Kurt sat in the front row, his hands folded primly in his lap and his feet tucked neatly under the chair. He looked toward the front of the room with placid eyes, ready to assess Rachel's performance, which he assumed, despite what he had heard, would be simply spectacular. Whatever personal issues he might have had with her, there was absolutely no denying that the girl had talent in spades.
He had been surprised when Mister Schuester had contacted him at Dalton and asked him to attend one of New Directions' rehearsals. He had been startled and rather flattered when his former teacher confessed that he was in desperate need of Kurt's discerning ear. They had often disagreed over Kurt's ideas to push the boundaries of show choir, some of which perhaps bordered on inappropriate, but Mister Schuester knew that Kurt understood more about theatricality, staging, and musical interpretation than any other student, including Rachel; maybe even more than the teacher himself.
Schuester had explained that Rachel was having difficulty with her selection to fulfill the requirements of their most recent assignment, but nothing more than that, not even the nature of the assignment itself. Schue himself was at a loss to describe exactly what was lacking from her rendition, only that whatever spark she usually brought to her performance was missing. Even more stunning was that it had been Rachel herself who had asked Schuester about approaching Kurt for advice. That Rachel could not only recognize but admit she needed help was the primary reason Kurt had agreed. He might not have liked her, but he respected her ability and felt that, after their singular duet, he owed her. Kurt Hummel always repaid his debts, and he was not about to be beholden to one Rachel Berry.
After his arrival and receiving celebrated greetings from his former teammates, he settled in and waited for Rachel to begin. Mercedes and, oddly, Santana curled up next to him on either side, while an exuberant Finn sat behind him, all but bouncing in his seat like a hyperactive puppy, waiting to drag Kurt home for some quality Furt time before his brother had to return to Dalton.
Kurt knew Rachel was nervous and, despite his assurances, he could tell she was wary of placing herself in a position to be judged by him of all people. He certainly couldn't blame her. Finally, however, he had had enough of her prevaricating and told her flatly that he was here to help her at her own request, but that he had neither the time nor the inclination to placate her. He was more than happy to leave and fully expected her to reimburse him for gas and mileage for wasting his time.
That snapped her out of her pity party and she quickly set up her number.
Kurt created a new folder in his mental computer, viciously assigned it an icon of a falling gold star set afire, and sat at attention to catalog her deficiencies.
Almost immediately, he could see the problem and made note of it. He kept silent and let his face betray nothing as he patiently listened as she absolutely murdered what was once one of favorite songs. As she continued, he listed several more problems he planned to discuss with her after the conclusion of her performance. Her diction was slurred, her phrasing inelegant, and attempts at movement horrific.
It was obvious just how much Rachel was not invested in this, a fact which truly bothered him. No matter how many tantrums she threw, once Rachel Berry was at the front and center and the music had begun, she was the consummate professional. It made Kurt uncomfortable to realize just how uncomfortable Rachel herself was.
"Stop!" he suddenly called out.
"Oh, thank Christ," Santana muttered into his shoulder. Mercedes snickered, but sent up a quick prayer of apology to her god.
Rachel halted immediately and stared down at her shoes.
Kurt could tell from the way her shoulders were shaking that she was desperately trying not to cry, which unnerved him. He was now extremely reluctant to say anything about her number, as he was certain she had picked it apart obsessively for however long she had been rehearsing it. Still, he supposed she might have not yet stumbled upon the real crux of the problem, or she was trying to correct it in her own way and was thus vastly overcompensating.
An anxious Schuester looked at him as though he had all the answers in the world. Kurt wanted to kick him in the personals.
Really, this should not have been left up to him. It was apparent that Schuester knew what Rachel's problem was, but was either scared of confronting her about it or was unsure how. He was totally trying to pass the buck. What a worm.
"Rachel," Kurt said cautiously, "would you prefer if we spoke in the hall?"
She raised her head sharply and stared at him, gratitude shining in her eyes that he was giving her a chance to save face.
The others began complaining, but Kurt leveled an arctic glare at each one who had spoken. He was never the first to look away and their protestations died on their lips.
"No," Rachel whispered. "That…that wouldn't be fair. I've certainly…made my…opinions known before. I g-guess it's my turn now."
Mercedes and Santana grinned poisonously, and Kurt slapped both their thighs.
"Enough," he hissed.
"Harder," Santana purred.
