocket, then looked straight into Kurt's eyes, intense in a way he'd never been before. Then, he pointed a finger at his chest – I. He brought his hands together, and Kurt almost frowned at the sign he didn't recognize, until Noah's fingers connected and suddenly, he was holding out a heart. Kurt smiled – smiled so wide his cheeks started hurting, but he couldn't help himself. Noah knew what the sign for 'I love you' was – almost everybody knew that one – but he'd said he didn't think it was cool enough. Apparently, this was his alternative.

You, Noah finally finished, pointing a finger at Kurt's chest, a hair shy of touching it. Once again, Kurt didn't know what to do. He didn't want to believe – how could someone want him, with all the baggage that came with him? He'd never be able to say 'I love you' back, he'd never burst into song just because he was happy; he'd never hear anyone call for him or know what was happening if someone didn't explain. No sane person could possibly take on something like that.

Before he knew it, he was signing, hands moving like his life depended on it, all the words that were simple enough to make Noah understanddeaf, difficult, hard, no, but he didn't get far before warm hands on his stopped him.

Noah pulled out the paper again. He turned it to the side Kurt hasn't seen yet.

I know who you are. I don't care what you think, if you want to be with me, I want to be with you.

Kurt averted his eyes. Of course I want to be with you, he thought. He desperately wanted to believe Noah knew what he was doing.

When he took Kurt's hands in his again, Kurt didn't resist. He looked up, seeing nothing but honesty and trust in Noah's eyes, and gave in. He took what he wanted – nodded and slowly watched as Noah ran a finger over his eyes, his nose, and stopped at the corner of his lips. The question was clearly written in his expression.

Kurt nodded again. Noah answered with the brightest smile, teeth flashing, and leaned down to press his lips to Kurt's.

It probably wasn't like out of a romantic movie, but it was the most perfect first kiss Kurt could have ever wished for. Noah's lips were warm and wet, sweet and promising and worshipping at the same time. Tentatively, knees shaking a little, Kurt opened his mouth just a fraction and kissed back.

He was sure there were people staring – their eyes crawled and prickled at his neck. But Noah's hands were firm – one on his back, the other over his heart, holding him close like he was something precious; for one time in his life, Kurt was completely content with closing his eyes and just feeling.

It took a long time for the sun to set in the spring, but when they finally moved apart for long enough to start walking – hand in hand, safesafesafe – it was already dark.

~*~

The summer of that year was the rainiest Lima had ever seen. After the beautiful spring, nobody was expecting it – the storms caught people unaware, sunbathing on their patios and mowing the lawns. Gardeners were trying to keep their vegetable patches from getting flooded, kids were trying to make as much mess as possible, and parents were trying to keep the kids inside.

As for Puck and Kurt, they didn't have any of those problems. They didn't have problems at all, actually. School was out, they were together, and the rest wasn't nearly as important.

When the biggest storms hit, temperature dropping, thunder rocking the house, they'd curl up on Nana's couch with mugs of tea, Mark warming their legs, and watch the drops break against the windows. They'd fall asleep and wake up tangled in each other, and the days would blur together in breathing and feeling content.

Neither of them would have it any other way.

~*~

And that, my friends, is how this story ends. It feels like a lifetime ago - we've already started a new one on our own.

I write, he plays guitar; I take care of the flowers on the balcony, he's strill trying to teach Mark how to sit; I like Central Park, he likes coming with me and watching kids play. I love him every bit as much as he loves me, and we've never needed to say it aloud.

Some days, I still feel sorry that I'll never hear him play or sing, that I won't even know what his voice sounds like. Then again, life doesn't serve the sweet without the bitter, and I wouldn't want anything else; I still am and always will be happy, and incredibly grateful that this is the way my story turned out – this is the way living should feel like, and I get to experience it anew every single day.

If there's one thing I've learned, it's patience. Sometimes, you're not doing anything wrong, but people will still knock you down and try to tell you that you are. I used to wallow instead of facing it, but deep, deep down, there was always a part of me that believed in the good in people, in a different world that would let me be myself.

No matter what happens, tomorrow, next month, or twenty years from now, there are things I will always remember.

I'll remember the awkward romantic dinners we've gone to a few times before accepting we'd both rather stay home and eat pizza. I'll remember his smile, the sparkle in his eyes when he showed me his university acceptance letter. I'll remember my first time driving through New York and him holding my hand, feeling on top of the world; like I made it. I'll remember the sunny mornings spent in bed, the freezing winter days when neither one of us wanted to let go of the other.

I'll remember all the more vividly because I could only see, and not hear.

You see, every life has a soundtrack. Mine is just made of pictures.

~*~


The Boy Who Cried fanmix by the wonderful Elly