He snorted, went to stand, and then viciously tweaked a nipple. She let out a startled shriek and then moaned with satisfaction.
"You're so easy," he smirked.
"That's always been the consensus," she agreed, winking.
He rolled his eyes and crossed the room to stand at Rachel's side.
"Are you sure about this?" he asked.
He exhaled softly. "Okay. Well, I think the difficulty you're experiencing with this particular song is that it's an extended metaphor for sex and it's making you uncomfortable."
She quietly gasped and nodded her head, once again staring down at the floor.
He laid his hand on her shoulder. "That's certainly understandable. It's one thing to sing a love song, but it's quite another to sing something so blatant, which this song most definitely is. There's no reason to be embarrassed."
She nodded uneasily but didn't speak.
"I think," he continued, "that we must first ascertain if you actually want to perform this song. If you do, I'm more than happy to help you, but there's no shame in scrapping it now and moving on to something more...palatable?"
She hesitated for a moment, and just when she went to open her mouth, she was cut off by Puck.
"Come off it, Duchess," he scoffed. "Like you could help anyone with getting their sexy on." He waggled his brows. "Unless you and the Hobbit stopped beating around the bush?" He snickered. "So to speak."
"Puck!" Schuester sharply admonished.
"Dude, shut the hell up!" Finn bellowed, rising to his feet. "Don't talk about my brother that way!"
Mercedes was also standing, her fingers curled into a mighty fist that would have made even Karofsky flee in terror. "Give me a reason, Kosher King. You know I've just been waiting for one."
Kurt's face slipped into his patented Ice Glare of Doom, which served to quell Puck the way his friends' defense had not. He involuntarily flashed back to the memory in which Blaine had told him explicitly just how unsexy he was. He growled and shook his head to clear it.
"It's terribly unsurprising that you were the first to voice that opinion, Noah. After all, who knows more about sex than you? At least, that is what you would have us believe. Of course, I'm betting half the women in this club would have a differing point of view."
Quinn and Santana wheezed with barely-suppressed laughter.
The sparkle in Puck's eyes dimmed considerably and he crossed his arms sullenly across his chest. "Whatever."
Lauren took the opportunity to reach over and hit Puck upside his head. From Puck's lack of reaction, Kurt assumed it was a regular occurrence. He resolved to give her his thanks and approval at another time and decided her nickname would be Gibbs. Tony DiNozzo was absolutely Noah Puckerman in ten years.
"Further," Kurt continued, "you all might as well be made aware of the fact that Blaine and I are no longer seeing each other."
"Dude," Finn said mournfully.
"What!" Mercedes screeched. "Why didn't you tell me?"
He cocked a brow. "Perhaps because I was unaware that I had to report to you absolutely everything in my life as it happens? Or perhaps it was because this is a very new situation and I needed some time to myself to process it before I opened it up for discussion?"
She winced, stung, but conceded his point with a sharp nod of her head before retaking her seat.
"I'm sorry, Kurt," Rachel whispered. She felt terrible for dragging him here to help her when he obviously was going through his own crisis.
He patted her hand. "Thank you, Rachel, but I'm going to be just fine."
"I never trusted him," Puck spat. "Way too smooth."
Quinn nodded. "Overly charming."
"Did he hurt you, Kurt?" Finn seethed.
The others began forming plans which included shovels, baseball bats, kerosene, matches, alibis, and Blaine's unconscious body. Kurt was touched, but also wary.
"While I appreciate the sentiment more than I could ever adequately convey, that won't be necessary. And, no, Finn, he didn't hurt me."
Santana had remained silent, preferring to stare at Kurt and assess this surprising bit of gossip. "You dumped his sorry wizard ass."
Kurt nodded swiftly. "Indeed."
Sam Evans suddenly felt a herd of fluffy bunnies scamper across his stomach.
"Why?" Brittany asked Kurt.
He shrugged. "We wanted different things. I wanted a boyfriend; he wanted a surrogate gay child to coddle."
Santana scowled. Good. She was absolutely thrilled to see Blaine gone. Ever since Kurt had hooked up with him, he hadn't been, well, Kurt. Not that she cared, of course, but it had bothered Brittany. So…yeah.
"You were just too much dolphin for him to handle, Kurty," Brittany chirped.
He winced. Though she had meant it in the best possible way, there was some very real truth in her words. He had come to the conclusion a while ago that he was perhaps just too gay for Blaine. He stiffened. Whatever. He hadn't changed his behavior to please his bullying tormenters; he wasn't about to change it for his own damn boyfriend. Ex-boyfriend.
He turned back to Rachel. "I would prefer if we addressed the matter at hand. Rachel, I believe you're having difficulty relating to the material because it's so provocative." He raised a brow. "In fact, given that Mr Schue is such a moralistic prig, I'm stunned he agreed to allow you to sing it."
Schue blushed. "Hey," he weakly protested.
"That was the assignment," Rachel mumbled. She took a deep, cleansing breath. "We were supposed to pick a genre outside of our comfort zone, something that made us uncomfortable." She shook her head ruefully. "I thought that if I just practiced enough, I'd overcome this…this…whatever this is." Waves of frustration poured off of her.
Kurt nodded. "And I think that's the problem. You're vastly over-thinking the song."
She turned startled eyes upon him.
"Rachel," he continued, "you've been focusing so hard on interpreting the lyrics that you've failed to recognize that it's unnecessary; the lyrics are blatant and speak for themselves. All you have to do is give them a voice, to be the conduit. Sometimes, it really is just that easy. You're overanalyzing the subject matter and attempting to compensate for your discomfiture by pouring too much power into your delivery. Subsequently, you've stripped the song of any passion it once held." He paused. "Do you understand?"
She frowned. "I…I think so."
He bit his lip and pondered how he could make this more clear for her. "There is a distinct difference," he said slowly, "between being sexy and being sensual. Sexiness evokes a sense of the physical; it's visceral. Sensuality is concerned with both the physical and the emotional. With a song this…forward, you need to restrain yourself, to inject some vulnerability and introspection into it. Right now, you're projecting the contents as well as your unease onto the listener, thus divorcing them from any meaning it might hold for you. You're completely disconnected and it shows."
"I need to control the song," she said, "not let it control me."
"Exactly. Despite the content, you should treat this song as you would your favorite ballad from Spring Awakening," he smirked. "Be sensual. Don't worry so much about what you're singing, but how you're singing it and the reaction that feeling inspires within you."
She nodded. "I understand," she said quietly.
He raised an eyebrow. "But…?"
She flushed. "I'm still uncomfortable."
He sighed but nodded. "I don't blame you." He cocked his head. "But you're taking this much too personally, Rachel. The lyrics don't have to be about you if you can't identify with them. If that's the case, it's your job as the vocalist to make other people believe them; you have to be the bridge that connects the audience with the song. The lyrics are not necessarily a commentary on your own sexual behavior."
"Kurt!" she hissed.
He waved a hand dismissively. "Let's put our cards on the table, sweetie. There are more virgins in this room than you know. There is nothing wrong with wanting to wait for the right person or situation. I'm sure many of those who have engaged in such activity regret it for any number of reasons. I'm proud that I'm still waiting. There's no shame here."
Puck, Quinn, Finn, and Santana suddenly found various points on the opposite wall absolutely fascinating.
Mercedes nodded, though she was heavily blushing. "My boy's right, white girl."
Rachel sighed. She was embarrassed but still relieved. "So how do I do this?"
Kurt smiled. "First, I would suggest that you choose a person to sing to." He held up a hand. "Not necessarily now, but for future reference, when singing something which feels so alien to you, it helps if you focus on a particular person, even a stranger, or perhaps a construct. I can certainly understand why you wouldn't wish to do so in this room. That's too awkward even for me."
"Next, you have to think about what makes you feel sensual and concentrate on it. Forget about what or who you think is sexy; think about why they make you feel that way." He ground his teeth. "You are not…unattractive. You have, what I am told, is a good figure. For reasons I could never possibly understand, people find you sexy."
She glared at him, though her lips twitched.
Quinn gagged and Santana retched.
"But sexy isn't enough," he added. "It's just an autonomic response. So consider that which puts you in the mood. What makes you feel sensual?" He blanched when she opened her mouth. "Don't tell me! Keep that to yourself!"
She snickered, but nodded.
Kurt wrapped an arm around her shoulders, silently bemoaning what the artificial fibers of her hideous sweater would do to his delicate skin. "You need to connect with your inner vixen," he seductively purred, which caused several to gasp. "What gets you hot, Rachel?" he whispered. "Is it a particular song? A scent? An outfit? A place? A person?" He pulled away. "You need to hold on to that feeling and pour it into your performance. You need to feel sensual to perform a sensual song, even an overt one like this, otherwise no one's going to buy it." He ducked his head. "Believe me, I understand how difficult that can be."
She reached out with a finger and tilted his chin upwards so she could look into his eyes. "Thank you, Kurt. Truly."
He nodded, a beautiful flush spreading across his cheeks.
An enraptured Sam stared at Kurt and wanted to coo. He discreetly cleared his throat and crossed his legs.
Quinn and Santana noted this with no small satisfaction.
"Did you get over it?" Rachel asked Kurt, who shrugged a shoulder.
"It's a battle," he admitted. "It requires you to take a long, hard look at yourself, to recognize yourself as a sexual being and become comfortable that you have desires and that you yourself are desirable. It's not easy; it takes work." He cocked his head. "It's worth it, though. At the end of it, you come to know yourself better. You feel whole in a way you could never have conceived."
She toed the ground. "Could you show me?"
He paled and his mouth went slack.
"Go for it, Kurt!" Mercedes smirked.
He shot her his Glare of Malevolence, furious when it had no impact. That was okay. She would pay. They all would. His face turned blissful.
Mercedes then knew she was in for a world of pain when this was over.
Deciding to accept the challenge, for he would not allow himself to display any more weakness before them than he already had, he nodded, more to himself than anyone else.
"Mister Schue, is this permissible?"
Schue hesitated. He was frankly uncomfortable with the entire conversation and conscious of the eyes of the other students on him. The subject of teenage sexuality was anathema to him and he knew he had alienated some of his students because of it. He encouraged them to come to him when they needed guidance, but when the dialogue turned toward a sexual nature, he fobbed them off or sent them to Emma, who was equally ill-prepared. Still, he recognized the veracity of Kurt's arguments and realized he would be doing Rachel no favors if he said no. Regardless of his own personal feelings, this was about Rachel, not about him.
He nodded slowly at Kurt, who had a small smile on his face.
"I'll do my best to keep it somewhat appropriate," the boy drawled.
Santana leered. "Don't bother on our account."
Kurt rolled his eyes and then looked back at Schue. "If you would prefer, you could leave the room, or I could follow Rachel home after the meeting and work with her there."
Schue wanted badly to agree, but the protests of the other girls and his own survival instinct overwhelmed that desire. He could do this. He was not a prude!
"Go ahead, Kurt." He smiled. "I seem to have lost control of the room, not that that's anything new. Just consider yourself the teacher for the moment and me a passive observer."
Kurt nodded. Easier said than done, though, he thought. He had always suspected that his sexuality was somewhat of a thorn in Schue's side. He didn't believe the man was homophobic per se, but his stereotypical gayness stretched his idea of what Schue deemed acceptable. He was fairly certain that Schue himself had been marginalized in high school as a possible homosexual, and watching Kurt struggle with himself recalled some resentment and hurt. Not necessarily directed at Kurt himself, but at gay men as a group. To the man's credit, Kurt thought it was an issue of which Schue was aware and trying to address. That counted for something.
"Are you going to do what you suggested to me?" asked a curious Rachel. "Sing to someone in particular?"
Kurt momentarily debated before nodding. "I believe so; it would help me exponentially if I had someone on whom I could focus. I admit that I'm still uncomfortable with such material."
"And to whom will you be singing, Alabaster?" Santana queried, her eyes sliding in Sam's direction.
Kurt frowned and considered his options. Finally, he shrugged. "Sam would be the obvious choice."
Sam's eyes bulged.
"I would prefer to sing to a man," Kurt continued, "only because I don't know how convincing I could be, even to myself, singing sexy material to a woman." He smirked at her. "Well, excepting you, perhaps."
She licked her lips and sent him Puppy Eyes, which he ignored.
"Why Sam?" Finn demanded.
Kurt's eyes widened as he slowly turned toward his brother. "Finn." He rolled his eyes when the other boy ignored him. "Finn! Would you really prefer me to sing you a sexy song?"
"No," Finn mumbled, picking at a stain on his jeans.
A bewildered Kurt stared at him, shaking his head in confusion. He shuddered and turned away.
"I barely know Sam and, apart from our aborted duet, we've had no meaningful interaction." He nodded to himself. "We have no real history, good or bad, except of course for his willingness to defend me to Karofsky, which was incredibly noble of him.
"It would be entirely inappropriate and just wrong for me to sing to Mr. Schue; Artie and I are too good of friends and we would both burst out laughing; Noah and I barely tolerate each other." He blushed. "And thanks to Tina and our marathon gossip sessions, I know far too much about Mike."
Tina blushed and Mike released an embarrassed squeal.
Kurt cleared his throat and shrugged. "Besides, Sam is the hottest boy in this room. Not including myself, of course."
Sam flushed heavily and ducked his head. He knew there was no other way he could hide the emotion Kurt's statement had just unfurled within him.
Puck stood up and pointed at Kurt. "He is not! Take that back!"
Kurt quirked his lips and an eyebrow. "I don't think I will. Different strokes and all, Noah. You may be a stud, but not everyone wants to become overly familiar with your form."
Puck howled with rage. "Everyone wants me!" he insisted.
Kurt glanced around the room. "Show of hands?"
Only Brittany and a reluctant and blushing Lauren complied.
"But you'd like to become overly familiar with Sam?" a saucy Santana asked Kurt.
He whirled and glared at her. "Don't push it. All I said was that I consider Sam to be very attractive. This is not news and nothing which I have not freely admitted to in the past. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would say Sam Evans is anything other than gorgeous."
"Thanks," Sam mumbled.
Kurt frowned. "Sam, if this is going to make you uncomfortable, I'll simply select someone else or forego it altogether. I don't wish to offend you or upset you in any way. That is absolutely not my intention."
Sam forced his blush to recede. "It doesn't bother me, Kurt, but thanks for offering. I've told you before that I'm not bothered by or scared of you and your sexuality. I wish…I wish we could have been better friends before you left. I think, after watching you with Mercedes and Artie and the others, I probably lost out on a lot by that not happening." He exhaled. "I'm…really flattered actually, that you think I'm good-looking. Despite what you may think, that's not something I hear a lot, and if it is, it's usually for the wrong reasons. So, thank you."
Artie, Mercedes, and Tina looked at Sam with obvious approval. Finn and Puck immediately felt guilty that they sucked at being Kurt's friends, while Santana and Quinn independently schemed to get Sam and Kurt together and naked as quickly as possible.
Brittany blinked. Sam could be the right dolphin for Kurty! She would check with Sanny first to make sure she was right, but she was almost positive she was!
Kurt smiled and patted Sam on the shoulder. It was all Sam could do not to lean desperately into the touch.
"Do you need some time to prepare?" Schue asked Kurt while eying Sam with some speculation.
Kurt nodded. "Fifteen minutes for prep and costume…"
"Costume?" Puck asked.
Puck smirked. "Never you knew you were a Boy Scout, Duchess."
Kurt merely smiled. "Noah, what you don't know about me could fill several rooms."
Puck frowned and pondered that statement, but Kurt had already turned his attention to other matters.
"Brittany, Tina? Are you with me?"
Tina smiled and nodded. "Always."
Brittany bounced out of her chair. "Yay!"
Kurt smiled. "Routine Forty-Seven, I think."
The girls stared at him and then at each other.
"Really?" Tina asked.
He nodded. "Yes, I believe so."
Brittany licked her lips. "That's such a naughty song, Kurty."
He grinned. "Well, then it's a good thing you'll be with me to help me with my naughtiness."
She nodded seriously.
Quinn stared. "Just how many routines have you three worked out?"
Kurt blinked. "Independent of New Directions and Cheerios material?"
She nodded uneasily.
"I'd guess about five dozen."
Everyone stared at him, Tina, and Brittany.
"What?" he crossly demanded.
"Five dozen? You mean sixty?" Rachel repeated, her eyebrows hovering just beneath her hairline.
He nodded impatiently.
"Full routines?" Finn questioned. "I thought it was just Single Ladies."
Kurt shook his head. "Sixty songs, giver or take a few, complete with choreography, costumes, and makeup. Granted, many of the costumes and dance moves overlap…"
"Unbelievable," Schue whispered. "Why didn't I know this?"
Kurt shrugged. "Always prepared, and you never asked." He turned to the girls. "Shall we, ladies?" They giggled and joined their hands to his and skipped toward the door.
"Fifteen minutes in the auditorium," Kurt called out over his shoulder to the others.
They all stared at the now-closed door.
"The fuck?" Puck barked.